17 February 2019

Surviving the Byte of the Cobra, part 1

by Leigh Lundin

Shibboleths and Shinola

As you may know, I spent years computer consulting for major corporations. I developed low regard for the so-called security found in many businesses, banks and brokerage houses, and lesser government agencies. Many so-called safety ‘features’ contrarily introduce unintended vulnerabilities.

Stick with me today and tomorrow. I’ll show you a method or so to help plug one or two security holes and help protect yourself.

Just Say No

Recently, I found myself unable to create an on-line account with my insurance company. The business published no  password restrictions, so I started with something like §103NádražníBeržųStraße – I’m not kidding – I take the security of my most critical sites seriously. The system didn’t accept that, a big clue that password and privacy isn’t a high priority with them. I whittled away diacriticals and then the leading special character §, but still nothing. After reduction to a plain vanilla password, and still no access I contacted customer service, asking how to solve the problem.

Naturally the customer service lady wouldn’t put me in direct touch with IT, the people who should know. She spent roughly 15 minutes piecing together the requirements: no more than ten characters from a measly set of the 62 alphanumeric characters plus underscore and hyphen.
“You’re kidding,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Those are the weakest password requirements I’ve come across in a long time.”

“Oh no, sir. We’ve never been hacked, so we’re very pleased.”

“You mean you haven’t drawn the attention of hackers.” The more restrictions placed on passwords, the easier for miscreants to breach the walls.

I could feel her bristle through the phone line. “Our staff understands our needs very well, I’m sure.”

Uh-huh. I thought dryly. They could withstand a concerted attack for, well, hundreds of seconds.
The only safe solution was not to use their on-line ‘service’ at all. In the future, what little information I might need will come by telephone and US mail.

It’s 1980, No Pasting Allowed

Ever encounter a web site that won’t allow you to paste in your password? Sure you have, and it’s frustrating as hell. Worse, it adds vulnerabilities rather than resolves them.

Years ago, some misguided ‘expert’ decided password paste prevention sounded pretty cool, and lo, he advised others about his really cool hypothesis. It turned out wrong, dead wrong.

Preventing pasting discourages visitors from using long, complex passwords, prevents utilizing password managers, and makes it easy for cracking hardware and software ‘keyloggers’– to monitor what you type in. Even the task group within NIST, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, advises against disabling password pasting.

Clearly a number of corporations didn’t get the memo. What can a trapped user do? A few suggestions come to mind.

The web page may disable pasting keyboard shortcut but not disable the menu paste entry. This occurs often enough, it’s worth trying first.

A second possibility is to temporarily disable JavaScript. After doing it a couple of times, it doesn’t take long, certainly less time than blindly typing in a long string. Simply bring up the web page. When you reach the field that won’t let you paste, disable JavaScript by invoking Preferences, click Disable JavaScript in the Security or Privacy tabs, paste your password, and immediately re-engage JavaScript. (Note: This doesn’t work with Firefox, which won’t let users disable JavaScript.)

If that fails, try to resist using a short and simple password, one reason why this disagreeable ‘feature’ is so dangerous.

When It’s All About Length

I came across a bug in a popular web site. The registration web page happily accepted my lengthy password, but would not allow me to sign on.

I learned the site used an unadvertised maximum limit of 20 characters. Further investigation concluded it didn’t limit or validate the length of the password string. The registration page stored a function of the first 20 characters, no matter how many were entered. The sign-on page also didn’t check the limit of characters, but simply compared its value with the stored value, resulting in a mismatch.

In other words, I tried to register AbCdEfGhIjKlMnOpQrStUvWxYz, but the program stored AbCdEfGhIjKlMnOpQrSt. When I tried to sign on, the page compared the stored AbCdEfGhIjKlMnOpQrSt with the sign-on value of AbCdEfGhIjKlMnOpQrStUvWxYz and failed, a stupid programming error. (Engineers will note I’m grossly simplifying a hash encryption function.) Bad, bad program design.

© BBB
Mine’s Smaller Than Yours

A web site’s failure to validate the length of a password allowed me to pull off a silly little trick of questionable value. In the early days of the Web before it came under attack by Russian crackers and North Korean ransomware, I’d registered at a particular web site with a short password.

Years later, alarmed at attacks occurring worldwide, the site instituted stricter registration policies, including using lengthy password minimums double the length mine. They validated new password lengths at registration, but not during sign-on.

The site wasn’t critical for me, which led to an idiosyncratic decision to keep my old, deprecated password. A brute-force attacker would likely note  updated site rules that passwords must run at least twelve characters in length. If so, my dinky little password ought to sail under their radar. (And if not, I could live without the site.)

Tomorrow… Cobras and those pesky and perilous personal mystery questions.

16 February 2019

Pop the Clutch: Back to the Fifties


by John M. Floyd


Like many of you, I occasionally have a story published in an anthology. Sometimes I see a "call for submissions" and send off a story in the hope that an editor will like it, sometimes I'm invited to contribute a story, sometimes I'm fortunate enough to have one selected for a best-of-the-year anthology. However it happens, the story usually fits a "theme." Recent anthologies I've been involved with had themes that range all over the place: the military, food and drink, visions, Joni Mitchell songs, sanctuaries, Donald Trump, the full moon, Florida, New England, Texas, the South, horror, mystery, romance, and time travel.

Last month I was lucky enough to have a story published in a book that's turned out to be one of the most interesting anthologies I've seen in a while. This was one of those "write it from scratch" stories that would never have been created if not for this specific project. The book's title will explain that--it's Pop the Clutch: Thrilling Tales of Rockabilly, Monsters, and Hot Rod Horror. And yes, all those elements appear regularly in the 18 stories included. The publisher is Dark Moon Books and the editor is L.A. author Eric Guignard, who won a Bram Stoker Award in 2013 for his anthology After Death. (I was in that one too, although I suspect that my story didn't singlehandedly earn the win.)

I also suspect that one reason I found the Pop the Clutch project fascinating was its unique theme. There's just something compelling about the 1950s, whether you lived in that time period or not: jukeboxes, roller skates, film noir, Elvis, motor courts, cigarettes, sock hops, TV westerns, sideburns, coonskin caps, Hula Hoops, croquet, wheelies, flat-tops, ducktails, and so on. And when you add a dose of fantasy and horror to that already magical era . . . how could a reader not enjoy that? It's Daddy-o and the Mummy, all at once. You can be on another planet without leaving Earth.

What made me especially grateful to be included in this book is the fact that three of my literary heroes--Joe Lansdale, Bill Pronzini, and Max Allan Collins--were also invited to participate. Anytime my name winds up beside the names of folks like that in a ToC, well, my head grows by a couple of hat sizes and I dream that maybe I'm finally making something of myself, Mom. And even though I wound up enjoying, as expected, the stories those three authors produced for the book, I liked the others also.

If I had to pick half a dozen favorites, they were probably "Dr. Morrismo's InsaniTERRORium Horror Show," by Lisa Morton; "Tremble," by Kasey Lansdale and Joe R. Lansdale; "I'm With the Band," by Steve Perry, "The Prom Tree," by Yvonne Navarro; "The She-Creature," by Amelia Beamer; and "Universal Monster," by Duane Swierczynski.

My own story in the book (he announced, modestly) is "The Starlite Drive-In," a mystery/horror tale set in present-day Mississippi that winds up tied to the 1950s in a weird and otherworldly way: real creatures from old movies like Mothra and The Blob and I Was a Teenage Werewolf start turning up (and gobbling up the citizens) in the rural area near an abandoned drive-in movie theater that once screened those masterpieces--and a worn-out sheriff and his female deputy find themselves in a life-or-death battle with this army of creepy and bloodsucking critters. (If you think I didn't have a great time writing this one, well, you weren't a teenage werewolf.)
Even if you aren't old enough to have experienced the Fifties firsthand, this book will make you feel like you're there. Worst case, you'll want to put on a poodle skirt or grease your hair (hopefully not at the same time)--and best case, so help me Godzilla, you'll be inspired to re-watch some of those deliciously stupid monster movies from that era.


I must include, here, a word of thanks. First to Eric Guignard: if you happen to read this post, Eric, I'm indebted to you for bringing me aboard for yet another of your anthologies. And thanks also to those of you who buy and read this wild bunch of stories. If you like 'em half as much as I did, your time and money will have been well spent.

Let me close with some questions for my fellow short-story writers: How do you feel about anthologies? Do you send stories to anthos as often as you do to magazines? When you do, do you prefer creating a story first and then looking for a market, or trying to write to a pre-determined theme? Are most of your antho stories mysteries, or have you tried other genres (or combined genres, as I did with this one)? Are they usually submitted as a result of an invitation, or as an audition? Are most of these publications paying gigs, or for-the-love-of-it projects?

Okay, back to the dragstrip. Start your engines and hit the gas.

Where'd I put that Brylcreem . . . ?




15 February 2019

The Manual of Mindfulness: Thinking Like Sherlock Holmes

by Lawrence Maddox

Sherlock Ommmms
The modern concept of mindfulness seems as far from Victorian England as Optimus Prime does from Robbie the Robot, yet maybe it's most ardent fictional practitioner shot out of that era like a bullet from a Webley Bulldog Revolver.  Roughly 2300 years before the Victorian Age's namesake took the throne (and about 2420 years before The Kinks sang her praises in "Victoria"), the seeds of what we now call  "mindfulness" started with Buddha himself, passing into the west largely through meditation, yoga, and for me as a kid, the TV show Kung Fu.

The western medical community began picking up on these stress-reducing practices as an alternative to the drugs, booze, and all the other fun stuff we westerners use to to chill out. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn was one of the first to do so and call it "mindfulness." "Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally," said Kabat-Zinn. "And then I sometimes add, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom."

Basil Rathbone being iconic
Jeremy Brett being brilliant
So who is this Victorian-era Buddha I mentioned earlier? His black shag tobacco is still sprinkled all over pop culture, one hundred and twenty-two years after he first appeared in print. We just can't seem to get enough Sherlock Holmes, be it in print, radio, theater, TV or movies. Holmes has been played by actors as varied as Basil Rathbone (my childhood favorite), Jeremy Brett (my all-time fav), Hammer Horror heroes Peter Cushing AND Christopher Lee, Robert Downey Jr, and Benedict Cumberbatch.  Mr. Spock and Dr. House certainly share much of the Holmes DNA, as does last year's animated hit Sherlock Gnomes. I bet if you looked long enough, you'd find Holmes porn floating around the internet. Please don't forward any links.

What is it about Holmes that still fascinates us? The knowledge, the reasoning, the braininess of Holmes is what most consider Holmes' primary traits. Fans of the detective know there's so much more. Holmes' imagination, his ability to be present and live utterly in the moment, his awareness of his own thought processes, his mindfulness, are perhaps his greatest and most impressive gifts.

If Doyle meant the Holmes stories to be idle entertainment only, he was wildly successful. What if Doyle was also showing us a better way to live? Maria Konnikova thinks that's exactly what Doyle was doing, and she teaches us how to think like Sherlock Holmes in her fascinating manual-of-mindfulness Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (2013)

Maria Konnikova first caught the Holmes bug when her father read Holmes stories to her when she was little. She eventually earned her Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia and has published extensively about science, yet she owns up to the role that reading fiction has played in her life:  "I think the best psychologists are actually fiction writers. Their understanding of the human mind is so far beyond where we've been able to get with psychology as a science."

Mastermind presents the two different ways in which people use their brains. There is the Watson system, which is our default system. The Watson system makes all the mental errors that Watson, Lestrade, and the rest of the bumblers make in the Holmes stories. The Watson system jumps to incorrect conclusions, is influenced by appearances, and isn't really paying attention, either to the outside world or to it's own mental workings.

The Holmes system will have none of that. By dent of effort, it takes the Watson system offline and installs a new operating system in our consciousness. "Checklists, formulas, structured procedures: those are your best bet," Mastermind explains.  Through practice, habit, and the pursuit of mindfulness, Mastermind claims that the Holmes system opens up a new world of thought: it forces us to be neutral in our observations; it cajoles us to be doubtful of first impressions and of our own minds; it commands us to be superior observers; it directs us to engage the world with all of our senses; it frees up our imaginations; it forbids multi-tasking and it demands focus on the job at hand.  Be present, it shouts, like a teacher to a student drifting off in class.

Mastermind backs up its precepts with science, and it can be a little dry. Having said that, I think Doyle (and Holmes) wouldn't have had it any other way. Konnikova digs into the science, but there is never any doubt that her inspiration for Mastermind is the fiction of Doyle. I really enjoyed Mastermind when it uses the Holmes stories to illustrate a point.

In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Watson and Holmes take turns deducing the biographical details of Dr. James Mortimer by examining the absent doctor's walking stick. Watson makes his usual mistakes, and Holmes "embarks on his own logical tour de force." Holmes goes on to deduce much about Dr. Mortimer's background, age, habits, ambitions, and pet ownership.

According to Mastermind, this scene "brings together all of the elements of the scientific approach to thought that we've spent this book exploring and serves as a near-ideal jumping-off point for discussing how to bring the thought process together as whole." Some of the thought-practices Konnikova garners from this episode are: being aware of our environment; the value of thoughtful observation; and allowing the imagination, maybe the most powerful tool in our mental arsenal, to tangle with life's problems.

It wouldn't be fair to boil Mastermind down to only one mental habit, but if forced to the edge of the Reichenbach Falls, I'd say it's the same exercise that's at the heart of mindfulness. "Holmes' mental journeying goes by many names, but most commonly it is called meditation," Konnikova writes. "Holmes is neither monk nor yoga practitioner," Konnikova adds, "but he understands what meditation, in its essence, actually is–– a simple mental exercise to clear your mind."

Konnikova argues that meditation trains our brains to be more Holmes-like. She discusses studies that show that meditation boosts concentration, learning,  memory, and even brain density. Meditation "can help you create the right frame of mind to attain the distance necessary for mindful, imaginative thought."

I expect some eye rolls at this connection of Holmes and meditation, mindfulness, and anything that smacks of New Age mysticism. First I'd say that meditation has been moved out of the realms of eastern tradition and into medical practice by western science. Don't be put off if your MD prescribes a shot of meditation for what ills you, with a tai chi chaser.

The biggest complaint about Mastermind could be that it's taking Sherlock Holmes too seriously. Doyle conjured the stories while his medical practice was slow, and surely he meant them only as idle entertainment. An argument could be made otherwise. Holmes is, after all, largely based on Dr. Joseph Bell, a professor at The University of Edinburgh Medical School who Doyle assisted. Bell was a doctor, a scientist, a teacher, and Doyle's mentor.

Like Holmes, Dr. Bell is purported to have had the skill of being able to tell a person's job just by looking at him. Bell once said "...we teachers find it useful to show the student how much a trained use of the observation can discover in ordinary matters such as the previous history, nationality and occupation of a patient." Perhaps Doyle is using Bell, a brilliant teacher, to create his own fictional teacher. After all, in A Study in Scarlet, Holmes did write a magazine article on his methods for the public edification. He even gave it the rather self-important title "The Book of Life."

Maria Konnikova calls your bluff

After Mastermind, Konnikova wrote The Confidence Game (2016). In it she discusses the history of con artists and the reasons why people can be so easily duped. It's a great resource for crime writers, and a kind of sequel to Mastermind and its mindfulness techniques. Though continuing to write, Konnikova is now a professional poker player. Considering her interests in Holmes, that should scare anyone with a handful of cards and secrets to hide.

Lawrence Maddox and Samuel Gailey
waiting to read at LA's Noir at the Bar
Thanks to everyone who not only blew off one of the lamest Super Bowls ever, but also braved a stormy night to hit LA's Noir at the Bar at Mandrake. It was a great evening with myself, Gray Basnight, Eric Beetner, Samuel Gailey, Nadine Nettman and Wendall Thomas taking turns at the mic, and Eric Beetner and Steve Lauden  hosting. Afterwards I somehow ended up clear across town at the Altadena Ale & Wine House discussing all things lit. See ya at the next one!

14 February 2019

Too Weird for Fiction?

by Eve Fisher

Last night I had a dream in which all my political wishes came true - but nature was calling and woke me up.  I did my usual autopilot to the bathroom and then to the kitchen where the oven clock is large enough to read without waking up too much:  4:44 AM.  Which was interesting in and of itself.  But here's where it gets weird.  For the last few weeks, whenever I get up and do the late night shuffle, it's been a row of numbers:  2:22 AM, 3:33 AM, 4:44 AM or 5:55 AM.

Needless to say, this can't be a coincidence.  Nor can it be that I just remember those times because they're easy to remember, and weird enough to stand out.  No.  There's got to be another reason.  So I did the classic Google search, and obviously occult forces are at work.  The most benign answer I got was at:  https://astrostyle.com/master-numbers/ 
There were others, less benign.  More foreboding.  Somewhere between astrology and numerology, this house may need a thorough sageing.  That or I may be close to Direct Contact, whether I want it or not.

But life is like that. Strange things happen, and they are too weird for fiction. Granted, I run with a strange crowd, but just about everyone I know has experienced deja vu, heard footsteps in the kitchen when no one's at home, thought of someone they haven't thought of in years only to have them call later that day (or run into them in person, and sometimes in person in prison), seen glimpses of prior residents in the corner, or woken up to a series of numbers on the clock. 

Speaking weird, how many of you have experienced sleep paralysis?  (especially as a child):  this is where you wake up, but you can't move your body.  And you're not sure you're really in your body.  But you can't move, but you're wide awake, and it ranked among the 5 top frightening things of my childhood that I didn't tell anyone about.

But there are reasons for it.  The scientific reason is that it happens when you wake up before you're fully out of REM sleep mode.  Okay.  Meanwhile, in almost every culture "such sleep paralysis was widely considered the work of demons, and more specifically incubi, which were thought to sit on the chests of sleepers. In Old English the name for these beings was mare or mære (from a proto-Germanic *marōn, cf. Old Norse mara), hence comes the mare part in nightmare. The word might be etymologically cognate to Greek Marōn (in the Odyssey) and Sanskrit Māra." (Read more at The Sleep Paralysis World)

John Henry Fuseli - The Nightmare.JPG
John Fuselli's creepily, extremely romanticized, "The Nightmare" - Wikipedia
That sounds more like it...

But that's just deep night mode.  What about broad daylight?  Well, there's daily life.  Which is often stranger than anything you can dream up.

Many years ago, I had a dear friend - I'll call her Rose - who had polio when she was only 2 years old.  Her family lived back up in the mountains in Tennessee, and were very poor.  They thought it was just another fever, so they didn't take her to the doctor.  The result was that Rose was totally, permanently crippled - she never walked a day in her life.  In fact, the next 10 years were spent in bed, because her family couldn't afford a wheelchair, and (in America) they don't give those things away.  But she got an education, she eventually got a wheelchair, and one day she met a man from the area who fell in love with her and married her.

For about 20 years, Rose and Paul were happy.  But then something happened.  Paul got involved with another woman at work, who got him on drugs, who got him crazy, which caused him to leave Rose and take up with the Other Woman, and Rose was like to have died of misery.  Then Paul and the Other Woman headed up West Virginia way, where they continued drugging, and apparently began fighting so hard it would frighten dogs and cats.  One night, in the middle of the night, while Paul slept, the Other Woman got her stuff together, and crept out, but not before she shot Paul in the neck while he slept.

Even though it was 2 days before anyone found him, Paul lived through it.  But when he woke up he was paralyzed from the neck down, and stayed that way, in a nursing home, for the rest of his life.  I told Allan that Paul should be the poster boy for what happens when karma catches up with you.

Rose and Paul are the reason why I absolutely believe that everything James M. Cain ever wrote is based on absolute truth.

Of course there was an insurance agent who was seduced by the young wife of an older man into killing her husband and running off with her while falling in love with the victim's daughter, and each betrays the other and they shoot it out and die.

Of course there was a drifter who fell for a gorgeous dame who married this older slob, and they decide to kill him, and they do it with a car accident, but then they get testy with each other and he screws around on her, and she may or may not have screwed around on him, and then they get past that, and it's going to be great, so they go on a trip and there's another car crash and she dies and he ends up on death row for murder.

Of course there was a woman who got fed up with her useless husband after the Depression hit and all he could do is fart around the house and screw around with another woman, so she dumps him, and starts working as a waitress and then starts up her own restaurant, while falling for a trust fund baby heel but the real love of her life is her gorgeous daughter who's cruel and selfish and treats her like dirt, absolute dirt, but she loves it, because the daughter's so special, an opera singer, and even after her daughter steals her trust fund hubby and the woman tries to kill her, the woman is broken hearted and tries to win her daughter back by marrying schlub number one and she still gets screwed by the little bitch.

It's all possible.  It's all real.  You can't make this stuff up.  Love hurts.  Love twists.  Love gets very, very strange.

And that's why Hallmark runs romance movies with a sugar content sufficient to make the entire nation diabetic.  It's a way of whistling past the graveyard.

Why we check our horoscopes.  Maybe we can ward it off this time.

Why we keep waiting for Godot.  Or St. George.  Or the Fisher King, King Arthur, the Mahdi, or anyone else who's supposed to be coming back and rescuing us, dammit.

Why we hang dreamcatchers, or charms, or wind chimes, all of which work against evil spirits:

      

And why it's very nice to have someone to snuggle up with on a cold, snowy night, with the wind howling and the two of you (plus pets) to keep the warmth alive, and the dark at bay.

Happy Valentine's Day from a very cold, snowy, blustery South Dakota winter!




13 February 2019

The Unredeemed Captive

David Edgerley Gates

I picked up a used book at a second-hand store not long ago. Boys of the Border, written by Mary P. Wells Smith, a 1954 reprint of a story originally published in 1907. It caught my eye because of the dust jacket art (see illustration below, no explanation needed), and because the inside cover had a hand-drawn map of the Mohawk Trail, in western Massachusetts, during the French-and-Indian War, when these frontier settlements were no more than scattered farmsteads, with the occasional fortified log palisade. Mary Prudence Wells Smith was well-respected in her lifetime, the author of several successful YA series, Boys of the Border the third in her Old Deerfield story cycle. I'm embarrassed to say I'd never heard of her, despite having a common curiosity about the history of that neck of the woods.



Drums Along the Mohawk it ain't, but it's pretty rousing all the same, and in both the Deerfield series and the companion Young Puritans historicals, she gives a convincing picture of daily hardships, forbidding piety, and an abiding mistrust of the Other, dark-hearted and pagan, stealers of children and sleep, the marauding Indian who came out of the deepest wilderness to prey on the luckless and unwary. This hidden terror was in fact the great unmapped continent of North America itself, too enormous to be contained or even imagined. An undiscovered country, whence no traveler returns.

It was a Leap Year. February 29th, 1704. In the early morning, a raiding party of French, Abenaki, and Iroquois attacked the small town of Deerfield, on the Connecticut River. They burned and looted houses, killed forty-seven people, and took 109 captives. They marched them 300 miles north to Quebec.

89 of the captives survived, and over the next two years, 60 of them were ransomed back. Others chose to stay in Canada, most famously the Rev. John Williams' daughter Eunice, who married a Mohawk. Rev. Williams wrote a hugely successful book, The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion, framing the story as instructive of God's providence. In a larger context, it becomes the primal American fiction.


(John Demos published The Unredeemed Captive in 1994, the title a play on Rev. Williams' own. Demos explains the captivity narrative as a racial and cultural paradigm, and not least as gender politics. It could be the Red Man, it could be the Yellow Peril, it could be Mandingo. The story turns on rescue from defilement. It's also clearly, and unapologetically, about the triumph of an enlightened tribe or race over a primitive and degraded one.)

Leaving aside Mark Twain's hysterically irreverent essay about him, it has to be admitted that James Fenimore Cooper is the first American novelist, in that he tells American stories, liberated from a European sensibility. Twain himself is a legatee and beneficiary of Cooper's. Huck Finn is completely American, but his literary forebear is Natty Bumppo. Cooper's romances have all of the generic conventions of the period, nor does he have much fluency or stagecraft, and yet he's engaging. What he brings to the table is conviction. He's got authority. Cooper knows the architectural foundation of his books is Manifest Destiny.

The captive narrative many of us are most familiar with is John Ford's 1956 movie The Searchers - and the novel by Alan Le May. The story is said to be based on the actual kidnapping of Cynthia Ann Parker by the Comanche. Nine when she was taken, she grew up Comanche, married, and had a family. Her eldest son, Quanah, became one of the last great war chiefs of the Comanche nation. She was recaptured by U.S. cavalry and Texas Rangers in a raid 24 years later, but never reintegrated into white culture. In truth, she wasn't in need of rescue.

The Searchers, for all its savagery, is about reconciliation, something both Eunice Williams and Cynthia Ann Parker stubbornly resisted. America, too, seems unreconciled, our vast interior a dark unknown, our captive imagination unredeemed, an unreliable narrative.


12 February 2019

Agatha Award short-story finalists for this year

by Barb Goffman

Given that I am swamped with work, I've decided to take the easy way out this week and write something short for you. But never fear. I'm a short-story writer, so brevity is my friend.

Allow me to introduce the finalists for this year's Agatha Award in the short-story category, all of whom know how to make every word count. I'm pleased to be one of the nominees, along with my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor, and the three other finalists, all of whom I'm also proud to call my friends. So without further ado, the finalists and their stories. Each title is a link to that story, for your reading pleasure.

  • Leslie Budewitz. Her story "All God's Sparrows" was published in the May/June 2018 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  


  • Barb Goffman. (Yep, that's me.) My story "Bug Appetit" was published in the November/December 2018 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
 

Attendees of the Malice Domestic mystery convention will be able to vote for their favorite story during the convention this May. In the meanwhile, happy reading! See you in three weeks.

11 February 2019

The Unbearable Rightness of Thinking

by Steve Hockensmith

As I wrote last month and the month before that, it was really, really tough deciding what writing project I should focus on now that my newest book is out in the world. It wasn't that I didn't have ideas to move on to. It was that I had five. Which was gradually whittled down to four. Which was gradually whittled down to three. Which was gradually whittled down to two.

Which was where the whittling stopped, and this began.



If you want a soundtrack for that GIF, cue up the appropriate music and read on in your best William Shatner voice.

Mystery! Western! Mystery! Western! Mystery! Western!

You'll be happy to know that the slap-a-thon is over now. (Well, unless you really, really dislike me. In which case all I can do is assure that I'll go through it again and again as long as I keep writing, so just be patient.) One of the slaps finally won out, and I've committed to an idea. Which means the GIF that captures the mode I'm in now looks more like this:


The soundtrack this time, of course:

Think think think. Think think think. Think think think.

I put in at least a month of Think think think every time I start a book.

What is this thing gonna be about? I think.

Who is it gonna be about? I think.

How am I gonna make it surprising? I think.

Where do I start? I think.

How does it end? I think.

Have I put in enough time thinking to justify a Facebook break? I think.

That cat is hilarious! I think.

Alrightback to work, I think.

Think think think, I think.

Not all writers puts themselves through this, of course. If you've ever been to a mystery convention, you've probably seen or participated in (or skipped) the inevitable "pantsers vs. plotters" panel. That's the one where writers who outline talk about why that works for them, while writers who don't outline talk about why that works for them. Which is kind of like having a panel devoted to pineapple on pizza.

"It's good," says one panelist.

"It's not," says another.

"It's delicious," says a third.

"It's disgusting," says a fourth.

Etc. etc. etc. until the moderator announces that it's time for questions from the audience, the first of which is "What kind of crazy person puts pineapple on pizza?"

Me, I like pineapple on pizza. I also outline. But I'm not going to tell anyone that Hawaiian pizza is the best in the world or that a good book requires a plan.

I will do something dangerous here, though. I will express an opinion on the internet. My Twitter pal Jason Heller dared to do that recently, and hoo boy it did not go well. But here goes anyway.

I read a bad book recently. It was bad just about any way you could figure it. Line by line, chapter by chapter, act by act. (Actually, there were no discernible acts, no real building of tension, no climax that brought conflicts and themes to a head. You could tell where the chapters started and stopped thanks to the big numerals, but without those it might have been tough.) This I knew for a certainty as I gritted my teeth and flipped the pages: Here was a writer who didn't think about his book. He just wrote it. And when the bad guys were all dead, he figured it was done.

I'm not saying the book was bad because the dude didn't outline. I'm saying it might have been good if he'd outlined or revised the bejesus out of it. He needed to think think think, in other words, and that could have come before he wrote the first draft (my preference) or after (yours, perhaps?).

I did finish the book, by the way. Yes, it was bad, but it was the kind of thing I was in the mood for and it was extremely easy to read. Which made it the equivalent, I think, of school pizza. You remember.

You want this:


But you get this:


And you eat it anyway because you're 11, and 11-year-olds don't say not to pizza. But what about the cafeteria ladies? Wouldn't they rather be serving this?



Of course, they would.

So, ladies, you know what to do.



10 February 2019

The New Playground of Criminals: Sexting and Phishing.

by Mary Fernando


Amanda Todd was in grade seven when an online stranger convinced her to expose her breasts. Then he attempted to blackmail her, saying he would send Amanda’s naked image to family and friends if she didn't provide him with more nudes. She refused. He sent her nudes and, from that point on, she was ridiculed and bullied. 

After making a heartbreaking video, Amanda took her own life at fifteen.

Research looking at 110,000 children, all younger than 18 and some as young as 11, found that one in four young people had received sexts, and one in seven reported sending them. 


This is the new back alley rife with predator crime: the internet.

Darren Laur spent 30 years of his life as an inner city policeman. He retired three years ago, got certified in Open Source Intelligence and now specializes in online investigations.

“To date we have saved 186 youth who were considering suicide and self-harm in response to bullying and a full third of these were because of sexting,” says Darren in a voice that marries authority and empathy in equal measure. “We have the resources to do these investigations and put a package together to bring to law enforcement.”



As a policeman he wants to do what he has always done - he wants to put the bad guys away. He also wants to continue the work he did in the inner city - to help people by steering them in the right direction. Through his company - White Hatters - he does outreach for teens. His research shows that 1/4 of teens have sent nudes by the age of 16, and the youngest one was in grade 4. 79% of them were pressured into sending these nudes - often in the context of relationship building.

So, while explaining the dangers of sexting, Darren also recognizes a painful truth: preaching abstinence will only work for some. Just like with sex education with young people, an abstinence-only message is not as useful as giving a more robust message of safe sex and protection. With sexting that is the message he offers. Safe sexting.

If you are going to sext- because young people will - Daren teaches harm reduction. Sexting should be done without your face, or anything that can identify you like tattoos, clothing, background. This way,  if it goes public it is not evident it is you and there is deniability. He also teaches how to scrub any metadata that identifies the individual.


Darren explains that safe internet interaction applies to a far wider area than sexting. Those of us on the internet might want to be aware of another internet crime: Phishing. 

This is the use of a phishing link on twitter, email or texts, where a simple click can open you up to identity theft and fraud. Fraudsters will use social engineering to assess our likes and dislikes and use them to fool us into clicking links.

“According to Symantec’s 2018 Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR), a whopping 54.6% of all email is spam. Even more to the point, their data show that the average user receives 16 malicious spam emails per month”

“There were two bits of very bad news for consumers in the recent annual survey of identity-based fraud. First, there were 16.7 million victims in 2017, easily the most ever, fuelled in part by a series of high-profile data breaches. But even worse, criminals are migrating to more sophisticated, multistep frauds, with the rates of new account fraud and noncredit credit card fraud soaring. Why should you care? Those are the crimes with the most potential to hurt your credit score.”



Darren explains, “We can strengthen internet security, but the weakest link is always the human link.”

Every day, I join many others in clicking sites on searches, opening emails and texts and clicking interesting URLs on Twitter - oh, a cute dog video! Click. Click. 

 I agree with Daren. I’m a weak link. Wandering around like Bambi in the wild west of the internet. 



 I’m grateful that we have Darren Laur and investigators like him to educate us and – if we become a victim of identity theft or a number of other crimes – we have someone to fish us out.

Pun intended. 



09 February 2019

True Lies

by Stephen Ross

I've been thinking lately about what I do for fun (and a little bit of profit). I like to make stuff up. I routinely write about people and events, conflicts and conundrums, and barely a word of it is true. My stories are mostly cut from the whole cloth of my imagination.

And that said, people read what I write and believe every word.

Bless them. Note: Believe is a fluid term.

I'm no exception. Every writer of FICTION is granted this privilege. And it's a privilege we work with carefully, because if we stretch our fiction too much, too far, or too absurdly, it'll break. The reader will snort with derision and hurl our writing across the room at the wall; or worse, into the publishing house's rejection receptacle.

When people pick up a work of fiction, 99% of them will read and accept it, happily allowing for its inherent falseness; and as long as the writer plays more-or-less by the rules (of whatever field, genre he/she is writing in), everything will be fine.

But, of course, there is that 1% of folk who will pick up a book and actually believe the whole thing is a true story, i.e., not made up.

My percentages are also fiction, but based on a reasonable assumption. People really do send death threats to actors who play nasty villains on TV and in movies. And to pluck an excellent example from history; people really did cry when (PLOT SPOILER!) Little Nell died at the end of of Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop. In fact, it's been said that readers in New York stormed the docks (in 1841) when the ship arrived bearing the last installment, shouting to the sailors, "Is Little Nell alive?"

Alive?

"Little Nell" perhaps better demonstrates the power of a good story, rather than complete acceptance of a work of fiction in blind faith. But, you know, there really are people out there who totally, utterly, unquestioningly, believe there's a school in Scotland called Hogwarts. Right now, I have at least one friend who's saying, What the hell are you talking about, Stephen?!? You know who you are.

Liking a good story is why we will happily suspend our disbelief. We are consciously aware it's made up, but we allow for that. In fact, the more we like a story, the greater is our ability to suspend our disbelief, regardless of how ludicrous the story might be.

(I am very tempted to segue into politics at this point, but I will not.)

Liking a good story is part of human nature. We've been liking a good story since man could talk and could string enough sentences together to say something interesting. And let's face it, there wasn't much else to do of an evening in prehistoric times, when sitting around the fire, after having swallowed the last mouthful of woolly mammoth. There was nowhere to plug in the TV, to start with, and the wi-fi was lousy.


There is something innate in the human mind that can easily latch onto, like, and believe in a good set of characters and reasonable plot. Were there not, books, plays, movies, and so on, would not be a thing. We'd still be sitting around the fire. Counting the stars.

Speaking as a writer, there's something nice about being able to send made-up ideas into the heads of other people. To make them see things that don't exist. To make them feel. And to keep doing that, possibly forever, or until the stars burn out. Think about it, every time someone picks up one of Dickens' books, the ideas of a man who's been dead for nearly 150 years come through clearly into the reader's head. Natürliche, you need to be someone as good as Dickens to achieve that kind of longevity.

Stephen King, in his book On Writing, talked about this. From memory, I think he referred to it as a form of telepathy—transmitting ideas from the writer's mind into that of the reader's, with, some times, years apart between the writing and the reading.

Nice.

Anyway, back to the next chapter, and making up more stuff.


Thanks to @nubikini for the photo!




stephenross.live/

facebook.com/stephen.ross.writer.etc/

instagram.com/__stephenross/

08 February 2019

The Writer Cop

The Writer Cop
by O'Neil De Noux

I do not write non-fiction often. The current issue of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, BLUE REVIEW (Issue 12) has my article THE WRITER COP. Thought I would share a portion of it here.


THE WRITER COP

There are advantages and disadvantages of being a cop-turned-writer

Advantages

We know the life. We know how a police officer thinks, how a cop talks, what a cop will do and we write from there. We are eye-witnesses who must learn how to write good fiction to get the stories out there. So, we start a little ahead but until we learn how to write, all we have are anecdotes.

Disadvantages
It is hard for us to cut corners in our fiction, just as in real life. We have to solve the crimes as real cops do and sometimes it isn't interesting. That's why learning to be a good fiction writer is paramount. We have to know how to add excitement to mundane procedures. The dean of our field, Joseph Wambaugh, taught us this lesson we should never forget.

Another disadvantage is publishing's perception of police officers in fiction. Some agents and editors think television cops are real, that cops beat up prisoners all the time, violate people's rights, shoot everyone they can. Real cops like that end up in a penitentiary. Then again, a good story outranks reality. We are writing fiction, so when I read about a cop who is over the top, well that's fiction. It's just a little harder for us to write that way. We need to learn how to do this effectively. My recurring character John Raven Beau is larger than life and has shot far too many people in my fiction. It took a while, but I learned.

We cop writers must remember the basics

A Good Plot is the backbone of the police story
A well-plotted scenario will allow the writer to create memorable characters, unforgettable scenes, uniquely described settings; so long as the writer does not forget normal police procedures. Deviation from the norm removes credibility from your story. Strive for believability.

Keep it Action Oriented
Although real police investigations include long, sometimes grueling days of unending canvasses, surveillances, and dead-end leads, you should be selective in what you present the reader in order to keep your story moving forward. Short scenes featuring crisp dialogue can streamline the most mundane parts of an investigation. Leave out the boring parts.

Create well-rounded characters
As in almost all fiction, character is the heart of the story. Although the hero of the police procedural is usually a police officer, they are real people existing in a familiar world. What happens to them can be extraordinary.

Create a distinctive setting
The setting is the skeleton your story is built around. It is more than just the description of a place or time period. It is the feeling of the place and time. Give the reader a distinct, well-rounded setting stressing sensory details – the sharp smell of gunpowder, the coppery taste of blood, the tacky feel of rubber grips on a weapon when the hero's hand are sweaty.

Accurate language adds credibility
Through dialogue, you have an excellent opportunity to create emotion, from scintillating nails-on-a-blackboard passes uttered by creepy villians to hard-nosed talk between overworked detectives. Use what you know. You know how a cop talks.

Be Realistic
Make sure of your facts. We all know revolvers do not have safeties nor can a silencer be effective with a revolver or any open-breech weapon. Detectives take notes. How many times have you seen a movie or read a book showing detectives taking notes? Not many. I've been a detective most of my career. I never shot anyone but I killed a lot of pens. A pen is a detective's most useful took and mightiest weapon. Every killer on death row began his or her long trek through the criminal justice system with a detective taking notes at a crime scene.

A definite resolution helps
Don't cheat the reader out of an ending to your story. Police cases end, usually with an arrest and trial, sometimes with a shootout. This is a natural, climactic event. Even cases that are suspended or closed without a solution have a climactic moment, when the investigators face the nightmare of someone getting away with murder. In your resolution, you should remember something is usually affirmed. Good triumphs over evil, or at least goes the distance.

www.oneildenoux.com

07 February 2019

More on the Benefits of Journaling

by Brian Thornton

I have written before here and much more recently (and tangentially) here, about the benefits to be had from journaling about your writing. I continue to believe in the potency of journaling. Now, more than ever.

Journaling can take a multitude of forms: it can be simply making notes about what you're working on. It can be drafting scenes outside of your plot-line. It can be free-writing.

Journaling has served me incredibly well over the years. Any number of dry spells have been broken by a daily session with the writing journal. And what's more, working daily on your journal can have the added benefit of "priming the pump" for other writing.

When I'm journaling as part of my daily word-count goals, I find I get more and better writing on my main project done, in addition to getting ideas for other, future writing projects. Those get written down, too.

Every piece of fiction I've ever written has come about all or in part because of my commitment to this process. Imagine my surprise when it began to pay dividends in a completely different facet of my writing process.

My editing.

Now, I am no freelancer. I don't do copy-edits. I won't give you a quote. And I'm definitely not for hire.

I don't do any of that kind of editing work. When I edit professionally, it's part of collecting and producing an anthology of thematically linked work.

I've been talking here ad nauseum about the twin themed anthologies I've been working on recently. They're a collection of crime fiction stories inspired by the music of Steely Dan. They are the third and fourth such anthologies I've curated over the course of my career.

This time around I've been working on them concurrently with an unrelated writing project which is due to my publisher later this year. So I've been journaling in addition to all of the editing I've been doing.

And while said journaling has produced terrific results on my other fiction project, I was amazed at how it helped with my productivity on the editing side as well.

For me editing is usually an intensive, exhausting process. It takes a lot out of me to get through a piece, in part because I want to give my best to any project I take on.

And unlike so many of the freelancers and other industry editors I know and count among my friends, it is not a natural fit for me. I know people who can copy edit for hours upon hours, and then go work on their own stuff. Boy, not me. I'm usually pretty fried after a few pages.

Well, that is to say, I was.

But no more. I've found that journaling about what I'm editing has helped me bounce back quicker, focus better, be loads more productive.

Now, when I'm going about my day and working out in the back of my mind plot problems from my own work, I find that because of the work I've done journaling about my editing, what's working with the story, what doesn't, it's keeping that in my head, and giving me ideas about how to fix the things in need of fixing, expand the things in need of expansion, and, of course, cut the things in need of cutting!

I know that we number many editors amongst our readers here at Sleuthsayers. What say you in the peanut gallery? I realize that freelancers need to write up reports and offer feedback to their clients. Does your editing process resemble this? If not, please feel free to share your process with us in the comments.

And on that note:

See you in two weeks!

06 February 2019

Smile! Your Story Has Been Rejected!

by Robert Lopresti

Here they are, folks.  The top ten reasons you should be grateful your latest short story was rejected.

10.  Unless you asked the editor out on a date, nobody rejected you. They rejected some pages with words on them. For example, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine rejected the first seventy-six stories I sent them, but that didn't stop them from buying the seventy-seventh, when I finally got the words on the pages that they wanted.

9. You have a new opportunity to look at the story, checking for flaws, typos, or new aspects.

8.  You have had a valuable reminder of the fact that rejection does not kill you.

7.  You have a new opportunity to examine available markets.    Of my seventy-plus published stories, fifteen eventually appeared in paying markets that did not exist when I first started submitting that story.

6. You just learned something about that market/editor.

5. Your skin just grew a millimeter thicker.

4.  Your story is closer to finding its proper home.   My stories have received some sort of honor ten times.   Eight of those were for stories that had been rejected by at least one market.

3.  Be proud that you are submitting.  As they say in basketball, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

2.  Be proud that you are finishing what you write.  That puts you light-years ahead of millions of wannabes.

1. Be proud that you are writing.  That's what you're doing it for, right?  Because if the goal is wealth, try buying lottery tickets instead.

And a Bonus Reason, for those who sell most of what they write: If your success rate is very high, maybe you need to experiment more, or try more ambitious markets.  Then you can have the satisfaction of failing sometimes, like the rest of us.

Other reasons?  Put 'em in the comments.



05 February 2019

I Am Not a Crook – Or: A friend will help you move. A really good friend will help you move a body.

by Paul D. Marks

They say write what you know, but we can’t always write what we know because that would severely limit what we could write. I don’t think George Lucas or Robert Heinlein ever went to outer space before they wrote about it. And most of us here are crime writers or readers, but how many crime writers have actually lived a life of crime? Aside from speeding or maybe smoking a joint or a little underage drinking, not exactly heinous felonies. How many of us have committed those?

I’m no goody two-shoes (does anyone say that anymore?) but I also haven’t lived a life on the lam from a criminal past. As RT mentioned recently, I may have had homicidal fantasies, but I only carry them out on the page. I did, however, get a ticket for jaywalking once.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to watch the Murder Channel, the Discovery ID Channel, 24/7 Murder, Mayhem and Betrayal. And one of the things that strikes me in many of the cases they cover is how, not only the main bad guy can so easily kill—and often someone they had once loved,—but how easy it is for them to find friends who will help them carry out their deeds before, during or after the fact. Someone to join you in the fun of murder, or join you afterwards to help you dispose of the body, lie to the cops, etc. Think about your circle of friends. Is there anyone you could turn to to help you kill someone or bury the body afterwards? I know I travel in certain circles, but I don’t think anyone I know would be willing to do that…except maybe the guy I wrote about last time, Brian McDevitt. But since I never tested him on it I can’t say for sure. But you know what they say, a friend will help you move. A really good friend will help you move a body. I’m not sure I have any really good friends… But so far I haven’t needed one. I guess I’ll find out if the time comes 😉.


And though I may not have murdered anyone, my life of crime began at a very early age. When I was around eight, I’m guessing, I stole a couple pieces of candy from a market. Once we got outside my dad noticed them in my hand and made me take them back. It was humiliating but it taught me a lesson—crime does not pay.

When I was in my late 20s, I was approached by a couple—no not for that. They wanted me to marry a friend of theirs from Lebanon so she could become a citizen. They would pay me and at the time I could have used the money, badly. I told them I’d think about it. But I didn’t really need to. I knew I wouldn’t—couldn’t—do it…because it was both wrong and illegal. Nonetheless, I went home and got back to them a day or two later with my negative response. They weren’t happy, but I could live with myself.

But I did commit a crime while down in San Diego. A buddy of mine and I wanted to go to Belmont Park, a small seaside amusement park. We didn’t want to pay, so we hopped a fence on the back side, climbing over barbed wire, and jumped into the park. Nobody caught us. Not exactly in the category of mass murderer, but still illegal.

McDonald’s Incident 1: Also, in San Diego, but another time, another person—my brother this time. We went to McDonald’s. They gave him too much change. A twenty instead of a five. I made him return it. Not a crime, of course, but it ties in with the next point:

McDonald’s Incident 2: Up in LA this time. They short-changed me. I pointed it out. They made me feel like a liar, a thief and criminal. They made me wait while they closed that register and rectified. They found they were wrong and I was right. They gave me my change but never apologized. This happened shortly after the first McDonald’s incident, so I felt like a sap for being honest that time. But I’d probably do it again.

Rear-ender: I was on my way to teach a class. Occasionally I taught one-night screenwriting seminars. I was sitting at a red light and I see this huge Ford pickup barreling down on me. I tried to pull over, but couldn’t in time. He clipped me, sent me through a lamppost and destroyed my car (see pix). I was lucky to get out alive. Luckily I wasn’t hurt more. And all I wanted from his insurance company—and everyone knew and admitted that he was 100% in the wrong—was to have my medical paid, real replacement value for my car, not the bluebook value—I proved to them that these cars were going for more than Bluebook. And for them to pay for my rental car. His insurance company lied to me over and over. They also tried to screw me more ways than one. I had tried being honest and straight with them. But I realized the error of my ways: not getting a lawyer and finally got one. And I’m sure that whatever settlement we got was more than what I would have settled for initially…because I am an honest person and didn’t want to screw them. But they wanted to screw me…so I screwed back, legally.


I probably shouldn’t say this, but since it’s from my wilder and younger days, and I don’t do it anymore: I used to carry a very sharp knife with me. And when people would block me in a parking place one way or another, well, let’s just say they had a hard time driving home…after I slashed their tires. I never felt bad about it. It shouldn’t take me ten minutes to crawl into my car or work my way out of a parking place. It was sort of instant justice.

I may have done some other things, heated arguments and sometimes fights, but nothing major. Never stole (except for the candy when I was a kid), murdered, burgled, robbed. But I write about people who do. And, of course, I did pull a gun on the cops that time...and lived to tell about it… But for that story you’ll have to check out my website: https://pauldmarks.com/he-pulled-a-gun-on-the-lapd-and-lived-to-tell-about-it/ 

So………..do you know anyone who would be willing to help you move the body?

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Colman Keane interviewed me for his blog, Col's Criminal Library. Check it out:

http://col2910.blogspot.com/2019/02/questions-and-answers-with-paul-d-marks.html


Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com

04 February 2019

Not Fade Away

by Steve Liskow

Yesterday was the sixtieth anniversary of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, J. P. Richardson ("The Big Bopper") and Richard Valenzuela ("Ritchie Valens").

Valens, 17, had three hits, the biggest being "La Bamba." In the 60s, dozens of Midwest bands covered his "Come On, Let's Go." The McCoys had a local hit with it. Their lead singer and guitar player Rick Zehringer, AKA Rick Derringer, went on to do session work for Steely Dan and Bonnie Tyler and play behind both Edgar Winter and his brother Johnny.

Richardson's only hit of note was "Chantilly Lace," but he also wrote "Running Bear," a posthumous #1 for Johnny Preston, and "White Lightning," the first chart-topper for country giant George Jones.

Not so with Charles Hardin Holley. A year or two ago, another guitar player I know said, "I could never get the fuss over Buddy Holly." Four other players around the table chewed up one side of her and down the other in less time than it takes to say "Peggy Sue."

Holley (Or, professionally, Holly) was the Real Deal, only 22 when he died, younger than Mozart or Schubert. I still have a six-LP box set of his stuff released around 1980 (Much of it has never appeared on CD; I've considered burning it to CD myself), and it contains a staggering 122 tracks, NOT his complete output! A few are demos or interviews, and a few songs show up in different arrangements, but think about it for a minute. When the Beatles made their first recordings for EMI, John Lennon, 23, was the oldest member of the band and they performed mostly covers.

The youngest of four children, Holly heard his family play guitar, piano, banjo, mandolin, and who knows what else. They all sang, some professionally, and he heard country, jazz, blues, western swing and gospel music regularly. The kid was a walking melting pot and won a prize for performing on his toy violin...at age five. He was performing regularly before he could shave.

As Buddy Holly and the Crickets or with solo billing, he wrote or co-wrote a slew of rock standards: "Peggy Sue," "That'll Be the Day," "Heartbeat," "Oh Boy," "Rave On," "Everyday," "You're So Square," "Words of Love," "Not Fade Away," "It's So Easy," "Well, All Right," and several others. His combo of second guitar, bass and drums invented the rock band template. As John Mellencamp once said, "Listen to the Beatles early records. Take off the vocals and the sound is Buddy Holly."

Holly's style incorporated chords and simple riffs off those chord shapes to build solos that were melodic and rocked like a jeep on a mountain road. They were simple, logical and perfect. He's as vital to the development of rock 'n' roll guitar as Chuck Berry, who was ten years older. I perform lots of blues and folk and sixties rock, but I also play Holly songs because every time I look at a new one, I learn something. I've even used two of his titles for stories (Both currently looking for publishers).

His influence on the British Invasion? The Crickets inspired The Beatles, who covered "Words of Love" on an early LP with George Harrison doing a note-for-note copy of the original. Who can blame him? It's a great riff, and I copy it, too.

Graham Nash formed a band called The Hollies. Oddly, although they covered dozens of rock standards by Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison, various R & B acts and other British bands, I can't find a single Buddy Holly Song on their records. But you can hear Holly's influence in those shimmering harmonies.
The Hollies: Graham Nash on Right

The Rolling Stones covered many American R & B And blues acts, and their first single was actually written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. But the "A" side of their first American single was Holly's "Not Fade Away," and it benefits from the punchier production, possibly because of somewhat better recording technology than Holly's studio had in 1957.

Linda Ronstadt covered "It's So Easy" and "That'll Be the Day." Blind Faith, the short-lived experiment with Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, recorded "Well, All Right."

Holly booked that fatal plane to move his band to the next gig because their tour bus kept breaking down on snowy roads in the Midwestern winter. When Valens and Richardson found out about the plane, they begged Holly's band mates to give up their seats. Second guitarist Tommy Allsop "lost" a coin toss and surrendered his seat to Valens. Richardson took the seat intended for a lucky bass player who went on to carve out his own legendary country career: Waylon Jennings.

Sixty years ago yesterday. If things turned out differently, Holly could still be alive at 82, a year and a half younger than Elvis and four years older than John Lennon. He probably wouldn't be doing oldies shows, but he'd see what he started with his '58 sunburst Fender Stratocaster.

Good stuff never gets old.