30 April 2020

A Coronavirus Disappearing Act


My parents went missing on Saturday.

I contend–but cannot prove definitively–that the dog had nothing to do with this.

Here's how it all went down:

My wife and I have been discussing adopting a dog since just after the governor (Jay Inslee, Washington, for those of you playing at home) put the state on lock-down. In the six weeks since, we've been working from home, practicing social distancing, and doing our best to keep our son educated, socialized, safe and happy.

On the face of it, this seems to be an optimal time for pet adoption. Both of us being home pretty much full-time ought to help ensure a relatively painless transition for a newly-adopted pet into our home. Of course under the most ideal of circumstances, times like these can prove challenging. Not everyone deals with change all that well, and the "adjustment period" can often prove stressful.

Still, our seven-year-old has been asking about getting a dog for over a year. He's an only child. With the three of us now practicing social distancing and staying at home, he hasn't had anyone to play with aside from his mom and dad, in nearly two months. He's a great kid, a fine young man, with a giving heart and a wonderful sense of humor, and he likes playing with his parents, but my wife and I have of course been concerned about the effect this prolonged period of isolation might have on him. And of course, a dog would give him someone else new to play with.

So we started looking.

For those of you who haven't been paying attention, it seems as if the entire country has had much the same idea. Shelters are empty for the first time in, well, ever. This is overall a good thing. But we were frustrated for a while in our attempts to find a dog.

Right up until the moment when we weren't. As these things are wont to do, the opportunity, when it came our way, came fast.

Last Saturday my wife found a nine-week-old Golden Retriever/Rottweiller mix available to a good home. The apparent product of an "unscheduled breeding," he was, explained the fellow making him available, the pick of the litter. The picker had backed out unexpectedly, however, and he was now the final member of the litter in need of a good home.

So we came to an understanding, made arrangements and drove a half-hour down to Tacoma on very little notice to collect the newest addition to our family. The meet-up, examination of shot records and the puppy in question went off without incident.

And just like that, we had a dog.

That's when things got weird.

Now, our son is very close to his grandparents. And both sets of grandparents are dog owners and dog lovers. So we called grandma and grandpa, to tell them that, SURPRISE! their grandson now has a puppy!

I called my mom's cellphone from the road at 7 o'clock. My parents live east of Tacoma, in Puyallup, and in non-COVID-19 times, we would probably have stopped on the way home to give our son the opportunity to show off his new puppy.

But, times being what they are, we opted to err on the side of caution, and settle for a phone call. The call went to voicemail. So I left my mom a message and asked her to call us back.

Now, my mom is pretty conscientious about getting right back to someone if they leave her a message. So when the thirty-five minute drive back home passed without my hearing back from my mom, I sent her a text.

Nothing.

I called again at 8:30. And at 9:00. And then I started calling my dad's cellphone, too. I didn't expect a response (my father rarely carries his cellphone with him. Most of the time it can be found charging on their kitchen counter.

But my mom had recently gotten the new iPhone, and was having some trouble with it. A couple of nights previously she hadn't been able to answer her iPhone, so we had connected using my dad's iPhone.

No dice.

I should probably mention at this point that my parents are in their early 70s, and while for the most part pretty healthy, do have some health issues which put them in the high-risk category for COVID-19. At any other time, I'd have chalked their protracted silence up to not bothering to check their phones, and left it at that.

But we don't live in "any other time." We live in the Age of COVID-19.

So I texted my brother to ask whether he had heard from them this day. We talked on the phone a few minutes after 9:30.

Now, my brother is pretty level-headed. And we both tend to be pretty sanguine about our parents. He currently lives a few hours away, so it stands to reason that if there might be a problem with my parents, I'd be the one to go and check on them.

So when we talked about it, I explained the progression of events thusfar, adding that both my wife and I had also attempted to reach both of my parents via Facetime, still with no response. Then I said that I thought that if 10:00 rolled around and I still hadn't heard from my parents, I'd drive the thirty miles down to their place in Puyallup and check on them.

"You know, it's probably nothing," he said. "But yeah, maybe you'd better go. Let me know what you find out."

My wife and son were still up (only the puppy had gone to bed. And he was up and down all night). So they rode down with me.

By the time we got everyone dressed and back out into the car and down the road to Puyallup, it was nearly 10:45. My parents' lights were on, but their gate was locked, so I got creative and climbed through their front hedge, and knocked loudly at their front door.

Nothing.

I made my way around to the back door and checked on things before letting myself in with our key. My parents and their dog, a 90 pound yellow lab with a bark that can drive a nail, were nowhere to be found.

And wouldn't you know it? My dad's iPhone was in its accustomed place, charging on their kitchen counter.

I  used my parents' remote to open the gate, then went back out to the car, called my brother, and my wife and I talked with him about what to do. We decided to text my parents closest friends; a retired nurse and a still-practicing emergency room physician. We didn't call, because by now it was past 11, and the wife of this couple is still recovering from hip replacement surgery, and we didn't want to disturb them if they were already asleep.

My brother suggested I go back in, leave my parents a note and retrieve my father's phone, take it home and if we hadn't heard from my parents by morning, use it to start calling their friends. So I did that.

No sooner had I written the note and picked up my father's iPhone, than I received a text message from the couple of I had text asking if they knew anything about my parents' whereabouts.

Their friend's text read:

"Yes they were here for dinner and left less than an hour ago... please don't worry... they should be home any time now... I always have Berniece [my mom] text when they arrive at their house..."

So my parents skipped out on quarantine without telling anyone.

I immediately called my brother back to fill him in. No sooner had he picked up than I heard my parents's garage door begin to go up.

The prodigals, it seemed, had returned.

So I let my brother know what had happened, and that he could stop worrying. Before we hung up he said, "You gonna go talk to them?"

"You know it," I said.

"Tell them I'll call and yell at them tomorrow."

So that's what I did.

My wife (who is a genuinely lovely, caring person.) assured them that we were so relieved that they were okay. We had gotten worried.

By this point, after getting out of bed to drive back in the direction I'd already done a round trip to earlier in the day, with it getting up to midnight, my ire was competing with the relief I felt, and my folks, no doubt sensing this, were suitably abashed.

Which is funny, because my parents are independent, intelligent people. "Abashed" isn't really in their playbook. They're at the point in their lives where they don't really need to answer to anyone.

And yet here we were.

In a genuinely funhouse moment, I was reminded of getting caught sneaking out when I was a teenager. Except the roles were reversed.

As it turned out my mom hadn't heard her new iPhone ring. it hadn't even buzzed any of the times we'd called. She had inadvertently set it to "Silent," and that apparently meant it didn't even vibrate on that setting.

Needless to say this did nothing to lessen my antipathy for iPhones.

Anyway, our son got to see his grandparents, and we got to hear about how they had been sneaking out back and forth, their friends to their house one weekend, them to their friends on the next, without telling anyone. My dad explained their silence as not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings. I guess because they were going out with friends and not us?

All ended well, all things considered. It was good to see my parents after nearly two months' time, and no harm was done. And I was crystal clear with them that in the current age, it's essential we stay in touch, and should–Heaven forbid–a similar situation arise in the near future, I'd do the exact same thing all over again.

And they would hear about it all over again.

And they will.

So, was it the dog's fault? Of course not. On the other hand, if we hadn't gotten him that day, would we have even known to be worried, or would those sneaky kids breaking curfew to go eat, drink, and play cards with their friends have just gotten away with the whole thing?

All I can say is that it's a danged good thing all three of them–my mom, my dad, and the puppy–are cute!

The Culprit?
See you in two weeks!

29 April 2020

Robbing Victor to Pay Shanks



As I mentioned  here not too long ago, I think one of my writing strengths is premises and one of my weaknesses is plots.  A result of that is a notebook full of ideas which will probably never bloom into short stories.

Several pages of said notebook are devoted to Shanks, the crime-writing character who has appeared in a bunch of my stories.   Years ago I dreamed up this idea: Shank is on a committee trying to restore a Depression-era opera house in his city.  It would be called the World Theatre, which would let me use the title (snicker) "Shanks Saves The World."

I liked it a lot.  Only problem: What would my hero do to get the money for the restoration?

Sort of a big plot gap, right?  And so the story sat in my notebook for years.  But then I had a breakthrough.

I have mentioned before here that I also wrote a series of stories about Uncle Victor.  He is the elderly, eccentric relative of a crime boss.  His nephew reluctantly tolerates him because doing so was the last request of  the previous godfather.  So when Victor decides to become a private eye, nephew Benny pulls strings to get him a license.

Several stories about this odd duck made it into print but then my market for them, Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, went the way of all periodicals and I moved onto other things.

However, I remembered that I had written a story in which an aging music producer hires Victor to hunt down some musicians he cheated and now wants to do right by  The draft was still sitting in my files.

So what if we offer Uncle Victor a well-deserved retirement and send Shanks to the producer instead, asking for a big donation for the theatre where, by a wonderful coincidence, some of the old man's bands used to perform?  And the producer says, to get my money you have to find these musicians I ripped off decades ago...

Suddenly I had a plot.  The result, titled (as you probably guessed) "Shanks Saves The World," is featured in the current (May/June 2020) issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  It is my 31st appearance there, and Shanks' tenth.


I am especially glad the story made it into this issue because another Shanks story, a sort of sequel to this one, will coming out this summer in an anthology.  More on that in a later installment.

And speaking of more, if you want to read a completely different essay I wrote about "Shank Saves The World," you will find it at Trace Evidence, the AHMM blog.

And I hope you enjoy the story.  Now back to my notebook...

28 April 2020

For the Love of Malice


In the spring of 2001, I was taking my first mystery-writing workshop. My instructor, author Noreen Wald, told us—all eight of us, I believe—that we had to go to Malice Domestic. I didn't even really understand what Malice Domestic was, but I knew I wanted to write mysteries, so if Noreen said I had to go, I had to go.

That was the beginning of my love affair with mystery conventions. Over the years I've been to Sleuthfest once and to Bouchercon nine times, but Malice is the convention I never miss. It's a place where I feel at home, among friends who love traditional mysteries, many of whom I now consider family. This year was to be my twentieth Malice, and not getting ready to drive to Bethesda on Thursday for the start of the convention just feels wrong. I'll miss the dinners and the panels—as the former program chair, I always have to plug the panels—and I'll especially miss the hugs. Remember when we all weren't afraid to get within six feet of one another, nonetheless to hug?

But just because Malice is canceled this year doesn't mean that we can't still celebrate the traditional mystery this week and the people who write and read them. The Agatha Award voting will be held later this week (links to read the nominated short stories are below), and the winners will be announced in a live stream Saturday night. The Malice board also will be announcing next year's honorees (who will be sharing the stage with the wonderful people who were supposed to be honored this year, in what I understand might be a supersized Malice), as well as the theme for the anthology to be published in the spring of 2021. I believe the Agatha board of directors will be sending out more information about all of that very soon.

And that brings me back to getting into the Malice spirit. I was talking last week with my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor about it and how we could use my blog post today to do it. Art wisely suggested that since one of the great things about Malice is it allows readers to learn about new writers, it would be wonderful to have this year's Agatha short story finalists tell you, our SleuthSayers readers, about some great up-and-coming short story authors. I shared the idea with the rest of our fellow finalists, and they all were in faster than you can read flash fiction.

So, without any further ado, here are five short story writers whom we five nominees admire. I hope you'll check out their work.

Art Taylor, talking about Kristin Kisska (who recently joined our SleuthSayers family)

I admired Kristin Kisska's fiction before I knew that she was the one who wrote it—literally, since her name didn't accompany that first story. "The Sevens" was a blind submission for the 2015 Bouchercon anthology, Murder Under the Oaks, which I edited. Set at the University of Virginia in 1905, "The Sevens" stood out for its intriguing plot and its rich sense of both place and historical detail. It became Kris's first published story, and as editor, I was thrilled to introduce this tremendous talent to the mystery world. Since then, Kris has published short stories in several collections, including two Malice Domestic anthologies—Mystery Most Geographical and Mystery Most Edible—and Deadly Southern Charm from the Central Virginia Chapter of Sisters of Sisters in Crime. Checking her website as I write this, I found a more recent story I'd missed: "Prelude" in Legends Reborn. Score! And even better news: Kris just signed with a literary agent for her first novel. Save me a place in line for this next debut—book-length this time!

Shawn Reilly Simmons, talking about S.A. Cosby

I first met Shawn (S.A.) Cosby when I was invited to read at a Noir at the Bar event three years ago in Richmond, Virginia. All of the stories that night were good, but Shawn's was uniquely memorable—he writes gritty southern noir woven through with glittering threads of humor. Since that night in Richmond, Shawn and I have appeared together at N@TB events many times, and have downed more than a few cocktails together at Bouchercon in St. Pete and Dallas, where he won the 2019 Anthony Award in the short story category. He's one of the most upbeat and nicest guys in the mystery world, and each new story he writes brings that unique flair that is his alone. Shawn's newest story is "The King's Gambit," which will appear in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in June, and his novel Blacktop Wasteland will be published in July by Flatiron Books. It's described as Ocean's Eleven meets Drive with a southern noir twist, and it's recently been optioned for film.

Cynthia Kuhn, talking about Amy Drayer

I had the good fortune to meet Amy Drayer at the Colorado Gold conference, and she immediately impressed me with her smart, engaging perspectives on writing in general and mystery in particular. After she joined our Sisters in Crime chapter, I read her fantastic work and was even more impressed. Amy's writing is compelling, witty, eloquent, and thought-provoking. Her published short stories include "The Clearing" in False Faces: Twenty Stories About the Masks We Wear and "Honorable Men" in Shades of Pride: LGBTQAI2+ Anthology. "Schrodinger's Mouse" is forthcoming in Wild (Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers). She has written short fiction in genres ranging from horror to fabulism, literary flash to pop fiction. The first book in her wonderful Makah Island Mystery series, Revelation, also came out in March.

Kaye George, talking about Joseph S. Walker

Joseph S. Walker came to my attention when he submitted a story, "Awaiting the Hour," for my own 2017 eclipse-themed anthology, Day of the Dark. The story was stunningly good, and I was amazed I'd never heard of Mr. Walker before. I've certainly heard of him since. I gave a couple of stories from that publication to Otto Penzler, and he mentioned Joseph's in his annual publication honoring the best of mystery short stories. Joseph went on to win the Bill Crider Prize at Bouchercon 2019 in Dallas, then the Al Blanchard Award at New England Crime Bake. His latest published fiction is "Etta at the End of the World" in the just published May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

Barb Goffman, talking about Stacy Woodson

It seems appropriate for me to end this column talking about Stacy Woodson because I met her at Malice Domestic in 2017, when I served as a mentor/guide to Stacy and fellow Malice first-timer Alison McMahan. Since then Stacy has become one of my closest friends, not only because of our shared love of Mexican food (Uncle Julio's forever!) but because she is as passionate about short stories as I am. Everything she writes showcases not only her raw talent but also her heart. I was honored to edit her first published story, "Duty, Honor, Hammett," before she submitted it to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. It not only ran in the magazine's Department of First Stories in 2018, but it went on to win the magazine's annual Readers Award, only the second time in history an author's first published story took the top honor. Stacy has since gone on to be named a top-ten finalist for last year's Bill Crider Prize at Bouchercon, and she's placed a number of stories in Mystery Weekly, Woman's World, and EQMM, where her story "Mary Poppins Didn't Have Tattoos" will appear in the July/August issue. Stacy's most recently published story is "River" in the anthology The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell. "River," like so many of Stacy's stories, gives a window into her experience as a US Army veteran. Given Stacy's insatiable desire to learn and grow as a writer, I have no doubt you'll be reading much more from—and about—her in the future.

I hope you've enjoyed learning about these newcomers to the crime short-story field, who are already wowing readers. Please consider checking out their work. There are so many independent bookstores that could benefit from your business, especially during this pandemic. The stores might be closed, but many are still mailing books out.

And before we go, to those of you who were registered to attend Malice Domestic this year and who either transferred your registration to next year or donated your registration payment to the convention, it's nearly time to vote for the Agatha Awards. The electronic voting is going to begin soon (tomorrow or Thursday, I expect). It's not too late to read the short stories that are nominated for the Agatha. They are:

  • "The Blue Ribbon" by Cynthia Kuhn, published in Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible
  • "The Last Word" by Shawn Reilly Simmons, published in Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible
  • "Better Days" by Art Taylor, published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
Just click on the titles. Happy reading, and I hope to see all of you next year at Malice!

27 April 2020

How Low Will You Go?


by Steve Liskow

Over the last two weeks, I've joined several other Connecticut crime writers on two podcasts from the Storyteller's Cottage in Simsbury. I've touted the venue before and love working with them. Now they're trying to keep their programs for writers functioning during the shutdown, and Lisa Natcharian invited several of us to discuss villains in our stories. I'll post the link to the podcast when it's edited and live, probably sometime in May.

Lisa came up with some provocative questions, and the topic for today is "How much evil can readers tolerate and how do you decide when to rein in a dark character?"

Her question made me look at my own writing again. I've sold nearly 30 short stories (a good week for Michael Bracken or John Floyd), and about half of them are from the bad guy's POV or have her/him getting away with it. Most of those stories involve revenge or poetic justice, and I seldom have a REALLY horrible person go scot-free. The comments on my website and Facebook Page indicate that readers like those stories, and some are among my special favorites.

Revisiting my novels, I was surprised to find how nasty some of my villains are, probably because I've worried lately that both my series characters are becoming more domestic in their private lives. Maybe I've done that unconsciously to contrast the "normal" and the dark side. But when I look at the bestseller lists, it's not just me.

If you look at those lists, you'll find Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Karin Slaughter, Meg Gardiner, Lisa Gardner, Laura Lippman, S. J. Rozan, Robert Crais, Stephen King, Harlan Coban, Tana French, Dennis Lehane, Don Winslow, Alison Gaylin, and a slew of other excellent writers, all of whom go deep. When I think back to the 90s, maybe the first book and film to come to mind is Silence of the Lambs, which presents two twisted villains.

I don't remember the last time I saw a cozy mystery on the list.

One of my undergrad history professors from days of yore said the best way to understand the minds and values of a civilization was to look at their popular arts. Plays, music, stories. . .

Remember, in Shakespeare's time, his most popular play was Titus Andronicus, which I usually describe as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in blank verse. It was a time of political turmoil, and his plays reflected that.



One of the other writers on the podcast said her readers know she won't get violent and won't use much profanity. Obviously, if you write cozies, your body count is lower. She doesn't read my books because she thought one of my covers was objectionable.

Maybe my readers want darker stories to help them cope with the real world, the way we tell ghost stories around the campfire. Remember Shakespeare's observation in King Lear:  "The worst is not/ So long as we can say, 'This is the worst.'"

Think of the Brothers Grimm, too. The original version of Cinderella involves the wicked stepsisters cutting off toes to make their feet fit the glass slipper, and birds pecking out those same stepsisters' eyes on their way to and from Cindy's wedding. The Greek tragedies wallow in gore.

Ditto slasher flicks, like Halloween and Friday the 13th.
We want to go waist-deep in the big bloody. Aristotle talked about catharsis. Maybe he's right. Maybe we've always been enticed by the horrific and crave a release. Maybe my history professor was right, too.

My most recent novels involve a serial killer who leaves the bodies of street people in abandoned buildings in Detroit, a cold case involving five people murdered in a home invasion, and a serial rapist. I think that as I watch the current social and political situation deteriorate, my inherited pessimism has become even stronger and it's coming out in my writing. Or maybe I do it to show that my life is nowhere near as bad as that of my characters. All I know is when I sit down at the keyboard, this is what comes out.

The book I'm vaguely resurrecting has a main character who is an alcoholic with an abusive husband, and I re-discovered things that excited me when I re-read scenes I had forgotten long ago. My last few short stories are darker, too. As long as people buy them, I'll keep going because people seem to need them.

When do I rein these characters in? I don't.

What's in YOUR holster right now?

26 April 2020

Pride, The Fall, Redemption



PRIDE:
They say that Pride goeth before The Fall. That's me. For a lot of years, I was a man of consequence, but lately, Father Time has found it humorous to saddle me with age and thus remind me of the limitations I now have. Used to be, I lived the life, whether it was kicking doors,riding roundup, scuba diving, ziplining, branding calves, over the road on Harleys, coming in hot in Hueys, traveling to exotic lands and places... It was a rush.

And then came The Fall.

THE FALL:
In the beginning, it was more a series of little trips and stumbles. A health thing here, a degenerating vision thing there. Sorry pal, you're going to have to slow down to a walk, no more running for you. I was never a top athlete, one who was going to run a marathon, but c'mon knees, ankles, feet, wind, where'd you go? Yeah, I know, I never acted my age, especially in later years, but that was a good thing. It kept me going. Sure, I saw others in my different groups slowing down with age, but that was them. This was me. For a long time, even the mirror was on my side. What the hell happened?

And then, about three weeks ago, Father Time decided that the art of multi-tasking should now be beyond my capabilities. I should no longer be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Of course, I swear I was not chewing gum at the time of the trip, stumble and fall, but down I went anyway. The sidewalk won that bout. I came off second with scrapes, bruises, stitches and a nicked temporal artery. Man them things leak a lot of red stuff. Even the mirror said it didn't like me anymore. Something about if I had bolts in my neck, then I'd have a pieced-together face like Frankenstein's monster. I tell you, I gotta get a new mirror.

The ER doc sewed me up and I figured I could go home and be done with this fiasco. Much later, a nurse came in with discharge papers and explained which direction to walk to get to the ER waiting room where I could wait for my wife to collect me. Cell phones don't get reception in the ER rooms themselves, so I had to wait patiently until I got to the ER waiting room to call my wife for a ride home. AND, since I had no other clothes, AND since relatives are not allowed in ER rooms these days to even bring you fresh clothes, AND since the hospital will not loan you one of their fashionable backless gowns, I had to wear my long-sleeve, denim shirt which was thoroughly soaked with O-Positive, in order for me to leave the ER and go into the waiting room.

Fortunately, there were only two people sitting in the waiting room. Don't know how they got in as neither was a patient. Both had the appearance of street people. However, it was a large waiting room, so no problem keeping my social distancing. Then, I start listening to their conversation which consisted mostly of two related topics; cocaine and overdosing. Seems they had a friend in the ER as a patient. Guess the security guard must've had a soft spot in his heart to let them wait inside and occasionally inquire of the admission staff about their friend. But wait, it gets better.

The door from the ER rooms and into the ER waiting room opens and in strolls a "gentleman" with a long braid of hair hanging down his back and a lengthy key chain hanging from his belt down to his knees and back up into his front pants pocket. Obviously he doesn't have a cell phone because he goes straight to the free, old-style phone on the wall. I have no idea who he calls, but some of the first words out of his mouth quickly grab my attention. Words like: "No, I'm not escaping." Yeah, I know I was supposed to be outside the house at noon for them to pick me up." "No, I'm not trying to escape." "Look, just stall them." "No, don't tell them I'm at the hospital." "I told you, I'm not escaping." Then, he hangs up. Since the door back into the ER automatically locks after it closes, one of the two armed security guards has to let him back into the ER

This particular armed guard, who has previously been content to drink coffee and chat with the admissions people at the ER front door now turns and notices me in my slightly wet, drying from red to very dark red shirt. Coffee and chit chat go by the wayside. He casts a wary eye on me and immediately takes up a position against a nearby wall, with his arms crossed over his chest and a hard look in his eyes. I am now a person of interest.  It must be the company I've been keeping. Thank God my ride soon showed up so the guards could relax and go back to drinking coffee.

REDEMPTION:
Home at last. Fresh clothes. A pocketful of extra strength Tylenol. Yes, we did stop at the scene of the crime on our way home, but still can't figure out how or why the fall happened. It will just have to remain as one of those unexplained mysteries, but I can tell you there won't be any gum chewing in my future, for sure. I'll also have to avoid the mirror for a few days (we aren't getting along lately), but hey, everybody's got some problems these days.

And then.

I did what? You got to be kidding me.

Well then, forget all that other stuff.

I JUST SOLD ANOTHER STORY TO ALFRED HITCHCOCK MYSTERY MAGAZINE.

That makes 46 short stories they've bought from me.

Hey, I'm almost good again. I'll see what the mirror has to say about it.

25 April 2020

How Mary Stewart rocked the Literary World and the Lives of Women like Me


When I say rocked, I don't mean 'rock on'!  Nope, I mean rocked to the core.

Since mid-March, we've been in close to lockdown here in the True North.  That has given me time to revisit old favourties and be utterly shocked by the revelations therein.

When I was a young girl in the seventies, I graduated from Nancy Drew, to Agatha Christie, and then to the masters of romantic suspense, Victoria Holt, Daphne DuMaurier and my particular favourite, Mary Stewart.

Of course I did.  The hormones were running high, and the choice of males in my classroom left a lot to be desired.  I yearned for big romance.  But I wasn't happy with romance genre books and found them boring.  This gal wanted high adventure rather than sweet attraction.  So suspense, it was.

At that young age, I didn't even know what type of man I would want in my life.  Surely not Heathcliff.  Not Mr. Darcy.  Those heroes did not reach me.  Far too brooding and sulky.

Then I read My Brother Michael.  Holy Heartbeat, Batman!  There, I found the man of my dreams and the heroine I wished to become.

Most men of my age know Mary Stewart from her brilliant King Arthur and Merlin novels, The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills.  Wonderful books.  But I'm speaking of her romantic suspense novels in this column today.

Simply put, they were revolutionary.

Readers, did you know this?  A quiet revolution was happening in fiction, and Mary Stewart was at the epicentre of it.

In the 70s, I couldn't have put my finger on it.  Now, with decades and experience later, it's absolutely clear to me why she was my favourite.

Why?  Her heroines.  These women were educated and had careers.  They were veterinarians, Latin teachers, Shakespearean actors.  They traveled solo to foreign places!

But with adventure comes mishap.  For years, I had read books and seen movies where women waited to be rescued.  Even The Princess Bride, a movie loved by so many, had a princess who relied on others to rescue her.

I wanted a princess who would pick up the sword herself.  (Even more, ditch the princess.  I wanted her to be Queen.)

Mary Stewart's protagonists had courage and resourcefulness.  They fought back when threatened.  They risked their lives rescuing large animals (This Rough Magic) and even men (The Moonspinners.)  This was not only unusual for the time - it was absolutely groundbreaking.

Second reason I fell in love with the stories of Mary Stewart:  her heroes.

These were the men I wanted in my life.  Some may find this hard to believe (stop laughing) but I have been told I am a strong woman.  I was the sort of gal who was told by profs at university that I "didn't know my place."

In Stewart's books, I found the ideal man for a strong woman.  Her heroes were my kinda guys.  Well-educated, but when things go bad, they don't walk away from a fight.  There was a primitive edge there, a peel back of civilization when the chips are down.

In Airs Above the Ground, the male lead forces the hand of the villain down on a red hot stove burner while saying, "It was this hand, I believe?"  (The hand that had previously hit the hero's wife.)

I cannot begin to tell you how sexy that is.

In My Brother Michael, the heroine is fighting hard but losing.  Her lover arrives just in time to kill a
powerful Greek criminal with his own hands in a to-the-death fight; he breaks the fiend's neck.  Of course, said male lead also happens to be a classics scholar...but hey, in the UK, classics scholars can have commando training.  An unbeatable combination of brains and brawn.


Stewart was magic for a young miss trying to be more than society expected her to.  She was magic to an aspiring writer yearning for adventures.  But more than that, she was revolutionary.

My good friend Jeannette Harrison said it best:

"I think all female crime-fighters of today owe a huge debt to Stewart.  She was one of the first writers of popular fiction to portray women who were not helpless and hysterical in a crisis."

Think about that, you superhero and comic book heroines who kick butt!  All you female private investigators in fiction today!  And give a bow to Mary Stewart, who bravely gave us those role models over fifty years ago.

Vos saluto.

How about you?  Any other authors you would also salute?

Melodie Campbell was hardly ever a mob goddaughter, at least not recently, but she writes about one.  THE GODDAUGHTER DOES VEGAS has been shortlisted for the 2020 Arthur Ellis Award 

for Excellence in Crime Writing (Crime Writers of Canada.)  You can find The Goddaughter series at all the usual suspects.

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


24 April 2020

Something Different


And now, something different –

Saint Madelon Pichon
How he died and eventually went to heaven

Cloistered priest Madelon Pichon (1702-1762) swam with dolphins every day, no matter the weather. This was difficult as Father Madelon wore a thick robe which, when waterlogged, became heavy, incredibly heavy, so damn heavy. Still, he swam with his dolphin friends. One day, while his disciples watched from a beach in Brittany in northern France, Father Madelon swam with a pair of juvenile dolphins. Although Father Madelon was an empath with humans – he was able to meet with married couples and tell them which of the two was a no-good cheating bastard – he was not similarly gifted with dolphins. Unknown to Father Madelon, the juvenile dolphins swimming with him on that fateful morning were, in fact, juvenile delinquents. Their named were Kaaaaa and Zeeeee. During the swim, Kaaaaa took the hem of Father Madelon's robe in his mouth and dove. Zeeeee, ever the faithful wingman, went along as they descended into the depths. Zeeeee reported to Kaaaaa the changes in Father's face as the human realized his plight and his face contorted from shock to panic to grimaces, to a face Zeeeee called 'stupid human open-mouthed gasp'. While Zeeeee reported the looks on Father Madelon's face with a series of chips, burps and whistles, Kaaaaa continued diving until the human stopped struggling.

When their play toy went limp, the dolphins decided to remove his silly robe and to their dismay, they spied the milky white body of a naked human, which repulsed them. They darted away to find their gang members to let them in on what they had done.

Gang of dolpins looking for trouble

The body of Father Madelon floated with the current, between layers of salt water, drawn toward an out-cropping of land where a pod of orcas were feeding on an unfortunate group of seals. A female orca named Sersereeee spotted the pale body of Father Madelon and went to investigate, snatched it in her mouth, running her tongue over the dead flesh and thought, "Hey, I could eat this." Being a mother, the orca brought the body to the surface and found her calf, Xorxoreeee. The two orcas played catch with the body of Father Madelon to the horror of Madelon's disciples who had been running amok along the beach and out-cropping since Father Madelon went down with the dolphins.

Sersereeee and Xorxoreeee flipped Father Madelon high into the air and leaped up to snatch him before he plummeted into the water. This continued until Father Madelon's right arm became unattached and Xorxoreeee ate it. Two more flips and the body was ripped in half and Sersereeee ate half and Xorxoreeee the other half.

Due to an unexplained fear of vampires, werewolves and flamingos, Father Madelon Pichon only ate garlic and onions during the last twenty years of his life. When his body was devoured by the orcas, the garlic-and-onion-permeated flesh began to roil and bubble in the belly of the orcas and both Sersereeee and Xorxoreeee beached themselves temporality and regurgitated the slimy, dismembered chucks of Father Madelon's body, including the right arm, on the beach and backed themselves into the water to hurriedly seek out a fat seal to rid their mouths of the foul taste of Father Madelon.

Mother orca and her calf

Madelon's disciples witnessed the vomiting of Father Madelon and rushed to the beach only to be driven away by the acidic stench of the remains. They rushed to town to spread the word that the most revered, beloved, honored priest had been eaten by killer whales and vomited on a beach.


A different beach in Brittany, France

NOTE: Father Madelon had been Pichon's Man of the Year four years in a row, as well as Thatcher of the Year twice, Toe-nail Clipper of the Year three times, Breast Inspector of the Year twice (that's chicken breast). He was also France's reigning Know-it-All Man of the Year.

A miracle occurred that night as a cold front swept in with an ice-storm encasing the vomity beach in ice for three days. When the sun melted the ice, migratory birds, particularly snow geese, found the scent of Father Madelon's garlic-and-onion decomposing body so invigorating, they used the beach as a depository for their droppings as they migrated, which attracted water fowl by the thousands – albatrosses and swans who came to defecate on the beach, piling tons of bird doo-doo. New Zealand shelducks and North American buffleheads and various species of cormorants flocked to the beach to add their crap to the growing pile of excrement atop the remains of the revered priest.

The sensitive, Gallic noses of nearby Frenchmen could not stand the stench and the two nearby castles were deserted. The two castles remained unoccupied until the 20th Century when Nazi troops moved in and used one for billeting SS storm troopers and the other as a hospital for wounded Nazi soldiers. They renamed the castles – Castle Brunhilda's Stink and Castle Le Crappo. The Nazis found the smell from the nearby beach not unlike the scent of the fatherland.

Castle Brunhilda's Stink

Today, Father Madelon's Le Crappo Beach draws thousands of water fowl and other migratory birds who deposit their collective excrement, as well as scientists from around the world, who come between migratory seasons. The scientists wear yellow plastic suits with hoods and gas masks to collect bird droppings for analysis. Excited scientists, with dipping spoons in hand, can be observed slipping and sliding on the excrement as they shovel crap into plastic Tupperware. The braver scientists remove their masks to breath in the aroma in order to register the stench in their olfactory, analyzing the putrid scents much as a wine taster does before sipping a good Bordeaux. Eastern European excrement-tasters come during the hottest part of the year to they can taste the full range of flavors to log in little black notebooks.

Father Madelon Pichon's love of dolphins and his devouring by orcas, was a turning point in history as the day water mammals quit eating humans. The reverence given to his beach by Father Madelon's disciples drew the attention of the Vatican, which decided Father Madelon was indeed – a saint.
End of story.
Author's note


Medicare keeps sending me emails about the coronavirus and Covid-19 and scams criminals are using to steal the money sent to me by the government, as well as emails about how to manage stress during the lockdown. The above was my way of managing stress while in the middle of writing my latest novel.

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

23 April 2020

Modern Little Plague on the Prairie



by Eve Fisher

NOTE:  Due to complete discombobulation last week, I posted this a week early.  But, here it is again, newly updated and with a new section - at the end, don't cheat - on possibilities for crime in a time of pandemic.  Enjoy!

As some of you may have heard on the national news, Sioux Falls, SD, currently hosts one of the top hotspots for COVID-19 in America, thanks to Smithfield Foods.  With 941 cases just from Smithfield, we were #1 until we got beat by two correctional facilities in Iowa, and they can have the honor.

Smithfield (which bought Morrell's, and then in turn was bought by a Chinese company back in 2013), was operating like any other meat packing plant, with super-crowded conditions for animals, carcasses, and people, all at super-high speeds, thanks to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, who pretty much deregulated the industry in September, 2019. (See story HERE)  And, lest you think Smithfield was an outlier, meat packing plants are popping up all over the country, full of COVID-19, thanks to a tendency to cram workers cheek by jowl for their shifts.  See "Poor Conditions at Meatpacking Plants" HERE.




Anyway, Smithfield wasn't transparent - there's a shock - and covered it up from March 25-April 6, when they had 80 cases and couldn't hide it anymore.  So they promised to close the facility for 3 days for deep cleaning. The next day there were 160 cases, and the day after that 234, and it turned out Smithfield hadn't closed for cleaning but was still processing.  So our Mayor and Governor asked for 14 days quarantine and cleaning, and the CEO closed the plant "indefinitely" and put out a snippy letter saying they'd only kept it open so long to "protect the food security of the nation." Yeah, right.

But I don't want to go into our sorry tale of woe. Instead, I want to post some observations for future mystery writers and historians. Because you know, sooner or later, people are going to start writing about this, and they need to get it right.

In Sioux Falls, 90% or more of the people grocery shopping - and the clerks - are wearing masks and gloves. The aisles in grocery stores are all one way, and they have 6-foot markers on the floors. But most people are not wearing masks / gloves outside for walks or exercise (including myself) because your glasses fog up and God knows we have plenty of fresh air because here the wind never stops.

Norwegian Stoicism - In other parts of South Dakota, however, most people are NOT wearing masks or gloves anywhere. And it's business as usual regarding the number of people in the store, etc. And in many areas, someone wearing a mask and gloves is considered pretty much a wuss. They receive rolled eyes or a little sad chuckle: the Norwegian Lutheran version of the Southern "Bless your heart" - which is not a blessing. Of course, the average Norwegian / German / etc. Lutherans are by and large a stoic lot and expect everyone else to be the same. Another reason for no masks / gloves: these are the same people who'll be out in sub-zero weather without hat or gloves, because they can take it. 

Libertarians - From the get-go of COVID-19 in our state (currently 1,858 cases, 1,659 in Sioux Falls) our Governor, Kristi Noem, has only given directives, and will not put in place official shut-down orders of any kind for any location. "We're not New York", which is pretty much the mantra of many rural areas. Apparently this gives some kind of immunity except in Sioux Falls, which is an urban area, so what do you expect?  
BTW - one surprising thing is that many people aren't thinking about what happens if Sioux Falls does go all New York City, overwhelmed by cases and deaths. The truth is, if that happens, the whole state of South Dakota is screwed, medically, because guess who's the health care center of the state?  Avera McKennan and Sanford hospitals and all their clinics are here. Where all patients with serious health issues are brought. When Allan had his heart attack in 2010, they airlifted him from Madison, SD to Sioux Falls for (successful) surgery. What happens if there are no beds because COVID-19? 
Mayor TenHaken tried to get a stay-at-home order for Sioux Falls, but he couldn't get the Sioux Falls city councillors (made up mostly of business owners) to back him, nor some residents, who were "concerned that it violates constitutional rights, is difficult to enforce and will bankrupt business barely holding on as it is. And one pastor called it "a massive government overreach." (Argus Leader) (On the other hand, the front-line workers want it, and want it NOW.)

Last night, the city council agreed to a "no lingering" ordinance and expanding and enforcing the rule of 10 or less for gatherings.  But the same people showed up to protest:
Some said they were concerned about what the measures had done to the economy. Some said they didn't believe the virus was really a threat at all, citing stories they'd seen online. Former political candidate Lora Hubbel questioned the credentials of Public Health Director Jill Franken and asked why the public was listening to doctors "who are not elected officials." - (Argus Leader)
Economics!

“After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world." - Calvin Coolidge, Jan. 27, 1925.

Oh, Cal, you don't know the half of it.

Park Jefferson Speedway in North Sioux City plans a racing event with up to 700 spectators Saturday night.

Fun fact:  The Park Jefferson International Speedway (above) in Jefferson, Union County, South Dakota, is going to host a dirt track racing event with up to 900 spectators this Saturday.  Our Governor, bless her heart, will not lift a finger to stop it, but did "strongly recommend" that no one go.  And Union County officials, including the Sheriff, say they can't do a thing to stop it from happening.  (Argus Leader)

Further fun fact:  The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is coming up in August.  This hosts about 500,000 bikers annually, and they spend a lot of money on concerts, concessionaires, etc.  How many people believe that our Governor will stop it?  Or the city councilors of Sturgis, SD?  Pray for us.  But also for yourselves, because most of those 500,000 are from out of state, and they do go home eventually.

Religious - As someone told me, "Why is everyone so afraid? If you're a true Christian, you shouldn't be afraid of anything, because everything is in God's hands." To which I replied, "Gethesemane." (see Matthew 26:39) Which was a polite way of avoiding screaming, "WE ALL GET AFRAID SOMETIMES.  EVEN JESUS."
I detest people who try to be holier than Jesus, I really do. Life is hard enough as it is.
Reminder:  "Courage is fear that has said its prayers."   

Media driven - There is a distinct difference between the Fox News / Sean Hannity / Rush Limbaugh / OANN / QAnon crowd and the rest of us. Those 6 weeks of presidential golfing and rallies - with the full on support, encouragement, denial, and general "it's nothing!" of Fox News, etc. - pretty much poisoned the well. Today, most of those media consumers still don't believe that COVID-19 is anything more than just another flu, and everyone should just go ahead and get exposed to it.  In the immortal words of Bill O'Reilly, “Many people who are dying, both here and around the world, were on their last legs anyway." (Hill)  So let's let everyone get it, get herd immunity, and whoever dies, dies. 
NOTE: What's interesting to me is that most of the people who are in denial are the same people who are hoarding. "Well, I thought I might as well pick up that extra bale of toilet paper..."  
And as for the young people - well, when you're a teenager you think you're bulletproof and invulnerable. I remember it well.  God bless you, and there's a reason I'm staying on the other side of the street.  

Good Stuff:  On the other hand, people are volunteering, in various ways. They're sewing masks, running errands for the elderly, sending cards, making posters, and helping at food banks. They are Zooming and GoToMeetings and calling like crazy.  (BTW:  FUND THE USPS!)  There's a lot of good going on. A lot of helping. A lot of prayer. And a wonderful team of doctors (including a godson), nurses (including a goddaughter), grocery clerks, USPS workers, police (BTW, here in Sioux Falls, the Chief of Police, a police captain, two lieutenants, a sergeant, an officer and three civilian employees all have the virus), and other front-line workers.  Please pray for them all. 

But now let's talk about possible future mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi, etc.  

  • Robberies - well, when almost everyone's staying home, how well does B&E work?  However, I'd like to point out that cars must be feeling fairly abandoned.  (You would be amazed at the number of guns that are stolen out of unlocked cars every month up here...  it got to the point that one of the City Councilors even proposed penalizing gun owners who didn't lock their guns in their vehicles.)
  • Kidnapping - Besides the obvious who's going to know who's gone if no one's going out, here's a little scenario.  If plasma treatment is the only thing that works for a while (or longer), what if a group of billionaires - like the ones at Saint-Tropez - with their own medical facilities at their own compound hire / co-opt / acquire recovered COVID-19 patients for future treatment?  (WaPo)  (Might be time to re-watch Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive"...)
  • Scams - going full throttle.  Invent your own, every one else does!
  • Murder - Well, there's lots of opportunities, as always.  Even more, what with the effects of COVID-19 on a body, and the lack of time for autopsies in a pandemic.  And I think it was Brendan DuBois who pointed out on Facebook that giving unregulated medicine to an irritating spouse might be one way of getting away with getting rid of them...  
  • And how does the prevalence, indeed in some places, requirement of masks add to these scenarios and more?  

Strange times.



Stay safe, stay well, stay home.

22 April 2020

The Unreliable Narrative



Preface
My apologies. This is unavoidably political, in the larger sense, but not a polemic. It's about grief.

*

Something is happening in this country, with regard to the coronavirus. If it were fiction, we could call it multiple POV, a chorus of voices competing for our attention.

The unreliable narrator is a longtime convention, in mysteries particularly, a famous example being The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, or more recently, Gone Girl. All the same, in fiction as (we hope) in life, our suspension of disbelief depends on accepting certain ground rules, and at the least an agreed-upon reality, a common yardstick.

So the question is, how do we engage, how do we maintain a sense of balance, or of structure, if the narrative keeps contradicting itself? In other words, how do we manage doubt? To return to the fictional model, mystery stories are inherently conservative, in that the crime, usually murder, violates the social contract, and resolution restores it. Even in noir, retribution is orthodox and rigid, a setting-right, with something almost Greek in its penalties, the appetites of the Furies satisfied. But if no weight is put on the scales, and no balance is required, nothing is restored. Order is relative, not absolute.

We have, in this strange political theater, not so much an unreliable narrator as an unreliable narrative, a story taken out of context. Exit, pursued by a bear. And this isn't simply one or the other, my way or the highway. It's a hall of mirrors, reflecting many alternatives.

In fiction, again, in fairy tales or fantasy, dystopian or post-Apocalyptic, mysteries, thrillers, cozies or Gothic or paranormal, the most outrageous or outlandish conceits can be convincing, if they're internally consistent. This is the most basic rule. You can bend time, or the laws of physics, you can disregard every convention except the one: that similar acts have similar consequences. 

We each and all, of course, believe we see reality. We might very well believe we see the only reality. This is certainly delusional, but it's comforting nonetheless. We have very little tolerance of ambiguity. Quite probably our belief systems are grounded in self-image, or our sense of self is reinforced by belief, two things integrated. I suspect we choose a reality out of necessity, and yours can conflict with mine, because they're mutually exclusive.

Darwin may sort this out for us, survival of the fittest being adaptive, not necessarily predatory. Then again, you might not believe in natural selection, you might prefer a different model, that we are Chosen. Either way, the rough numbers come out about the same.

The astonishing thing, to me, is that unlike a fiction, life is essentially messy, and has no shape or storyline, other than what we impose. To imagine that reality - as an absolute, not a construct - pays any attention to us is no more than vanity. And to pretend that we can pick and choose which reality we inhabit is foolhardy, although that seems to be the human experience, if history's any judge. More astonishing is the lesson fiction teaches us, in that we use stories to impose order, that narrative, or history, is necessary. Like sunlight, physically and psychologically.

All the crazier, then, that what we're seeing in our body politic, and the breakdown of our national conversation, is that chaos is self-inflicted. We've agreed to it.

*

Postscript
This, from The Atlantic, may be paywalled. I recommend it.
https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/06/underlying-conditions/610261/

21 April 2020

It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing


Can music be noir? I think so. And Nat King Cole’s song The Blues Don't Care (written by Vic Abrams and Murry Berlin) is a good example, judging by the lyrics:


The blues don’t care who’s got ’em,
The blues don’t care who cries,
And the nights don’t care who’s lonely,
Or whose tears are in whose eyes.

When someone’s heart is broken,
The blues are not to blame,
’Cause the blues don’t care who’s got ’em,
So they just added my name.

(final verse is at the end of this piece)


The blues might not care whose got ’em, but I do: Bobby Saxon, the lead character in my upcoming novel The Blues Don’t Care.

The story takes place in the 1940s on the Los Angeles home front during World War II. It’s about a young piano player named Bobby Saxon who wants to play with the house band at the famous Club Alabam on Central Avenue, the heart of black life in L.A. If Bobby gets the gig he would be the only white player in the otherwise all-black band. And if that isn’t enough, in order to get the gig the leader asks Bobby to play detective and help clear one of the band members of a murder he is falsely accused of.
Duke Ellington and his orchestra
And while the book deals with some controversial issues in the context of a historical mystery-thriller it also explores the zeitgeist of the times. And part of that zeitgeist is the music. Both the music Bobby listens to and plays in the story and the music in general, big band, swing, torch songs. Music that I’ve grown to love over the years.

Herb Jeffries
When I was a kid, my dad would play swing music on the radio. I hated it. I wanted to listen to rock ‘n’ roll. I also got to see Benny Goodman, though maybe I didn’t appreciate it as much as if I’d seen him later on. But maybe having been exposed to it it came back to me later on, especially after watching old movies from the 30s and 40s that sometimes included that music. Then, as adults, my friend Linda and I got into swing music and would go to swing dances and concerts at various venues and even went to see many bands or singers from that era that were still around. We got to see Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell sing Tangerine and Brazil. We saw Tex Beneke lead the Glenn Miller Orchestra. I got to see Johnny Otis, who took over as band leader of the house band at the Club Alabam, though I would have loved to see him there.

Benny Goodman and his orchestra
Doing the “research” for the book, especially listening to the music and watching the movies from the era, wasn’t exactly torture for me. One problem though was that I wanted the title to be The Blues Don’t Care. And I wanted that to figure at least a little bit into the story. But, as far as I could tell the song was released much later than the time frame of the story, which led me to believe it might have been written later, too. So how to get around that problem? Artistic License: we see the songwriter working on an early version of the song in the Club Alabam in the course of the story. Problem solved…I hope.

Duke Ellington and his orchestra
So, here’s some songs from the 30s and 40s that Bobby might be listening to. Also good for background music, mood music if you’re writing something set during that time or just for your enjoyment. Or maybe even to read The Blues Don’t Care by.

Duke Ellington – Almost anything by him is worth a listen. But you might want to start with the terrific Take the A Train.



Jimmy Dorsey – Half of the famous battling Dorsey brothers. I particularly like his sound. And it’s with him that Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell sang their classics Brazil and Tangerine and other songs.
Bob Eberly and Helen O'Connell

Cab Calloway – A character over many decades. He even has a cameo in a Janet Jackson video: Alright, a great song and video, too. Also featuring the Nicholas Brothers and Cyd Charisse.

Billie Holiday – Take your pick. Too many great ones to choose from.

Herb Jeffries – AKA the Bronze Buckaroo, since he starred western “race movies”. His song Flamingo, recorded with Duke Ellington, is a classic and he even makes a cameo singing it in the novel.



Freddy Martin – Band leader, who for a time employed future talk show host and Jeopardy creator Merv Griffin as a singer with his band. And who maybe is an odd choice here. But I saw a clip of his band doing a two-piano piece called La Tempesta that is pretty amazing. And, since Bobby is a piano player this becomes his signature piece. I wish I could find a clip now.

Artie Shaw – Frenesi and Begin the Beguine: Two classics from the era.

The Andrews Sisters – Check out Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, but don’t stop there.



Tommy Dorsey – Opus One, I’ll Never Smile Again (vocals by Sinatra).



Lena Horne – Stormy Weather: What can you say—a classic.


Vera Lynn – The Forces Sweetheart in England. She sang a lot of popular songs during the war: I’ll Be Seeing You, We’ll Meet Again, The White Cliffs of Dover (written by Glenn Miller and Ray Eberle, which surprised me).

Kay Kyser and his Orchestra – Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.

Spike Jones and Donald Duck – Der Fuehrer’s Face. Satirical, funny song, that was born in a Donald Duck cartoon and made even more famous by Spike. You get a two-fer here, both versions: Mr. Spike: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWF8iRCan7I

Mr. Duck:




Louis Jordan – G.I. Jive, written by Johnny Mercer. Recorded by many. Louis Jordan had a #1 hit with it.

Harry James – Sleepy Lagoon, from which the infamous Sleepy Lagoon incident took its name.

Benny Goodman – Sing Sing Sing, just an amazing and rousing piece of music. To me it’s sexier than some modern music with risqué lyrics. If this doesn’t get you at least tapping your toes you’re dead. And with Gene Krupa on drums, Harry James on trumpet and a band that can’t be beat. It was the Goodman band’s appearance at the Palomar Ballroom (in L.A. I might add) that really jump started the swing craze.



Count Basie – One O’Clock Jump, Basie’s theme song.

Glenn Miller – One of the most popular band leaders of the time, if not the most popular. Definitely the latter to listen to my mother. In the Mood was one of his biggest hits.

There’s so many more. It was really hard narrowing it down.

And here’s the last verse of Nat King Cole’s song:

And the nights don’t care who’s lonely,
Or whose tears are in whose eyes,
When someone’s heart is broken,
The blues are not to blame,
’Cause the blues don’t care who’s got ’em,
So they just added my name. 




If that isn’t noir I don’t know what is.

This is an album I got in the days of vinyl that I think is a pretty good starter collection and I think you can get it streaming:



So, like I said. It was pure torture listening to all this great music. Research, you know.


~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Frank Zafiro grilled me for the Wrong Place, Write Crime podcast. I survived...and so did he. Hope you'll want to check it out. (And thanks for having me, Frank!)

https://soundcloud.com/frank-zafiro-953165087/episode-75-open-shut-w-paul-d-marks


Coming June 1st from Down & Out Books – The Blues Don't Care:

 “Paul D. Marks finds new gold in 40s’ L.A. noir while exploring prejudices in race, culture, and sexual identity. He is one helluva writer.”
                                                               —Michael Sears, author of the Jason Stafford series



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