25 October 2020

Goggle-eyed


There’s a saying: if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. I recently found myself in the right room—a masked, backyard get-together with close friends.

My husband mentioned he’d added a face shield to his mask in indoor public places, to protect his eyes during the second wave of COVID-19. One of our friends, Brian Foody, said that using a face shield with a mask wouldn’t protect eyes from airborne COVID-19 but goggles would.

This statement was very surprising. Public health experts have been clear, given the airborne transmission of COVID-19, that face shields and goggles protect the eyes equally.

For the public, Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview, “. . . you should protect all of the mucosal surfaces, so if you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it.”

In healthcare settings, face shields are irreplaceable to protect against splatter during procedures, but face shields and goggles are recommended by public health as interchangeable eye protection.

For protection during aerosol-generating medical procedures, Canadian Public Health recommends, “eye, nose and mouth protection (mask and eye protection, or mask and face shield, or mask with attached shield) that fully covers the eyes, nose and mouth and ensures that no part of the face is exposed.”

The CDC states, “The PPE recommended when caring for a patient with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 includes the following . . . Put on eye protection (i.e., goggles or a face shield that covers the front and sides of the face) upon entry to the patient room or care area.”

If face shields don’t protect the eyes from airborne COVID-19, the definition of “adequate PPE” changes and this may save lives. A large study of healthcare workers showed that they accounted for 10% to 20% of COVID-19 infections and, even more worryingly, “even among frontline healthcare workers reporting adequate PPE, the risk for COVID-19 was increased . . ..”

Given the importance of this issue for the public and for healthcare workers, I interviewed Brian Foody, president and chief executive officer of Iogen Corporation and an MIT-educated mechanical engineer, who specializes in fluid motion.

The movement of COVID-19 infected air is at the heart of this issue.

“Imagine two people wearing face masks, one has on a face shield and the other is wearing goggles, walking into a closed room where the ambient air contains COVID-19 infected aerosols,” Foody explained. “Whose eyes are better protected? For our wearer of the face shield, with every breath, the clean air behind her face shield is ventilated and exchanged with the contaminated ambient air. Because of this ventilation, the air behind the face shield will have the same concentration of aerosols as the rest of the room within a matter of minutes. On the other hand, for our goggle wearer, the clean air behind her goggles is sealed off from the ambient air.”

The mixing of air behind a face shield is based on the basic scientific principles of fluid dynamics: if there are COVID-19 particles, they’ll be drawn into the face shield and up to the eyes.

This behaviour of aerosols is supported by a 2014 study. “Face shields can substantially reduce the short-term exposure of health care workers to large infectious aerosol particles, but smaller particles can remain airborne longer and flow around the face shield more easily to be inhaled,” it noted.

A review of the literature in March, 2020 stated that, “There is a lack of research on the effectiveness of different forms of eye protection.”

And yet, certainly the public health recommendations consider goggles and face shields as equivalent.

I am reminded of the early days when many of us recognized the pattern of airborne transmission of COVID-19 infections and advocated for masks, contradicting public health recommendations. Now the widespread use of masks is recognized as an important tool to limit COVID-19. This information on face shields is just as important: face shields protect from splatter but do not offer eye protection and public health recommendations for the public and healthcare workers must change.

Then Brian asked a crucial question: “What are the chances of getting infected through your eyes?”

To begin to find my way through this issue, I had to enter the right room, so I unabashedly called my friend, Dr. Sherif El-Defrawy, at his cottage on Thanksgiving.

Dr. Sherif El-Defrawy is an ophthalmologist who’s chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Toronto, before which he held a similar position at Queen’s University. He’s also president of the Canadian Ophthalmological Society and of the Association of Canadian University Professors of Ophthalmology.

In short, Dr. El-Defrawy knows eyes.

“If COVID-19 infects the conjunctiva of the eye, it could travel to the nose via the nasolacrimal duct and colonize the nose or throat,” he explained. “However, we would expect to see conjunctivitis. I find it highly unlikely that there would be enough COVID-19 to cause illness without seeing conjunctivitis.”

He explained that the number of COVID-19 infected patients with conjunctivitis wasn’t that large but it was unclear how many patients were checked for this. Finally, he expressed surprise that goggles were not universally recommended in healthcare settings along with face shields.

So, first things first, I’m not a fan of primate studies but there was one that answered many questions about COVID-19 infection via the eyes, so with great regret I present it here.

Three rhesus macaques were infected with COVID, two via their conjunctiva and one via intratracheal route. The conjunctival swabs were positive for the first day only, “indicating that the inoculated virus may transfer from conjunctiva to respiratory tract and other tissues … specific IgG antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 were detected in the rhesus macaques, indicating that the animal was indeed infected with SARS-CoV-2 [showing] that conjunctiva is a route of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.”

A literature review concluded, “The overall prevalence of ocular symptoms in patients with COVID-19 was 11.2%, which is not a common finding. Nevertheless, this reported prevalence might be an underestimation because patients with COVID-19 present with life-threatening clinical scenarios, which may preclude a detailed ocular examination or relevant history.”

Speaking of ophthalmologists, we should acknowledge with deep gratitude that it was the ophthalmologist, Li Wenliang, who was one of the first people who warned the world about the new disease we now call COVID-19. He later succumbed to the disease after contracting the virus seemingly from an asymptomatic glaucoma patient in his clinic.

So, how does eye protection play out on the ground in healthcare settings? Here I turned to information from Dr. Rick MacDonald, a community paediatrician on staff at Halton Healthcare hospitals where he takes call seeing paediatric patients and works in the NICU.

When many other physicians’ offices were largely doing virtual visits, “we decided early on that if we were going to be a useful resource for our paediatric population. . . .We needed to see patients [and] to provide this service, PPE is the most important first step without which it could not be done.”

Dr. MacDonald spent hours sourcing PPE for his office, opting for an N95 and a face shield but now also wears goggles as well. “To [keep our office open] we need full protection. No skimping, no cheating, full attention to detail. . . . Overkill is better and no government official or cloistered ID staff will convince me otherwise.”

He’s correct: protection, including eye protection, is crucial. Doctors are often in closed examining rooms, crowded emergency departments or intensive care units, with potentially large volumes of COVID-19 aerosols. So are nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists and many others.

Certainly, we could benefit from research on the fluid dynamics of COVID19 aerosols with people wearing face shields and masks. However, we are in the second wave of this pandemic and there are a frightening number of infections in the public and healthcare workers.

I’m asking public health, in light of the basic science of fluid dynamics of aerosols, to change their recommendations:

The public should wear eye protection if they are indoors with others.

Healthcare workers working with patients that are potentially COVID-19 positive, should use face shields for splatter alone. Goggles are the only safe eye protection for aerosols.

24 October 2020

Setting as Character...Really? Bad Girl Makes a Case (and gives an example)


What do we mean by "Setting as Character?"  Students always ask me that, and here's what I tell them:

Setting is important in helping to establish the mood of your story.  It should be treated with as much attention as you would give any other character.

In the 14 week Crafting a Novel course I teach at Sheridan College, we spend most of one class talking about setting.

One of the first things you must decide when writing your novel, is the reality of your setting.  Is it a real place that exists today, or that did exist in another time?  A place you can research?  Or is your setting completely from your imagination?

The trouble wtih many beginning writers is they set their novels in 'Anytown USA.'  Thus, no character, no unique feel to the place...the 'why it is different from everywhere else?' is missing.


For this reason, I usually opt for a real setting, even in fantasy novels.  No, you may not be able to go back to 4th century West Country in England (when WILL they come up with a time machine that works, already?  I'm waiting...)  But you can visit the area now, take in the beauty of the countryside, and particularly, visit the local museums to get more details on how people lived and how the land looked at the time.

That's what I did.  Here's how the location for my time-travel trilogy came about.

 All of our families have pasts.  Have you looked into yours to see if there might be inspiration there?  That's how I found my setting for Rowena Through the Wall.  In a corner of England called Shropshire, more known for sheep than people, there once stood a Norman castle of fantastic 'character.'

The original castle, erected after Harold fell to William in 1066, went to ruin in the early 1500s.  The new abode, Hawkstone Park, was built in 1556; it was forfeited in 1906 to pay off the gambling debts of my rakish relative.

My late cousin showed me around the countryside.  Tony Clegg-Hill was the previous Viscount of Shropshire and Shrewsbury.  I adored him.  He had that particular dry British wit that reminded me of David Niven.  It was his great-grandfather who lost the castle.

Tony would regale me with anecdotes about the family villains: the original Viscount Huel, who was basically a henchman for William the Conqueror.  More recent rogues like Sir Rowland Hill gambled away anything that could be taken as a stake.  It's a damning history, but a vibrant one.  But not all the family were black sheep.  One Lord Hill distinguished himself as the second in command to the Duke of Wellington at the battle of Waterloo.  When Wellington was made Prime Minister in 1924, Hill succeeded him as commander in chief of the British army.

So when it came to writing Rowena Through the Wall, I leaned back into the family history.  The original Normal castle with it's rounded turrets, crenellations and merlons had been waiting for a writer to bring it back to life.  Rowena walks through the wall to her ancestor's land, and she falls in love with it too.

"Outlander meets Sex and the City"
"Game of Thrones Lite"
Rowena Through the Wall was featured on USA Today, and was an Amazon Top 50 Bestseller (all books.)



23 October 2020

Got Poe?


 

'Tis the season for all things spooky and macabre. Which all-time classic author comes to mind this time of year?

For me, it's Edgar Allan Poe.

I have a few things in common with the Father of the Detective Story. We both have called Richmond, Virginia and New York City home. We both share an affinity for ravens. And we both studied at my alma mater, the University of Virginia.

If you aren't familiar with Poe's UVA college days, here are a few factoids you may enjoy:

  • Seventeen-year-old Poe enrolled at UVA on February 14, 1826--yes, Valentine's Day--and remained through the full academic year, which ended in December.


  • Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, former US president, and founder of UVA passed away five months after Poe moved to Charlottesville. Though not confirmed, it is likely Poe met Jefferson at school functions and attended the memorial services held to honor the University's founder, including by wearing a black arm band.
  • Poe had an impressive athletic record while at UVA. He was a record-breaking swimmer, having swum six miles against the current on the James River. His running broad jump distance was 21' 6" with a running start of twenty yards.
  • Of the eight academic schools possible to enroll in at the time, Poe registered for two (modern and ancient languages). Of note, most students in those days enrolled in three schools, but Poe couldn't afford the extra fifty-dollar fee.
  • He was secretary of the University's Jefferson Debate Society.
  • Poe lived in a section of UVA's original academical village called The Range. His single dorm room, coincidentally and ominously No. 13, is now referred to as The Raven Room.
  • Mary Stuart Smith described Poe's dorm room (May 17, 1899) ~ There was one window, and opposite it, a door, both furnished with green blinds. There were two closets, one on each side of the open fireplace, with a book shelf, a single bedstead, a table, a wash stand, and a small travelling trunk. The walls were whitewashed, and adorned with quantities of spirited sketches in charcoal, drawn by the skilled fingers of the two-fold artist who was its occupant.
  • While living in 13 West Range, Poe etched a verse on the glass pane of his window:

Oh Though timid one, do not let thy
Form slumber within these
Unhallowed walls,
For herein lies
The ghost of an awful crime.

  • His nickname was Gaffy, the hero of a short story he wrote and read allowed to several classmates who had gathered in his room one night. According to legend, Poe flung the pages into the fire, destroying the only copy, after a friend noted it had repeated too often.
  • Poe wrote Tamerlane while at UVA. Later the University influenced two of his short stories, "William Wilson" and "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains."
  • Poe had a strained relationship with his uncle, John Allan, who was his guardian at the time and limited Poe's funding. By the end of the 1826 academic year in December, Poe had resorted to burning his furniture to keep warm. When he left for winter break, Poe had every intention of returning to UVA the following February, but . . .
  • Allan refused to continue financially supporting Poe at school, so he never returned to the University. Thus, he never graduated from college.
  • Poe left behind many personal debts, which Allan refused to settle. Worth noting, a century later, the University's librarian, Harry Clemmons, paid Poe's outstanding library fines.
  • UVA commissioned the sculptor George Julian Zolnay to create a bronze bust of Poe to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of his death.  The bust was displayed in Alderman Library before the renovations commenced this autumn.
  • If you ever visit Charlottesville, Virginia, stop by No. 13 West Range. UVA restored and furnished Poe's old dorm room to its period-appropriate spartan glory, though I suspect the  raven statuette was added later.

 . . . evermore.




Sources: 
The University of Virginia, Albert and Shirly Small Special Collections Library, The Raven Society, Bookman by C. W. Kent (1917), and Edgar Poe and the University of Virginia by F. Stovall (1969).


PS ~ Let's be social:

22 October 2020

Stand Back and Stand By


One of the most depressing things about living in this day and age is that I have to keep saying things like:

  • Nazis are bad.
  • White supremacy is bad.
  • People who say they plan to start a race war are often telling the truth.
  • People who say only they have rights – to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, not to mention the Constitution – are dangerous.

Etc.

Look, even I know who the Proud Boys are. You can read some summaries of their "beliefs" here:

SPLC - Why are the Proud Boys so Violent?; Anti-Defamation League - Proud Boys; USA  Today - Who are the Proud Boys?

Meanwhile, we had some more proud militia types - the Michigan Wolverine Watchmen (???? - obviously they've been reading too many Marvel comics; that or they all went to UofM. Although I doubt it...) - who decided kidnapping Governor Gretchen Whitmir and trying her for treason at a kangaroo trial and then executing her on national television was a great idea, along with attacking police officers and starting a civil war “leading to societal collapse”.  (NYTimes)

NOTE:  Why, why, why do so damn many white militia types want societal collapse?  Where do they think they can buy their favorite gummy bears?  And lest you think these are rugged survivalists, remember that most of this gang was involved in the armed protest / assault / invasion at the Michigan Capitol building back in April as they sought... <checking her notes...> access to haircuts and hardware stores.  (The Guardian)

Update:  turns out the Michigan Wolverine Watchmen were planning to not only kidnap, try and execute their governor, but also the Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam.  Listen, you rugged semi-constitutionalists, if states' rights are the most important of all, what the hell gives you the right to interfere in the governance of another whole state? 

And what is that they really want, anyway?  I've noticed that most white supremacist organizations - including the Proud Boys - have quit using the term "white supremacist" (puts people off) and instead call themselves "Western chauvinists".  And there's a key right there - because the mind set of these groups is predicated on a false idea, a toxic nostalgia, for a world in which (white) Americans (men) ruled the world, we were the wealthiest and strongest nation in history, everyone did what we said (except, of course, the Russians who back then were mortal enemy #1), and life was perfect.  Gas was cheap, a man - any [white] man - could earn enough to support a family, and the women could stay home and take care of the family as God intended.  Our suburban way of life was the envy of the world, and only we had it and we deserved each and every bit of it because we worked hard for it.

Granted, people did work hard for it - but the reason for our prosperity of the late 1940s through much of the 1960s was because we were the only industrialized country which had not had its major cities bombed to rubble in the almost 7 years of WW2.  70-80 million people worldwide died in WW2. Some 60 million Europeans became refugees during the entire World War II period. According to the United Nations, a million people had yet to find a place to settle by 1951, more than five years after the fighting stopped.  There was a need for massive rebuilding all across Europe, Asia, north Africa, and the Middle East:  buildings, infrastructure, factories, homes.  After a war that long, everybody needed consumer goods:  clothing, shoes, cars, furniture, etc.  And for years, the United States - relatively untouched by war - had a monopoly on production and sales of just about everything.  That was the economic miracle of the 1950s.  Based on the desperate poverty of almost everyone else in the world.*

And that is why I call it toxic nostalgia, because to bring back the glory days of the 1950s and 60s would require a return to that level of global poverty.  Instead, what we're seeing today (pandemic aside) is a world in which poverty is decreasing, countries are increasing production and prosperity - and instead of accepting it and joining in, some Americans are waxing way too nostalgic about when we "ruled the earth".  And dreaming about how to get back there. 

And that's not even nearly as bad as the superfund toxic nostalgia about the good old days of the ante-bellum South, in which slavery wasn't so bad, and somebody needed to pick all that cotton, and at least the slaves all got converted to Christianity and were saved.  That, too, lingers on - along with all the old BS about how slaves deserved to be slaves, because they were so inferior to whites.  Iowa Rep. Steve King asked a while back, "which nonwhite subgroups had contributed more than white people to “civilization.” 

Well, I taught a year-long class every year on World Civilizations which would have answered his question; but I think he would have flunked for citing Ancient Aliens as a source.**  See also SLATE on "Why It Makes No Sense to Judge Groups of People by Their Histories of Invention."  


This, and far too many other reasons are why we have a serious white supremacist problem in this country.  Thanks to Wikipedia, here's an incomplete list of White Supremacist Groups in the United States:

I can guarantee you that each and every member of all of these organizations knows what "Stand back and stand by" means.  

I've mentioned this before, but this incident will always haunt me.  Years ago right after the Timothy McVeigh bombing, one of our regular militia visitors at the courthouse told me, "War has been declared."  When I said the children in the day-care weren't soldiers (remember, 19 children were killed in a daycare there, as well as 3 pregnant women), he replied, "There are no innocent victims."  And he meant it.  And was not apologizing for it.  And was proud of it.  


White supremacist literature (see "The Turner Diaries") is all about "getting rid of" (i.e., killing) everyone who doesn't meet their standards, to the point where you wonder if even in our weapons-rich environment, there really are enough bullets to get that job done.  Because they are all about purity policing the world.  They really do want to create a white paradise, but of course, there are a lot of "whites" in their world who they don't consider truly white, or white enough. And as their immediate world gets whiter, they expand their list of undesirables, and make more and more "white people" non-white.  In the long run, there's no one "good enough" left. 
 
Remember, the Nazis declared European Slavic people to be non-white, and good for nothing, according to Hitler, but to be "slaves to our culture". That and be slaughtered to make room for more pure German Aryans.
 
Remember, Timothy McVeigh bombed a government building knowing there was a day care center in it full of children.  




 *I told this to someone last week, who was amazed - they'd never heard this explanation of the American 1950s before.  God knows what they're teaching about WW2 these days...

**Not to denigrate Ancient Aliens - it's a great piece of mental cotton candy. 

ALSO:  We finally got an update on the South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravsborg case - 4 weeks later - where Gov. Kristi Noem and Public Safety Secretary Craig Price on Tuesday gave an update on the Saturday, Sept. 12 crash that killed 55-year-old Joseph Boever. Noem and Price spoke to reporters from the Sioux Falls City Hall.  The audio of the 911 call made by South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was released, but otherwise, "The incident remains under investigation, and Price declined to answer some questions, saying he wants to release a full report when the matter is concluded."  (Argus Leader
 
Color us all suspicious.  Because if this had been anyone but a high government official, this investigation would be over and charges would have been filed.  

21 October 2020

Crow's Life


 The special all-private-eye issue of Black  Cat Mystery Magazine is out and I am delighted that my story "The Charity Case" is in the lead-off position.  (And by the way, I just realized that this is my seventh published story this year.  I believe that breaks my previous record by two.)

The story features Marty Crow and he has been hanging around my life for thirty years.  Here is how he came to be.

I was born and raised in New Jersey. Every fall we would go down to Atlantic City for the teacher's convention Dad always attended.  Being a shore town, A.C. was not at it's best in late autumn.  

Like a lot of shore resorts it fell on hard times and in the seventies someone had the brilliant idea that the solution was legalized gambling.  None of the tacky slot-machines-in-every-diner like they do it in Nevada.  No sir.  Gambling was only allowed in casinos which also had to be hotels.  The first such house opened in 1978 and I have not liked the place as much since.  Casinos, full of bad luck, bad judgement, and bad air, depress me.


My reaction was to create Marty Crow.  He is an Atlantic City native, a private eye, and he has a gambling addiction.  That would be bad enough but what makes it worse is that he is firmly in denial, which is like having one short leg and refusing to use a cane.  A police sergeant friend called him the fourth best private eye in the city and Marty replied that he was the third best, because one of the others had gone back to parking cars.

The first three stories about Marty appeared in P.I. Magazine in 1989 and 1990.  Amazingly that journal is still going, although it gave up on fiction long ago.  Probably the best thing that came out of that for me was meeting S.J. Rozan, whose first private eye stories appeared in some of the same issues as mine.


In 1991 Marty leapt to the big time with the first of two appearances in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  Two years later "Crow's Feat" showed up in a British anthology called Constable New Crimes 2.  That got me one one-and-only Anthony Award nomination.

When Michael Bracken announced a collection of P.I. stories related to food I sent him "Crow's Avenue," in which a bottle of soda is the main clue.  It appeared in Hardbroiled, and yes, that is spelled correctly.  (Alas, reviewers and readers assumed it wasn't.)  


Even cooler, it was one of two of Marty's adventures which the Midnight Mystery Players adapted for radio.  The Players have vanished, but thanks to James Lincoln Warren, the dramatization of "Crow's Avenue" can still be heard at Criminal Brief.

Marty then took a decade off until Criminal Element proclaimed what they hoped would be a new series title Malice Occasional. The first (and, alas, only) volume was titled "Girl Trouble," and I knew "Crow's Lesson" would be a perfect fit.  It was inspired by a story in the New York Times about a school board hiring private eyes to follow certain students home to make sure they were living in the district.   What could possibly go wrong with having strange men following little children through the streets?  I figured Marty could find out.

Not all the stories involve gambling, although I always try to mention it.  Most dramatically, in "Crow's Feat" Marty blows a bodyguard assignment because he can't stay away from games of chance.



But what about his latest appearance?  In "The Charity Case" Marty is hired by a  hardware store owner, in the City for a conference, who has given eight hundred dollars to a beggar on the street and now regrets it.  Why did he do that?  Well, read it and find out.

I suspect that this will be Marty's last dance.  I am a long way in time and space from his origin and we don't seem to connect anymore.  But I wish him well, the poor fool




20 October 2020

Countdown to the Anthony Best Anthology Award


Anthony Award Nominees
Best Anthology or Collection
Bouchercon 2020

The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods, edited by Michael Bracken (Down & Out Books)

¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico, edited by Angel Luis Colón (Down & Out Books)

Crime Travel, edited by Barb Goffman (Wildside Press)

Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons (Wildside Press)

Murder A-Go-Go’s: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Go-Go's, edited by Holly West (Down & Out Books)

Anthony Awards Ceremony
October 17, 2020

6:35 p.m. I’m sitting in my office in Texas and concurrently waiting in an online breakout room with Angel Luis Colón, Barb Goffman, Verena Rose, and Holly West, all of us editors of anthologies nominated for Best Anthology.

Michael Bracken
dressed for success.
We chit-chatted for a bit, but we’ve been asked to mute ourselves while we await announcement of the winner. The ceremony doesn’t begin until 7:00 Texas time, so we’re sitting in silence.

6:40. We just received word that there’s a glitch of some kind and they’ve been unable to get all the nominees into the breakout rooms for their specific categories, which explains why we’re still missing an editor.

6:43. Shawn Reilly Simmons arrived in our breakout room but does not have live video. I think all of us are here now.

6:45. We are kicked out of our breakout rooms.

6:46. We returned to our breakout rooms.

And silence has returned.

6:50. Barb’s camera is on, but she’s disappeared. Shawn still doesn’t have live video.

In the silence, I can hear my wife and our guests in the living room. Andrew Hearn (a contributor to The Eyes of Texas) and his wife Dawn joined us for dinner this evening, and they will soon gather around Temple’s computer on the far side of the house to watch the ceremony.

Waiting in the
Breakout Room
and writing this
SleuthSayers post.

Andrew and
Dawn Hearn.

The ceremony
has begun.

6:54. I took a few selfies and a few photos of my computer screen. Still quiet.

6:57. Slugging Mountain Dew as if I can actually control my bladder. My greatest fear: Being in the bathroom when our category is announced.

6:59. My wife and our guests have gone to the other side of the house.

7:00. Has the ceremony begun? I have no way to know.

7:01. We received a message that the ceremony is live!

7:04. I’m practicing my smile. I look like a serial killer.

7:05. I have my acceptance speech on my computer screen. I modified the text from my prerecorded acceptance speech. I’m wondering if I’ll get to read it.

7:07. Award presentations have begun. Barb has returned.

7:08. Now, I’m getting nervous. I can feel my heart rate increasing. Maybe it’s just the Mountain Dew. 

7:09. Our category is being announced. Shawn now has live video.

7:13. Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible wins.

Much Later. Even though The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods did not win, I still want to share my thanks. So, here’s the speech I planned to make:

Thanks to Eric Campbell and Lance Wright of Down & Out Books for publishing The Eyes of Texas, and for all they’ve done to support it. Thanks to all seventeen contributors, several of whom received awards or award nominations for their stories. Thanks also to all the Bouchercon attendees who voted for the Anthony Awards, regardless of which anthology they chose. Most importantly, thanks to my wife Temple for all she does. Without her support and encouragement, none of this would be possible. Thank you all.


Recent Presentations

On Saturday, October 10, 2020, I presented “Write It. Sell It.” via Zoom to Malice in Memphis. This presentation was geared toward beginning and early career writers of short mystery fiction. To watch a recording of the presentation and to download the PowerPoint presentation, visit https://www.maliceinmemphis.com/october-2020--zoom-malice-meeting.html.

On Tuesday, October 13, 2020, I presented “Two Sides. Same Coin.” via Zoom to MWA’s Mid-Atlantic Chapter. This was a more general discussion of writing and editing in which I addressed several questions presented in advance of the presentation, and then answered a variety of questions posed after the presentation. To watch a recording of the presentation—which will only be available until November 9—visit https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/v0Scazk7dd6644JZSxt-45jESOCGWlN_7MAENEPAAgYBuJF_9gvr41XtBdpF-Zzy.AckWigUVuSPdFlwe, with the passcode F&.x6J.+

19 October 2020

Body Shaming and Institutionalized Contempt for Legs and Ankles


These days I always download the free sample before investing in a book by an author new to me or one I don't know well. In this case, the author was the highly praised thriller writer Zoe Sharp, the book, Killer Instinct, the first in the Charlie Fox series. Charlie is an attractive woman with martial arts skills who teaches self-defense and fitness and works as a bouncer and bodyguard. She's ex-army, drives a motorcycle, and, I'd infer, has developed a unique style as a result of her experiences. You'd think I'd like it—unless I found the violence too graphic or had finally reached my limit for female protagonists named Charlie, Sam, Alex, and Max. But no, that's not why I deleted the sample and crossed Sharp's series off my list. It was this passage, in Charlie's first person voice, that made me want to puke:
Clare's a mate...more my own age. Tall, slender, she has endless legs and a metabolism that means she can binge peanut butter straight out of the jar without putting on an ounce....I envied Clare the ability not to gain weight more than I envied her her looks, which were stunning. She had long straight hair to go with the legs, golden blonde without bottled assistance, and a sense of style I guess you just have to be born with.

Marlene Dietrich's legs
Zoe, you're killing me! Zoe, how could you? It's bad enough when male novelists bore us with the long blonde hair and legs up to here for the umpteenth time. I expect no better from hard-boiled authors like Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins. Here's a variation from Mike Hammer - Masquerade for Murder:
The hostess, a stunning redhead in a green evening dress with matching emerald eyes, intercepted me. ...She was ten curvy pounds the right side of plump and had cherry-red lipsticked lips with a bruised Bardot look that made her smile seem knowing and sly without even trying.
When I was 14, I would have agonized over which side was the "right" side of plump and known in my heart that flat-chested wasn't even in the running. I was too sheltered to have known that equating "bruised" with seductive and "sly" is a meta-message that women who are abused are asking for it. You get bruises from being beaten, not from any experience a real woman would enjoy—or at the least from "rough sex," a phrase I associate with psychopathic killer Robert Chambers's defense in the murder of a teenage girl.
My legs

How do we get from long blonde hair and Bardot lips to rape and murder? All too easily. I found a June 2020 article in The Guardian that reported that in the UK:

More than 60 victims have been forced to go to court over the past decade to deny that they consented to strangulation, assaults or violence, according to the campaign to end reliance on the “rough sex” defence.
Once the authors introduce the "blonde" (or redhead) and the "endless legs," they don't even need to develop her character. Back in July, Craig Faustus Buck wrote a SleuthSayers post on "it is what it is," calling it a "thought-terminating cliché," "figuratively avoiding creative solutions (a writer's suicide)." These non-descriptions of women are the same, bypassing the necessity of making the women characters real people.

Illusion: acceptable legs
Stuart Woods, in his fifty-eight Stone Barrington books, is a master of this. I found a typical example in Book 16, when Barrington walks into a restaurant. "An attractive blonde greeted us."

The character's literally a walk-on, and the sentence could have been deleted. But Woods commits crime after literary crime against women. In the same book, "the lights of Santa Catalina Island twinkled like the eyes of a merry whore." Now, there's a male fantasy for you, and not a very nice male at that. Woods wrote two fine books many years ago, Palindrome and Chiefs. Now who's Santa Catalina Island?

It's a short step from describing women in objectifying or shaming clichés to not describing them at all. In Book 56, Woods opens with a woman, Dame Felicity Devonshire, who's introduced as the head of MI6. What she's doing is not her job, but brokering a house deal for Stone Barrington and acting as a featureless foil for his insatiable lust.

Chapter 2 ends: "Then they went upstairs and went to bed, something to which they had both been looking forward."

Chapter 3 ends: "He followed her up watching her ass all the way."

The woman's the head of MI6. Woods has a gift for reducing potentially interesting women to profoundly uninteresting objects of his middle-aged itch.

Let's go back to Charlie Fox's friend who binges on peanut butter and doesn't gain an ounce. Clare's a compulsive overeater, a shame-based illness that's no fun even if your metabolism saves you from obesity. She may also be a bulimic paying for her slim figure and public admiration with private agonies kneeling over the toilet puking her guts out. These are not the "achievements" for which women should praise their women friends. If they do, it's because the shaming of obesity is so thoroughly institutionalized in our society. Listen to female standup comics and see what percentage of their shtik is based on body shaming of themselves.

I've wanted to throw up myself the many times I've read about a male character falling in love with a woman because she can eat like a horse and not gain an ounce. Ladies, is that really the trait you most want the man of your dreams to value you for? Gentlemen, how shallow and insensitive can you get?

Then there's the universal contempt for thick ankles that I've been coming across in fiction since I started reading novels many decades ago. I have thick ankles. Unlike "style," slim, breakable-looking ankles like those of a thoroughbred horse are something you "have to be born with." Does that mean I don't deserve love?

 

Alas, we're fair game and can be skewered mercilessly. Even Jane Austen took a shot at us. From Northanger Abbey:
Maria's intelligence concluded with a tender effusion of pity for her sister Anne, whom she represented as insupportably cross, from being excluded the party. "She will never forgive me, I am sure; but, you know, how could I help it? John would have me go, for he vowed he would not drive her, because she had such thick ankles. I dare say she will not be in good humour again this month…"


Brainwashing...identification with the aggressor...Stockholm syndrome...If women with slender ankles don't join in jeering at their unfortunate sisters, they might be thrown out of the carriage. And by post-feminist times, it's become unconscious.

Men, of course, have never questioned their right to pass judgment on women's looks. I found this in a short story in Cosmopolitan Magazine, November 1907:
"Don't be a fool, John. You must marry either a German or an English princess."

John Peters shook his head. "Impossible," he declared. "I have acquired your wonderful taste as regards the sex. To save my throne, I couldn't marry a woman with thick ankles." (Anthony Partridge, "The Kingdom of Earth")
The Queen's ankles
Queen Elizabeth has thick ankles, and The temptation to joke about this is almost irresistible—because we have all been programmed not to take women with thick ankles seriously or treat them with the respect we give women we consider beautiful. We've all read novels and seen movies about princes forced into loveless marriages with women who don't meet their standard of beauty who seek love with inappropriate but beautiful women. In America, the "princes" have all the advantages of class and money, while the inappropriate women have Audrey Hepburn's ankles.

There's a double standard at work here, and it's not disappearing any time soon. But there are a few things you can do.

Audrey Hepburn's ankles: remembered

Remember how wretched shaming feels to the person shamed, although you may never know they feel it.

Praise women for their interesting and admirable accomplishments—not for the length of their legs, the radius of their ankles, the color, texture, or provenance of their hair, or the shape and size of their other body parts.

Do not value women inversely by the pound. Love them, or don't, for their character, not for their eating behaviors, which aren't under their control and may not be what you think they are.

18 October 2020

Ginger Snaps and Wolfbane


Ginger Snaps poster
The Premise

Teen girl angst, goth and drama… Sisters’ suicide pact, everything is soooo dramatic… Death scenes staged for a school play project… That day when first period doesn’t refer to school…

For Halloween, a teen girl horror flick, a bildungsromans, a coming-of-age tale.

The cleverly titled Ginger Snaps is a 2001 horror movie for those who don’t like horror movies. It released much too soon after Columbine, which caused distribution problems at home and abroad amid fears of teen violence. A number of theatres banned it outright. The scheduled five and ten year anniversary re-releases failed to materialize, but nevertheless it developed a fan base and ‘cult’ status. I’m convinced anything labeled ‘cult’ refers to creative works with more depth that hurts critics’ limited brain cells.

The Promise


Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald are sisters, 16 and 15, in the same grade at school. Unpopular and bullied, they develop a fascination with death, morbidly filming gruesome death scenes for their school project. If they can’t manage to flee their small town when Brigitte reaches 16, they promise to die together.

Their father, Henry Fitzgerald, dotes upon his daughters, but he’s utterly clueless in the estrogen cauldron of his household. Mother Pamela is marginally better, wavering between complicit and the sole disciplinarian. At one point, she tells her husband, “Go back into your own world; this one only confuses you.”

The Plot

Halloween and the night of a full moon approaches.

Local dogs are found torn to pieces, presumably victims of the fanged Beast of Bailey Downs. The girls factor the legend into a plot against the school bully, but before they can act, Ginger is attacked by a creature and dragged into the woods…

Thus opens the story. A prim editor left the best potential tag line on the cutting room floor, but it made it into the movie’s mythos. In an unused clip, Brigitte tells her sister, “PMS is the least of your problems.”

Brigitte and Ginger Fitzgerald
Brigitte and Ginger Fitzgerald
The Practice

Conventional horror movies confuse time in the makeup chair with characterization. What makes Ginger Snaps special is the bond between the sisters. After months of fruitless auditions, the prospective leads happened to try out on the same day. When screenwriter Karen Walton saw the results, she said the young actresses were exactly who she was looking for. Coincidentally, the girls were born in the same hospital, attended the same schools, worked out of the same talent agency, and had appeared in separate episodes of Supernatural and The X-Files. Their chemistry was perfect.

Their parents are well-drawn and probably frighteningly close to how real teens view their folks. The school jock, Jason, makes another interesting character. He shows more moral fibre than we might expect. Rather than slut-shame the girl he just slept with, he merely tells his friends, “She rocked my world.”

When’s the last time you encountered an edgy teen drama that classy?

A mediocre sequel and a slightly more interesting direct-to-DVD prequel followed in 2004.

Thanks to Haboob for a list of where-to-view sources in time for Halloween. Enjoy the show.

Ginger Snaps (2001)
  • Crackle
  • Favesome
  • Filmrise
  • Plex
  • Roku
  • Tubi
  • Vudu
  • Wow Now
  • paywall…
  • Amazon
  • iTunes
  • Microsoft
  • Roku
  • YouTube
  Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed
  • Movie Sphere
  • Plex
  • Roku



Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning
  • Movie Sphere
  • Plex
  • Roku
  • Tubi