14 December 2019

The Absence of Emily


by Robert Lopresti

John Floyd and I have both  said before that Jack Ritchie was one of the greatest writers of short humorous mysteries.  I just discovered that his Edgar-winning story "The Absence of Emily" was adapted into an episode of the British TV series Tales of the Unexpected.  And here it is!


13 December 2019

The Me Too Effects of Status and Gender


This is the third and last of our virtual panel discussions on themes of the stories in Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology. We get down to some plain speaking about the power differential between men and women and how both socioeconomic status and gender play a role in how the women in the stories are treated, just as they can in real life.

Moderator: Elizabeth (Liz) Zelvin Participants: Julia Buckley, C.C. Guthrie, Lynn Hesse, V.S. Kemanis

Liz: Let's start by hearing about the characters in each of your stories. Julia?

Julia: My protagonist, Sophia, her best friend, and her mother are small-town women whose existence is constrained by poverty. Their paltry finances are controlled by men. All the men have some form of leverage.

C.C.: My story is set in the rural South in the 1930s. The women are Lizzie King and her daughter. Two of the men occupy traditional power positions over the protagonist, Lizzie, her daughter, and the lower status men. One is the landlord, the other a sheriff's deputy.

Lynn: My Southern family lives below the poverty line in the projects in Southeast Atlanta. The mother uses the welfare system to survive after her husband disappears. When Jewel, the protagonist, turns thirteen, Bess, her mother, forces her to turn tricks at a truck stop. The son becomes her pimp. Bess abuses Callie too My story takes a non-traditional look at the domestic violence cycle by making the main abuser a woman. Bess herself was abused, sexually assaulted, by her father as a child. In a twisted way, she's getting even. And so the cycle continues.

V.S.: The narrator of my story is Arlene, a middle-class widow and retired career nurse. The woman at risk is her neighbor, Cherise, a young single mother who's being stalked by the father of her child. Cherise’s socioeconomic status impacts her ability to flee from danger. She is strong enough to break away from a dangerous man once, but her poverty limits her options when he continues to stalk her. She lives in a suburban neighborhood, has no friends, and doesn't have a car.

Julia: My fictional town is economically depressed. It offers women limited opportunities for a fulfilling life.

Liz: Very limited, as you've described it. Sophia's choices are marriage, dead-end jobs, and prostitution.

Julia: And there aren't many chances to leave. The town's sagging economy defines Sophia's life. Then she reads a disheartening article on the Internet that says the prognosis for women who live in small, financially-disadvantaged towns is dire.

Liz: That's a turning point in the story, isn't it?

Julia: Yes. She refuses to accept her fate.

Liz: C.C., how important is the socioeconomic factor in your story?

C.C.: In mine, the socioeconomic status of the two men in the power positions is central to the story.

Liz: Lynn, in your story it's more complicated than that, isn't it?

Lynn: I think survival mode kicks in anytime you are hungry, cold, and deprived of shelter, but family dynamics are not controlled by socioeconomic status.

V.S. I believe that instances of men treating women poorly occur across all socioeconomic classes, whether we’re talking about physical aggression, discrimination in the workplace, verbal abuse, or otherwise. The same can be said for instances of good treatment and healthy attitudes toward women.

Lynn: Some of the hardworking, honest, and decent folks I know are poor.

Liz: How much of the power differential in your stories based on gender?

Julia: In my fictional town, the men have all the power. Sophia manages to find personal power through her ingenuity, and this encourages other women.

C.C.: The power differential in my story is based equally on socioeconomic status and gender. The landlord could evict the family and push them into homelessness. He walks into their home without permission. He could file false charges against them, claiming they damaged his property.

Liz: And he could carry out a threat to rape the fifteen-year-old daughter. That's the quintessential power imbalance based on gender.

V.S.: My story is based largely on physical and emotional dominance. Cherise's male stalker is threatening because he's stronger. A woman of greater financial status might have more options available for escaping an abusive relationship but still feel the stigma of societal expectations or have emotional difficulty extricating herself.

Lynn: Upper-class women meet with a more subtle form of discrimination and harassment, but the outcome is the same. I come from blue-collar people in Southeastern Missouri. In some ways, I am fiercely proud of my independent, determined, and inventive ancestors. But women waited while the men went off to war and worked in factories and fields to survive with their children. When the men returned, the women were expected to give back their jobs to men and ask for money to go to the grocery store. My grandmother divorced her second husband and remarried him after he put her name on the deed of the country store they ran together.

C.C.: The group that controls the money has the power. They write and enforce the laws, own property and businesses, and determine who will is hired. Until the last century or so, women, as a group, were excluded from political, social, and economic decision making, which resulted in laws and social norms that disadvantaged them.

Lynn: Power and dominance isn’t solely based on economic freedom, but it helps maintain the balance in a relationship. Recognizing your personal identity and believing in your power are learned skills. Something like your own bank account is imperative. My mother never wrote a check for a bill until my father died.

Liz: My mother came through Ellis Island as a four-year-old immigrant and went to law school in 1921. But when she and the few other women in her class graduated, they couldn't get jobs as lawyers.

V.S.: When I was working in the highly competitive legal system, there were times I was ignored or felt intimidated by male power and dominance in the workplace and in court. Now I worry very much about my two daughters, in their twenties, in the world they live in and the issues they face.

Julia: I think women are still routinely oppressed in environments where dominating male behaviors are encouraged and justified as “tradition.” Whether the patterns are conscious or unconscious, men who limit the agency of women within a social framework perpetuate the pattern by glamorizing or minimizing the oppression. They may call it a form of love, protection, admiration, male pride, or responsibility. Women and men can both fall into the assumption that what is traditional is also “natural,” and this can protect them from any awareness of oppression.

Lynn: Recognizing your personal identity and believing in your power are learned skills. Do you believe you can arrest a two-hundred-pound drunk? I do, and I did.

Liz: That sounds like both physical and emotional empowerment.

Lynn: Mentorship is another tool women overlook as an important component of success. Men cultivate it automatically. I offered to help every female recruit I saw in DeKalb Police Department, and not one officer asked me a question in twenty-three years.

Liz: I suspect that may have something to do with subculture and generation. Neither of my parents believed in mentors. Their line was, "Nobody helped us!" But when I discovered what I was missing, thanks to the women's movement, around 1971—not only mentoring but also networking—I took to it like a duck to water. My career as a mystery author and especially this anthology has been all about networking and community.

Now, last question: Is there a difference between power and dominance on one hand and status on the other?

C.C.: The central element of my story is a powerful man exerting authority over others. You only have to read the headlines to know that it still happens every day at all levels of society. If influential media stars can be threatened and their livelihoods put at risk, then it can happen to anyone along the economic ladder. I believe that when someone attempts to exert power over others, their effort to dominate is firmly grounded in socioeconomic status. Every story begins with the threat, “Give me, or else.” What makes each story unique and powerful is how the victim reacts and the decisions they make.

Julia: You can find the situation my women characters face anywhere that minds are narrow and those in power have a desire to dominate and humiliate. Oppression and socioeconomic realities go hand in hand. An enlightened man with money and power might help women out of a basic sense of equality and justice, while a man oblivious to his own oppressive habits might decide that any aid given to a woman is at the whim of his generosity. This would encourage him to feel kinglike, and he might derive a certain pleasure from seeing that the woman’s happiness or disappointment, her success or failure, lay within his control. In Sophia’s story, I wanted to subvert that idea of power and suggest new ways for the oppressed to find agency in their own lives.

Liz: So our stories, in general, show women acting differently in response to threats and dominance, empowering themselves and, in Julia's phrase, finding agency. And clearly, we believe that women who survive can do this after even the most shattering experiences. For every woman who shows she's a survivor, another says, "Me too!"

12 December 2019

"Knives Out": Return of the Country House Murder Mystery


Last week my wife and I got a rare night out without our son, and so we took ourselves out to see Knives Out, Rian Johnson's new twist on an old form: the "Country House Murder Mystery."

Man, this is SOME cast
Johnson, perhaps best known as The Man Who Killed Off Luke Skywalker, has long been a favorite film-maker of mine. In fact, in advance of the release of Knives Out, I recently went back and reviewed his first film, a wicked little indie-noir known as Brick, for Noir City Magazine's recurring column, "My Favorite Neo-Noir."

(Spoiler alert: I think Brick is brilliant. Not to be missed!)

Curtis, Plummer, Johnson & Shannon
I wasn't sure what to expect from Johnson with this outing. Brick was definitely "indie," mostly financed by Johnson's extended family (Construction business), with a terrific a cast of (mostly) unknowns backing up lead actor Joseph Gordon Levitt. Knives Out has garnered considerable advance attention on the strength and depth of it cast alone.

And that cast, under Johnson's direction of a screenplay he also wrote, flat-out delivers.

Michael Shannon & Chris Evans


Christopher Plummer is brilliant as the successful mystery author/family patriarch/requisite dead body/ guy everyone secretly hated. Jamie Lee Curtis shines as his driven, perceptive, angry daughter. Don Johnson is terrific as her "complicated" husband. Chris Evans  as their asshat son makes you want to by turns laugh out loud and slap him. Michael Shannon is nuanced and riveting as Plummer's nebishy-and-none-too-successful only surviving son. Toni Collette nails the portrayal of the flakey New Age widow of Plummer's long-dead other son. Ana De Armas steal scene after scene with a pitch-perfect portrayal of Plummer's pathologically honest nurse/unofficial amanuensis/sole confidante.

And I won't even get into their kids.

Then there are the cops! LaKeith Stanfield is great as the local police detective with the thankless task of running the investigation of the recently departed novelist's suspicious death. Frequent Johnson collaborator Noah Segan hilariously portraying a Massachusetts state trooper/crime fiction fanboy, and Daniel Craig perfectly plays the reknowned private detective improbably consulting with the local cops on this baffling scenario.

Craig busy detecting and Stanfield busy being frustrated
Was the patriarch murdered? If so who did it? Like the movie posters say about the film, "Hell, any of them could have done it."

Ana De Armas and The House
What's more, a lot of Johnson's signature moves were on full display in this film. He loves chase scenes (Check.). Sunset shots/rumination pieces. (Check.). Witty dialogue (Check.). Frequently flashbacks, often to the same scene from different character perspectives (Check multiples times over). Cinematography which owes a lot to classic film noir (dark rooms in a big old mansion, duh, Check!). At least one slow-motion shot (Check.). And a TON of plot twists and turns (Check, check, check!).

I was chewing over all of the above as my wife and I left the theater after the film. Out of the blue, she turned to me and, as usual, neatly summed up the experience in a way that had not occurred to me.

"Johnson," she said, "Made a cozy."

And she was right!

And he even nailed the accent!
Knives Out takes the time-honored (some would say, "tired.") "unexpected death of a person with lots of enemies in a country house" trope and puts it on its head. And it works spectacularly. Like Brick before it, Knives Out manages to serve as both mash-up and tribute, giving viewers a new angle, a different take on what could rightly be considered a shop-worn plot device.

I mean, hey, it's been done before. And it's been sent-up before, too. This film owes equal debts to the likes of Murder, She Wrote, and such parodies of the form as Clue.

That said, Johnson and his cast still manage to breathe new life into both the form and the parodies of it. And best of all, they bring the whole thing off as a clear love letter to the form they're riffing on.

There's so much to like here.

And on that note, I don't want to give too much away, so I'll wrap this entry up here. What else can I say? Knives Out is well worth a look!

Did you see it? If so, what did you think? Please give a response in the Comments section!

See you in two weeks with the de rigueur "End of Year" post. Happy Holidays!

11 December 2019

Smiley



"I've got a story to tell you," Ricki Tarr says. "It's all about spies."

I fell into a familiar comfort zone this past weekend, and watched Smiley's People again. I needed something reliable and even stately, after the random disturbances of late.



George Smiley was introduced in Call for the Dead (filmed in 1967 as The Deadly Affair), but he slips out from the wings, almost apologetically, and takes center stage in the Karla trilogy: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honorable Schoolboy; and Smiley's People. He has a couple of curtain calls later on, but they're essentially cameos.

Smiley's been played by James Mason, Denholm Elliott, and Gary Oldman. For most of us, including John le Carre, Alec Guinness holds the crown. Nor has le Carre been poorly served, for the most part, by the movies. Deadly Affair and Spy Who Came in from the Cold are both excellent. On the down side, the feature film iterations of The Little Drummer Girl, The Russia House and Tinker, Tailor aren't as successful - probably due to the necessities of compression. A Wanted Man and The Tailor of Panama fall somewhere in the middle. The books work better as TV miniseries, when they're given room to breathe. Not that the long form is foolproof. A Perfect Spy and The Night Manager both suffer from being over-faithful and leaving in too much.



Which is where the BBC/Guinness versions of Tinker, Tailor and Smiley's People seem so exact, rigorous narratives that still allow for silence, melancholy, inhalation, even the appearance of accident, although no detail is accidental in George Smiley's world. "Topicality is always suspect," he says, in Tinker, Tailor. In other words, when you buy intelligence product, it pays to be skeptical if the product fits your needs too perfectly. And he's of course proven right: the Witchcraft material is manufactured, it's been carefully massaged to send all the wrong signals.

My particular weakness for Smiley's People is I think due to its structural integrity. It doesn't have, for example, anything like the extraordinary supporting turn by Ian Richardson as Bill Haydon - although Bernard Hepton as Toby Esterhase comes close. It simply seems all of a piece. 



Originally, the producers meant to follow the story arc of the complete trilogy, starting with Tinker, Tailor, following with Honorable Schoolboy, and wrapping with Smiley's People. Schoolboy apparently presented production difficulties, and they skipped it. Quite honestly, Schoolboy is the weakest of the three books, but more to the point, Smiley isn't in fact the lead actor. It makes dramatic sense to move on to book three. (It actually took five years in between.)

When it was first shown on the BBC, radio guy Terry Wogan ran a weekly feature called, "Does anybody know what's going on?" Let's storyboard Smiley's People out.



The old lady in Paris writes the General in London. He, in turn, takes a bullet in the face on Hampstead Heath. George, the old man's former vicar, is called in to clean up the mess and put the whole thing to bed. George smells a rat. What is it Toby Esterhase tells him? Karla is looking for a legend for a girl (a legend, in the jargon, is a manufactured biography, a cover story). And with only this to go on, George begins to tease out the plot.

The plausible back-story, the collateral. Otto's pal in Hamburg, the sex-club owner. The spymaster's mistress, and her hidden child. The secret Swiss bank account and the fumbling Russian diplomat in Bern. The long coat-tails of KGB's foreign operations, and why in this particular instance the organs themselves can't be trusted.



Of course it's a tangle. How not? The method is that we learn only as much as George learns, although he might very well be a step ahead of us, from habit and his larger experience. But how he proceeds has a firm logic. Toby, then Connie Sachs, which leads him to Claus at the club in Hamburg, to the kids house-sitting Otto's place, and the campground, with Otto's boat moored in the shallows and the music unbearably loud, to drown out the torment.

The formality, the inexorability, makes it all the more satisfying. Smiley gathers his resources, and closes his hand. The title is a pun, not simply Smiley's crew, his favored inside team, but his people in the sense that Kipling used it, Mine Own People, Great Britain and the British. There isn't much of the moral relativism le Carre is sometimes faulted for. Smiley's defeat of Karla isn't ambiguous, in spite of the cigarette lighter Karla discards on the cobblestones. The win is personal.



Smiley, then, represents a certain kind of Englishness. Decent and disciplined. The war generation, We Happy Few. They took on Hitler, and then fought the Cold War. "Survivor of every battle since Thermopylae," Connie Sachs says. Le Carre himself might smile, and shake his head, to imagine George characterized that way. But he's said in the past that a country's spy services reflect the nation's character. Mossad, KGB, MI-6, CIA. The way they conduct operations reveals their inner nature and their calculation of political gain or loss.

Smiley is also betrayed by his wife (with his best friend, who's also of course a Soviet asset), and you could make the case that British SIS, once dominant, is the cuckold of the intelligence world, abandoned and orphaned by its CIA stepchild. Or perhaps that's too fanciful. Let's just say that Smiley, like Alec Guinness, is emblematic of his time and class. We might even be allowed to think of class as the key to Smiley, his protective coloration. He navigates the currents, eddies in still waters, and waits his turn.





10 December 2019

Pull on Your Galoshes, We’re Headed into the Slush Pile


Earlier this year I joined Black Cat Mystery Magazine as co-editor, replacing the irreplaceable Carla Coupe. Unlike Carla, who performed multiple duties for Wildside Press prior to her retirement, my primary responsibility as the junior co-editor is to read and assess submissions.

This isn’t new territory for me—I’ve edited six published anthologies, including, most recently, The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods (Down & Out Books), and another (Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir) that’s scheduled for publication next year. I also co-created and co-edit (with Trey R. Barker) the invitation-only serial novella anthology series Gun + Tacos, and I’m currently reading submissions for Mickey Finn 2 and the second season of Guns + Tacos, and I’ve begun work on yet another anthology to be named later.

There is a distinct difference between reading slush for my own anthologies and reading slush for Black Cat Mystery Magazine. The most obvious distinction is the type of stories appropriate for each. My anthologies have all been themed, and most have favored hardboiled, noir, and/or private eye stories. The stories in BCMM are more representative of the many subgenres of mystery.

The second distinction is the decision-making process. With my anthologies I make the final decisions and the anthologies succeed or fail due to those decisions. BCMM, on the other hand, has two decision makers. Though John Betancourt, as publisher and senior co-editor makes final decisions, the co-editorship is structured such that every accepted story has been approved by both editors.

Though there’s not yet any interesting statistical information to report on my most recent editorial efforts, the seventy-four stories in my first five anthologies earned seven award nominations (Anthony, Derringer, Edgar, Shamus, etc.) and four “Other Distinguished Mystery Stories” or “Honorable Mentions” in annual best-of-year anthologies.

BONA FIDES

All of the above is to establish my bona fides before this:

Editors often discuss the “indefinable something” that separates an accepted submission from a rejected submission. We sit on panels and discuss plot and setting and characterization. We debate whether certain words—such as Dumpster/dumpster—have lost their trademark status and can now be rendered all lowercase. We arm wrestle over the use or non-use of the Oxford comma. We do all of these things when talking to writers and amongst ourselves, but we never seem to mention aloud one of the most telling signs that a manuscript will be rejected.

The manuscript itself.

Sure, we often tell writers to follow Shunn or some similar format, but the appearance of a manuscript when printed on paper isn’t all that we see. With the vast majority of manuscripts now submitted as Word documents, I’ve discovered how little many writers know about using one of the primary tools of their trade.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, the writers least familiar with Word also seem to be the writers most likely to have their submissions rejected.

If I open a file and discover a return at the end of every line as if the story were written on a typewriter, or if I see the title centered on the page through the use of a zillion spaces, or if I see any of several other signs that the writer has not mastered the fundamentals of Word, I’m already negatively predisposed toward the manuscript.

Why?

Because the writing often displays the same inattention to detail.

I read anyhow because I am sometimes surprised. Sometimes.

KING OF THE WORLD

If I were king of the world, the czar of publishing, or in some other authoritarian position to impose my will upon writers, I would do the following: Make it mandatory for every writer to master the basics of Word.

Perhaps we could start by having every creative writing program offer a mandatory class in the use of Word as part of the degree plan. Perhaps we could have every writing conference offer a mandatory seminar in the use of Word. Perhaps we could have every critique group treat themselves to an annual refresher course from their most experienced tech-savvy member (or from someone outside the group, if appropriate).

Perhaps, and this may be a radical thought, we could suggest that writers and would-be writers read the instruction manual, use the help menu, or use a search engine to find instructions on the internet for how to do things such as indent a paragraph, center a line of text, insert an em-dash, insert headers and automatically number pages, and do any of a number of other things that should already be part of a writer’s skill set.

Love it or hate it, Word is the de facto word processing program, and it is a fundamental tool of the trade. If you don’t know how to use the tools of your trade, you hobble yourself. Sure, a brain surgeon might be able to repair your aneurysm with a pipe wrench, but how confident would you feel on that operating room table when he opened up his toolbox?

So, before I’ve even read a word of your manuscript, show me that you know how to use the tools of your trade. Then show me you can write.


Recently published stories include: “The Town Where Money Grew on Trees” in Tough, November 5, 2019, “The Show Must Go On” in Black Cat Mystery Magazine #5, “Who Done It” in Seascape: The Best New England Crime Stories 2019 (Level Best Books), and “Love, or Something Like it” in Crime Travel (Wildside Press).

Earlier this month subscribers to Guns + Tacos received episode 6 of the first season, “A Beretta, Burritos and Bears” by James A. Hearn. Subscribers also received a bonus story that I wrote, “Plantanos con Lechera and a Snub-Nosed .38.” If you want to read all six episodes and the bonus story, there’s still time to subscribe!

09 December 2019

The Book Review Jungle


by Steve Liskow

Years ago, publishers sent out about 6000 advanced reading copies (ARC) two or three months before a book's release. Those copies went to the reviewers at newspapers and magazines, and some radio or TV stations that promoted books they liked. I remember when I could open the New York Times and read a thoughtful review by the likes of John Updike or another literary icon. Today, authors still review, but not as frequently.

The prevailing wisdom was that good reviews sold books, which was why publishers produced and distributed so many ARCs. But as fewer and fewer publications have reviewers, you're pretty much on your own getting a review, and if you're indie or self-pubbed, good luck. I invite reviews in the back of my book (An idea I borrowed from another writer), but seldom get them.

Kirkus Review, a once-revered arbiter used by libraries to guide their purchasing, now will review your book for a price. They charge $425 for a review that may appear in 9 weeks, and $575 for a review with a 4-6-week turnaround. They seldom if ever star a review anymore, even for a well-known author, and your review may be buried by hundreds of others with no ranking. They don't guarantee a positive review, either (If they did, I wouldn't even mention them because they would be promoters, not reviewers). For that money, you might have better luck with a blind date through a hook-up site.

Michael Sauret (Google him and his article) discusses his fate with Kirkus and lists other alternatives. Some charge $125 for an 8-10-week return, and some go higher. Some are free, but I've never heard of them. The point is, you may not get what you think you're paying for.

The literary equivalent of Gresham's law has taken over, and bad reviewing has driven out the good. If you don't believe it, look at Amazon or Goodreads. People give a one-star review--sometimes without reading the book--and the entire review is something like "It was stupid/boring/dumb/wrong. I didn't like it."

Even a five-star review might have only a few sentences, and they may use buzzwords, too. "Thrilling, clever, couldn't put it down" seem to say it all.

Those aren't reviews. They're either a puff piece or a drive-by. A few years ago, a Publisher's Weekly article explained at great length why most Amazon reviews were useless. Nothing has changed. I used to review there, but after a couple of ugly clashes with trolls, I removed about 80 reviews from the site and now seldom read a review there for any reason except morbid curiosity.

I do occasionally review for an online site, though, and it reminds me that writing a serious positive review is much easier than writing a bad one. A good review almost writes itself. I give a brief plot overview that shows how well the story works, discuss the major characters to prove they're well-drawn, and mention a few details that make the book either unique or a good representative of its genre. My standard review is between 600 and 800 words.

Bad reviews...wow. Writing a review should be like teaching. Anyone can bash a kid's paper and give him a low grade. But if you're really a teacher, you have to show him WHY something is a weakness or bad choice. Then you have to show him how to make it better. That's hard. And it's why most reviews I read fail.



I have only written three or four very negative reviews over the last two years, and I remember all those books clearly. Why? Because I can write a glowing review after reading a book once, but I always read a book two or even three times before going low. I need to be sure I didn't misread or skip over an important point before I call a writer to task. Sometimes, I find that I did miss something, and it changes my outlook. If I don't find it, I've now read the book two or three times and I'm ticked off about wasting all that extra time.

If you read one of my negative reviews, it should be like the notes I wrote to students back in my classroom. This is what I see you did, this is why I think it's a bad choice, and this is how you can make it better. It's not an exact science, but praise is easy and seldom challenged, while criticism demands proof. It's like a courtroom.

Recently, I did a Highland fling all over a book, and one of my concerns was that it introduced a deus ex machina three pages from the end...which would lead to another book as a sequel. It was a cheat, but I couldn't reveal what it was because it would be a spoiler. Sometimes, you have to find a way around that, too. That review ran to nearly 1200 words because I needed to justify my disenchantment.

Do reviews really help anymore? I don't know. I don't think any of my books has more than four or five reviews, but they're mostly positive (Before writing this, I noticed that one negative review of my last book has actually been removed). Maybe they help, maybe they don't. In a good month, my royalties will fill my gas tank, so who knows.

I suspect that my bad review won't hurt the perennial  bestseller. If it does, maybe the RNC will buy thousands of copies to keep the book on the New York Times bestseller list anyway.


Me with one of my former students and her daughter at a workshop. Time flies quickly.

08 December 2019

Maple Syrup Heist eh?



In Ottawa we celebrate maple syrup season by trekking out to a sugar bush, watching the maple sap being collected and indulging in large stacks of pancakes smothered in maple syrup at one of our many sugar shacks.

So, when Leigh Lundin suggested I write about the Canadian maple syrup heist, I thought ‘heist’ was a strong word for people running through the maple grove stealing buckets of sap.

It turns out that I was wrong, a heist it was: over twelve months, 3,000 tons of syrup, worth $18.7 million, was stolen. None of this was done by stealing buckets collecting sap. Worse, learning about this heist ruined all my lovely and naive sugarbush experiences and I’ll never look at another bottle of maple syrup the same way again.

The heist was possible because of three important facts that blew my preconceived notions about maple syrup out of the water.

 First, "maple syrup comes only from the red- and sugar-maple forests found in the upper right-hand corner of North America, just where you’d sign your name if this were a test." This means that Canada, particularly the province of Quebec, produces 71% of the world’s maple syrup.

Second, since 1966 the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers has instituted quotas and rules that have increased the price of maple syrup to be, in 2016, "valued at just over $1,300 a barrel, 26 times more expensive than crude"’

Third, to control the supply of maple syrup, "members of the federation—Quebec’s bulk producers are required to join—give their harvest over to FPAQ… Some of it is sold immediately; the rest is stored in the Reserve…In this way, the federation steadies supply, filling the coffers in banner years, satisfying demand in fallow."


So, maple syrup production is not a cottage industry, adorably ensconced in sugar shacks dotting our maple groves. It’s a large profitable industry controlled and managed much like the oil industry. Total value of all maple products in 2018 was $384.4 million.

To give a visual recap:


The maple grove where I thought they stole maple syrup from:






The Reserve is in Laurierville, Quebec, where they actually stole maple syrup from:





A total of $18.7 million dollars of maple syrup was stolen from the Reserve in Laurierville. The  thieves used trucks to transport barrels, siphoned off the maple syrup, and refilled the barrels with water and returned them to the facility. Later the thieves siphoned syrup directly from the barrels in the Reserve and left them empty. The stolen syrup was then sold in the United States and in New Brunswick, Canada, to distributors, many of whom were unaware it was stolen.

When the theft was discovered in 2012, the Sûreté du Québec police began an extensive investigation aided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and U.S. Customs. The police arrested two alleged ringleaders and 24 other people. A large portion of the syrup would ultimately be recovered.

However, this not the end of the story because it raises interesting questions about the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.

One of the ring leaders was Étienne St-Pierre, a maple syrup buyer from Kedgwick, New Brunswick, who bought the stolen syrup.

"You can't prove what tree the syrup came from," St-Pierre told the jury.

“St-Pierre also admitted he had long been an opponent of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, and resented their control of the market.

“The Crown produced evidence suggesting St-Pierre considered the federation to be akin to the Mafia.”

Is the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers like a maple syrup mafia? It is “a powerful marketing board with almost absolute control over the provincial industry…all Quebec maple syrup must pass through the federation, which dictates how much each producer can sell, and penalizes unauthorized production and selling.”

So, not a mafia, but certainly restrictive.

Before his sentencing, this is what St. Pierre said: he’ll continue to ignore those rules. And he’ll keep buying maple syrup from Quebec’s scofflaw producers. “I will never stop. I didn’t steal nothing.”

Étienne St-Pierre was found guilty of fraud and trafficking in 2017 and sentenced to two years less a day to serve in the community, as well as a three-year probation.

07 December 2019

More Experiments





In last week's column I talked a bit about experimental writing, and gave as an example one of my recent stories, which was told in such a nonlinear way almost the whole thing flowed backward. In that post I mentioned (and most of the readers' comments agreed) that trying new writing techniques can sometimes pay off, not only in sales but in the enjoyment of writing these "different" kinds of stories.

The more I thought about that, the more I looked back through my old stories, trying to remember other times that I'd broken or at least bent the rules of storytelling. For what it's worth, here are thirty examples that I found:



"Scavenger Hunt" (AHMM, 2018) -- A single story consisting of three different mystery cases and three different crimes.  (This was an installment in a series, so I felt a little safer trying something like that.)

"The Home Front" (Pebbles, 1995) and "Command Decisions" (The Odds Are Against Us anthology, 2019) -- Two stories told only in the form of letters mailed between characters.

"Life Is Good" (Bouchercon 2017 anthology) -- A story told in three scenes about three separate characters, each in that character's POV. All three scenes have similar beginning lines and similar ending lines. (If you've read it you know what I mean.)

"Careers" (AHMM, 1998) and "Radio Silence" (new) -- Two stories told using only dialogue.

"Benningan's Key" (Strand Magazine, 2012) -- A 4500-word story using no dialogue at all.

"Denny's Mountain" (Amazon Shorts, 2007) -- A 20,000-word mystery written in two parts, and sold and published as two separate entities.

"In the Wee Hours" (Over My Dead Body, 2012) -- A story that takes place entirely in a dream.

"Mission Ambushable" (flash fiction contest, 2008) -- A 26-word story told with each word beginning with a different letter of the alphabet, in order, from A to Z. (The link is to a 2013 SleuthSayers post about this story.)

"The Willisburg Stage" (Amazon Shorts, 2007) -- A Western horror story.

"On the Road with Mary Jo" (EQMM, 2019) -- A 4000-word story in which almost half the dialogue is from an Alexa-like device in a self-driving car.

"A Stranger in Town" (Amazon Shorts, 2006), "Over the Mountains" (Dreamland collection, 2016), and "The Miller and the Dragon" (new) -- Three very long stories told only in verse, reminiscent of Robert W. Service's poetry style.

"Lucy's Gold" (Grit, 2002) and "The Donovan Gang" (new) -- Two stories about passengers inside a stagecoach. (The link to "Lucy's Gold" is to a reprint of that story in Saddlebag Dispatches, 2018)

"Christmas Gifts" (Reader's Break, 1998) -- a story about passengers inside an elevator.

"The Red-Eye to Boston" (Horror Library, Vol. 6 anthology, 2017), "Business Class" (The Saturday Evening Post, 2015), and "Creativity" (Mystery Time, 1999) -- Three stories about passengers inside an airplane.

"The Barrens" (The Barrens collection, 2018) -- A children's fairy tale, with witches and monsters.

"Perfect Crime" (Woman's World, 2014) -- The only story in my longest-running mystery series that's told from the villain's POV. This was more risky than experimental. I was surprised they published it.

"The Midnight Child" (Bouchercon 2019 anthology) -- A story told in reverse.

"Dreamland" (AHMM, 2015) -- A present-day mystery/fantasy story using characters based on Robin Hood and his men.

"Mum's the Word" (Flashshot, 2006) -- A 55-word story using only dialogue.

"The Music of Angels" (The Saturday Evening Post, 2018) -- Sort of a romance story whose three main characters have the first names of our oldest son's three children. (This story was written for them; I think they liked it.)

"Dentonville" (EQMM, 2015) -- A story that includes the killing of a pet--something I don't like, editors don't like, and readers don't like. But this pet is a devil-dog whose death is justified (think No Country for Old Men) and necessary to the plot. The story also includes a seven-foot-tall woman, so it's different in several ways.

"Mythic Heights" (Over My Dead Body, 2012) -- A mystery using nursery-rhyme characters: Bo Peep, Little Boy Blue, Jack and Jill, etc.

"An Hour at Finley's" (Amazon Shorts, 2006) -- A story told in three equal parts (scenes), with each part "titled" with the name of its POV character.



I admit that these aren't stellar examples of experimental writing, but all are far different from the way I usually write, and--again--all of them were a lot of fun to create.

Having said that, I want to mention once more that almost all my stories are mysteries told the usual way--linear, past tense, first- or third-person, traditional beginning/middle/end, etc. I'm not as adventurous as my characters. I am, however, fond of inserting plot reversals if possible, not only at the end but throughout my stories--because that's something I like to encounter when I read the stories of others.


To continue my questioning from last week: What are some of the rule-breaking stories and/or novels you've written? Are you working on any, currently? When you do write "experimentally," do you know it ahead of time or do you discover, as you write, that doing things differently might be better? Can you give some examples, and maybe even some links to any that might be available online?


Thanks for indulging me, on all this. See you in two weeks.







06 December 2019

Financial Advice from Travis McGee


Travis McGee and the Busted Flush
This is a complex culture, dear. The more intricate our society gets, the more semi-legal ways to steal. -Travis McGee, The Deep Blue Good-by

Why not take financial advice from a fictional character like Travis McGee? Is it possible that a made-up private eye (his business cards read Salvage Consultant, but he was cut from the same clothe as Chandler's Marlowe or Parker's Spenser) from fifty years ago still has something to say that's pertinent to our pocket book today?

It's not like the real-live experts have the greatest track record. Where were the warning bells from The EconomistBarron's, and the Motley Fools before our entire economy nearly went belly-up in 2008 in a sea of bad mortgages? Where was manic, in-your-face Jim Cramer? When the dust settled, and our tax dollars bought the whole mess with government bail-outs, only then did we learn how vast a con-job had been perpetrated on America.

Cramer and Stewart duke it out on The Daily Show, 2009.
At least Jim Cramer, to his credit, went on the The Daily Show and admitted that he and others should've done more to foresee the impending doom. Jon Stewart delivered a scorching rebuke, even while admitting it wasn't fair for Cramer to be the face of the burst housing bubble. "I understand you want to make finance entertaining," Stewart memorably said, "but it's not a f***ing game." It was a tiny glimmer of retribution for the financial crimes that no one seemed to be paying any legal price for. I cancelled my subscription to Barron's. They have yet to respond to my letter.

Since Travis McGee and the Busted Flush first sailed into our consciousness in 1964 with John D. MacDonald's  The Deep Blue Good-by, there's been plenty of bad faith, exploitation, and corruption in and of our economic institutions. Because of McGee's quirky ways of dealing with money, he would've skirted all of them. He likely would've avoided even the kinds of massive fraud that computers and the internet have made possible, two mainstays of modern life that John D. MacDonald couldn't have foreseen.

My favorite story about John D. MacDonald is what he did after being discharged from the Army in 1945 after serving in the Office of Strategic Services.  According to Hugh Merrill's excellent biography of MacDonald, The Red Hot Typewriter, MacDonald's wife Dorothy convinced him that writing would help him get over the bleakness of war. MacDonald listened, writing a 2000-word story titled "Interlude in India." Unbeknownst to MacDonald, Dorothy sent it to Story magazine. When MacDonald returned home from the war, his wife surprised him with the news that the magazine had bought his story for $25.

According to Merrill, at first MacDonald didn't think he was a real writer. Years later, MacDonald remembered thinking at the time, "My goodness, maybe I can actually be one." McDonald threw himself into being a professional scribe after his army discharge in 1946. "During his first four months as a writer he turned out more than 800,000 words and got a thousand rejection slips," Merrill writes. "He spent eighty hours a week at the typewriter and made sure that twenty to thirty stories were always in the mail." MacDonald lost twenty pounds in the process. That's amazing commitment.  MacDonald started selling stories to the pulps, and a legendary writing career was born.

It's also important to note that MacDonald graduated with an MBA from Harvard in 1939. Once MacDonald got the writing bug he turned his back on pursuing business and finance as a daytime gig, but economics played a big part in many of Travis McGee's cases. In Nightmare in Pink ('64), Travis has to unravel a gigantic financial scam run by a bank vice president. Pale Grey for Guilt ('68) involves inflated stock prices as part of a revenge plot hatched by McGee.  McGee and his partner Meyer pose as investors in The Empty Copper Sea ('80), a story involving life insurance, settling estates, and a millionaire who may have faked his death. I'd guess most of the Travis McGee novels center on elaborate financial schemes.

Meyer, Travis McGee's occasional partner in crime, is an academic, a world famous economist. Meyer's boat is called the John Maynard Keynes, after the influential British economist who said "The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent." In a November 1986 article from Psychology Today, Dr. Raymond Fowler concluded that MacDonald and Meyer had nearly identical personalities. Apparently economics remained very important to MacDonald.

So what were the financial tenets that would've kept Travis McGee not only solvent, but able to pick and choose his gigs, free to enjoy boat parties and Fort Lauderdale's nightlife? From The Deep Blue Good-by:

...I do not function very well on emotional motivations. I am wary of them. And I am wary of a lot of other things, such as plastic credit cards, payroll deductions, insurance programs, retirement benefits, savings accounts, Green Stamps, time clocks, newspapers, mortgages, sermons, miracle fabrics, deodorants, check lists, time payments, lending libraries, television, actresses, junior chambers of commerce, pageants, progress, and manifest destiny.

Green Stamps
Travis McGee could be an amiable jokester and some of this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I mean, who didn't love Green Stamps? I was too young to use them when they were around, but I still fondly remember sticking them all over my room. And libraries? Both McGee and Meyer had plenty of books on board their boats, though MacDonald did facetiously call McGee an illiterate. I get what McGee is really saying, though. He just didn't trust all the things honest citizens were supposed to trust. Emotion rarely clouded his judgment. He wouldn't be a sucker for emails from a Nigerian prince requesting bank account numbers and wire transfers.

McGee wouldn't be hurt by all the rampant credit card schemes that have been stalking the rest of us because he didn't use one in his name.  He wouldn't  be "skimmed" at a gas station. He wouldn't be phone-scammed by crooks who can spoof phone numbers. He'd be immune to phishing. His private info would be safe from the hackers who stole the data from 160 million credit cards in 2013. Or the Target breach from the same year. Or earlier and later breaches.

Not the Zinger of my youth.
Payroll deductions were a joke to McGee. As were retirement benefits. McGee took 50% of the loot he recovered, hiding his cash away from prying government eyes in a safe aboard his boat. I pay my taxes and appreciate all the good things our tax dollars can do. Like the rest of us, I'm also outraged when our money seems wasted. McGee didn't have to worry about any of that. As far as retirement bennies, we've all heard stories about people unfairly losing their retirement plans due to heartless business practices. Enron, anyone? I have a relative who lost his benefits when Hostess folded.  Plus Zingers are now half the size that they used to be.

When the housing bubble burst, and homes in some areas stood hauntingly vacant, McGee's 52-foot houseboat would've been safely parked in Bahia Mar Marina's Slip F18. Sure, he had to scrub barnacles, but for Travis McGee boat maintenance was much more of an enjoyable work-out than actual work.

McGee wasn't totally disdainful of economic tools, he just didn't trust them. In Travis McGee's final bow, The Lonely Silver Rain ('85), McGee discovers that he has a daughter. His ultimate financial move, his last investment, is to take all the money he has on hand (minus a couple hundred bucks to live on until the next job comes along) and place it in a trust fund for her. It was a total Travis McGee move, the kind of generosity that McGee showed to others throughout his long run of adventures. He couldn't have predicted that he was done after this last act of selflessness, anymore than MacDonald could have guessed that heart surgery with an 8% fatality rate (that's what the experts told him, according to Hugh Merrill) would kill him in 1986.  Perhaps that's the final investment advice we can take from the late great Travis McGee. People first, money second.



I'm Lawrence Maddox. 
My novel Fast Bang Booze is available from DownAndOutBooks.Com. 
Feel free to harass me on twitter, Lawrence Maddox@MadxBooks. Or at MadxBooks@gmail.com.





05 December 2019

The Nutcracker


by Eve Fisher

Thanksgiving week was a humdinger up here in South Dakota.  It snowed every day.  Along with the occasional freezing rain and ice.  Plus there were the usual hazards associated with Thanksgiving.  I, for one, stay away from all Black Friday events, because I hate crowds, malls, and crazed people in search of something that's so much of a super-bargain that they are willing to risk trampling and maiming to get it.  And the idea that now stores are open Thursday afternoon, so that people go out immediately after Thanksgiving Dinner, belching turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie, to find their bliss only makes me lock all the doors and pray that the Monsters don't come down Maple Street.

Instead, on Black Friday I went to The Nutcracker.  Now, I know the music by heart, because I took ballet lessons as a child, where I was told, mercifully early, that I would never have the "line" for ballet.  ("Line" is code for "thin.")

I also worked as an administrator for a couple of ballet companies on the East Coast, and, as everyone knows, The Nutcracker is THE fundraiser, so the rehearsals, with music, start in September.  The administrative office is never far from the rehearsal studio(s).  By first night, the opening bars of "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" were enough to make us all break out in hives.  But enough time has passed so that I have recovered, and can now go see my godchild's children - one of them was a purple butterfly - without having to take Benadryl.  I had a lovely time, and really enjoyed the music for the first time in years.

Now some SleuthSayers have been talking a lot about music lately, so I thought I'd add to the theme.  All children grow up on their parents' music, and my parents' music was big band, country (specifically, my mother loved Hank Williams, Sr., and original bluegrass, which she passed on to me), and crooners of the 1940s and 50s.  I liked it all.  But by the 1960s, there was a lot of other interesting music out there that my parents couldn't stand - specifically rock n' roll.  Being a snotty teenager, that's all I wanted to hear.  Except...

There were two truly great moments in music when I was a child, and they were totally out of the blue.  One was when my mother and I were making a bed, with the radio on, and what came on was (I later found out) Dave Brubeck's Take Five.  I stopped tucking sheets, stood up, listened, and breathlessly asked, "What's that?"  "That's jazz," she replied.  "We don't like it."  Well, I did.  But I stored it away future years, when I could buy and play anything I wanted, because I'd just heard something like a whole new way of life.  And I loved it.



But even more overpowering was what I heard in ballet class, and I never spoke of it to either of my parents.  There I was, in my little black leotard and ballet shoes, while the teacher lined up the needle on the record player.  And what followed was a tremendous wall of sound, that came from behind and above and literally took my breath away with its absolute power.  I had never been so moved by any piece of music in my life, and I couldn't figure out if I was afraid, ready to cry, or overjoyed.  It was Tchaikovsky's Swan Theme from Swan Lake.


BTW, Tchaikovsky is to the romantic period what Puccini is to opera.  Masters of emotional manipulation through music, who will make you cry whether you want to or not.  (If you don't believe me, listen to Maria Callas singing Un bel di vedremo from Madame Butterfly)
NOTE:  I've been racking my brains to think of similar master manipulators of emotion in writing, other than poetry, and so far what I've come up with is Beth's death scene in Little Women and Old Yeller.  
Meanwhile, I love watching good ballet.
The women dancing as if putting all your weight on your big toe and then whirling, leaping, and landing on it is the easiest thing in the world.  No, it's not.  It hurts.  And it requires considerable strapping sometimes.  I've known dancers who broke a bone in their foot, or sprained an ankle, strapped it up tight, and danced anyway.  Ballet dancers are more like football players, stripped down to minimum weight.  Same grit, determination, and apparent obliviousness to pain.  At the moment.

And the men who do grand jetes across the stage and look like it's the most normal thing in the world to hang in space.  Watch Sergei Polunin:


Looks easy-peasy doesn't it?  Well, I've helped backstage with costumes, etc., and I can tell you that to dance like that means that, as soon as they're backstage, they are on their knees trying to breathe.  But moments later, they're back on their feet, pretending like they don't need oxygen.

Meanwhile, I'm still trying to figure out how The Nutcracker became a holiday tradition.  Fine, it's set at a Christmas party, but there's no Santa, just a fairly creepy magician (Drosselmeyer) roaming the house at will.  And what young girl would choose a nutcracker as her favorite toy / present?  Especially one old enough to also dream of a charming prince?  BTW, where does Drosselmeyer get his literal living dolls from?  And what's with all the mice?  Is this where C. S. Lewis got the idea for Reepicheep?  But of course it makes no more sense than, say, The Magic Flute.  Opera, ballet, if you're looking for plots that make sense, stick with mysteries.

But The Nutcracker is and will be a perennial, because it allows every dance troupe / school the chance to include everyone, from the littlest 3 year old to the season subscribers.  (Yes, a lot of those older party guests are season subscribers, who get - as a perk - the chance to stand around in the background, sometimes with real champagne, and attend the cast party later.)  Anyway, this means big money in the till, because every relative is coming to watch Betsy as a chocolate cupcake and Ralphie as a mouse.  And more power to them.  In these United States, the arts need every penny they can get.

Meanwhile, here's The Nutcracker Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux.  Enjoy.











04 December 2019

I, Robot (Author)


I am delighted to have a story in the December issue of Mystery Weekly Magazine, my first appearance there.  "Robot Carson" is, I guess, the second time a story of mine began with what you might call a vision.  Not a dream, because I was wide awake.

The image that popped into my head was a woman answering the door and finding a chest freezer on her stoop.  Not literally a freezer, just an object of that size and shape.  Turned out to be a robot, working for the cops.

And as you may deduce, its name turned out to be Carson.

That's pretty much all I have to say about the story.  It's short.  Go ahead and read it and see what you think.  You can read the first page here.

My first encounter with robots (well, barring Lost in Space and similar kiddy stuff) was in the ninth grade when I bought a paperback of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot. It's a collection of short stories   (The movie of the same name, by the way, has very little in common with the book.)

The stories are loosely connected by an interview with Dr. Susan Calvin, who appears in some of them.  She is the chief robopsychologist for U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc.

Perhaps the most famous thing about these stories is the Three Laws of Robotics.  (And by the way, Asimov coined the word "robotics."  He assumed it already existed.)   Many other authors have silently adopted the Laws or otherwise played with the concept.  Here they are:

 First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
The worst from dozens of available covers.
Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
 
Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Asimov found many clever ways to play with these rules (Example: If a robot could read minds, would hurting feelings count as harming a human being?)

Asimov went on to write a series of mystery novels featuring a pairing of human and robots, beginning with The Caves of Steel.

His robot cop appeared to be human.  As far as I know, none of his robots were ever mistaken for a freezer.  So I can claim at least that much originality.










03 December 2019

No Flux Capacitors Here


When I sent out my call for stories for Crime Travel, the crime/time-travel anthology I edited--coming out this Sunday from Wildside Press--I eagerly wondered what ingenious methods of time travel the submitting authors would come up with.

They did not disappoint.

Sadly, no one used a flux capacitor and a DeLorean, the magnificent means of time travel from the wonderful eighties movie Back to the Future. (And I didn't even need a time machine to see that movie in the theater when it came out. I was in high school, just like Marty McFly.) But the authors whose stories I accepted did come up with interesting means of temporal transportation, some a bit conventional, others ... well, let's take a look.
Doc Brown built a time machine out of a DeLorean.
Photo credit: JMortonPhoto.com & OtoGodfrey.com

In addition to pods and wristbands and watch-like devices, the Crime Travel authors used: sneezing (Anna Castle has one hell of an imagination); a particle-beam weapon (because, why not?); a closet (my closets just have clothes in them--so disappointing); a clear-walled cube with barber chairs with seatbelts (gotta have safety measures when you're traveling through time); a gold circlet (it's a hair accessory and a time machine all in one; talk about making it work--Tim Gunn would be so proud); and two elevators. Two of 'em. (Linwood Barclay may have a new book with elevators that send people to their deaths, but we have elevators that send people through time!)

One method of time travel used in the book is so unusual but cool that I don't even know how to describe it outside of its story's context. Eleanor Cawood Jones ... care to take a whack at that description? And in Art Taylor's story ... was it the pendant, Art, or the candles or a mere touch of the hand that set things in motion? Maybe we should leave it for the reader to decide. And in David Dean's story, well, sometimes you just have to want something bad enough.

This wasn't the photo but it's similar. So lovely.
As for me, I used a bicycle, an all-white one that only appears on the anniversary of mistakes--things that wrongly happened in its family's past that the bicycle thinks someone needs to go back in time to fix. (Don't look at me like that. If a bicycle can travel through time, it also can think.) A few months before I wrote my story, "Alex's Choice," I saw a picture of an all-white bicycle with beautiful flowers in its basket. That image stuck with me, and I decided to use the bike in my time-travel story.

I would have thought that's all I had to tell you about my decision to turn a bicycle into a time machine until this past week when I saw a new commercial for Xfinity using the cuddly alien E.T. from the classic movie of the same name. In the ad E.T. returns to Earth to visit Elliott. The long version of the commercial (available here) shows grown-up Elliott's kids riding their bicycles into the sky with E.T., just as the kids did in the movie way back in 1982. I don't think I've seen E.T. since the summer it was out in the theater, yet that scene with the kids riding their bikes into the night sky must have stuck with me because in "Alex's Choice" the bicycle flies too, and at night to boot.

That's the beauty of fiction--be it short stories or novels, movies or TV shows--when done right, fiction can take you to another time, be it in your imagination or your memory or even to something you didn't realize you remembered. I hope the stories in Crime Travel do that for you.

The anthology's official publication date is this Sunday, December 8th, which is Pretend To Be A Time Traveler Day. The book will be on sale in ebook, paperback, and hard cover. I'd be honored if you'd time travel with us to past decades and even past centuries. I'm confident you'll enjoy the ride.

And if you're in the Northern Virginia area, please come to our launch party this Sunday at Barnes and Noble, 12193 Fair Lakes Promenade Dr., in Fairfax. The event will run from 1 - 3 p.m. Authors James Blakey, Eleanor Cawood Jones, Adam Meyer, Art Taylor, and Cathy Wiley will join me to celebrate. We'll  talk about our stories and our inspirations and some of us might even dress up in the time period of our stories as we pretend to be time travelers. Eleanor dressed as a 1960s flight attendant? James as a 1950s PI? Adam as a 1980s security guard? And Cathy ... well, that's going to be a surprise you'll have to come to see. Other than actual time travel, I can't imagine what would be more fun than that.