31 January 2019

What We're Best at Being Bad At

by Eve Fisher

Ah, the nuances of our various United States.  And, thanks to the Internet, we have more memes and statistics and sites than ever before to show everyone what we're good - and bad - and very VERY bad at.

According to the Reader's Digest, South Dakota is Best at Retirement — Everyone’s golden years are more, well, golden in South Dakota, where a combination of low taxes and happy residents makes it the best state for retirement according to Bankrate. And we're Worst at Child Mortality Rate — Unfortunately, the younger generation in the Mount Rushmore state isn’t faring so well. With 47 teen and child deaths per 100,000 people every year, it’s leading the nation in child mortality.  So - give birth somewhere else, but come here to retire.  Interesting...

How does this compare to other states I've lived in?

Well, California is Best at diversity, and Worst at quality of life. I'm surprised at that, because I remember California as wonderful - and I don't think it was all youth and hormones...

But it beats North Carolina (where I went to graduate school for a while at Chapel Hill), which is Best at Millenial Living but Worst at STDs. Please folks - start using condoms!

Georgia is Best at onions - specifically Vidalia, and I can attest to their sweetness.  It's Worst at flu prevention.

Tennessee is Best at Fast Wi-Fi - apparently the state's internet is 50 times speedier than the national average, and God only knows how they got that - and Worst at childhood obesity rates.

But let's move on to crime.  What's the most famous unsolved crime in every state?  (see MSN to look up your state.)

In South Dakota, it's the murders of 30-year-old LaDonna Mathis and her two sons, aged 4 and 2, shot dead on September 8, 1981, in Mount Vernon in Davison County, South Dakota. The father, John Mathis, was shot in the arm, but survived. He said a masked man had carried out the attack, but investigators considered him the prime suspect. He was acquitted a year later when a jury found him not guilty, mainly because the prosecution had no witnesses, no murder weapon and little physical evidence.  "As I look back, I would have recognized that at that time there was a myth, a myth that parents could not harm their children, No. 1," then-Attorney General Mark Meierhenry said. "No 2., that sometimes myth overwhelms reason. Because it's what we all want to believe."

NOTE:  The Argus Leader has a whole different set of top five unsolved mysteries - look them up HERE.

BTW, there are lots of gruesome stories on this website, but the weirdest one is from Vermont:
Between 1920 and 1950, as many as 10 people mysteriously disappeared in a patch of woods surrounding Glastenbury Mountain in southwestern Vermont. Native Americans consider Glastenbury Mountain “cursed” and used it strictly for burying their dead. They believed the land to be cursed because all four winds met in that spot. There is also mention in native American folklore of an enchanted stone which is said to swallow anything that steps on it. Some have also reported UFO activity and Bigfoot sightings in the area.  Author Joseph Citro coined the term "Bennington Triangle" in 1992.  Well, sounds like a new movie franchise to me.

John Dillinger mug shot.jpg
John Dillinger
The most notorious crime for each state is almost always entirely different (see Insider) than the "most famous unsolved" one, with the exceptions of the murder of Jon Benet-Ramsay in Colorado, and the murder of TV star Bob Crane in Scottsdale, AZ in 1978.  But they are indeed all notorious - I'd heard of most of them, including the 1924 murder by Leopold and Loeb of their 14 year old cousin, Bobby Franks, the 1954 Clutter murders which was the source material for Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood", and Jeffrey MacDonald, who was accused and eventually convicted of the 1970 murders of his family at Fort Bragg.  BTW, Mr. MacDonald has consistently declared his innocence (but then so do so many), but has consistently been refuted, denied, etc.  However, in 1997 DNA testing was done on some hair from the crime scene, some of which matched no one in the MacDonald family.  So far this evidence has not been enough to get him a new trial.  That happens more often than you'd think.  

Meanwhile, in South Dakota, it's when John Dillinger robbed the Security National Bank in Sioux Falls on March 6, 1934.  He got $50,000, which would be almost a million dollars today.

Now it's very appropriate that a bank robbery would be our most notorious crime, because when it comes to crime statistics, South Dakota is best known for its larceny.  61% of all our major crimes are monetary, and if you're surprised, you haven't been paying attention to my past blogs on EB-5, Gear Up!, and Maria Butina:  61% larceny and theft, 14% burglary, 14% aggravated assault (combine drinking and winter, and a lot of stuff happens around the bars or at home), 7% motor vehicle theft, and the remaining 4% rape, robbery, and murder/manslaughter.  (MuniNetGuide)

I looked over the charts, and while the numbers do change, the actual proportions of crime look almost the same for all the states. But you feel it a bit more in a state like this.  South Dakota has a current population of around 870,000, which means that each and every South Dakotan will either experience crime, commit crime, or feel the effects of crime upon them or someone they know. You know that whole "Six Degrees of Separation" rap? Here it's Two Degrees. At the most.

It's like when Carl Ericsson, 72 years old and holding a serious grudge, came to Madison, SD one night in 2012, and went literally from door to door, looking for someone on his grudge list who was home.  (Yes, he had a list.)  Fortunately for all but one, the only one home was a very popular retired teacher, Norm Johnson, who Ericsson shot twice in the face.  Johnson died that night.  I knew Johnson - he always was the host of the annual Spelling Bee, and I was one of the AAUW women who judged it.  I also knew him from substitute teaching at the high school when we first moved up to Madison.  I didn't know Carl Ericsson, but I knew his brother (who was also on Carl's grudge list), and all of his brother's family.  And that night the deputy who lived next door to us knocked on my door and asked me to babysit his kids while he went to join the other law enforcement looking for the shooter.  This was before anyone knew who the shooter was, or where he was, or who he was looking for.  The deputy gave me a gun in case the shooter came calling, and I sat there while the kids slept for a few hours.  Safe, but listening for footsteps on the sidewalk, and/or a knock on the door.  Everyone in Madison (population 6,000+) knew either Ericsson, Johnson, or both.  It resonated in a way that you almost never see on TV.

But back to embezzlement.  Besides grifting on the state level, there's also one heck of a lot of small potatoes embezzlement here in South Dakota, much of it fueled by gambling addiction and/or medical bills.  $500 from the local VFW; $1,500 from a doctor's office; $2,500 from a nursing home.  Interestingly, besides the public humiliation, the punishment is more a slap on the wrist:  the main penalty is to pay the money back and do community service; rarely is there any jail time.  Perhaps that's why it's so common...

hi-grain_766852540621But every once in a while it gets bigger than video lottery.  Just recently, up in Kingsbury County a family-run grain elevator has gone bankrupt because the family was hedging commodities and lost as much as $15 million of other people's money. Now that's serious gambling. And the farmers who trust them are in a world of hurt.  The farmers hauled their grain to the elevator, waited for prices to go up and the grain to be sold, and then waited, waited, waited for their checks...  Besides the fact that the grain elevator pocketed the money, while grain purchasers have to post bonds to guarantee that they'll pay the grain producers - but this company only had a bond of $400,000.  That's going to resonate for a long time.  Maybe longer than murder.  (KELO-TV)

Anyway, that's all from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 

PS - In a sea-filled flavor of things to come, Madison, SD is taking up shrimp farming!  Tru Shrimp, from Ballaton, MN, has announced plans to build its first commercial shrimp harbor in Madison. "The facility is expected to employ 60, produce 8 million pounds of shrimp annually, and have a $30 million impact on a five-county area."  (Madison Daily Leader)  Because nothing says shrimp harbor like the plains of South Dakota... I see a real story coming here, folks, and I will keep you posted!

PPS - Leigh Lundin's tid-bits from Florida have made me feel that I need to provide aid and comfort to him in regard to a certain Mr. Sardo.  (Leigh's post)  Here in South Dakota, on January 11, 2019, an Ipswich man was convicted for fulfilling his dream of having sex with underage twins - in this case, two calves.  He tried to claim that the laws against bestiality were unconstitutional, but the judge didn't buy it.  (Story Here)


30 January 2019

Besty McBestface 2018

by Robert Lopresti

I was somewhat surprised to discover that this is my tenth annual list of the best short mysteries of the year, as determined by me.   I will have to do something to celebrate that  in a month or two.  I should remind you that these reviews are taken from the longer weekly summaries I do at Little Big Crimes.

This year was 16% worse than last, insert political joke here, based on my best-of list dropping from 18 to 15.  Writers, was it you or was it me?   Speaking of writers, eleven were men, five women.  (One story had two authors.)  Two authors were British, one Canadian.

The big winner this year was Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, with four stories.  Three other sources supplied two each: Akashic Press's Noir Cities series, Mystery Weekly Magazine, and the anthology Deadlines: A Tribute to William E. Wallace.

Three stories are historical, two are funny, and one has fantasy elements.   Six have surprise endings.  Remarkably, five of the authors are making repeat appearances.  All right, let's dig down into the data.

Brookmyre, Chris, "The Last Siege of Bothwell Castle,"  in Bloody Scotland, edited by James Crawford, Pegasus, 2018.

There's a historical reenactment going on at Bothwell Castle in Scotland and the place is crowded with tourists.  Some very bad people take advantage of the confusion, and soon they are taking hostages and making demands.

The cops arrive but the hostages's best chance for rescue might be Sanny and Sid, two young sneak thieves who were scooped up with the tourists.

Brosky, Ken. "The Cold Hunt," Mystery Weekly Magazine, August 2018.

Roxy is a young American biologist, studying tigers in Siberia.  She and her mentor, Dr. Siddig, have been called to investigation what appears to be a killing by a big cat.  The evidence of footprints and corpse show that the tiger had a big meal of the flesh of a local man.  But the evidence does not prove that the man was alive when the tiger arrived.

The villagers are ready to hunt and kill the beast.  Can the scientists prove it is innocent of the killing - if indeed it is?

Day, Russell, "The Icing on the Cake," in Noirville, Fahrenheit Press, 2018.  

Gareth is a gofer for Mr. Driscoll, a British crime boss.  Today his mission is to drive a Jaguar dow to a prison where the car's owner, Harry the Spider Linton, is being released after seven years for robbing a post office.  It turns out that Harry thinks he owes his incarceration to the stupidity of Mr. Driscoll.

Harry's rage is so feverish that it seems like the trip may end prematurely.  Gareth might be in danger.  What will happen if/when Harry arrives at his old mate's mansion, and encounters the man he sees as the cause of his lost years?


Greenaway, R.M. "The Threshold,"  in Vancouver Noir, edited by Sam Wiebe, Akashic Press, 2018.

The publisher gave me a free copy of this book.  

Blaine is a photographer.  Perhaps a bit obsessive about it.  And one morning, just at sunrise, he's out snapping pictures at the Vancouver waterfront and he find a very fresh corpse.  Of course he knows he should call 911, but the lighting is perfect for capturing the corpse, and how long will that last?  Surely it won't hurt if he just changes lenses and takes a couple of artful frames...

And then the body twitches, and things get complicated.



Hallman, Tom, Jr. "Kindness,"  in Mystery Weekly Magazine, April 2018.

Phil's family moved to an inner city neighborhood that is gentrifying.  Great house, nice neighbors.  But then the old man across the street dies and his house is inherited by a jerk who parties all night The jerk is a huge guy who "reminded me of one of those men featured on cable shows taking viewers inside America's roughest prisons."

When this guy takes an unhealthy interest in Phil's teenage daughter things seem really desperate.  But  then Phil meets Deke, a member of a criminal motorcycle gang, and helps him with a problem...  Twice I thought I knew where this story was headed. Twice I was wrong.

Lang, Preston, "Top Ten Vacation Selfies of Youtube Stars," in Deadlines: A Tribute to William E. Wallace, edited by Chris Rhatigan and Ron Earl Phillips,  Shotgun Honey, 2018.

Michael Roth used to be a reporter.  Or maybe we should say he is currently a reporter without a job, struggling to survive as a freelancer, writing Internet clickbait. (See the title of this story.)

He gets a call from somebody named Brack who used to be a hitman.  Would he like to meet and talk about Brack's illustrious career?   He would.  But Brack, as it turns out,  has another, more dangerous offer to make...


Law, Janice, "The Crucial Game,"  in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, January-February 2018.

This is the fourth appearance on my annual best-of list by my  friend and fellow SleuthSayer.  No one else has made it to the top of the heap more than three times, so far. 

Since his wife died Frank has been lonely and somewhat obsessed with hockey.  Walking through Manhattan he sees a "little makeshift stand offering sports CDs and DVDS..."  The merchant is "thin, almost gaunt, and very dark so that his large eyes gleamed above the bold cheekbones and the wide, and to Frank's mind, somewhat predatory nose."  Sounds a bit spooky?  How about when he calls out: "I have what you need"? 


Neville, Stuart, "Faith," in Blood Work: Remembering Gary Shulze: Once Upon A Crime, edited by Rick Ollerman, Down and Out Books, 2018.

The day I lost my belief was the same day Mrs. Garrick asked me to help kill her husband.

The narrator is an Irish clergyman, five years a widower. Mrs. Garrick's husband was brutally maimed in a terrorist attack.  Our protagonist tries to comfort her and one thing leads to another.

Classic noir, right?  But Neville has a surprise or two up his sleeve.

Page, Anita,  "Isaac's Daughters," in Malice Domestic Presents: Murder Most Geographical, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, Wildside Press, 2018.

This is Anita Page's second appearance on the winner's list.

The narrator is an old woman, relating  how she came to America from Russia at the age of fourteen in 1911.  The reason for the voyage is that her mother has just received a message that "your Isaac has taken up with a whore from Galicia."

They start out on the difficult voyage, and things happen. The family is divided between the father and narrator who you might describe as new-world rationalists, and the mother and sister who are subject to old-world superstitions, believing in demons and lucky charms.  Which side, if either, will win? 

Perks, Micah, "Treasure island,"  in Santa Cruz Noir, edited by Susie Bright, Akashic Press, 2018.

The publisher gave me a free copy of this book.  

Mr. Nowicki is, he tells us, "a seventy-two-two-year-old retired middle school assistant principal who has lived in Grant Park for forty years."  He is furious about what is happening in his neighborhood so he has gone to a website called Good Neighbor!(tm) to report what he sees.

And he has strong opinions about that.  For example he has a problem with his neighbor who is (the internal quotation marks are his): "a 'writer' who 'works' from home.  ('Writer' always takes morning tea on his porch in his pajamas and at five p.m., takes cocktail on porch, still in his pajamas.  You've probably seen him on your way to and from actual work.)"

Pronzini, Bill and Barry N. Malzberg, "Night Walker," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March-April 2018.

This is Pronzini's second appearance on my annual Best-of bash.

Henry Boyd's life changed forever when a moment of his own carelessness destroyed his family.  He hoped to be sent to prison but the courts thought otherwise.  He can't face the thought of suicide so now he walks through the night, hoping some criminal will do to him what he lacks the courage to do to himself.  But something else happens.

Richardson, Travis, "Plan Z," in Deadlines: A Tribute to William E. Wallace, edited by Chris Rhatigan and Ron Earl Phillips, Shotgun Honey, 2018.

This is a simple story of three guys who "decide to up their game from B&E and liquor stores."  We don't learn much about them except what positions they played in Little League.

So, not a lot of character development.  What the story has is a wonderful way of unwrapping the adventures of our luckless trio.  Plan A is to rob a check-cashing joint.  They throw that over for Plan B which is to rob an armored car that Uncle Arnie drives.  But Arnie gets fired which leads to Plan C.  When Arnie shows up drunk we move on to Plan D...


Rusch, Kristine Kathryn, "The Wedding Ring,"  in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2018.

Rusch is making her third appearance in Best-of Land.

Serena is a classics professor and after a bad breakup she goes to Las Vegas for what she calls her Liberation Vacation.  There she meets the man of her dreams.  Shortly after that they are married.  Shortly after that he disappears, taking her cash, self-confidence, and much more.  One cop says about the crooks: "They're not in it for the money.  They're in it to destroy their marks."

Serena replies.  "They didn't destroy me...  I'm right here. And I'm going to destroy them right back."


Rutter, Eric, "Hateful in the Eyes of God,"  Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2018.


This is Rutter's second appearance in my best-of lists.

It is London in the 1830s.  John Alcorn is a freelance reporter, a "penny-a-liner."  His specialty is the criminal courts because, then as now, scandal is always popular.  He is in the gallery when Charles Stanbridge is brought into the courtroom.  This fine, outstanding married gentleman has been accused of indecent assault, which is a reduced version of the charge of "the infamous crime,"  alias, homosexuality.  That greater offense could get a man sentenced to exile or even death.

Alcorn offers to sell his story on the case to the defendant rather that to the press, a form of extortion which was perfectly legal.  But when Stanbridge apparently kills himself the reporter feels guilt and tries to learn more about the case.  And so he, and we, find out a good deal about the secret life of what we would call gay men, but what in this era were called sods or Mary Anns.


Thielman, Mark, "The Black Drop of Venus," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2018.

This is Thielman's second appearance here, both for historical mysteries that won the Black Orchid Novella Award.

It is 1769, deep in the South Pacific.  Our narrator is Joseph Banks, chief naturalist on the HMS Endeavour, which has been sent on a scientific investigation to observe the Transit of Venus.  When one of Banks's assistants is found with his throat cut just as they arrive at Tahiti, Banks is ordered to investigate the crime by none other than Captain James Cook.  He is handicapped by his lack of knowledge of navy ways and nautical  vocabulary, but he brings back the facts which allow Cook to cleverly determine the identity of the murderer.

29 January 2019

Two for the Price of One

By Michael Bracken

A writing collaboration is often referred to as the process of doing twice the work for half the pay. A successful collaboration, though, results in a story that neither author could have written alone. In that way, the joint effort can benefit both collaborators.

JOE WALTER

The first issue of KPSS was
produced on a spirit duplicator.
Later issues were produced on a
mimeograph, and the final issues
on an offset press.
As high-school students in the early 1970s, my best friend and I were determined to become the next Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein. Our junior year, Joe Walter and I started Knights of the Paper Space Ship, a science fiction fanzine, to publish our short stories and those of our friends, and we spent a great deal of time together writing and editing.

We collaborated a few times, writing “faan fiction,” which is fiction about science fiction fans. The stories were, in essence, stories about us, narrated by Patrick Myers, the non-existent third member of our group. Joe and I alternated time at the keyboard, each writing a sentence or a paragraph or an entire scene before relinquishing the keyboard to the other. Because we typed directly onto mimeograph stencils, there was no editing or revision allowed. What we wrote together back then was not great literature, but it was fun to write and may have been fun to read.

Joe was the first of us to sell a story to a professional market—Vertex, which ceased publication before printing his story—but never sold another. “Patrick Myers” (my middle name combined with my stepfather’s last name) became a pseudonym I have used several times since then.

WALTER EARL ROPER

In the mid-1970s, during my first attempt at attending university, I worked for the Daily Alestle, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville’s student newspaper. While there I met Walter Earl Roper, and we collaborated on several articles for the paper.

At the time, I was the better writer and he was the better journalist, so Walter did most of the interviewing and research, and I did much of the writing. Perhaps not surprisingly, neither of us became journalists. He went on to receive a B.A. in Organizational Science Databases, Statistics, which uses his superior research skills, and I concentrated on writing fiction, which requires almost no research skills.

PAMELA CLIFF

My second wife, Pamela Cliff, received her undergraduate degree in journalism, and she had worked as a journalist and magazine editor prior to our meeting in Senatobia, Mississippi. At that time she worked as a customer service representative for a printing plant, and I was hired as the plant’s composition systems manager.

Pamela wanted to write fiction, but never seemed to finish anything, so our collaborations became a game. She would write the opening page or so of a story and I would finish it. Together we wrote and sold more than a dozen short pieces of erotica, all under pseudonyms.

She wasn’t satisfied with writing short pieces, though. She wanted to write a novel. So, prior to a diagnosis of cervical cancer, Pamela began work on a novel, which I completed several years after her death and self-published under my Rolinda Hay pseudonym. Stud is available for Kindle.

TOM SWEENEY

During the early 2000s, I edited five crime-fiction anthologies—Hardbroiled, Small Crimes, and the three-volume Fedora series—and Tom Sweeney was the only writer to have a story in all five. Around that time I was in discussions with a regional publisher to edit a crime fiction anthology, but every contributor had to live in Texas or to have been born in Texas. Tom fit neither category.

We fudged. I decided that he could get a story in the anthology if he collaborated with a writer who lived in Texas. I lived in Texas. So, we wrote the private-eye story “Snowbird.”

We passed the story back and forth many times, using Word’s Track Changes function to see what each of us had added, corrected, or changed, and we held discussions about the plot either within the document or in the emails accompanying the manuscript as we passed it back and forth.

By the time we finished writing, the anthology opportunity had disappeared. We soon placed the story with Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine—the first sale to EQMM for either of us—and “Snowbird” appeared in the December 2007 issue, later placing fourth in the annual EQMM Reader’s Poll.

Tom doesn’t write much fiction these days, but his most recent non-fiction books, collaborations with his wife Annette titled You Ate the Wings Upon My Plate and Three Coins in the Construction Zone, were released in December 2018.

SANDRA MURPHY

On June 12 last year I wrote a Facebook post that included, “Sometimes I wish I were the James Patterson of short stories, able to farm out projects and share bylines with a plethora of other writers.”

As part of her response to my post, Sandra Murphy wrote, “If you want to give it a try, I’m game to be your no-name co-writer!”

Because my post was facetious, I did not anticipate anyone volunteering, so I was surprised when Sandra did. Thanks to membership in the Short Mystery Fiction Society, we have “known” each other for several years—I wrote a piece for a newsletter she edits, and she’s written two for a newsletter I edit—we were already familiar with each other’s writing.

I don’t know if Sandra called my bluff or if I called hers, but not long after that I saw an anthology’s open call for submissions, I had an idea I thought would be appropriate, and I shared the idea with Sandra. Though she has written some fiction, Sandra’s a well-established nonfiction writer, and turning my idea into a finished manuscript would require the kind of research that non-fiction writers do on a regular basis.

After much back-and-forth, we completed our story before the submission deadline, and I’m pleased to announce that “Gracie Saves the World” will be included in Maxim Jakubowski’s The Book of Extraordinary Historical Mystery Stories: The Best New Original Stories of the Genre (Mango), which is scheduled for an April 2019 release.

Sandra and I are currently kicking around two additional story ideas, one she brought to the table and one I brought to the table.

JAMES A. HEARN

I’m currently editing three anthologies for Down & Out Books—one’s been turned in, one will be turned in soon, and the third is due before fall of this year. In 2017, I began work on the first—The Eyes of Texas, a collection of private eye stories set in Texas and scheduled for release just in time for this year’s Dallas Bouchercon. At ArmadilloCon in Austin that summer I participated in a panel discussion about editing anthologies, and I announced to the audience that The Eyes of Texas was open for submissions.

James A. Hearn—Andrew—was in the audience. Andrew has been a finalist, semi-finalist, and honorable-mention recipient in the Writers of the Future contest, a quarterly competition now in its thirty-sixth year that has launched the careers of several science fiction and fantasy writers. He had been concentrating on writing science fiction and fantasy, had not yet been published, and left ArmadilloCon determined to submit a story to The Eyes of Texas. He did, I accepted it, and he’s gone on to contribute to the two other anthologies I’m editing.

Andrew and his wife Dawn live sixty or so miles south of Temple and me, and last year they joined us for our annual spring writer gathering. Since then we have twice met the Hearns for dinner, and the last time we met—mid-December—I became aware of Andrew’s knowledge of football. I just happened to have a story that I stopped working on because to finish it would require football knowledge. I provided Andrew with a rough description of the story and asked if he’d be interested in collaborating on it.

He was.

I sent Andrew my partially written scenes, rough outline, and notes, and yesterday, as I write this, he returned a complete draft of the story. The manuscript will likely bounce back and forth a few more times, but I think it’s almost submission ready.

AND ALL THE REST

Many other people have impacted my writing in one way or another. Some have given me story ideas, some have helped me organize plots, and some have proofread my final drafts—Temple does all this and more—but the writers mentioned above are the ones with whom I have truly collaborated, creating work that neither of us could have created on our own.

Twice the work for half the pay? Certainly. But well worth the effort.


My story “Something Fishy” appears in Black Cat Mystery Magazine 4 (January 2019).

After receiving my first two acceptances of 2019, I’m ready to up my bio stats from more than 1,200 accepted stories to more than 1,300 accepted stories. Alas, that isn’t 1,300-plus unique stories because more than a dozen of the acceptances are for reprints or secondary rights of some kind. And it isn’t 1,300-plus published stories because I can’t confirm how many stories have actually been published; early on I sold to several publications that never sent contributor copies and, because they often changed pseudonyms and story titles, I’ve no way to locate the stories through any known databases and indexes. Still, the checks cleared the bank.

28 January 2019

Questions, I Get Questions

Introducing the author who needs no introduction, guest star SJ Rozan

SJ Rozan
SJ Rozan
January 2019, I'm baaacckkk. Okay, only partially back. I pleaded, bribed, blackma… Really, I begged SJ Rozan if she would write something for me and she graciously agreed. Then I forgot to remind her and she forgot, but then I remembered to remind her and she promised she would and she did.

I've known SJ for close to thirty years. I had read her first published short story with Lydia Chin and Bill Smith in a little magazine, the name escapes me now. PI Magazine, maybe? Then her first book came along and I was blown away again. She not only writes a Lydia Chin book, then a Bill Smith book, she also writes stand-alone thrillers. Her books are as different as Lydia and Bill are, yet you know when you pick one up you are likely going to stay up all night reading.

In case you didn't know the "J" in her name stands for Jan (kidding) which is why we get along so well. Almost forgot she's a big basketball fan and she plays pick-up games every week. And she has a beautiful cat named, "Bella." Another reason we get along so well.

SJ Rozan has won Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, Japanese Maltese Falcon, and the Private Eye Writers of America Life Achievement Award. Her new, highly anticipated book comes out in time for summertime reading.
— Jan Grape

Questions, I Get Questions

by S.J. Rozan

I have a book coming out this summer.

This is a sentence I've said fairly often; this book is, after all, my 16th. I've never quite gotten used to it, though. Every now and then I look at my shelf and think, Good grief, who wrote those? The other thing I've never quite gotten used to is the experience of writing.

People – non-writers and new writers alike – tend to assume two things at once. The first is, as someone once put it to me in the form of a question, "Do you figure everything out in advance, or do you sit down and it just flows?" Er, neither.

I don't outline, except in the vaguest of terms. In SHANGHAI MOON, for example, I knew what and where the jewel was, and that the situation went back to the Jewish Ghetto in Shanghai during World War II. Those two things were the foundation of my interest in creating the world of SHANGHAI MOON. What I didn't know was the nature of the person who had the jewel, or anything else about the actual story that became, in the end, the book. I had to write the book to find all that out.

On the other hand, it certainly doesn't just flow. Oh, no, it doesn't. My process – and I believe this is true for many, many writers – is start-and-stop. When E.L. Doctorow famously said that when you're driving at night you can only see to the end of your headlights but you can get all the way across the country that way, he didn't mention how sometimes in a heavy fog you can't see anything at all and you have to stop and wait for it to clear. Or that you can take a totally wrong turn and find yourself at the edge of the swamp, and then you have to U-turn and go look for the road again.

But that's me: I'm a headlights-at-night writer. The way I deal with it is to have something in mind – say, the truth about the jewel, and what that means to the people around it – that glows through the fog and the dark like a neon sign up ahead. I aim for it.

The second thing non-and new writers tend to assume that it gets easier. Come on, the book I'm working on now is my 17th. It's called Paper Son, and it's in my Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series, of which it's the 12th, and though the publisher Pegasus Books, is new to me, I've worked with four previous publishers, so even this new-publisher thing is something I'm having to get used to. Each book is as hard as the first one. You just have to work through it.

Think of it this way: if you insist, as I do, upon driving across the country at night again and again, why would any trip be easier than the one before it? There's still the fog. There are still the wrong turns and the swamps. There's still each mile to be covered, no shortcuts – the distance doesn't change, nor the hills nor the blizzards, just because you've done it before.

But here's what has happened: I've learned not to panic. As bad as the weather, the road, or the wrong turn is, I've made this trip before. I can't get in any trouble I haven't been in already, lions and tigers and bears oh my, and somehow I've always managed to get out. Whatever the wall I've just hit (and in fact I've hit more than one in this book) there's a way over, around, or under it – or it'll dissolve when the fog lifts. That's what I've learned, and it's the most encouragement I can offer new writers: There's always a way. You just have to find it.

27 January 2019

On the Subject of Murder

by R.T. Lawton

You've seen the large print headlines of your local newspaper. You've heard the news from your television commentators. Someone, or even several people, were murdered. Maybe the victim was shot down in the street. Or maybe multiple bodies were found in a house. Police are investigating. If you're lucky, these murders didn't happen to anyone you know. But, if you live in a large city, these type of local headlines seem to occur with a growing frequency. And, regardless of where you live, it appears that people are going crazy.

How the hell did we get to this point?

According to Dr. David Buss (author of The Murderer Next Door), an evolutionary psychologist, who examined over 400,000 FBI files of murderers, "the vast majority of murders are committed by people, who until the day they kill, seem pretty normal." Now that's a scary thought. The world was so much more tidy on my end when I could consider psychological misfits and stone cold street criminals as the prime candidates for being the guys that kill. So now, I have to watch out for Uncle Benny who takes umbrage at me kidding him for still wearing a bow tie after all these years? And what about Neighbor Jim who thinks my grandkids took a shortcut across the corner of his lawn? Am I destined to be doomed by Joe Everyman? What is pushing that normal everyday person over the edge and converting him into a killer?

I'm glad you asked. Conveniently for us, Dr. Buss, besides examining those 429,729 homicide files in the FBI system, also conducted a fantasy homicide study with 5,000 subjects, 175 of which were actual murderers. (Guess for these latter few, it wasn't just a fantasy.) Out of this total group, 91% of the men and 84% of the women had had at least one homicidal fantasy. These were vivid fantasies, often going into great detail. That's a lot of people thinking about murder and how to do it. No wonder bodies keep piling up in novels, and the mystery genre is doing so well.

Fortunately, most of the study participants got their homicide fantasies worked out in other ways to resolve whatever the original problem was. What seemed to separate the non-killers from the killers? Fear of being caught and sent to prison was a common response. However, when asked if they could commit the murder without being caught, most men thought the chances of them going forward would increase about fourfold. So, it appears that if you have caused someone to suffer mentally and/or socially and are still alive to read today's post, you may owe your life to the cost/benefit ratio of committing murder these days. Perhaps, television shows like CSI, where the investigators identify the criminals within an hour by forensic science, have had a positive influence to help keep down the murder statistics to some degree.

In the doctor's fantasy study, public humiliation was the leading factor for especially violent and detailed fantasies when disposing of the tormentor. Now, think of the teen bullied at school, or the guy who lost his job and blames his boss or coworkers. You've already seen those headlines. Seems like a certain amount of social cost and psychological pain to a person's pride and reputation can make for that person taking a bent towards revenge, where the next step may be a giant one called murder.

Under the right circumstances, it appears that most people are willing to kill. And, it's not all for pride and reputation. You've probably heard lots of people say that they would kill to protect their children or themselves from being killed. How about you? How far would you go to protect family and/or yourself? Depending upon the laws in your state, the act of killing another person under certain circumstances may not make you a murderer, but the act itself does make you a killer.

So now, let's go one step further. Have you had your own homicidal fantasies towards someone who has seriously tormented you? If so, then I hope those thoughts worked as some kind of therapy for you, and you could then put those fantasies out of your mind and get on with your life before doing something stupid.

Dr. Buss thinks we can maybe design environments that prevent the stimulation of those feelings which lead to murder. I don't know exactly what the doctor has in mind, but us showing a little kindness to those we cross paths with just might help some with the daily grind of living that we all get caught up in. A few kind words, a compliment here and there, a helping hand. See if we can make this a better world without so many dark headlines. Maybe we can save a few lives and not even know it.

Of course, authors can still murder people, as long as they only do it in books.

26 January 2019

Not another Freaking Neurotic Narrator (and other books....)

by Melodie Campbell (reaches for the gun in her stocking, and yes that is me and a Derringer)

I'm tired of downer books.  I don't want to be depressed after reading for three hours.  Bear with me: I'll explain.

The problem is, most of the downer elements of grim books involve women who are victims.  Either victims of crime, or victims of a patriarchal society.  Scandinavian Noir is full of the first.  In fact, most noir novels involve a female who is murdered and often hideously mutilated.  That's so much fun for women to read.

So here goes:

I don't want to read any more books about women who are abused or downtrodden.  I know there are several good books out there right now featuring such women.  Some are historical.  Some are current day.  It's not that they aren't good.  It's just that I don't want to read any more of them.  I've read plenty.

Imagine, men, if most of the books you had read involved men who had been victimized or relegated to second class status by another gender.  One or a few might be interesting to read.  But a steady diet of these?  Would you not find it depressing?  Not to mention, discouraging?

I don't want to read any more books about neurotic women, or women who can't get it together.  I dread more 'unreliable narrators.'  Particularly, I don't want to read a book ALL THE WAY THROUGH, and then find out at the very end that the protagonist has been lying to me.  (Are you listening, Kate Atkinson? *throws book across room*)  Who wants to be tricked by the author?  But there's something even worse about it:

Did you notice that most (okay, every single one I can think of) unreliable narrators on the bestseller lists recently are women?  Does that say something to you about how society views women? (reaches for gun in stocking...)  It does to me.  No more 'girl' books. (BLAM!...that felt good.)

I don't want to read any more books this year with female protagonists that are written by men.  Yes, this means some of the bestselling crime novels out there.  They may be very well written.  But these rarely sound like women's stories to me.  They aren't written with the same lens.

What I want:  books with intelligent female protagonists written by women.  I want more women's stories.  Books I can be proud to hand on to my daughters, and say, see what is possible?  She isn't a victim!  She's someone like you.

Trouble is, I can't FIND many books like that.  The bestseller lists today are filled with protagonists who are unstable, neurotic women.  Let me be clear:  a lot of people enjoy these books.  They may be very well written.  They wouldn't be on bestseller lists otherwise.

But I'm tired of them.  I want a ripping good story with a female protagonist, written by a woman.  Hell, I want to *be* the protagonist for a few hours.

And not come away feeling downtrodden.

Speaking of which...if you're looking for a female protagonist with wit and brains, this mob goddaughter rocks the crime scene in a very different way:
The Goddaughter Does Vegas - out this week from Orca Book Publishers!  
Book 6 in the multi-award winning caper series.
 On AMAZON

25 January 2019

The Earl Javorsky Interview / Stop Meddling in My Genre Part 2

by Lawrence Maddox

Let's get clear on my condition. I don't know what it is, but I know what it is not.  I am not a vampire, or a zombie, or a ghost. I'm not a thousand years old, I have no superpowers, and I've never been a hero. What I do have is a broken life, a broken family, and, so far, an inexplicable inoculation against dying.  

Author Earl Javorsky
That's Los Angeles PI Charlie Miner explaining the inexplicable in Earl Javorsky's Down to No Good (2017), the second and latest installment in Earl's multi-faceted genre-bending series about an un-killable sleuth who can't kick his addiction to heroin–or life. It also reads like a Who's Who of cross-over character-types who have been ripped from the fantasy and horror genres and placed in the nuts-and-bolts world of crime fiction. In Part 1 (from Jan 3rd) I preached that mixing genres got its start in Pulp magazines, where brilliant, genre-defining authors like Dashiell Hammett, H.P. Lovecraft and Phillip K. Dick cut their teeth, and culminated with popular Pulp characters like The Shadow and Doc Savage. These Pulp heroes combined elements of crime, horror, sci-fi, romance, and you-name-it in a cross-pollination of Promethean Pulp parentage. The above passage from Down to No Good stakes out  Charlie Miner's rightful place among the best of these hybrids. It's also telling the other cross genre characters to step aside (I'm talking to you, Joe Pitt. You got something to say, Harry Dresden? You looking at me, Batman?), because there's a brand new character on the scene who's kicking it up a notch.

Before Charlie Miner became indestructible, he was a PI who worked mundane fraud cases for insurance companies. He was also a hopelessly addicted junkie. Desperate to kick his heroin habit, Charlie tries out the Second Chance at Life clinic, illegal in the US and located "somewhere south of Juarez." Their cure, a ritualistic use of ibogaine and other psychotropic drugs, gives Charlie an out-of-body experience but unfortunately leaves his addiction intact.  Back home and working a case, Charlie is shot in the head, stone-cold murdered, while riding his bike home.

Charlie wakes up on a gurney in the morgue, disembodied like he was during his Mexican drug cure.  "I roamed around the room," Charlie explains at the start of Down Solo (2014), "light as a whisper, fast as a thought."  Charlie discovers he's not only impervious to death, but he can astral project at will. This comes in handy when he wants to spy on people. Charlie also has a mysterious spirit guide named Daniel who helps Charlie skate the thin edge between life and death.

With a bullet in his brain, Charlie is understandably foggy on the details of his death. In Down Solo, Charlie seeks out his killer. A kidnapped daughter, lethal con men, and a frightening vision of death itself await in a hard boiled detective yarn that effortlessly doubles as a supernatural thriller.  Charlie wakes up dead once more in Down to No Good. This time Charlie, along with Homicide Detective  Dave Putnam, must stop the apocalyptic vision of a murderous psychic from coming true.

The metaphysical is another ingredient in the Charlie Miner stew, and I see visionary fiction as an influence. It's a gutsy amalgam,  clearly the work of an author who has read widely, and Earl Javorsky makes it look easy.  Earl generously agreed to discuss how he did it.

Lawrence Maddox: Can you talk about your reading life?

Some of Earl's favorite comic books.
Courtesy of The Maddox Archives.
Earl Javorsky: I fell in love with kids' classics around seven: Doctor Doolittle, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, then Treasure Island and Kidnapped. After that I discovered my dad's stash of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Fantasy and Science Fiction and I was hooked. I was also addicted to comic books. My friend had a basement full of boxes of old DC and Marvel comics. My favorites were Dr. StrangeHouse of Mystery, ROM Spaceknight, and The Silver Surfer.

In high school and college I went through my elitist phase and read stuff like Antonin Artaud and Sartre, followed by an about-face with Robert Ludlum and Stephen King. Randomly, Chandler, Graham Greene, Elmore Leonard, Iain Pears, Walter Mosely, and Ursula K. Le Guin come to mind, but that leaves out so many writers whose work I love. Somehow I digested all of this strange brew and came up with Charlie Miner.

LM: What are the beginnings of Charlie Miner?

EJ:  The premise, which just spilled out of my brain on its own, was so foreign to me that I didn't know how to proceed after the first paragraph, which went like this:

They say once a junkie, always a junkie, but this is ridiculous. I haven't been dead more than a few hours and I already need a fix. It doesn't make sense; my blood isn't even circulating, but it's the process I crave–copping, cooking, tying off, finding a vein, the slow, steady pressure of thumb on plunger, and now it's my first order of business. 

Okay, clearly a throwaway idea. Who cares about dead junkies? And if he's dead, how do we account for him narrating? At best, I had a sketch for a story that would appeal to a very narrow slice of the general readership. But then the character's predicament stuck with me. How did he get that way? Maybe he had been murdered. Hmmm...Maybe he was a private eye. On a case. A case that got him killed. A detective story! A noir gumshoe tale, where the gumshoe has to solve his own murder. Noir, as in dark, and what could be darker than death?

LM:  Did you have reservations about mixing genres?

EJ: Genre bending can be risky and exciting–for the reader as well as the writer. The questions for both, I suppose, are: Does it work? Does it pay off? When my first book came out, I wrote to my editor, saying "I'm aware that my combination of hard-boiled plus supernatural is a possible turnoff to both camps, thus a potential marketing problem. I'm thinking that 'drug noir with a metaphysical twist' might be a way to spin it–unless you have thoughts to the contrary."

Lou wrote back succinctly with "I'm not convinced that 'drug noir' is a way to sell anything, at least to a mainstream audience. I actually think the hard-boiled/supernatural angle makes Down Solo distinctive. We're not planning to shirk from it."

LM: Are you reading any genre-mixing fiction right now?

EJ: One of my favorite books in the last few years is Michael Gruber's Tropic of Night.  This detective thriller involves Siberian shamanism. Yoruba sorcery, powerful psychotropic agents, and ritual murder. It takes us from Miami to Africa and back, delving anthropology, ethnography and madness as we try to unravel, along with Detective Jimmy Paz, the mystery of a serial killer of pregnant women.  There are passages that test the limits of the psychological and take us into the spooky realm of darker possibilities than we admit to in normal life. Is this a transgression, a violation of a genre boundary? If so, it is done so compellingly that I welcome it at every juncture.

Alternatively, all the strangeness might simply be a matter of altered perception: smoke and mirrors and a few hallucinogenic powders sprinkled into the atmosphere, skewing reality for our protagonist.  Tropic of Night teases the edge between the world as we know it and the supernatural and keeps a tight grip  on the reader's attention without requiring a leap of faith or even suspension of disbelief.


Here are some other great genre mash-ups: Gabino Iglesias' Zero Saints; T.E. Grau's I Am the River; and, of course, Lawrence Maddox's Fast Bang Booze.





Earl Javorsky is also the author of the suspense novel Trust Me.  To learn more about Earl Javorsky,  stop by EarlJavorsky.Com.





Come enjoy libations and watch the Superbowl! The Superbowl of Crime Fiction, that is. Join me this February 3rd as I, along with Gray Basnight, Eric Beetner, Samuel Gailey, Nadine Nettman, Tom Pitts, and Wendall Thomas read from our works at the Los Angeles Noir at the Bar. No refs, no replays, no over/under regrets.
7 PM Mandrake 2692 South La Cienega

24 January 2019

The Pensieve and the Ouroboros

by Brian Thornton

So I recently raced a deadline on a story I needed to write for an anthology I've been working on in one form or another for the better part of a year. I'd wrapped my edits on all of the contributions of the other authors being featured in said anthology, and I needed to finish my own piece for publication.

And then I did what I so often do in January.

I got sick.

Death's Door. Walking pneumonia.

Guess what? Deadlines don't care.

And as much as I complained and moaned and kvetched about the need to work on this story while feeling absolutely as if I had just been run over by a truck (and taking very little in the way of sick time off from my day gig), there was a part of me that would not let go of the writing project, that insisted I get out of the sick bed and work my way through the story.

And a weird thing happened.

I slogged through a complete draft, and given how lousy I felt, I departed from my standard writing process on it. I usually circle back and revise as I go on a first draft. I re-read, I polish, and then I move on. This method, while slow-going, has always done a pretty decent job of keeping my head in the story, or, as I am fond of saying to my Harry Potter-loving wife: "in the Pensieve."

I haven't read the books, just love the movies. But the analogy is apt.
I've talked about it before, especially here, at some length. Every writer knows what it's like to try to keep one's head in the story during the time it takes to finish the story. It's like dipping your head into the Pensieve, the magical pool in the headmaster's office at Hogwarts where you can skate through the memories of other people. And that's about as poetic and allegorical as I will likely ever get about the act of creating fiction.

This time, however, I didn't go back and polish as I wrote. I had an ending and I had a plot. So I wrote the beginning, then the ending, and then I galloped through the middle (so often cursed by struggling writers as "the muddle."). And it worked.

Not only did I manage to keep my fevered head in the metaphorical pensieve, I think I managed to answer another of writing life's little niggling questions as well. Namely:

What is the secret to staying energized and on track as a writer?

And the answer is: make like an Ouroboros.

The earliest known artistic representation of the snake eating itself tail-first: known by the Greeks as the Ouroboros.
That's what good writing thrives on. Making like an Ouroboros.

I know I just said I jettisoned the part of my writing process where I circled back during first drafts and revised, polished and cleaned up as I went. So now I'm saying you ought to make like the ancient snake symbol which completes a circle by swallowing its own tail?

Yes. That is precisely what I'm saying. In order to keep your head in the story, you've got to be producing. The power you generate when you're really committed, deeply engaged with the writing progress, can tend to energize, rather than exhaust you.

So like the Ouroboros, the creative energy of your writing will tend to feed upon itself, and fuel your next session, and your next, and your next. It can sustain a writer nearly indefinitely, if that writer can figure out how to balance everything else going on in their life, and surf that wave, keep their head in the story, and let the energy created keep pushing them onward toward the finish line.

Those of you who get it, get it. And you know exactly what I'm talking about.

So how to do it?

The toughest part seems to be getting started. The second toughest, once started, is not allowing oneself to ever be completely stopped.

In other words, always be working on something. Even if it's writing in your journal (you know, the one you keep where you write about your works in progress. If you don't have one, GET one!). Keep that pump primed and the word count will keep flowing.

If I sound pie-in-the-sky optimistic, sue me. I am publishing my first piece of complete fiction for the first time since my son was a year old.

He's SIX now.

And this is a good thing, because I have several projects lined up for the year, and I really can't afford an extended writing drought.

So I guess I need to keep making like this:



So I can keep doing this:



And on that note, I've got another deadline to get cranking on. See you in two weeks, when I'll be ready to give details on the one I just sent off to the publisher!

23 January 2019

Stopping Power

by David Edgerley Gates
"You know that's my ought-six - look at the size of that hole!"
                                                                                           (The Wild Bunch)
There's a longstanding disagreement in gun circles about how much gun you need, which is basically unanswerable. Talking about caliber and magazine capacity, bullet weight and muzzle velocity, is like talking to fly fisherman about lures. Everything's relative, and in the end, it all comes down to whether or not you catch the fish.

The benchmark people generally use is the one-shot stop. In point of fact, a .22 short in the back of the head will kill you, and it's conventional wisdom that mob hitters like it because the .22 short is subsonic, so you can use a suppressor. On the other hand, if we're talking about a person of large body mass charging at us with a sharpened screwdriver in their hand, and possibly whacked out on Angel Dust, many law enforcement personnel would choose the .45 ACP, which has a solid, immediate impact.

More than a few things come into play here, not least adrenaline and endorphins. FBI studies indicate that the average number of rounds fired in a close engagement are two-point-something. Obviously, this means some people empty a full magazine and some people never get a shot off, but for the sake of argument, let's simply say that if you're lucky, you'll have time for two shots. Your range instructor will tell you to aim for center body mass - but he or she won't say 'aim,' they want you to point and shoot, they want you to acquire the modified Weaver with muscle memory, don't second-guess yourself, let the reptile brain lock it in.

The rest is kinetic energy.

In the 1870's, during the Indian Wars, the U.S. Army issue sidearm was the Colt single-action, chambered in .45 Long Colt. These were replaced in 1892 by a double-action revolver, with a swing-out cylinder for the faster reload, in .38 caliber.  In the Philippine Campaign, the .38's proved ineffective, and eventually the Army adopted the .45 ACP autoloader designed by John Browning, the 1911.

Cop shops follow fashion, of course. For many years, everybody carried .38's. Revolvers, usually Smiths or Colts, the Model 10 or the Police Positive. And they shot off-hand, body at right-angles to the target, the shooter's arm fully extended. The two-handed stances, Isosceles and Weaver, were a later development. Same with the ammo. Sometime in the 1960's, the .357 S&W Magnum, developed some years earlier by Elmer Keith, hot-loading the .38 Special, found new favor with state troopers and highway patrol. With a muzzle velocity of 1200 to 1500 feet per second, the .357 readily penetrated an unarmored vehicle.

Then, in the 1980's (and I may not have the dates exactly right - or maybe the shift isn't all that exact, either), a lot of big-city police departments went to semi-autos, Smith, Sig, and Glock. They were primarily high-capacity nine-millimeters: Glock furnished a 17-round magazine. Not everybody was a fan.

One cop I know told me a story. He and his partner had a felony traffic stop. They approach the car on either side. His partner's over by the driver's door. The passenger points a weapon at him. My buddy's taken up position by the right front fender. He draws his gun and fires. And misses, from no more than five feet away. Because the curve of the windshield deflects his first shot. The muzzle velocity of the 9MM is 1500 fps, but the bullet weight is too light. Heavy and slow is more effective.

For all I know, this story is apocryphal, or exaggerated for effect. When cops tell war stories, they tend to tell the self-deprecating ones, where they're the butt of the joke. I think the story's true, though. You hear GI's say similar things about the Beretta nine - it underperforms. You want something that puts the other guy down flat on his ass.

To this end, the FBI cozied up to the 10MM, a pet project of Col. Jeff Cooper, who was also an enormous influence on combat pistol shooting generally (he founded what later became Gunsite). The first pistol chambered for it, the Bren Ten, was essentially a boutique gun, but Colt came out with the Delta Elite, and Smith with the 1076. It turned out the 10MM had too much felt recoil for a lot of shooters. and the grip frame was cumbersome, a consequence of the oversize magazines. (In the event, FBI Hostage Rescue and SWAT teams use the 10MM, but it's a specialty weapon.) Smith & Wesson shortened the cartridge case and came up with the .40 Smith, now one of the most widely used commercial loads in law enforcement.

There is, in all of this, an orphan. Back in the late 1920's, the .38 Super was introduced, a pistol cartridge designed for the recoil-operated 1911 automatic, based on the .38 ACP but loaded to higher pressures. It was hot. It would go through a car, it could penetrate a bulletproof vest. John Dillinger is said to have carried one. 

Now, truth be told, I didn't know from the .38 Super, because it had fallen from favor. It got knocked off its perch by the .357 Mag. The first I heard about was when it made a cameo appearance in Stephen Hunter's Black Light - a shoot-out in a cornfield with Bob Lee Swagger's dad, Earl - and it was characterized as a real pistolero's weapon. Come to find out, Steve Hunter hadn't been conversant with the .38 Super, either. He found out about it when he was reading up on The Wild Bunch, and it turns out they couldn't use .45's in the movie, because the 1911 wouldn't cycle .45 blanks. You could only fire one shot. The workaround was that they bought surplus .38 Supers down in Mexico, and the guns ran all day.

OK, if you're Steve Hunter, what do you do with that information? You say to yourself, How soon can I get me one? (And as a footnote, what do you do if you're me, with that information? You go on GunBroker.)

I know you're rolling the tape back - why Mexico? Because in Mexico, and a number of other countries in Central and South America, they restrict the heavier pistol calibers to military and police. You can't legally own a .45, for example. (We're not talking about the cartels, we're talking about legal civilian use.) The heaviest chambering allowed is the .38 Super, and there's a big after-market.



I know much of this is only of interest to gear nuts like me (or Steve Hunter), but it has to do with getting things right, which means knowing what questions to ask. I love picking up odd details, and often as not the collateral information is every bit as interesting as whatever your original focus was. We're magpies, distracted by something glittery in our peripheral vision.


22 January 2019

I've Crossed A Line -- Warning: Rated X for Expletives

by Barb Goffman

You can take the girl out of New York, but you can't take the New York out of the girl. That's my explanation for why I often pepper my speech with expletives. Anyone who read my 2017 column  titled "The Intersection of Plotting and Cursing" knows I'm quite comfortable with the word fuck. I've used it and other curse words in my stories without issue.

How often? I just ran a search of my published stories, and here are the results:

  • Asshole -- used in two stories (6% of all my published stories).
  • Fuck -- used in two stories (6%). A surprisingly low number. I'll have to work on that.
  • Shit -- used in four stories (12%).
  • Bastard -- used in five stories (16%).
  • Bitch -- used in fifteen stories (48%!). I might have to tone this one down.
Given these results, you'd think I didn't often write light cozy stories. And yet there's one big curse word missing from the list. One word that, until last week, I had never used in a published story. Can you figure out what it is? Here's a hint: it rhymes with the word for the smallest animal in a litter. See, I have so much trouble with this word, I'm squeamish about even typing it here, in an academic (ish) discussion about using curse words in my fiction. The word is ...

Cunt. There I said it.

And I'm cringing.

There is just something about this word that, to me at least, crosses a line. I know some of you are reading this thinking I must have no lines. But I do. And cunt crosses it. That's why I never say it. And until now I've never used it in my fiction.

So why did I make this exception? And was it a good choice?

To answer these questions, let's turn to the story in question. It's my newest story, "Punching Bag," which was published last week in the Winter 2019 issue of Flash Bang Mysteries, an e-zine that showcases crime flash fiction. I'm delighted that not only did editors BJ and Brandon Bourg choose to publish it, but they also chose it as the cover story and as the editors' choice story for the issue. It's the story of the darkest day in an emotionally abused teenage girl's life.

Let's stop here for a moment. I'm afraid that anything I say from here on will ruin the story for you if you haven't read it. So please go do so. The story is only 748 words long--the equivalent of three double-spaced pages. You can read it really quickly by clicking on the title in the prior paragraph. Then come back.

Okay, you've read it? Good. (I hope you liked it.)

You'll notice that the use of curse words is minimal. Toward the end the mom says the daughter is stupid and calls her a "disappointing, ungrateful bitch," and other unspecified names. That was all I planned to say about the matter originally, figuring readers could extrapolate from there. But one of my trusted beta readers told me she didn't think the girl was justified in killing her parents. She thought the girl came across as spoiled and selfish. I was surprised. I definitely didn't want that. I wanted readers to understand this girl, to be on her side, despite that she does a horrible thing. So I felt I needed to up the ante. That's when I added the part about her mom calling her a "self-centered cunt."

I figured if anything in this story was going to turn readers' perception of this girl from spoiled to sort-of justified, it would be that. If the word cunt crosses a line for me, I hoped, it would cross a line for readers, too--at least any readers whose line hadn't already been crossed by the mom's behavior.

So I submitted the story. But I worried. Was the use of the word cunt too much? Would it keep the story from being accepted? Then, once the story was accepted, I worried about readers. Would the word turn them off? Especially readers who know me primarily for my lighthearted, funny stories? The answer: So far, so good. I've gotten some feedback on "Punching Bag," and it's all been positive, with no one mentioning my use of that word. This response has helped me feel better about my choice, despite that the word still makes me cringe.

What do you think? Would you have been on the girl's side at the end if I hadn't included the "self-centered cunt" line? Or did the line push you onto the girl's side? Or do you think I went too far? What words cross your line?

One final note to my fellow SleuthSayer Robert Lopresti: Last week you wrote briefly about your newest flash short story (which is fewer than 700 words long), saying you were keeping things short because only English professors could get away with writing something about a story that is longer than the story itself. Ha ha, Rob! I have proven you wrong, because this blog about "Punching Bag" (excluding this paragraph) is 29 words longer than the story itself, and I am no English professor. Do I get a prize? Please don't make me become an English professor. I wouldn't last. I'd surely get written up for cursing in front of my students.