28 March 2020

Why Writing a Cozy Murder May Kill Me


For most of my author life, I have written mob capers. (Okay, there was that trilogy of ribald sexy fantasy that started my career, but surely that’s in my past. At least, that’s what I tell the priest.)

There have been seven of them. (Mob capers. Not priests.) An eighth will be coming, but in the meantime, my publisher wants me to write a cozy mystery. “You’re already writing comedy,” she said. “This is merely a different sub-genre. And cozies have a HUGE audience in the States.”

More than capers, she not so subtly pointed out.

I know about cozies. Some of my best friends write them. These are authors who can somehow do without sex, violence and profanity in their writing lives. My protagonists are not that sort of people, at least by choice, but I digress.

Thing is, if I was going to write cozies, I was going to have to clean up my language. It may come as a surprise, but mob caper characters don’t actually say, “Golly” and “Goodness me” when they get hit with a chunk of lead.

So as I embarked upon project clean-up, I pulled from my past, aka my dad’s side, which is firmly British. (As opposed to my mother’s side, which had bases in Sicily and The Hammer. ‘Nuf said.)
Most cursing in our house was Brit. I grew up on a steady diet of colourful West Country language.

However, this was a cozy, so I played it light. Even that didn’t work with my publisher.

The first word to go was Pits. “Pits!” Penelope yelled.

Publisher: “What is Pits? Nobody in the States will know what you mean. Use Rats.”

“Rats,” Penelope yelled, while closing the car bonnet.

That didn’t work. I tried again. It got worse.

Soon, ‘bloody’ and ‘bugger’ were off the table.

Me: “Really?”

Me (throwing arms in the air): “I’m Canadian.”

“But they don’t know that,” she said, as if that were some sort of naughty secret we had to keep.

I retreated to Rats and Holy Cannoli.

But problems resurfaced quickly. “You’re a cow!” said Peter.

Publisher: “You can’t use cow. It sounds…”

Me: “Too trashy?”

Publisher: “Bestial. And with respect to the current scandals in Hollywood and DC…“

Me: “Gotcha. Not suitable for a cozy.”

It didn’t end there. Other phrases came under the knife. My whole vocabulary was at stake. Thing is, every non-naughty British expression seems to be…well…so much more expressive than the American equivalent.

“You filthy swine!” is much cooler than “You dirty pig!”

“Damn and blast!” really rocks it over “Darn and boom!”

It’s taken a long time and a lot of soul searching, but I may have come up with a solution to this whole cozy language problem. Something my publisher should be happy with, that isn’t a four letter word, and that shouldn’t offend the clergy. Not only that, it pretty well tells the tale.

“Curses!” said Penelope.



Melodie Campbell does her cursing south of Toronto. She was hardly ever a mob goddaughter, at least not recently. You can buy The Goddaughter and the rest of the series on Amazon.com and all the usual suspects.

Melodie Campbell
Winner of the Derringer and Arthur Ellis Awards
"Impossible not to laugh." Library Journal review of THE GODDAUGHTER

27 March 2020

Our New Normal



    ***    I don't remember exactly when I met Kristin Kisska. She's one of those people I happily see every year at Malice Domestic, someone who loves mysteries as much as I do. Getting together at Malice with friends like Kristin is like attending a big family reunion. So I was delighted to start doing things with her outside of Malice, including being in two anthologies together, FIFTY SHADES OF CABERNET in 2017 and DEADLY SOUTHERN CHARM in 2019, and having the occasional lunch in this little town we found that's halfway between our homes in Virginia. Kristin writes suspense, has had several short stories published, and is also working on a novel. I'm thrilled to welcome her as a new member of our SleuthSayers family. She'll be blogging with us every three weeks. Take it away, Kristin!
                                                                                                            ~ Barb Goffman


Thank you for the kind introduction, Barb. I'm thrilled to join the SleuthSayers' ranks.

I didn't set out to make our upside-down world my debut post topic. But as I stared at the draft of my original post, all my writerly brain could process was the haunting image of Italians serenading each other in unison from their balconies.

Isolated. Empathetic. Vulnerable.

A fraction of a heartbeat later, the source of their angst was no longer confined to their charming corner of Earth. No one needs me to rehash how our new reality escalated to the point of flipping our world on its axis. New terms have invaded our day-to-day vernacular: exponential growth, social distancing, quarantine, self-isolation, flattening the curve, triage, and pandemic. Do you feel as if we're living a dystopian thriller yet?

As a crime fiction author, I've always craved extended stretches of uninterrupted hours to draft whatever my muse inspires. The darker the scene, the better. With restaurants, bars, schools,  gyms, sporting and cultural events, closing, the world as we know it ground to a halt. Now that I seemingly have endless batches of time, I can't concentrate for more than a few minutes. My muse has apparently self-isolated away from me as I obsess over following COVID-19's lightening fast, stealth invasion.

Apparently, I'm not alone.

Most of us can agree, Plan A is to finish that gosh darned novel (novella? short story?). But no writer needs to add personal guilt on top of the world's crazy. People have varying levels of distress from losing control. While so much of this global health crisis is out of our control, if you and your family are safe, healthy and stocked with food and necessities to hunker down for the time being, then join me, take a break from the news, and let's together take back control of what we can influence. We can tee-up our writerly careers for the post-virus world, or at least until your muse decides to inspire you again (if she is visiting you at the moment, congrats! Go forth with Plan A and write).

For the rest of us still in shock, here are a few suggestions for a productive Plan B:

Journal. We are collectively experiencing a global crisis. Record your thoughts--the good, the bad, and yes, even the ugly--while you are hyper-aware of these events. How frequently are you oscillating between the highs and lows? What surprises are you noticing in the news and your social media feeds? Are you experiencing conflicting emotions? What methods are you using to cope? These notes will be both therapeutic now and could make for a compelling and relatable character sketch for later.

Spring Clean. By now, your home's walls have squeezed ever closer, and you may even have a household of "work colleagues" where once there was silence. Fling open those windows and let in some fresh spring air. While you're at it, deep clean your writer's cave. And by deep clean, I mean dust off (sanitize?) and organize both your paper and digital work space. Don't forget to spruce up your author website with updated books, bios, and check all your links. Oh, and be sure to back. up. your. files.

Connect. We've all experienced the constant stream of news updates, social media memes, and reactions ranging from denial to panic. Take a break from that madness to connect with other writers and readers. Also, if you are active on Twitter (a.k.a. the watercooler for authors), check out the shiny new hashtag, #WritersInQuarantine, which is where many are now meeting every Friday evening.

Learn. What is your window of concentration?  Half an hour? Before you binge the umpteenth comedy on Netflix, watch a Ted Ed video on http://ed.ted.com/. A link to a list of hundreds of topics on their playlist can be found here. An hour? Demo a free Massive Open Online Course (a.k.a. MOOC). Pro tip--search the word *forensic* on Coursera.com and you'll find dozens of lectures that might re-pique your passion for solving crimes.

Book promotions. For the love of all things noir, please pause any scheduled push-posts, especially on Twitter.  Hitting the right tone is critical, and right now, the audience is anxious on many levels. Best case scenario, any book promo post that feels robotic will be ignored as noise, but more likely you'll risk being muted or unfollowed.  Now is the time to engage organically– emotionally– with individuals across your platform.  I can't stress enough, connect at a human level, not with a sales agenda. If, and only if, it makes sense in the greater conversation, drop a link to your work.

That said, be ready to hop on unique marketing opportunities as they arise, such as this book blogger submission call (see Tweet to the left) for debut mystery authors. Interested? contact Stephanie directly on Twitter @bookfrolic or by email (stephanie <at> bookfrolic.com). Her offer is still available.

Separately, Author Stephanie Storey (@sgstorey) Tweeted that she is also offering to interview authors (all genres, including mystery and crime fiction) who've had to cancel new release events due to coronavirus. You can message her through the contact page on her website, StephanieStorey.com/contact.

Pay it forward. The world is stuck at home and craving entertainment as a distraction. During these strange times, take the cue from the A-list museums, opera houses, Broadway, and even some of our bigger-named bands, and drop one of your ebooks (or some other digital content) for free.  Be *that* artist. Your readers will be grateful and remember how you offered them an easy escape from these daily stresses. Have you already gifted the world with a free ebook? Thank you! Drop a link in the comments below for other SleuthSayer blog readers to find and enjoy your work.

Keep up with publishing news.  It may have been overshadowed by the global crisis this month, but not all publishing productivity has stopped. Don't get me wrong, many people are worrying-from-home like a lot of us. But just this past week, some literary agents have Tweeted asking authors for more queries and announcing that they've signed new clients. Acquisition editors publicized that they are offering book contracts. BookEnds Literary Agency's president and founder, Jessica Faust gave her behind-the-scenes insights into How Publishing is Operating in the Time of Corona in her blog post here. Also, be sure to follow Publisher's Marketplace for all the deal news.

Read. Whether you are executing Plan A or Plan B, keep reading.  Support our crime fiction sisters and brothers and venture out to experience other genres. Read local authors, indie authors, and traditional best sellers. Tackle your To Be Read pile--yes, the towering one on your nightstand--with gusto. Go ahead and add new titles to your list. But be sure to leave a review of the books you read on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and link to your social media pages.

Hopefully soon, we'll all stop singing the Coronavirus Blues, and our world will revert back to something more recognizable. Until that glorious day, what is your go-to Plan B?



PS – Let's be social:

26 March 2020

Little Plague on the Prairie:
The 1918-19 Diary of Anna Eneboe


Page One of Anna Eneboe's diary, which she kept from 1918 until late 1919:

Miss Anna Eneboe
Pierpont So. Dak.
My day book
Come read my thoughts

Anna Eneboe and her Diary

She was the great aunt of my dear friend Allyson Giles Nagel, who graciously gave me permission to use Anna's writing. The diary is very short, very simple, very spare, written in a small red notebook that's pretty worn after all these years. Anna was 19 years old in 1918, unmarried, and treasurer of the local Independence Red Cross (organized June 13, 1918). Some of the people mentioned in the diary are her older brothers, Henry (called Hank) and Rudolph (called Rud), her two adopted sisters, Lillian (called Lillie) and Agnes, her parents, and her future husband, Bernt Nerland. The family all lived on a farm outside Pierpont, SD, up in Day County, in northwestern South Dakota. Today its population is 135, back then somewhere between 314-400 (the census of 1910 and 1920 respectively). I've guestimated it to be around 380 in 1918.

Now, before we get started reading excerpts from the diary, you need to remember that the Spanish Flu roared through the United States three times. The first was in the spring of 1918. It was fairly mild and it disappeared for the summer. People believed that it was over. And then with the fall, came the flu, and October - when this diary begins - was the deadliest month of all. 195,000 Americans died that month from the Spanish Influenza.

Wikipedia – Link
Victims died within hours or days of developing symptoms, their skin turning blue and their lungs filling with fluid that caused them to suffocate. There was no treatment, no vaccine, no cure. Thanks to WW1 (BTW – the Spanish flu killed more soldiers than died in battle in WW1), there was also a shortage of doctors and nurses back home. And no one, no place was immune. Even President Woodrow Wilson got it in early 1919 while negotiating the Treaty of Versailles in Europe. (Link)

It's hard not to believe that it was the Spanish Flu's return in October, 1918 that got Anna to writing things down. Not that she knew it, but that month was the peak – but not the end – of the pestilence. But she was well aware that men were coming home from the war, some of them sick, some of them dying. That people all around her were sick, dying, but also marrying and giving birth. And that's what she writes about.

1918

Camp Funston Hospital Ward for Soldiers sick with Influenza

Oct. 14th – Hans Oswood seriously ill at Camp Funston of the Fluenza.
Oct. 15th – Alfred Nelson gassed in France in August and has been at the hospital since.
Emil Sanders sick of the Fluenza in Camp Dodge.
School closed in Pierpont Oct. 14th on account of the Flu.
Dr. Murphy sick of the Flu.
Mrs. Eddie Kamestad died in the evening Oct. 14th.
Luther Hofstad wounded severely in France Oct. 14th.
Edwin Ronshaugen died in Camp Funston of the Flu., Oct. 14th.
Kristian Mjolsness was married to Lina Likus Oct. 18th.
Anna Rindahl was married to Mr. Jensen November 3rd.
Mr. and Mrs. Monk Osby are the proud parents of a baby boy, born Oct. 3rd.
Rudolph Baukol lost in action [in pencil].
Magnus Brindenuven died of wounds received in France.
Oscar Nymauen died of the Fluenza in Camp grand.
My Note: "On Oct. 16, 1918, the South Dakota State Board of Health ordered everything closed: Schools, houses of amusement, sporting events, speeches, everything. The order was enforced by police and the Home Guard, a quasi-military force that patrolled cities looking for violations." (Argus Leader)

SD Historical Archives

Mrs. Martin Jacobson died of the Influenza in November at Nigdahl Minn.
The oldest boy of Rev. Danielson died of the Flu at Langford.
Ole Jacobson’s little baby boy died of the Flu Sunday evening 28th of Dec.
Henry was married to Jennie Eggen the 4th of Dec. at New Effington.
Alma Gunderson was married to Dennie Holland in December.
Selma Liknis was married to Synerk Anderson in October.
Josie Oswood was married to Boyd Vikers in August at Camp Lewis, Washington.
Enok Liknis was home in a furlough in Oct.
The soldiers who came home for Xmas is as following –
Earl Hutenburg
Hans Oswood
Gust Johnson
Mat Johnson
Harry Nerheim
Rev. Husley from France [in pencil – Y.M.C.A.]
Adolph Eikaness
Martin Midland - -
Mathilda Hanson was married to Mr. Olson
Howard and Marie spent Xmas with us.
A cablegram from the battlefields of France last week Thursday, conveyed the heartbreaking news of the first sacrifice made by one who spent his childhood days in Farmington, and lived here in the adjoined vicinity on the north, the greater part of his life.

Henry O. Osness in company with his brother Chester departed from Langford April 26, 1918, with the Marshall County soldier boys of that date, who were sent to Camp Funston, Kansas.

WW1 Soldiers Returning Home

A sorrowful group of half-sisters and brothers mourn his loss, also a number of other relatives.
He is survived by his two sister, Misses Josephine and Anna, and by three brothers, Chester, his comrade, and Theodore and Selmer.
Three years ago, Henry enlisted in the navy, but was honorably discharged on account of physical disability. He appeared well and was of a happy, jolly disposition. The selective draft admitted him, and he went to death bravely fighting for his glorious country. “Over the top” was his motto, and t’was there he payed the supreme sacrifice.After only a brief time, they were called “over there” and on July 11th Henry gave his life nobly in this great crisis, which the United States was suddenly thrust into and from which nearly the entire world is so grandly, so nobly extricating itself. Henry was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Christian Osness and was born in Newport township, Marshall Co., June 10, 1889. The family resided in Farmington a number of years, during which the children were left orphans by the death of both parents.

O’er the sea there came a cable message from the battlefields of France.The golden star in their service flag appeals with honor and sadness to Henry’s countless friends here.
Henry is gone, never hereafter to wake nor to weep.
Sleep, soldier, sleep.
Ne’er more the bugle shall call you, call you to fight fierce and long.
Yours is calm rest. We your memory sacred will keep.
Sleep, soldier, sleep.
We gaze at a star turned to golden. That shortly in deep blue did shine. O that in heaven, your soul is in keep.
Sleep, soldier, sleep.
“Chester’s Tale”
Henry was blown to pieces. Half of the body were all that they could find to bury. There’s a little white cross somewhere in France that now marks his grave.

Aerial photograph of Pierpont,
Aerial view of Pierpont, SD.
Pierpont Quasquicentennial - Pierpont SD Facebook page

1919

January

Walter Sletten and Bernt Norland arrived from Camp Dodge Jan. 3.
School opened again January 6th – met Bernt at the Ladies Aid at Synert Sampson January 9thTheodore Roswell died in January
Old Mr. Brookings was buried January 9th.
Born to Mr. and Mrs. Boyd Vikers a baby in January.

Boyd Vikers and Christ Oswood return home from camp.
Charly Paulson has been home on furlough.
Meeting in Falness [Lutheran Church, Langford, SD] Jan. 19 – also to Y P.M. in the evening.
Mr. Knut Syvertson and Mrs. Dahl was married this month.
Was at John Enstad Sunday the 12th in the evening.

21st - has been very lovely weather now for the last days. Today it is foggy.
23rd – Henry Fossum returned home from Camp Lewis. Oscar Brandly also is home from Washington.Olaf Syre returned home from camp.

Lillie’s partner was Clarence, my partner was Emil Erickson – we had a very nice time talking and laughing. Played games and so on. Shook hands with Olaf Syre. Hobart Syre and Joseph Nygaard came home today.23rd – very nice weather, social in Hainess school house tonite. Quite a few there. The sum paid for Baskets $72.74.
28th – had our first trip in the Overland to Pierpoint. Sawsa Brandle’s a baby in January

My Note The Overland was a "runabout", and the Overland Automobile was produced from 1903-1926. Pa's new vehicle was probably Model 83:

Overland automobile
Overland automobile (Wikipedia)
February

My Summation: February was cold, snowy, with more running about in the Overland. Alma Asdland died on the 10th and was buried on the 13th, which means the ground wasn't frozen solid. (Not always true in a South Dakota February.) There were meetings, cleaning, crocheting, and an oyster supper, along with one day when it was warm enough to play croquet, and more days when it was bitter cold with snow.

March, 1919 - the flu returns - the Third Wave

1st – Sat. – Enstad’s – washed the floors and baked was what Hattie did, and I tried to help her along. Snap’d our pictures.
2nd – Sun. – kind of nice today. Rudolph came over after dinner. We made up a poem. In the evening we were discussing different things. Told our fortunes, and had a little lunch. Rudolph stayed over night. (In pencil on the side, Mrs. Ole Enstad died this morning.)
3rd – Mon. – very mild and nice this morning. Rudolph went to Lee’s and then he came back for me. We had a Dakota blizzard going home.
4th – Tue. – Mr. and Mrs. Carl Sampson a boy. Cold, but clear. Have not been doing very much. 5th – Wed. – washing clothes today, nicer weather.
6th – Thurs. – Ironed. Jennie baked cookies, I washed upstairs.
8th – Sat. – Doing the Sat. work in the forenoon and in the afternoon we four girls went to Bakke’s but only Selmer at home. In the evening, Julian and Hattie came over.7th – Fri. – Washed the floors. In the afternoon we went to town. Talked to Chris L. Oswood. Myrtle & Lillie went with us home.

11th – Tue. – Rud sick of the flu. Very nice weather. Not doing very much.
13th – Thurs. – Ironing. Colder. Feeling punk tonight. Uncle and Selmer is here.
14th – Fri. – Sick in bed today of the fluenza.
15th – Sat. – Sunshine again today. Been up this afternoon. Last year today we sure had a nice time this evening but now it is only memorys.
16th – Sun. – Home all day. Have the “flu”.
17th – Mon. – Feel better today.
18th – Tue. – Pa has the flu today – nice weather.
19th – Wed. – Nice weather. We are all feeling fine after the flu. Mrs. Huxley died of the flu.

And then it's done - the Spanish Influenza is over.

Wikipedia - Chitrapa - Own work

On Thursday, May 22nd, Anna and the family went "to Pierpont, had a reception there for the soldiers. First time I seen Chester in uniform. The soldiers were seated on the stage. Had Annie Sparks duet and a quartet. Drawed number on a Red Cross quilt and Chester won it. had ice cream and cake. Only one vacant chair and that was Henry Osness." (Whose death, as you'll remember, Anna recorded in the first part of her diary.)
23rd – Fri. – Lillie and I have been home alone today. The folks been in town. In the evening we went to Pierpoint to take in “The Birth of a Nation”.

A few more months, barely three pages more, and Anna's diary came to an end.
My Note: Anna mentions 14 cases of the flu, 6 of them in October, 3 in November-December, and 5 in March. In the whole diary, 12 people die - 3 in October, 3 in Nov-Dec., and the rest in Jan, March, May, two at least of whom died of the flu. Not a lot, right? But in a community of 380 people, where everyone knows everyone else and has since they were born, that's a lot.
Six cases of flu in October, including the doctor, would have frightened everyone. The whole family coming down with the flu in March would have everyone scared.
And those 12 people dead - they would leave a hole in the community, from the newborn to the soldiers who never came back. Small towns are tight-knit, and memories are long. Weddings and funerals, births and deaths, all get talked about for years, if not generations. The proof is that we know the rest of Anna's story, because it's still being talked about, in Allyson's family, and now here. Anna continued to live on the farm until she was married. She was an older bride: she and Bernt were married in 1931, when she was 32.

Lace or floral wedding dresses
https://vintagedancer.com/vintage/1930s-wedding-history/

But marriage isn't the end of the story, no matter how happy it was. And while I wish her story had a happier ending, it doesn't: Anna died in 1933, in childbirth, at the age of 34. As you can see from the photo of her in the casket, she was buried in her wedding dress, a custom of the time. The baby died as well.




Written On The Back Fly-Leaves of her Diary:

Could we but draw back the curtains that surround each other’s lives, see the naked heart and spirit. Know what spur the action gives. Often we would find it better, purer then we judge we should, we should love each other better. If we only understood.
I’m getting tired of dreaming. Dreaming of you all day. I’m getting tired of sceming [sic]. Hope I shall get you some day.
I envy the dimples that hide and go seek, and play with the roses that bloom on your cheek.
Our eyes have met.
Our lips not yet
But O you kid
I’ll get you yet
Smile, and the world smiles with you.
Weep, and you weep alone.

Anna Eneboe

Stay well, stay safe, stay  HOME.

PS - for Anna's entire diary, go here.

PPS - Other sources for information of the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic in South Dakota include these article:

25 March 2020

Sleeping Murder



"Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle."
          - The Duchess of Malfi

My pal Carole back in Baltimore recommends the latest BBC adaption of Agatha Christie's The Pale Horse. A cursory search turns up the following, that the book it's based on was influenced to some degree by a contemporary of Christie's named Dennis Wheatley. He was a successful popular novelist at the time, his best-known book being The Devil Rides Out.

Wheatley, whom I've never read, wrote thrillers with a supernatural twist - Satanism, black magic, the paranormal - none of which he apparently put much credit by. He was a sometime acquaintance of Aleister Crowley, and published him at one point, but he doesn't seem to have taken him too seriously. The interesting thing, to me, is the idea of using supernatural themes, whether it's demonic possession or a ghost story, as a counterweight to the rational or the orderly.


This surfaces in Christie, in John Buchan, and in Conan Doyle, to pick major names. Holmes remarks more than once, phrasing it slightly differently, that once you eliminate the impossible, what's left, no matter how improbable, is what happened. The Hound of the Baskervilles generates a lot of its electricity by suggesting the otherworldly - is the dog a physical presence, a phantom, a psychological monster, the manifestation of some past buried evil: a curse, in other words? Kipling fools with it, Robert Louis Stevenson works similar earth, sowing dragon's teeth.


Conan Doyle caught a great deal of ridicule, later in life, for his embrace of spiritualism. Harry Houdini famously disabused him on any number of occasions, but Doyle's enthusiasm wasn't dented. It's an odd irony, we think, that this onetime student of Joseph Bell's (the model for Holmes), the careful exponent of logical argument and defining your terms, trusts a false premise and falls into further delusion. A reversal of the Holmes method, to allow a conclusion to affect your view of the evidence.


Agatha Christie was a master of psychological horror, before it was even recognized as such. Daphne du Maurier comes close, but by the time Rebecca came along, the genre was established. The effect that Christie manages, and almost without fail, is to make you doubt the convention of the narrative. In other words, she gives you the building blocks, using much the same method as Dorothy Sayers or Ngaio Marsh, but you begin to mistrust the design, that in fact the pieces can be assembled in quite the opposite order, or the story turned back to front. Her last published novel, Sleeping Murder, puts all three elements into play, the frisson of the paranormal, the psychological night sweats, and a narrative at right angles to itself.


The story turns on buried memory, and the tension between whether it's actual or imagined. When the weight of memory breaks through the firewall of post-traumatic stress, the "sleeping" murder comes out of hiding. The uncertainty lies in whether you think the heroine is haunted, perhaps literally, traumatized by some childhood nightmare, or just plain nuts. Any one of the three will serve. Christie is entirely at home with these Gothic fugues, and even the confident and resourceful presence of Jane Marple isn't in itself enough to shake your sense of dread. Christie of course contrives a deeply spooky reveal, and you want to go around the house afterwards turning all the lights on.


There's something enormously satisfying about this class of mystery, and the Brits seem to manage it better than anybody else. Christie, like Sayers or du Maurier, and P.D. James, for that matter, is writing novels of manners, often brittle and generally bad - the manners, not the novels. In some sense, they're comfort food, but the best of them leave you uneasy. The era between the wars, seen at a comfortable distance, seems not so far off or foolish. The ghosts are real enough.

24 March 2020

The Possibly Last Case of Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac


Over the course of two-plus years, I’ve written stories for three anthologies edited by Josh Pachter and, publishing being what it is, all three anthologies are scheduled for release this year, two of them in April, within seven days of each other.

“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac” will appear in The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell (Untreed Reads), scheduled for release April 7.

“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo” will appear in The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe: Parodies and Pastiches Featuring the Great Detective of West 35th Street (Mysterious Press), scheduled for release April 14.

JONI

When Josh first approached me about contributing to the Joni Mitchell anthology, I was intrigued. Though I listened more often to hard rock (Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Mott the Hoople, and the like) when I was younger, I was quite familiar with Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, and many other singer/songwriters from that end of the musical spectrum.

Several hours after receiving the invitation from Josh, I tried to claim “Woodstock.” By then I knew the protagonist and had roughed out a plot. Unfortunately, one of the conceits for the anthology was that every one of Joni’s albums would be represented by at least one song, and someone had already claimed a song from her album Ladies of the Canyon.

I put that idea aside and binge listened to Joni Mitchell for the rest of the day, finding and reading lyrics whenever a song caught my ear. Thirteen hours after receiving the invitation, I had locked down my claim to “Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac,” from the album Night Ride Home.

“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac”—the story of a young woman, her boyfriend, and what happens in the back seat of his father’s Cadillac—caught my attention because I thought there was a story hidden between the lines of the lyrics and because I remembered my mother’s big-finned 1959 Cadillac Sedan de Ville.

The writing came easily, and six days later I turned the story in. After a few minor editorial adjustments and correction of a few typos, Josh accepted the story.

My take on “Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac”: When Ray’s dad’s winning streak turns into a losing streak, his Cadillac is repo’d by his bookie, and Ray’s girlfriend takes it upon herself to get the car back.

NERO

Alas, writing “The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo,” my Nero Wolfe parody, did not go as smoothly. I seriously under-estimated my knowledge of the Nero Wolfe canon, and I found myself doing quite a bit of research, writing and abandoning several ideas, and not turning in the initial version of the story until nearly three months after accepting Josh’s invitation.

That’s when I learned I hadn’t done enough research, and during the following six months Josh guided me through two start-to-finish revisions of the manuscript. The story remains essentially the same as in the initial draft—at the insistence of his longtime assistant, an aging detective long past retirement and near the end of his life takes a new case—but I relied heavily on Josh’s suggestions and revision demands to shape the story into its final form.

“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo”: Convinced someone is stalking her, Baldy Badloss’s dance partner Ruth Entemann hires his boss Tiberious Dingo to learn who and why, and the investigation uncovers more family secrets than any of them expect.

LESSONS

If there are any lessons to learn from these diametrically opposed writing experiences, they may be:

1. Inspiration (“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac”) and perspiration (“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo”) both produce publishable fiction.

2. A good editor knows when a light edit is appropriate (“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac”) and when to demand significant revisions (“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo”).

3. A professional writer appreciates a good editor.

JONI, AGAIN

And the story inspired by Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” that Josh nixed when I proposed it? A year later I returned to the idea, wrote the story I had imagined at the time, and “Woodstock” (the story) will soon appear in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

23 March 2020

Introducing Mr. Block


Jan Grape
My guest author today is Lawrence Block. Better known to most of us as Larry. I've known him for a number of years and spent many hours reading his fiction and his non-fiction. He's an author with so many books published that I am not sure he even knows the number.

He's a teacher of writing as well, with articles and books and essays and workshops on writing. In fact, if you've ever wanted to take a workshop with Larry, you are in for a treat, right here and right now.

A couple of weeks ago, Larry mentioned that he was going to pull the plug on his April workshop. I contacted him and he gave me permission to reprint this message and well, just continue reading.

— Jan Grape

by Larry Block:
  1. In an uncharacteristically prudent move, I've pulled the plug on A Time & A Place For Writing, the workshop I was scheduled to lead Tuesday & Thursday nights in April at @Center4Fiction in Brooklyn. Want to take it at home? For free? No problem.

  2. Thu April 2 @ 7pm—Turn off phone! Sit down with pen/pencil & legal pad set a kitchen timer, & do 15 minutes of free writing as explained in Write For Your Life. This is a warm-up exercise, nobody's going to read it, and as long as the pen is moving you're doing it perfectly.

  3. When the timer goes off, stop. If you're my age, go to the bathroom. If you're young, stay where you are. Boot up your computer. If you've got a work in progress, open the file. If not, open a new blank document. Set the kitchen timer for an hour. Take a deep breath.

  4. Start writing.

  5. When timer goes off at hour's end, stop immediately—or finish the sentence you're writing. Take a few deep breaths. Go to the bathroom. Pick up phone, put it down again w/o turning it on, & congratulate yourself for your resolve. Set timer for a half hour and resume writing.

  6. If you want, email me at lawbloc@gmail.com & say you want to participate. That'll get you an opening sentence each Tues & Thu for your free writing exercise, and may help foster the illusion that you're doing more than sitting home & writing on your own. #pandemicpandemonium

This evening, I went to Larry's Face Book page to look for a photo and title of his latest book or story and found that Mystery Reader's International Journal had a wonderful guest essay by Larry about his latest book. I spoke with Janet Rudolph, the journal's editor and since it's just out right now she sent me a link and photos. Please read. It's a wonderful article by a master author in our field.

LAWRENCE BLOCK:
DEAD GIRL BLUES
How My New Novel Came About and Why I’m Publishing It Myself

Sometime in the late fall of 2018 I started writing a short story. It began with a man picking up a woman in a lowdown roadhouse. A lot of stories, true and fictional, begin that way. Few of them end well.

This one didn’t end well for the woman. I’d have to finish writing it to find out how it would end for the man.

Lawrence Block


22 March 2020

Flash Fiction


I owe John Floyd for the impetus of today’s column, further examples of flash fiction.

Here is a bit of silliness first published in SleuthSayers…

WhiteWash
by Leigh Lundin

Bubbles was a slippery one. She tried to soft-soap me, but I strangled her in the bathtub, no trace, no prints, no evidence.

Me, I hate wet work, but the cops, they said it was a clean kill.

Clearly I had much to learn. This early tale is one of my two favorites…

A Night Out
by Leigh Lundin

"Darling, doesn't this hankie smell like chlorof…"

One of my first, an educational mini-lesson, appeared long ago on Criminal Brief.

The Power of Prepositions
by Leigh Lundin

Aladdin was getting along in years and found that he was unable to pitch a tent as he had done in his youth. Smart as well as lucky, Aladdin still had his magic lamp and, frugal with his wishes, he had one wish left.
He rubbed his lamp and the gĂ©nie appeared. Aladdin begged him, “My camel can no longer thread the needle. Can you cure my erectile impotence?”
Genie said, “I can whisk away your problem.” With that, he rubbed his hands, evoking a puff of billowing blue smoke. Genie said, “I’ve dealt you a powerful spell, but at your age, you’ll be able to invoke it only once a year.”
“How do I use it?” asked Aladdin.
“All you have to do is say ‘one, two, three,’ and it shall rise for as long as you wish, but only once a year.”
Aladdin asked, “What happens when I’m exhausted and I no longer want to continue?”
Genie replied, “All you or your lady have to say is ‘one, two, three, four,’ and it will fade like a Sahara sunset. But be warned: the spell will not work again for another year.”
Aladdin galloped home, eager to try out his new powers of the flesh. That evening, Aladdin bathed away the dust of the desert and scented himself with oil of exotic myrrh. He climbed into bed where his resigned wife lay turned away, about to slip into Scheherazadic dreams.
Aladdin took a deep breath and said, “One, two, three.” Instantly, he became more aroused than he ever had in youth, a magnificent happenstance of tree-trunk proportions.
His wife, hearing Aladdin’s words, rolled back toward him and said, “What did you say ‘one, two, three,’ for?”
And that, dear readers, is why you should not end a sentence with a preposition.

A story inspired by a friend's comment…

Justin Goes to Jail
by Leigh Lundin

Police arrest Justin Bieber and send him to lockup. Dismayed but not disheartened, Bieber writes “Free JB!” on the walls in protest.

That’s when he learns his cellmate is dyslexic.

Following is my other favorite, but the story behind the story is wistful and runs far longer than the super-short piece itself.

My Pal George
by Leigh Lundin

I'm excited! For the first time ever, I'm taking my friend George shark fishing. Some might not understand how I could be so forgiving finding out about him and Joan, but he's my best pal, my chum.

Which did you like?

21 March 2020

Super-Short Stories


Note the hyphen in the title: this post is not about short stories that are super. It's about stories that are super-short. And it's a result of the many responses I've received about a creation of mine that was published last week at a market called 50-Word Stories.

Besides being fun to write, these mini-stories--I've heard them called "sudden" fiction--are good practice. If you set out to write something short, especially something with a predetermined wordcount, you know you can't waste any words. It's a concept we writers need to keep in mind for longer stories as well, but with very short stories it's vital.

What do some of these tiny stories look like? Here are some examples.


50 words

My recent effort at 50-Word Stories is titled "Mum's the Word"--which they misspelled as "Mom's the Word," not that it matters; that title might be better than my own. It's a dialogue-only piece that was originally published years ago at a place called Flashshot.

Here's a link to my story, and since it's so short I've reprinted it here:


"A 50-word story? Impossible."
"You're wrong."
"Try it."
"Okay: Honey, I'm pregnant."
"What?"
"Just kidding."
"Not funny."
"How about: I'm pregnant, and it's not yours."
"What!?"
"Kidding again. How many words, so far?"
"34."
"Let's stop. I'm hungry."
"For what?"
"Pickles."
"Pickles?"
"How many words now?"
"47."
"And ice cream."


(Thanks again, by the way, to those kind folks who posted comments at the bottom of that story.)


45 words

Here's another short-short-short, this one not quite fifty words, written by my friend Kate Fellowes. She informed me that it recently won the San Diego Public Library's annual Matchbook Short Story Contest (!). Notice how much information she managed to pack into so few words:


Who stole my youth? The detective I hired uncovered the truth. "They were in it together," he said, passing me photos. Father Time showed no remorse, his face kind and gentle. Mother Nature was unrepentant. "Honestly, darling," she said when questioned, "what did you expect?"


I really, really like that story. Thank you, Kate, for giving me permission to reprint it here.


26 words

Still counting down, I want to mention a story I included in a SleuthSayers post several years ago. I wrote it for a contest--the instructions said to compose a 26-word story such that each word begins with a different letter of the alphabet, in order. (Contestants were allowed some wiggle-room in that we could use words like Xcept and Xtended and Xterminated for the letter X.) All this struck me as a challenge, which it was, and it turned out to be even more fun than I'd thought. I wrote eight or nine Xperimental stories before picking the one I wanted to send in--here are a few of those I considered submitting:


A baboon cage, discovered empty. Facility gurus hired investigator JoNell Kendrix. "Lost monkeys," Nell observed. "Probable quick reasons: smuggling, theft, utter villainy. Who, Xactly? You, zookeeper!"

All Balkan country doctors exhibit frequent generosity, high intelligence, jovial kindness, likable manner. Numerous other physicians quite regularly seem to undertake video work--Xample: Yuri Zhivago.

Alphabetically blessed children don't ever feel glum. However, insecure jaded kids like me (named Oliver Prattlebloom) quite rarely say things. Unless: "Very well, Xavier," "Yes, Zachary."

American Broadcasting Company department executives: Footage gathered here includes John Kennedy's last moments. No other producers quickly responded, so this unedited video will Xcite you. Zapruder.

Since you're probably rolling your eyes by now and searching for a Tylenol or a barf-bag, let me assure you that I agree: none of those seemed to hit the spot. (I have some more near-misses, but I'll spare you.) I finally wrote and submitted this one instead, which I titled "Mission Ambushable."


Assassin Bob Carter deftly eased forward, gun hidden in jacket, keeping low, making not one peep. Quietly Robert said, to unaware victim: "Welcome. Xpected you." ZAP.


That story, which I realize is still a groaner, wound up winning second place in the contest, which resulted in a $30 Amazon gift card that got used about ten seconds after it hit my inbox. (I don't recall what the first-place story was, but I remember consoling myself that it wasn't as good as mine. What were those judges thinking . . . ?)


12 words

And here's another of my masterpieces, called "The Pain in Spain":

She ran with the bulls at Pamplona;
One stuck her, another steptona.

(Okay, that's a poem, not a story. But you'll have to admit, it's profound literature.)


8 words

I read someplace--I think it was in a how-to-write book by English novelist E. M. Forster, though I can't remember its title--that a story can be defined as a series of related events. An example of this, he said, is the following eight-word sentence:

The king died and then the queen died.

Nor much of a story, you say? Maybe not. But since it involves two events that are related to each other, it meets the requirements. And in case you're interested, I recall that Forster went on to illustrate the difference between a story and a plot. He said that while those eight words make it a story, adding two more words can make it a PLOT:

The king died and then the queen died of grief.

Interesting, I thought.


6 words

One of the shortest stories I've seen, again and again over the years--you probably have, too--is the following six-worder:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Some say its author was Ernest Hemingway, but that's never been proven. I still love it. In fact, if I think about it too long it brings a tear to my eye--and I admire any story, poem, novel, or movie that can do that.


Not to be outdone, here is my own six-word story, called "Radio Silence."

"Entering Bermuda Triangle. No problems whatsoev--"

That one was submitted also, to a six-word flash-fiction contest. It not only didn't win, it never even got a response. (Not that I let rejection bother me; I choose to believe it fell behind the piano and the judges never saw it.)


A final word

I'm afraid I don't know of any story examples of fewer than six words. If you do--or if you know of other shorties under fifty words, especially those you've written yourself, please let me know in the comments. And for those of you who have done this kind of thing, did you find micro-writing interesting? Challenging? Fun? Hard? More trouble than it's worth?



By the way, that SleuthSayers post I mentioned, about the alphabet-soup contest? I remember closing it with the following thought. It seems to apply here too:

Alas, Boring Columns Do Eventually Finish.



See you in two weeks.

20 March 2020

Geezer, PI


We have a special treat today.  Richard Helms is a retired forensic psychologist and college professor. He has been a finalist for the Short Mystery Fiction Society's Derringer Award six times, winning it twice; and has had five nominations for the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award; two for the ITW Thriller Award, with one win; and one  nomination for the Mystery Readers International Macavity Award. He is also a frequent contributor to periodicals and anthologies, and he recently sold his third screenplay. His 20th novel, Brittle Karma, comes out this summer. An avid woodworker, Helms enjoys travel, gourmet cooking, playing with his grandchildren, and rooting for his beloved Carolina Tar Heels and Panthers.
— Robert Lopresti

Geezer, P.I.
by Richard Helms


Last July 4th, my wife and I were relaxing at home, reveling in the lullaby of pyrotechnic explosions echoing across the neighborhood, when our daughter called to report she’d just experienced an earthquake. Rachel moved to Los Angeles six years ago for an internship with the Conan O’Brien Show, and stayed to make a go of comedy writing. On July 4th, however, she rocked and rolled with the swarm of 6.0 and higher tremors radiating from Ridgecrest, about 125 miles away. She was safe, when all was said and done, but thinking about the potential for earthquakes reminded me that I inadvertently wrote my San Francisco PI Eamon Gold (Grass Sandal, 2003; Cordite Wine, 2005) into a Spenser-style age conundrum because of another earthquake.

When Robert B. Parker originated the Spenser PI series in 1972, he depicted Spenser as a Korean War veteran who also boxed professionally against Jersey Joe Walcott. Walcott retired from the ring in 1953. Presuming Spenser was at least 20 when the Korean War ended, he was born no later than 1933. That means today's Ace Atkins version of Spenser is 87 years old!

When I started writing Eamon Gold stories in 1999, he was in his early forties. Part of his backstory was that the house he inherited from his parents, in the Marina District of San Francisco, was destroyed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. No problem, since it was only 10 years earlier, right?

Wrong. It's a problem. The third Eamon Gold novel, Brittle Karma, will be released by Black Arch Books this summer. It’s now twenty-one years after I first wrote Grass Sandal. By my best estimate, Gold and I are now both in our middle 60s. He was always at least a decade older than his girlfriend, Heidi Fluhr, who is in her thirties. Now he's at least thirty years older. In my head, he's still in his middle forties. History, however, says otherwise.

I dodged this problem with Pat Gallegher, my New Orleans-based marquee protagonist, by writing myself a rule that all his novels take place before Hurricane Katrina, and all his short stories take place between 1999's Joker Poker and 2001's Voodoo That You Do. So, despite the fact that the fifth Gallegher novel—Paid In Spades—came out in 2019, twenty years after Joker Poker, Gallegher is permanently between 48 and 52.

Parker and Atkins solved the problem of a geriatric Spenser by invoking magic, declaring that Spenser, Hawk, and Susan simply don't age, even though all the ancillary characters like Vinnie Morris, Martin Quirk, Lieutenant Healy, and Henry Cimoli grow decrepit and move into retirement.

I happily admit that my Eamon Gold series is a Spenser clone. George Pelecanos would refer to Gold as one of ‘Spenser’s Sons.’ I simply decided, in tribute to Robert B. Parker, to also allow my protagonist and his squeeze to defy the laws of nature and—like Peter Pan—simply never age. Details, right?

Eamon Gold might not age, but his creator certainly does. I recently attended my first Medicare physical exam. The hair that falls to the floor during my monthly visits to Great Clips gets grayer by the year. Things ache that didn’t ache before, and the aches aren’t going away. However, I am remarkably impressed—despite the inevitable pull of gravity and the countdown timer clicking away in my genes—that, at sixty-five, I’m still active and vibrant. My shock at my lack of total dilapidation at a point in life when most of my ancestors were already dead has inspired me.

In Brittle Karma, I include a character who is a porn star in his fifties. Gold is curious as to how he keeps working in a business that seemingly dotes on youth and vitality. The character says, “Easy. There’s a market for middle-aged actors. Boomers, man. They dug in and aren’t letting go. The Sixties kids are retiring, with lots of disposable income and a burning desire not to relinquish their youth and sexuality. If anything, they become even more sexually adventurous as they age. Half the swing clubs in San Francisco cater to people over fifty. It’s like a sea of gray. Granny porn is a real thing these days. People want to watch other people who look like them.”

Likewise, I believe Boomers—still the largest consumer group for genre fiction—want to read mystery protagonists who look like them and share their cultural history. Recently, I penned a screenplay for an independent filmmaker who insisted I use my New Orleans protagonist Pat Gallegher as the lead character. However, I wrote it in modern day, fifteen years after Gallegher’s novel adventures. He’s older by a great margin, and feels it, but in the end, he is still the knight errant of his youth. Our bodies may change, but our character still shines through.

One of my short stories, “See Humble and Die” (The Eyes of Texas, edited by Michael Bracken, Down and Out Books, 2019) was recently selected for inclusion in Houghton-Mifflin’s The Best American Mystery Stories 2020, edited by Otto Penzler and C.J. Box.  This story features a retired Texas Ranger in his early seventies who fends off the boredom of retirement by hanging out a P.I. shingle and serving legal papers. As I wrote it, I saw seventy-five year old Sam Elliott as my protagonist, Huck Spence. And, you know what? It worked. I can still imagine Elliott kicking ass and taking names, and I bet you can too. When it comes to heroics and good old-fashioned knuckles-and-know-how detective action, there’s a market for tough old birds like Huck Spence.

As my character in Brittle Karma noted, the Boomers are dug in and not letting go.  We’re the generation who said, “We’re never growing old!”, and we’re keeping that promise. We deserve literary characters who look and think the way we do, even if we might need to suspend our disbelief, just a tad, to make them plausible.

19 March 2020

Love in the Time of the Corona Virus


So first and foremost, let's check in. How is everyone doing?

(And seriously, if you read this, I really am most definitely talking to you. Please give us all an update in the comments below).

Times are "interesting" here at Casa Thornton. My wife has been working from home for a couple of weeks. In fact her company (she works for a gaming company) has mandated that no one come in. The entire workforce is working from home, except for maintenance, etc.

Last week the governor of our state (Washington) closed down every school district in King, Pierce, and Snohomish-the three most populous counties in the state (he quickly expanded that closure to the entire state). This included the district where I work, and the one where our son attends school (two different districts, same county). Our last day in building was Thursday. After today (March 18th) no one is allowed in any of our buildings aside from security and maintenance until at least April 24th.

So we're all three in the house together and doing the "social distancing" thing and taking every precaution laid out by the CDC here. We're stocked up, safe, and settled in. And so far we've managed to avoid getting on each other's nerves.

There have been some funny moments, though.

For example, just this afternoon Robyn was on a conference call via Slack on her laptop, and our son thought it would be funny to crawl under the table and tickle her feet while she was trying to run her meeting. He apparently made a couple of cameo appearances in early calls during the day.

He knows he's not supposed to interrupt while she's working, and he's a good kid, but he's seven. Even the nicest kid likes to color outside of the lines sometimes.

Mo Willems – a Mr. Rogers For Our Time
And speaking of our son, he's a big fan of the work of writer/illustrator Mo Willems (of Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus! fame). The Kennedy Center is hosting daily video of "Lunch Doodles" with the prolific and vastly creative Willems, who is currently their "Education Artist in Residence." They post new video every day here at 1 PM EST.

Our son loves it, and has spent hours and hours happily drawing both with Mo Willems and on his own, since the series launched Monday afternoon. You can also find them daily on YouTube. Mr. Willems for me calls to mind Mr. Rogers from when I was young. He takes time to explain things to young people who are there to create with him, he's never condescending, and he clearly does what he does out of love for kids.

As for me, I've been checking in with my day gig and working away on a couple of writing projects I've been trying to wrap up for a while. As I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, 2020 has been my year to finish a whole lot of long-term projects. I've wrapped three, and it's not even the end of March.

I keep reading about how Sir Isaac Newton invented Calculus during a pandemic (and began his ground-breaking work with optics, experimenting with prisms in his bedroom), and Shakespeare produced Venus and Adonis during a plague outbreak which shut down the theatres in 1593, and then King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra, all in a single year during another outbreak in 1606.

I for one cannot wait to see what the current age of COVID-19 produces amongst our creatives across the arts and sciences in the weeks and months to come. Because if ever a society needed a silver lining to the dark cloud hanging over it, it's Planet Earth in the Spring of 2020.

Three timeless works of literature in just one year? Quoth the Bard, "No prob..."
To quote that Great American, Walt Whitman:

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

                                       Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.




And to further quote another Great American, Robin Williams, riffing on the above sentiment in the film Dead Poets Society:

"What will your verse be?"

I include myself in the challenge inherent in this question. I'm looking forward to finding out! And I'll be chronicling that creative journey right here. I can say right off the bat that my long-term goals are to show my wife and son every day how much I love them, make sure we're all getting our needs met, and get a lot of writing done. 

Anything past that, and I'll have to let you know in a later post.

And what of you?

What are you working on? What do you want to work on? What challenges are holding you back? What or who inspires you? Let's hear your ideas, and if there's a way we, as a community of creatives can help (from a distance, of course), speak out. Tell us below!

"What will your verse be?"

18 March 2020

From the Smithsonian With Love


Some of us bloggerinos and bloggerettes are always looking for public domain pictures to illustrate our words of wisdom.  And boy, we just scored big time.

In February the Smithsonian Institution announced they are releasing almost three million images to the public domain.  Contents from 19 museums plus libraries, research centers, and the National Zoo.  All free for the download.

And, unlike the British Library illustrations that are free on Flickr, searches seem to work pretty well.  (Except that whatever I search for I always get some plant diagrams.  What's that about?)

Here are a few examples related to our favorite subject.  Enjoy.