24 March 2019

Jan Grape's Found Dead in Texas:
A Front Row Seat part 1

by Jan Grape
Jan Grape
Set in March, we bring you a rare treat, an Anthony Award-winning Best Short Story, also nominated for a Shamus Award. The first half runs today, the rest tomorrow.

Originally published in Vengeance is Hers (Signet 1997), this story also appears in Jan’s collection, Found Dead in Texas II. Pull up a chair, pour a glass of wine, and lean back. A fine Grape ages very well.

— Velma

A Front Row Seat
Part 1

by Jan Grape

I awoke on that cold wet March morning with a fierce sinus headache over my right eye. Things went downhill from there. I broke a fingernail and tore a run in my pantyhose. I had to dress twice because I snagged my sweater and had to change. When I walked out the front door I banged my little toe against the potted plant I’d inside brought for protection from the cold. “Damn Sam.” I limped out to my car and sank into the seat gratefully.

Some mornings should be outlawed I thought, but I managed to get to the office which I own and operate with my partner, Cinnamon Jemima Gunn, at eight-thirty a.m. on the dot. C.J., as she’s know to all except a few close friends, would have killed me if I’d opened up late. With the way things were going, death didn’t sound half bad.

At nine a man pushed opened the door with its distinct sign, G & G Investigations. He stopped cold in the middle of the reception area and looked around as if searching for someone.

He wasn’t handsome. His nose was too long and it hooked at the end, ruining his overall attractiveness. Dark, blue-black hair waved across his head and curled down over the tips of his ears. His eyes were blue-gray and crinkle lines radiated outward from the corners. He was probably no taller than five feet ten with a rounded abdomen and torso, like he’d rather sit in front of the tube and veg-out than work-out. I’d guess his age around fifty.

“May I help you?” I asked.

His navy suit looked expensive, but off-the-rack, and he added a floral print tie to spiff up his white shirt. He wore a black London-Fog-style raincoat, open and unbelted and a perplexed look.

“Do you need an investigator?” I asked when he didn’t answer my first question.

“Is Mr. Gunn here?” His voice was husky, like he had a cold.

“There is no Mr. Gunn. Only C.J., but she’s in court…

“She? I don’t understand. I want to talk to Mr. C. J. Gunn.” His annoyance was obvious in his derisive tone.

“C.J. isn’t a Mister. C.J.’s a woman.”

“I’ll speak to your boss, then.”

“I’m it,” I smiled. “I mean, I own this agency. Well, C.J. and I are co-owners actually. I’m Jenny Gordon.”

“You mean this detective agency is run by a bunch of damn women?”

“That’s about it, sir.”

“Well, shit.” He turned, walked out and slammed the door.

“Up yours, fella,” I said to his retreating footsteps.

I didn’t waste time wondering about him. It happened occasionally - some macho pea-brain unable to hire a female private eye because of his own ego. I shrugged and turned back to the computer terminal.

Electronic technology baffles me. I think I’m a little intimidated to think a machine is smarter than I am. But C.J., who’s a computer whiz, had set up a program for our business invoices and all I had to do was fill in the blanks, save, and print. I could handle that much.

G & G’s bank account was dangerously low and unless we collected on some delinquent accounts or came up with a rich client or two, we were in deep do-do.

We’d worked too hard for that, but it meant sending out timely statements and following up with telephone calls. Our biggest headaches were large insurance companies who always seemed to run sixty to ninety days past due.

I got all the blank spaces filled on the next account and saved the file, but before I could push the button to print, the telephone rang.

“Ms. Gordon, this is Dr. Anthony Randazzo.” The husky voice was familiar. “I want to apologize for the way I acted a few minutes ago.”

So, the piggy chauvinist was a doctor. His name rang a bell in my head, but I couldn’t connect it. My first impulse was to hang up in his ear, but he kept talking fast - as if he could read my mind.

“Ms. Gordon, I’ve been under a lot of stress…” He laughed, sounding nervous not jovial. “Boy, does that sound trite or what?”

I waited, unsure if he expected an answer.

“I honestly am sorry for storming out of your office. I acted like some idiot with a cave-man mentality. I need an investigator and your firm was highly recommended.”

I’m not a die-hard feminist, but the emotional side of my brain was yelling hang up on this bastard while the practical left brain was reminding me we needed a paying client and the doctor could be one. I wondered who was wicked enough to send this clown in our direction. “May I ask who recommended you?”

“My niece works as a receptionist for Will Martin’s law firm.”

Oh, hell. Will and Carolyn Martin were counted among my closest friends. Good friends aren’t supposed to send the jerks of the world to you.

“I’ve never met Mr. Martin,” he continued, “but my niece thinks highly of him.”

Whew! That explained it. When asked, Will automatically would have said, “G & G.” Knowing this guy wasn’t a client of Will’s made me feel better. “Dr. Randazzo, perhaps I should refer…”

“Please, Ms. Gordon, don’t judge me too quickly. My wife and I desperately need help. It’s a matter of life or death.”

Now that he was contrite he was much easier to take, but I still wasn’t sure I wanted to work with him. “I’m not…”

“Please don’t say no yet, let me explain briefly. Two months ago, I was involved in a malpractice suit. You probably heard about it.”

The bell in the back of the old brain pinged. Anyone old enough to read or watch television had heard. Because of the high costs of health care nowadays which the medical profession tried to blame on things like malpractice suits, the media had talked of nothing else. Randazzo was a plastic surgeon. A woman had sued him for ruining her face. She hadn’t looked too bad on TV, but the jury awarded her a huge amount. Mostly for pain and anguish, as I recalled. The doctor had lost and lost big.

“Yes, I recall,” I said, wondering why he needed a P.I. now. “But the lawsuit’s over, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Except for working out the payment schedule.” He cleared his throat, “But I think our problem has a definite connection. I’m really worried and will be happy to pay a consulting fee for your time.”

“I, uhm.mm…”

“Would five hundred be appropriate?”

He got my attention. Five big ones would certainly help our bank account. I could probably work for Attila the Hun for five hundred dollars. Okay, so I can be bought. “Would you like to make an appointment?”

“If you’re free this evening, my wife and I are having a few friends over for drinks and hors d’oeuvres. If you and Ms. Gunn could join us - whatever you decide to do afterwards is entirely up to you, but the five hundred is yours either way.”

“What time?”

“Seven, and thanks for not hanging up on me.”

Dr. Randazzo gave me directions to his house and we hung up.

I had the invoices ready to mail by the time C.J. returned.

 She remembered the Randazzo lawsuit. “Five hundred dollars just to talk?”

“That’s what the man said.”

“Are you sure he’s not kinky?” A knowing look was on her cola-nut colored face and her dark eyes gleamed wickedly.

“Maybe. But he said his wife and other people would be there. It didn’t sound too kinky.”

“Hummm. Guess the lawsuit didn’t bankrupt him if he’s got five C notes to throw around.” C.J. worked her fingers across the computer keyboard.

“He probably has hefty malpractice insurance,” I said.

I watched as she punched keys and letters appeared on the monitor in front of her eyes. C.J. can find out the most illuminating information about people in only a matter of minutes. With my technology phobia I don’t understand modems, networks and E-mail and have no idea what it is that she does. I’ve also decided I really don’t want to know any details.

“Let’s just check on his finances. I’m sure he has investments, stocks and bonds, real estate and what have you. Never knew a doctor who didn’t.” A few minutes later she muttered an “Ah-ha. Looks like Randazzo was shrewd enough to put a nice nest egg into his wife’s name, but his medical practice is close to bankruptcy.” She printed some up figures, stuck the papers in a folder, and we closed the office and left.

Since my apartment is only a few blocks from our office and her place is half-way across town, C.J. keeps a few clothes and essentials there for convenience. We took turns showering and dressing.

C.J. wanted to drive. Since she liked to change cars about every six months she’d recently leased a Dodge Dakota SE pick-up truck. As roomy and as comfortable as a car. But what she was proudest of was a fancy sound system, tape deck and CD player. She popped a CD in and turned up the volume.

A woman sang, “I wanna be around to pick up the pieces, when somebody breaks your heart.”

“All riiight.” I laughed and she raised an eyebrow. I picked up the box and read about the songs and the artists. These were golden oldies by: Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughn, Judy Garland and others. It wasn’t her usual type of music.

“That’s Dinah Washington,” she said. “I knew you were gonna get a kick out of this one.”

I’d been hooked on country music forever but a couple years ago I discovered Linda Ronstadt singing ballads from the 30s and 40s. And the funny thing is, I remember my parents playing records and dancing to music like this. It’s an early memory and a rare one with my parents having fun. Somehow my mother’s long unsuc-cessful battle with cancer had wiped out too many good memories.

I listened to Dinah singing about her old love getting his comeuppance, and how sweet revenge is as she’s sitting and applauding from a front row seat.

“Cripes,” I said. “That really knocks me out. I’ve gotta have a copy.”

“I’ll give you this one, Girl, after I’ve listened to it.”

The Randazzo’s house was located in the hills above Lake Travis, west of Austin. After a couple of wrong turns we found the brick pillars which flanked the entrance of the long drive. The black-top curved into the front of the house and ended in a concrete parking area. C.J. pulled up between a dark green Jaguar and a tan Volvo.

The Spanish-modern house was large and rambling, made of tan brick with a burnt-sienna tile roof and built onto the side of a hill. The arched windows were outlined in the same color tile as the roof and black wrought-iron bars covered the bottom halves. The Saint Augustine grass was a dun-muckle brown with little shoots of green poking out - normal for this time of year.

We got out, walked up to the ornately carved double doors and I pushed the oval lighted button beside the facing.

“Some joint,” C.J. said, as we waited.

A young man dressed in a cable-knit sweater with a Nordic design and charcoal gray slacks opened the door. Late twenties, blond and blue eyed with a Kevin Costner smile. He was so handsome my breath caught in my throat to look at him.

When I said Dr. Randazzo expected us he frowned, but stepped back and said, “Come in.”

We were in an entry hall which ran across most of the width of the front and was open ended on both sides. I couldn’t recall ever seeing a house where you entered into a width-wise hallway.

We were directly in front of and looking into a large square atrium. Behind the glass wall was a jungle of green plants, shrubs and trees, with a spray of water misting one side. The darkening sky was visible through the roof and I saw a couple of small green birds flitting back and forth between some trees.

The scene was exquisite and several moments passed before I could find my voice, “I… I’m Jenny Gordon and this is C.J. Gunn. We were to see Dr. Randazzo at seven.”

 “I’m Christopher Lansen and I work with Tony Randazzo.” His voice was nasal and high-pitched and it sure didn’t go with his looks. “And I’m sorry, Tony isn’t here at the moment.”

“Oh?” I asked, “A medical emergency?”

“I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t know exactly.”

“I’m sure Tony will be back shortly, please come in,” said a woman coming into the hall from the right side. Her voice was soft and there was no trace of a Texas accent. She sounded as if she’d had elocution lessons and had graduated at the top of the class.

She was dressed in a soft blue silk shirtwaist dress, belted with a gold chain, and wore gold hoop gypsy ear rings. She was tall and willowy with dark hair pulled severely back into a bun. She would have looked elegant except she hunched her shoulders instead of standing straight.

She had high cheek-bones and almond-shaped dark eyes. There was a hint of Spanish or American Indian in her tight, unlined and unblemished face. Her age could have been anywhere from thirty to sixty. Probably has had a face-lift, I thought.

“I’m Marta Randazzo. Are you the investigators my husband hired?”

“Uh, . .yes,” I said. “And please call me Jenny. My partner is C.J.”

The young man put his hand on her arm. “Marta, why don’t you go back inside and I’ll talk…”

“No, Chris. I, I want to speak to them now.” Her voice sounded tentative, as if she hated to contradict him. She turned abruptly and walked down the hallway towards the left, leaving us no choice except to follow.

 “Mrs. Randazzo,” said C.J., who was walking directly behind the woman. “I should clarify something. Your husband asked us over for a consultation only. He hasn’t actually hired us.”

Marta Randazzo entered a huge den/family room. At least half of my apartment could fit into this one room, but maybe it seemed bigger because of the glass wall of the atrium. Another wall was taken up by a fireplace large enough to roast a side of beef. The room’s decor was in Southwestern Indian colors. Navajo rugs and wall hangings, Kachina dolls, framed arrowhead and spear points, Zuni pottery, turquoise and silver jewelry knickknacks were everywhere. In a small alcove to one side of the fireplace was a wet bar. A sofa, love seat and three chairs were covered in Indian-design fabrics.

It felt like deja vu until I remembered I’d once been in a living room decorated with Indian things. Inexplicably, I couldn’t remember when or where. “It’s a lovely room,” I told her. “I like it.”

“Thank you.” She motioned for us to sit, indicating the sofa and she sat on a chair to our right. Christopher Lansen took a spot standing near the fireplace.

“I believe Chris told you Tony isn’t here at the moment,” Marta said. “He should be back soon.”

But she didn’t sound too certain, “I’m sure…I, uh, know he didn’t forget you were coming…”

Chris Lansen said, “Marta, I don’t think…”

“Chris?” Marta Randazzo stiffened. “Let me finish, please.”

Lansen turned away and walked to the window staring out into the darkness. His body language indicated he didn’t like something she’d said or was about to say.

“Tony mentioned you were coming.” Marta got up, walked to the mantle, ignoring Lansen, and took a piece of paper out from under a Zuni bowl. “He had me write out a check for you.” She walked over and held it out to me.

I automatically reached for the paper and looked at her. I glimpsed a flicker of something in her eyes just before she turned and sat down, but then it was gone. Fear maybe? Or despair. I couldn’t be sure.

The check was made out to G & G Investigations for five hundred dollars and signed by Marta Randazzo.

“Mrs. Randazzo,” said C.J. “Perhaps we should wait until your husband returns and we can talk to him.”

“I agree,” said Chris. He looked at Marta with a stern expression. Some battle of wills was going on between the two of them. “He’ll be back soon.” Lansen’s tone was emphatic. “He and I planned to talk about the surgery I’m doing on Mrs. Franklin tomorrow. He wouldn’t forget about that.”

“Oh, you’re a doctor, too?” I asked, hoping to ease the tension. He and Marta were definitely uptight.

“Yes. I’m an associate of Tony’s. A junior partner.”

“We could wait a little while for him if it won’t inconven-ience you, Mrs. Randazzo.” I tried to hand the check back to her. She ignored it, so I placed it on the end table next to me.

“Please, call me Marta,” she said. She jutted her chin slightly. “That check means you are working for me, doesn’t it?”

“We’re here on consult. That was my agreement with Dr. Randazzo.”

“Then, in that case I’m consulting you. It must be obvious to you both…I should explain.”

Chris Lansen cleared his throat and Marta Randazzo looked at him, her face creased with a frown. Her chin jutted out again briefly before she relaxed. “Jenny, C.J.? Would you like something to drink? Coffee or something stronger?”

“Coffee would be fine,” said C.J. and I agreed.

“Chris? Would you go make coffee for my guests?” Her tone sounded like an order, but she didn’t raise her voice.

He gave her a look as if she’d just asked him to wash the windows or something equally distasteful, but he left the room without speaking.

“Jenny, my husband has disappeared,” she said when Lansen was gone. “I was taking a shower. After I dressed and came out here, Tony was gone. I assumed he gone for a walk, but that was at five o’clock and he still isn’t back yet.”

“Have you looked for him?” I asked. She reminded me of someone, but I didn’t know who.

“Yes. Chris came over about six and when I mentioned I was getting worried about Tony, Chris got into his car and drove around looking. He didn’t find Tony.”

“Your husband walks regularly?” C.J. asked.

“Yes, if something is bothering him. It’s his way of reliev-ing stress. But he’s usually back after about twenty to thirty minutes.”

“Could his disappearance have something to do with why he wanted to hire us?” I noticed out of the corner of my eye that C. J. was poised on the edge of her seat.

C.J. got up, muttering something about going to help with the coffee and went in the same direction Chris had gone. I knew she was using the old divide-and-question-separately technique.

“Maybe,” said Marta.

“Do you know why he…”

“Yes,” said Marta. “Someone’s trying to kill me.”

“What makes you think someone is trying to kill you?”

“Someone followed me all last week. The same man I think, I’m sure it was the same car.” She began twisting the hem of her skirt as she talked and I noticed bruises on her inner thigh near her left knee.

“After I became aware of this man,” she continued, “I realized he’d probably followed me even before that. Then night before last that same car tried to run my car off the road. You drove up here and saw those treacherous curves. And the cliffs are pretty steep. I almost went over the edge It scared me silly.”

“Why would anyone want you dead?”

“I don’t know, uh…maybe it’s someone from the Davis family - wanting to get back at Tony.”

“The Davis family?”

“The people who sued my husband.”

“But why? They won their case.”

C.J. and Chris came back into the room. He was carrying a silver serving tray with four china cups sitting in saucers.

Chris said, “My thoughts exactly. Why would anyone from the Davis family…”

“Money might not be enough,” said C.J.

“What?” asked Marta.

“Revenge can be sweeter than money.” C.J. sat on the sofa where she’d been before while Chris placed the tray on the coffee table. “Mrs. Davis feels she has suffered,” she said. “And now it’s Mrs. Randazzo who must suffer.”

Chris carefully handed a saucered cup of coffee to each of us and then took his and returned to the fireplace. “That’s what Tony thought,” he said placing his coffee on the mantle. “But I think it’s all hogwash.”

“I know what you think, Chris. You’ve been vocal enough about it.” Marta’s voice got lower and that made her words sound more ominous. “You think I’m imagining all this, but you don’t know. You just don’t know.” Marta began stirring her coffee, banging the spoon against the cup. “Tony believed me. And now something has happened to him.”

“Oh, Marta,” said Chris with a there, there, little lady tone. “Tony’s only been gone a couple of hours. He’s gotten sidetracked, that’s all.”

“Maybe he twisted his ankle and fell into one of the canyons,” I said. “He could even be unconscious.”

“I looked in all the likely places,” said Chris.

“Maybe you should call the search and rescue squad,” I said.

“Law enforcement won’t be inclined to do anything until he’s been missing for twenty-four hours or so,” said C.J.

“I want to hire you to find my husband and find out who…”

The doorbell rang and Chris, without asking Marta, left to answer it. He acted as if this were his house not hers.

“Will you try to find Tony?” Marta asked, ignoring the interruption.

C.J. and I glanced at each other and I saw her imperceptible nod of agreement.

“Okay, Mrs. Randazzo,” I said. “You’ve just hired us.” I picked up the check. “Consider this a retainer for two days.”

My partner, who believes in being prepared said, “I have a contract with me.” She pulled papers out of her shoulder bag, handed a page to Marta Randazzo who scanned it quickly, and took the pen C.J. offered, and signed it.

“Marta?” I asked. “Does one of the cars out front belong to your husband?”

“The Jag is his. My Caddy is in the garage.”

“And the Volvo belongs to Chris?”

Marta nodded.

Chris walked in with a man and woman trailing behind. The man was stocky, about fifty with heavy dark eyebrows and a hairline that receded back past his ears. The strands left on top were plastered to his reddish scalp. He was dressed in a three piece suit and looked as if he’d rather be anyplace else except here. He walked straight to the bar without speaking and poured a drink.

The woman came over to where Marta now stood. “Chris told us Tony is missing.”

She was short with a voluptuous figure and blonde Farrah Fawcett hair. “Oh, Marta, you poor dear.” The woman put her arms around Marta and kissed the air near Marta’s cheek.

“I’m fine, Sonja.” Marta recoiled from the woman’s touch, but forced a smile. “I’m sorry, the party is canceled. Chris was supposed to call you.”

“Oh, he came by about six-thirty. Said he was looking for Tony,” said the woman. “He called back later and left a cancellation message on the infernal machine. I just thought we’d drop by on our way out to eat.”

The woman noticed C.J. and I for the first time. She looked at Marta and said in a stage whisper as if we weren’t there, “Are they from the police?”

“No, uh, Sonja Bernard, “ she nodded, and we stood. This is Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn. They’re private investigators.”

The man who’d come in swayed over, a double shot of amber liquid in a glass. I assumed he was Sonja Bernard’s husband.

 “Private dicks, huh?” He said and laughed uproariously at his unfunny joke. From his slurred words it was obvious this drink was not his first. “Don’t think I’ve ever met a female dick before, black or white. How do?”

He took a big swallow and said, “Tough gals, huh? Do you carry guns? Which one is the dyke? I’ll bet it’s the black one.”

“Bernie, don’t be crude,” said Sonja. “Their sexual preference is none of your damn business.”

Marta’s face turned red. “I apologize…”

I hated it too, because I knew C.J.’s sharp tongue would slash and trash Bernie before he could stagger another step. And that was if she decided to only chew him up instead of knocking him on his can. My partner’s an ex-police woman, six feet tall and trained in Tukong Martial Arts. She could put him down and out.

I felt her body tense and spoke quickly, “C.J.? We probably should go.” But I wasn’t quite fast enough.

“He doesn’t bother me, Mrs. Randazzo,” said C.J. She smiled sweetly at the man, and then back at Marta. “His whiskey-soaked minuscule brain is ruled by his own penile inadequacy.” Her next words were directed to me and spoken through clenched teeth.

“You’re right, Jenny. We must be on our way, but perhaps Marta will show us out. I have a couple more questions.”

“What did she say?” asked Bernie. “Did she just insult me?”

“Of course, Bernie,” said Chris, who walked over and took the man’s arm. “But turnabout’s fair play, wouldn’t you say? Let’s refresh your drink.” Chris took the man’s arm and turned him towards the bar.

The man needed another drink like a cowboy needed a burr under his saddle, but the maneuver had moved him out of C.J.’s reach.

The man followed, muttering something about how he’d bet a hundred dollars Tony was shacked up with a blonde someplace.

“I’m terribly embarrassed…” said Sonja.

“And I’m terribly sorry for you,” I said to her.

Marta Randazzo looked as if she’d like to climb into a hole someplace, but she walked out of the room instead.

C.J. and I followed. Marta veered off into a small sitting room where we stood and asked our questions.

C.J. made notes as Marta gave us descriptions of the car and the man who had followed her. She hadn’t seen the license number. She said the people who sued her husband were Ellen and Herbert Davis.

“First,” said C.J. “we’ll check the local hospitals and emergency clinics, in case Dr. Randazzo has been brought in unconscious. And we’ll try to check-up on who’s been following you. It won’t be easy without that plate number.”

“Will you call? No matter how late?” Marta asked. “I mean even if the news is…”

“Yes,” I said. “We’ll call if we hear anything.” She gave us a recent photo of her husband.

“This could turn into an all night job,” I said as we got into the truck and headed to town.

“Did you catch that last remark from old Bernie?” I asked.

“No, I was having too much trouble trying to keep from decking the guy.”

“I figured. Bernie mumbled something about Tony being shacked up someplace.”

“Which is why the police are reluctant to get involved in domestic squabbles,” said C.J. “The missing usually turn up the next day looking sheepish.”

“Did you learn anything from Chris?”

“Only that he knew his way around the kitchen.”

“You think the Randazzo’s quarreled?”

“Didn’t you see the bruises on Marta’s neck?”

“No, I missed those, but I saw bruises on her leg. That muddies up the waters a bit, doesn’t it?”



See you tomorrow for Part 2!

23 March 2019

But Do You Have a Plot? Bad Girl whittles Popular Fiction Bootcamp down to 10 minutes…

By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl) 

Last month, I wrote about Endings, and reader expectations for each of the main genres.  The response was positive, and some people have asked that I bring more stuff from class onto these pages.  So here are some notes from the very beginning, class 1, hour 1.

People often ask what comes first: character or plot?

Do you start with a character?  Or do you start with a plot?
This is too simplistic.

Here’s what you need for a novel:
A main character
With a problem or goal
Obstacles to that goal, which are resolved by the end.


PLOT is essential for all novels.  It’s not as easy as just sitting down and just starting to write 80,000 words.  Ask yourself:
What does your main character want?  Why can’t he get it?

Your character wants something.  It could be safety, money, love, revenge…

There are obstacles in the way of her getting what she wants.  THAT PROVIDES CONFLICT.

So…you need a character, with a problem or goal, and obstacles to reaching that goal.  Believable obstacles that matter.  Even in a literary novel.

There must be RISK.  Your character must stand to lose a lot, if they don’t overcome those obstacles.  In crime books, it’s usually their life.

So…you may think you have a nice story of a man and woman meeting and falling in love, and deciding to make a commitment.  Awfully nice for the man and woman, but dead boring for the reader.  Even in a romance, there must be obstacles to the man and woman getting together.  If you don’t have obstacles, you don’t have conflict, you don’t have a plot, and you don’t have a novel.

Put another way:
When X happens, Y must do Z, otherwise ABCD will happen.
That’s what you need for a novel.

GIVE YOUR CHARACTER GOALS

1. Readers must know what each character’s goals are so they can keep score.

2. Goals must be clearly defined, and they must be evident from the beginning.

3. There must be opposition, which creates the possibility of losing.
   >>this conflict makes up your plot<<
4. Will the character achieve his goal?  Readers will keep turning pages to find out.

If you don’t provide goals, readers will get bored. 
They won’t know the significance of the ‘actions’ the hero takes.

To Conclude:
Until we know what your character wants, we don’t know what the story is about.
Until we know what’s at stake, we don’t care.

Melodie Campbell writes fast-moving crime fiction that leans toward zany.  If you like capers like the Pink Panther and Oceans 11, check out her many series at www.melodiecampbell.com

Lastest up:








22 March 2019

Staying a Writer


by O'Neil De Noux

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

So true. So true. I've seen it more than once.

In 1988, when my first book (GRIM REAPER) was published, it debuted with a book by another New Orleans writer, a younger man with plenty promise, the critics declared. The same critics praised my book for its hyper-realistic depiction of police work, albeit the cops in my book drank too much coffee and used too much profanity. Never been in a police station. Obviously.

The young writer was Tony Buchsbaum and he wrote a good novel called TOTAL ECLIPSE, which deserved praise. According to Amazon.com, it is the only book Tony wrote. I remember him lamenting the fact his book was not a bestseller and the lack of a large advance for a follow-up book.

He seemed to fade away. Never heard about him again.

Not long after, a fellow named Seth Morgan was released from prison and wrote a book called HOME BOY. He became the toast of the New Orleans media and literary society. An ex-con who  wrote a good book. Only problem – he was jerk. Met him at a signing and he was loud, crude, rude, and bragged about being on cocaine. One night, he crashed his motorcycle into the steel railing of the Saint Claude Avenue bridge over the Industrial Canal. He took his girlfriend with him. He was a jerk. No, he didn't fade away. He killed himself and an innocent person in an horrific crash.

Sheila Bosworth wrote two excellent novels - ALMOST INNOCENT and SLOW POISON. Have not heard anything from her since the early 1990s.

Other local writers faded away from writing over the years. Some ran out of gas. Some bemoaned the writing life, the depressing business side of writing.

One who did not and inspired me is Valerie Martin, whom I met when she was between publishers. She told me to never stop writing, no matter how your career is going. It was not long before she linked up with a new publisher and her new book came out – MARY REILLY, nominated for the World Fantasy Best Novel Award and nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel. It was made into a movie.

I met Kate Wilhelm when I lived in Oregon and she was nice enough to ask about my writing. One thing she said was to keep writing and hone your craft. It is your craft.

We writers know the desire comes from within. We just cannot let the world put out that fire in us.

One of our cats helping me work

That's all for now.
http://www.oneildenoux.com

21 March 2019

"That's Fertile Ground": The Glen Erik Hamilton Interview

by Brian Thornton


One of Seattle's favorite prodigal sons is in town this week on his way to Left Coast Crime in Vancouver. and graciously made time with me for an interview. (And for those of you who have never made it to Left Coast, what are you waiting for? Or maybe you're one of those people who doesn't want to TOO MUCH FUN at any one time–in which case you should defimitely STAY AWAY!).

All Glen Erik Hamilton has done so far in his writing career has been to win Anthony, Macavity and Strand Critics Choice Awards for his debut novel Past Crimes, in addition to receiving Edgar, Barry and Nero nominations!

This friend of the blog is a seriously righteous dude. But don't just take my word for it: he's appearing at the University of Washington Bookstore (directions here) next Wednesday, March 27th, beginning at 7 PM, to discuss his newest book, Mercy River. Stop in and say hello!

And on that note, on to the interview!

I've heard it said that the great film director John Ford worked hard to make the setting for any of his films, "another character in the story." (Regular readers of this blog–both of them!–will recall my own thoughts about setting as character getting an airing like a million internet years ago, here.) You set the Van Shaw books in and around Seattle (with side trips around the PNW), and as a resident of the region, I have to say that Seattle as another character in the books comes through loud and clear. What led you to write a series set in the Emerald City?

Moving away from it.  In our first couple of years living in Southern Cal, I would return home to Seattle for visits, and every time I was astounded by how much had changed in just a few months.  It was finally seeing the forest instead of the (mossy, needle-dropping) trees.  I liked the idea of a character returning after years away, and all those changes to the city coming as a surprise and reflecting his personal transformation while he'd been gone. 

Plus, Seattle is a great town to inspire crime fiction.  Shipping, international travel and immigration, technology, biotech, loads of old money and new, and a national border just hours away.  That's fertile ground.

Great points, all. Was there any particular reason you chose Irish immigrants and their descendants for this narrative? I mean, Seattle isn't exactly famous for its Irish connections.

I wanted Van and the man who raised him to have a remove between them despite their blood connection.  That's part of the reason I made Dono Van's grandfather rather than his father -- for a deeper generational gap -- and giving Dono a radically different childhood offered even more possibilities.  Plus, we have a good friend who is a speech therapist in Galway in both the English and Irish languages.  The notion of Van and Dono communicating in Irish when they wanted privacy was too much fun to pass up.

As for how Dono wound up in Seattle rather than in eastern cities with larger Irish communities -- we'll get into THAT history in another book...

Of course Van Shaw is a literary creation, and not a real person. How much of you is in Van, though? How alike/different are the two of you?

Setting aside the obvious differences in age, toughness, military skills, and readiness with a snappy comeback -- Vans aces me on every front -- there's a lot of my personality in Van.  We're both sardonic, we prefer to stay a little outside of polite society (or at least prefer to think of ourselves that way), we tend to be abrupt and obstinate when pushed, and neither of us can stand bullies of any sort.  The one advantage I have over Mr. Shaw is the wisdom of experience.  Van didn't have the benefit of loving friends and family, and he's still figuring out how to be a whole person.  My mantra for Van is that he's an expert at surviving, but not so great at living.

Sounds like you just laid out Van's arc Trying to find his place in the world, build a family, or at least a group where he feels he belongs. Is that close?

That's right.  Without consciously intending to, Van has become part of an patchwork family, a foundation I'm building on right now in Book Five.  Finding his place -- his purpose -- is harder.  He's really good at crime, at violence, at getting himself into tough situations while trying to protect others.  None of those traits endear him to society.  Or often to himself, when he's forced to bend his own hard-won principles.

Van's facial scarring (and at least in the first book his still mending left arm/hand) play a very big role in how the rest of the characters see/react to him. Can you walk us through your decision to use that facial scar as part of his character?

There were a few useful outcomes, some of which I only realized after the fact.  It started from my wanting Van to suffer a significant wound early in his Army career, and for him to have made the decision to move past that and continue in the regiment.  I didn't want that injury to permanently reduce his physical abilities or require frequent care.  And then I hit on the idea of an injury that's more socially impactful than physically.  It makes Van more obtrusive, and adds to his already intimidating presence, which is not always in his best interest.

And although he's largely recovered from it, the damage done to Van's face when he was twenty years old was a significant psychological blow to him.  He believed it made him hideous and that any hope of a normal life was destroyed.  I've only glanced toward that topic in previous books, but it's something I'll explore in some detail in the next adventure.

Yep. Facial scars are a very effective way of "otherizing" a character. And with our all-volunteer military, Americans have by and large been shielded from the evidence of the physical costs paid by some of its military personnel and the psychological costs paid by all who serve. So it can be all the more jarring to people when they come into sudden contact with evidence (like Van's scars) of said cost.

Is that why Van has stayed in the military (at least up until the action of the first book)? Looking to belong? I recall him mentioning that he makes a difference there.

Yes.  Van had intended to make a full career in the Army, having found a place where his abilities were both accepted and needed.  It was home.  Fate had other plans.  And in any event: serving in Special Operations, especially the uncompromising Rangers, is a little like being a professional athlete.  It's a young man's game.  At twenty-eight with about nine years in the Regiment at the start of the series, Van was probably facing the downslope of his active deployments.

And what was researching the army ranger angle like? Can you take us through that?

I sort of backed into having Van be a Ranger.  I wanted him to be far from home for a long time -- not just moving away, but really gone -- and the military seemed a logical route for a tough young guy with no prospects or money.  I was talking with a friend who had served in the Special Forces for many years about different branches of SpecOps, and he described the Rangers as (in polite terms) "knocking down doors and blowing stuff up".  That sounded exactly like what Van would be drawn to at age eighteen. 

I'm not a veteran, so I started by reading whatever I could get my hands on -- a shout-out to Dick Couch's excellent book Sua Sponte, about the selection process of the Rangers -- and by interviewing active and former members of the 75th Regiment.  The more I learned about the Rangers, the more I knew it was the right choice for Van.  They are shock troops, raiders, going anywhere in the world within eighteen hours to accomplish a specific objective.  Mercy River gave me a chance to go deeper into Van's own journey into the Regiment and the mindset of that brotherhood.

You make your home in Southern California these days. What are the challenges of writing about a place you now live a thousand miles away from?

The biggest challenges are the small ones -- remembering what a particular street is like, getting the proper feel for the current incarnation of neighborhoods, all that stuff where Seattle Times and Google Maps aren't going to be of help.  I sometimes scout new places when I'm in town with an idea toward using them later.  I also keep a list as I'm writing of Things-to-check-next-time-I'm-in-town.  In a pinch, I've sent out friends to photograph locations or FaceTime with me while they do the legwork.  The twenty-first century offers some advantages to the writer.

For the new book Mercy River, my daughter and I took a long weekend to drive around central Oregon and look at volcanic rock fields and ghost towns.  If all location scouting was that much fun, I'd never get around to actually writing the books.

Was it tough taking Van out of Seattle? I mean, this is the fourth novel, right? Seems like sooner or later he's going to have to expand outward. It also sounds like you're far from done having him travel beyond the Emerald City.

It's fun, and I think important, to flex new writing muscles with every book.  I could have placed Mercy River and the gathering of Ranger veterans in a real town in Oregon, but after three books set within easy driving distance of Seattle, it was a treat to create the town and the fictional Griffon County from scratch.  Plus, there's the advantage of making up whatever geography and jurisdictions is required to make the best story.  Van will continue to stretch his legs and visit new places.  At least enough to keep the dust off his passport.

What are the easiest things for you to write? 

Easy is a relative term, as every writer knows.  But I usually find that writing from Van's perspective as a child comes out pretty well-baked on the first drafts.  And scenes where he's exercising his skills in burglary and other illicit objectives.  I'm sure a shrink could have a field day analyzing why those two aspects of Van's mindset come naturally to me.

How about the hardest?

The hardest scenes in fiction are the hardest in life: when Van's figuring out the right thing to do, or say, or feel.  Sometimes I don't even know how I feel about a situation until I let Van wrestle with it.  I push him out there to do the emotional heavy lifting.

And there's a hybrid answer to your question:  Action scenes.  I love writing action sequences, and sometimes they even have the proper gut-punch feel I'm aiming for on the first attempt.  But to get them right, I probably make at least a dozen more passes depending on the complexity and length of the set piece.  Considering geography, character blocking, reaction times, perspectives and moods, sensory impact, and all the rest. The faster the scene, the longer it takes.

Yeah, writing action is a blast. And having your character in his own head can take quite a bit of layering of the writing.

But what about writing the likes of Van's grandfather Dono and cronies such as Hollis and Jimmy Corco? I'd think they'd all be a hell of a lot of fun to write.

Hollis's voice in particular comes easy.  If there's one character who sits down at the table with me and hands me his dialogue wholesale, it's Hollis.  He's a gregarious fellow.  And Jimmy C. is so sour, I just think of the meanest thing someone might say at a particular moment and half the time that's Jimmy's take on it too.

Okay, last question: can you give us a hint what's next on the horizon for Van Shaw and Company?


Van’s mother Moira died when he was only six years old, so his memories of her are very limited.  His grandfather closed himself off from the pain of losing Moira, and subsequently never shared much about her with Van as he grew up.  Neither of them ever learned who Van’s father was.  It’s high time that Van discovers more about his family, perhaps more than he’d truly like to know. 

And that wraps it. Thanks to Glen Erik Hamilton for taking the time to sit for this interview! And if you're in the Seattle area, consider dropping by the U Bookstore to say hello and talk thriller stuff with him next Wednesday, March 27th!

And for those of you planning to attend Left Coast (including you, Glen!) see you in Vancouver!


Prodigal Son & Thriller Writer With Hometown In View

20 March 2019

Popcorn Proverbs, Number 4

by Robert Lopresti

We have done this before and we are doing it again. These are quotations from crime movies, alphabetical by the titles of the flicks.  Only one of the posters references a movie on the list.  Answers in two weeks.  Have fun!

Remember you're old.

You said to me this is a family secret, and you gave it up to me, boom just like that. You spill the secret family recipe today, maybe you spill a little something about me tomorrow, hm?

-Aren't you worried?
-Would it help?

When they send for you, you go in alive, you come out dead, and it's your best friend that does it.

-You can't give back what you've taken from me.
-OK, then... Plan B, why don't we just kill each other?

-I didn't kill my wife!
-I don't care!

-In this family, we do not solve our problems by hitting people!
-No, in this family, we shoot them!

The competitor is our friend and the customer is our enemy.

How did you ever rob a bank? When you robbed banks, did you forget where your car was then too? No wonder you went to jail.

It takes more than a few firecrackers to kill Danny Greene!

Men would pay $200 for me, and here you are turning down a freebie. You could get a perfectly good dishwasher for that.

A man abandoned his family and wrote his son a story. He wouldn't be the first to cloak his cowardice in a flag of sacrifice.

You can add Sebastian's name to my list of playmates.

-There's a ninety-five pound Chinese man with a hundred sixty million dollars behind this door.
-Let's get him out.

We should all be clowns, Milly.

You get four guys all fighting over who's gonna be Mr. Black, but they don't know each other, so nobody wants to back down. No way. I pick. You're Mr. Pink. Be thankful you're not Mr. Yellow.

- I am a moral outcast.
-Well, it's always nice to meet a writer. 

Frank, let's face it. Who can trust a cop who don't take money?

-Looks like trouble.
-Looks like Christmas.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.

- I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.
- It's not true.  He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.

To protect the sheep you have to catch the wolves and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.

-Not everyone loves us, Rex.
-Save the punditry for someone whose paid to have an opinion.
-I'm cool with censorship, I know the American people love that.

I do favors for people and in return, they give me gifts. So, what can I do for you?

-Man, I get so mad I want to fight the whole world.  You got any idea what that feels like?
-I do.  I decided to fight the feeling instead.  Cause I figured the world would win.



19 March 2019

Sometimes The Big Sleep Comes Too Soon


This post will be a little different than the normal post for me.

Anne

My friend Anne Adams died in February, from breast cancer that had metastasized and for which the treatments had become ineffective. This is what she said in one of her last e-mails to me: “I’m feeling OK, but not doing well in terms of treatment. I’ve pretty much gotten to the end of anything that works for me. My doctor is looking for some trials, but unless something like that turns up, I’m looking at about 2 to 3 months before I’ll be doing The Big Sleep.”

Unfortunately, both she and the doctors turned out to be right.

She had been fighting this for years, and had better times and worse times. So it wasn’t a total shock on the one hand, but on the other it was. She was relatively young – not old enough for Medicare. I’ve known her for decades and at one time we were very close, though not as much lately. But we still kept in touch.

We initially got together through a buddy of mine she was seeing and when they came into town (L.A.) one time I met her. Then, when she moved here on her own and wanted to get into the film biz, I was one of the few people she “knew,” so we got together and became fast friends, initially bonding over our love of movies, both classic and contemporary (at least contemporary for when we met, not so much movies today). Since our schedules were fluid we often got together to go to screenings and for the movies we missed in the screenings we’d often go see at a matinee the day they opened. We loved movies, as well as Hollywood history. But our friendship expanded to much deeper levels as we got to know each other over time.

She encouraged my writing in the dark days before I’d had any success and she brought me up short if I whined too much about the business. She didn’t have any trouble getting established in the business, working mostly in post-production or as a producer. We saw a lot of each other in those days, traveled together, and just had a very close relationship that withstood the test of time, even if it wasn’t as close as it once was. So she was very intrinsically involved in my life.

In fact, without a push from Anne I might not have gotten together with my wife, Amy. I met Amy when another friend “roped” me into helping produce a live old time radio benefit for UNICEF (that’s a whole ’nother story…). A friend of Amy’s had also volunteered her to work on it. And we met there, but I didn’t think Amy would remember me after our brief encounter that first night. And I only knew her first name and sort of where she worked. So I was a little hesitant to call her. But Anne said, “Well, what do you have to lose? All she can do is say ‘no’.” So I called Amy and the rest – to make a long story short – is history. But I might not have followed through if not for Anne giving me that little prod, so I owe her much for that.

Anne was at my wedding and my bachelor party (which was not limited to guys, though Amy wasn’t there). In fact, she also sort of MC’d and “produced” our wedding.

Anne also did something else for me/us that I will always be grateful for – besides pushing me to call Amy – though it might seem superficial on the surface. Once she got established here she knew a lot of people. And one of them is one of the band members in Paul McCartney’s band. I am and forever will be the Ultimate Beatles Fan. And Anne got Amy and me backstage to see him. It was an amazing moment.

Amy, Anne, Paul


We had recently talked about getting together but it never happened as the disease progressed rapidly.
In one of our last correspondences, she said, “I’m getting tons of emails (but nobody wanting the stove, [an antique stove she was trying to place before she died] of course), so this text will be short. Let’s plan to talk after the holidays.” Well, we never did talk after the holidays. We never saw each other again. Her disease progressed and she passed on on 2/16/19. Here’s a link to her obit on Legacy . com: https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/name/anne-adams-obituary?pid=191640884

Anne, McCartney drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr., Paul,
former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda in blue shirt in background 

I’ll just finish that off by saying I miss her and will continue to do so.

~~~

Clyde

Clyde Williams is another friend who died of cancer recently. I met him when I was looking for someone to do a voiceover for a promotional video. He had a great voice, very expressive. After we met on that project we became friends.in b

Clyde led an adventurous and exciting life. He served in Viet Nam. And said he had once been on a security detail or honor guard for JFK. He was even scouted by the Dodgers. But his true love was art and painting.

You would have thought we didn’t have all that much in common, but we really did. He was from Loosiana. A cowboy. An artist

I am none of those things. And if I could draw a decent stick figure it would be a major feat. Though I do live in cowboy country now, so we had that in common. And Clyde liked it up here, kept saying how much he’d like to move here.

In an article from the LA Times (“Black Cowboys Honored for Reel Contributions, 8/1/2000-LA Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2000/aug/01/news/cl-62235 ), he said, “‘My grandfather had me herding cattle as a kid,’ Williams said. ‘I understand the cowboy and the body of the horse. I started sketching them when I was 6. It's a passion. That's why I'll always be a cowboy in my heart.’”

He painted western and cowboy art, black cowboys and Buffalo soldiers, African-Americans in the military, as well as Indians and other western scenes. His work was exhibited at the Autry Museum of the American West. He loved the whole cowboy culture and he loved to read western novels, particularly Louis L’Amour. He had almost every if not every one of his books in hardback and was very proud of that. I helped to fill out his collection and that made us both happy. He also liked all stripe of western/cowboy movies.

Clyde and I could and would talk for hours, about anything and everything. He liked to talk about the changing nature of his neighbored. About wanting to do more acting or voiceovers. And he’d always ask about my wife Amy, whom he was very fond of.


He’d also talk about the red tape and hassles at the VA. And in the last year or two that kind of talk and talk of his disease featured more and more in our conversations. And there’s certain things I’d like to add here but feel that I can’t for personal reasons.

I also hadn’t talked to him for a while. No particular reasons. That’s just how things go, as I’m sure you know. I found out he’d died when I sent him a Christmas card and it came back marked “Deceased.” That was quite a shock.


I didn’t know him as well nor as long as I’d known Anne, but we bonded quickly and became friends. Sometimes you just click with someone. He gave me several prints of his works and I treasure them, both for what they are and as a symbol of our friendship.

And I miss him, too.

~~~

As writers, I think a lot of us strive for some kind of immortality through our writing. We hope to be remembered after we’re gone. Some achieve that, most do not. The way most people remain “alive” is in our memories, as we think about them, reminisce, deal with our regrets. Anne and Clyde will remain alive as long as I’m living – I know I’ll think of them often.

So the moral of this piece is – if I can get a little preachy – every time something like this happens I vow to not let things go so long, vow to get together, go to dinner, etc. But they often don’t get acted on, because we’re human. So don’t put things off. You’ll regret it as I do now. And I’m telling that to myself again now – don’t put things off. And I know I’ll do it again as others will do it with me. That said, I have a date next week to see a friend I haven’t seen in ages, but someone I’ve known since forever, a friend and former writing partner. And I hope that nothing happens to get in the way of our connecting so I won’t have anymore regrets, at least not for a while.

~.~.~
And now for the usual BSP:

The third story in my Ghosts of Bunker Hill series, Fade Out on Bunker Hill, appears in the March/April 2019 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. If you like the movie Sunset Boulevard, I think you'll enjoy this story. In bookstores and on newstands now:



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

18 March 2019

Terra Incognita

by Steve Liskow

A few weeks ago, I saw a submission call for "Detective Mysteries" in the 2000 to 4000-word range, and with what now passes for a generous pay rate. Alas, the deadline was only two weeks hence, and I know how I work well enough to know I couldn't produce a salable story in such a short time. My stories rarely go out in less than the sixth draft, and the first one usually takes me about a week.

I went through my colossal file of unsold stories and WIP. Of 23 unsold stories (some of which were heavily revised into something that did sell), several were "crime" stories, but only two or three involved detection and a sleuth. That holds true for my published short stories, too. Two or three feature Trash and Byrne, who star in my roller derby novels and support Zach Barnes in his series. Two others feature Woody Guthrie from my Detroit series. But most of my stories, sold or not, are one-offs, and they tend to focus on people who get away with something...or not.

My novels include six featuring Connecticut PI Zach Barnes, four featuring Woody Guthrie (a fifth is in a complete second draft), two roller derby novels with Trash and Byrne, and two standalones, one a quasi-police procedural and the other a coming-of-age novel that revolves around a crime.

The point was brought home to me strongly this past weekend when I presented my short story workshop, one of my most popular offerings.

In that workshop, I point out that one of the advantages of the form is that it gives writers the chance to experiment with new characters and techniques without committing a huge amount of time or effort. A novel takes me about 15 months in several installments, and with revisions, between 1200 and 1500 pages. That's a major undertaking.

My average short story runs about 4000 words, between 15 and 20 pages. Even with revision, that's several weeks and maybe 100 pages. I seldom print ANYTHING out until the third or fourth draft because it's not worth the paper yet.

That means if you don't want to use the same characters or setting and try something different, this is your chance to do it. Try that unreliable narrator with the odd speech pattern. Try the factory or sports setting you've avoided. Introduce that young, old, or opposite-gendered point of view. Try humor or present tense. Try second person or a new genre.

"Little Things," which eventually won Honorable Mention for the Al Blanchard Award, came from a failed story featuring Max and Lowe, two homicide cops from the Woody Guthrie series. The first part was in the point of view of a seven-year-old boy and the rest came through Maxwell. It didn't work, but the kid was a revelation. He was bright, but he lacked the life experience and sophistication to understand what was happening. Not long after that, I overheard two children arguing at a miniature golf course and Brian and Amy, two bright kids who don't understand the significance of Amy's innocent chatter, materialized on the spot.

"Susie Cue" was an experiment that came from meeting a former classmate at my high school reunion. None of the characters is at all like a real person, but the name "Susie Cue" popped into my head after meeting a real Susie. Johnny, a mentally challenged 19-year-old, fought his way to the front of the line, and he had a crush on Susie. It took me a long time to find what made him tick, and eventually I found that all his images were either tactile or edible. A fellow writer praised me for giving him such a limited internal life, and it worked. Nobody seems to notice that the 3600-word story only has ten words that are more than two syllables long, and that four of them are proper names. The story took me over a year because I didn't recognize Johnny's potential at first.

"Teddy Baer's Picnic" is an exercise in low comedy, which you can see from the title. I enjoy irony, but seldom aim at outright humor. Here, puns and rimshots fly like bees in a rose garden. All the characters have names that are puns on different kinds of bears: Bronwyn, Grizelda, Ursula, Kodiak...The story is a comic mass murder. I wrote it for a particular submission call, but the market didn't take it and Mystery Weekly grabbed it last fall. Several readers left positive comments, so maybe I should try something like that again.

Brian, Susie, Johnny and Teddy Baer's daughters and ex-wives couldn't sustain a whole book. Some techniques don't, either. Jay McInerney's "Bright Lights Big City" is a novella rather than a full-length novel because you can only sustain second-person POV and present tense for so long.

But in a short story...

17 March 2019

Kung Phooey

by Leigh Lundin

Whew! This tough week culminated in a funeral for a neighbor who’d become a friend. Ryan, killed at age 36 in a highway accident, left behind his fiancĂ©e Kelly and three little girls.

Earlier this week, I spent six hours in our local courthouse, home of Kayci Anthony and a few other notorious cases. I swear the building was maximally architected (supposedly that’s a real word) to maximize uncomfortability (another real word distinguishable from discomfort).

Rules at the Orange County, Florida Courthouse require shuffling from Room 350 to Room 370 to Room 130.02 to Room 240, and so forth. At each location, one pulls a ticket and waits thirty minutes to ask a single question, be told that the clerk isn’t allowed to offer advice, but maybe try Room 357.

Promotional videos play in some of these chambers showing ‘ordinary citizens’ waxing ecstatic in a script about their wonderful courthouse experience. A Tallahassee attorney who complained about the high price of parking was told that it’s actually a benefit because “After $15, parking is free!” (I know, I don’t get it either.)

On the lemonade side of this lemon week, a friend sent me a minute-long Reddit video. I located the original 3-minute clip on YouTube on the EnterTheDojoShow channel.

Meet the hilarious Master Ken who can answer all martial arts questions including those no one asked. This is a man who felt the 1970s should never have died.

His site offers T-shirts and even a book with this exciting cover. The Dow of 11th Degree Black Belt Master Ken must not be confused with either Dao (Tao) or a maximum of ten degrees.

Eat your heart out, Jackie Chan.

16 March 2019

And the Winner Is . . .

by Herschel Cozine


NOTE: I'm pleased today to welcome my friend Herschel Cozine as a guest blogger. Herschel has published extensively in the children's field, and his stories and poems have appeared in many of the national children's magazines. His work has also appeared in AHMM, EQMM, Woman's World, Flash Bang Mysteries, Over My Dead Body, Orchard Press Mysteries, Mouth Full of Bullets, Great Mystery and Suspense, Mysterical-EWolfmont Press's Toys for Tots anthologies, and many other publications. His story "A Private Hanging" was a finalist for the Derringer Award, and his flash story "The Phone Call" won a Derringer in 2017. Herschel, it's great to have you here at SleuthSayers again! -- John Floyd


It's that time again to take a break from the meaningful and helpful blogs and just relax. I promise that there is nothing in this blog that will help you in any way. But if you have a few minutes to spare and don't care how you spend them, I encourage you to read on.

Winning the Derringer Award is indeed an honor and I am unashamedly proud of it. In the writing community such an accomplishment is one which we all struggle to achieve. But it is not a bed of roses. The experience, at least MY experience, was fraught with angst and tension that at times defied description.

Let's start at the beginning. One writes a story, finds a publisher, sits back and considers its future. Is it good enough for an award? The only way to find out is to submit if for consideration.

So I did. In January of 2017 I sent it in to SMFS (Short Mystery Fiction Society) for consideration in the Flash category. Then I waited. Two months. An eternity.

I woke up one morning and found an announcement that my story had been chosen as one of the finalists for the Derringer. My euphoria was tempered by doubt. I quickly looked at the source of the announcement. I have a cousin who is fond of practical jokes. He once entered my picture in the Ugly Dog Contest. It was a rotten thing to do. (I finished right behind a snaggle-toothed Pomeranian with one eye.) This, I thought, was his doing. But further research proved that this was genuine. Still, I was a little dubious. I had learned of this honor on April 1, another reason for being uncertain of its authenticity. Was this on the up and up?

I finally accepted the news and shared it joyfully with my wife. My excitement was tempered by another sodden thought. Perhaps there had only been five stories submitted. That would explain it. I checked the entry list and saw that some thirty-odd stories had been entered. Encouraging. I had beaten at least thirty (one, by the way, of my own among them). So far so good.

Then I saw my competition. I was familiar with three: O'Neil. Craig. R. T. Lawton. I was also familiar with their writing. As far as I was concerned, the game was over.

Nevertheless, hope springs eternal. The judges had spoken. Now it was up to the members: fellow writers, some of whom were already upset that their entries had not made it. Was that good or bad? I wasn't sure. They would judge with a critical--and professional--eye.

I read the stories carefully, putting aside personal prejudice and desire. It was depressing. All of the stories were worthy of the award. I cast my vote and went to bed. My entry now had at least one vote. It was a start.

I steeled myself for a month-long wait. April has only thirty days. As you can see, I always look for a silver lining. Still, it was going to be a tension-filled month. I worked in the yard until it was the showpiece of the neighborhood. I cleaned out the garage. One could now eat off the floor. (My wife asked me to get the names of the judges so she could send them a thank-you note.)


May first finally arrived. I hurried to the computer and navigated to the SMFS website.

There it was!!! "Winner in the flash category . . ." I rubbed my eyes and looked again. It was surreal.

A thought immediately came to mind. Fake news! The polls had been rigged. There must have been millions of illegal voters. I was certain there would be a call for a recount. The Russians must have had something to do with this.

Congratulatory messages started appearing on the SMFS site and in my personal email. I finally--and happily--accepted the good news. I had won!


Now this sobering thought: I had to wait six months to claim my award. Not only that, but it would be given in Canada. If I wanted to accept the award in person, I would have to endure a cross-country plane trip (I live in California), hoping I would not be dragged from the plane in mid-flight (I would be flying United). In order to enter the country one must provide valid identification, such as a passport or birth certificate*, and a notarized statement that you did not vote for Donald Trump. My passport expired in 1973 and my birth certificate is so old it is illegible. Back in those days they only recorded "live" births, and it wasn't clear that I was eligible. It would be my luck that Canada would build a wall (which the U.S. would pay for), and keep the "undesirables" out of the country. Thankfully, there wasn't enough time for that.

(*I learned that birth certificates are no longer accepted. Fortunately, I updated my passport.)

When I made my reservations, in May, I hoped that nothing would come up to prevent my attending. Sure enough, two days before I was to leave, the city of Santa Rosa started to burn and I lived in an area that was dangerously close to the fires. My first inclination, of course, was to cancel the trip. But cooler heads prevailed (i.e., my wife's). "Sitting around here without electricity or gas is not going to help," she said. "I will be well taken care of by the kids."

"But what about our house?"

"What will you do about it? Wave your arms and make the fire go away? Leave it to the pros."

It was her way of saying I would only be in the way. I got the message.

I went.

The ceremony itself was impressive. However, I almost missed my big moment due to the fact that I didn't hear Melodie call my name. I am eternally grateful to Rob for getting me to the podium on time.

I was, and still am, honored and humbled by this award. My heartfelt thanks to all who voted, regardless of their choice. A big turnout made the award that much more meaningful.

NOTE: I have a flash story published this year that I plan to enter in next year's contest. With any luck I won't win. (Just kidding.)