30 June 2020

Proofreading during a pandemic


The first paid editorial job I ever had was working as a proofreader. I was in my senior year of high school and saw an ad in one of our local weekly newspapers that the newspaper itself needed a part-time proofreader. I was managing editor of my high school newspaper, and I was beyond excited at the idea of working for an actual non-school newspaper. I called, went in for an interview that day, and was offered the jobtwo days a week after school and into the evening. I was so excited that I accepted on the spot. Only as I was walking out of the managing editor's office did she call after me and say, "Don't you want to know that the pay is?" Oops. The pay was $5 per hour, which I said was great. So much for negotiating. But little did she know, I was so excited, I would have done it for free.

After I went to college, I occasionally was hired for random proofreading jobs. A friend was having a book published with a small press, and I proofread it. When I was in law school, I proofread a new edition of a textbook about white-collar criminal law for the professor who wrote it. These days, I occasionally am hired to proofread novels. Of course I also proofread my own stories before I submit them and, depending on the publication, before they're published. And I proofread anthologies I edit or co-edit, though I always like to have the authors proofread their own stories too, and I rely on any proofreader the publisher provides too. It's always good to have more than one set of eyes.

I've almost always proofread on paper. I think I read more carefully on paper than on the screen. I'm not sure why that is. There probably is research on this very topic, as I'm sure I'm not the only person like this. But I don't need to know why. I just need to know that it's true, and it is true. I know that for certain because tonight I ran a little test to be sure.

I've been offered a new proofreading job. I'd rather not go to the post office during the pandemic, so I was wondering if I could proofread this book on my computer instead of on paper. So I ran the aforementioned test. A friend sent a short story to me in which she introduced a few errors, and I read it on my computer, marked the errors in track changes, and returned the story to her.

Did I catch all the errors? Nope. While I caught some she hadn't known were in there (yay!), I missed two of the ones she introduced. Two mistakes in seven pages is not a good rate. So it's back to proofreading on paper for me, and I'll have to risk going to the post office. (And yes, maybe I wouldn't have caught the errors on paper either, but my track record suggests otherwise.)

One technique proofreaders use to do their work well is to read backward, word by word, so you focus on the words, not the story. (If you get caught up in the story, you might miss errors.) That works for catching actual typos. Most of them anyway—but reading backward doesn't enable you to catch if a typo results in a real word. Sure, you can spot that this wordd is wrong reading backward. But you can't tell that this bird is wrong, as you would need the context of the sentence for that. Reading backward also doesn't enable you to spot if there are missing words in a sentence, although you probably could catch if if the same word appeared twice. (Did you just catch that?)

So I don't read backward when I proofread. And I have to guard against getting caught up in the story that I miss things, so I do different things to stay focused. Often I'll keep a sheet of paper on the page, covering up everything below the line I'm reading, and that seems to help. Sometimes I'll read out loud. When I proofread the criminal law textbook, I found myself reading it out loud in a southern accent. It forced me to read more slowly, enabling me to focus more. It's strange the tricks a person will come up with to get the job done right.

So, authors, do you proofread your works on paper? Or on the screen? Do you have any techniques you use to do a good job? Inquiring minds want to know.

Oh, and before I go, I want to offer a big thank you to Kristopher Zgorski, who mentioned SleuthSayers in his Blog Bytes column in the current issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. If you're a new SleuthSayers reader due to Kristopher's column, welcome! (Heck, if you're a new SleuthSayers reader not due to Kristopher's column, welcome as well!)

29 June 2020

"Can you help me?"


I always marvel when I read the dedication or acknowledgments pages of authors whose devoted partners read the first and subsequent drafts, make brilliant suggestions for revisions, stay up long into the night making meticulous copy edits, and wait with bated breath to read the finished product, although they've already discussed every nuance of the story with the hyperventilating author.

Not Himself. (I don't call him that, but in the mists of Irish history, his forebears probably did. Great-great-Granny and Great-great-Grandpa back in County Cavan probably never used each other's names. I bet they addressed each other exclusively in the third person as Himself and She. But I digress. Like my character Barbara in the Bruce Kohler Mysteries, I always do. Revenons à nos moutons.

My husband has read all my published work. But like pulling the proverbial teeth, it's been an arduous task getting him to do it. Before publication, we've agreed there's no point in showing a manuscript to him and trying to discuss it, much less make it better. He himself (completely different usage) said thirty-eight years ago at our wedding, before our assembled friends and families, that he was marrying me for my ability to spell. Ah, the blarney in 'im! He got a big laugh. So it was a good day for him, our wedding day.

But I digress again, and if I don't stop myself firmly, I'll tell you next about how for both of us, getting our actual teeth pulled gave us a whole new perspective of that simile, the same way having a giant cockroach in my bedroom increased my appreciation of Kafka's story, "Metamorphosis," exponentially. The point is that he's promised he'll read every novel and story on publication, and he does—but never without significant nagging. And his comment is more likely to be about whether he guessed whodunit than about the literary merits of the work.

So now that I've paid hommage to literature and writers, let me tell you what I really want to talk about: the marital language of helping, which can be as hard to decode as the Enigma that led to the Allied victory in World War II, until long experience clues you in to the fact that your partner's not really saying what they're saying, but something else entirely. It took us most of those years together to get it and the rest of them, by dint of much hard work and the fact that we do love each other deeply—even though, as we frequently shake our heads and say, we're completely incompatible—to learn how not to react to them. Thank goodness we got to the finish line on handling these moments well right before the pandemic hit the world, because we'd never have survived the Pause in New York so far without these advanced relationship skills.

Here's a brief glossary, in case your partner speaks this language, and you haven't figured out the translation yet.

Can you help me reach...
I'm not risking myself on that rickety ladder; I'm standing by, ready to scream if you fall.

Can you help me decide...
Of course I'm not going to take your advice; I just want to clarify what I want to do.

Can you help me go through...
These things of yours need to be thrown out, and don't you dare touch my stuff.

Can you help me open...

I need you to open the jar, and no, you can't have any.

Can you help me move...
You're going to the heavy lifting; I'm going to supervise.

Can you find...
When I put something away, it's still there twenty years later. You must have moved it, dammit.

Can you fix...
It must have been you. I never break things. And you're the glue expert. Feminist schmeminist.

Can you remember...
I told you to remind me. Yes, I do store my memory in your head.

In our house, it's Himself who stores his memory in my head. He's lucky I've got a lot of storage space up there. It wasn't mentioned at the wedding, but it's in the unspoken vows. But it's usually I who ask and he who's required to comply. I do sympathize with his frustration. And I ask very nicely.

Me: You're not alone, honey. If you talked to other husbands, you'd find some of them have the same experience.

Himself: It's a very big club.

Alas, as we get older, the inevitable happens even to the brainiest of us. The ultimate question came up for us the other day. It was I who said:

Can you remember what I told you I needed to remember?
If you snap at me when I forget something, we're going to have a miserable old age together.

The gloss is not the clue to the enigma. The secret is in not taking it out on each other, especially while we're all sequestered with our partners thanks to COVID-19. We've found the magic formula when our partner's requests-with-subtext irritate us. Instead of overreacting, he tells himself, "That's just Liz being Liz." I tell myself, "That's just Himself being Himself." It works like a charm.

Liz Zelvin is a once and now forever SleuthSayer, author of the Bruce Kohler Mysteries and the Mendoza Family Saga and editor of the anthologies Me Too Short Stories and Where Crime Never Sleeps. She is also a therapist who has been practicing online for 20 of her 35 years helping clients on her website at LZcybershrink.com. She's available for chat, text, email, phone, and Zoom sessions, especially people who don't live in spitting distance of hundreds of therapists, as she does in New York.

28 June 2020

Lend Me A Scene



Last month, you read my blog article about the creation of "St. Paddy's Day" and the process of brainstorming that story. Today's topic is about the concept of borrowing for a story.

Some writers say borrow from the best. I say borrow whatever works best for the story you are writing. Borrow from wherever it is and from whoever wrote it. I'm not advocating that you should plagiarize someone else's writing, you understand. What I'm talking about here is borrowing the concept of that writer's idea or scene and putting that idea or scene into your own words to use it to best advantage in the story you are currently creating.

4 of the 9 stories in this book are in
my 1660's Paris Underworld series
This brings us to "Green Eyes," the 9th story in my 1660's Paris Underworld series. This is the one I sold to AHMM in May of this year. It is the 47th story the editors of that magazine have accepted over the years, but at the same time I'd prefer not to also think about the prior rejected submissions, nor those sure to come in the future.

For this 9th story in the series, it went like this. I needed a story line and a character arc. Then, I remembered a scene from the memoirs of Eugene Francois Vidocq. Vidocq as you may or may not recall, spent the first part of his life as a master criminal in France and the last part of his life as the Director of the French Surete catching criminals. Literary Note of Interest: When Victor Hugo wrote his novel, Les Miserables,, he loosely based the two main characters, Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, on the two parts of Vidocq's life.

Anyway, in his memoirs, Vidocq wrote about trying to locate a robber so he could arrest the man. After much searching without success, Vidocq decided to try a different method. He was fairly certain that the criminal's wife knew where her husband was hiding out, but would not be willing to tell anyone the location. So, he devised a clever scheme relying on the emotion of jealousy as a catalyst. Enlisting the help of a female criminal who owed him a favor, Vidocq had this female pad her stomach area under her dress and go to the robber's house with a story. The now pregnant-looking female told the wife that she needed to see the wife's husband. When the wife asked what business the female had with her husband, the female patted her ample stomach and replied that the wife's husband knew what business, and then left.

Vidocq, who had been staying out of sight, watched while the wife locked up the house and walked briskly away. As she went through the winding streets of Paris, he followed her until she found her husband. Vidocq then promptly arrested the previously hard-to-find felon.

Okay, if that idea worked for Vidocq in real life, surely in my 1660's Paris Underworld series, I could use something similar for one of my main characters (the Chevalier) who needs to locate the thief who stole his money. The narrator for this series is a young, orphan boy trained as a pickpocket. He is rather incompetent in his occupation, which usually gets him into trouble, plus in previous stories, he has also proven himself to be an unreliable narrator. Being naive and lacking experience in life, he doesn't always realize that some events and actions he witnesses are not quite what they appear to be.

At the opening of "Green Eyes," the orphan sees a man steal money the Chevalier has hidden away in the old Roman ruins where the orphan, the Chevalier and Josette live together in the criminal community on the bluffs above Paris. Later, when the thief becomes hard to find, the Chevalier turns to Josette and some well-placed padding. The orphan boy/narrator, who has a crush on Josette, surreptitiously follows the Chevalier and Josette as they follow after the wife. Not being in on the full plan, what the boy observes confuses him and raises his own emotions. For me to tell more would spoil the story and the ending, so look for "Green Eyes" in a future issue of AHMM. Evidently, the borrowed scene worked great.

How many of you have borrowed an idea,  scene or action from another author because you really liked it and saw a way you could use it in a story of your own? Let us know how well it worked out for you.

27 June 2020

What Went Wrong – (and pass the Scotch)


My friend and colleague John Floyd has inspired me many times, but this time for a singularly bizarre post:  Things that go wrong in the life of an author.

WHAT WENT WRONG:  The Publisher Version

1.  The publication that never was.  John, you mentioned in your recent post Strange but True, that you have received acceptance letters from publishers who then realized they sent them to the wrong person.  I can do you one better (if you really want to call it that.)

This year, I received a very public congratulations from the Ontario Library Association for being a finalist for their YA award.  I was thrilled!  It was my first YA crime book, after 16 adult ones, and they don't usually give awards to crime books.  I basked in glory and excitement for about five minutes until I realized the title of the book they mentioned was not the book I had written.  There ensued a very public retraction.  Everywhere.  And apology.  I am not sure there is anything more embarrassing than receiving a very public apology for an honour snatched back from you.

2.  It isn't often a publisher buys ads for your book and we all celebrate when they do.  The publisher of Rowena and the Dark Lord was out to create gold.  The first book in the series was a bestseller.  So they decided to throw money at book 2, advertising it at more than two dozen places.  And throw money, they did.  Throw it away, that is.  Unfortunately, the ad company misspelled the title of the book in all the ads.  ROWENA AND THE DARK LARD might be popular in cooking circles, but it didn't make a splash with the epic fantasy audience to which it was targeted.

3.  Back in the mid 90s, I was making it, or so I thought.  Had some stories with STAR magazine.  Broke into Hitchcock.  And later, big time, with Moxie magazine.  Remember Moxie?  Up there with Good Housekeeping and Cosmo? No, perhaps you don't.  I was really pleased when they offered me a 50% kill fee of $750.  Not that I wanted to collect it, but it was a status symbol back then to get offered kill fees in your short story contract.  Unfortunately, if you story is killed because the magazine goes under, ain't nothing left for a kill fee.  Big time becomes no time.

WHAT WENT WRONG:  The Event Version

1.  It's always tough when you are shortlisted for a prize and you don't win.  It's even tougher when you are actually at the gala event, and all your friends are waiting for you to be named the winner.  Tougher still, when you are shortlisted in TWO categories, and you don't win either.

But that doesn't touch the case when you are the actual Emcee for the event, you've just finished doing an opening stand-up routine to great applause, you have media there and a full house, you are shortlisted in two categories, and you don't win a sausage.  And still have to run the rest of the event from the stage.

This is why they invented scotch.

WHAT WENT WRONG:  The Agent Version

1.  No fewer than THREE big production companies have approached my agent about optioning The Goddaughter series for TV.  This has gone on for four years, and included hours of negotiating.  "Really excited - back to you on Friday!" said the last one.  That was last summer.  I'm still waiting to see any money.

2.  My first agent was a respected older gent from New York.  Sort of a father figure, very classy.  Like some - okay many - agents, he wasn't the best at getting back to us in a timely manner, particularly by email.  We kind of got used to it.  So it was with some shock that I got a phone call from another author, who had discovered that the reason we hadn't heard back from J is because he had died two months before.  Nobody had gotten around to telling us.

I have a really good agent now. She's still alive, which I've found is a huge advantage in an agent.

Here's the book that was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award last year, along with that short story that also didn't win (pass the scotch):



Remember the A-Team?  We're not them.  
But if you've been the victim of a scam, give us a call.  
We deal in justice, not the law.  We're the B-Team.
At all the usual suspects including....

26 June 2020

How a Story or Novel is Written


Spent the last two hours going through all the posts I put up here on SleuthSayers to see if there was something about writing I had not posted. I came up with this piece of information from respected editor, writer, historian, poet, and literary critic Malcolm Cowley who explained the four stages in the composition of a piece of fiction.

Cowley explained how a story or novel is written by most writers. It went this way –

1. The Germ of the Story

The writer comes up with an idea for a story. It could be something the writer has experienced, witnessed, felt, heard about, or read about. An inspiration strikes the writer and the process begins.

2. The Conscious Meditation

The writer's imagination takes over and the writer meditates. A mix of conscious and unconscious thoughts perk in the writer's mind. The writer thinks of a way to present the story. Who are the characters? Where is the story set? When? What happens in the story?

Many writers compose an outline, some detailed, some sketchy. The outlines is often revised as the story is written.

3. The First Draft

Written quickly, it is an expansion of the outline. Remember – get it written, then get it right.

4. The Rewrite(s)

After the first draft, the writer takes the time to edit or rewrite the story, often more than once, to polish it until it sparkles.

This sounds simplistic and it may not apply to all. I know Harlan Ellison often skipped #4. He wrote one draft and that was it.

Writing a novel is like construction a building and revision is turning the building into a house a human can live in.

Good luck to everyone in the middle of this pandemic. It ain't easy.

That's all for now.
  
 www.oneildenoux.com


25 June 2020

When a Filibuster is Not a Speech


To My Comrades in Nicaragua

I dedicate this effort to do justice to their acts and motives: To the living, with the hope that we may soon meet again on the soil for which we have suffered more than the pangs of death– the reproaches of a people for whose welfare we stood ready to die: To the memory of those who perished in the struggle, with the vow that as long as life lasts no peace shall remain with the foes who libel their names and strive to tear away the laurel which hangs over their graves.

                  – William Walker, prefatory dedication for The War in Nicaragua (1860)


So, not THIS type of filibuster...
filibuster - Informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.

The term "filibuster," as defined above, is likely to evoke passionate responses both for and against its existence and frequent use in legislative bodies such as the U.S. Senate. And this is an election year, and we are less than six months from Election Day 2020,. And while it might be both timely and informative to discuss this Senate rule which has been around since 1806, and yes, we are definitely going to talk about "filibusters" as today's topic.

We're just not going to talk about a political maneuver which uses words as weapons.

THIS type.
Instead we're going to talk about the kind of filibusters which use actual weapons as weapons. So, "military filibusters." Why the confusing use of the same word to mean vastly different things?

Well.

The word itself comes to English by way of both French ("filibustier") and Spanish ("filibustero") words derived from the Dutch vrijbuiter, which means "robber," "thief," or "pirate," and which has also directly entered the English language as "freebooter."

In each of these iterations there is a strong subtext that attaches notions of subterfuge, even sabotage, to the word. This presumption underlies our best guess as to how the word "filibuster" managed to also morph into a political term: a "filibuster" is literally used in an attempt to sabotage the potential passage of a piece of legislation which appears about to be voted into law.

But about those other filibusters. Imagine looking out your window, and seeing dozens of armed, men in paramilitary gear, almost never bearing any official insignia, armed to the teeth, and clearly wanting something and willing to at least show force in order to get it.

Oh, and they're almost always American citizens.

If it's 2020, and you live across the street from, say, the Michigan state capitol, those are citizens exercising their constitutional right to assemble and protest against something their governor is doing (or, maybe not doing?). They have every right to do this, no matter how scary or lawless it looks (which, I think, is usually the point of "packing" when showing up to a protest. I wouldn't actually know, because every time I've attended a protest, I've been unarmed.).

If, however, it's the 1840s or 1850s, or even later, throughout much of the second half of the 19th century (with four years off for the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865), and you're somewhere abutting the Caribbean Basin, whether it be Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, or any of a number of the smaller Central American republics that had recently won their freedom from Spain and you suddenly find a bunch of armed Norteamericanos on your doorstep, your neighborhood is likely on the receiving end of this type of "filibuster."



The vast majority of these expeditions were launched with a single intent: conquest. Granted, if the guys doing the actual filibustering, to say nothing of the money men back in the good old U.S. of A., managed to enrich themselves at the expense of the peoples they were bent on conquering (usually in advance of some hazy, poorly thought-out and never-executed plan to petition the United States for admission, a la Texas), well then, so much the better.
Aaron Burr – Original Filibuster?

In fact the first American filibusters followed the example of Aaron Burr, the brilliant, erratic former vice-president of the United States. Burr, whose career began with such promise, eventually left office in disgrace (after killing his long-time rival Alexander Hamilton in a duel), only to reappear on the national stage late in life, and attempt to swipe a big chunk of what is now the American South and inland Midwest. His apparent intention: setting himself up as some sort of potentate there. Since there is no "Empire of Burrlandia" to found anywhere within the continental United States, you can guess how that went. (Fun fact: the Senate procedural rule that eventually came to be known as a "filibuster" was created in 1806, by the Senate's presiding officer. Can you guess who that was? Yep: then-Vice-President Aaron Burr.).

And in truth the practice pretty much started with Texas. As early as 1810, when a Mexican priest started a revolt against Spain, colorful characters came out of the woodwork to invade Texas. Men such as Augustus Magee–a distinguished West Point graduate who resigned his commission in the U.S. Army to raise and lead a band of American ex-soldier "volunteers" into Texas in ostensible support of the Mexican Revolution, only to die of one of the following: either consumption, malaria, or possibly even poisoning by his own troops. And then there was Virginia-born James Long. In 1819, Long raised and led a group of armed Americans into Texas, seized Nacogdoches, declared the establishment of a "Republic of Texas," and had himself made president. He met his end in a Mexican prison three years later, shot by a prison guard under mysterious circumstances.

But it wasn't just Texas. Wave after wave of armed civilians left ports in the southern United States (usually, but not always, New Orleans) for places with Spanish names and "emerging" governments. Countries (with the exception of Cuba, which remained a Spanish colony until 1898 when the United States military helped liberate the island.) newly freed of Spain's colonial yoke, without an established tradition of self-government, and vulnerable to the predations of small groups of armed men, bent on looting, and, if possible, conquest.

None of these "unofficial" military actions was sanctioned by the United States government. Which is not to say that "filibusters" were unpopular with Americans. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Portrayed by many American newspapers as intrepid adventurers interested in safeguarding the vulnerable, while also potentially expanding the territory of the United States at the expense of "foreigners," filibusters succeeded in capturing the imagination of a mostly admiring American public.

James K. Polk – Official Filibuster?
This is unsurprising in light of the overwhelming success of what might be termed a "sanctioned" filibustering expedition: the annexation of Texas and the subsequent invasion of Mexico by U.S. troops, including some pretty irregular "militia," during the mid-to-late 1840s. The diplomatic conflict over territorial claims to Texas, and the war that quickly followed on  its heels, was engineered (some would say "masterminded") by Tennessean James K. Polk. Polk ran for president making territorial expansion of the United States his central campaign promise. And when he ascended to the presidency, he more than made good on that promise.

While it's true that the so-called "Mexican War" (hint: that's NOT what they call it in Mexico) was extremely popular in certain parts of the United States, there was widespread opposition to it in other sections of the country . These states (especially in the industrial Northeast) opposed the territorial expansion of the nation through the addition of slave territory, and most of the new territory was delegated as slave territory, especially Texas, where it was already widely practiced.

All of the millions of acres of new land acquired by the successful conclusion of the MexicanWar did nothing to sate the taste for filibustering in the American South. If anything the 1850s proved to be the high point of the practice, with expeditions organized and mounted under the leadership of Mexican War veterans such as former Mississippi governor (and late general of volunteers) John Quitman, whose well-financed proposed expedition to "liberate" Cuba and add her to the Union as a new slave state was called off at the last minute under sudden and surprising pressure from the federal government, So Quitman ran for Congress instead. And won. He served until his death in 1858, and chaired the House Committee on Military Affairs.

But if the 1850s were the high tide of the practice of filibustering, the decade also witnessed the rise of the greatest and most successful of these filibusters: the man quoted at the beginning of this post, another "brilliant and erratic" American, William Walker of Tennessee.

Born in Nashville in 1824 and trained in Philadelphia as a physician (if he ever practiced, there's no record of it), Walker seems to have been preternaturally restless. Roaming throughout Europe for two years before catching gold fever and making his way to California in 1849, Walker was living in Sacramento when he first hit upon the notion of turning his hand to filibustering.

In 1853 he sailed from San Francisco one step ahead of the U.S. Army (They wanted to arrest him for plotting to violate the Neutrality Act–a crime of which he was clearly guilty.) with less than fifty followers. He soon landed in what is now Baja California, where he stole provisions from the locals, seized the state capitol city of La Paz and set up a "Republic of Lower California." Then Walker tried (and failed) to annex the neighboring state of Sonora, saw his "republic" collapse, and crossed the border at San Diego, where he surrendered to the army garrison there one step ahead of some of the Mexican landholders he'd robbed upon first arriving in the region two months previously.

As it turned out, this was little more than a dress rehearsal. In 1854 Walker was tried in California on a charge of violating the Neutrality Act. Public opinion was so completely behind him that it took the jury less than ten minutes to acquit him.

Walker benefitted from some very good press back home in the United States, especially in the South. This was in part because one of his first official acts as "president" of his spurious and never-recognized "republic" in Baja was the legalization of slavery. This action endeared him to Southerners still convinced that the best way to preserve the institution of slavery was through its extension throughout out the continent. With abolitionist opposition to the institution on the rise, the sections drawing up sides for a brewing civil war, Walker found himself a folk hero, dubbed the "Grey-Eyed Man of Destiny" by a fawning press.

All of this good PR led to hundreds of would-be filibusters seeking out Walker in California as he immediately began preparing for another expedition south. In 1855 he once again set sail from San Francisco, this time bound for Nicaragua.

Walker's next stop.

Henningsen the Butcher
Initially allying himself with the country's liberals, Walker took advantage of the country's political instability and played several of the factions there off against each other. Within a year he'd gotten himself "elected" president.

Having achieved power, Walker proved ruthless in his attempts to keep it. Alongside pointless show legislation intended to be popular back in the United States (One such piece of legislation changed Nicaragua's official language from Spanish to English,) he also immediately legalized slavery, and set about putting down dissent within the country by turning his troops on the populace. In one particularly horrifying instance Walker sent a detachment of his followers under one of his officers, the English-born Charles Frederick Henningsen, to put down unrest in the city of Granada.  Henningsen's men killed many of the residents, burned the city and then retreated with several thousand Honduran soldiers in hot pursuit.  He left behind a sign marking the smoking ruin of the city with the phrase “Aquí fue Granada” (“Here was Granada”).

The "Commodore"
By 1857 Walker had worn out his welcome.  Not only had he made thousands of local enemies, he had also incurred the enmity one of the richest men in the world: American millionaire “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt.  Vanderbilt's company did a brisk trade running people and cargo via a network of rail lines and lake steamers from the Gulf of Mexico, across the huge Lake Nicaragua, and downslope to steamboats waiting in Corrinto on Nicaragua's Pacific coast, to take travelers the rest of the way to California.

When Walker nationalized Vanderbilt’s lake steamers, the “Commodore” set a collection of well-financed, professional "problem-solvers" the task of ousting Walker and securing the return Vanderbilt’s property.  In face of such resources of men, money and weapons as Vanderbilt could muster, Walker's "government" collapsed virtually overnight. Once again one step ahead of his pursuers, Walker surrendered to the captain of an American warship, returned to a hero’s welcome in New York, and wrote a book (quoted above) about his exploits.  Within a year he had hatched a scheme to return to power in Nicaragua.

This time Walker’s luck had run out.  He landed in Honduras in 1860, and instantly found himself in the custody of the British navy.  Rather than return Walker to the US, the British—who controlled Honduras’ neighbor British Honduras, now Belize—turned him over to the Honduran government as a gesture of good will.  A firing squad executed Walker on the site of what is now a hospital in the port city of Trujillo, on September 12, 1860.  He was just thirty-six years old, and missed the American Civil War by a mere three months.

The Civil War hardly ended American incursions into the long-suffering countries of Latin America and the Caribbean Basin, though. If anything it intensified them and made them more official. By ending the age of filibusters, and running the French out of Mexico after the cessation of hostilities in  the War Between the States, the U.S. government took the first steps toward Great Power status, and that included moving to limit the activities of European world powers in the Western Hemisphere.

So the Norteamericanos continued to invade countries such as Mexico, Nicaragua, Cuba, and others for decades after the end of the Civil War. But they were no longer privately-organized irregular troops. They were usually United States Marines. And their presence in the interest of "securing American lives and property in the region" usually included propping up a succession of tin-pot local strongmen and their descendants, such as the Somozas in Nicaragua. The Sandinista rebels who overthrew this regime after decades of despotic rule, did so in spite of continued U.S. government assistance even after the Somozas were out of power.

And that's how things like "Iran-Contra" happened.

United States Marines posing with a captured rebel flag in Nicaragua, 1932

Followers of this blog (BOTH of you!*rimshot*) may see how this post ties in with my most recent previous one written a couple of weeks back and dealing with the white supremacist underpinnings of the wave of Confederate memorial monuments erected from the 1890s through the 1930s as a way to remind African Americans of their "place" in American society. I say the following as a patriot who loves his country, who does his best to see the ugly truths contained within the American experience while also not forgetting the positive, aspirational nature embedded at the core of our shared national identity. To be an American is to be a practitioner of hope.

But if we are going to move forward as a people from the moment in which we now find ourselves, we, as a people, must be willing to cast an unblinking gaze upon our stained legacy. Only then can we do better.

After all, as History shows us, we have already done worse.

24 June 2020

Invisibles



Claude McKay apparently wrote his fifth novel,  Amiable with Big Teeth, in 1941, and nothing came of it until a Columbia grad student stumbled across the manuscript seventy years later, and got it published. McKay was a figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930's, if not so influential or well-known as Langston Hughes or Zora Neale Hurston. I'm no expert on the period or the people, or America's complicated relationship with race and history (much of which is clearly a history of willed ignorance), but McKay's book fascinates me because it's a social satire about black political engagement - and denial.

There were a lot of competing ideas in the 1930's, and two of the big ones at odds with each other in the Harlem of the time were Marcus Garvey's black nationalism and the siren song of Russian Communism. The actual issue in the novel is how the black community should respond to Italian aggression in Ethiopia: Mussolini's imperial ambition to dominate the Horn of Africa, and a stark demonstration of white European power deployed against a supposedly backward tribal culture, with attendant white barbarism, because their targets were African. This sideshow (not to the Ethiopians, whose estimated losses were three-quarters of a million people) took place on the periphery of a convulsive struggle in Europe between Left and Right, Stalin and his surrogates pitted against Hitler and his - although this vastly over-simplifies the internal divisions and quarrels over ideological purity the various factions tried to contain. The point here is that the same conversations are animating Harlem that fracture the body politic elsewhere.  

American politics have often been about grievance.  We want a place at the table, but when we get there, we put both feet in the trough. The immigrant experience follows a criminal model, the Irish and Tammany, the Italians using the Mafia to get political power, although this is generic. The first Vikings and English and Spaniards who landed in the New World were bent on piracy. The slave narrative, on the other hand, reverses the conventions.



History turns out to be malleable. We used to think it was hieroglyphic, etched in the stone, but like our personal history, you can walk into the house of memory by a different door, and suddenly see it turned around, from the back stairs, or the servants' quarters, so to speak.

It's not my purpose here to revisit or discredit the American origin myth, or redress old injuries. There are people far better equipped, for openers. I want to look at two things, though, one external, the other internal.

From the outside looking in, how do we understand the black presence in American popular culture? How in fact it's been appropriated, or sanitized, but certainly distorted. It's not simply that your experience isn't reflected, it's that your experience isn't represented at all. Okay, we can say the average American white experience of the 1930's isn't accurately represented by William Powell and Myrna Loy, but we wouldn't mind. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine Marcus Garvey seeing himself in Stepin Fetchit.

We might pause for a moment and examine the Stepin Fetchit oeuvre, which is more ambiguous than received wisdom suggests. He made a couple of pictures with Will Rogers, for instance, and in Steamboat Round the Bend particularly, they demonstrate a very sly and subversive relationship. Step was a millionaire, by the way, and got featured billing in his pictures. The problem for black audiences, then and now, is that Step's characterizations get taken as an actual representation of black character. For a white audience, Step is a reassuring stereotype, an unthreatening lazybones. It's not far from here to Amos'n'Andy.



The second thing that bothers me is how this distorted mirror image might be internalized, by a black audience. It can't be an exaggeration to say black people are a hell of a lot more aware of their circumstance than white people are. Black people don't need white people to recognize this, as if white recognition would verify the black experience, that the black experience only matters when white people take notice. If you've been left out of the national conversation, or nobody hears the bear shit in the woods, is there silence?

I know I'm well out of my depth, but I can't help but think about what happened after the war. The fury of the years between, the 1920's and 1930's, the economic collapse, the street marches, the rise of Fascism, the cleansing of the politically impure, the scapegoating of the Jews - and then the savagery of the war itself.

I grew up in the immediate postwar era, and it was about hope. Our parents were lucky enough to get home. It was the era of noir, as well, and nuclear anxiety. We were the war children, Van Morrison's wonderful line, "born 1945." How come that generation of black kids, born 1945, got excluded? Their dads fought in the war with our dads, they beat Hitler and the Japanese with all the rest of us.

This is sad. This is stupid. This is shameful. It's just too God damn dumb. We owe an enormous cultural debt to guys like Duke Ellington, or Ray Charles. We'd be diminished without Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman. It's embarrassing that I even have to make a list, or worse, search for their names. Seriously. We're still talking about who we'll choose to include as Americans, and the invisible Americans have already chosen.  

23 June 2020

The Watts Riots, Rodney King and Me


by Paul D. Marks

The piece below has been published here at SleuthSayers before. But with everything happening in the country today I thought it might be worth another look. It’s mostly about a trip some friends of mine and I took down to Watts not long after the Watts Riots. It’s a day I remember well and that made a lasting impression on me. I don’t want to sound corny but what I really got out of that experience is that we are truly much more alike than different. And I’m sad to see that it looks like we’ve taken some steps backwards in how we relate to one another.

*          *          *



When people think of Watts they think of the Watts Towers – and the Watts Riots of August, 1965. That year, while the Beatles sang about Yesterday, another chant went up in South Central Los Angeles.

*          *          *

1965: "Burn, baby, burn!" is the anthem that many remember the Watts Riots by. It is the chant shouted by people as the city burns. The spark that sets off the riots is a black man being stopped for a traffic ticket. Long-simmering frustration boils over and the city ignites. Thirty-four people are killed, a thousand-plus are wounded and almost four thousand arrested. Tensions in Los Angeles are as high as the smoke rising from the smoldering city streets.

Los Angeles is burning.

*          *          *

1991: Another motorist is stopped for speeding and evading the police. His beatdown is caught on video:

1992: The cops accused of beating Rodney King are acquitted. People pour into the streets. Looting. Assault. Arson. Murder. Fifty-three dead. Twenty-three hundred injured and sixteen-hundred buildings damaged or destroyed.


Los Angeles is burning.

*          *          *

I was in Los Angeles in both ’65 and ’92. I remember the smoke, the fear permeating every quarter of the city.

During the Watts Riots, we were lucky to be able to watch it on TV and not be in the middle of it. My then-girlfriend's cousin was a National Guardsman assigned to patrol Watts during the riots and what he saw was so horrible he would never talk about it.

But I have a different memory of Watts. It isn't of the riots, but occurred during another hot summer, not long after.

I met a boy named Walter in class. Unlike everyone else in the class and just about everyone in the school, he was black. And he wasn't a local, but was on some kind of student exchange program from Jordan High in Watts.

I'm sure we were as much a curiosity to him as he was to us. After all, we were the privileged white kids and he was the angry young black man. Only he didn't seem angry. He seemed like just another nice guy with glasses. He invited a group of us to come down and see where he lived: Watts. A word that sent shivers down a lot of Angelinos' spines in those days.

We were a little apprehensive about going down there, especially as Walter had told us to come in the crappiest cars we had. No shiny new cars. There were six or eight teenaged boys and girls in our little caravan of two crappy cars. But crappy in our neighborhood meant something different than it did in Walter's.

Our caravan weaved its way through the Los Angeles streets until we were just about the only white faces to be seen. We finally came to Will Rogers Park (known today as Ted Watkins Park). Mind you, this is not the Will Rogers Park on Sunset where the polo ponies play on Sundays. This park is in the heart of South Central and I can say that all of our hearts were beating faster than normal.

We parked nearby and walked as a unit to the park, as if we were a military outfit. People looked at us – we didn't look at them. But maybe because we looked like hippies and we were young nobody bothered us.

We met Walter in Will Rogers Park in South Central Los Angeles and sat under a shady tree, a bunch of white kids and one black guy. We sat, just rapping – in the vernacular of the time – talking about music and houses and politics. We stood out like the proverbial sore thumb and people started coming over. Big dudes, little dudes. Cool dudes. Girls. No one seemed to resent our being there. In fact, they seemed glad to have us. Glad to be able to share with us and have us share with them. There was no sense of rancor or resentment. Just curiosity – a curiosity that went both ways. This was a time when people wanted to come together, not be separated. None of them knew Walter and they certainly didn't know us. But they joined our group and we rapped on.

After a while we got up and played a game of pickup basketball – try doing that in a pair of cowboy boots.

Then Walter said, "You want to see where I live?"


Of course we did. So he took us to the projects – Jordan Downs. We drove past burned out buildings and vacant lots that not so long ago had had buildings on them. And we saw how the other half lived.

"It's not the best place in the world to live," Walter said. "But it could be a whole lot worse."

Our last stop was a trip to the Watts Towers, those soaring spires of glass, steel and concrete built by Simon Rodia. They are a monument to what anyone can do if they put their mind to it.


We finally returned to our cars. And, corny as it might sound, I think we all learned that we're more alike than different, with the same aspirations, hopes and fears.

That day was one of the most memorable experiences of my life – one that I wouldn't trade for anything. It was a wonderful day and we all went home full of hope for the future. We just wanted to get to know each other. Ultimately I think Rodney King had it right when he said, "Can we all get along?"

Why the hell can't we?

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

The Blues Don't Care is getting some great reviews:

"It’s the first entry in what promises to be an entertaining and thoughtful series --- mysteries that not only have the requisite twists, turns, surprises and reveals, but also offer a penetrating look into our ubiquitous all-too-human flaws: greed, corruption, fear of the “other” and, especially, racism."
—Jack Kramer, BookReporter.com

"This is a beautifully noirish book, set firmly in the dark days of wartime and offering a sharp insight into the life and times of Los Angeles, 1940s style. Yes, it’s a mystery thriller, but The Blues Don’t Care is so much more than that, with historic detail, chutzpah, a cast of hugely entertaining characters, a really unusual protagonist and, best of all, a cracking soundtrack too."
—DeathBecomesHer, CrimeFictionLover.com



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

22 June 2020

A Matter of Trust


A few weeks ago, a novice writer reached me through my web site. He said he went to the high school where I taught, but I never knew him. He told me had done "lots of research" on a crime or crimes in our city and wanted me to help him turn it into a real book.

The email had lots of problems. First, he attached a word doc instead of simply writing the message. I suspected he was recycling the letter, but most of it was specifically aimed at me. He said his MS was 100K words long, but I couldn't tell if he had a non-fiction book or a novel, and it makes a difference because my comfort zone is fiction.

I asked a few questions for clarification and told him to send me a five-page synopsis of his entire MS, then a one-page synopsis of each of the three shorter sections he identified in his first message. I warned him that was very difficult, but I needed a clearer overview of what he had. He also mentioned podcasts, and I said if that was his choice, it might be a good idea, but he needed a scriptwriter or someone with more experience in radio. I quoted an estimate and told him that could change when I knew more, and that I wouldn't commit yet.

The next day, he replied and made my decision easy. He said his lawyer wanted me to sign a one-year non--disclosure agreement for our work together. I told him he had just closed the negotiations.

Everything in the creative arts, especially writing, is about trust, and the non-professionals don't get that. If you send a query or manuscript to an editor or agent, don't put the copyright symbol on it. They aren't going to steal it for several reasons, lawsuits and a ruined reputation topping the list. They have to keep working with other people, remember? Besides, if they can't do better than something they find in the slush pile, they're in the wrong business anyway.

Do session musicians sign an ADA before performing on someone else's recording? Do museum curators sign one before displaying someone's painting or sculpture? Do actors sign one while rehearsing the first production of a play, when the playwright may still be revising the script as they go along?

Nope, nope and nope.

The same is true of writers to agents, editors, and readers. Writers ask people to read their work, so they have to create something worth a reader's time and effort. A reader doesn't pick up a book to be bored by stale plots, cliched characters, or mountains of description. That's why editors and agents reject such submissions. The publishers trust them to bring quality (salable) products to the table, and if they betray that trust, it goes away.

Agents and editors read enough so they remember something good when they see it, especially when they see it again. Yes, we hear stories about plagiarism, but they're rare, especially with a well-known writer as either the victim or the perpetrator. There's too much at stake to take such a stupid risk.

I used to teach senior English classes with students who read four to six years below grade level. I always thought it was an oxymoron and that we should have helped those kids much sooner, but go figure. Those kids, who didn't know better, frequently handed in rap lyrics as their own poetry. They were always amazed when I caught them. They didn't understand that people who need a rubber stamp to spell their own name on the paper (Make sure it's right-side-up!) probably won't use a beautiful extended metaphor (Which they thought was a sports injury, anyway).

Those kids were trying to fool me, but it was how they tried to survive in a world where they'd been set up to fail. I never told them I found "their " poems by Googling the first line because I wanted to perpetuate the myth of the omniscient teacher. I made them rewrite the stuff into something more their own. These kids weren't aiming at Harvard or Oxford, they just wanted to get out of a really ugly building and find a full-time job. OK, no harm, no foul.

But it's different in the writing world, which is sort of like golf, where you call a penalty on yourself if you accidentally drag your club in the sand trap. There's a lot of money out there, but most of us aren't getting any of it, so it's all about the handshake and who buys the beer.

And, except on really bad days, not about the lawyers.

21 June 2020

Statues of Limitations


In the initial wave of Black Lives Matter, I was astonished how many moderates misunderstood the message, good-hearted but befuddled people who responded with “All lives matter.” The debate reminded me of a marital argument where husband and wife talk past one another, those moments when she just wants him to listen.

I hope it still doesn’t need spelling out, but supporting Black Lives Matter is hardly tantamount to, say, embracing the Black Liberation Army, that mirror image of the White Aryan Resistance.

Yes, of course all lives matter, but realize BLM is literally an existential issue for black folks, and by existential, I mean life…and…death. This year more people– not everyone but an accelerating number– begin to understand marginalization and how tenuous the life of a black man can be. I still haven’t got past the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice playing by himself in a Cleveland park on a snowy day. There’s no rationale, man.

Feet of Clay


A professional photographer I knew said, “The Klan does a lot of good. You know they feed children.”

“To what?” I said.

I’m not sure he got it. Hitler liked children too, very, very white ones.

Ten days ago, Brian Thornton wrote about monuments, D.W. Griffith, and the sanitizing and romanticizing of slavery in this country. I commented that a Jacksonville, Florida school only recently changed its name from a founder of the Ku Klux Klan.

Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince, painting © Morry
The Happy Prince © Morry
Perhaps a balance should be sought about the value, equitability, and fairness of controversial statuary. A soldier doing his job, maybe. A murderous jayhawker or bushwhacker, nooooo. A founder of the KKK, nooooo, decidedly not. Just a thought.

Feat of Kaolin

Brian also mentioned Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’, which reminded me of a great short story by Oscar Wilde, one I thought infinitely sad when I was a small child.

In that classics spirit set forth by Brian, here is Wilde’s fable…

The Happy Prince

by Oscar Wilde

20 June 2020

A Movie Quiz for the Pandemic




Before I start, let me say a quick thank-you to all those who commented on my last two posts, on the Do's and Don'ts of writing. That can be a touchy subject, because all of us have our own ideas about the "rules" of writing fiction, and I was pleased that both posts seemed to kick off a good exchange of views about everything from grammar/style to the story-submission process. Thanks again.

As for today's column, I have noticed that my fellow SleuthSayers seem to be writing a lot of posts lately about the coronavirus and social injustice and other meaningful issues. Since I admire them and I admire that, I considered doing the same for my post today.

But didn't. The truth is, I'm sort of tired of the news.

So . . . today's offering is a quiz for movie lovers. If you fall into that group, try your hand at the following questions.
What do these movies have in common?


Example:

Top Gun / Iron Eagle / The Blue Max / Flyboys
Answer: fighter pilots


1. The Breakfast Club / Clueless / Napoleon Dynamite / Ferris Bueller's Day Off

2. Peggy Sue Got Married / A Sound of Thunder / Deja Vu / Back to the Future

3. On the Beach / Miracle Mile / These Final Hours / Melancholia

4. Rocky / Cinderella Man / Million Dollar Baby / Raging Bull

5. Dante's Peak / Krakatoa, East of Java / When Time Ran Out / The Devil at Four O'Clock

6. Hellfighters / There Will Be Blood / Boom Town / Oklahoma Crude

7. The Eiger Sanction / Touching the Void / Free Solo / K2

8. Terminal Velocity / Point Break / The Gypsy Moths

9. The Cincinnati Kid / Molly's Game / A Big Hand for the Little Lady

10. Victory / Kicking and Screaming / Bend It like Beckham

11. Match Point / Battle of the Sexes / Love Means Zero

12. Apocalypto / The Emerald Forest / Romancing the Stone / Mogli / Medicine Man

13. The Greatest Show on Earth / Water for Elephants / The Wagons Roll at Night

14. The Outlaw / The Left-Handed Gun / Dirty Little Billy / Young Guns

15. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral / My Darling Clementine / Hour of the Gun / Tombstone

16. The Gathering Storm / Darkest Hour / Into the Storm / The Eagle Has Landed

17. The Aviator / Rules Don't Apply / Melvin and Howard

18. Pearl Harbor / The Descendants / Diamond Head / From Here to Eternity

19. The Big Easy / Tightrope / Cat People (1982) / A Streetcar Named Desire

20. Mystic River / Gone Baby Gone / Patriot's Day / The Town / The Departed

21. Bullitt / Vertigo / The Rock / Pacific Heights / Dirty Harry

22. Crocodile Dundee / Mad Max / Walkabout / The Man from Snowy River

23. The Quiet Man / Ryan's Daughter / The Wind that Shakes the Barley

24. Death on the Nile / Evil Under the Sun / Dead Man's Folly / Murder on the Orient Express

25. Lady in the Lake / The Long Goodbye / Poodle Springs / Murder, My Sweet / The Big Sleep


Answers:

1. high school
2. time travel
3. the end of the world
4. boxing
5. volcanoes
6. oil wells
7. mountain climbing
8. skydiving
9. poker
10. soccer
11. tennis
12. the jungle
13. the circus
14. Billy the Kid
15. Wyatt Earp
16. Winston Churchill
17. Howard Hughes
18. Hawaii
19. New Orleans
20. Boston
21. San Francisco
22. Australia
23. Ireland
24. Hercule Poirot
25. Philip Marlowe



Now . . . What TWO things do the following movies have in common?


Example:

Sleepless in Seattle / Joe vs. the Volcano / You’ve Got Mail 
Answer: Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan


1. Field of Dreams / For the Love of the Game / Bull Durham

2. The Longest Yard / Semi-Tough

3. The Hustler / The Color of Money

4. Sully / Cloud Atlas / Cast Away

5. Alien / Aliens / Galaxy Quest

6. National Velvet / Thoroughbreds Don't Cry / The Black Stallion

7. The High and the Mighty / Island in the Sky / Flying Leathernecks

8. Crimson Tide / The Poseidon Adventure

9. The Shawshank Redemption / The Green Mile

10. The Jewel of the Nile / The Ghost and the Darkness

11. Rio Bravo / Texas Across the River / Five Card Stud / Four for Texas

12. Seven Days in May / Tough Guys / The Devil's Disciple / Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

13. The Odd Couple / The Front Page / Out to Sea / The Grass Harp / Grumpy Old Men

14. Good Will Hunting / Chasing Amy / Dogma / Jersey Girls

15. Heat / Righteous Kill / The Godfather, Part II / The Irishman

16. Eyes Wide Shut / Days of Thunder / Far and Away

17. Barefoot in the Park / The Chase / The Electric Horseman

18. The Wedding Singer / Blended / 50 First Dates

19. Serena / Silver Linings Playbook / Joy / American Hustle

20. Pretty Woman / Runaway Bride

21. Speed / The Lake House

22. Key Largo / The Big Sleep / Dark Passage / To Have and Have Not 

23. State of the Union / Desk Set / The Sea of Grass / Adam's Rib / Pat and Mike

24. North by Northwest / Notorious / Suspicion / To Catch a Thief

25. Rope / The Man Who Knew Too Much / Vertigo / Rear Window


Answers:

1. Kevin Costner and baseball
2. Burt Reynolds and football
3. Paul Newman and pool
4. Tom Hanks and plane crashes
5. Sigourney Weaver and outer space
6. Mickey Rooney and horses
7. John Wayne and airplanes
8. Gene Hackman and boats
9. Stephen King and prisons
10. Michael Douglas and Africa
11. Dean Martin and the old west
12. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas
13. Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau
14. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck
15. Robert De Niro and Al Pacino
16. Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise
17. Jane Fonda and Robert Redford
18. Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler
19. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper
20. Julia Roberts and Richard Gere
21. Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves
22. Bacall and Bogart
23. Hepburn and Tracy
24. Hitchcock and Cary Grant
25. Hitchcock and James Stewart


Bonus question:

What odd/unusual thing do the following movies have in common?

Example:

Presumed Innocent / Regarding Henry
Answer: Harrison Ford as a lawyer


1. Just Cause / Finding Forrester / Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 
2. Nighthawks / Cobra / Copland / Tango and Cash
3. Will Penny / The Big Country / The Last Hard Men / Pony Express
4. Bandolero / 100 Rifles / Hannie Caulder
5. The Devil's Disciple / Elmer Gantry 
6. The Cooler / The Juror / Fun with Dick and Jane / Motherless Brooklyn
7. Batman Begins / Immortal Beloved / The Dark Knight / The Prisoner of Azkaban
8. Awakenings / Patch Adams / Flubber / Good Will Hunting / Nine Months 
9. Deep Impact / Olympus Has Fallen / London Has Fallen
10. Hombre / Cool Hand Luke / The Left-Handed Gun / Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


Answers:

1. Sean Connery as a professor
2. Sylvester Stallone as a cop
3. Charlton Heston as a cowboy
4. Raquel Welch as a cowgirl
5. Burt Lancaster as a preacher
6. Alec Baldwin as a bad guy
7. Gary Oldman as a good guy
8. Robin Williams as a doctor
9. Morgan Freeman as the President
10. Paul Newman gets shot at the end




How'd you do? In my opinion, the first section was pretty easy and the second section and bonus items were hard. (But I sure had fun putting them together. As my wife could tell you, I'm easily entertained.)

Can you think of some I missed? Groups of movies with the same actors or acting duos or actors playing against type? Movies about the same topic or famous person or location, etc.? Let me know.

Next time, I'll get back to more serious matters. Maybe.


Everybody stay safe!




19 June 2020

Instant Expert


Prevailing advice to writers--be they newbie or seasoned-- is to write what they know. So, what's a crime writer to do?

Let's be honest, when was the last time you held up a bank? Shot someone at point blank? Solved an arsonist's attack? Tested the effects of poison? Foiled a villain hellbent on world domination?

Well, it's 2020, so I guess anything could be possible in our current state of crazy, but for most of us, I'm guessing the answer is never.

Me, too.

But--in my humble opinion--not being an expert in something is no excuse to not to write about it. Here are a few ways to get a leg up on experience:

Become a method author.  Want to know what would happen if a character ran out of a police precinct at full tilt?  Give it a try. Want to know about shoulder kickback from firing a certain gun? Mosey on down to your local firing range and reserve a lane. Want to do donuts in your car? Find an empty parking lot, throw on a helmet, and skid your heart out. You get the idea. If the activity is legal, go for it.

Caveat ~ consider giving someone a heads up before you try something even a little bit sketchy.

Location, location, location. Does your setting exist? Consider (re)visiting it. The best way to get a place's sensory vibe is to visit it, ideally during the time of day/year when you plan to feature it in your fiction.

My (unpublished) contemporary suspense novel is set at the University of Virginia during the deathly quiet of spring break. I'd planned to write a chase scene through Alderman Library's stacks, so when I visited UVA's grounds, I videoed myself running the exact path my main character would run around the floors crammed with shelves of old books, restocking carts, wooden carrels, and mini-stairs to access other half-floors. I figured out how my main character would encounter and use certain obstacles to her advantage to escape the antagonist's clutches.

Bonus ~ ask a local to give you a tour. If you're lucky, you'll find out out unique lore or details that will surprise (in a good way) even readers who know the setting well. In Alderman Library, my guide  took me to see a massive boulder that had been preserved in a tucked-away basement utility room.  Who knew? Not me, and I'd frequented the library during my four years as an undergrad student at UVA.

Interview an expert. Chances are, if you ask around, you can bank on six-degrees-of-separation to find those in the know. Make connections to build a resource network that includes an approachable police officer (though they might be preoccupied these days), a lawyer, a medical professional, a mechanic, a journalist, and a psychologist. Check in withe fellow crime writers to see if they'll share relevant experts to add your virtual Rolodex whenever you can. And when you tap into their knowledge, don't forget to thank them with a beverage of their choice and a mention in the acknowledgements section of your book.
Scattered Quotes

Read primary sources. When I wrote my short story of suspense, "Czech Mate," I was at a distinct timing disadvantage as the historical event I was depicting--Prague Spring--occurred while I was an infant. But I found some invaluable journal posts on international blogs with moment-by-moment accounts of how the Soviet invasion progressed and shared the authors' personal experiences as the tanks rolled in and the Czechs took to the streets to protest. This boots-on-the-ground insight was both personal and relevant, and I was able to use it to craft the emotional and historically accurate feel of the game-changing political event.

When in doubt, Google it. Writing a street car chase? Check out google maps using their satellite view to see what landmarks and details your character will zoom by. Have a character who is a medical patient? WebMD.com offers symptoms of a wide range of medical disorders, diseases, and injuries. Need help analyzing the blood spatter your novel's victim left behind? Check out this Introduction to Forensic Science YouTube video <here> before engineering your crime scene. Or need technical details so your novel's forensic pathologist can determine your victim's time of death? This tutorial <here> itemizes how a body decomposes after death can help you accurately set the stage. In the age of information, the answers are out there somewhere. But be sure to vet your sources before relying too heavily on them.

How do you become an instant expert when you write crime?


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