28 February 2020

What are the Odds?


Jan Grape
The night of February 27th, 1948, I was 8 years old, but the next day would be my 9th birthday. Not only was I excited about my birthday; that night my mother was having a baby.

I wasn’t exactly sure how the doctor was going to get that baby from my mother’s tummy. And I could tell the grownups weren’t going to explain anything to me because they were sending me off to a neighbor’s house. Yes, my mother would have the baby at home, but with our doctor in attendance. Post was a small town, which didn’t have a hospital. Mother definitely didn’t want her and my step-dad to make a crazy 40 mile trek to Lubbock to the nearest hospital. Besides we knew and trusted our wonderful young doctor, Glenn Kahler.

Late afternoon came and I was happily sent off to my girlfriend’s house to play and do a sleepover. My girlfriend’s mother went to my house to help the doctor make the delivery. Thank goodness I had learned the stork didn’t really bring babies. Doctors, nurses or midwives took on this major task.

Sometime in the wee hours, a knock on the neighbor’s door woke up the whole house. It was my Daddy, Charles. The plan had been for him to wait until morning to come get me but he was excited. “Your baby sister is here and I want you to see her right now.”

The excitement in his voice captured me while I pulled clothes on over my pajamas. But I couldn’t find my shoes.

Daddy Charles said, “Don’t worry about your shoes. I’ll carry you.”
And carry me he did. Diagonally across our street and two houses down. It wasn’t far and at eight years old I was skinny and not that heavy.

It was a cool, February night. The 28th, to be exact. My birthday. But I was too excited to even think about a birthday. I was going to see my new little baby sister, Sharla.

We got to our house and he set me down on the cold concrete porch and led me by hand inside the warm house to the middle bedroon to the beautiful bassinet (like a cradle but with no swing or rocker) my mother had lovingly made for the baby to sleep in.

I crept up and looked inside and there she was, my brand new baby sister. Big brown eyes looking up at me and looking all around. A big beautiful baby doll. I just knew she was thinking, “Hello world. Look out cause here I come.”

“Happy Birthday,” my mama kept trying to say. Then she said, “Take this,” as she held out her hand. I touched her hand. Nothing was in it. “Take this needle,” she said. Daddy Charles said, “Pretend to take it. The doctor gave her medicine and it made her a little loopy.” I didn’t understand exactly, but I pretended to take the invisable needle. “Thank you,” Mama said and closed her eyes and went to sleep.

Still to this day, after all these years, I still can feel that wonderment and excitement and the overwhelming love I felt for this little sister.

Now comes the one in a million odds. The year was 1950, and again it was the evening before my 11th, birthday, February 28th,. My mother was having a baby. Of course, it wasn’t planned.

Once again I was sent to my neighbor’s house to play with and do a sleep over with my friend Toni. Doctor Kahler was again there along with my friend’s mom to assist the doctor.

Jan, Patsy, Sharla
Jan (13), Sharla (5), Patsy (3)
This time Daddy Charles did wait until morning to come and get me. A second sister, Patsy had been born again on my birthday. The excitement, wonder and love once again filled my heart. A big eyed beautiful living doll lying in the ruffled yellow trimmed bassinet. Happy Birthday, Janice.

These two sisters are always part of my life and we always, always talk about our special connection. Not twins or triplets but the shared birthday is always thought of as the 28th, of February rolls around. Patsy likes to tell me, “I was the best birthday present you ever got.” She’s right but I have to then say, “Both you girls were the best presents I ever got.”

No more sisters or brothers born on 28th, of Feb. But my mother’s sister had a boy, named Michael who was born on Feb 28 a year or two later. He was my aunt’s second child and that made four out of five Grandchildren born on February 28th,.

Someone want to figure up those odds?

27 February 2020

How to Lose a Country, or The Atlas Game


by Eve Fisher

Sometimes it takes a while to catch on to what you're seeing.  I am a map freak.  I love them.  I have a few treasured old atlases, including one from 1918, which came with a pamphlet about the League of Nations tucked away in it.  I also have a world map shower curtain, with all the countries, their capitals, and the occasional other city or natural wonder on it.  It was made in China, so there are a lot of other Chinese cities and of course the Great Wall.  Take a look at it.  Of course there is no Tibet on it - God only knows when that got taken off of Chinese maps, and you won't find it on regular atlases as an independent nation anymore, either.  Sorry, Dalai Lama - China has absorbed it and has no intention of ever reversing the process.

But - something else is missing.



Two countries, Kyrgystan and Tajikistan:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Cacahuate
Apparently, they've been absorbed into China, too - they no longer exist, according to this Chinese world map.  Now, you might say, "Hey, it's a shower curtain.  They couldn't include everything."  No.  They've pretty much got everything else, including every country in Africa, even the tiniest ones.  So... makes me wonder, does China have plans?

Let's face facts:  maps are generally the heralds, and always the finales of war, whether waged through words or weapons.  Countries come and go all the time.  They are conquered, absorbed, enlarged, reduced, and sometimes break apart all on their own.   Remember Czechoslovakia?  Yugoslavia?

Location of Poland
OCHA - Locator map of Poland.
In Europe, the most notorious example of this is Poland, which was partitioned up between Russia, Austria and Prussia in 1772.  For the next 123 years, Poland and Lithuania pretty much ceased to exist as sovereign nations.  In 1898, a map of Europe was published in Poland that had no Poland on it.  (See Here)  Finally, in 1918, Poland returned as a country!.  In 1939, it was occupied by Germany, which divided it up with the Soviet Union.  The Soviet Union set up a People's Republic of Poland, under the U.S.S.R., from 1945-1989.  Poland, as a sovereign nation, returned in 1989, and is still here.  So far. 

Notice its neighbors.  Putin has been indicating that Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania all still belong within the Russian embrace.  The map may change again...

And sometimes countries "just get left off" of maps.  New Zealand has a running quarrel with a number of atlases, which keep leaving them off.  Apparently many mapmakers (including one of New Zealand's own) don't find it that important, which is sad, considering that it's Middle Earth.  (Atlas Obscura)  

Map of the United States with Michigan highlighted
(Wikipedia Link)
In 1989, the latest Rand McNally atlas left out South Dakota, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. ″It was an editorial decision,″ said Con Erickson, a public relations representative in Rand McNally’s Skokie, Ill., office.  Oh, well... 

We managed to find South Dakota without them when we moved here in 1990.  (AP)  And all three states got back in the next year.  I think.  Maybe I should go check.

We should probably also check for the Upper Peninsula, which also seems to get lost on atlases.  Oh, it may be there in the big USA map up front (see above), but is there always a detailed map of the UP?  Apparently not.  (NPR)  Which might lead some people to think that you just can't get there from here.  Wherever you are.  Especially if you're in South Dakota or Oklahoma.  

Maps change.  Atlases change.  The world changes.  

Here's the history of Europe showing the borders and populations of each country in Europe, for every year since 400 BC:


Here's one for the Middle East from the dawn of time until the current day:


Here's the history of Africa:



And Asia:



And the shortest one of all, North America:




"All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means."
- Zhou Enlai

And, apparently, cartography as well. 






26 February 2020

The Missing American



I'm reading a thriller by Kwei Quartey called The Missing American.  New writer to me, but he's got half a dozen books under his belt. This one is about internet scams, and takes place mostly in Ghana - along with Nigeria, Ghana is pretty much ground zero for this racket. We get a fair amount of creepiness - the sakawa boys who run the swindles are themselves prey to priests who do weird shit to live chickens and task their acolytes with specific fetish contributions: have sex with a European tourist and bring me her soiled panties. It's garden variety repellent, but not horrific. They make the boys bulletproof, so they can't fail. The marks keep sending the boys money, and the witch doctors take their cut. Criminal hierarchy. 

I recommend the book, which I haven't finished yet. I strongly suspect it's going to get a lot spookier. Quartey was born in Ghana and brought up in the States. He's not going to give us the generic guys in the bone necklaces, stamping around barefoot, but what he's going to give us is the foreignness.

I'm reminded of, say, Gorky Park. The environment as character. The Missing American does this by sliding bits under the radar. The fact that different languages are spoken in Ghana, and a non-native speaker has a familiar accent, but clearly not his own. One-man-thousand. It's a mess of fried anchovies.

Martin Cruz Smith did this by presenting a place that was the next best thing to science fiction. You park your car, you take the windshield wipers off and bring them inside, because otherwise they'd be stolen by morning. Your sergeant comes into your office, you pick up your phone - a rotary dial - you dial it up to zero and stick a pencil in one of the holes. It blocks the signal, busy but not off the hook. KGB isn't listening to your conversation. Renko treats this as second nature.

The guy who did this best, to my mind, was Jack Vance. If you don't know his stuff, you oughta. He had a line in imagining very strange cultural shibboleths. And he managed to make them entirely convincing. A planet where half the world was dark for six months, and where there was only sunlight the other six. A society where scent, apparently the most evocative of our senses, has to be protected - at supper, we mask our faces, because smell may make us swoon, forbiddingly. The Last Castle, one of the more astonishingly anti-Asimov stories, AI as dystopian, or Animal Farm.

I'm thinking of environment as story. Another good Martin Cruz Smith example is Polar Star, the slimeline on the factory ship. It's very much the narrative. John Berryman famously remarked that Stephen Crane's The Open Boat began with the title. It begins, "None of them knew the color of the sky," but the real first line is, in fact, The Open Boat.  Where it happens.  

What's the shape of the story. I'm suggesting this isn't simply local color. The climate, and the weather. Rain or wind. Gators and snakes. Stony uplands, or quicksand. Vocabulary is climate. One-man-thousand. Those anchovies. It's all about the specific, or the remarkable.  

25 February 2020

Writer Burnout


Anyone who knows me well knows I'm not a great juggler. If I'm editing a client's book I'm not writing my own fiction. I like to work on one creative project at a time, be it my own or someone else's. And developmental editing is definitely creative for me. Looking for issues with characterization, for ways to enhance a plot, for when pacing sags, and so much more, all tap into my creative side.

That means I only write a few weeks a year. I sometimes have a week here, two weeks there between projects to devote to writing. That's it. Sometimes I go for months without typing a word. And that's why I usually rev up when I have writing time coming, excited for the story or stories I'll create. But not now.

I finished my last editing project a few days ago, with the next one still a few days off, and ... nothing. I thought I had an idea, finally, for a story for the Bouchercon anthology, but the plot doesn't work. I combed through my files of story ideas I email myself year round so I could run with them when the opportunity presents itself. But none of them sparked joy.

I think sometimes you just have to admit that you're burned out and you're not going to get any writing done this week, even though it's your first writing week in ages. And it's okay.

At least that's what I keep telling myself.

The muse will reappear eventually. It always does. But until then, I'm going to go watch a movie with my dog. Happy Tuesday!

24 February 2020

The A List in Paperback



I'm very excited to have as my guest author today, J.A. Jance. She gave me permission to reprint this piece from her blog.   I'm not sure I've read all her books, but I've read most including her stand alone thrillers. 

I first met Ms Jance at a Bouchercon in Scotsdale AZ. And  recently was able to spend a few steps with her in Dallas at the 50th Anniversary B'Con. If you've never read J.A. Jance, I suggest you rush right out and get several copies. You will enjoy the time you spend in AZ or in Seattle, Washington  I guarantee you.

She did a drive-by signing at Mysteries & More bookstore, that my late husband, Elmer and I owned in Austin from 1990 to 1999. At that signing, not advertised except to our customers, Ms Jance read from one of her books and opened my eyes to a new and better way to do this. She'd read a little bit, then she'd stop and talk about what she'd been thinking about for that scene or why her character acted in such a way. There were about 12 to 15 people there and at least two were writers and we learned a lesson in keeping people interested and not get into that boring  task of just reading your book. I hope you enjoy this article.
Photo by Mary Ann Halpin Studios

 -Jan Grape


THE A LIST IN PAPERBACK

by J.A. Jance

Yes, The A List, Ali Reynolds # 14, is due out in paperback on January 28, 2020. I may have typed 2020, but my fingers still want to start out with 19 something. Get used to it!

So yes, to my loyal paperback readers, The A List is finally coming out in a mass-market, pen-and-ink edition. I’m sure you think it’s high time, and it is. So today, I’d like to take this opportunity to give you a little background on not only the book but also on how that book in particular has intersected with my life.

In December, a little over a year ago, I was busy putting the final touches on the manuscript. In the story, we encounter Ali Reynolds as she is now, but also as she was while still a news anchor in LA and dealing with one of the biggest stories of her TV newscasting career.

Writing the manuscript hadn’t been easy. In July I developed a frozen shoulder, and in October my husband had back surgery. Initially he recovered well, but by mid-November, the recovery process had stalled out. He wasn’t eating properly. Nothing I cooked suited him, and he wasn’t at all himself. He was grumpy and not quite with it mentally. The only good thing about the situation was that, since he wasn’t eating, he was losing weight which he dutifully posted each morning on a weight-management app on his phone. On December 17, shortly after he posted his weight for the day, the app sent him a text: YOU ARE LOSING WEIGHT TOO FAST. CALL YOUR DOCTOR!

Bill is a retired electronics engineer. This was the computer speaking to him, and having the God in the Machine tell him to do something was a lot more effective than having someone else … namely his wife … tell him the same thing. He called his doctor and made an appointment for the following day. After an examination, the doctor ordered an ultrasound. As soon as he saw the results, the doctor said, “Go directly to the ER!” which we did. By the time we got there Bill, was suffering from acute kidney failure with his kidney function at 14%. Whoa! Had it not been for the app—had we waited one more day—I might well have lost him.

But I didn’t. It’s been a long slow process. He’s recovered enough that we’ll be going on a cruise the end of March. YAY. I love cruises. By now, you’re probably thinking, she’s really flipped her lid this time. Nice story, but what on earth does this have to do with The A List?

For one thing, although the book is a murder mystery, a major subplot is all about … well … kidney disease. In creating the story, I read about kidney disease. I researched kidney disease. I wrote about kidney disease.

Between Christmas and New Years, days after we ended up in the ER, my editor sent me a second pass of the galleys for The A List. I had already done the first pass, but there had been so much chaos in our lives at the time that I thought they deserved a second go-down. In the book there’s a scene where a bereaved mother tells Ali about losing her daughter to kidney disease. In the process she relates the daughter’s symptoms shortly before she died of acute kidney failure. As I read through that passage, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I had been describing a fictional character’s symptoms without recognizing that the very same real life symptoms were sitting beside me, right here in our family room!

So, if you’re a paperback reader, by all means, go out and pick up a copy of The A List. But thank you, too, for reading this combination newsletter/blog all the way through, because I want to get the word out. Kidney disease is dangerous and subtle. The symptoms sneak up on you, and sudden unexplained weight loss is one of them. I always thought that questions on physicals about sudden weight changes in the past six months was nothing but a sneaky way of finding out if people were sticking to their diets. Properly functioning kidneys sort out and dispose of all kinds of poisons that pass through the human body. When kidneys quit working, bad things happen. You lose mental acuity right along with losing your appetite. Your personality changes. And it’s not something where a physician can prescribe a medication and you’re suddenly good to go.

So, if you’re reading this through and if any of the above mentioned symptoms seem to fit what’s going on with you or with someone you love, CALL THE DOCTOR and ask to be tested for kidney function. This isn’t your wife or husband speaking—it’s the VOICE IN THE MACHINE, SO PAY ATTENTION!

Thus endeth the daily reading. As for coming attractions? I’m currently doing copy editing on Ali # 15, Credible Threat and working on the next Joanna Brady book, Missing and Endangered, due out this fall. So I’m still writing, and I’m incredibly grateful that so many of you are still reading. 

23 February 2020

Just Doing My Laundry, Officer



Laundry Night
Let's assume you own a legitimate small business in the service industry. Maybe something like a dry cleaners or bar, restaurant or even a body shop. It's a business that deals a lot in cash. True, most consumers now use plastic to pay for whatever services you're selling, but there are several who still pay in cash.

And, let's further presume you are the type of person who can rationalize their actions, whatever they are. Let's face it, most people justify their actions by rationalizing them. Some do it to a small degree like not telling a minor acquaintance that his shirt really doesn't go with the pants he is wearing. You don't want to hurt his feelings. Not your fault he isn't clothes conscious. And, there are others on the far end of the rationalizing stick, such as, "I shot the guy because he dissed me." Only you know where you are on this measuring stick.

Anyway, you've got this business where you have to pay state sales tax on services sold and federal income tax on any profit made. Of course, nobody likes to pay taxes. That is money which could go into your own pocket. If only there was a way.

Well, depending upon your situation, there are two ways with this exact same business to approach the tax thing. For instance, if your enterprise is making lots of money and you want to protect some of that profit from the taxman, what some business people do is a thing called skimming. A certain amount of the cash never makes it to the ledger sheet and therefore becomes tax free cash. Yes, it is illegal to do so. The taxman always wants his cut.

Go to a drinking establishment on different nights when the owner is tending bar and sit up to the counter where you have a clear view of the cash register. When people pay for a drink in cash, does it get rung up on the cash register, or does the cash go into his pocket or into a box under the counter? Remember, just because the cash register drawer opens doesn't mean the sale was rung up.

Here's another version. Several years ago, I met this body shop owner who liked to party in Las Vegas for a weekend. Here's how he financed it off the books. Let's say a customer came in with about $900 of body damage to his vehicle, but his insurance deductible was $1,000. The body shop owner would size up the customer and make a one-time offer: $900 plus tax if paid with plastic or a check, but there was a $100 discount to a flat fee of $800 if paid in cash. The car is fixed, the cash is paid and the body shop owner put that money in his vacation fund. Some Vegas casino then makes out like a one-armed bandit on an upcoming weekend, while Uncle Sam and his state cousin get slighted.

Now, to work it the other way with this same legitimate business, let's assume you are some type of organized crime with lots of money from an illicit enterprise, like drugs or human trafficking or......pick your crime. But, in our case, since we are law abiding citizens not involved with organized crime, let's assume we merely found a briefcase filled with a hundred thousand dollars. How did all this money come to in a briefcase you ask? Well, it's buy money for a drug deal and the meth-head driving down the road got paranoid. He thought the cops were following him, so he threw the briefcase out the window, took evasive action, got lost and forgot where he was when he threw it. And, we just happened to find the briefcase with all this money? Uh, yeah, we were out jogging along that road and Merry Christmas. Naturally, we don't want to call attention to ourselves by declaring our good fortune. Like the Hells Angels say, "Three can keep a secret if two are dead."  And, think about it, even if our conscience says to turn the money in, that meth-head with a gun might see circumstances in a different light. He might believe that we then owe him that money of his that we gave away to the cops. Meth-heads think different. So, we take our own evasive action.

In either situation, organized crime or fairly law abiding citizen, a person wants to make this extra money appear to be legitimate. How do you do this? You launder the cash. Every night, you take some of that cash and put it in with the night's cash deposit. Okay, so you have to create some extra sales tickets to explain the extra money, but you've got plenty of blank receipts laying around. And, yeah, you have to pay sales tax on something your legitimate business didn't sell in the first place, plus pay the income tax on that extra phantom profit, but if you're in the 20% tax bracket, you're still making 80 cents on the dollar on money you didn't have to work for. Plus, now that money appears to be legal. You don't have to explain to others why you have extra money. Nope, you are a successful businessman running a successful business. Of course, laundering money is illegal, even though this time the taxmen are getting their cut.

I was sitting in a mob bar once in Kansas City, up to the counter where I could see the cash register on one wall and the cigarette vending machine on another wall. I gave the waitress some money and asked her to get me a pack of cigarettes. She took her time, stopping for drink orders at other tables, took the orders to the bartender, went to the back room, came back to the bartender, delivered the drinks and then gave me my cigarettes. She never once went to the vending machine. The pack of cigarettes she got from the back room didn't have a tax stamp on them. Evidently, they came from a high-jacked semi on the East Coast or else they got sold out the back door of the factory. The mob bar could have been skimming the profits on the untaxed cigarettes, or they could have been using them to pad their inventory to explain expanded profits.

Just know, that whichever way the business is handling its money, the taxman has parameters for those types of service businesses and if the business shows too much profit according to the taxman's charts, or too little profit, the taxman will then dig deeper into accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventories and connecting receipts. It doesn't pay to get too greedy either way.

So, there you have it. It's best not to do anything you have to rationalize about when it comes to large amounts of extra money.

Wait a minute !!!

You're still thinking about how YOU would handle that extra hundred thousand dollars, aren't you?

As Elmer Fudd would say, "Be berry, berry careful."

22 February 2020

No More Downer Books! (aka Does anyone else out there hate unreliable narrators?)


I’m tired of downer books. I don’t want to be depressed after reading for three hours. Bear with me: I’ll explain further.

The problem is, most of the downer elements of grim books involve women who are victims. Either victims of crime, or victims of a patriarchal society. Scandinavian Noir is full of the first. In fact, most noir novels include a female who is murdered and often hideously mutilated. That’s so much fun for women to read.

So here goes:

I don’t want to read any more books about women who are abused or downtrodden. I know there are several good books out there right now featuring such women. Some are historical. Some are current day. It’s not that they aren’t good. It’s just that I don’t want to read any more of them. I’ve read enough.

Imagine, men, if most of the books you had read involved men who had been victimized, or relegated to second class status by another gender. One or a few might be interesting to read. But a steady diet of these? Would you not find it depressing? Not to mention, discouraging?

I don’t want to read any more books about neurotic women, or women who can’t get it together.

I dread more ‘unreliable narrators.’ Salient point: did you notice that most (okay, every single one I can think of) unreliable narrators on the bestseller lists recently are women? Does that say something to you about how society views women? It does to me. No more ‘girl’ books.

I don’t want to read any more books this year with female protagonists that are written by men. Yes, that means some of the bestselling crime books out there. They may be very well written. But these rarely sound like women’s stories to me. They aren’t written with the same lens.

What I want: books with intelligent female protagonists written by women. I want more women’s stories. Books that I can be proud to hand on to my daughters, and say, see what is possible? She isn’t a victim! She’s someone like you.

Trouble is, I can’t FIND many books like that. The bestseller lists today are filled with protagonists who are unstable, neurotic women. Let me be clear: a lot of people enjoy these books. They may be very well written. They wouldn’t be on bestseller lists, otherwise.

But I’m tired of them. I want a ripping good story with a female protagonist, written by a woman. I want a strong, admirable protagonist I can relate to and care about. Hell, I want to *be* the protagonist for a few hours.

And not come away feeling downtrodden.




Bad Girl writes loopy comedies to blow away the blues. And she guarantees that the women protagonist and secondaries in her books kick butt.

THE GODDAUGHTER DOES VEGAS - latest in the "Hilarious" (EQMM) mob goddaughter series - no blues allowed! On Amazon

21 February 2020

More about Opening Lines


More about Opening Lines

I feel the opening line of a short story or novel is the most important line in the piece. First impressions are the strongest, especially for a beginning writer who wants an editor to read beyond the first page of a manuscript.

"The first page sells your book being read, the last page sells the one you're writing." – Mickey Spillane."

The same goes for short stories, maybe more so.

Over the years, I put together information given by writers and editors. As I've said so many times before, there is no one way to write anything and what follows are just suggestions.

The opening of a novel or short story could capture the attention of the reader with an original hook.

1. THE OPENING SHOULD PROMISE ... SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN

How?
a. By presenting compelling events
b. By presenting an unusual character
c. By presenting a vivid setting
d. By using striking language or dialogue
e. By an unusual presentation of ideas

It should arouse expectation with a promise of more to come.

It should let the reader in on WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, or WHY.

In your opening scene(s) you may want to establish:

a. Who is the main character?
b. What is the situation (the problem)?
c. Where is the story taking place (setting)?
d. When is the story taking place (time frame)?
e. Why did this situation happen?
f. How did the situation happen?

You may want to include a cliffhanger that makes the reader want to read on.

You opening should set the tone of the story.

The strongest type of opening usually hooks the read with action (physical or psychological).

The story does not generally open at the beginning of a situation. It usually opens at the high point of action.

EXAMPLES:

Character Opening – If you are writing a character-driven piece.
Atmosphere Opening –Take your reader to a unique setting.
Action Opening – Start in mid-scene.
Dialogue Opening – Promises the reader there is a emphasis on communication between characters.
Philosophical Opening – Prepares the reader this may be a reflective piece.
Emotion Opening – Promises emotional conflict.

In a 2013 interview, Stephen King stated, "... an opening line should invite the reader to begin the story ... it should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this."

King went on with, "For me, a good opening sentence really begins with voice. You hear people talk about 'voice' a lot, when I think they just mean 'style'. People come to books looking ... for the voice. An appealing voice achieves an intimate connection – a bond much stronger than the kind forged, intellectually, through crafted writing."

Award-winning short story writer John Floyd gives us, "I've always heard that ideal openings should (1) introduce you lead character and/or (2) establish the setting (time, place) and/or (3) introduce conflict. A fourth goal is to make the reader curious about what might happen."

Important Note:
A good opening line is like the opening move in a battle. If you do not follow up a good opening, you could lose the battle.

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Editor Janet Hutchings gives us, "Some writers have told me they have an attention-getting opening line as the seed for the story. That's fine. But from a reader/editor's perspective what makes the opening good or bad is how it serves everything that follows in the story."

Writing novels and short stories is a trade. A profession. Not a philosophical exercise.

OK – we have all read excellent novels and short stories which did not have a good opening line, which proves again there is no one way to write. In the epigraph in Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury quotes Juan Ramón Jiménez – "If they give you ruled paper, write the other way."

Hey Paul,
Here is Charley. Gone but never forgotten.



Thats all for now –
http://www.oneildenoux.com

20 February 2020

No Other Choice


Greetings from the February Break Porch Annex of The House of Sick. Thank God for azithromycin!

(More on that in a bit)

So, not too long after the publication of my first book (The "Lincoln Book"), I went to a party thrown by my friends Tara and Chad. Tara and Chad throw the BEST parties. And this one was a Halloween party, to boot.

I met Tara in law school two decades ago, and we've been pals ever since. She is one of those friends everyone ought to have: Tara celebrates her friends like nobody's business.

And this night was no exception. She introduced me around as her friend who just had a book come out. It was nice. I mean, who doesn't like to have a fuss made over them once in a while?

Now, we live in the Seattle area, and that means that there are a whole bunch of people around here who work in or adjacent to, the tech industry (full disclosure, my wife is one of those people who works "tech-adjacent." Love ya, Honey!). So it stands to reason that there were a fair number of tech industry people at this particular party.

One of them was a Microsoft guy who told me what his job was in such a way that to this day I still have no idea what he actually did. I couldn't tell you anything else about this guy (In my defense, it was fourteen years ago.), but the one other thing I recall aside from him being a Microsoft guy, was his interesting response to Tara's announcement that I was a newly published author. It's a line I've heard countless time since, but I distinctly recall this being the FIRST time:

"I'm gonna write a book."

Not, "I have an idea for a book" (heard that, too, btw), not, "I'd like to write a book." Nothing aspirational, nothing that embraces the notion that he possessed one tenth of one percent of a clue of how hard it can be to write something, let alone get it published.

So I asked him the obvious question: "What's stopping you?"

Oh, he said, he was going to write it once he'd spent a few more years making sure all of his MS stock options vested, and then there was his boat, and then...and then...and then...

I knew before we finished talking and each drifted off in to other conversations, that this guy was never going to write that book.

Why?

Well, because he didn't need to. Because he had other choices. Other priorities.

And there's not a single thing wrong with that.

Put simply: writers write.

No matter what I've been doing over the past two decades, I am always turning something over and over in my head, either a current project, or something I've got in the works. It's kinda my thing.

I had a stretch when my son was very little, where I didn't produce much, but I've never stopped writing. Why? Because I can't.

Because writers write.

My wife (Love ya, Honey!) maintains that I am much easier to be around when I'm writing. I can attest to the fact that a productive day writing makes everything better for me.

As evidence of this I offer the past month, when I've been deathly ill, unable to take time off of work, and behind on a deadline for a project I can't yet say much about. What did I do?

I wrote.

How'd Shutterstock get this picture of me trying to hit my deadline?
When I didn't have anything in me, when I didn't feel like there was anything left in the tank, I wrote. Late at night, early in the morning. Page after page of my notebook filled, word count in my Word doc high. I gritted through it.

I am more proud of the draft I recently turned in than I am of other stuff that I'm sure is more polished (that's why they call it a "rough draft," right?). Because it came at significant cost.

But hey, that's what writers do.

They write.

To circle back around to my friend Tara, I'm going to see her next week. Her book club has invited me to come talk with them about my work. How great is that?

See you in two weeks!

19 February 2020

Premises, Premises


I recently had an amazing insight into my own writing.  You might say: Well, after forty years it's about time.  To which I reply: Don't be obnoxious.

And the insight which, as I said, amazed me, may strike you as blindingly obvious.  Even tautological. That's a problem with great discoveries: like magician's tricks they can be boring when they're explained.  But let's give it a shot.

I have always said that I am strong at characters and premises, but weak at plot.  So, what's the difference between a premise and a plot?  Think of the premise as the elevator pitch for the story:

The Premise: An orphan boy discovers that he is a wizard and goes off to wizard school.

The Plot (greatly condensed): At the school he makes friends and enemies, learns about magic and his family history, and struggles with a sorcerer who is plotting to kill him.

Or, to move into our own field...

The Premise: A private detective seeks to find who murdered his partner.

The Plot (greatly condensed): He learns that their client is mixed up with an international gang searching for a priceless medieval artwork.

This reminds me of Donald E. Westlake's Drowned Hopes.  In the middle of a complicated caper (which almost kills him)  John Dortmunder bails out and refuses to participate.  His partner hopes one of the other members of the gang and take over:

May said, “Andy?  What about you?  You have millions of ideas.”
“I sure do,” Andy agreed.  “But one at a time.  And not connected with each other.  A plan, now, a plan is a bunch of ideas in a row, and, May, I’m sorry, I’ve never been good at that.”

I feel for you, Andy. As I said, I am pretty good at coming up with premises for stories, but working out the details of a plot is a struggle.  That may be why I have a whole notebook full of ideas that don't seem about to bloom into publishable woks any time soon.

Now, another fact: I tend to write shorter-than-average stories.  I currently have eight tales that have been purchased by magazine or anthologies but not yet published.  They average out to about 3,900 words.  The Derringer Awards separate their Short and Long Story categories at 4,000 words, so you can see where I fall.  (And my median is even lower: 3,600 words.)

So now we get to the blazing discovery I just made.  Ready?  The reason I write short is that in very short pieces the premise is the plot.  For example, consider my story "Why" which appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

The Premise:  A cop resigns because of a discovery he made while investigating the motive of a mass murderer.


The Plot (Not at all condensed): Same as the above.


See what I mean?  Now, I don't blame you if you're reaction to this shocking insight is: Well, duh.  But it was news to me.

I have to sit with this discovery for a while, and try to see if it helps me with my plotting problem.  Meanwhile, I hope some of those eight stories find their way into print in the coming year.  At least most of them won't take up too many pages.





18 February 2020

All Dogs BETTER Go to Heaven


by Paul D. Marks

When I started writing this I thought I’d make it funny. But for the most part that didn’t happen. I guess I’m just not feeling too funny right now.
Pepper and me

We recently had to put our dog Pepper to sleep. It was hard and, unfortunately, not the first time we’ve lost an animal and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Many writers have dog or cat companions. Ours is a lonely life sometimes and it’s good to have other beating hearts around. I’m pretty good being alone and very disciplined about getting work done. But when my wife is gone it’s nice to have animal companions around. Over the years we’ve had various combinations of dogs and cats. Most recently Pepper and Buster, who is still with us.

Pepper was great company, got along with all our other animals. And, of course, loved to walk. And if I wasn’t on the ball she’d nudge my elbow saying, “Hey, bud, it’s time to go for our walk.” And we would.

She was old for a big dog, 14½, and she had a good life. When she came into our house at around 8 weeks old we had another dog, Audie, who immediately fell for her. We also had two cats, Curley and Moe (I wonder who they were named after). The cats had grown up with dogs. They were feral when we brought them home as tiny little black balls of fur. We had a dog at the time, Bogey, a Rottweiler. And my wife, Amy, was afraid to let the cats and Bogey be together. But on that first day, I insisted that we put them on the bed and let Bogey sniff them out. Not only did she do that, she cleaned them up and they became fast friends. Then, when we brought Audie into the house as a puppy, the cats took to him like ducks to water. And Moe, the female, especially loved him and loved playing with his tail. Which he tolerated…barely.
Pepper at the creek
When Bogey died, we waited a while and then got Pepper as a pound puppy only a few weeks old. We brought her home in a cat carrier—that’s how small she was. Audie sniffed around but decided she was okay and they became the best of friends. She even brought out a maturity in him that we hadn’t known was there as Bogey was always the alpha dog with him. It reminded me of the scene in Bambi, if I remember correctly, where Bambi’s father tells him he has to grow up after his mom is killed. Bambi did—and Audie did to take care of Pepper.

Audie (left), Pepper (right)
But the cats, Curley and Moe, were scared of this new Pepper creature in the house. Pepper was having none of that. She insisted that they be friends. She drove them nuts, in a friendly-playing way, until they decided if you can’t beat her and can’t hide from her you might as well join her. And she and Curley, the male cat, became great friends. I think they bonded over tearing our family room couch apart. We’d come out of the bedroom in the morning, before Pepper had the run of the house, and it would be like it snowed in there there’d be so much couch stuffing all over the place.

Pepper and Curley

When we lost Audie, Pepper was pretty depressed. But shortly afterwards we got Buster. He was three years old or so when we got him from the German Shepherd Rescue and we—and they—think he was abused before they got him. Pepper accepted him into her house no problem. And they became friends, if not as good friends as she and Audie had been. Curley and Moe were curious, but both died before they could really bond with him. And now he’s all we have left, though we’ll probably get another dog and maybe more cats in the future.

Pepper (left), Buster (right)
She was a particularly wonderful dog in every way. Of all our dogs I explored more with her than with any other dog. We walked up into the forest and down by the creek. She was curious and fun and playful. And when we got surrounded by a pack of feral dogs, which was a pretty scary situation, she was cool and calm. She didn’t seem scared and she didn’t act aggressively. We just stood there until the dogs started peeling off one by one. Then we began to head home. Some of the dogs followed, but they also peeled off until the only one left was the alpha. He followed us almost to our house, but he, too, eventually peeled off. I’m glad to say no blood was shed on either side that day, and I think a good part of the reason for that was Pepper’s demeanor, calm and steady. On other occasions we came across coyotes, and let me tell you the feral dogs were much scarier than the coyotes, who never bothered us at all.
On the road again...
Pepper, whose full name is Sgt. Pepper (I’ll let you figure out what that’s an homage to), was a warm and wonderful and welcoming dog. She just wanted to be friends with everyone. She was good for inspiration and a terrific writing buddy.

Pepper (front - after an operation), Buster (behind) and me
When Pepper or some of our previous animals have gotten sick or injured some people would say to put them down and just get another. But we don’t see it that way. We don’t see our dogs and cats as interchangeable cogs. They’re very much individuals with distinct personalities, and very much part of the family. And you can’t just replace one when the parts start to wear out.

And some people say that the only reason they like us is because we feed them. I read an article once where a woman argued that and it made me crazy. Yes, they like to be fed—don’t we all. But they, just like us, want more than that. They want companionship and security. And, imo, what they really want is what most of us what: to love and be loved.

But the point I’m leading up to here is the title of this piece: Pepper, and all our other critters, better be up there in heaven waiting for us—this of course assumes there is a heaven, but I think that’s a question for another time. Because if all dogs and cats don’t go to heaven, I don’t want to go there either.
My girl
And my idea of heaven, not that I’m in a hurry to check it out, is a comfortable place, with Jacopo’s pizza on their best day flowing freely, abalone and other goodies—cause I think in the other place all you get are C rats. And, of course, Amy and I and all our critters would be there. But then I start to wonder: what the hell (oops, maybe not the best word to use in this context…) do you do up there for all of eternity? Would you get bored? Would you have TV? And if you do would you get Turner Classics on a big screen? And would the History Channel or whatever it’s called these days still be running endless reruns of Forged in Fire (or maybe that only plays down below—hope so as it seems appropriate). Or the other “history” channel running endless reruns of black and white Nazis. Hmm… And would the Beatles be creating any new songs? Now that would be heaven!

Or is it gonna be like Meat Loaf’s* Paradise by the Dashboard Light, where I’m prayin’ for the end of time… Let’s hope not.



~.~.~

And now for a little BSP:  I’m running a free promotion for people who subscribe to my newsletter. You can get a FREE e-copy of my novel Vortex. Just subscribe. And if you’re already a subscriber and want the novel contact me via my website or e-mail and I’ll send you the link for the download.


I'm also excited to announce that I've got a new book coming out in 2020: The Blues Don't Care. It's a little different for me. It's set in 1940s Los Angeles jazz scene during World War II. I hope you'll keep checking in for more news on this exciting new release.


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

17 February 2020

When They Say It's Not About Politics...


by Steve Liskow

My daughter gave me The Last Widow, Karin Slaughter's newest novel, for Christmas and I tore through it in about three days. Slaughter is one of my favorite writers, and the first half of the book felt like a freight train with no brakes careening down a steep hill. I turned pages quickly enough to leave a trail of smoke and risk uncountable paper cuts.

I seldom pay attention to online reviews, but when I finished this one, I looked on Amazon out of curiosity. Slaughter is one of several authors I read who gathers mixed reviews because she takes chances and doesn't adhere to the standard template. Sure enough, The Last Widow had 795 reviews, 63% five-star, and 9% one-star.

The one-star reviews often complained that Slaughter let her politics get in the way of the story. Well, a group of white nationalist kidnaps Sarah Linton, the female protagonist, as part of their deadly plot, and, given that premise, it's hard to be apolitical.

That's why I usually ignore online reviews.

In one way or another, MOST art is political because artists deal with important issues in life.

Sophocles wrote Oedipus the King as a reaction to the contemporary debate about predestination. His play takes the issue head-on, and his opinion is clear. Euripides leaves no doubt what he thinks of war in The Trojan Women. Nice people don't throw the child of a vanquished rival off the battlements and turn the surviving women into sex slaves.



Shakespeare's 37 (or 40, or 50, depending on whose count you believe) plays constantly involve politics.
Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear discuss, among other issues, who succeeds to the throne. Measure For Measure asks tough questions about women, love, sex, and relationships, and offers no easy answers (The main "good guy" has a creepy voyeuristic streak, too).
All the histories involve kings and, usually, war. Even comedies like Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night discuss the roles of women in society, and the misuse of power, still timely as the Me Too Movement and Roe vs Wade are still crucial issues.

Jane Austen and Emily Bronte present the situation of women in the 1800s, unable to vote, own property, or inherit. Pride and Prejudice features Mr. Bennet with five daughters who will starve if he can't marry them off to husbands who will support them. Wuthering Heights is built around the British Law of Entails, a devious way to control who inherits property if no sons succeed.

In America, Twain looks at slavery through bitter eyes in Huckleberry Finn, one of the most banned books in our country's schools, along with To Kill A Mockingbird, which looks at the same issue from 80 years later...although we haven't advanced much. Uncle Tom's Cabin, far more racist than either of the others, was a blockbuster best-seller before the word existed.

Robert Penn Warren gives us All The King's Men, a fictionalized vision of Huey Long, the Louisiana Governor who used graft and kickbacks left and right...and used the money to build highways and hospitals. Alan Drury won the Pulitzer in 1960 with Advise And Consent (102 weeks on the NYT Bestseller list and later a film with Henry Fonda), and that's all about politics.

Other novels, off the top of my head: 1984, Brave New World, The Handmaid's Tale, Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (if you haven't read these, do so before the second of the three books appears next fall on HBO.)

I know almost nothing about painting, but even I can point to Picasso's Guernica.

Plays: Lee Blessing's A Walk In The Woods is about two arms negotiators meeting to talk during the Cold War. Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible (maybe my least favorite play of all time), All My Sons, A View From the Bridge, and Death of a Salesman. Miller always looked at the shafting of the little guy by big business or bigger government. Lawrence and Lee's Inherit the Wind, which the Religious Reich should go see sometime.

Films: Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.

The classic western High Noon asks if we deserve freedom and law if we won't fight to defend them.Many in that production were blacklisted because of their involvement, and I still don't understand why. What about The Grapes of Wrath? Steinbeck dodged a death threat after writing the novel, and the film, made on an 800K budget, still gives me chills when I listen to Henry Fonda deliver
Tom Joad's farewell speech in that flat monotone.

Beethoven first called Symphony #3 the "Bounaparte," but changed it to "Eroica" after Napoleon became Emperor.
Where would American folk music be without Woody Guthrie,Pete Seeger, and the Weavers?  Or their descendants, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, The Doors ("The Unknown Soldier") and Country Joe & The Fish (I Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag--remember "Gimme an 'F'?).

Politics should be separate from art. Yeah, right.

Maybe flavor should be separate from food, too.

This list barely unscrews the lid from the jar. What other works can you name?

16 February 2020

All in the Fingertips


bad girl
Did you ever wish you could peer into the past? In a way, anyone with a smartphone can, especially bad guys. With the help of technology, they can apply a trick to steal codes from digital locks, safes, secured buildings, even your ATM and credit card PIN numbers.

FLIR Systems specializes in infrared technology. They sell thermal cameras, attachments for iPhones and more recently for Androids, gadgets that gaze into the past. When it comes to PIN codes, this accessory can tell what keys were last touched. They accomplish it by sensing residual heat from your fingertips.

The Polite Lady

At the ATM, the woman rummaging in her purse waves you to go ahead. Twenty minutes earlier, her boyfriend had hot glued a fake card reader over the real one, Chinese made to blend with the original.

The lady finds her iPhone and politely waits while you complete your transaction. You step away, nodding to the nice person. She steps forward to attend to her business… reading your keystrokes with her smartphone.

How? A simple filter records the presence of your fingertips from the first, the coolest, to the hottest, the last digit you entered. Can you guess this all-too-common PIN number?

10-key pad with telltale reddish heat signatures
keypad with telltale heat signatures

If you said, “What ninny uses 1-2-3-4-5 for a PIN?” you’re right. The answer to that question is about 10-12% of the population.

The Smart Lady

Like most people, I normally work a 10-key device with three fingers like an accountant. With PIN code theft on the rise, I’d adopted the practice of pressing keys with my fingers out of order. It probably looks awkward to an observer, but I might press a key in the left column with my middle finger, and a key on the right with my index finger. Clumsy but hopefully confusing to unwanted eyes. I’m also not afraid to cup my hand around the keyboard if it doesn’t have a cowl. None of those actions solves this new personal identity attack.

So I mention to my girlfriend I’m writing an article on the topic. I barely get the question on my lips before Haboob says, “Now you have to touch other keys to fool the camera.” Did I hint she’s pretty damn smart?

And yes, either let your fingertips pause on unused keys or touch other keys once you’ve pressed Enter and finished the transaction. And don’t start your PIN number with a 1. Or a 0. Just don’t do it. Bad guys love suckers who use dates for PINs or lazily use 1234… etc.

Natually, this makes fodder for fiction. It’s all in the fingers. Here’s a video with more detail, 3¾-minutes, geeky but worth it.

15 February 2020

Building "Crow's Nest," Jan/Feb 2020 EQMM





Some of my favorite columns by my fellow SleuthSayers have been those that give us a sneak peek into the creation of the mystery stories they've published. I suppose it makes sense that I would like that kind of thing--I'm also a sucker for those little behind-the-scene "bonus" features included on most DVDs. I enjoy finding out where scenes were filmed and who else was considered for the roles and how the screenwriters got their ideas in the first place. Trivia galore.

So . . . what I thought I'd do today is talk about my short story in the January/February (current, at least for a couple more weeks) issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. It's called "Crow's Nest," and is a standalone tale about an old guy who gets involved by accident in a conflict between a bunch of local gangsters and a couple of amateur criminals. Bottom line is, it's about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances, which is, by the way, a pretty good definition of commercial fiction.


Character stuff

Quick setup: The "hero" of this story isn't a hero at all. Amos Garrett is a regular guy, a retired farmer who lives with his wife out in the boonies and doesn't have a lot of thrills in his life, which is just fine with him--until he stops his truck one day to help a young lady with a flat tire and no spare and a dead cellphone. Afterward, there's more than enough excitement to go around (or I hope there is). Robbery, murder, lies, betrayals, revenge, etc.

One of the things I wanted to do with this story was feature an older protagonist. Amos is pushing seventy-five--older than I am, but not by much--and so is his wife, and they live high on a hill in a house that's fairly ordinary except for one thing. It has a railed platform on top that allows an unobstructed view for miles around. They use it as sort of a patio, and call it their Crow's Nest, like the perches on the masts of tall ships where sailors watched for whales, or enemy vessels, or dry land. In this story, it comes in handy for something else.

Amos is an uncomplicated guy. He drives an ancient pickup, goes fishing and hunting now and then, owns an old fifty-caliber buffalo gun that he inherited but hasn't fired in years because the recoil hurts his shoulder, and still likes to go to cattle auctions even though he's long since sold all his cattle. He's also old-fashioned in his thinking: he loves his wife, he helps those in need, and he believes in trying to do the right thing.

The other protagonist (heroine?) is a woman named Wendy Lake ("Sounds like an apartment complex," she tells Amos, when they meet), and she IS complicated--sweet and meek at times and scary-tough at others. I won't say too much about her because she's the basis of most of the twists and turns the story takes--but I will say she's the exact opposite of Amos. He's old, she's young; he's local, she's an outsider; he's calm and cautious by nature; she's not; he lives pretty much by the rules; she doesn't. The POV alternates between these two for the entire story.

Plot stuff

As has been discussed often at this blog, writers get their initial ideas from a lot of different places, and those starting points usually fall into three categories: settings, characters, or plots. I usually begin with the plot, partly because I think story is more important than anything else and partly because the plot just seems to be the first thing that pops into my head. Then and only then do I come up with characters who I hope are interesting and settings that I hope are convincing and appropriate. Lots of folks do it the other way around--characters first, or settings first. Different strokes.

In the case of this story, my first glimmer of an idea came from a movie I watched years ago, an Australian "western" called Quigley Down Under. It won no Oscars and maybe didn't deserve any, but it was a riproaringly good story in terms of action and excitement. It had a great cast, a great plot, a great score, a great setting, and one scene in particular that stayed with me long afterward.

Picture this. American-in-a-strange-land Matthew Quigley, played by Tom Selleck, has been beaten senseless by the villain's men and carted off into the outback, to be left for dead. He and a young lady (Laura San Giacomo, if anyone remembers the TV series Just Shoot Me) are dumped unconscious from a buckboard in the middle of nowhere, and the two henchmen climb back into the wagon and prepare to leave. As Captain Kirk would say, the situation is grim.

Then Quigley comes to, lures one of the bad guys back down off the wagon, and--still lying down--kills him with a hidden knife. Thug #2, thankfully smarter than he looks, sees this and takes off in the wagon alone, headed away across the flats, but (also thankfully), Thug #1, now dead, was carrying Quigley's Sharps long-range rifle when he got stabbed, so our hero, trying to clear his head, wipes the blood and sweat and dirt from his eyes, loads the gun, crawls into position, props the three-foot-long barrel of the Sharps on the dead body of Thug #1, and takes careful aim. Meanwhile, Thug #2 is going hell for leather, flying across the desert, scared to death and leaning forward in his seat and looking back over his shoulder and whipping the horses as hard as he can and getting smaller and smaller and smaller in the distance. Knowing that he'll have only the one chance and knowing that if his bullet doesn't hit its tiny target Thug #2 will get home safely and report what happened and a small army will come back and kill him and his lovely still-unconscious companion, Quigley takes his time and squeezes off his shot and blows T#2 right out of his wagon seat, half a mile away. Heavy sighs of relief, fading music, end of scene. All is well.

So, using that as sort of a launch pad, I built a present-day plot whereby the young Wendy gets rescued from her car troubles by Amos Garrett, and he takes her home with him to call for roadside assistance. But of course the power is out at the house and so is the landline and she stays the night as the guest of Amos and his wife, and since Wendy says she and her brother are gun collectors Amos shows her his old .50-caliber Sharps--the one that buffalo hunters used in the Old West--and lets her have some target practice out back before supper. She's a surprisingly good shot. The next morning when phone lines are repaired she makes her call for assistance . . . but of course she isn't exactly who she claims to be (who is, in a mystery?) and she didn't call who she'd claimed she called, and the two people who come for her aren't car-repairmen and they definitely aren't friendly, to either her or the Garretts. A lot happens from that point, and part of it involves a long-range shot by Wendy with the buffalo gun, with time running out and everybody's lives hanging in the balance. (Sorry that preview ran so long.)


I should mention here that the scene I remembered from the movie resulted in less than one page of the twenty-one pages of my story manuscript--but it did serve as a starting point, the tiny match that lit the fire. It happens that way sometimes.

Theme stuff

If pressured, I guess I would say there are several "themes" featured in this story--crime doesn't pay, lend a hand to the needy, the end can indeed sometimes justify the means, there are varying degrees of good and evil, love is more important than money, villains should get what they deserve, and so forth--but I admit I don't usually give much thought to illumination and life-lessons in fiction. I just try to tell an entertaining story, and if there's something to be learned form it, fine; if there's not, I might've at least saved you from half an hour of network TV, and believe me, that can be a blessing. I've never understood writing instructors who say you must come up with the theme first, before you start writing. My feeling is, don't waste time worrying about that. If you write a story and it turns out good, then it'll have a theme.

One more thing. One kind reader told me the other day, via email, that she liked my foreshadowing of a couple of things that happened near the end of this story--one of them involved an early view of several old mailboxes on the same post, something you see a lot in rural areas of the south, and which turned out to be meaningful later. I appreciated her noticing that, because I love doing that kind of thing in a story. Some of my writer friends seem to think foreshadowing is hard in short fiction because the stories aren't long enough for it to work. That's not true. It just depends on when and how you do it.



And that's all, folks. Thanks for indulging me. If you happen to read my story, I hope you'll like it. If you read it and don't like it, hey, maybe you'll have learned something not to do in your own stories.

Two things I know for sure: (1) I'm grateful that EQMM liked it, and (2) it was a lot of fun to write.


See you in two weeks.