30 April 2018

Smile and Be a Villain

by Steve Liskow


By sad coincidence, two of our cats died several years apart on April 23, Shakespeare's birthday. Last week, the Bard turned 454 (I didn't send a card) and his plays still merit constant performances the world over. Shakespeare thought he would be remembered for his poems (except for the sonnets, only slightly better than John Dillinger's) and retired at age 47 a relatively wealthy man, especially for a writer.

It's easy to talk about his brilliant images and use of symbols and all that high-school-worksheet stuff, but his plays would live on anyway because he wrote brilliant conflicted characters, especially his villains. He constantly reminds us that everyone needs a goal or motive, especially the bad guys. They aren't just "bad by nature"--although Don John claims that he is in Much Ado About Nothing.

In King Lear, Edmund tells us he's standing up for bastards,
but he's jealous because his little brother Edgar, born of married parents, will inherit Gloucester's estate even though he's younger than Edmund. Jealously and sibling rivalry are powerful forces. Look at the women in the same play: Goneril and Regan want their father Lear's estate, but the younger Cordelia is daddy's favorite...until she can't flatter him enough and he kicks her out with the tragically incorrect proclamation that nothing will come of nothing. Actually, it will lead to at least eight deaths.

The older sibs in both families are monsters, but we understand why they lie, stab servants, commit adultery, scheme against each other, plan to murder their spouses, and tear out Gloucester's eyes. The sins of the fathers live on in the children. Lear may be my favorite Shakespearean play and I'd love to direct it if I thought I could find fourteen strong actors in community theater. Unfortunately, age is a factor for at least three men, and the women are stuck as Goody Two-Shoes and the Bitches, a darker version of Gladys Knight and the Pips.

Macbeth is the only other Shakespeare play still on my directing bucket list (I've directed six)--if I could find an appropriate time period that hasn't been recycled into cliche and decide how to present the witches (I've considered young, nubile, scantily clad and dimly lit because they personify temptation, Macbeth's loss of innocence). Macbeth is a war hero who goes to hell in blank verse because those bearded sisters offer him a tempting look at the future and he makes the mistake of telling his wife. His fall gives us two of my favorite monologues, the "If 'twere done when 'tis done" speech as he contemplates murdering Duncan and the "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" tour de force while the walls buckle around him. That speech also gives us "it is a tale full of sound and fury, told by idiot, signifying nothing."

Lady Macbeth is a difficult role to play (I've seen it done badly more often than not), but the actors or directors miss the point. Lady M is the forerunner of the modern groupie, and power is her aphrodisiac. Listen to the rhythms of her "come you spirits of the night" speech and you'll hear her bare her soul.

Iago feels Othello has unfairly passed him over for promotion, so he vows revenge, always a clear motive. He sizes up Othello as a man who loves his wife so much that he will believe the worst, and turns innuendo into high art when he "suggests" that Desdemona and Cassio are intimate. His attention to a handkerchief makes Professor Moriarty and Snidely Whiplash look like Boy Scouts.

I've played Claudius, the adulterous uncle/step-father in Hamlet. He loves Gertrude so much he kills his own brother to be with her, but his futile prayers ("My words fly up, my thoughts remain below./Words without thought never to heaven go.") show he knows he's still going straight to hell.
Hamlet stabs him with the envenomed epee and pours the poisoned chalice down his throat (talk about overkill) to hasten him on his way. His "Oh, my offense is rank! It smells to heaven" speech is  as powerful as his stepson's monologues, but seldom quoted.

Technically, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice isn't a villain so much as a victim, but he makes his case to Antonio and Bassanio when they "cut" the deal for Antonio's pound of flesh. "You call me misbeliever, cut-throat, dog, / And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine..."
Rehearsal shot (note unpainted floor) from my 2006 Merchant

They don't write them like that anymore.

'Tis true, 'tis pity, and, pity 'tis, 'tis true.


As a footnote, tonight is Walpurgisnacht, the night the demons walk. It's the night the lovers in A Midsummer Night's Dream wander in the woods before getting everything sorted out for their weddings along with Theseus on May Day.

And, as BSP, my story "The Girl in the Red Bandanna" appears in the latest issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, along with a story by our late blog partner, B. K. Stevens.

29 April 2018

Informants 201

by R.T. Lawton

Never completely trust an informant. Things go wrong.

If you can, verify everything an informant tells you before you act on the information. One, he may be in error. Two, he may be in error on purpose. In the first case, accidents do happen. Periodically, you will hear in the news about some police outfit hitting the wrong residence during a search warrant. If the police are really unlucky that day, someone dies or gets injured during the entry into that wrong address. True, the informant could have transposed a couple of numbers in the address, or maybe he got confused and mentioned the apartment on the wrong side of the hallway. It happens and the news media plays it up. But, the officer obtaining the search warrant should have done his homework better. He should have checked the names and the address to ensure a match.

In the second possibility, the informant may have an agenda you don't know about, in which case you'd best be very careful. And even when an informant and his information check out this time, you should stay aware for the future, because the future can quickly become flexible.

"Herbie" was a hard core street dude. he came over to our outfit as someone else's informant and anyone in the group could use him. One night, he introduced me undercover to a heroin dealer and I bought a spoon of smack. In those days, dealers would sometimes measure their coke and smack with a spoon from their silverware drawer. Depending upon its size, the drug weight could range from 1/6th of an ounce to 1/2 an ounce. Of course, while they're sitting on their front porch watching traffic and waiting for the next customer, they would get bored and start whetting the top edges of the spoon on their cement porch. As time went by, the volume measured became smaller, but the price always stayed the same. Anyway, by the time we arrested the dealer and his trial came up, Herbie had already been arrested for killing a guy and was facing the death sentence. When he found out we couldn't do anything for him on the death part, his story in court changed to one of entrapment. Now, according to Herbie, the man, not a dealer at all, was only handing over a package to me and was doing it for Herbie because Herbie allegedly owed me money and couldn't pay the debt. That was a fun trial, but as it turned out with Herbie, it was either help him or look out.

Informants also have a way of backsliding.

We had a white, 300 pound gang member for a C.I. who was really friendly and fun to be around. You couldn't help liking him. And, he was good at his job as an informant. He made informant buys for us, he introduced me to the bigger suppliers to make large buys, and he worked his way in so he could travel with dealers when they went to their suppliers to re-up their inventory. The guy was a pleasure to work with. And then we found that he was bringing back his own purchases of drugs when he went on these trips, drugs for sale on the local market. So much for trust and good times. In the end, he joined some of the people he'd made cases on who were by then lodged in the grey-bar hotel. Separate institutions of course.

Naturally, there's more than one form of betrayal.

My partner signed up an overweight Hispanic dude as a cooperating individual. His criminal occupation had been as a pharmacy burglar, but no one ever caught him at it. We ran him off and on for about three months, but somehow none of the deals he set up ever went down, so we cut him loose. Two years later, I walk into a different C.I.'s apartment to make a prearranged buy. Who's sitting in the living room with barbiturates (reds) for sale? Right. Our rather large Hispanic who indulged in pharmacy burglaries. He did not appear to recognize me, so with some apprehension on my part, wondering if the light bulb would suddenly come on, I made the buy. As soon  as I got to a radio, I called my partner, filled him in, and mentioned that the guy still had more drugs for sale. my partner met me in the hallway and I took him inside. I introduced my partner undercover to the dealer and my partner then made a buy of other barbiturates (yellows). At the time of trial, the dealer testified he was working for the FBI and was merely trying to find some criminals for them. Oddly enough, no FBI agents showed up to testify on his behalf. This was one of those situations where a bad guy had pretended to be a cooperating individual so he could scope out law enforcement agents and thus avoid them in his future criminal endeavors. Too bad his memory failed. However, had he possessed a firearm and remembered my partner or me, it could have gone badly for us.

I can tell you from several personal experiences, there's nothing like walking into a dealer's house or into a bar to do a deal and then finding a previous informant sitting there. You never really know what's going through his head. Has he gone back into the business? Is he part of this deal? Will he sit there and feign ignorance? Will he walk away? Will he give you up to protect himself? What is he doing here? That's when you split your mind, focus half on the dealer you're negotiating with and half on the potential danger of that previous informant. You just hope the deal goes down quietly and you can walk away without an incident, cuz if things go wrong and you're counting on surveillance to ride to the rescue, you don't have enough minutes on the clock. By the time they get inside, most everything that concerns you has probably already happened.

After enough years of working with various kinds of people, it can cause you to look at your fellow man and woman with a jaundiced eye, even when you're out in the general public. That's one reason why cops like to sit with their back to a wall when out in a public place. It gives you a chance to see what's coming at you, a chance you don't always get when working informants.

Bottom line, CYA as best you can. And, the next time you're sitting in a bar, picture yourself in one of these types of situations. How would you handle it?

In the meantime, ride easy, my friends.

28 April 2018

When is a Mystery not a Mystery?

by Melodie Campbell

Homeless. Not me, luckily. I still have four walls and a roof plus dog on the couch. But my kick-ass story, A Ship Called Pandora, that had a wonderful future and clear economic security is now homeless.

The genres are tricky things. If I write a mystery and set it in the past, it’s considered a historical mystery. So, if we are classifying it, we would call it a Mystery first, and then Historical, as a subgenre of mystery genre. Everyone’s happy.

But what if I set it in the future?

This is exactly what has happened to me recently. For the very first time, I was asked to write a crime story for an anthology, without going through the usual submission process. The anthology had the delightful premise: anything goes. That is, I could write any subgenre, and set it anywhere, anytime. *rubs hands in delight*

A particular story had been percolating in my brain for weeks, pounding to get out. My friends and readers know that I like writing from the other side of the crime spectrum. In The Goddaughter series, I write from the point of view of a mob Goddaughter who really doesn’t want to be one, but keeps having to pull off heists to bail out her family. The books are fun, and weirdly, justice is done by the end, regardless of her family connections.

So this new story was going to feature a kick-ass female marshal from the witness protection program. Her job is to arrange the ‘hide’ after someone has testified in court. Thing is, the transportation is by space travel, because the plot is set far in the future.

I sent it to the anthology editors. They loved it. One of my best twists ever, they said. They liked the fact that it was hard-edged – unusual for me. I breathed a sigh of relief. And then two months later, they came back. The publisher was having second thoughts. He thought the science fiction setting would not be a good fit for a mystery anthology. *author reaches for gun*

So they asked if they could reprint one of my award-winning stories instead. I gave them a favourite (Hook, Line and Sinker) that was also hard-edged. This is the one that had me sharing a literary shortlist with Margaret Atwood (Atwood won.) It would have a second life, which is always nice.
Meanwhile, I had this story on my hands, one that everyone loved, written especially for an anthology, that was now homeless. *pass the scotch*

This was the time of Bouchercon 2017 in Toronto. I was hanging with the AHMM gang, who were recording me reading my own work, Santa Baby, for a podcast to go up on their site. (It’s there now *does happy dance*) So I asked if they would be interested in reading it.

Sure, was the answer. Sometimes they publish stories set in the near future. I didn’t think this one would qualify. I was right.

They didn’t take it. But they did suggest sending it to their sister Dell mag, Asimov’s Science Fiction Mag.  I might. But I'd rather have a mystery market.

My point is this: Usually, we classify a story as a mystery if the plot is a mystery. The setting comes second. A historical mystery is still classified as a mystery. A mystery with a strong romance element is still a mystery if the plot is a mystery plot. But in the case of a future setting, it doesn’t matter what the plot is. The setting is key to the classification.

I probed a bit among my author contacts. One said that he had written a series billed as sci-fi mystery, and this was his baffling and witty conclusion: he managed to alienate the mystery readers, and confuse the sci-fi readers. Sales were a lot better when they reclassified the thing as sci-fi only

So to answer that initial question: When Is a Mystery not a Mystery? When it’s set in the future.

What about you? Have you come across this before? Any suggestions?

UPDATE:   The intrepid editors at Mystery Weekly Magazine say they love A Ship Called Pandora.  It comes out soon. 

CODE NAME: GYPSY MOTH
on AMAZON


Here's another fun scifi crossgenre book: CODE NAME: GYPSY MOTH
It isn't easy being a female barkeep in the final frontier… especially when you're also a spy!
(Good thing I had a traditional publisher for this one. Because I have NO IDEA where to promote this.)

27 April 2018

Revise, Revise!

by Thomas Pluck

Thomas Pluck



Last night I attended a reading at the local Red Eye Cafe in Montclair, organized by Apryl Lee of Halfway There NJ. Poet Traci Brimhall, novelist Joan Silber, and short story writer Kem Joy Ukwu read from their latest works, and it was a good evening, except for when this old professorial dude accidentally spilled his hot coffee on me and Watchung Booksellers' stash of books for sale, because he was too stubborn to use the coat rack. I've hosted and read at dozens of Noir at the Bar events full of liquored-up writers and readers and never had a drink spilled on me, or thrown at me, even when I read "that gun story" in D.C. (it's called "Gunplay", and satirizes the American love affair with firearms, and you can read it in Life During Wartime).

So, coffee shops are more dangerous for writers than bars. I'd write at McSorley's every night if I could. Only thing in danger would be my liver, and perhaps my skill at revisions.

At the Q&A after the readings, one of the audience asked about when the writers knew when they were done revising, and if they still wrestled with doubt. And of course they wrestled with doubt. Silber said that doubt was a good sign, when you are cocksure about your work, it is usually a sign that you haven't revised it with a critical eye. Or as Joyce Carol Oates might say, you aren't writing daring enough, if you aren't concerned about how it will be received. The newer writers, Brimhall and Ukwu, both admitted that they could revise until the end of time, and even confessed to editing as they read their stories aloud!

And yes, I've done that as well. Revised on the fly when a line didn't parse well. And that's after giving it a read at home before an event, and editing with a pencil to make the words flow better. We're always trying to improve our work. Writers are much more likely to pick up an old story and grimace than marvel at its genius, though sometimes you do get a surprise and think, "I wrote that?Damn. Not bad." I'm relatively young and have only been writing regularly for about eight years--I wrote from adolescence until a few years after college, then stopped until 2010--so my experience is limited. While my voices have changed little--I have a couple of them--I'm happy to say that I have improved somewhat, and learned a lot from listening to other writers, editors, readers, and copy-editors.

That's an important lesson. If you think of editors as your enemy, you're going to have a rough time. I was privileged and fortunate to make friends with some solid editors who helped me with my earliest stories. And some of my latest. Matt Funk was one of them, he helped me with edits on "Gumbo Weather," which made it into Bouchercon's Blood on the Bayou anthology. Jimmy Callaway helped with "Lefty." Holly West, Lynn Beighley, and Elizabeth Kracht all helped with Bad Boy Boogie and then Chris Rhatigan edited it again after Down & Out Books accepted it. It ends when you have the best possible story within whatever constraints of time are set. Which is one reason that some writers only finish a book every seven or twenty years. Everyone works differently. Walter Mosley and Johnny Shaw both admit to dozens of drafts, and Mosley is prolific as hell. He just puts the time in until the book is what he wants it to be.

But how do you get better at revising your own work? I can't answer that for you. I can only say what helped me. I'm still learning. But an easy one is read your work aloud. You don't need an audience. You'll find the clumsy sentences and superfluous lines. Typos pop out, too (best way to catch all those "from" / "form" mishaps and the like). And your inordinate fondness for annoying dialogue tags, using the same word multiple times per paragraph until it seems like a fetish... those are easily corrected. You'll learn just how often your characters grin, nod, snort, shrug, and communicate with their eyebrows like they are conducting an orchestra using only their foreheads.

The other "trick" that I've found applies to me is "start with chapter three." In my case, it is often "start with act 2." In a first draft, I start too early. You want to start as late as you can with as little backstory as possible, and salt that in later if it's absolutely necessary. Even in a literary story, if you want to write about how someone's childhood makes them freak out at the car dealership when the salesperson pulls the old undercoat scam, you don't start with when her mother was teaching her to drive, and when she swerved to avoid a deer, mom stomped so hard on the rusty passenger floor well that her foot went through and broke her ankle. You start at the dealership, among the cars, peering under the frame and saying she dropped her phone when the pushy salesman asks why she's on the pavement.

There was a lot less action in the beginning of the previous draft of Bad Boy Boogie. It always began with him walking out of prison, but the hired muscle didn't show up until Act 2. I wanted Jay to "avoid the call" like in a James Campbell myth, but that didn't fit. He had to want something, and feel wronged. That's why we commit violence, after all. So he immediately heads to Tony's--after some Rutt's Hut hot dogs, to sate the appetite he built up clobbering the operators--and demands his birthright, the Hammerhead, the '71 Challenger they worked on in high school. And we not only see that he is dangerous as hell, taking out two armed veterans, but that no matter how much he hates bullies, he can be a bit of one himself, which sets up the internal struggle of the novel versus the external one, which is do right by me.

That's a lot to keep in your head at one time. I joked online when a writer complained about how hard it was to keep all the structure of a novel in his head: That's why we write them down.

It's true. Homer may have been able to recite The Odyssey at will, but ask a writer what she did to the protagonist in her third novel and she may look like a deer in the headlights. (Yes, the same deer that she almost hit on her first driving lesson, above). I make extensive use of temporary, very descriptive chapter headings, and occasional Post-It note outlines on a big piece of foam board, to keep track. I am very thankful that Scrivener has a strong search function that highlights all the chapters with a character's name, or how many times Jay calls someone "shitbird". It really helps. But you don't need a laptop or apps to write. Pen and paper still works, and you can write little 3"x5" cards with notes, tag pages with different color Post-Its, or simply scribble in the margins for notes. I know one writer with a couple novels published and dozens of stories, all written on his iPhone during breaks from work. Many writers swear by writing in longhand and editing as they type it up. You need to find what works for you. George Pelecanos writes for four hours in the morning and edits what he wrote every night. Others write at night, sleep on it, and edit it in the morning before they plunge on to the next chapters.

But how do you know what needs revision?

Well, that's a skill you pick up by reading. I mentioned the editors who sent me great notes. Those stick with you. If you find yourself critical of stories and books that you read, you have to learn to turn that eye on yourself, Dr. Lecter. It's difficult to be objective about your own work, but the usual advice is to sit on a story for a month or two, until you have the proper perspective. Meaning you look at it like something other than "the greatest story I have ever written or that can ever be written, that will make me rich enough to hire James Patterson to write for me."

Because that can be a thing. Enthusiasm is great, it can be infectious. Sometimes you need it to blast out a certain story. One that I wrote for Holly West's upcoming Go-Go's themed anthology is from the perspective of a sixteen year old high school girl, and I wrote it not long after four high school graduates crashed at our apartment. I remembered how they interacted, some of the slang they used, what they talked about. I wrote that story mostly in a hotel room in New Orleans with the flu, instead of going to a wedding. Fireworks were going off over the Mississippi for the city's 300th anniversary celebration, I was learning that even room service food in New Orleans is better than most food anywhere else, and I had the idea for my story, so I stayed up chugging Mucinex and taking Tamiflu and made the best of Flu Orleans.

And I edited the hell out of it later when I got home and wasn't sick. It was pretty clean, but I made it less confusing, cut out the tangents, and tightened up the jokes. Holly loved it. And I am grateful. A tougher edit was for a story for Down & Out Magazine, edited by Rick Ollerman. He is a tough editor, but he knows how to write a damn good story, and how to improve yours. I wanted to write something original for the first issue of Down & Out, because I was excited. But I was also in the middle of a novel. I had an idea I'd been kicking around that was for a flash story, and figured I could stretch it out. I didn't edit it as strongly as I should have, and Rick made that clear. He caught a bunch of sloppy writing and helped me clean it up. Now it's one of my favorite stories, and we got a lot of great feedback about it when the magazine dropped. And I have some even better news that I will save for later, but Rick helped make that one striking story.

It can be tougher when you get rejections and don't know why. But that's another story. If you can be professional and polite, you can always ask. But be warned, editors are used to getting hate mail for rejections, so mind your tone. I wouldn't ask unless it gets rejected by multiple markets, or the market you are sure is perfect for it--because you read every issue, don't you?--because sometimes the answer is "it just didn't grab me." A good story won't sell everywhere. The flip side to editing is the old "writer's curse." When you can't read for pleasure because you find yourself picking the book apart. I find most of that to be personal, projecting your own anger at the tough work of editing your own writing onto others. "This book isn't that great! I would've done this! and they overuse the word 'murmur'!" Sure, it may have been improved by another edit, and I've read plenty of published novels that would have, but sometimes you have to understand that it's the best book they could come up with, and forgive their trespasses. And your own. Writing is a skill and an art. You may have natural artistic ability, but skills are improved upon with hard work and experience. Which means failing sometimes. And it happens to all of us.


26 April 2018

April Miscellaney

by Eve Fisher

Between April 14th and April 18th we got 22-24" of snow.  This led to a lot of eating, drinking, and calling April a drunk who wouldn't go home.  But now it's almost 70 degrees, and 99% of the snow has melted, and people are back out in t-shirts and shorts, and if you think we're all back in a good, trusting relationship with April you're crazy.  We're just humoring her until May gets here...

It did give me plenty of time to catch up on the news:

Don't you wish these baboons succeeded in their escape from a bio-medical research facility?  They baboons moved a large barrel, climbed over a wall, and ran for it:  (See  Baboon Escape).   Apparently, the facility has been cited "multiple times for animal welfare-related issues, including some deaths".   

Calling Caesar - it's time to show up and rescue.

Caesar, with a rifle and Nova behind his back, on a horse with the film's logo and "Witness the End July 14" at the bottom.And, while he's at it, if he'd take care of Mr. Slager, who is horrified to find out that he's in the middle of the first case of someone testifying at their own murder trial, in which a Woman Burned to Death.  (Well, not quite - there's a Renaissance Italian lady who did, but that's another story, for next time).  Anyway, Mr. Slager and his girlfriend, Judy Malinowski, were arguing on Aug. 2, 2015, when he doused her with gasoline and set her on fire outside a gas station in Gahanna, a suburb of Columbus. “I never knew that a human being could be so evil,” Malinowski said in a videotaped interview on her deathbed. “He just stood there and did nothing. God, please, please help me.”   I hope they hang the bastard. 

Domestic terrorists went on trial in the town of Liberal (you can't make this stuff up), Kansas, before an all-white jury.  The 3 militia members plotted to detonate a bomb at a housing complex in western Kansas where Somali immigrants lived and worshiped.  The men stockpiled guns and composed a manifesto about their anti-Muslim motives.  “Their rhetoric and their speech have revealed a hatred for Muslims, Somalis and immigrants,” an FBI agent wrote in affidavit related to the case, and that is an understatement, to put it mildly:  you can read some of it at the Huffpost Article here:  Domestic Terrorism.  None of it is fit to print.  Thank God, they were convicted.

The tragic part, the absolutely totally completely EFF-ED UP part of it is that they got all their ideas from conservative news:  Ben Carson, HUD Secretary, raving on Breitbart about "civilizational jihad"; Fox News' Monica Crowley raving about the same on The Washington Times; Ben Shapiro, Frank Gaffney, and John Bolton all have spread at least some of what got these men to decide that they had to blow up every Somali in sight.  (See Charles Pierce for further links here:  Right Wing Paranoia.)  And that's without going to the kool-ade crazy Alex Jones...

But there is good news:  The New York Times reported that on April 18, 1930, the BBC's evening bulletin was surprisingly brief: “Good evening. Today is Good Friday. There is no news,” and followed it up by 15 minutes of piano music.  (I'd wax nostalgic and all that, but I know what came next.)

No news was NOT the case for the United States on that date:

The BBC may have had no news on April 18, 1930, but The New York Times did.

Once the snow was melted enough to get out of the driveway, we took a few days off from the daily grind and spent the weekend visiting the kids and grandkids in Colorado.  We also left behind our cell phones, and totally ignored the news, on or off the internet.  It was great.  We played endless games of "Settlers of Catan", and I only won twice.  We went for walks.  We ate a lot.  We saw the sights.  And we talked, talked, talked, talked, talked.

That's what an early spring vacation, or a long summer vacation should be.  That's the way it was when I was kid, when we played Canasta, Sorry, Chinese Checkers, and Gin whenever it rained or got too dark to run around capturing fireflies in glass jars.  Even back then the news loomed large and seemed dangerous, but it faded over a couple of days, and we had time again to talk and run around getting mosquito bites and grass stains everywhere, and then back for more lemonade and beer (for the adults, of course) and more talk.

Very relaxing.  Days where nothing much happens, except you're there, together.

And now we're back, and I've caught up on the news.  Most of it is the same old wars and rumors of war garbage we've been dealing with since Cain decided that Abel was dissing him and his vegetables.  But there's also the shining moments:

Image result for duchess of cambridge

The Duchess of Cambridge had her baby boy.   Most of my friends are amazed that she walked out of the hospital 6 hours later in high heels and a dress, but apparently an entire team of hairdressers, make-up artists, and a maid were there to make her look good, and I suspect drugs to give her the ability to walk while feeling that most of her is inside out.  And I'll bet - and I don't blame her a bit - that she went home, handed baby to a nanny and had a stiff drink in bed.   

There's a great article on the NYTimes about "The Synchronized Swimming of Sea Monkeys". The video of them is absolutely hypnotic, but then my husband always dreads it when we go to the zoo in Omaha and I stand in front of the transparent jellyfish exhibit and watch them floating, up and down and up and down and up and...

And, from the NYTimes, this man saved God only knows how many lives at a Waffle House in Nashville, TN, from yet another mass shooter with an AR-15.

James Shaw, Jr., 29 year old electrician, saw the shooter, scuffled with him, and grabbed the rifle, and hurled it over a countertop.  He was grazed with a bullet, and the barrel was hot, and it burned his hand, which is why it's bandaged in the photo.

In classic asshole style, the shooter cussed him out.

Mr. Shaw:  “He was mad at me.  I was just trying to live. I wasn’t trying to get no money from him, I wasn’t trying to do anything from his standpoint. I just wanted to live, and he was, like, astonished, that I wanted to live.”

Typical:  the shooter couldn't understand why his victims wanted to (or should) live.

Wonderful:  Mr. Shaw was there to stop him.  God blessings, and a speedy recovery!  I hope you get all the electrician work you can handle in Nashville, and may you be blessed in your children and grandchildren forever.

Meanwhile, for those of you who are still tense, jellyfish.














25 April 2018

Trouble (Ben Affleck's "The Town")

David Edgerley Gates


In between his two Dennis Lehane adapations, Ben Affleck made a picture called The Town, which feels like a Lehane story, but it's based on a book by Chuck Hogan, yet another Boston guy.

I admit I've never been a big Ben Affleck fan. I liked him in support, Good Will Hunting, Shakespeare in Love, didn't like him in leads, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor. (Reindeer Games is Frankenheimer's last feature, so I'd overlook Troy Donahue if he were in it.) But then he surprised me as a director, with Gone Baby Gone. Very solid picture. Lehane was well served the first two times around, with Mystic River and Gone Baby. He wasn't third time lucky: Live by Night went flat. I think Ben Affleck miscast his own film. He wears the clothes beautifully, the drape's to die for, but his character's an empty suit. And after Brendan Gleeson exits the first act, the pacing limps to the finish line in cinderblock shoes.


So, that being said, I didn't have the highest expectations going in, but The Town is a knock-out. It begins with a bank job in Harvard Square, which is my old stomping ground (Ben Affleck was raised in Cambridge), and that got it on my good side. Speaking as a local boy, too, there's an interesting visual consistency in the movie, not strictly necessary, but reassuring - they'll use an establishing aerial shot, and then drop into the neighborhood, and they match. This isn't always the case, and it's obvious that Ben the Director, as distinct from Ben the Actor, is going the extra distance. Fenway Park from a chopper, Fenway Park backstage, under the stands. Bunker Hill Monument? On the ground, the streets around Monument Square. From above, the Old North Church. The chase after the armored car robbery is in the North End. They don't fake it. They don't fake it when they could, when most people wouldn't know the difference between Coolidge Corner and Savin Hill. It shows a genuine appreciation for the right landscape.



There's a vocal landscape they get right, as well, the cadences. And easy to get wrong. It's not just Ben Affleck, who slides familiarly into the voice, but Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively, not a Valley Girl locution between them. Not that she gets a lot to do, but she does a lot with what she gets. Renner seems to do even less, with more. It's not the accent, quite, as much as it is usage and speech patterns, the mouth feel of the language. He's got the St. Vitus Dance, ants in his pants, a delivery that's one step behind, as if he's puzzling out his own train of thought. He stretches his hesitations and clips his words short, the silences are eloquent and threatening.



Speaking of Jeremy Renner, the two serious relationships in the picture are between Renner's Gem and Affleck's Doug, and between Doug and Rebecca Hall's Claire. Gem is a silent partner in Doug and Claire's relationship, besides, not that she knows about it, because if there's the slightest chance of Claire ratting out their crew, Gem will cap her without a second thought.



Which brings us to what Jon Hamm's FBI guy calls, "Your fuckin' Irish omerta." The Town is a heist picture, and the town in question isn't Boston at large, but Boston in small, specifically Bunker Hill, Charlestown. It's a movie about clannishness, about class loyalties, about family in the larger sense, of immersion, of race memory. It's specific about place, and place experienced as density. A sudden phrase beings it back, a sharp smell, a retinal afterimage. The place of heart's desiring. The fact that these guys are a criminal family, a crew, a marriage of convenience, misses the point. This is the air they breathe. This is what they know. This isn't something you can change out of, like a pair of pants.

The robberies themselves are set pieces, kinetic and tense, adrenaline and endorphins, wound up tight. The personal scenes have a dark energy, what's said, what's held back, a dangerous edge. Here's a for instance.
Doug goes to see Gem. "I need your help. I can't tell you what it is. We're gonna hurt some people."
Gem waits a beat, looks up. "Whose car we gonna take?"

Ray LaMontagne's Jolene plays over the final credits. It's a killer.
  Held you in my arms one time
  Lost you just the same

24 April 2018

When an Amateur Writes a Police Procedural

by Barb Goffman

I'm not a sheriff, and I've never played one on TV. So when it came to writing mystery short stories, for a long time I avoided writing police procedurals. There were too many ways I could screw things up. Too many important details I'd need to research, and more important, things I might not even realize I was getting wrong. And that's still the case today.

But a few years ago, I heard a fictional sheriff talking to me in my head. So, with misgivings, I started writing her story. To try to ensure I didn't make any mistakes, I imposed some rules on myself. The most important: the story had to be solved quickly through interviews and observation, not using blood work or DNA or other modern investigative methods with which I could easily make mistakes. In this way, my sheriff would operate kind of like an amateur sleuth, relying on her wits, but with the benefit of knowledge the sheriff would have and the power of her badge to induce folks to speak with her and to get warrants when needed.

This approach worked well and resulted in my first story about Sheriff Ellen Wescott. "Suffer the Little Children" was published in 2013 in my collection, Don't Get Mad, Get Even. I've now brought Sheriff Wescott back for a second case in "Till Murder Do Us Part," which was recently published by Wildside Press in the new anthology Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies.

In this new story, a man who runs a business putting on weddings in a converted barn on his farm is murdered. The body is discovered on a Sunday morning. The day is important. I didn't want to have to deal with the sheriff getting phone records and other CSI-type evidence to help solve the case. While a judge's warrant could be secured on the weekend, I figured it would be harder to get a phone company to act quickly on a Sunday. I also wanted all the characters I needed to be believably and easily available. On a weekday, some of them would be at work, but on a Sunday, it would be much easier for them to gather.

So my story is set on a Sunday, and my sheriff and her deputy--through interviews and investigation of items found at the crime scene--try to piece together what happened. That's the basics. I don't want to reveal any more for fear I'll give away too much, but I will address one point: Does this tale sound a little dry to you? It does to me, just explaining it. I don't like dry stories. I like to introduce pathos or fun (maybe both) into my stories to make the reader want to turn the pages. So it helps that law enforcement officers often enjoy black humor, as I do.

That's where the cows come in. You see, every story in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies involves crime and critters. We have several stories involving dogs. They were the most popular animal in the submitted stories and in those accepted. But we also have animal diversity. We have stories with crows, cows, crickets, and cats; rabbits, ferrets, an octopus, and rats. And fish. Mustn’t forget the fish. My story is the one with the cows.

As I said above, "Till Murder Do Us Part" involves murder in farm country. It also takes place during the worst heat wave since the state began keeping records. What happens when it's really hot and there are cows around? Yep, they explode. Or they can. But don't worry. I don't just use the cows for black humor. They play a role in the plot. I won't say more because I don't want to give things away, but I will add with delight that New York Times bestselling author Chris Grabenstein--who kindly wrote the introduction to the book--called my story "extremely clever," and I think it's because of how I used the cows.

To read my new story, and the twelve other great stories in the book, pick up a copy of Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies. It's available in trade paperback or e-format directly from the publisher by clicking here or through Amazon or independent bookstores.

If you'll be at the Malice Domestic mystery convention later this week, the book will be available in the book room. In fact, most of the authors with stories in the book will be at the Wildside Press table in the convention's book room at 3:30 p.m. this Saturday to sign books. And if you'll be in the Washington, DC, area on Sunday, May 20th, please come to our launch party from 2 - 4 p.m. at the Central Library in Arlington, Virginia. But you don't have to wait until then to get some goodies. If you see me at Malice, ask me about my cow tails. I might just have some candy on hand for you.

And speaking of Malice Domestic, let me get in one last plug for the five short stories nominated for this year's Agatha Award. I'm honored to have my story "Whose Wine Is It Anyway?" from the anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet up for the award. You can read it here. The other finalists include my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor, who is always stiff competition, and three other authors I'm proud to call my friends: Gretchen Archer, Debra H. Goldstein, and Gigi Pandian. You can read all their nominated stories here through the Malice Domestic website. Just scroll down to their story titles. Each one is a link. You may not be able to get a lot of reading done before the voting deadline this Saturday, but I hope you can read all the short stories.

I'm looking forward to seeing many of you writers and readers at the convention, which starts in just two days. Malice or bust! But in the meanwhile, getting back to police procedurals, I'd love to hear about your favorite authors writing police procedurals today, especially ones who don't have law-enforcement background but still get the details right. Please share in the comments.

23 April 2018

Living on the Wild Side:
Or, How to Create a Believable Villain

I met Charles Salzberg last October when we were on a panel at Bouchercon in Toronto.

Charles is the author of the Shamus nominated Swann's Last Song, as well as Swann Dives In, Swann's Lake of Despair and Swann's Way Out. His Devil in the Hole, was named one of the best crime novels of 2013 by Suspense magazine. His novella, "Twist of Fate," is included in Triple Shot, a collection of three crime novellas, and his novel, Second Story Man, was published in March by Down and Out Books. He teaches writing for the New York Writers Workshop, where he is a Founding Member and he is on the board of MWA-NY. He also has my undying envy because he co-wrote Soupy Sez: My Zany Life and Times, the memoir of the late great Soupy Sales.

Usually when I invite a guest to write for us I give the following example: "Don't write 'Buy my wonderful book.' Write 'How do you make a convincing villain? In my new book…'" When I read the terrific piece below I was afraid Charles had taken my example as a command, but he assured me it was what he wanted to write about anyway.

— Robert Lopresti

by Charles Salzberg

I’ve spent most of my life trying to stay out of trouble. As a kid, I left that to my brother, who spent a good part of his life in the principal’s office. Periodically, my mother would be called into school and presented with a list of my brother’s wrongdoings. Nothing serious, you understand. Just enough to get under the teacher’s skin.

Me, I coasted through under the radar. I was the good one. The one who never got into trouble. The one who spent his time trying to please adults. Obeying the all the rules. Speaking only when spoken to. Keeping my nose clean. Yeah, that was me.

On the social scene, I was a dud. It was the “bad boys” who got the attention, especially from the girls. The only thing that prevented me from disappearing completely into the woodwork was that I was good at sports.

I always wondered what it would be like to be one of the bad boys. You know the type. James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. Marlon Brando in The Wild One, who when asked, “What are you rebelling against,” answered, “What’ve you got?” Paul Newman in Hud. Sean Penn in just about anything.

Trouble was, I didn’t think I’d ever find out, because that obey the rules thing seemed to be branded into my DNA. I couldn’t be bad, even if I wanted to.

But, as it turns out, I was wrong. I can be bad. All I need is someone else’s name and a blank sheet of paper.

That’s probably why I take so much glee in writing villains. But anyone who’s tried, knows it isn’t easy. What I mean is, anyone can write a villain, but to write a good one, one that isn’t the stereotypical bad actor, like Hannibal Lector, for instance, one that jumps off the page and haunts your dreams, takes skill.

You’d think it would be difficult for someone who was the “good boy,” all his life. But it’s not. In fact, it comes surprisingly easy and, I should be ashamed to say this but I’m not, it’s fun.

Writing villains isn’t easy. A true villain isn’t just someone who does bad stuff. A true villain, one that stays with the reader, is a complex character and the evil he or she does emanates directly from that character. I’m not talking about the “I’m gonna blow up the world” guy who hates everyone. Or the guy who cheats and steals for personal gain. Or the woman who betrays every man she comes in contact with.

Look, no one gets up in the morning, stretches his or her arms, rubs his or her chin, and says, “You know what? I think I’m going to be a badass today. I’m going to step all over anyone who gets in my way.”

That’s not a villain, that’s a stereotype.

A true villain, or at least a believable villain, thinks he or she is justified in whatever he or she does. It’s more about self-interest, I think. Greed. Selfishness. A blatant disregard for the feelings (and rights) of others because, you’re more important than everyone else.

I like to think I write complex and flawed characters. Probably the baddest character I ever wrote is Francis Hoyt, the master thief of Second Story Man. He’s brilliant, manipulative, athletic, arrogant, and mean. He uses people, then tosses them aside. But he’s got a history and it’s that history that helps explain who he is and why he does what he does. Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t justify what he does. It explains it. You can tell from the first line of the novel when he utters, “Where’s my fucking money?” Right away, you peg him as a bad guy. He doesn’t say, “You know, you may have forgotten about that money you owe me, and I could sure use it now.” Nope. He says, “Where’s my fucking money?” There’s a threat implied in those four words and from those four words you know he’s not kidding around.

The other two characters in the book, Charlie Floyd and Manny Perez, are far from perfect, but they’re certainly not villains. They, too, are complex human beings capable of doing wrong. But Francis Hoyt, well, he’s in a whole other league. I’m proud of Francis Hoyt and I loved writing him and hearing him speak. But I certainly wouldn’t want to meet him.

And so, finally, after all these years, I’ve managed to be the “bad boy,” even if it is only on the page.

22 April 2018

Kranky Kalls
Telemarketing Tales 2

by Leigh Lundin

Last week, Elizabeth wrote about a New Jersey telemarketer phoning Hawaii at 3am to sell siding. Her comment presaged my own brush with wall-to-wall telemarketers.

As mentioned previously, I worked nights but was responsible for answering a business tech support line any time of day. I had little patience or mercy for phone solicitors. When the calls came, the games began. A handful of Disney cast members suggested I write up the dialogues.

Kustom Kottage Kolouration and Kraftmanship

With a stucco house, siding should mean nothing to me, but when awakened, surprising opinions surfaced.
Judy Hopps © Zootopia
Zootopia • Judy Hopps © Disney
“Good morning, sir. Kustom Kraft would like to tell you about our Salubrious Siding products, each government approved by HUD, FHA, FTC, FAA, and PTA. Today only, we can make available our entire product line at 63% savings for fine customers like yourself. How does that sound to you, sir?”

“Timely, yes, timely. I’m grateful you called. I’ve been thinking about siding after a visit to the Southwest.”

“Thousands of happy customers from the American Southwest love our Salubrious Siding. All our products use patented, copyrighted, trademarked, UL-underwritten, GSA-approved Elastomeric©™ technology. We can provide any kind of siding, any kind at all.”

“That’s great news. I want cowhide.”

“Wuh? Did you say cowhide?”

“Of course. In Arizona and New Mexico, you see all these dwellings wrapped with hides. One quonset building sticks in my mind with beautiful tan and white cowhide. I made up my mind I wanted that look.”

“But sir, cowhide?”

“It has to be the right color combination, kind of a golden tan, not too brown and certainly not black. My wife will want to see samples. Is this afternoon suitable?”

“But sir, I don’t think we can purchase cow side hiding… I mean cow hide siding.”

“That’s a brilliant play on words, but let’s get this moving. When can you meet?”

“Sir, I’m not certain…”

“Am I sensing hesitation? If a customer gives you the business, you shouldn’t judge them.”

“No, no, but…”

“You can’t back out now. You claimed your company has extensive coverage in the Southwest, so you can obtain hide siding much easier than I can.”

“I… I’m gonna have to call you back.”

“I suppose if you must. Are we still on for this afternoon when my wife returns?”

“No, no sir. I have to run this past management.”

“I appreciate it. If you can sell me so easily, I bet you’ll impress your managers. You got my number, right? Hello?”
According to the YouMail Robocall Index, Americans receive in excess of 100-million unwelcome solicitation phone calls a week. This number is verifiably close to the FTC estimate.

Krafty Katalogue Kallers

Officer Judy Hopps © Disney Zootopia
Madness runs in the family. My brother Glen contributed the following examples.
“Hello Glen. How are you today?”

“With whom am I speaking?”

“I’m with your friends at Krafty Kunning Katalog Kompany and my name’s Patty.”

“Hello, Patty. How may I help you?”

“I’m calling to tell you about our latest promotion, an offer only our best customers can take advantage of.”

“Tremendous, Patty. What is your surname?”

“My… er, what?”

“Your last name.”

“I”m not sure I’m supposed to give that out.”

“Patty, you know my name and as you said, we’re all friends.”

“Well… okay, it’s Peón, Patty Peón.”

“Thank you, Miss Peón. What is your address?”

“Our company is located at…”

“No, no, your home address. You have mine, don’t you? You said we’re friends.”

“Er, yes, but I’m not allowed to give out my address.”

“Okay, what is your bank card number? That’s sixteen digits, plus the expiration date and the 3-digit code on the back.”

“What do you want that for?”

“You know my financial details, it’s only fair I know yours, seeing how we’re such good pals. Companies call it a reciprocal relationship. What is your home phone number?”

“Sir, I’m not giving that out. People I don’t know might harass me.”

“Irony isn’t one of your strong suites, huh? Patty, we’re such close friends, don’t let something like this spoil our relationship.”

“Sir, I’m not giving out personal information.”

“Sounds like sensible advice.”

*click*
Telemarketers hide behind ‘spoofed’ numbers, often appearing to originate in your area, but deriving from obscure corners around the globe.

Klogged Kolon Kleanser
Officer Judy Hopps © Disney Zootopia
“Sir, this is a courtesy call to inform you about the advantages of Kustom Kleanse Kolon deKlogger, the latest, space-age product to relieve those embarrassing symptoms of…”

(Glen with bored, condescending monotone) “Your billing info?”

“Er, that would be Burp-o-Lex Corp.”

“B-u-r-…”

“As I was saying, Super Kolon Kleanse brings you the latest innovation scientifically formulated…”

“-o-l-e-x, right? Your account number?”

“Er, what do you mean?”

(impatiently) “Your account number or a credit card number will do.”

“What? Why?”

“For billing $3.95 per minute or fraction thereof. The first four digits please?”

“I thought this was a private number?”

“Why would you think that? Anyway, we’re two minutes and nineteen seconds into the call. I’ll also need the credit card’s expiration date and CSV.”

“I don’t understand. What have I reached?”

“Sylvia Slattern’s Slinky Sex Salon, We do phone sex right. If you prefer Rod’s Leather and Chains…”

“You’re not actually billing me, are you?”

“Of course, $3.95 a minute. Remember, Slinky Sylvia Slattern puts the oral in immoral. Now if gay is your way…”

“I’m not gay.”

“Don’t feel embarrassed, Queer Vibrations is only $3.95 a minute. Your credit card number, please?”

“I’m not gay and I’m not paying for phone sex.”

“Sir, billing started the moment you phoned. Remember, you called us, we didn’t call you. In the absence of a credit card, we shall directly bill your phone number.”

*click*
What are your favorites?

Kold Krafty Kallers will return.

21 April 2018

Mean Girls


by John M. Floyd



A few weeks ago I posted a column about female protagonists ("Let's Hear It for Heroines"), and in putting together my list of those I was a little surprised at how few female heroes have been featured in novels and movies. The same thing goes for female villains, but even more so--Hollywood doesn't seem fond of casting a woman as the bad guy. But I'm fond of those in the following list. I've ranked these evil folks backward, by the way, from least creepy (#25) to most creepy (#1). My opinion only.

NOTE: Evil, in this case, doesn't necessarily mean criminal. It means those who scared me the most. How many of these do you remember?


25. Eleanor Shaw (Angela Lansbury) -- The Manchurian Candidate

24. Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) -- Body Heat

23. Bellatrix Lastrange (Helena Bonham Carter) -- Harry Potter

22. Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) -- Snow White and the Huntsman

21. Winifred Sanderson (Bette Midler) -- Hocus Pocus

20. Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) -- Maleficent

19. Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) -- Friday the 13th

18. The White Witch (Tilda Swinton) -- The Chronicles of Narnia

17. Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) -- Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

16. Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek) -- From Dusk to Dawn

15. Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) -- Sunset Boulevard

14. The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) -- The Wizard of Oz

13. Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) -- Gone Girl

12. Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter) -- Play Misty for Me

11. Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) -- Monster

10. Ellie Driver (Darryl Hannah) -- Kill Bill

9.   Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis) -- Natural Born Killers

8.   Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) -- Rebecca

7.   Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone) -- Basic Instinct

6.   Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) -- Mommie Dearest

5.   May Day (Grace Jones) -- A View to a Kill

4.   Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) -- From Russia With Love

3.   Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) -- Fatal Attraction

2.   Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) -- Misery

1.   Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) -- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest


Following up on that, here are ten female antagonists who weren't all that scary to me--but I just didn't like 'em. At all. I've ranked these from the least unlikable (#10) to the most unlikable (#1):


10. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) -- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

9.  The Warden (Sigourney Weaver) -- Holes

8.  Miss Hannigan (Carol Burnett) -- Annie

7.  Mama Fratelli (Anne Ramsey) -- The Goonies

6.  Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) -- The Help

5.  Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) -- The Graduate

4.  Regina George (Rachel McAdams) -- Mean Girls

3.  Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) -- Working Girl

2.  Cinderella's stepmother (Cate Blanchett)--Cinderella

1.  Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) -- The Devil Wears Prada



These lists don't include, of course, bad girls who are likeable--Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway), Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis), Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon), etc. But audiences are expected to like them: they're protagonists, not antagonists.

I also left out good/bad shapeshifters like Regan McNeil (The Exorcist) and Carrie White (Carrie), villains from TV series--Cercei Lannister (Game of Thrones), Sister Mary Eunice (American Horror Story), and a bunch of meanies from Buffy the Vampire Slayer--and animated female villains like Cruella de Vil (101 Dalmatians) and Ursula the Sea Witch (The Little Mermaid). And so on and so on.

As usual, I've included only characters from movies I've actually seen, which leaves out a lot of candidates. Who are some of your favorite female movie villains? Also (he asked, holding up a gender-equality sign), have you featured women as villains in your own writing?

I have. And it's fun . . .



20 April 2018

Quotes from writers

by
O'Neil De Noux

Quotes about writing inspire me, always have. I'm sure most of my fellow writers are familiar with these quotes but some many not and many readers may not. So here goes.

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand." George Orwell

"A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities." J.R.R. Tolkien

"The art of the novelist is not unrelated to the illness of multiple personality disorder. It's a much milder form. But the better the book, the nearer the padded cell you are." David Mitchell

"Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations." Ray Bradbury


"You fail only if you stop writing." Ray Bradbury

"All my characters write the book. I don't write the book." Ray Bradbury

"You will have to write and put away or burn a lot of material before you are comfortable in this medium. You might as well start now and get the necessary work done. For I believe that eventually quantity will make for quality." Ray Bradbury

"It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, if by magic, we see a new meaning in it. Anais Nin


"We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect." Anais Nin

"Comedy is merely tragedy which has gone wrong and tragedy is merely comedy which has gone wrong." Peter Ustinov

"Don't forget - no one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can tell the stories that you have to tell." Charles de Lint
Elmore Leonard

"When I write a book I'm the only person I have to please." Elmore Leonard

"Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy." F. Scott Fitzgerald

"Writers aren't people exactly. Or, if they're any good. they're a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person." F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald

"Action is character." F. Scott Fitzgerald

"Nobody ever became a writer just by wanting to be one." F. Scott Fitzgerald

"I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within." Gustave Flaubert

"Do you realize that all great literature is all about what a bummer it is to be a human being? Isn't it such a relief to have somebody say that?" Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

"Start as close to the end as possible." Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

"If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor." Edgar Rice Burroughs.

"You must understand that when you are writing a novel you are not making anything up. It's all there and you just have to find it." Thomas Harris

Lillian Hellman

"Nothing your write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as your first hoped." Lillian Hellman

"However great a man's talent may be, the art of writing cannot be learned all at once." Jean Jacques Rousseau

"Make them laugh. Make them cry. Make them wait." Charles Dickens

"My aim in constructing sentences is to make the sentence utterly easy to understand, writing what I call transparent prose. I've failed dreadfully if you have to read a sentence twice to figure out what I meant." Ken Follett

Ken Follett

"Enchanting the reader. Casting a spell. That's my main aim." Ken Follett

"A writer is someone who has taught his mind to misbehave." Oscar Wilde

"You don't always have to take the editor's advice. Sometimes the way you see it is the way it should be." Stephen King

"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader." Robert Frost

"One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you're maybe a little bit ashamed of your short words." Stephen King

"The adverb is not your friend." Stephen King

"Write what you like; there is no other rule." O. Henry

Ursula K. LeGuin

"We need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art." Ursula K. Le Guin

"A writer never needs a vacation. For a writer life consists of either writing or thinking about writing." Eugene Ionesco

"To say a writer's hold on reality is tenuous is an understatement - it's like saying the TITANIC had a rough crossing. Writers build the own realities, move into them and occasionally send letters home. The only difference between a writer and a crazy person is that a writer gets paid." David Gerrold

A. S. Byatt

"Think of this - that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other." Dame Antonia Susan Duffy, known as A.S. Byatt, English novelist and poet.

"A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about the writer." G.K. Chesterton.

"I own my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite." G.K. Chesterton

"There is no idea so brilliant or original that a sufficiently-untalented writer can't screw it up." Raymond E. Feist

"What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers." Logan Pearsall Smith

"The historian records, but the novelist creates." E.M. Forster

"It is impossible to discourage the real writers - they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write." Sinclair Lewis

"It's story that counts, its heart, its feeling, its reality, its capacity of the written word to move you." Rod Serling.

Rod Serling

"If writing wasn't hard, everyone would be a writer." Rod Serling

"Forget narrative, backstory, characterization, exposition, all of that. Just make the audience want to know what happens next." David Mamet

"When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature." Ernest Hemingway

"I'm a professional liar folks. I write fiction for a living. I make up this weird crap and people pay me for it." Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison
"To say more is to say less." Harlan Ellison

"The only thing worth writing about is people. People. Human beings. Men and women whose individuality must be created, line by line, insight by insight. If you do not do it, the story is a failure." Harlan Ellison

"The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer." Harlan Ellison

"It must be realistic in character, setting and atmosphere. It must be about real people in a real world." Raymond Chandler

"It must be credibly motivated, both as to the original situation and the denouement." Raymond Chandler

"It must have a sound story value apart from the mystery element: i.e. the investigation itself must be an adventure worth reading." Raymond Chandler

"Know your characters well and the story will write itself." William Faulkner

"Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency ... to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the ODE ON A GRECIAN URN is worth any number of old ladies." William Faulkner

"What would I do if I knew I had only had six months to live? Type faster." Isaac Asimov

"A writer is a world trapped in a person." Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo

Let's end with Victor Hugo. He had requested a pauper's funeral. There was no way the French would not honor their literary hero. No building in Paris was large enough for his wake. His coffin lay in state beneath the Arc de Triomphe and more than two million people joined his funeral procession from the Arc de Triomphe to the Pantheon. TWO MILLION. Hugo shares a crypt with Alexandre Dumas and Emile Zola. Nearly every large town in Franch has a street named for him. Vive le France.

Wake of Victor Hugo at the Arc de Triomphe

Funeral procession of Victor Hugo