30 April 2019

To Flash or Not to Flash

by Paul D. Marks

Jorge Luis Borges
Flash Fiction seems to be very popular these days. It’s short, it’s punchy. It usually ends with a twist.

I haven’t written much flash fiction, really one story.  Fade Out at Akashic’s Mondays Are Murders: http://www.akashicbooks.com/fade-out-by-paul-d-marks/

But one of my favorite short stories of all time can be considered flash fiction: Jorge Luis Borges’ Two Kings and Their Two Labyrinths. This parable hit me hard when I first read it. And I read it over from time to time.

I think it runs about a page, maybe a page and a half. Because it’s so short, I wanted to print the whole story here, but because of copyright concerns I’m not going to. So here’s what Wikipedia says about it – Spoiler Alert:

“A Babylonian king orders his subjects to build him a labyrinth ‘so confusing and so subtle that the most prudent men would not venture to enter it, and those who did would lose their way.’ When an Arab king visited his court, the king of Babylon told him to enter the labyrinth in order to mock him. The Arab king finally got out and told the Babylonian that in his land he had another labyrinth, and Allah willing, he would see that someday the king of Babylonia made its acquaintance.’ The Arab king returned to his land, and launched a successful attack on the Babylonians, finally capturing the Babylonian King. The Arab tied him on a camel and led him into the desert. After three days of riding, the Arab reminds the Babylonian that he tried to make him lose his way in his labyrinth and says that he will now show him his, ‘which has no stairways to climb, nor door to force, nor wearying galleries to wander through, nor walls to impede thy passage.’ He then untied the Babylonian king, ‘and abandoned him in the middle of the desert, where he died of hunger and thirst...’”

It ends on the line, “Glory to the Living, who dieth not.” Yeah, the one who does not dieth gets the glory all right.

The irony of the ending gets me every time and it’s not like it’s a chore to re-read it because, well, because it’s so damn short.

I think what this story illustrates is that flash fiction can boil down the essence of a short story into a very small space. And what you end up with is the essential ingredients to what I think every short story, novella and novel must have. And what are these elements: a beginning, middle and end. Intriguing characters, a brief set up of the situation, a twist or turning of the tables, a conclusion and most importantly, a point.

Have you ever had a friend that starts to tell you a story and never seems to get to the punchline? At the end of their speech they say something like “well I forget the point I was trying to make.” Isn’t that frustrating? Well the same thing happens in short stories. An acquaintance once asked me to read a story they wrote and while the writing was technically good (grammar, punctuation, descriptions, etc… all well-written) the story never got to the point. It just meandered about, so and so meeting so and so and they went to such and such a place and did this and said that. Nothing ever happened and I was bored. I know that some schools of thought believe this is what literary writing should be ;-) . Just slice of life and the writing and descriptions are all that matter, but I just don’t get it. I understand that some stories are more subtle in the way they evolve, but in my humble opinion (and maybe it’s just my personal taste) I want something to happen and I want to feel a sense of the character having been changed or seeing something in a new way.


The most successful stories come to a point. There is a climax and a conclusion, sometimes an irony or a lesson, though not a preachy one. Sometimes the fulfillment of some quest or goal, but always a point. Borges’ story makes a very ironic and clear point while telling a tale of revenge. Now if the Arab King just invited the Babylonian king to his palace and murdered him, would you feel satisfied?


So, while I’m not personally into writing flash fiction on a regular basis, I see the benefits. It can help you hone your craft and learn to build stories that are lean, spare and pithy, and that can ultimately help you write a more compelling longer story or novel. It is the story/novel stripped down to its bare bones.

What do you think?

PS – Other favorite Borges stories include, The Circular Ruins and The Garden of the Forking Paths.

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

My short story House of the Rising Sun and lots of other great stories are in Switchblade - Issue 9, available on Amazon (Kindle version) now: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QW5GVZF. The paperback version to follow in May.



GoodReads Giveaway: I'm giving away 10 signed paperback copies of my Shamus Award-Winning novel White Heat. Hurry, the giveaway ends on May 1st. Click here to enter to win: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/291413-white-heat



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

29 April 2019

The Way We Talk, etc.

by Steve Liskow

Back in the early eighties, I dated a social worker who worked at a clinic dealing with hardcore juvenile offenders. Her colleagues regarded her as a walking miracle for her ability to connect with kids who had severe issues of all kinds: emotional, behavioral, learning, you name it. She could get them to talk to her and reveal information they wouldn't tell anyone else, and she often put them on the path to recovery.

I taught at an inner-city school where a lot of my students had the same problems, albeit to a lesser degree, and I asked her how she could do what she did. She told me about a book by Bandler and Grinder called The Magic of Rapport. I find that title by Jerry Richardson on Amazon now, and other books by Bandler and Grinder, but the book I read forty years ago seems to be out of print. I'm sure Richardson's book covers the same material.

Briefly, people process information in one of three ways, and they prefer one over the others.

Roughly 75% of all people are VISUAL, which means they learn by "seeing" or "watching." Show them a diagram or picture, act something out, and they will grasp and retain what you what them to know. This is why teacher write on the board and why PowerPoint has become so popular.







Another 10 to 15% are AUDITORY. These people understand what they are told and can process verbal instructions well. Unfortunately, even though it's a small portion of the population, it's an overwhelming majority of TEACHERS, which is why you may have sat through classes with instructors who lectured you to death.




The rest of us are KINESTHETIC. They learn a skill by practicing it over and over and handling the objects in question, literal "hands-on" teaching. They may retain information by remembering the sensations during an activity: temperature, smell, or even their emotional response to what happened.

Thanks to that girlfriend whom I haven't seen in decades, I started experimenting with this information. Professional development workshops on the concept, called "Perceptual Modes," began to appear in my school system in the mid to late 1990s--fifteen years later.

You can see why the concept could be important in the classroom, but I use them in writing, too.

"How?" you ask with bated breath (I get this reaction a lot. I put it down to my dynamic presentations).

Well, people tell or show their preferred mode through their behavior. They way they talk, stand, or move all give you clues, and you can use the traits to make your fictional characters more varied and specific. The concept helps you create more personalized dialogue, too.

Let me SHOW you how (see the visual cue there?).

VISUAL people tend to dress neatly and have good posture. They look at you when you speak.
When they talk, they tend to use visual metaphors, too. They'll say "That LOOKS like a good idea."

Auditory people often tilt their head when they listen to you. They may speak more softly and they would state the idea above as "That SOUNDS good," or maybe even refer to music or harmony. These people gravitate to professions where listening is a valued skill: teaching, translating, sound recording, social work.

KINESTHETIC people are at home with their bodies. They may (not always) appear a little heavy, but they move gracefully. They value comfort and often dress more casually (I, for example, almost always have my sleeves rolled up). Many of them are dancers, athletes, or actors. They are empathetic (care-givers) and may touch you while they talk. Many of them hold an object to ground themselves. Remember Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny? I often unconsciously twirled my wedding ring or a ballpoint pen during class discussions.

Kinesthetic people can sense the atmosphere and moods of other people in a room. They're aware of senses beyond sight, often noticing the temperature or a smell that nobody else does. They will say "That FEELS like a good idea" and learn quickly from mistakes. They seldom read instructions, but they are the actors who can use "Sense Memory" and "Emotional Recall" to rehearse a scene or develop a character in a play.

Beth Shepard, Zach Barnes's girlfriend in my Connecticut series, is kinesthetic. She's gorgeous but prefers to dress casually. She's a former dancer and high school majorette, very in touch with her body. I gave her contact lenses because she's legally blind without them. Someday, I may let her have lasik surgery.

Zach Barnes is auditory. We know that because he's a good listener. One of my books hinges on his hearing a clue in conversation that nobody else "heard."

Zach's friend and and researcher, Svetlana Melanova Thirst, is kinesthetic, too. She's sinfully sybaritic, and a self-taught computer hacker. She learned by doing.

I also use this information in my dialogue workshops. If you have five people in a scene and they all are visual (the most common perceptual mode), you need more speech tags to help the reader keep track of who's speaking. On the other hand, if a man and a woman are visual, another man is auditory, and the last man and woman are kinesthetic, their speaking styles may be all you need.

"It looks to me like the butler did it." Tome leered at Pam's perfect latex ensemble.

"It seems that way, doesn't it?" Pam admired the cut of Tom's jodhpurs and winked back. ("Seems" is the passive version of "look," too)

"Sounds wrong to me," Walt said, leaning toward the window where he thought the butler and maid were eavesdropping.

"It doesn't feel right to me, either." Jack rubbed his fingers over the blood-stained carpet.

"Something smells fishy to me, too." Patty scratched her nose and walked around the room, picking up the various heavy objects that might have bludgeoned Mr. Corpus to death.

A few years later, I stumbled on The Art of the Possible by Dawna Markova, which expands the original concept to show how people use all three modes, but in different combinations. The writing is less than lyrical, but it can help you understand how different types of thought processes will develop an idea or behavior. That book was the first one that proved many of my apparent inconsistencies really make sense.

My wife still doesn't think that's true.

Now for the BSP: My story "Par for the Corpse" appears in the first April issue of Tough.

And congratulations to Art Taylor, who won the Edgar Award last Thursday for best short story.


28 April 2019

Left Coast Traveler

by R.T. Lawton


A Steely Dan anthology, available June 24, 2019
Old Saying: Getting there is half the fun.

Visiting places like Canada and Mexico used to be so simple. You merely went. To get back, you might have to show a driver's license or a birth certificate and declare what you bought or otherwise acquired in that country, but life was easy. Sure, going to Europe was all passport and customs officials, but that was another continent, another world away, and to be expected.

And then came the Left Coast Crime Conference being held at the end of last March in the nice Canadian port city of Vancouver. Since Canada considers itself to be our trading partner ( as opposed to being some third world country like several islands in the Caribbean), they prefer that we southern cousins spend Canadian currency when we make purchases in their country. After all, we don't accept their money in our country. Fair is fair. Plus, there is a fee to exchange money if it's not that particular country's currency. So, we went to Wells Fargo Bank in advance of our trip and acquired $200 Canadian. Fortunately, most of our expenses could go on our credit card, one which charged no fee for the conversion.

Author book signing for Steely Dan anthology at LCCC
Continuing. The last time we renewed our passports, we forked over the extra $35 each to also get the credit card sized passport which is allegedly valid for Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean islands. We were quickly all packed and ready. Then we found we could not use our home computer to print out our airline tickets. Since our flight was designated as an International flight, we had to show a passport to get our tickets. Okay, so we drove to the airport on the morning of our trip to acquire the tickets and catch our plane.

Law Enforcement Panel at Left Coast Crime Conference
Whoops, the credit card sized passports did not work in the ticket kiosk. They only take the paper booklet passports, which we were just paranoid enough to have with us anyway. Got tickets. Flew to Denver to change planes for the second leg of the journey. In Denver, had to show tickets AND passports in order to board the aircraft. Landed in Vancouver. Beautiful and very modern airport, but had a long walk high in the air to an area where we found machines that read our passports, asked a series of questions and took our photos. The machine then printed out a receipt with our photo on it which we gave to the non-uniform man guarding that area. (NOTE: if you are wearing a hat or glasses, those items must come off for your photo, and again for the man guarding that exit.) We proceeded through a long roped-off maze and descended to the ground transportation exits.

The harbour (their spelling) three blocks from conference hotel
For those of you who have taken a taxi from La Guardia Airport to mid-Manhattan in New York, you already know your life is not your own.. Those drivers all consume quarts of Red Bull and train on dirt tracks somewhere in the Appalachians. Our driver in Vancouver had evidently won several trophies on that same dirt track. We paid him in Canadian dollars, along with a hefty tip, glad to have arrived unscathed. Turned out, it was a $31 Canadian flat fee from airport to our hotel. As the proverb says: Time is Money. I assume that our driver was merely trying to maximize his ratio of dollars per minute. During our running conversation darting through the streets, I also learned he is the one who is teaching his teenage children how to drive so they can get their drivers licenses. I expect there will soon be more racing trophies on the family mantel.

One end of the sea plane docks
The LCC Conference was excellent, many good panels, great people to converse with, much good info acquired, lots of laughs, fine food, nice beer, discovered several local bakeries for pastries and morning coffee, walked down to the harbor sea wall, watched sea planes take off and land, saw the steam clock operate in Gas Town, and had a very great time.

Sunday morning, we caught a cab to the airport. Did better at the ticket kiosk, got tickets and found we were TSA Pre-Approved. Yay! Finally managed to find where they had located the security lines. Could not find the TSA Pre-Approved line. Turns out that TSA Pre-Approved doesn't mean anything in Canada. Nice security man put us in a line anyway which used the metal detector arch, instead of the giant x-ray after which they always want to pat me down for some reason. Can't be my good looks. Got dressed again and walked a long maze to a different passport reading machine area. Inserted passports, answered questions for the machine, took my hat off and it took my photo. Presented my photo receipt and passport to a uniformed guard at the area exit. Told my wife later that I thought the guard had a U.S. Customs badge on his uniform. Turned out, we had gone through U.S. Customs while still in Canada. Walked another long maze to the departure gate. Had to show ticket AND passport to board the aircraft.

Made it home.

Now what do I do with the $20 in Canadian bills, the Toonies, the Loonies and the other coins we didn't spend?

Guess we'll just have to go back to Canada for another writers conference.

27 April 2019

Murder at the Crime Writing Awards (With the usual 'pee first' warning - see bottom)

By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Someone slipped up and made me a finalist in two categories for the Arthur Ellis Awards for Crime Writing this year (The B-Team, Novella, and A Ship Called Pandora, short story.)  Naturally, I’m up against some of the best (here’s looking at you, yet again, Twist Phalen.) 

By strange coincidence, I’m also emceeing the awards on May 23.  Which goes to show how truly confusing we can be in Canada.  Because you see, in days of yore (ten to three years ago) I was the one organizing the gala, along with a team of truly wonderful but sweetly innocent individuals who had no idea what they were signing up for. 

The short list announcement yesterday got me thinking about my first time organizing the event.  I believe this may have also been my first post on Sleuthsayers.  Yes, that many years ago.  Time for a revisit.  Warning: This is nonfiction. I swear. 

MURDER AT THE CRIME WRITING AWARDS
Okay, I haven’t done it yet.  But I may soon.

I’m the Executive Director of a well-known crime writing association.  This means I am also responsible for the Arthur Ellis Awards, Canada’s annual crime writing awards night, and the resulting banquet.

I’ve planned hundreds of special events in my career as a marketing professional.  I’ve managed conferences with 1000 people attending, scarfing down three meals a day.  Usually, we offer a few choices, and people choose what they want.  They’re pretty good about that.  People sit where they want.  Simple.

Granted, most of my events have been with lab techs, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. 

It is not the same with authors.  Nothing is simple with authors. 

THE SEATING ARRANGEMENT
A can’t sit with B, because A is in competition with B for Best Novel.  C can’t sit with D because C is currently outselling D.  E can’t sit with F because they had an affair (which nobody knows about.  Except they do.  At least, the seven people who contacted me to warn me about this knew.) G can’t sit with H because G’s former agent is at that table and they might kill each other.  And everyone wants to sit with J.

THE MENU
The damned meal is chicken.  This is because we are allowed two choices and we have to provide for the vegetarians.  We can’t have the specialty of the house, lamb, because not everyone eats lamb.  We can’t have salmon as the vegetarian choice, because some vegetarians won’t eat fish.

So we’re stuck with chicken again.

P writes that her daughter is lactose intolerant.  Can she have a different dessert?

K writes that she is vegetarian, but can’t eat peppers.  Every damned vegetarian choice has green or red pepper in it.

L writes that she wants the chicken, but is allergic to onion and garlic.  Can we make hers without?

M writes that her daughter is a vegan, so no egg or cheese, thanks.  Not a single vegetarian choice comes that way.

I am quickly moving to the “you’re getting chicken if I have to shove it down your freaking throat” phase.

Chef is currently threatening the catering manager with a butcher’s knife.  I am already slugging back the cooking wine.  And by the time people get here, this may be a Murder Mystery dinner.

Postscript:
Nobody got murdered, but a few got hammered.  


Melodie Campbell’s caper novella The B-Team has been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award.  You can pick it up for a steal (sic) at Amazon, B&N, Chapters, and all the usual suspects.  Even Walmart, because we’re a class act.  Sometimes even Zehrs.  I’ll stop now.

 The 'pee first' warning is given when humorous material follows.  'Nuf said.
 

26 April 2019

Thornes and Roses – The World of TK Thorne

Ladies and gentlemen, meet author T.K. Thorne.

T.K. Thorne, a retired police captain, woke up one morning and decided to wildly depart from her previous writings to explore murder, mayhem, and magic in her newest novel, House of Rose, where Birmingham Police Officer Rose Brighton discovers she is a witch of an ancient line. Set in the Deep South, House of Rose is the first book in the Magic City trilogy. T.K.’s previous works include award-winning historical novels— Noah’s Wife and Angels at the Gate— and nonfiction. Last Chance For Justice, detailing the 1963 Birmingham church-bombing case. She writes from her Alabama mountaintop, often with two dogs and a cat vying for her lap.

— Velma

Crime Meets Magic

by T.K. Thorne

The first thing most people say to me when they learn I was a career cop is, “Oh? You don’t look like a policeman.”

This is a good thing because I’m a woman.

Perhaps at 5’3”, I don’t fit the stereotype in their minds. That’s not worrisome to my self-image because during my 20+ years in the Birmingham (Alabama) Police Department, it never occurred to me that I was too small … other than the annoying fact that my hands couldn’t fit properly around the gun’s grip. Not only did I have to figure out an alternate way to shoot, there were other challenges.

In those early academy days, we had to carry the fifty bullets needed for the firearms qualification tests in our pants pocket and dig them out to reload with one hand (the other held the gun). Tight time constraints for firing and reloading were in place to try to replicate some of the stress of being under fire. If I pulled more than six bullets at a time out of my pocket, it overwhelmed my hand’s capacity to manipulate them into position to reload. Bullets tumbled to the ground, making it impossible to reload in time. With practice, I developed the ability to blindly grab exactly six bullets at a time. I’m inordinately proud of that now useless skill.

Since Joseph Wambaugh’s controversial Choir Boys appeared in 1975, the number of law enforcement authors has grown, but they’re still an anomaly, and so I get to surprise with the double whammy of being a retired cop and a writer. I’ve learned to deal with the “You don’t look like a policeman,” reaction with a smile and a simple, “Thank you.” And when I explain my latest novel is about a young police woman in Birmingham, Alabama who discovers she’s a witch, I get an even more fun reaction—“Is it autobiographical?” And an even more fun answer—“Yes.”

Ironically, my new novel, House of Rose, is the first one to pull from my law enforcement background. Previous writing adventures took me to the ancient past with two historical novels about women in the Bible who get no name and one line (Noah’s wife and Lot’s wife) and to my city’s civil rights days as nonfiction.

Then Rose came into my life. Rose Brighton is a rookie police officer, a somewhat prickly loner, surprised that she loves the job and determined to make it despite the challenges. She is also is a young me—only taller, with adequate-sized hands, exotically beautiful … and a witch.

It was love at first write.

Magic is not an element to introduce into a story without serious contemplation. It must exist within the fictional world as a “realistic” element within the story structure. The rules of how it works must be internally consistent. Also, it needs to match the voice of the story’s narration. A light-hearted, humorous approach, such as a fairy story or a comic book-based type of story (think Once Upon A Time or Dr. Strange) can get away with more loosey-goosey magic. That said, any story can include humorous elements. I had a great time playing the traditional broomstick-and-potion concept of witches against the real-(story)world powers of three ancient Houses whose members derive their magic from the three ores used to make Birmingham steel—coal, iron ore and limestone.

Orson Scott Card says magic must have a cost. I would add that all power, to include magic, needs to have limits. Frodo’s ring in The Fellowship of the Ring allowed him to be invisible, but at the same time, exposed him to Sauron's deadly wraiths. Harry Potter had to learn to use his wand and get the memorized spells exactly right or bad things could happen. Even Superman has to avoid kryptonite.

The rules of magic within the world you’ve created must be obeyed. Additionally, the use of magic needs to play a role in moving the character and plot forward. At the same time, it can’t substitute for the character’s need to make choices and face consequences. Merlin mustn’t show up and save the day (unless your character has worked and sacrificed to free him from his ice prison). In House of Rose, the ability to see the future is not something Rose controls and when it happens, she is left with a debilitating headache and serious complications in her life, not to mention her job as a police officer.

Magic Checklist
  • Are the “rules” consistent and consistently applied?
  • Does the “shade” of magic correspond to the narrative tone?
  • Does the magic have a cost? Does your reader understand what it is?
  • Does the magic move the plot forward and/or character development?
  • Does the magic supersede the character’s need to make choices and grow?
As a writer, I want to be as intrigued and entranced as my readers. Writing a novel is a long term commitment. Despite the challenges, magic—used well—can add spice and depth. For me, weaving magic “realistically” into a crime story was a bit like learning to blindly pull exactly six from a pocket full of bullets. It seemed improbable at first, but maybe learning that skill was not such worthless endeavor after all. Maybe it was a reminder that anything is possible.

Even a police-witch.

25 April 2019

"The Retort Courteous to One You Have Forgotten"

By Eve Fisher
(with necessary help from Dorothy Parker)

I have collected, over the years, a lovely large library which is just eclectic enough that I can find some information about almost anything.  I have everything from history (of all kinds/eras) to potboilers, plus a few weird volumes that I just read and don't try to explain to anybody.  One of the many things I prize is my 1926 edition of Emily Post's Etiquette, which was happily for us all reviewed by Dorothy Parker in the December 23, 1927 edition of The New Yorker

Let's let Dorothy speak for a while, because she can certainly review it better than I can:

Young Dorothy Parker.jpg"Emily Post’s “Etiquette” is out again, this time in a new and an enlarged edition, and so the question of what to do with my evenings has been all fixed up for me. There will be an empty chair at the deal table at Tony’s, when the youngsters gather to discuss life, sex, literature, the drama, what is a gentleman, and whether or not to go on to Helen Morgan’s Club when the place closes; for I shall be at home among my book. I am going in for a course of study at the knee of Mrs. Post. Maybe, some time in the misty future, I shall be Asked Out, and I shall be ready. You won’t catch me being intentionally haughty to subordinates or refusing to be a pallbearer for any reason except serious ill-health. I shall live down the old days, and with the help of Mrs. Post and God (always mention a lady’s name first) there will come a time when you will be perfectly safe in inviting me to your house, which should never be called a residence except in printing or engraving.

"It will not be a gruelling study, for the sprightliness of Mrs. Post’s style makes the text-book as fascinating as it is instructive. Her characters, introduced for the sake of example, are called by no such unimaginative titles as Mrs. A., or Miss Z., or Mr. X.; they are Mrs. Worldly, Mr. Bachelor, the Gildings, Mrs. Oldname, Mrs. Neighbor, Mrs. Stranger, Mrs. Kindhart, and Mr. and Mrs. Nono Better. This gives the work all the force and the application of a morality play.

"It is true that occasionally the author’s invention plucks at the coverlet, and she can do no better by her brainchildren than to name them Mr. Jones and Mrs. Smith. But it must be said, in fairness, that the Joneses and the Smiths are the horrible examples, the confirmed pullers of social boners. They deserve no more...  Mr. Jones, no matter how expensively he is dressed, always gives the effect of being in his shirt-sleeves, while Mrs. Smith is so unmistakably the daughter of a hundred Elks. Let them be dismissed by somebody’s phrase (I wish to heaven it were mine)—“the sort of people who buy their silver.”  These people in Mrs. Post’s book live and breathe; as Heywood Broun once said of the characters in a play, “they have souls and elbows.” Take Mrs. Worldly, for instance, Mrs. Post’s heroine. The woman will live in American letters. I know of no character in the literature of the last quarter-century who is such a complete pain in the neck."  (D.P.)

Mrs. Emily Post painted by Fuchs
Brooklyn Museum
Personally, I believe that Mrs. Worldly is Mrs. Post, in her upbringing and determination to be the arbiter for generations on the subject of Polite Society.  Daughter of Bruce Price, the architect of (among other things) Tuxedo Park, Emily Post was born with enough wealth, beauty, and position to enable her to divorce her banker husband, Edwin Main Post, when he took up chorus girls and was blackmailed.  No wonder Mrs. Worldly freezes occasionally at the sight of young women.

Again, from Dorothy Parker:  "See her at that moment when a younger woman seeks to introduce herself. Says the young woman: “ ‘Aren’t you Mrs. Worldly?’ Mrs. Worldly, with rather freezing politeness, says ‘Yes,’ and waits.” And the young woman, who is evidently a glutton for punishment, neither lets her wait from then on nor replies, “Well, Mrs. Worldly, and how would you like a good sock in the nose, you old meat-axe?” Instead she flounders along with some cock-and-bull story about being a sister of Millicent Manners, at which Mrs. Worldly says, “I want very much to hear you sing some time,” which marks her peak of enthusiasm throughout the entire book."  

Mrs. Post got out of the divorce with her money and position intact.  It was after her children grew up that she decided to become the Petronia Arbiter of her day, with Etiquette.  It was an immediate, and long-lasting hit.  She covered everything from how to write notes and letters, deliver calling cards, dress, balls, luncheons, teas, and dinners, as well as formal occasions like weddings and funerals.  There are chapters on "The Kindergarten of Etiquette" (you need good nannies, nurses, and servants for this one) and "Every Day Manners at Home" (behave yourself at all times, and never "dress down").  

My personal favorite is "The House Party in Camp", when Mr. and Mrs. Worldly, along with the Normans, the Lovejoys, the "Bobo" Gildings, the Littlehouses, Constance Style, Jim Smartlington and his bride, Clubwin Doe and young Struthers all accept Mr. and Mrs. Kindheart's invitation to spend a few weeks at the Mountain Summit Camp. There they all rough it, with only dozens of servants in forest-green livery to bring them hot water and breakfast in their rustic cabins, build their fires, and cook their meals from food shipped in from the Big City, and struggling to survive on only one cloth napkin a day to remind them of their former glories. Granted, Mr. Worldly does bring his valet, Ernest, because "He has never in the twenty years since he left college been twenty-four hours away from Ernest." [Doesn't that sound a little... strange... today?] And Mrs. Worldly spends the entire time "wearing a squirrel fur cap in the evening as well as the daytime; she said it was because it was so warm and comfortable. It was really because she could not do her hair!"  (Etiquette at Gutenberg)

Saint-Simon portrait officiel 1728 détail.png
Of course, it's not just the Gilded Age that combined power, money, position, and domestic helplessness.  The Duc de Saint-Simon (1675-1755) was in the exact same boat back at Versailles, whenever he and his fellow nobility had to go to one of the lesser manors or war.  They brought their valets and they couldn't do their own hair, either.  But the Duc's memoirs are soaked in an etiquette that surpasses anything Mrs. Post could have dreamed of, rigidly enforced (and totally exemplified, to give him credit) by the Sun King himself.  

But it is important to remember that the Sun King had crammed every nobleman in France into Versailles, where they were kept virtual prisoners because of their greed and his charisma.  And they were all touchy, proud, easily insulted, and armed with swords.  Etiquette kept the endless arguments (about who could sit, and when, and where, and who could go to Marly and who couldn't, and who could be a mistress, and who couldn't, etc.) down to a minimum of violence.

Which is a large part of the original reason for etiquette.  Humans living in close proximity to each other need some kind of a code of behavior.  Hunter-gatherer societies have as much etiquette as anyone else, although theirs is based more on spreading the wealth (food) than exhibiting it.  And writing down the rules started a long time ago.  

The earliest book of social rules we have is Ptahhotep's Maxims, which I have not read.  Confucius' Analects could also be considered a work of etiquette as well as philosophy, since under the name of filial piety, he covered not only government, but topics like dress, meals, funerals, and music.  My favorite story is that of a philosopher who, upon being told of disorders in the countryside, had the emperor stand, facing the South, and, as he performed certain rites, all disorder ceased. 

In the Renaissance, Castiglione wrote The Book of the Courtier, which has been overshadowed by Machiavelli's The Prince.  Both tell a person how to get on in society, but the first is a book of manners in order to rise, and the second is how to use those manners to keep power by any means necessary.
NOTE:  This is not the first time that either approach was or would be written, but perhaps the best example of combining both in the same book is Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence.  The fictional devastation of Newland Archer - or of Lily Bart in The House of Mirth - is a masterclass in how to wield absolute power by speech and ceremony without a sword drawn or shot fired.  And this, my dear readers, is the world in which Emily Post was raised.   
During the Age of Enlightenment, in England, the Fourth Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773) wrote Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman.  A sample from Wikipedia: 
The Fourth Earl of
Chesterfield
"I would heartily wish that you may often be seen to smile, but never heard to laugh while you live. Frequent and loud laughter is the characteristic of folly and ill-manners; it is the manner in which the mob express their silly joy at silly things; and they call it being merry. In my mind there is nothing so illiberal, and so ill-bred, as audible laughter. I am neither of a melancholy nor a cynical disposition, and am as willing and as apt to be pleased as anybody; but I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason nobody has ever heard me laugh."  (Wikipedia)
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), who believed more in the necessity of etiquette than the practice of it, said that Chesterfield's letters taught "the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing master."  No, it was not a compliment.  But what Johnson objected to was that Chesterfield made it plain that he had to teach his son manners, when they were supposed to come from the heart.

There is a tendency today to downplay, mock, or get rid of etiquette, manners, civility.  The phrase "political correctness" has become an excuse to say an amazing number of rude things, although I've noticed that the people who do practice being politically incorrect, generally demand the other party be surprisingly politically correct - i.e., polite, if not absolutely silent - back.  But Mrs. Post would not approve:

Etiquette, Chapter 29:

THE FUNDAMENTALS OF GOOD BEHAVIOR

Far more important than any mere dictum of etiquette is the fundamental code of honor, without strict observance of which no man, no matter how "polished," can be considered a gentleman. The honor of a gentleman demands the inviolability of his word, and the incorruptibility of his principles; he is the descendant of the knight, the crusader; he is the defender of the defenseless, and the champion of justice—or he is not a gentleman.
Decencies Of Behavior
A gentleman does not, and a man who aspires to be one must not, ever borrow money from a woman, nor should he, except in unexpected circumstances, borrow money from a man. Money borrowed without security is a debt of honor which must be paid without fail and promptly as possible. The debts incurred by a deceased parent, brother, sister, or grown child, are assumed by honorable men and women, as debts of honor.
A gentleman never takes advantage of a woman in a business dealing, nor of the poor or the helpless.
One who is not well off does not "sponge," but pays his own way to the utmost of his ability.
One who is rich does not make a display of his money or his possessions. Only a vulgarian talks ceaselessly about how much this or that cost him.
A very well-bred man intensely dislikes the mention of money, and never speaks of it (out of business hours) if he can avoid it....
A gentleman does not lose control of his temper. In fact, in his own self-control under difficult or dangerous circumstances, lies his chief ascendancy over others who impulsively betray every emotion which animates them. Exhibitions of anger, fear, hatred, embarrassment, ardor or hilarity, are all bad form in public. And bad form is merely an action which "jars" the sensibilities of others... 
A man whose social position is self-made is apt to be detected by his continual cataloguing of prominent names. Mr. Parvenu invariably interlards his conversation with, "When I was dining at the Bobo Gilding's"; or even "at Lucy Gilding's," and quite often accentuates, in his ignorance, those of rather second-rate, though conspicuous position. "I was spending last week-end with the Richan Vulgars," or "My great friends, the Gotta Crusts." When a so-called gentleman insists on imparting information, interesting only to the Social Register, shun him!
A gentleman's manners are an integral part of him and are the same whether in his dressing-room or in a ballroom, whether in talking to Mrs. Worldly or to the laundress bringing in his clothes. He whose manners are only put on in company is a veneered gentleman, not a real one.
A man of breeding does not slap strangers on the back nor so much as lay his finger-tips on a lady. Nor does he punctuate his conversation by pushing or nudging or patting people, nor take his conversation out of the drawing-room! Notwithstanding the advertisements in the most dignified magazines, a discussion of underwear and toilet articles and their merit or their use, is unpleasant in polite conversation.
All thoroughbred people are considerate of the feelings of others no matter what the station of the others may be. Thackeray's climber who "licks the boots of those above him and kicks the faces of those below him on the social ladder," is a, very good illustration of what a gentleman is not.
A gentleman never takes advantage of another's helplessness or ignorance, and assumes that no gentleman will take advantage of him...
The Instincts Of A Lady
The instincts of a lady are much the same as those of a gentleman. She is equally punctilious about her debts, equally averse to pressing her advantage; especially if her adversary is helpless or poor.
The Hall-Mark Of The Climber
...All thoroughbred women, and men, are considerate of others less fortunately placed, especially of those in their employ. One of the tests by which to distinguish between the woman of breeding and the woman merely of wealth, is to notice the way she speaks to dependents. Queen Victoria's duchesses, those great ladies of grand manner, were the very ones who, on entering the house of a close friend, said "How do you do, Hawkins?" to a butler; and to a sister duchess's maid, "Good morning, Jenkins." A Maryland lady, still living on the estate granted to her family three generations before the Revolution, is quite as polite to her friends' servants as to her friends themselves. When you see a woman in silks and sables and diamonds speak to a little errand girl or a footman or a scullery maid as though they were the dirt under her feet, you may be sure of one thing; she hasn't come a very long way from the ground herself.
*****
Not much more that I can add to that.

PS - What is "The Retort Courteous to One You Have Forgotten"?  Well, Dorothy Parker has one answer (check out the link back at the beginning, and go down to the end of the review).
And then there's classic "I'm sorry, but I didn't recognize you with your clothes on."  But I don't think Mrs. Post would approve.  




24 April 2019

Notre Dame de Paris

David Edgerley Gates

I lived in Paris too short a while, but it's still vivid. It was a lucky time, for me, even if the ferment and fever of that unquiet age didn't give us much breathing room, the political furies, the war. That spring the French decided to shut their own country down, and late in the summer, the Warsaw Pact dropped a heavy hammer on Prague. The larger world intruded, and I certainly wasn't indifferent, but all the same, I was under a protective enchantment.

I know what Hemingway says. I think he works it too hard, but he's right. Paris is completely magical. We of course bring a great deal with us, all that excess baggage - the Lost Generation the least of it. Be that as it may, you can shed your skin there, you're not confined by previous incarnations. I imagine we all discover our own Paris. I know that isn't a terrifically original observation, but my Paris was my own discovery.

Paris at night is hugely different from Paris during the day, just as Paris in the rain is completely different from Paris in sunshine (think black-and-white as opposed to color, Rififi instead of Gene Kelly, the photographs of Brassai, the streetlights and dive bars). I used to take the Metro down to Notre Dame at two or three in the morning, it surely being the mark of a great capital - New York, Berlin, Paris - that the subways run all night. This is back when Les Halles were still in the middle of town, now it's Place Pompidou, and the wholesale markets are out in the sticks, Les Halles were two enormous metal buildings, like giant Quonset huts, with arched girders inside, forty or fifty feet high at the peak. One was for meats, poultry, fish, the other for produce, flowers, and fruit. The vendors had stalls, and there were cobbled alleys in between. Birds nested in the upper eaves, All the Paris restaurants shopped there. getting an early start. Close by were the bars for the working stiffs, in their blue coveralls, knocking back black coffee and an anisette. I took a lot of pictures, color transparencies but usually black-and-white, Tri-X at 400 ASA, which at the time was fastest film readily available.

Just as often I didn't take a camera at all. Another big difference, between documenting an event, self-consciously a witness, and simply absorbing it. I loved coming into the square below Notre Dame and looking up at it in the dark. I'd been during the day, and climbed it. At night, you felt something else altogether. The face wasn't lit, the rose window was in shadow, the stone was cold.

Time for a black coffee and a Ricard, un petit verre, standing at the zinc bar, scrubbing your hands together for warmth.


Here's a heartening thing. The bees on the roof outlasted the fire. Rooftop bee-keeping is big in Paris. Notre Dame, l'Opera, the d'Orsay, the Grand Palais. It's a small reward, but reassuring.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/19/bees-survive-notre-dame-fire

23 April 2019

Writer in a Raincoat

by Michael Bracken

As Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character Rod Tidwell repeatedly shouted in Jerry Maguire, “Show me the exposure!”

Too warm for a raincoat.
But is “exposure” enough? There is an on-going discussion among writers—and, perhaps, among creatives of all artistic genres—about whether one should ever create art without compensation.

Staunch proponents at either end of the spectrum—from those who advocate that we never write for free to those who advocate that publication is itself sufficient reward—hold firm to their beliefs, but the reality for most of us falls somewhere in the middle.

FOR THE LOVE

Many of us saw our first publications in high school literary magazines, student newspapers, church bulletins, company newsletters, and small-town newspapers. We wrote whatever we could and saw it published wherever we could.

I know I did, working my way along a trajectory that included junior high school literary magazine, high school literary magazine, high school newspaper, underground newspaper, college newspaper, and science fiction fanzines. I wrote fiction for semi-prozines (publications that paid fractions of a cent per word) and fillers for well-known consumer publications.

Over time, I sold longer work to better-paying publications, yet I never stopped writing for non-paying publications. The more I earned from sales at the upper end of the pay scale, the more I could afford to place work at the lower end of the pay scale. One, in a sense, subsidized the other.

FOR THE MONEY

I am amused by the number of writers who claim to only write for paying publications and who make the claim in blog posts for which they were not paid.

Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective. Perhaps fiction is an art form and blog posting isn’t.

Or maybe it’s a knowledge of what is and is not marketable. Regularly placing short stories with top markets might make one less inclined to consider non-paying short story markets. Similarly, other than copy intended to promote myself or my work, I do not write advertising and public relations material for free.

But a short story?

If I wrote fiction only for paying publications, my office would be ass deep in unpublished manuscripts.

FOR THE EXPOSURE

Any editor who offers to publish my work “for exposure” and hopes to “someday” offer payment to contributors is clearly delusional, and I want no part of their unrealistic business model. But an editor who admits to producing a small-press publication as a hobby, financed with pocket change and no real hope of ever turning a buck, has my respect.

In one form or another, I’ve been them.

As a teenager, and continuing into my twenties, I published a science fiction fanzine, printed initially on a spirit duplicator, then for many issues on a mimeograph, and the last few issues on an offset press. The quality—the writing, the art, the production values—all improved as I learned about printing and publishing, and my experience with the fanzine helped me land my first real employment.

Along the way, I published the work of many great science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers who provided articles and columns without pay (among them: Robert Bloch, Algis Budrys, Grant Carrington, Don D’Ammassa, David Gerrold, Charles L. Grant, Thomas F. Monteleone, Larry Niven, and Jerry Pournelle) or wrote letters published in my fanzine’s letter column (including Richard A. Lupoff, Barry N. Malzberg, Christopher Priest, William Rotsler, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Robert Silverberg, Bob Tucker, Ted White, and Gene Wolf).

It seems as if I’m humble-bragging, but the point is that these writers, and many others like them, wrote without pay when they could have blown me off when I asked.

These writers were my role models, and if they were willing to occasionally write without pay, who am I to behave otherwise?

FOR THE HELL OF IT

So, I do sometimes contribute to non-paying publications—if I like the editor, or the theme appeals to me, or, in the case of non-fiction (such as SleuthSayer posts), I feel I have something to say or can use the forum to pay it forward.

But asking me to write something for “exposure” is an insult.

Don’t insult me. Don’t insult other writers.

If I really want exposure, I’ll wear a raincoat and stand on a street corner, whipping it open every so often to show passersby my short . . . stories.

Coming in May: The Book of Extraordinary Historical Mystery Stories (Mango), edited by Maxim Jakubowski, which contains my collaboration with Sandra Murphy, “Gracie Saves the World.”

22 April 2019

DNA Testing for Crimes by Twins

by Mary Fernando

Science is on the verge of distinguishing between identical twins. Consider cases of crimes where DNA material leads not to one person, but two: identical twins. Until now, no one could say with certainty which twin might be guilty. Here's why.

Each twin comes from the same egg, split into two, creating two eggs with identical DNA. Old DNA testing was unable to distinguish between identical twins, but there are two fascinating options on the horizon that might just help.

The first difference between identical twins begins immediately. Although each is endowed with the same DNA - “When a fertilized egg starts dividing, there’s a small chance each new cell will gain a new mutation. When the cells separate into twin embryos, one gets some of the mutant cells and the other gets the rest. Unique mutations will end up in cells throughout each twin’s body.”

“Such a test would be difficult, then — but it would also be definitive. Just a single mutation, confirmed by multiple analyses, would be enough to implicate one twin and exonerate the other.”

“It’s not something that’s going to happen every day in every laboratory,” said Dr. Krawczak (a geneticist who now teaches at Kiel University in Germany). “But once people become aware of this, there may be a lot of cold cases that come back to life.”

However, this testing is in its infancy and is both expensive and time consuming.

The next set of DNA changes are called epigenetic changes and happen during embryonic development and continues for the rest of our lives.

Dia Rahman, a PhD student in Public Health at University of Waterloo has a special interest in social impacts on health and, therefore, is fascinated with epigenetics. “We are born with our DNA but what is impacted by the environment is the dance between active and inactive genes,” Dia says. “That is what is impacted by our upbringing and experiences. That is epigenetics.”

“A common analogy used to describe the epigenome is to consider genes as instruments in the “symphony” of life. But they don’t play themselves. They need musicians. Epigenetics would be the musicians that help express (or silence) the performance of our genes. Exercise, sleep, trauma, aging, stress, disease, and diet have all shown significant effects on the epigenome.”

Detecting epigenetic changes is faster and cheaper than looking for mutations. Graham Williams at the University of Huddersfield, UK, has found that epigenetic changes alter the melting point of DNA. “When the team heated up the twins’ DNA samples, they found the melting points were different – allowing them to tell the twins apart genetically. The test was also much quicker than whole genome sequencing, says Williams. “It can be done in just a few hours.”

So, essentially, we are born with our DNA - an entwined gift from our mother and father. This is not immutable. Some of our DNA can be altered by mutations. Parts of our DNA is also turned off and on by how our life impacts us. As our DNA testing improves, we can distinguish between identical twins.

Perhaps the most important part of all this has nothing to do with crime. It show that our DNA we once thought never changed is actually impacted by the life we live. And that is fascinating.