31 May 2019

The Gary Phillips Interview– Part 2: The Be-Bop Barbarians and Beyond

by Lawrence Maddox

In Gary Phillips' graphic novel The Be-Bop Barbarians (Pegasus Books, 2019), three African American comic book artists, struggling to make it in the face of daunting racism, are caught up in 1955's burgeoning civil rights movement.  It takes place in Harlem, and happens at the moment when comics, jazz, and the civil rights movement were on the cusp of major cultural eruptions. Gary placed his tale at the point before all these elements exploded in new directions.

The Be-Bop Barbarians took my breath away. When I finished it I felt I'd just put down an important work. I don't feel you can read it without thinking about the tensions, racial and otherwise, that are happening in America now.

In Part 1, I got to talk with Gary about some of the historical elements that influenced The Be-Bop Barbarians. These included the civil rights campaign that was ignited by Rosa Parks at the end of 1955; the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial; and the real-life artists who were the inspiration for his three main characters. But wait, there's more!

Lawrence Maddox: Last year you won an Anthony for The Obama Inheritance, which riffs on right-wing conspiracy theories and treats them as if they were true. I feel the '50s, the era of The Be-Bop Barbarians, had its share of conspiracy theories too. Any connection between The Obama InheritanceThe Be-Bop Barbarians, and how conspiracy theories are used to manipulate public opinion?

Gary Phillips: We've always had those who have been able to pull the wool over people's eyes and play into their audience's weird fears and night sweats, whether it's Alex Jones, or The Amazing Criswell, who was in Plan 9 from Outer Space. People are entertained by them, but some can get sucked in.

Soundtrack Beat Battle Judging Panel March2011 (cropped).jpg
Nipsey Hussle in 2011
Just recently, there was this conspiracy around Nipsey Hussle and Dr. Sebi. [NOTE: Dr Sebi was a Honduran herbalist whose remedies were said to be a challenge to the medical establishment. He died in police custody.]  The rumor is that Nipsey was murdered because he was planning this documentary about Dr, Sebi, and big pharma took him out. These things always persist. Are there truths to them? I just worked on this show [Snowfall on FX] that purports that the CIA helped bring cocaine into South Central in the '80s. Do I believe it? Well actually I do believe it, but there are others that say it didn't happen.

LM: When your graphic novel Big Water (2013) came out, I reviewed it for All Due Respect Magazine.  This is my second crack at one of your graphic novels.  Any connections you'd care to draw between Big Water and The Be-Bop Barbarians?

GP: Both of them, in various ways, deal with some parts of the socio-political landscape.  Big Water is about the fight, in a fictional municipality, to keep the water a public right as opposed to allowing the water rights to be sold to a private company. It was also about community organizing; it was about people coming together to work for a common cause.  Certainly we can see some of that in The Be-Bop Barbarians. That hearkens back to my days as a community organizer. Invariably my experience as a community organizer will show up in some form in my work. Not in all my work, but time and again it's a part of what I write about. For me it's still a fascination to place that world in the context of crime fiction. It's something I always come back to. It's the stuff I dig, it's the stuff I watch, read. Not exclusively, but it's the thing I always gravitate to. I guess I try to figure out ways to overlap those two worlds as seamlessly as possible.

LM: In your work you often have heroes, or antiheroes, that are destroyed by forces that are much larger than them. I'm thinking of Zelmont Raines in The Jook (1999).

GP: (Laughs) He's also done in by his lack of impulse control.

LM: Other examples are Deke Kotto and Tim Brady from Cowboys (2011). 

GP: For sure.

LM: Sometimes you've got heroes like O'Connor from Warlord of Willow Ridge (2012) who are able to make a difference and overcome these dark and powerful forces. 

GP: There you go,  but only in incremental ways, right? Only these little tiny victories.

LM: Can one person make a difference?

GP:Yes. The true heroic answer, Larry, is yes, one person can make a difference. They have to. From Martin Luther to Martin Luther King to Rosa Parks to Delores Huerta, yes.  Absolutely. But as we also know, no matter how much will and drive one has, which no doubt is important, which no doubt sets a certain standard for people to rally around, in the end it is about people working together and making these things happen.

I do believe that certain things happen because an individual steps out, or something happens to that individual, but then other things start to work together to make bigger things happen. So even if we talk about Rosa Parks that evening not going to sit in the back of the bus, she was actually not the first black woman to do that. The difference was she was a part of a bigger thing, the NAACP.  She'd already gone to non-violence training school. She was already part of something. This incident became the thing, like Ollie in the book became the thing that could advance some tougher work. It shows you have to have these mechanisms in place so that when something like that does happen, you're ready to act. You're ready to move.

LM: You've got a lot going on this year besides The Be-Bop Barbarians. Let's talk about the The Movie Makers.

GP: It's out now. Down & Out Books is reviving the old serial thing.  It was Frank Zafiro's idea to center on a grifter couple, and they asked various writers to do a kind of, I guess it's not really a novella, it's too short.  It's an extended short story, a novelette. My story is twelve or thirteen thousand words, and we're doing these episodes centering on this grifter couple. Mine takes place in the land where make-believe is the coin of the realm, Hollywood. It's Harold Robbins meets Jim Thompson.

LM: I really liked your story "Demon of the Track" from the wickedly fun anthology Pop the Clutch: Thrilling Tales of Rockabilly, Monsters, and Hot Rod Horror that came out earlier this year.  I noticed that Ollie from The Be-Bop Barbarians and Deacon Coles from "Demon of the Track"are both Korean War vets. What was your inspiration for Deacon?
I attended the Pop the Clutch signing in Burbank
 earlier this year. It was an incredible line-up of
authors, including Gary Phillips. Hoping to get
John  Floyd's signature on this baby one day!

GP: Deacon Coles in "Demon of the Track was inspired by Ed Dwight. [NOTE: Ed Dwight was a military pilot with a B.S in aeronautical engineering.] Kennedy was pushing to have a black astronaut and Ed was put into the program. He faced opposition due to racism. When Kennedy got killed Ed got squeezed out of the program. He actually became a sculptor after all that. Ed Dwight has always fascinated me. I thought it would be interesting to take this guy and make him a jet ace during the war.  Because of racism, he can't get a job as a pilot. So what does he do? He starts racing cars.

LM: You've also been writing for TV.

GP: Coming up I have a co-writing credit on an episode of Snowfall on FX.

LM: John Singleton was one of Snowfall's Creators and Executive Producers. His sudden passing must've been a shock.

John Singleton in 2013
GP: Crazy that John is gone. Fifty-one is way too young, but he got a lot done in that time. He had a drive and a love for all kinds of stories, but of course he really made his mark telling a tale of South Central,  Boyz n the Hood (1991), where he and I grew up. As a Co-Creator of Snowfall, he would often be in the writer's room with us, or on set. John would crack me up because there'd be a time when he'd insist on this or that detail, but it would be about authenticity. In the episode I co-wrote there's a scene set in the projects. When the cops arrive he had me add the "crip whistle," a distinctive call-out that trouble was coming.  A seemingly small thing that did so much to capture that time period.

LM: You've written books, short stories, graphic novels, comics, and now TV.  Is it hard to switch between these different mediums? Is there another medium that you still want to explore?

The many mediums of Gary Phillips.
From The Maddox Archives
GP: You're a storyteller, so you know that each medium defines how you tell the story. A script, as you know, is all short hand.  This is also the great thing about writing comic books and graphic novels. You have to think visually. Similarly in TV, you have to boil everything down. On Snowfall we'd spend hours of the day just talking about the motivation of the characters. Then you'd have to figure out how you'd boil all that down to this one thing. You'd have to get it right so when you're at the table-read the actors aren't saying, "What the hell are you talking about?"

I always think about a scene in Scorsese's Howard Hughes flick The Aviator (2004). It's that scene where DiCaprio can't touch the door knob because of his own weird germophobia. It's such a great scene because it boils down so much psychologically about Hughes. Here's this guy who does all this incredible stuff, but he can't touch this door knob because it's full of germs and other people have touched it.

As a writer I'm always asking, "What are those things, those images, that one thing that will symbolize and crystallize what my character is about?" So whatever medium you're writing in, be it comic books, scripts, prose, or radio plays, whatever the hell it is, you just got to figure out how to convey the complexities in a simple and straight forward way, yet keep some of that richness that you want to maintain. I think we all try to figure that out as writers and storytellers. Not that you get it right all the time. You keep trying rework it and achieve that clarity on the page, or as presented by the actor, or what have you.

I'm very happy that I've been able to work in different mediums, and I hope to keep being able to do that.  It's always the next idea that fascinates me, or the next set of complications for my characters that keeps me going. Sally Wainwright, who wrote Gentleman Jack on HBO, said she likes to write the things that she wants to see. That's true for me, too.  I write the things I want to read or that I want to see. In my work, if I'm entertained, I hope others are entertained too, as well as intrigued. I also hope I've given my audience a little something to think about.

Gary was an initial believer in my debut novel Fast Bang Booze and helped it see the light of day. 

If you have a favorite Gary Phillips work, let me know on Facebook or Twitter, LawrenceMaddox@Madxbooks. 



30 May 2019

True Crime or Not True Crime

by Brian Thornton

Lately I've been thinking about the space that lies between writing fiction and nonfiction. I've tried my hand at both.

My professional background in writing nonfiction includes earning an advanced degree in history and penning a number of books on a variety of nonfiction topics–some historical, others not. One (which I ghost-wrote) was even on the topic of long-distance fatherhood; and this several years before I became a father myself.

My fiction includes a number of published short stories, several edited story collections, novellas, and coming soon, a novel. It's been the focus of my writing career for the past several years.

To be clear, I loved writing all of my books (hey, getting paid to do something you love–isn't that really the definition of the perfect job?). I did, however, put off writing book-length fiction for a number of years because there were far too many well-paying nonfiction opportunities out there.

Which renders the one opportunity I did actually turn down all the more striking by contrast. Several years I passed on the opportunity to write a true crime book.

And just last week I had occasion to revisit that decision. More on that in a bit.

First, I have nothing against the subgenre of true crime writing, or against those who practice it. In fact, I number several true crime writers among my friends in the writing community. It's just not my thing.

For me it all started with Truman Capote's landmark In Cold Blood, which, in many ways, effectively launched true crime writing as a subgenre. While I found Capote's writing compelling (no disputing the fact that it's a masterwork.), I also found it profoundly disturbing.

That book stayed with me. It was as if Capote transcribed a nightmare.

Now, some people will point to that as an example of great literature, and they're right.

And while I read literature to be affected, to be moved, I don't read it looking to be kept up at night. I don't find anything the least bit entertaining about that. (If I did, maybe I'd read horror.).

On top of that, I didn't read Capote's book until after I myself had been the victim of crime (both violent and nonviolent) multiple times.

I can't speak for other crime victims (nor would I attempt to), but having been on the receiving end of a mugging, of multiple all-too-plausible death threats, of more than one robbery, and of more than one beating, I can honestly say that I don't need to read "gritty true crime," because I've lived it.

Ficional crime I can handle. "Realism" is not "reality," and I well understand the remove in place between them when it comes to fictional treatment of crime and punishment. So while I strive in my own writing to make my characters feel each punch, swallow hard when staring down the barrel of a pistol in their face, it's fiction. Realistic fiction, but fiction, nonetheless.

Which brings me to the events of last week. I won't go in to particulars here, but readers of this blog (BOTH of you!*rimshot*) know what my non-writing day gig is. Suffice it to say that someone threatened to shoot me last week.

There is a process my place of employment follows in situations like this, and that process was followed. The threat was not found to credible, and I supposedly don't have anything to worry about.

But that split moment when I realized I was being threatened?

That flutter in my stomach; the way my throat closed; every hair from my forearms to the back of my neck standing on end – every autonomic and visceral reaction I had at that moment and in the ones which have followed, flashing to thinking of how it would affect my family if something happened to me, wondering whether I was safe walking to and from my car at work or out in town, the hundreds of glances over my shoulder in mundane moments...

I don't need to relive any of that.

And reading about that particular manner of emotional and physical terrorism being actually visited upon real, living, breathing people?

I think I'll stick to crime fiction.

Thanks for reading, and see you in two weeks!

29 May 2019

The Good, the Bad, and the Positive



by Robert Lopresti

When I was in college I took a course in film studies and one day the professor talked to us about bad movies and good movies.  Specifically he said that a good bad movie was better than a bad good movie.

If he defined his terms I don't recall but I think we can get the gist of it.  A bad movie is mere entertainment.  A good movie is about something besides the plot.  It has a message, a theme, a view of the world.  And my professor was saying that a good bad movie - one that "merely" tries to entertain and succeeds - is a better flick than one that tries to change your life and fails.

I realize that some of you are even now composing messages that argue with pretty much every word in the paragraph above.  That's fine.  But let's kick the idea around a bit.

One of the problems, of course, is that a well-done piece of "mere entertainment" is probably as carefully thought through and layered as the allegedly deeper "good" movie.  The first Star Wars movie, for example, is a great popcorn flick but George Lucas certainly knows his Joseph Campbell and the archetypal Hero's Journey is baked solidly into the film's DNA.  

Or take Psycho, which I imagine we would agree with the professor is a good or even great, bad movie.  Hitchcock himself described it as a fun movie, like a trip "through the haunted house at a fairground." But perhaps unlike  many of the thousands of slasher films that it inspired, there is a lot of meaning bubbling under the surface.

For example: next time you watch it, starting from the very first scene watch for references to parents, living or dead, who impose on and  distort the lives of their children.  You will find that this is mentioned several times before the Bates Motel looms up on the dark road.  Someone - Robert Bloch who wrote the novel, or Joseph Stefano who wrote the screenplay, or director Hitchcock - went to a lot of trouble to put these nuggets in.  Is it establishing a theme, as the creators of "good movies" might call it, or merely increasing suspense through foreshadowing?  Or is that a distinction without a difference?

Of course, you can argue that every movie has a message.  Jim Britell noted that "the message of most American movies is that only Batman or Clint Eastwood can go up against Mr. Big."  Not very empowering.  

In the world of fiction as opposed to film, the distinction is likely to be called genre fiction versus mainstream fiction (or even just "literature.")  Crime fiction, the reviewers will tell us, is just entertainment, with no deeper message.

Or is it?

Let's take Rex Stout's Gambit, which is a standard whodunit (with one exception that we will get to).  In the first scene private detective Nero Wolfe is burning a copy of Webster's Third International Dictionary in his fireplace.  His main objection is that the book is descriptive rather than prescriptive.  That is, it tells you how words are being used, not how they should be used.  Then a client arrives and we move into a murder investigation and the dictionary is not mentioned again.

However...

All the characters we meet in the book have a strange relationship with the idea of knowledge.  Some insist vehemently on something they know, which turns out to be wrong. ("I know you!" snaps Inspector Cramer, completely misinterpreting Wolfe's motives.) The enchanting beauty of one character,  who is by no means stupid, is twice described as being related to her giving the impression of knowing nothing.  Others have important information but don't know how to use it.  The murderer misuses specialized knowledge to commit the crime.  

The unusual thing about the book is  that Nero Wolfe knows the identity of the murderer with almost a quarter of the novel left.  What he does in the last chapters, and what makes him the hero, is figure out how to use the knowledge he has acquired in order to defeat the bad guy.

In short, the entire novel is a polemic against that dictionary, pointing out that knowing something (like the meaning of a word) is not enough.  You have to know how to use what you know.

One more example.  Good Behavior is one of Donald E. Westlake's best comic crime novels.  In it, his hapless burglar, John Dortmunder, organizes a major robbery in a skyscraper  but his real purpose is to rescue a nun who is being held prisoner in the penthouse.

Or putting it another way: like any fairy tale knight, his quest is to rescue a maiden from a tower. "She'd have to let her hair down a hell of a distance, wouldn't she?" Dortmunder muses.

And once you notice that fact, images of chivalry pop up in the book with great regularity.  (The villain is a wealthy industrialist named Ritter... as in Knight-Ritter?)

Would we say Westlake is trying to do more than entertain, or that his thematic elements are simply one of the things that makes the book such fun?  And again, does it matter?

I'm going off on a tangent now.  On rare and wonderful occasions something I have written has received a review.  People will ask me whether it got a good review.  I usually respond (if it is true) that it received a positive review.  Which is not the same thing.

A good review is one which  allows the reader to accurately  decide whether the book/story/movie is one they would enjoy.  That is not quite the same as a positive review.

Several decades ago I read a newspaper review of Douglas Adam's first novel, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  It was a negative review.  The critic basically said that this was a patheitic example of what passed for humor in science fiction.  To prove his point he included several examples of the alleged humor.

I read them and when I managed to stop laughing I said: "I need this book immediately!"  The review was not positive, but it was good - because it told me that 1) the critic had no sense of humor, and 2) Adams was brilliant.  

And that's all I have to say, which is good.  I'm positive.

28 May 2019

Things You Learn from Editing

by Barb Goffman

As the old saying goes, it's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. (As a dog owner, I can attest that this is true!) The saying also applies to writers. No matter how much writing experience you have, you still can learn more.

I was reminded of this point recently, as I've been editing a lot of short stories for two upcoming anthologies, one coming out in December, and another coming out next spring. Some of the stories have been written by authors I consider to be short-story experts. Other stories have been written by authors who have had several stories published but who haven't broken out yet, and others still have been penned by authors who are just starting out. And I have learned something from all of them--sometimes simply from reading the stories (even the newest writer can come up with a twist or a turn of phrase that turns my head) and other times from editing them.

It's the editing finds that can lead to especially interesting conversations.

Did you know that SOB is in the dictionary? All caps. No periods. The acronym for son of a bitch is a word all its own, at least according to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Even more surprising (to me at least), mansplain has made the dictionary too. I won't bother to tell you what that words means. I'm sure you know.

Turning to homophones, two-word terms often become single words when slang enters the picture. For instance, a woman might go to the drug store to buy a douche bag, but if her boyfriend is being a jerk, she'd call him a douchebag (one word, no space). And descriptions of animal excrement are usually spelled as two words: horse shit, bull shit, chicken shit. But when you mean "no way" or "a load of not-actual crap" you spell it horseshit and bullshit (again, one word, no space). And when you mean that someone is a coward, you call him a chickenshit--also one word. (Thanks to Michael Bracken for helping me see the horse shit/horseshit distinction recently.) It's interesting that horses, bulls, and chickens have had their excrement turned into slang words, yet dog shit is just that. Two words meaning excrement. As I told a friend, I might start saying "dogshit," when I want to say "no way!" just to see if it catches on.

Keeping with the one-word or two-words questions, do you go into a room or in to a room? This may be an obvious thing for you, but it's one of those little things I find myself double-checking over and over. Same for on to/onto, some time/sometime, and so many more. Each of these words has their proper place, so I like to make sure I use them properly.

Yep, that's a bear on a trampoline.
To answer these questions: you go into a room. Into is the correct word if you are showing motion. The onto/on to question also turns on whether you are showing movement. I jump onto the trampoline. I catch on to my boyfriend's lies. As to sometime or some time, this question turns on whether you are talking about a period of time (writing this blog is taking some time) or if you mean an indefinite date (I'll get back to you sometime next month). Thank goodness for Google, without which I would have to memorize these distinctions. Instead I just get to look them up again and again and again.

Well, I hate to cut this column short, but I'm short on time. (Ha ha!) (And that's two words for ha ha, per our friend Mr. Webster.)

Do you have any interesting word usage issues/spelling knowledge you'd like to share? Please do. I'm always eager to learn something new.

******

Oh, and before I go, two bits of BSP: My story "Bug App├ętit" has been nominated for the Anthony Award for best short story! This story was published in the November/December 2018 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and was a finalist earlier this year for the Agatha Award. I'm honored to be an Anthony finalist along with fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor as well as authors S.A. Cosby, Greg Herren, and Holly West. The winner will be voted on and announced at Bouchercon in November. In the meanwhile, you can read my story here, if you are interested.


And if you're anywhere near Richmond, Virginia, on Saturday, June 8th, I hope you'll come to the launch party for Deadly Southern Charm. This anthology from the Central Virginia chapter of Sisters in Crime includes my newest short story, "The Power Behind the Throne."

The launch party will run from 3 - 5 p.m. at the Libbie Mill - Henrico County Public Library, 2011 Libbie Lake E. St., Richmond, VA. In addition to the usual book launch activities such as book selling and book signing and snack eating, there will be a panel discussion about the pros and cons of writing different lengths of fiction. I'll be on the panel with fellow Deadly Southern Charm author Lynn Cahoon and anthology editor Mary Burton. We hope to see you there!

27 May 2019

Bob Dylan Crime Writer

by Steve Liskow

Last Friday, Bob Dylan turned 78, so a bunch of my friends (Yes, I have friends; I pay them) got together to celebrate.

Jane, our hostess, with the whole motley crew
Everyone brought wine or pizza or dessert, and seven of us brought instruments. The hostess assembled a playlist of Bob Dylan songs to play in honor of the occasion, and she stipulated that we would play a few songs by The Byrds, too. I'm the only one of the invitees who has a 12-string, and never one to let good hubris go to waste, I tried to learn "8 Miles High."

I have four books of Dylan songs on a shelf with my other music.
One tome contains over 350 songs, about a quarter of his output. His Wikipedia bio lists 40 albums and CDs, not including collections, and I didn't count how many songs have been recorded or covered by other artists. I first became aware of him through Peter, Paul & Mary, who had the same manager in the early sixties.

Like most artists learning their craft, Dylan borrowed or stole lyrics from other work, some in the public domain, some not. So did Paul Simon, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and a host of others. Some blues lyrics show up so often I could fill in evening performing songs that use a few repeated lines.

Dylan's first album is traditional folk covers, one of which is "The House of the Rising Sun." He copied Dave Van Ronk's version, not long before Van Ronk planned to record the song himself on another label. Their relationship became strained. He kicked Phil Ochs out of his limousine in midtown Manhattan traffic after the latter told him one of his songs would never be a hit. In the 70s, Joan Baez wrote "Diamonds and Rust" as a kiss-off to the guy who dumped her after she helped him get his own foot in the Hootenanny door. Hey, Richard Wagner and Mozart made enemies, too. No one's perfect.
Me (left) with Paul McCarron and Paul Stevens, maybe the 2 best
musicians there. McCarron's wife is one of my former students

Dylan took a huge risk in the mid-sixties when he left folk behind and turned to electric instruments for his more personal and experimental songs. He was booed at the Newport Folk Festival, among other places. One of the "Bootleg" album collections captures his 1966 concert in Manchester, England, where his backing group is the musicians later called The Band. It's a tense affair with a hostile crowd, culminating in someone from the audience shouting "Judas!"

Dylan responds with a line from one of his own songs. "I don't believe you. You're a liar." Then he turns to the musicians and an open mic captures his command. "Play f#*%ing loud." They launch into their encore, "Like a Rolling Stone," and leave the stage in silence so thick you can chew it.

In the early 1980s, Dylan became a born-again Christian, having already explored his Jewish roots (His real name is Robert Allen Zimmerman) in earlier work. He has never stopped exploring his identity and his world--or ours. I've used his work for two of my own titles. Blood on the Tracks is one of my favorite albums, and it's the title of the first Woody Guthrie novel. Postcards of the Hanging, a line from "Desolation Row," became the title of one of my standalones.
Jim Roger and his wife, Dylan fans

Dylan's early protest songs told great stories, many of them true crime sagas. "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" recounts the case of a black server in a Baltimore club who was fatally beaten by a drunk wielding a cane. The wealthy white man served six months in jail (Sentence deferred so he could harvest his tobacco crop) and paid a $500 fine. Dylan's song showcases his trademark sarcasm, fueled with righteous rage.

"A Pawn in Their Game" is about the shooting of Medgar Evers. Both that song and "Who Killed Davey Moore?" about a boxer who died in the ring after suffering brain damage, use the common folk device of asking questions and having a series of people claim their innocence by passing the buck. Dylan revisited the genre a decade later in "Hurricane," about middleweight Ruben Carter, jailed for the shooting of a clerk during a liquor store hold-up.

My favorite crime song is made up, though. "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" features overlapping plots and a cast of characters taken from Western lore to tell of an unfortunate love affair, an unhappy marriage, a bank robbery and murder in about nine minutes (Sixteen verses). The backing band on that song includes the musicians who dubbed the music for the film "Deliverance." If you don't know the song, it's worth checking out on Youtube.

Over the last several years, I've played 25 or 30 Dylan songs live and several titles still fill my list of possible story titles for when I need them.
Former Hartford police officer Jim Howard also plays harmonica

It's just a matter of time.

(Thanks to Maureen McFarland for the pix of the whole group and me with the Pauls)

26 May 2019

When Life Gives You Limoncello

by R.T. Lawton

Let's say you just finished your short story or novel. Your creation is complete. It's been a long, hard journey getting to this point, but now you find yourself with a feeling of contentment, exhilaration. You want to celebrate while this good feeling lasts, and rightly so. But what to use to mark this short celebration?

A beer? Yes, beers are good, but no, that's a common every day drink. Champagne? Not really. Cheap champagne isn't that good and the good stuff is pricey. Besides, you've only completed your creation, you haven't sold it yet. A cocktail? Well, that's more like being on vacation or for some serious drinking. Actually, what you need is something different, something special and something within your budget.

The small glasses that Limoncello is normally served in
I've got just the thing. You know that old saying, "When life gives you Limoncello, you must've done something special." Okay, it's not an old saying yet, but if enough people get behind it, then it will become one. So now, I'm going to teach you how to make your own Limoncello. The same stuff they serve on cruise ships when it's Italian Night. This way, this same fine liqueur will be handy when you do something special, like finish your short story or novel.

The glass I serve me in




Assemble the following:

8-10 ~ large lemons
1 ~ 750 ml of vodka (we use Tito's for its smoothness)
7 ~ cups of whole milk
1 ~ cup of Half & Half
4  & 1/2 ~ cups of sugar
1 ~ vanilla bean
cheesecloth
a few 12-16 ounce glass bottles (empty wine bottles work too)

Limoncello in an EZ Cap bottle for a gift
Naturally, we helped our friends consume half of their gift
Ready, Begin:

1. Zest the lemons. For you guys who aren't familiar with the term, it means fine grate the outside of the lemons. Now, combine the grated peelings and the vodka in a large glass container, cover (or use a lid), and store in a cool, dark place for ten days to infuse the vodka with a lemon flavor. [NOTE: the remaining body of the lemons can be used to make lemon juice or some tasty lemon meringue pies.]
2. After ten days are up, strain the liquid through the cheesecloth into a large glass, ceramic or stainless steel bowl.
3. In a large pot, combine and warm the milk, the 1/2 & 1/2, the sugar and the vanilla bean over medium heat, stirring frequently until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temp. Take out the vanilla bean, wash it and save the bean for another use. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth into the bowl containing the vodka infusion. Stir the two liquids together.
4. Funnel into whatever bottles you have, leaving enough room for the liquid to expand. Store in the freezer.
5. About an hour before consumption, remove one bottle from the freezer, so the contents can return to liquid form. Pour into small glasses and enjoy. Any leftover Limoncello may now be stored in the refrigerator or back in the freezer. Depending upon how often you tip the bottle, or how many friends you share with, know that the shelf life is approximately six months on any remaining Limoncello.

There you have it. Have a good celebration. Then get back to work. You still have to market that splendid creation you just finished writing.

PS ~ Limoncello in EZ Cap bottles also makes nice gifts for close friends.

25 May 2019

Why I Chose a Traditional Publisher

by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl) 

Students often ask me why I don’t self-publish. 
I try to slip by the fact that I was a babe when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Meaning, I was writing long before self-publishing on Amazon and Nook etc. had even become an option.

Having a publisher and agent before self-publishing was a 'thing' has certainly made a difference, I'm sure.  But now we have a choice. 

Why do I still stay with a traditional publisher?

Gateway Endorsement

There’s no getting away from this:  a traditional publisher, no matter how small, is investing THEIR money to produce YOUR book.  They believe in your book so much that they are willing to risk their own money to see it published.

What’s more, readers know this.  They know that if your book has a publisher, then it has gone through a gateway of sorts.  Someone in the business who knows about the book trade – someone other than the writer - has determined that this book is worthy of being published.

They believe in your book.  That’s a huge endorsement.

You may believe in your book.  I hope you do.  And you may decide to self-publish it.  That’s your choice.  And it may be just as good as any book that is released from a traditional publisher. 

But the reader doesn’t know that.  Further, they don’t know if you’ve already sent the book to a dozen publishers and had it rejected.  In many cases, they assume you’ve done just that.  They assume that no publisher  wanted it.  Therefore, they figure they are taking a risk if they buy your book.  And most readers don’t want to take risks with their money.  (Some will, bless them.  We love those 
readers.)

Distribution and Promotion

Traditional publishers – particularly large or mid-size ones – get your paperbacks into national bookstore chains.  They will also include your book in their catalogue to the big buyers, create sales info sheets for your book, and perhaps buy ads.  They arrange for industry reviews.  We authors complain they don’t do enough promotion.  But they certainly do these things that we can’t do.

We, as authors, can’t access the same distribution networks.  We can’t easily (if at all) reach the prominent industry reviewers like Library Journal and Booklist. 

And then there’s the whole problem of bookstores insisting on publishers accepting returns.  So if your book doesn’t sell, your publisher has to pay the bookstore back the wholesale price they paid for the book.  Independent authors can’t work that way.  We authors would go broke if we had to return money to every bookstore that shelved our paperbacks but didn’t sell them.  Remember, you don’t get the book back.  The cover is sent back and the book is destroyed.  Yes, this antiquated system sucks.

All the other crap

I’m an author.  I want to write.  I don’t want to spend my cherished writing time learning how to navigate Amazon’s self-publishing program, and all the others.  I don’t want to pay substantive and copy-editors out of my own pocket.  I don’t want to seek out cover designers (although I admit that part might be fun.)  I don’t want to pay a bunch of money upfront to replace the work that publishers do.

If you self-publish, then you become the publisher as well as the author.  I asked myself: do I want to be a publisher? 
  
This was my decision, and you may choose a different one.  You may love being a publisher.  But I find it hard enough being an author.  Adding all those other necessary factors to the job just makes it seem overwhelming to me.  I may be a good writer.  But I have no experience as a publishing industry professional.  I have no expertise.  So I publish with the experts.

You may choose a different route.  Just be aware that when you self-publish, you become a publisher just as much as an author.  It’s all in how you want to spend your time.

Good luck on your publishing adventure, whichever way you choose to go!

That's The B-Team, a humorous heist crime book that is a finalist for the 2019 Arthur Ellis award, in the photo below.  You can get it at B&N, Amazon and all the usual suspects. 

ON Amazon

24 May 2019

Audiobooks


by O'Neil De Noux

Started listening to audiobooks the last few years of my commute to work as a police investigator at Southeastern Louisiana University. Found a couple clunkers but found more good ones. I often did not want to get out of the car.

Mysteries, historical novels, science fiction, classics I'd read as a kid like THE ILIAD and THE ODYSSEY, Daphne du Maurier's REBECCA, Vera Caspary's LAURA, Jack London's WHITE FANG even Bram Stoker's DRACULA. All narrated by professional narrators. The mysteries gave me reads of books by Dasheill Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ian Fleming, Donald E. Westlake, Dorothy Sayers, Marcia Muller, Bill Pronzini. Even cool mysteries I never came across before – THE COCKTAIL WAITRESS by James M. Cain, NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES by Cornell Woolrich, RIVER GIRL by Charles Williams.


I got lost in big books – NEW YORK by Edward Rutherfurd, Ken Follett's Century trilogy – FALL OF GIANTS, WINTER OF THE WORLD and EDGE OF ETERNITY.


It brought me to THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah and the excellent books of Adriana Trigiani (THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE, ALL THE STARS IN THE HEAVENS and LUCIA, LUCIA).


I listened to other great books like Isaac Asimov's brilliant Foundation trilogy – FOUNDATION, FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE, SECOND FOUNDATION. I listened to Harlan Ellison narrating his own stories – I HAVE NO MOUTH AND I MUST SCREAM, JEFFTY IS FIVE, DEATHBIRD STORIES which includes his Edgar Award winning THE WHIMPER OF WHIPPED DOGS.


Many readers have asked if I had any audiobooks available. I had to tell them no until Amazon linked up with Audible to create ACX. I now have fourteen audiobooks available read by professional narrators. They manage to enhance my writing, adding nuances I was unaware in my books and short stories.

It is a good deal for writers and narrators. The book must be available on Amazon Kindle. The writer retains the full copyright and puts the book up on ACX and asks for auditions. Narrators record a few pages of the book the writer puts up and if the writer likes the narration, the writer offers the narrator a deal. The writer can pay the narrator (this is pricey) or simply split the audiobook royalties. When the deal is struck, the writer gives the narrator a deadline and the narrator records a narration. After the first 15 minutes of narration is complete the writer gets to hear it and ask for corrections. When the entire narration is done the writer needs to listen and approve the entire book. The writer controls the process. The deal lasts for seven years and can be automatically renewed. The audiobook becomes available on Amazon.com and Audible web sites.


Here is a link to ACX: https://www.acx.com/help/about-acx/200484860

LINK to list of my audiobooks: http://www.oneildenoux.com/audio-books.html


ACX is another way to sell your books and short stories.
http://www.oneildenoux.com

23 May 2019

Only the Dead Know Brooklyn

by Eve Fisher

A friend who knows me well sent me the following article -  Weegee's New York City by Christopher Bonanos - in New York Magazine, chock-full of crime-scene photographs from the 1930s.  (Thank you, Betty!)




April 18, 1937: Spurned Suitor Clubs Violinist to Death!  (The trail of blood is where the body was dragged...)  

May 5, 1937: The corpse everyone is checking over is that of Stanley Mannex, a 47-year-old Turkish immigrant, found in the ivy behind the New York Public Library.  (I'd love to know that backstory.)





April 20, 1937: Tony Benedetti was a single father of four from Uniontown, Pennsylvania, underemployed in New York during the Depression. Under a newly passed New York law looking to reduce the number of public charges, his family became the first in the state to be deported — put on a train at Penn Station back to Fayette County, where they were received by local welfare officials.

Two points:  the kids are crying, but dad is smiling.  Is that to cheer them up or what?  And I'd love to know what the local welfare officials did with him and his kids when they got there...



Date unknown, person unknown, location unknown.  But it's New York.  Everyone's wearing hats, and no one looks surprised.  I'm still amazed at how the corpse's hat ended right side up and in apparently perfect condition...

These are a few of the photographs taken by Weegee, a/k/a Arthur Fellig, the legendary crime-and-mayhem photographer of mid-century New York. In 1938, he became the only New York freelance newspaper photographer with a permit to have a portable police-band shortwave radio. Weegee worked mostly at night; he listened closely to broadcasts and often beat authorities to the scene. When other photographers asked him about his technique he supposedly answered, "f/8 and be there".  By the '40s he had pictures in the Museum of Modern Art and had been curated by Edward Steichen.  (Wikipedia)

Weegee's first book of photographs was Naked City. Film producer Mark Hellinger bought the rights to the title from Weegee and made the movie The Naked City in 1948 - which I have not seen - and the police drama of the same name - which I have seen.  I remember all the episodes ended with "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them."  BTW, here's the opening of the episode "The Fault in Our Stars" starring a very young Roddy McDowall:


But back to Weegee's photographs - they're everywhere on the internet, from the above to this site where they have been colorized to add to their gruesomeness:  

Pre-Weegee, someone also took these photos from 1910s New York City, and if you continue to scroll down, more Weegee:  

And Paris has more than Murders in the Rue Morgue here:

Now, I'm not into gore, I admit it.  I don't watch autopsies, gory movies, or read torture porn.  But there's more than one way to look at a photograph.  Like the last photo above, the hat lying by itself, looking perfectly fine despite the fact that the dead guy's face was either bashed in or shot and there's blood everywhere.  The other thing that struck me about it, was how the uniformed cop and the detective (?) with the flash camera are leaning, trying to see what the other detective is showing them as he straddles the body.

Straddles:  "See?  Someone came up on him, and shot him, point-blank range, and he took a step or two before he fell."
Uniform:  "What're ya talking about?"
Straddles:  "Look at the trail of blood.  He moved after he was shot, ya blind bat!"
Flash:  "Want me to hit it with a little more light?"

Another aspect of all the dead body shots I've shared here is that there's a lot of bending over in police work.  None of this Sam Spade looking down at his partner's dead body and pointing around.  No, these guys are all getting their faces right in the action, talking with their hands and their mouths.  I'm sure that at least one of them has a flask in his hip or coat pocket, and that they're all smokers.  And I still can't get over how they all manage to keep their hats on.

There also aren't any women standing around.  Which makes sense, because back then, the only woman around at the scene of the crime would be the victim.  And there are a lot of those.  From the woman lying in bed, back to her beloved (?) who just blew her brains out before killing himself, to the girl who was found lying looking calm and drained as if a vampire had shown up moments before...

All of these snapshots are a trip back in time - except that the only thing that's changed is the clothes.  Murder stays the same.  The motivation stays the same (love, jealousy, greed... same old, same old).  The blood stays the same.  The fascination with the crime stays the same.  And that's why we're all here.

BTW, click here to read "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn" by Thomas Wolfe, the New Yorker, June 7, 1935.  Maybe the big guy was Weegee.









22 May 2019

War & Remembrance

David Edgerley Gates


The Caine Mutiny put Herman Wouk on the literary map, among the war writers Norman Mailer, James Jones, Gore Vidal, John Horne Burns, and Irwin Shaw. Wouk and Shaw were the most commercially successful, by far, which drew a certain amount of snobbish condescension. I'm a big fan of Irwin Shaw's, as it happens, but today it's Herman Wouk, who died just this week past. 


The Winds of War was published in 1971, War and Remembrance came out in '78, and somewhere in there I remember my dad and a friend talking about Wouk's authenticity. Both of these guys were Navy vets, WWII, and while they admitted it was a little convenient that Victor Henry or somebody in his family circle managed to be present at so many historical turning points - Roosevelt, Churchill, Hitler, Stalin, and a host of lesser lights, all had cameos - they were impressed by the fluency and momentum of the novels, the gathering darkness, the furious consequence. They thought Wouk had gotten it right, that the books were absolutely convincing. (My dad thought Catch-22 was pretty accurate, too, if for different reasons.)


For me, that was a strong recommendation, and when I got around to reading The Winds of War not long afterwards, the fact that it was so resolutely old-fashioned worked very much in its favor, and I read War and Remembrance because I wanted to see how the story came out. My dad used to joke that he and his crew must have seen Part V of Frank Capra's Why We Fight a dozen times, but he never found out how it ended. We know now that they Allies beat Hitler and the Japanese, but Wouk is skillful enough that we want to know whether Natalie and her uncle Aaron survive the Nazis. You could do worse as a writer.


Wouk's model is of course Tolstoy; his title gives it away. It might be worth pointing out that Tolstoy's title in his native Russian is Vojna i Mir, and the second word, mir, means both 'peace' and 'world.' You could almost translate it as Repair, or chaos made whole again. There's a lot of this in Wouk. The narrative and moral arc of War and Remembrance is return. We're delivered from an unnatural order, entropy or chaos, its power over us denied, the balance restored. You could almost call it biblical unity, if not for being reminded how little comfort history is.


The best obit was the Hollywood Reporter, and there was an extraordinarily clear-eyed piece by Anna Waldman in the New York Times. Wouk was a guy who deserves consideration.