06 August 2020

When Writing Historical Fiction: It's Better to Travel



[Elmore] Leonard was originally no more a man of the West than was the Ohio-born dentist Zane Grey. While a kid in Detroit, Westerns enthralled him as they did most people in the 1930s and 40s. When he grew interested in writing during college Western fiction seemed a promising genre he could work in part-time. Unlike many writers then selling Western tales to pulps, though, Leonard insisted on accuracy, and kept a ledger of his research over the years, later crediting his longtime subscription to
Arizona Highways magazine for many of his authentic descriptions. All had to be genuine: the guns, Apache terms and clothing; the frontier knives, card games, liquor, and especially the horses.

                            — Nathan Ward, from "Elmore Leonard's Gritty Westerns," in Crime Reads

It's certainly never a bad idea to follow the writing advice of the great Elmore Leonard. His Ten Rules For Writing are rightly famous as terrific advice for any writer of fiction. 

In those instances where his advice isn't readily available, it never hurts to follow his example, if at all possible. Take the one in the quote above from Nathan Ward's Crime Reads article on Leonard. For years Leonard apparently leaned heavily on the content of Arizona Highways magazine.

It's a fine notion. Now, don't get me wrong: it's always better to travel. There is no substitute for actually going to and spending time in the place you're writing about. But, if you're writing about someplace and you can't afford to go, read travel writers. For that matter, even if you can afford the investment in both time and treasure to visit the region where your work is set, read travel writers. No one can help you get a feel for a certain place like people who make their livings helping their readers get a feel for a certain place.

Take William Dalrymple. The British-born-and-raised son of a Scottish baronet, Dalrymple these days is best known for his recent run of riveting books on the history of the subcontinent: India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Dalrymple is a terrific writer and a first-rate historian who splits his time between a farm just outside Delhi, in India and a summer home in London.
William Dalrymple

But before he began to make a name for himself with books such as White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India, The Last Mughal: the Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857, The Return of a King: the Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-1842, and The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence and the Pillage of An Empire, Dalrymple began his writing career as a travel writer, taking readers on a tour through the Eastern Mediterranean and the Holy Land (From the Holy Mountain: a Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East), and of course, chronicling the early days of his life-long love affair with India. With his first book In Xanadu, published in 1989, Dalrymple chronicles his modern retracing of the journey of Marco Polo from Jerusalem in the summer palace of Kublai Khan in China. But it was with his second book, 1994's City of Djinns: a Year in Delhi, a memoir of his first visit to the city which has had such a tremendous impact on his adult life, that Dalrymple really began to make his mark.

And there is so much to this memoir which can be of use to the writer reading about the city. Here's an early excerpt laying out his introduction to Delhi and to India:

I was only seventeen. After ten years at school in a remote valley in the moors of North Yorkshire, I had quite suddenly found myself in India, in Delhi. From the very beginning I was mesmerized by the great capital, so totally unlike anything I had ever seen before. Delhi, it seemed at first, was full of riches and horrors: it was a labyrinth, a city of palaces, an open gutter, filtered light through a filigree lattice, a landscape of domes, an anarchy, a press of people, a choke of fumes, a whiff of spices. Moreover the city—so I soon discovered—possessed a bottomless seam of stories: tales receding far beyond history, deep into the cavernous chambers of myth and legend. Friends would moan about the touts on Janpath and head off to the beaches in Goa, but for me Delhi always exerted a stronger spell. I lingered on, and soon found a job in a home for destitutes in the far north of the city. The nuns gave me a room overlooking a municipal rubbish dump. In the morning I would look out to see the sad regiment of rag-pickers trawling the stinking berms of refuse; overhead, under a copper sky, vultures circled the thermals forming patterns like fragments of glass in a kaleidoscope. In the afternoons, after I had swept the compound and the inmates were safely asleep, I used to slip out and explore. I would take a rickshaw into the innards of the Old City and pass through the narrowing funnel of gullies and lanes, alleys and cul de sacs, feeling the houses close in around me.

Now, I ask you. Can this guy set a scene, or what? Really helpful for drinking in the flavors, colors, scents and sounds of what on the face of it sounds like a truly unforgettable place. Really not a bad guide if you're interested in writing about modern day India.

But what if, like me, you're a writer of historical fiction?

In Leonard's case, as stated above, he exploited a modern magazine to help give him local flavor not just for another region of the country, but for that region in another era. No mean feat. It's a testament to Leonard's imagination and his vision that he was able to "world build" (to borrow a phrase from our friends who write speculative fiction) using these building blocks.

So sure, you can (and should) definitely use your imagination to fill in the cracks. Of course, another way to use travel writing help get the feel for a city or street, or region or state or county or what-have-you during a bygone time is to go and find travel writing from the time in which your work-in-progress is set.

I have a writer friend whose current work-in-progress is set during World War II. One of his major characters has a back-story in which he lived in Germany during the 1930s, in the run-up to the war. I referred him to A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, the first volume in a superb three-volume memoir of a trip on foot across Europe, from Holland all the way to Turkey by travel writer, war-time British commando (the account of his part in a successful kidnapping of a German general in Crete is not to be missed), bon vivant, and (some say) one of Ian Fleming's models for his literary creation James Bond, Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Leigh Fermor set out for Constantinople (Istanbul) in December of 1933, less than a year after Adolf Hitler and the Nazis had come to power. His narrative is replete with rich details about German life during that period, laying out how the Nazis had both a heavy and in some ways, a negligible impact on the country they would eventually lead to absolute ruin. Here is Leigh Fermor's initial impression of Cologne, the first major German city he visited:

After a first faraway glimpse, the two famous steeples grew taller and taller as the miles that separated us fell away. At last they commanded the cloudy plain as the spires of a cathedral should, vanishing when the outskirts of the city interposed themselves, and then, as I gazed at the crowding saints of the three Gothic doorways, sailing up into the evening again at close range. Beyond them indoors, although it was already too dark to see the colours of the glass, I knew I was inside the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. Except for the little constellation of tapers in the shadows of a side-chapel, everything was dim. Women knelt interspersed with nuns and the murmured second half of the Gegrüsset seist Du, Maria rose in answering chorus to the priest’s initial solo; a discreet clatter of beads kept tally of the accumulating prayers. In churches with open spires like Cologne, one could understand how congregations thought their orisons had a better start than prayers under a dome where the syllables might flutter round for hours. With steeples they follow the uprush of lancets and make an immediate break for it. Tinsel and stars flashed in all the shops and banners saying Fröhliche Weihnacht! were suspended across the streets. Clogged villagers and women in fleece-lined rubber boots slipped about the icy pavements with exclamatory greetings and small screams, spilling their armfuls of parcels. The snow heaped up wherever it could and the sharp air and the lights gave the town an authentic Christmas card feeling. It was the real thing at last! Christmas was only five days away. Renaissance doors pierced walls of ancient brick, upper storeys jutted in salients of carved timber and glass, triangles of crow-steps outlined the steep gables, and eagles and lions and swans swung from convoluted iron brackets along a maze of lanes. As each quarter struck, the saint-encrusted towers challenged each other through the snow and the rivalry of those heavy bells left the air shaking. Beyond the Cathedral and directly beneath the flying-buttresses of the apse, a street dropped sharply to the quays. Tramp steamers and tugs and barges and fair-sized ships lay at anchor under the spans of the bridges, and cafés and bars were raucous with music. I had been toying with the idea, if I could make the right friends, of cadging a lift on a barge and sailing upstream in style for a bit.

Again, this is quite a scene the writer is setting! So much good material, such a solid feel for the place. Leigh-Fermor wrote the memoir some forty years after the trip, based on large part on the deep and thorough entries he made in his journal as an eighteen year-old looking for adventure in a rapidly changing world. And then he goes on to talk about his attempt to "make friends" in that timeless way young people have from time immemorial: he went to a bar:

I made friends all right. It was impossible not to. The first place was a haunt of seamen and bargees shod in tall sea-boots rolled down to the knee, with felt linings and thick wooden soles. They were throwing schnapps down their throats at a brisk rate. Each swig was followed by a chaser of beer, and I started doing the same. The girls who drifted in and out were pretty but a rough lot and there was one bulky terror, bursting out of a sailor’s jersey and wearing a bargeman’s cap askew on a nest of candy-floss hair, called Maggi—which was short for Magda—who greeted every newcomer with a cry of “Hallo, Bubi!” and a sharp, cunningly twisted and very painful pinch on the cheek. I liked the place, especially after several schnapps, and I was soon firm friends with two beaming bargemen whose Low German speech, even sober, would have been blurred beyond the most expert linguist’s grasp. They were called Uli and Peter. “Don’t keep on saying Sie,” Uli insisted, with a troubled brow and an unsteadily admonishing forefinger: “Say Du.” This advance from the plural to the greater intimacy of the singular was then celebrated by drinking Brüderschaft. Glasses in hand, with our right arms crooked through the other two with the complexity of the three Graces on a Parisian public fountain, we drank in unison. Then we reversed the process with our left arms, preparatory to ending with a triune embrace on both cheeks, a manoeuvre as elaborate as being knighted or invested with the Golden Fleece. The first half of the ceremony went without a hitch, but a loss of balance in the second, while our forearms were still interlocked, landed the three of us in the sawdust in a sottish heap. Later, in the fickle fashion of the very drunk, they lurched away into the night, leaving their newly-created brother dancing with a girl who had joined our unsteady group: my hobnail boots could do no more damage to her shiny dancing shoes, I thought, than the seaboots that were clumping all round us. She was very pretty except for two missing front teeth. They had been knocked out in a brawl the week before, she told me.

And that's just a taste. Leigh Fermor's three volumes here truly form a treasure trove: a window into a long-vanished world, and a feel for both the time itself and the timeless humanity of its cast of thousands. Well worth a read if you're writing something set in Middle Europe during the 1930s, or a student of human nature, history, great writing, or (most likely) some combination of all three.

Patrick Leigh Fermor (Right) in Crete, 1943

And that's all for now. Tune in next to when I break out the work of a Flemish diplomat and show how his long letters home from his diplomatic posting in the court of the Turkish sultan helped inform the writing of a couple of my published works.

See you in two weeks!






05 August 2020

Breaking Into Showbiz 3



This is the third time we've played this game.  Rules are simple.  Below is a list of well-known characters from popular culture.  The question is: Where did they start?  For example, the Cisco Kid began life in a short story written by O. Henry, of all people.

On the side in a white box you will see a list of possible origins.  Don't assume there is one-for-one match (one character from radio, one from opera, etc.)

Answers at the bottom of the page.  Good luck!

Paul Bunyan

Charlie Chan

Jiminy Cricket

Robinson Crusoe

Green Hornet

Detective John Munch

Horace Rumpole

Karen Sisco

Staggerlee

Honey West


Ready? Okay, here are the answers:


Paul Bunyan. Folklore. Sure, the giant logger started in oral legends, but as is usually the case with folklore, it's complicated.  The earliest known written appearance is a one-line reference in a newspaper in 1893, a joke that would make no sense to anyone unfamiliar with "Paul Bunion."

He was apparently only about eight feet tall until 1916 when William B. Laughead used him in an advertising pamphlet.  That's when he grew into a man who could lift mountains and make lakes with his footprints.

Because so many of the familiar stories show up late some scholars call it "fakelore," but James Stevens, who wrote a book about our big boy in 1925 argued that making up new tales based on the basic framework is exactly how the stories worked in the lumber camps.

Charlie Chan.  Real Life.  Sort of.  Yes, Charlie Chan made his first appearance in Earl Derr Biggers' mystery novel The House Without A Key (1925), but he acknowledged that the character was inspired by Chang Apana, a famous member of the Honolulu police force.  Unlike his fictional counterpart, Apana was not permitted to work on cases involving White people.  Biggers and Apana met in 1928, by the way.

Chan is considered an offensive stereotype today - less for the novels than for the countless movies starring White men in the part - so it is easy to forget that Biggers was trying to combat the "sinister Oriental" cliche represented by Fu Manchu, by creating a decent and brilliant Chinese policeman.


Jiminy Cricket. Movie. The living puppet began in The Adventures of Pinocchio, an Italian children's book by Carlo Collodi, published in 1883.  In that book the Fairy with Turquoise Hair gave him a talking cricket as a conscience, which the little wooden brat promptly murdered.  So the animal appeared as a ghost throughout the rest of the book.

As part of the Disneyfication of the book, in the cartoon the insect turned into Jiminy Cricket, complete with top hat and umbrella.  (The name, of course,  already existed as a modified swear word.)  Jiminy was voiced by Clifford Edwards, who got to sing "When You Wish Upon A Star," which became the Disney corporation's unofficial anthem.  Until then Edwards was better known as Ukulele Ike, a very popular crooner in the early days of the phonograph.  Among other things, he did the first recording of "Singing in the Rain," and had a hit with "California, Here I Come." 

In a most un-Disneylike twist, Ukulele Ike had also recorded some hokum - which is to say double entendre songs that were only sold to adults "under the counter." 


Robinson Crusoe.  Novel.  Daniel Defoe's immortal novel about a desert island castaway is often linked to the ordeal of Alexander Selkirk, who spent four years on an island off the coast of Chile after being dumped there by his captain.

But Andrew Lambert, in his book Crusoe's Island, argues that the book is a mash-up of the adventures of several maroonees, if that's a word.  Defoe never confirmed or denied Selkirk's influence.


Green Hornet.  Radio.  The masked hero in the green fedora (secret identity of newspaper publisher Britt Reid) came to life on Detroit radio station WXYZ in 1938, as did his assistant and chauffeur, Kato.

I included him here largely because many years ago the NPR quiz show Says You did a round of questions about comic strips, and somehow included one about the olive wasp: "What was the name of the Green Hornet's grand-uncle's horse?" 

I knew the answer.  But I was irritated because GH didn't start in a strip or even a comic book, and you think a radio show would know he came from radio show.  (And by the way, that is a clue to the answer to that question.)


Detective John Munch.
Real Life.  Detective (later Sergeant) John Munch entered the world through the wonderful TV series Homicide: Life on the Street, played by Richard Belzer.  When that show ended Munch left Baltimore Homicide and moved to NYPD for Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.  Believe it or not the cynical conspiracy-minded cop  also made guest appearnces on The X Files, Arrested Development, The Wire, 30 Rock, and a handful of other TV series.

So why do I say he started in real life?  The TV series Homicide was based on David Simon' award-winning nonfiction book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.  Munch is clearly (and admittedly) inspired by Detective Sergeant Jay Landsman.

Here is how that book begins:
    Pulling one hand from the warmth of a pocket, Jay Landsman squats down to grab the dead man's chin, pushing the head to one side until the wound becomes visible as a small, ovate hole, oozing red and white.
    "Here's your problem," he said.  "He's got a slow leak."
    "A leak?" says Pellegrini, picking up on it.
    "A slow one."
    "You can fix those."
    "Sure you can," Landsman agrees.  "They got these home repair kits now..."

Inevitably Jay Landsman did some acting, in The Corner and The Wire.


Horace Rumpole.
Television. The defender of the British criminal classes  began in TV, although he was later seen in novels, short stories, and radio.  John Mortimer, himself a barrister, claimed he created Rumpole specifically to fund his retirement. 

In 1968 Mortimer wrote a TV movie called "Infidelity Took Place," about a barrister who is a sort of ur-Rumpole.  A few years later he wrote a play about Horace Rumbold, but the name was changed because there really was a lawyer by that name.  (Of course, the name is a pun.  Think of a Cockney saying Rump 'Ole.)
 
While Rumpole was conceived as a small-timer who lost most of his cases, as the show went through seven seasons he became more and more successful.  And as Mortimer looked farther afield for interesting plots, Rumpole found himself working in a military court, an African court (with the death penalty on the table), an ecclesiastical court (bizarre for an atheist), and, hardest to believe, conducting a prosecution (inevitably he proved the defendant innocent).


Karen Sisco.  Short Story.  Elmore Leonard would sometimes try out a character in a story before trusting her with a whole novel.  Deputy Marshal Sisco began life in a 1996 tale, "Karen Makes Out."

She then starred in the novel Out of Sight, made into a movie in which she was played by Jennifer Lopez.  That led to the short lived TV series Karen Sisco, starring Carla Gugino. And that was the end of the character. Or was it?

In the second season of the TV show Justified, a much more successful adaptation of Leonard's work, Carla Gugino reappears  as the Assistant Director of the Marshal Service, Karen Goodall.  It is mentioned that she had married and divorced.  Was Sisco her maiden name? 


Staggerlee.  Real life.   Alias Stackolee, Stagger Lee, Stagolee, etc.  The song (and its infinite variants) is based on the murder of Billy Lyons, which took place in St. Louis, Missouri in 1895.  Curiously, I have never heard a version that mentioned that the killing happened on Christmas, making this one of the least likely holiday carols since "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer."  The murderer was Lee Shelton and there are many explanations for his nickname.

Lyons and Shelton were both criminals, possibly business rivals.  Billy Lyons stole Shelton's stetson hat, Shelton got his gun, and the rest was musical history. Most versions of the song I am familiar with show our hero being executed and end with him telling the Devil "I'll rule Hell by myself."  He was a bad man, that Staggerlee.  But in reality, Shelton spent twelve years in prison, got paroled, and returned to stir one year later, and died there.

Honey West.  Novel. One of the first female private eyes, she appeared in 11 novels written by G.G. Fickling (actually Forrest E. Fickling and his wife Gloria.  She debuted in This Girl For Hire in 1957.

In 1965 Anne Francis guest-starred as Ms. West in an episode of Burke's Law, and that led to a TV series of her own, which lasted for 30 episodes.

04 August 2020

I Write Therefore I Am


Walking the dogs. Buster above.
 Pepper (left) and Buster below.
Sometimes—often—I get tired of the writing grind. A lot of blood, sweat, tears and toil for very little reward, or so it seems. I’ll complain to my wife that I want to quit. I’ll think about doing just that. But then I think about what I would do with all that extra time. Garden? Watch TV? Read? Do hobbies? Spend even more time walking the dog.

Who would I be? My whole identity is wrapped up in being a writer and has been almost my whole adult life. I don’t think I’d recognize myself anymore if I wasn’t writing. One hears about people who retire and have these great expectations of playing golf all the time or doing whatever their fancy is and then getting bored awfully damn quick. But also losing their identity because so much of it was wrapped up in their work.

Writing is more than a job. It’s a calling. I’ve sacrificed a lot over the years to work at being a writer, so obviously it was something that was worth making sacrifices for.

And I like the process of creating something out of nothing, yet it’s too late for me to be a molecular physicist, if that’s the right terminology. Writing fiction is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle (something I don’t have the patience for). But like a jigsaw puzzle in writing you have to find all the right pieces and put them in all the right places or it just doesn’t fit.

I write, therefore I am. With my assistant, Curley.

Red Smith famously said: "There's nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."  Even when you open a vein for the Red Cross and donate blood they give you juice and cookies.



Most people don't have an appreciation for what we go through as writers.  The hours spent alone, no one to talk to over the water cooler (though that's changed somewhat with the internet, which is a surrogate water cooler).  The opening of our veins to get to the good stuff.

Like I said, it’s a calling. And it called me very young. When I was a kid I used to set up my army men on the bedroom floor.  But often, instead of moving them around pretending they were on a real battlefield I would pretend that they were on a movie set. I was lucky enough to have one little plastic figure of a cameraman and I'd even set up my TinkerToys in such a way to mimic Klieg lights. I'd move the men around the floor, putting words in their mouths, the good guys and the bad. Making sounds of gunfire and other sound effects. That, coupled with having been born in Hollywood, literally, made me want to do something in the movies. So today when I write something I figure I'm just doing on paper what I used to do on the floor of my room, moving around letters and sentences the way I used to move "armies" across the floor. And it really all amounts to the same thing. On the other hand, I am really still playing with (and collecting) toy soldiers. See pic.

Still playing with toy soldiers.

And, when I started out as a writer I had romantic notions of what being a writer meant. Images of Hemingway sipping absinthe on the Left Bank. And though Hollywood ain't no left bank it did have Joe Allen's at the time, so I went there for drinks. Or I'd sip some whiskey while writing in my little office. But I found that if I drank while writing—or trying to write—I didn't want to write. I wanted to play. So those romantic visions of the drinking writer (at least while writing) vanished quickly as did the bottle. I also thought writers should hang out at bars and dives and soak up atmosphere or thrown beer. My first adventure out was to a well-known sleazy eatery. I sat at the counter listening for tidbits of dialogue, insights into lives. What I got was a shirt full of beer when two guys playing pool a few feet away got into a fight. Free beer, who could ask for more?  If a cop had stopped me on the way home my shirt-alcohol level would surely have been over the legal limit.  Would they have arrested me or just my shirt?
Cafétafel met absint by Vincent Van Gogh
So, though it can get tedious, though the rewards might not always come, I don’t think I could or would ever give up on writing. Ultimately, we write because we have to. We open those veins because we have no choice. And anything’s better than sitting around watching TV all day, even that vein opening.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

"I hate saying a book transcends the genre and I honestly usually don't like books that do. This one however does and might win some awards because of it."
                                                                          —Jochem Vandersteen, Sons of Spade
                           



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

03 August 2020

The Second Sleep


"The writing of many books," said Ecclesiastes, " is a weariness of the flesh," and even with the invention of the computer and instant research on the web, the construction of many plots and the devising of many characters can tire the Muse. Consider with mysteries that there are only two sorts to murder, male or female, and only so many plausible motives, led by the always dependable lust, greed, and envy, and you can see why the modern version of the Biblical scribe begins to think that books are long and novel series longer.

We crave variety and the getting of it is not always easy. That is why, despite certain reservations, I have to cheer Robert Harris, whose newest, The Second Sleep, pulls off the neat trick of setting the future in the past and lining up one mystery in order to reveal a quite different sort of crime.

Harris first gained fame with another clever premise in Fatherland. His protagonist is a Kripo detective in a post WW2 Germany, and the twist is that the Nazis, having won the war, now are trying to clean up their image, a circumstance which makes all sorts of trouble for the basically conscientious and decent investigator.

He followed up this best seller with a mystery set at Bletchley Park among codebreakers in a UK still very much in the war. After that he went further afield in history, rather than alternative history, to do a series of crime novels set in the Roman Empire. Now he has returned to the south of England to the Year of Our Risen Lord, 1468, with a priest riding an old mare toward a small town in Wessex.

The twist is that The Year of Our Risen Lord is, by our present calendar, roughly 800 years in our future. Our current technological civilization has collapsed, world population has crashed, and the folks in rural Wessex are living like their medieval ancestors with high birth and death rates, lousy sanitation, rudimentary education, a king, and a domineering church.

For various reasons, the religious establishment, recognizably a variant of the Church of England, is particularly down on history, antiquarian books and investigations and speculations of every type. It is a shock to the inexperienced Father Fairfax, our man on the mare, when he discovers that the late Father Lacy, whose funeral he has been sent to conduct, was a passionate collector of ancient
memorabilia and the possessor of a variety of heretical books.

He also possessed a letter from one Peter Morgenstern, who had speculated on possible civilization-ending dangers, including disruption of the computer networks, pandemic, climate change, nuclear war, and a host of other all-too believable perils. These speculations shock Father Fairfax, steeped as he is in the church doctrine that they are living post the Biblical Apocalypse and that it was a supernatural event, a punishment for wrong doing and secularism, that caused the great disaster.

It is in this quite ingenious setting that Harris has placed his first mystery: the real cause of Father Lacy's demise, gradually unfolds the second, much more complex mystery, that forms the substance of the novel. In effect, he has most efficiently borrowed historical descriptions of late medieval/early renaissance life in rural England to depict the future. And it works.

I am not sure the same strategy would be satisfactory in an American novel. But in Britain, where human history is not only thousands of years deep, but with many large and still visible ancient monuments, and where there are relatively homogenous populations that can trace their genetic lineage back a thousand years and more, disbelief can be suspended.

Harris' characters are easy to take, too, perhaps too easily. The main players seem suspiciously modern in their outlooks even after eight centuries of religious indoctrination, and Father Fairfax's fall from grace happens with suspicious ease. That said, The Second Sleep is intelligently put together, its real revelations pack a punch, and it certainly gets high marks for ingenuity, especially when so many best-selling authors find a format and cling to it.



02 August 2020

Merciful Air Conditioning Appreciation Festival



steamy Florida writer man Leigh
Steamy Florida Man
I’m celebrating MACAF, Merciful Air Conditioning Appreciation Festival. Village lads luge ’cross frozen cobblestones on home-grown ice blocks. Hyperboreal maidens dance around The Great Icicle stalactite streaming ice-blue ribbons. Famed artists compete to carve the bestest ice sculpture before melting in the ƒ-ing Florida heat.

You guessed it. My air conditioning went out, in Florida, on a weekend (naturally), coinciding with a record heat wave, and my brain cells are dehydrating. Why, oh why always on weekends?

The original York A/C had passed its 40th birthday. While it would have happily celebrated its quinquagenary (I cheated and looked that word up), experts claimed its inefficiency was killing glaciers in Manitoba.

I desired a heat pump manufactured in North American, one that wouldn’t keel over milliseconds after the warranty expired. To be fair, LG claimed a unit in Nunavut was rumored to have lasted eleven years. Guinness disqualified it — it hadn’t been plugged in.
My salesman said, “I can offer you a Rheem…”
“No kidding, I saw the prices.”
“… or we can talk Ruud.”
“That was, wasn’t it.”
“You need the Atlas Kazoom Freezer-Kool Polar 3000, fully automatic, four barrel, thirteen stage, multilevel, max-filter, micro-fibre, zip-lock, four-on-the-floor, orthopædic super-traction, six-gigawatt, five-speed, 29 SEER, solar-ready, entertainment-prepped, streaming, IoT featuring Apple Siri, Google Home, Alexa alert, corona-virus secure, mercury-free, gluten-free, biometric, child-proof, NASA-approved, UL listed Intel Inside HVAC with the opt-in hyper-glow platinum-plated Coldplay thermostat…”
“Uh, I just want an air conditioner, you know, a heat pump.”
He gave me a pitying look for my failed foresight and lack of regard for his commission, just when he needed new golf clubs.

I opted for Lennox, still made in America’s heartland, boasting a 125 year history. The outside condenser’s dimensions astonished me, the size and price of a small apartment building. Micro-miniaturization doesn’t apply in the physics of air conditioning. Apparently the ‘SEER’ energy rating grows along with bulk, but at least my house’s interior has dropped below triple °F digits.

So now I’m celebrating Air Conditioning Festival where village dogs pull faux sleds and bark at heat thermals. The madness should fade as the temperature drops.

The following shows my original heat pump, the new one, and the model the salesman tried to foist on me.

The Hypothermia Headliners

I needed to replace the Baby Bear original…

The Baby Bear A/C model
1978 Trash-a-Rainforest Pain-in-theTush model (T.A.R.P.I.T)

So I bought the Mama Bear…

The Mama Bear A/C model
The Woefully Inadequate Middlin’ Pump (W.I.M.P) model

Instead of the recommended Papa Bear…

The Papa Bear A/C model
Penumbra 6000, 3rd largest American Air Heat for Home, Hut, Hovel, House, Hotel, & Hamlet (AAHHHHHHH)

Hey, this is Florida!

01 August 2020

Recognized and Tuckerized




Tuckerization (or tuckerism) is the act of using a person's name (and sometimes other characteristics) in an original story as an in-joke.
--Wikipedia


It occurred to me, after I started writing this, that I'd done a SleuthSayers piece on this topic almost four years ago, called "Namedropping." If you take the trouble to go back and read that post, be sure to read the comments also, from readers--I think those are more interesting than what I wrote in the column.

Anyhow, I want to say a little more about the subject, especially because I have since discovered that this practice has a name. The term tuckerization is derived from the late Arthur Wilson Tucker, an American writer of science fiction who--that sly dog--made a habit of using his friends' names for minor characters in his stories. (Most of you probably know this already. I think I was the last writer on earth to find out.)

Mr. Tucker would've been proud of me, because I've been merrily plugging the names of friends and fans into my short stories for a long time. (Well, at least friends; the word fans might be overstating things a bit.) The satisfying thing is, every time I've tuckerized someone, I've been encouraged to do it again because the tuckerizee seemed so tickled by it. I would assume that's probably one of the rules of this practice: Do it only if you're fairly sure the person being mentioned will enjoy seeing his/her name in your writing, rather than want to sue your ass off.

My tuckerizing has so far consisted of the following:

As mentioned in the earlier SleuthSayers column . . .


- Teresa Garver, a childhood friend who now lives four hundred miles away, became an English teacher in "Gone Goes the Weasel," Woman's World, June 27, 2013.

- Chuck Thomas, one of my banking customers at IBM, was a mischievous high-school student in "Not One Word," Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, July/Aug/Sep 2002.

- Cheryl Grubbs, a classmate of mine at Kosciusko High School, was featured as a deputy sheriff in "Trail's End," AHMM, July/Aug 2017, which became the first story in a series.

- Charlotte Hudson, a friend and former writing student, appeared in "A King's Ransom," Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Issue #19, 2015; and both Charlotte and her husband Bill were characters in "Ball and Chain," Woman's World, July 27, 2015. (I said in the previous SS post that Charlotte was in two Woman's World stories, but I later discovered it was one in WW and one in SHMM.)

- Charles Heisley, a fellow engineer and old Air Force buddy, became an officer in the Louisiana State Police in "The Blue Delta," Blood on the Bayou anthology, Sep 2016. Chuck lives in Hawaii now, but he's originally from Florida, so Louisiana wasn't too big a reach.


Since then:

- Deputy Cheryl Grubbs has made additional appearances in two more of my Sheriff Ray Douglas series installments--"Scavenger Hunt," AHMM, Jan/Feb 2018, and "Quarterback Sneak," AHMM, Mar/Apr 2020--and will be featured in two more stories already accepted and coming up at AHMM and one at Down & Out: The Magazine.

- My friend Terri Fisher was a physician in one of my Law and Daughter series stories, called "Doctor in the House," Flash Bang Mysteries, Spring 2017.

- Donna Fairley (the maiden name of one of my IBM colleagues, now Donna Huebsch) was a teenaged genius in "Ace in the Hole," Flash Bang Mysteries, Summer 2017. In real life, I can easily believe Donna might've been a teenaged genius.

- The first names of our oldest son's three children--Lily, Anna, and Gabe--were the first names of my three main characters in "The Music of Angels," The Saturday Evening Post, Sep/Oct 2018. In fact those were that story's only three characters. I didn't tell the kids about it, so when I sent them the magazine and they read the story, they thought that was a hoot.

- My old DP friend Alan Collums (we used to call the computer business Data Processing instead of Information Technology) will make an appearance as a cop in the Jackson, Mississippi, police department in "Friends and Neighbors," a story that AHMM has accepted but hasn't yet published.

Also, I've worked a lot of friends' last names into the names of story titles and fictional locations, over the years: "The Dolan Killings," "Driving Miss Lacey," "Knight Vision," "Purple Martin," "Dawson's Curse," "The Three Little Biggs," "Field Engineering," "Merrill's Run," "Byrd and Ernie," "The Barlow Boys," "Remembering Tally," "An Hour at Finley's," "The Pullman Case," "Dooley's Code," "The Zeller Files," Hardison Park, Chavis Island, Dentonville, etc. This kind of thing is mostly self-serving, because certain names from the past can sometimes just "sound" right.


On the other side of all this, I have found my own name in two stories--both of them written by my SleuthSayers co-conspirators Robert Lopresti and Michael Bracken. I knew about Rob's story beforehand--and blogged about that one in my "Namedropping" post--but I didn't know about my role in Michael's story until I happened across it while reading for pleasure, in the 2017 anthology Passport to Murder (which included stories by both of us). That was a pleasant surprise. O'Neil De Noux and I were both featured in Michael's story--O'Neil as a policeman (which he once was) and I as a systems engineer (which I once was).



What are some of your own experiences, with this crazy practice? Have you tuckerized friends' names in your fiction? If not, have you considered doing it? Have you discovered your own name in the writing of others? If so, were you told about it beforehand? Did you sue 'em? (Just kidding.)

As you might imagine, part of the fun of writing this post was the research it required: I went back and checked most of my stories (not all--there are a lot of 'em) to try to remember the times I had mentioned friends and colleagues and family members as a part of the plot. And that in itself brought back some fond memories.

Lately, though, nobody's been lobbying too much for it--which might be a good thing.

Maybe I'm all tuckered out.