30 September 2019

End of the Long Strange Trip


by Steve Liskow

Last Tuesday, Robert Hunter died at age 78 with his family around him. Unless you were part of the counterculture of my generation, the name means nothing to you. But Thursday night, an entire room sang along when I performed one of Hunter's songs at an open mic--even though I didn't identify the song before I played it.

Hunter was the chief lyricist for the Grateful Dead. He played several instruments himself, but wrote most of his songs in collaboration with Jerry Garcia or Bob Weir, and never performed with the band. I'd say he wrote most of the Dead's greatest hits, but they only had two legitimate hits 15 years apart. They released few singles and built their rep on long and often improvised concerts. They seldom performed with a set list and would segue from song to song by jamming. Some nights worked better than others.

Hunter's songs often feature a turn of phrase that sticks in you mind. "Truckin'" has the line about "What a long strange trip it's been," often quoted by people who don't know the source. That same song mentions a drug bust in which the band is "set up, like a bowling pin." In another of my personal favorites, "Sugar Magnolia," Hunter says of the woman in question "She comes skimming through rays of violet/ She can wade in a drop of dew."

 Hunter combined word play with concrete detail to tell stories. In "Cumberland Blues," his miner tells his beloved, "Gotta get down to the Cumberland Mine/ Make good money, five dollars a day." Because of his details, he could make his work sound like whatever time period worked best to convey his ideas. He once told of attending a Dead concert anonymously and having the man sitting next to him comment about how weird it would be if the guy who wrote "Cumberland Blues" a century before (!?!) could know now that the Grateful Dead were performing it that day.

Even though the Dead seldom showed up on radio ("Truckin'" and "Touch of Gray" are exceptions), many of their songs get play at open mics. A friend plays "Eyes of the World" regularly. Bluegrass bands often perform "Friend of the Devil," which originally featured a mandolin break in the acoustic recording. "Uncle John's Band" and "Sugaree" get lots of stage time, too. "Brown-eyed Woman," on my own set list. has a strong story-line and the comment about moonshine "The bottle was dusty, but the liquor was clean."

"China Doll," "Casey Jones," (Riding that train/ High on Cocaine) and "Operator" aren't rare, either.

When I played "Ripple" last week, with nature images that seem to combine the Romantic Poets and a Zen feel, the whole room joined in on "Let there be songs to fill the air" at the end of the second verse. More voices joined in from there until the "la da da da da..." fade out. They even dropped out so I could play the last line as a harmonized guitar riff.

Hunter's "Terrapin Station" Suite is an homage to story telling and creative vision. It's on the album or CD of the same name and has the invocation, "Inspiration, move me brightly."

Every writer knows about THAT. Or should.

29 September 2019

KDP Paperback Decisions


by R.T. Lawton

Warning. Today's offering may give you a headache. It covers number of pages, font and font size, cost of printing, cost per page, book size, pricing and royalties to be received when you convert an e-book to a KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) paperback, or even just going straight to KDP paperback.

Naturally, if you can get your manuscript printed by a traditional publisher, then good for you and your book. That option just might keep you from eating Advil by the handful like M & M's. Traditional publishing will do all your book formatting, printing and distribution work. You may have to handle your own publicity, but then, unless you are with one of the big houses, we are getting there anyway. And, with an advance (assuming you get one) plus with traditional distribution, you may get paid more money. I've heard more money is generally a good thing for writers.

If you don't go traditional, then you will have to figure out a way to publish your book on your own. Create Space used to be one option for your manuscript to get printed in paperback form, however Create Space doesn't exist anymore. Amazon gobbled it up. KDP took the software it wanted and developed its own method of getting the job done. So, assuming you are going the KDP paperback route, allow me to make you aware of some of the decisions you will have to make.

Size Matters

Bigger is not necessarily better. There is a balancing act to consider. The number of pages in your book is determined by the number of words in your manuscript, the font used, the size of the font, the size of the book itself and how much fluff you put in  it. As examples, we will use the six e-books I've converted so far. Each paperback is in Garamond font with a 13 size. It is easy to read and is an accepted font. Change the font type or size and you will have more or less pages. All my books are 5.5" x 8.5", which is an acceptable size. Change the book size and you will have more or less pages.

Why does the number of pages matter? Because when KDP starts calculating their share versus your share of the profits, they deduct a base amount for printing, plus a small amount for each page in your book, plus their royalty. So, in my 162 page paperback with a selling price of $8.99, the total printing cost is $2.80, my royalty is $2.60 if Amazon sells it and $.80 if another distributor sells it. My 210 page paperback at the same selling price of $8.99 has a total printing cost of $3.35, the royalty is $2.02 with an expanded royalty of $.23 if sold by another distributor.

Price

You can set your own price, however KDP will tell you the minimum price you can set on your book. When you run the figures on their calculator for this minimum price, you may find your royalty is no more than a penny and your expanded royalty is in the hole, meaning no other distributor will sell your book. But then, you are going to set a high enough price to make a decent royalty, yet not so high that no one will buy your book. Right? The KDP calculator lets you enter your figures and in return, it provides you with what the costs and royalties will be.

Fluff

Every book has what I call fluff in it. Usually, fluff is not reading material, but it is necessary to the book. Examples are the Table of Contents, the copyright page, the Bibliography, the About the Author page, a list of other books by the author and however many blank pages are needed to get certain pages to fall on the right side of the book. You may or may not also have an introduction, pages of quotes from reviewers, an acknowledgement page, etc.

My books have six unnumbered pages in the front, followed by the numbered pages with story on them. Since 9 is my brand and all my books (save one) have 9 in the title, each book has 9 stories in it. Now, because some of my stories have a smaller word count in them, which makes for a smaller book, I will then throw in a 10th story in that series and call it a free Bonus Story. Also, to advertise another of my paperbacks, at the end of most of these books, I will add up to five pages of a story from a different book. Naturally, these five pages end on a cliff-hanger with an inducement for the reader to buy that next book in order to finish the story. You should know though that all these pages up the cost of printing.

Author Copies

Remember that $2.80 printing cost and that $3.35 printing cost? That is roughly my price to obtain author copies. Interestingly enough, when I do order author copies, I can get up to 999 at a time. Why draw the line at 999? I have no idea. Maybe because Amazon is switching away from Fedex and UPS to their own delivery system called Amazon Prime (I've seen their trucks) and therefore they are afraid of hurting their deliverymen's backs? Personally, I wouldn't know what to do with that many copies of my books.
NOTE: Author copies do not qualify for Amazon Prime free shipping.

Covers

I won't go into covers except to say that KDP's free Cover Creator software does have some nice generic designs where the author adds his own title and back cover blurbs. But, for my purposes, I use the art work my buddy does.


Let us know if you try KDP paperbacks and how well that process works for you.

28 September 2019

Being a Goddess Sucks When your Characters Won’t Behave… (warning: more silly stuff from Bad Girl)


by Melodie Campbell

(Dave, are you smiling down on me? My comedy is back)

Recently, my characters have become more mouthy.

I like to think of myself as their creator. Goddess material. Without me, they wouldn’t have a life on the page, or anywhere, for that matter. This should buy me a certain amount of respect, I figure. Sort of like you might give a minor deity. After all, I have created five series for them to live in.

Unfortunately, my characters haven’t bought into that. Worse, they seem to have cast me into the role of mother. That’s me: a necessary embarrassment for the perpetuation of their lives. And like all kids, they squabble. They fight with each other for attention. I liken it to sibling jealousy.

To wit: “You haven’t written about me lately,” says Rowena, star of Rowena Through the Wall.

I try to ignore the petulance in her voice.

“Been busy,” I mumble. “Gina (The Goddaughter) had to get married in Vegas. And Del, a relative of hers, started a vigilante group.”

“I don’t care if she started a rock group. You’re supposed to be writing MY story.”

I turn away from the keyboard and frown at her. “Listen, toots. You wouldn’t have any stories at ALL if it weren’t for me. You’ve had three books of adventures with men. A normal gal would be exhausted. So please be patient and wait your turn. Jennie had to suck it up for Worst Date Ever. Del and The B-Team were next in line. You can be after that, maybe.”

Maybe. I wasn’t going to tell her about the 6th Goddaughter book currently in the works.

“It’s not fair. I came first! Before all those silly mob comedies,” Row whines. “Don’t forget! I was the one who got you bestseller status.” She points at her ample chest.

“Hey!” says Gina, fresh from cannoli central. “And which book won the Derringer and the Arthur Ellis? Not some trashy old fantasy novel.”
“Who are YOU calling trashy?” says Rowena, balling her hands into fists. “Just because my bodice rips in every scene…”

“Like THAT isn’t a plot device,” chides Gina.

“Oh, PLEASE don’t fight,” says Jennie, the plucky romance heroine of Worst Date Ever. “I just want everyone to have a Happy Ever After. Can’t you do that for us all, Mom? Er…Melodie?”

I look at Del, from The B-Team. “What do you think?”

Del shrugs. “Sounds sucky. What kind of crap story would that be? Bugger, is that the time? I got a second story job that needs doing. Cover for me, will you? And this time, let me know if the cops start sniffing around.”
“Cops?” says Gina. “Crap! I’m outta here.”

“Cops?” says Rowena. “There’s that little matter of a dead body in book 2…” She vanishes.

“Cops?” says Jennie, hopefully. “OH! Is one of them single?”






Book 15 is now out! THE GODDAUGHTER DOES VEGAS

(Don't tell Rowena…)

27 September 2019

A little about Private Eyes


by O'Neil De Noux

We all know there is no one-way to write, no one type of private eye, no rules – except to write clearly.

In the latest Reflections in a Private Eye newsletter of the Private Eye Writers of America, PWA President J. L. Abramo presents some wisdom from Raymond Chandler's The Simple Art of Murder.

A few snippets struck me. The world of the PI – "It is not a very fragrant world." True. Like police officers, private eyes often see humanity at its worst and "down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished or afraid." Chandler explains, the private eye "must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man."

Interesting. A lot to think about there.

Of dialogue, Chandler tells us, "He talks as a man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness."

I like that explanation.

To Chandler – "The story is this man's adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure."

Man or woman, I say. Not many female private eyes when Chandler was writing.

Chandler also says, "I do not care about his private life."

Here is where I differ from the master. I have two private eye series characters and their private lives are too important to be ignored.  In one, a lone wolf private eye who was a womanizer in the early short stories and first two novels in the series, changes overnight when an eight-year old girl with a small suitcase is left in front of his office. She is his daughter from a short liason he had before he went to war (WWII, of course). This lightning bolt transforms him. He has a little girl and this hard man is a single father now with a most precious mission. Raising his daughter.

In the subsequent books, his life with his little girl takes up many pages in the books as both characters lead me through the book. I follow behind recording what they do as the PI works his cases.

Private Eye, Barracks Street, New Orleans

In my other PI series, the private eye is married to a wealthy woman and their personal life, along with their two rescued greyhounds, take an ever increasing role in the books. One of my previous agents suggested I kill off the wife to make the detective's life harder and sadder. I fired the agent instead. Most of the emails I get about this series talk about the wife's interactions with the PI.

Do I care how I've deviated from the formula? Not one bit. Ray Bradbury quotes Spanish poet and Nobel laureate Juan Ramon Jimenez at the beginning of Fahrenheit 451 and I agree – "If they give you ruled paper write the other way."

There is a lot more to the private eye than we have seen from any of us. I say go for it.

That's all for now.

http://www.oneildenoux.com





26 September 2019

"Miss Evelyn Nesbit Testifies 'Me Too'"


I'm happy to introduce Ana Brazil as our guest blogger for the day.  Ana and I are both appearing in Me Too Short Stories:  An Anthology (edited by our own Liz Zelvin). Ana is the author of the historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB AND THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER (published by Sand Hill Review Press) and the winner of the Independent Book Publishers Association 2018 Benjamin Franklin Gold Medal for Historical Fiction.  Take it away Ana!  Ana's story in the anthology is "Miss Evelyn Nesbit Presents", and if you haven't heard of Miss Nesbit - well, she was the nexus of one of the trials of the century - the very early 20th century.  Take it away, Ana! -Eve Fisher

by Ana Brazil

It might seem like a no-brainer.

When I—an author of American historical crime fiction—wanted to write a Me Too-themed short story, a story about crimes against women, retribution, and even, possibly, healing, Miss Evelyn Nesbit was the obvious choice.

You probably know something about Evelyn. Artist Charles Dana Gibson used young Evelyn as the model for one of his most-famous Gibson Girl illustrations. She was the star defense witness in the 1907 “Trial of the Century”, where her exploitation as “the girl on the red velvet swing” was publicly revealed. You might also remember Evelyn from her saucy escapades in E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime or the movie or Broadway musical based on his novel.

But although Evelyn was clearly a victim of sexual and emotional abuse by multiple wealthy and powerful men, she wasn’t my first choice for a historical Me Too-themed short story.

My first choice was Mr. H. H. Holmes.

You probably know something about H. H. Holmes also. During the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, he owned the “Murder Castle” hotel where women and men could check in, but—as the newspapers reported—they could never leave.

I wanted to explore how Holmes preyed upon his female victims and then I wanted to show how one of those exploited women got the better of him. In the final paragraph, she would heroically clamber out of the “Murder Castle” hotel. But characters, crimes, and motivations just didn’t click in my head, and I couldn’t make that story work.

When I finally put H. H. Holmes aside, I returned to Miss Evelyn Nesbit. And she did not disappoint me.

I knew the bones of Evelyn’s story—she worked as a teenage model and chorus girl to support her mother and younger brother, she was raped by New York architect Stanford White, she married the brutal and off-balanced millionaire Harry K. Thaw, and she witnessed the crime that launched the “Trial of the Century”—on June 25, 1906, her husband shot her rapist to death on the rooftop of New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

I went to Wikipedia for details about Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, and Harry K. Thaw. Amongst the sensuous photos of Evelyn, the "masterful" and “burly yet boyish” description of White, and the revelation of mentally instable Thaw’s interest in “the cult of virgin martyrdom”, I found this information about Evelyn’s trial testimony:

her examination on the witness stand was an emotionally tortuous ordeal. In open court, she was forced to expose her relationship with White, and to describe the intimate details of the night she was raped by Stanford White.
It wasn’t hard to imagine Evelyn sitting stiffly on the witness stand, answering questions about the night in her teens when (as she wrote in her 1934 autobiography) she "entered that room a virgin, but did not come out as one”.

My heart broke a little, imagining how painful her testimony must have been. Her rape had been her private pain—until the murder, known only by White and Thaw—and within minutes, it became known to every newspaper reporter sitting in court. Which meant that it was headline news around the country.

In that sorrowful moment of my imagination, I embraced Miss Evelyn Nesbit as my Me Too short story protagonist. I wanted to comfort her. I wanted to shield and defend her. I wanted to escort her out of court, into a waiting motorcar, and drive her as far away as I possibly could.


In my short story “Miss Evelyn Nesbit Presents” (included in Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology) I transport Evelyn all the way to 1914. I invite her into New York City’s posh Hotel Astor where, in a very private dining room, I leave her to lunch with the very unscrupulous moving picture producer H. H. Samson. (Yes, I did get an “H. H.” into my story!)

What’s the worst that could happen?

During their luncheon Evelyn desperately fights to reframe her “girl on the red velvet swing” past and reclaim her future. Will she be successful? Or will she once again fall victim to a man’s manipulation and power? Or will she find that retribution can be just as sweet as revenge?

As Miss Evelyn Nesbit presents her final demands to H. H. Samson, the results seem like a no-brainer to me.

***

Many thanks to fellow Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology contributor and SleuthSayer Eve Fisher for inviting me to guest post. Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology edited by Elizabeth Zelvin is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  (Link Here)

My other stories of historic heroines include “Kate Chopin Tussles with a Novel Ending” in Fault Lines (Sisters in Crime Northern California) and my debut novel—set in 1889 New Orleans—FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER.   (Link Here)

www.anabrazil.com

25 September 2019

It Rained All Night the Day I Left


David Edgerley Gates


I've been thinking lately about the diminution, or devaluation, of language. Degradation, even, not too strong a word. The calculation being that it doesn't matter, that precision or accuracy is irrelevant, and we're just a bunch of persnickety snobs, who condescend to honest folk and treat them like knuckle-dragging hillbillies, that never had no book-larnin', and get things all twisted around with fancy words and high-falutin' airs.

I'm obviously thinking, too, that this is connected to our present culture of false or competing narratives - conspiracy theories, in effect. Bad money drives out good. The counterfeit devalues honest weight.


There was a time, not that long ago, when a guy like Albert Einstein inspired respect. ("How does it feel to be the smartest man in the world?" somebody asked him. "I don't know," he said. "You should ask Tesla.") An athlete or a war hero, sure, but Jonas Salk and the polio vaccine, the NASA team that put us on the moon, an American novelist winning the Nobel. We admired their skill, and tenacity, and sheer will. We took pride in their intellect. All of a sudden, this is suspect, and we're not supposed to trust the weatherman. Not an exact science, admittedly, but more informed than reading the entrails of chickens.

Maybe this is an odd complaint from a writer of fictions, but to be convincing, fiction depends on exact detail. If you get one thing wrong, it casts doubt on all the rest. Not to mention Twain's enduring advice: use the right word, not its second cousin. 


So if you take this inexactness, and fold it in with false narrative, you get a kind of Stalinist double-talk. "Our brave soldiers are moving ever forward," or "Our fervent comrades of industry are exceeding all expectations," and pay no mind to the NKVD machine guns behind our brave soldiers, to shoot slackers, or the bazillion shoes made to fit left feet. Facts become transactional, in the sense that they're negotiated. We agree on a shared reality, the least common denominator. (Or is that the most?)

The question then becomes, what's lost, in the exchange? As language gets dulled, it conveys less. Misuse makes it less useful. Without precision, it's at the same time less resonant. It slips its moorings, cast adrift.


Now, in France - I know, this sounds like the opening line of a comedy routine, the same crowd that regards Jerry Lewis as an auteur - the French answer to an Academy, which guards against barbarisms, like social media or cell phone jargon imported from les Etats Unis. Good luck with that one. But it reminds me that my grandmother, all these many years back, wrote a letter to R.J. Reynolds, complaining about their advertising slogan, 'Winston Tastes Good, Like a Cigarette Should.' And she actually got a very courteous response. Apparently enough people were offended by the use of 'like,' instead of 'as,' that corporate assigned a team to answer the complaints. The answer, in effect, was that they were dumbing it down. This was advertising, not Freshman English. It simply sounded better to the naked ear. My grandmother was having none of it. A longtime educator, she wasn't in the least mollified. She was fluent in French, too, although to my knowledge she never saw a Jerry Lewis picture. 

English as a language, of course, develops through usage and accretion, much like English common law, established by precedent and convention, not by fiat. There is no ruling body, the Chicago Manual of Style notwithstanding, to lay down the law one way or the other, or settle the dispute over the Oxford comma. But it's disheartening, all the same, to see language disrespected - or more to the point, dismissed. I'm not that much of a grammar Nazi, although I do think spelling counts, and I'm overly fond of the semi-colon, but what distresses me is that the dismissiveness, the act of not caring, seems symptomatic of a larger contempt for expertise, for informed debate. Somebody, maybe from the CDC, commented about the anti-vaxxers, "Science is just another voice in the room." In other words, everybody gets equal time, no matter that common sense calls bullshit. 


I'm well aware that I could be accused of falling into a You-Kids-Get-Off -My-Lawn thing, and that what I'm saying is by definition elitist, but that's the whole damn point. When language loses coherence, when it loses exactness, it loses utility. You can't share an agreed-upon reality if you can't even describe it. Is this political? Of course it is. The politics of language is about ownership. If we surrender ownership, we lose the gift of speech itself.  

24 September 2019

Once Upon a Time In… Corriganville


by Paul D. Marks

Famous Corriganville rock in upper left of picture,
Silvertown Street, Corriganville
One of my favorite places to go as a kid was Corriganville. And knowing that Quentin Tarantino recreated the Spahn Ranch of Manson fame (or infamy) for Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood on what’s left of Corriganville brought back lots of memories. So I thought I’d talk a little about it today. (Next time I’ll talk about other locations he used in that flick.)

But Corriganville really does have a special place in my heart. It was a movie ranch out Simi Valley way, north of Los Angeles. Tons of B westerns and other movies were filmed there and at the nearby Iverson Ranch (more on that in another piece, too). But on the weekends it was opened up as an amusement park of sorts, sort of a pre-Universal Studios Tour studio tour—or movie ranch tour. My grandparents took me there several times and in those days it was quite an excursion to get out there, if not quite a covered wagon journey over Donner Pass. And the reason it’s special to me is that it’s the only place my grandparents took me that no one else ever took me. So that gives it a special significance.

Quentin Tarantino's Spahn Ranch set at Corriganville - photo by Cliff Ro berts
The ranch was owned by actor and stuntman Crash Corrigan, who could be found there on the weekends—he lived there. Some of the things filmed there included Sky King, Lassie, the Roy Rogers show, the Lone Ranger (for a time it was even known as Lone Ranger Ranch) and tons of mostly B, but some A movies. One of those A flicks was the John Ford/John Wayne/Henry Fonda Fort Apache movie. The fort at Corriganville was built for that movie and was used in many other things, including the Adventures of Rin Tin Tin TV series. I was a huge Rinty fan. So going there as a kid, getting to go to the fort and play around was a big thrill.

John Wayne (back row, third from left) and John Ford (se ated front row) on Fort Apache set
There’s a famous rock in the background—Corriganville Rock—that you can see in many of the TV shows and movies (see postcard pic at top). The western town street was called Silvertown, but the ranch also included a Mexican village, outlaw cabins, caves, Robin Hood Lake, a Corsican village and plenty of rugged scenery.

And what a kick it was to go there as a kid when it was still in use as a movie ranch. As one knows, one should always dress for the occasion and Corriganville was no exception. I would don my cowboy hat and bright red cowboy boots, my six shooters, maybe a vest or even chaps. And off we'd go—because in those days a kid could wear a fairly realistic-looking gun and holster to an amusement park and nobody would look or think twice about getting shot for real.

Girl and boy playing at Fort Apache, Corriganville
I remember the excitement of being on a “real” western street with real cowboys and Indians and staged shootouts. But one of my strongest memories is of going into the western street saloon, through those swinging saloon doors and finding that instead of a false front there was an actual restaurant or cafeteria. It was more of the modern variety but still fun. And in my mind I was a real cowboy in a real cowboy saloon and pity the poor fool who drew against me.


Being a fan of Rinty, Rusty and Lt. Rip Masters my favorite site on the ranch was Fort Apache. It was like being there in the old west. And it was a kick to see it in person to go along with my Marx Toys Rin Tin Tin Fort Apache playset and autographed photo of Jim Brown (Lt. Rip Masters) in cavalry uniform, posing with Rin Tin Tin himself.

Several fires at various times burned down most of the sets. Eventually, Bob Hope bought the property from Crash Corrigan. He changed the name to Hopetown and also built a housing development by that name on some of the property. Eventually, most of the ranch was sold off for development. But about 200 acres of the property, where most of the sets were, has been turned into a park.
Corriganville western town set remnants 
Some time during the late 1970s or early eighties, I saw a newspaper—you remember newspapers, don’t you?—announcement saying there was to be a chili cook-off at Corriganville, the old movie ranch. I was more than a little excited to relive some of those fond memories of yesteryear. So my cousin and I took our nephew and headed to the land of Crash Corrigan. And, like the smell of a Madeleine pastry in Proust's novel Remembrance of Things of Past (yeah, I know they changed the name), which brings on a lifetime of memories for the protagonist, just being at what used to be Corriganville, still called Hopetown at the time of the cook-off, brought on a flood of memories, even if most of the sets were gone with the wind. See the pix here of set remnants—and now even the remnants of the sets that were there then are gone.

Corriganville Fort Apache set location pad

 And then Amy and I went there after it had become a park and even more was gone, but some things remained, mostly the lake/river bed channel and some foundations of the old sets. Still, it was fun to be there and share the experience and reminiscences with her as she’d never been.

Me with Pepper and Audie at Corriganville Park
Since Tarantino is such a fan of Hollywood, I’m sure it was a kick for him to film there. And, corny as it may sound, although Corriganville is gone it will always be there in my mind, a place of fun, wonderful grandparents, and good memories. Who could ask for more? And what are some of your special childhood memories?

You can find out more about it here: www.corriganville.net .

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Don't forget to check out Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus award-winning novel, White Heat. Betty Webb at Mystery Scene magazine says: "Broken Windows is extraordinary."


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

23 September 2019

Retreat!


by Travis Richardson

First off I want to thank everybody for the kinds words that all of you sent me regarding my recent struggles to write. The kind words of support mean a lot. (And thank you Leigh for the Mac/Chrome advice, I still need to follow up on a few things over there.) I'm still a work in progress, but things are looking better.

Now on to this week's topic. A week ago I woke up on Monday morning in the Sierra Nevada foothills well-rested, but sad. I was about to leave an amazing writer's retreat hosted by Holly and Mick West. I had to go back to work and adult responsibility. Ugh. The weather apparently picked up on the sentiment. Up until then, the days had been hot and cloudless. In the night, there were thousands of stars to gaze up at before the harvest moon obscured the more distant celestial wonders. (Even then the view was better than anything you could see in LA.) But on that Monday morning, a light mist greeted the soon-to-depart-writers on the patio and soon it picked up from there, dumping a torrent of rain as we packed our bags and then our cars. All that was missing was a piano playing a melancholy yet inspirational tune as hugs and farewells were given before the credits roll. But I'm starting at the end. Let's jump to the beginning of this tale.

Back in June SoCal MWA and Sisters in Crime Los Angeles sponsored the every-other-year California Crime Writer's Conference. This conference is geared towards crime writers with law enforcement agents, publicists, publishers, agents and acclaimed writers making presentations. 
Sarah M. Chen, Stephen Beuhler, Holly West and I attended and made plans to go out to out for dinner after the conference was over. (It was also at CCWC two years ago that Holly came up with the idea to put together a Go-Gos themed anthology, Murder-a-Go-Go's.)

Sarah, Stephen, Holly, and Travis at Dinah's Chicken, where plans were hatched. 
Exhausted and enthused at the end of the conference we headed over to Dinah's Chicken where Holly invited us to visit her place up north for a writer's retreat. She and her husband, science writer, Mick West, had lived in Los Angeles for several years before moving up north to a gorgeous home outside of Sacramento. We said yes and unlike a lot of fake promises made in LA, we meant it.

Flash forward to September 12. Sarah and Stephen carpooled and I took my family up the I-5 for roughly 390 miles through the Angeles Mountains down to the central valley's almond orchards, grapes, and smelly cows into original gold mining country with old, middle 19th-century buildings still intact along windy roads. The six-plus hour drive while tiring also energized and readied my mind for the writing ahead.

That night Holly made spaghetti complemented with wine from the region. Tales travel and genial conversation went into the night. In the morning we wrote. I took a spot at a table outside until the heat brought me inside. When my wife and daughter returned from a kid's museum, all of went out for lunch in Placerville followed by ice cream at an old saloon near where a hanging tree of the early settlers had been.   

Having ice cream in an old saloon where a hanging tree used to be. 


That night we had different flavored moon cakes that my wife, Teresa, had brought. We sat outside looking at the stars (and passing satellites) as a full moon rose.

Saturday was all-day writing. I ended up waking up first and watched deer grazing the dining room table. I ended up writing there, unintentionally kicking Sarah out of the place she had been the day before. (Sorry Sarah.) While I'd like to say I wrote the entire time, the truth is I did a lot of research. More than necessary, I'm sure, for a short story. But it was clear, uninterrupted time that was amazing.


Where I researched and wrote. 
That evening we went out after critiquing some of our works. First stop was Fulsom Prison. Little known fact that Johnny Cash forgot to mention, deer are all over the place. Holly and Sarah got to feed them with crackers from a security guard. Also, I almost stole merchandise from the prison museum. After talking to the guard who let us in (to the museum) after hours, I walked out with a book about Folsom I had been holding but hadn't bought. I walked several yards outside before I realized what I did. Fortunately, they were lenient on me since I returned the purloined item without any damage.
Fugitives 

We went to downtown Folsom that night for burgers, beer and a sense of the early evening nightlife. Cute stores with interesting curios, a biker gang (Devil's Disciples) and an outdoor piano were many of the things we encountered around the town.

Cheers

Sarah plays on the olde tyme piano
We wrote again on Sunday morning. I forced myself to only write, not read. Later, when it was time for a critique of my work, the scenes I had worked revealed what I had done. I'd gotten too specific with government officials, departments, agency rivalries, etc. (My plot is what would happen if Gore had been president in 2001.) I needed clear conflict, not multi-level pre-9/11 bureaucracy. It was good to hear. I felt the weakness, but they clarified it.

When my daughter returned from an outing, we went swimming in the pool. Later Mick barbequed delicious chicken shawarma and friends came over. We talked into the night about what we got out of the retreat and goals for the future.

The last night
Then we went to bed. The bittersweet morning, as explained above, happened. We said our goodbyes with the hope to return next year with a few check-ins now and then.

Final group shot

You know a place is magical when it has the Maltese Falcon

I am fortunate that Stephen and Sarah live here in LA and we get to meet in a writer's group almost every week. Holly provided us with a great location to dig in and take writing seriously again and to enjoy time with good friends. Of course, I came back to work to find myself overwhelmed and having to prepare for a work "retreat" the following day. But I'm more centered and focused now. Thank you, Holly and Mick, for a wonderful time.

Have you ever been on a retreat before? Would you want to go on one or have a staycation instead?














Travis Richardson is originally from Oklahoma and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. He has been a finalist and nominee for the Macavity, Anthony, and Derringer short story awards. He has two novellas and his short story collection, BLOODSHOT AND BRUISED, came out in late 2018. He reviewed Anton Chekhov short stories in the public domain at www.chekhovshorts.com. Find more at www.tsrichardson.com

22 September 2019

Florida News – Boobs, Bars, and T-Shirts


by Leigh Lundin

Florida postcard
An Eagle, a Fish, and a Dolphin walk into a sandbar

There’s this baseball game, see, and an osprey carrying a fish– ospreys look quite a bit like bald eagles– but, well, and this Dolphin catches the fish…

Wait. I’m way behind bringing news of the nation’s craziest state, stories both current and of recent history. Amaze your friends at your foresight not living in the land of the loony. Better read it for yourself.

To ride, you must be this high.

An out-of-state great-granny saves her shekels to vacation with her family at Walt Disney World. Like others her age, she suffers various aches and pains, shrugged off in a nation that hates to hand out pain medication. Fortunately, her home state of North Carolina allows her to medicate with CBD oil, an extract of cannabis, the hemp plant. Unfortunately, Florida forbids. A Disney security guard spots the bottle with tincture of THC and arrests the dangerous felon. The good news: our local controversial assistant state attorney, Aramis Ayala, refuses to prosecute.

Flintstone car © Hanna-Barbera
Yabba-Dabba-Doofus

Not just grandmothers. What other place would arrest Fred Flintstone for speeding? (Check the photos. I love the guy’s imagination, I really do.)

Battling Boobs

Waddya do when you think another mother dresses too sexily? You expose her, of course… literally.

Bouncing Boobs

Bouncing off the pavement, in fact. In the early morning hours, a drunk guy leaves strip bar and falls from his truck. Truck continues without driver, not good news.

And Still More Boobs

In the back of a police car, no less. Lordy, lordy, how drunk must one be. Thanks to Sharon for this one.

Revenge, a Dish best served with a Tip

Girl-boy argue. Girl takes boy’s credit card. Girl dines alone. Girl leaves tip. Girl arrested.

Facebook, I keep warning you!


Dummy burglars steal a safe. They can’t resist bragging on Facebook. Helpful hint: Cops visit Facebook too.

@ University of Tennesee T-shirt by Florida 4th grader
Volunteers

We go all the way to Tennessee to find a Florida feel-good story. A 4th grader who makes his own fan T-shirt finds himself derided by the mean girls. When the University of Tennessee hears about the bullying, they buy the design and offer the child a free scholarship eight years from now. Got to love my new favorite university.

21 September 2019

Acronyms and Backronyms



by John M. Floyd


Today I don't want to talk about mysteries or novels or movies or short stories or the writing process . . . but I do want to talk about words. Specifically about three kinds of words: initials, acronyms, and something called backronyms--and things that I found interesting about them. Bear with me, here.


Initials

Definition: The first letters of a name or of words forming part of a phrase.

Most are instantly familiar to us as readers and writers: FBI, CIA, IBM, JFK, LBJ, BYOB, POW, MIA, ADHD, DOA, DOB, SUV, UFO, AKA, DVD, TNT, TGIF, DNA, AM/PM, CST, YTD, ETA, MBA, VP, CEO, IQ, IOU, FDIC, IRS, ATM, AARP, BS, NFL, PGA, CBS, NBC, UHF/VHF, and many, many others. And, more recently, OMG, WTF, BFF, LOL, IMO, IMHO, TMI, BTW, FYI, BCC, and so on.


The words associated with some initials, though, are not so well known:

CVS -- Consumer Value Stores

BMW -- Bavarian Motor Works

WD-40 -- Water Displacement--40th Attempt

3M -- Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing

ESPN -- Entertainment and Sports Programming Network

FAO Schwartz -- Frederick August Otto Schwartz

M&Ms -- Mars and Murrie's

CD-ROM -- Compact Disk Read-Only Memory

RSVP -- Respondez S'il Vous Plait

NOTE: These are not acronyms, because they aren't actual words. The term here is initialism.


Something that's also interesting, I think, is that there are now so many shortened words--abbreviations that have become, in some cases, more familiar than the expanded versions: limo, ad, photo, dorm, stats, hippo, rhino, email, ref, grad, exam, decaf, memo, lube, auto, flu, gator, croc, rep, sub, gym, vet, fridge, bike, semi, sitcom, deli, combo, etc. I doubt that some younger folks even know what a limousine is.



Acronyms

Definition: A pronounceable word formed by the initial letters or other parts of several words.

Again, some acronyms and their component words are well known: POTUS, NASA, ASAP, MADD, AIDS, NATO, etc.

In other cases, we might know the acronym better than we know its parts. Examples:

NERF -- Non-Expandable Recreational Foam

TASER -- Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle

LASER -- Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation

RADAR -- RAdio Detection And Ranging

SONAR -- SOund Navigation And Ranging

SCUBA -- Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus

CANOLA oil -- CANada Oil, Low Acid

CARE package -- Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe (later changed to the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere)

PAM -- Product of Arthur Meyerhoff

GEICO -- Government Employees Insurance Company

NABISCO -- NAtional BIScuit COmpany

NASDAQ -- National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation

SNAFU -- Situation Normal, All F***ed Up

AWOL -- Absent WithOut Leave

HUMVEE -- High Mobility Multi-purpose wheeled Vehicle (actually HMMWV)

SWAT -- Special Weapons and Tactics

KISS -- Keep It Simple, Stupid

BIT -- BInary digiT

PIN -- Personal Identification Number

MODEM -- MOdulator/DEModulator

JPEG -- Joint Photographic Experts Group

SIM card -- Subscriber Identification Module card

SPAM -- Shoulder of Pork And Ham, or SPiced hAM

AFLAC -- American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus

EPCOT -- Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (or Every Person Comes Out Tired)


Backronyms

Definition: A constructed, deliberately formed word whose initial letters are made to fit a previously determined word or phrase. They may be invented with either serious or humorous intent, and are sometimes called reverse acronyms. Examples:

GROSS -- Get Rid Of Slimy girlS (from Calvin and Hobbes)

TEA Party -- Taxed Enough Already

ZIP code -- Zone Improvement Plan

BASE jumping -- Building, Antenna, Span, or Earth (fixtures you can jump from)

SHERLOCK -- Sherlock Holmes Enthusiastic Readers League Of Criminal Knowledge

RALPH -- Royal Association for the Longevity and Preservation of the Honeymooners

BISON -- Biodiversity Serving Our Nation

COLTS -- Consumer On-Line Transaction System (named for the then-Baltimore football team)

JOVIAL -- Jules's Own Version of International Algebraic Language

GEORGE -- Georgetown Environmentalists Organization against Rats, Garbage, and Emissions

NOISE -- Neighbors Opposed to Irritating Sound Emissions

COBRA -- Cabinet Office Briefing Room A

And, from movies/TV:

SPECTRE -- the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion

UNCLE -- United Netword Command for Law and Enforcement

THRUSH -- Technical Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity

KABOOM -- Key Atomic Benefits Organization Of Mankind (from the Naked Gun movies)

MASH -- Mobile Army Surgical Hospital

FIST -- Federated InterState Truckers

WALL-E -- Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class

RED -- Retired, Extremely Dangerous

CHUD -- Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller


Some backronyms are misleading (words mistakenly believed to be acronyms). Examples:

SOS -- Does not mean "Save Our Ship." It was chosen merely because its letters have a simple Morse code representation (three dots, three dashes, three dots).

YAHOO -- Did not come from "Yet Another Hierarchical Official Oracle." Its founders liked the word's meaning of "rude, unsophisticated, uncouth," from Gulliver's Travels.

COP -- Is not "Constable On Patrol."

NEWS -- Is not "North, East, West, and South."

CABAL -- Did not come from King Charles II's five ministers: Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale. Its use predated them.

POSH -- Is not "Port Out, Starboard Home." It's derived from a word for "overdressed dandy."

GOLF -- Is not "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden."

PING -- Is not "Packet InterNet Groper." It's a utility to test (via packets) connectivity between computers.

WIKI -- Is not "What I Know Is." It's derived from the Hawaiian wiki-wiki, meaning fast.

TIP -- Is not "To Insure Promptness."

ADIDAS -- Did not come from "All Day I Dream About Sports." Its founder was Adolf "Adi" Dassler.

AMBER alert -- Did not come from "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response." It was actually named after a missing child, Amber Hagerman.

Some goofy backronyms:

FORD -- Fix Or Repair Daily

BING -- Because It's Not Google

NAVY -- Never Again Volunteer Yourself

DELTA -- Don't Ever Leave the Airport, or Don't Expect Luggage To Arrive


In closing, two of my favorite acronyms/backronyms from my days in the Air Force;

FIGMO -- A soldier who's happily being discharged or transferred (F*** It, I Got My Orders)

OMGIF (FIGMO spelled backward) -- A soldier whose expected discharge/transfer was canceled (Oh My God, I been F***ed)


And a backcronym I found for Lee Iacocca: I Am Chairman Of Chrysler Corporation America. (Couldn't resist mentioning that one.)


OK, FYI, I'm off to the ATM, and then I'm AWOL for two weeks.  See you then.







20 September 2019

When the Muse Takes a Powder


by Janice Law

Although there are authors of unrivaled productivity, nearly every writer comes to periods when the Muse is unavailable. She’s pitched her hammock somewhere on the slopes of Mount Olympus, or if your favor a more modern goddess, she’s on a beach somewhere drinking pina coladas and checking her smart phone. But don’t try to contact her – she’s not taking your calls at the moment, whether you’re sacrificing at Delphi or chasing ideas on the web.
Muses by Eustace LeSueur

I’m not talking about writer’s block here, although that is another and probably more famous affliction. Joseph Conrad left two vivid descriptions of this malady. In a famous letter to Edward Garnett, he apologized for his slow correspondence. “I ought to have written to you before, but the fact is I have not written anything at all. … In the course of that working day of 8 hours I write 3 sentences which I erase before leaving the table in despair.”  In another letter he noted, surprisingly, that his imagination was extremely active during these bleak periods: “Everything is there: descriptions, dialogue, reflexion—everything—everything but the belief, the conviction, the only thing needed to make me put pen to paper.”

Joseph Conrad
Most of us would be happy to have descriptions and dialogue not to mention reflection in the hopper, but when the Muse takes a powder, it’s not will that’s lacking for most of us but ideas. Perhaps we can take some comfort in the fact that inspiration can desert even the great. I recently came across a quote from T. S. Eliot in a review of a new volume of his letters. Declaring “ it is a nuisance to be a poet”, he continues, “When it is a life work, you are sure to find from time to time that your inspiration is exhausted, and that you either repeat yourself, or stop writing. These are painful, but necessary periods.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The last sentence is the one I find most significant, especially his comment that these unpleasant dry periods are necessary. I think I agree. At the same time, I suspect that I am not the only writer that faces these fallow times with a touch of dread, fearing rationally or not, that this time the Muse and all her precious ideas are gone for good. It’s certainly possible and, at my age, increasingly likely.

On the other hand, she’s always come back before which gets us to the next question. If she cannot be summoned directly is there anything that helps? Well yes. Effort does sometimes work. Conrad, you will note, was seated at his desk for eight miserable hours a day struggling. Blocked as a poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote voluminously, turning out much admired essays and criticism, but while Conrad managed more novels, Coleridge’s poetry did not return.

On a much humbler level, I have found over the years that ideas come directly from work, particularly when the work is non-fiction or shorter prose fiction. One trains the subconscious to notice what will make, say, a good feature piece or a good short mystery story. In a slightly different way, work on a novel, which begins in a burst of inspiration, enthusiasm, and pleasure, dwindles about the second week to a slog not too different from Conrad’s misery at the writing desk.

Muse regarding a MS
with some skepticism
This is when persistence and craft have to take over until around week 3 or 4, one makes the happy discovery that more copy is waiting each morning. The Muse has been called back by hard work and conscious thought and now the subconscious can do its job.

But sometimes even dedicated persistence does not work. I started a novella a couple of years ago with the usual enthusiasm, wrote several nicely crafted sections, and came to a shuddering halt. Everything was set up nicely, prose was good, voice interesting, characters all right – but the story went nowhere.

It was only a few months ago, that, trying to clean out my file drawers, I read it over, thought it was pretty good, and after a couple weeks of struggle, got back on track and finished the thing. So, while I always encouraged students to try regular habitual writing, I must say that I also believe in the hydraulic theory of composition. The subconscious takes time to fill up. There is only so much energy, inspiration, enthusiasm and confidence available at any one time. Deplete them, and you have to let the Muse lounge in her hammock for a while.