31 July 2022

Writing My First PI Story


.38 Super

Last September, I wrote a blog article in SleuthSayers challenging myself to create my  first PI story. In that article, I bemoaned the fact that any new PI story would need to come up with a new angle for the PI's background. I didn't have one yet and all the good ones seemed to have already been taken. Intense brainstorming would have to commence. And, it did.

I have now acquired a new slant on a background for a Private Investigator. Will it work? DAMFINO. All I do know is that it is different from what is currently being used out there. The true test will be when I submit it to an editor.

NOTE: It went out on 03/24/22. If it sells at the first submission, you'll hear about it. If it doesn't, then the story will be submitted elsewhere down the line of diminishing payments until it dies a quiet death.

Unfortunately, since I have a certain loyalty, plus a bit of a mercenary bent, I tend to start at the top of the market, it will probably take me a year to find out if this concept will work. In the meantime, I have already written the sequel and have a working title  ("Recidivism") which will stick.

Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I do have a few series which never got past the sequel stage.

SIDE NOTE: It seems that a kind gentleman, whom I was discussing series with at the Bouchercon in Madison several years ago, informed me that one story was a standalone,  it takes two stories to have a sequel and three to make a series. Intentions don't count until they are published. Personally, I would have responded that three stories makes a trilogy and that it took four to make a series, but I wasn't quick enough on the uptake. He was gone. His ride had arrived.

Obviously, I'm not going to tell you what the new concept entails. That would be a spoiler. You'll just have to wait about two years to see if it comes out in print. In any case, I hope to get it into the running for the Shamus Awards before I die. Trust me, it's a great concept, different and fresh. Have I lied to you yet? Well, not that you're aware of.

To keep you occupied in the meantime, there is some trivia about the story which I can entertain you with. You know how some famous authors auction off the rights to name a character in their story after some real person. Well, in this case there was no auction, but the PI character is named Ray, which is Brian Thornton's middle name, and the name of the PI firm is B. Thornton Investigations.

The next bit of trivia was totally unexpected. My wife and I were on a cruise  in the Caribbean from late February into early March and on Day One in the evening dining room, our junior waiter from Indonesia looked at me and asked if I was a Texas Ranger. He said I looked like one (or at least his concept of one). I admitted to being a retired federal agent and a writer. He was impressed more than he should have been, and asked if he could be in one of my stories. Okay, there was a bit of a language barrier and maybe neither one of us totally understood what we were talking about. but I then agreed to name one of my characters after him. In retrospect, I think he envisioned himself as a rescuing knight in shining armor, but the knights in my stories tend to have a lot of tarnish on their armor. The result was that he ended up becoming the PI's contract employee (side kick), and the first story and character got renamed ("Leonardo") after him.  

Oh, the situations we get into when we let those in the general public know that we are writers. But then, I'm sure you have your own tales to tell.

30 July 2022

Isn't This Where We Came In?



The idea for this post came to me a few weeks ago, when my daughter and I went to see Top Gun: Maverick at a multiplex nearby. (Unlike my wife, our daughter loves movies almost as much as I do.) What happened was, TG:M was being shown in two different theaters in the multiplex, and we were directed by the ticket-taker to the wrong one. When we walked in, the feature was already in progress. It was an easy problem to fix; we just left and found the correct theater, and all was well. Nobody wants to walk in during the middle of a movie.

But I used to do it all the time.

Here's the deal. When I was in high school I saw a lot of movies. And not on TV, either--there weren't that many movies on TV in the mid-sixties. I went instead to the Strand Theater, just off the town square in Kosciusko, Mississippi. I was one of the Strand's regular customers.

The funny thing, though, is that I wasn't particular about whether I arrived at the start of the feature or somewhere in the middle. This probably had something to do with the fact that I was usually bumming a ride with someone else, but whatever the reason, my goofy high-school friends and I often strolled in after the film was well under way. We'd plop down in the then-uncomfortable seats and sit there and watch the second half or so of the movie, and then sit there while the end credits rolled and the old crowd left, and then keep sitting there while the new crowd filed in and the same movie started up again. Then we'd stay through the first half (or the first two-thirds or whatever we hadn't yet seen) and leave when we got to the part that was playing when we first arrived. Seriously. A question I remember well, because I was usually the one asking it, was "Isn't this where we came in?"

At that point we would get up and leave--or, if we had enough time, just sit through the feature again all the way to the end, thereby seeing the second part twice. We did that many, many times. 

What does all this have to do with writing?

Well, I've mentioned on many occasions that I am one of those writers who "outline" short stories, or at least map them out in their heads--including the ending--before the writing starts. And I think my teenaged habit of going into a movie halfway through the feature might've led to this preference for plotting a story out before getting to the actual writing.

I especially remember wondering what I had missed, as we waited in a silent and otherwise empty theater between showings. Wondering what had happened in the story earlier to lead up to the ending I'd already seen. And when the film started again, and I watched the introduction of the characters and watched the plot develop and thicken, I could sense the way the writer (or screenwriter, I suppose), must have felt as he planned the story and set the mood and dropped the clues and missing pieces into place and made the suspense build steadily toward a satisfying end. It was there that I learned firsthand about the importance of hooks and reversals and foreshadowing.

Now, many years later, I find myself doing the same kind of thinking, before and during the process of writing a short story. Once in a while I even come up with the ending first, and then backtrack to lay the plotting groundwork that will eventually lead to it. I once heard that every single thing in a short story must propel the story toward its conclusion. I believe that's true, and I can't think of a better way to make sure that happens than to know the ending ahead of time.

I heard someplace that Margaret Mitchell wrote the last chapter of Gone with the Wind first, and didn't write the opening chapter until ten years later, when the book was accepted for publication. Frankly, my dear, you probably don't give a damn, but I thought I'd mention it.

Once again, as I've often said in discussions about outlining, I'm not encouraging other writers, especially aspiring writers, to think or write that way, planning and plotting almost everything ahead of time. I'm just saying that's what works for me, in my stories. And I think it all might've started when our dumb little high-school movie group was always wandering in after Bogie or John Wayne or Paul Newman (or Clark Gable) was already halfway through his adventure. 

Not that it was the dumbest thing we did as teenagers. If I could convince you it was, I would be a good fiction writer.

Questions: What's your process? Are you an outliner or a free-wheeler, a plotter or a pantser? Or maybe a combination of the two? If you are an outliner, do you plan a story all the way through to the end, or discover the ending as you go?


Full disclosure: Fourteen years ago I wrote a post for the Criminal Brief blog on this same subject. This is a different and updated version, but I confess I happily stole some of the thoughts from my previous post. My apologies to any reader who might recall that column--I myself remembered it only when I was halfway done with this one.


Happy writing and reading (and moviegoing!) to all of you.


29 July 2022

You Should Totally Tweet About This


You are totally a winner, dude!


Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash



Everyone always said he was a genius, and finally the proof had come. After being quoted in some very important newspapers and magazines, after doing a couple of TEDx talks, he had landed a Big New York City Agent. He had worked with a ghostwriter who crafted a superb nonfiction book proposal, putting some of his most abstruse ideas on paper for the very first time. So many Big New York City editors raved about the proposal and these ideas of his—ones that would radically transform the worlds of finance, politics, economics and culture—that the agent chose to hold an auction to sell the book.

When the smoke cleared, our genius walked away with a $100,000 book deal from what was then a Big Six publisher. Colleagues at his firm were envious, but such success had always been in the cards for our boy. Everyone knew he did great PowerPoints. The firm always sent him to the big conferences because he always knew just what to say. At hotel bars after those sessions, he was the flashy dresser ordering obscure cocktails, schmoozing with the local journalists, and sharing his theory about how this One Single Factor was underlying various disciplines.

So certain was our man of the book’s success that on weekends, he and his spouse took long rides into the New Jersey countryside, looking at grand, multi-acre estates that they might very possibly upgrade to when the book hit the bestseller lists and even bigger money came pouring in.

He and “his” book writer slaved over the tome for a year. Through first drafts, second drafts, the dreaded editorial letter, the copyedit, the galleys, and so on. When the publisher’s catalog came out, the author humble-bragged his way around the office, showing the book’s cover and the lovely blurbs to his colleagues. The book was “front-list,” singled out for a major push by the marketing and sales forces. “We know how to make bestsellers,” the editor had said in one of those early phone conferences when rounds of editors had vied for the chance to bid on his book. Front-list placement proved it! In the parlance of the industry, his was a “Big Think” book. It would out-blink Blink, topple The Tipping Point, and drown The Black Swan.

During the long slog to publication, the agent managed to lock in a movie option from a television development company. This was admittedly strange, since the book had no characters, no plot, no setting—just ideas. Nevertheless, some obviously brilliant people had perceived the book’s inherent genius, and planned to make a movie, TV show, or possibly a cable channel show about those concepts.

His agent urged the author to do a podcast, but the author didn’t really have time for that. He didn’t want to give away his ideas for free. Besides, he was busier than ever these days. In addition to reviewing the galleys, he was now fielding calls from “his” Hollywood writer. (The young screenwriter had read the galleys, and was at a loss for how to turn this mishegoss into a workable pitch and treatment for her bosses. But since the development company was paying her to turn the material into something saleable, she was not about to reveal her misgivings.)

The author could almost taste that multi-acre estate now. He could practically smell the grass! He could hear the horses whickering in the stables. He could hear the thump of his sweet children’s tennis balls on the clay courts.

Eagerly he looked forward to the Big Marketing Call when the Whole Team would talk about the book launch. He waited. And waited.

The call came on a Friday, four days before the book launch. The person on the other end was a harried, twenty-three-year-old publicist who was juggling the release of 18 other books that month. They spoke for forty minutes, mostly about how excited the Team was about the author’s book. Editors in the book world were supposed to be great wordsmiths, but no one seemed to be able to reach for any other word to convey their excitement. They were always over-the-moon, freaking excited.

“Are you on social media?” the publicist said. Our author wasn’t. He never bought into that crap. His wife did Facebook, but he’d ignored his account for years. He had a mortgage, a car loan, three kids in private schools, a briefcase full of never-ending work, and no time for anything else. “You totally should be,” the publicist said. “Twitter is probably best for a book like yours. Very intellectual content. You should totally Tweet about it.”

Thus ended the Great Marketing Call. The author felt unsatisfied…puzzled…confused. He could not shake the feeling that something was a little…off. Where was the book tour? Where was the appearance on MSNBC he’d dropped hints about in those early conference calls with his editor?

He worked the phones for a few days to get his agent on the line. She did some digging and returned with an explanation. In the months leading up to the book’s launch, the sales staff of the business imprint had mailed postcards to everyone on their list to gauge interest in the book. The response was robust from one very specific demographic: university librarians.

This made sense; our author’s deep, profound thoughts were going to change the world someday. Librarians at university business management schools were interested in those ideas—and apparently no one else. The marketing, sales, and publicity plans dried up immediately. There was not even a conversation about this, because every person in trade publishing knows that a book that appeals solely to business school librarians is the kiss of death. Big Six peeps know this so deeply in their bones that they do not feel it necessary to articulate it.

“But it was front list!” the author said. “They paid me six figures!”

Yes, the agent said. But there’s no point in throwing good money after bad. You get that, right? You’re a business dude.

“They’re willing to lose all that money?”

Yeah. They are. Because that’s what big companies do. They lose money all the time on books like yours. They’ve gotten very good at cutting their losses. A hundred thousand dollars is chump change to them. A “big” advance guarantees nothing.

“But there’s a movie deal!”

Well, there’s an option, which is very different, and maybe one of these days a movie or TV show will get made. That is, if the producer chooses to renew the option when the contract expires in 15 months. Until then, keep cashing the $1,800 check they’re contractually obligated to send you every six months until the term expires.

Our author’s world was spinning out of control.

Take heart, the agent said. Hollywood responds to success. They really do. So do publishers. In a year, if the hardcover and ebook do well, maybe they’ll even do a paperback.

“You mean to say that there might not even be a paperback?”

I believe in you, the agent waxed on, deflecting. I know the kind of go-getter you are. You will promote the living sht out of this book. You will never give up. Because that’s the kind of winner you are.

Our man didn’t feel like a winner. He had spent the advance after splitting it three ways with the ghostwriter, the agent, and the tax man. Yes, he made a hefty salary as a big-city exec, but that money was spoken for. Even if he could convince his wife to throw some money at the book, he had no idea where to begin. He had no clue how one propelled a book to the top of the bestseller list. In that respect, publishing was so…opaque. Yes, he could ask the bookstore in his Jersey suburb to carry the book, but he’d never set foot in the place. What about all the others? There had to be hundreds, thousands, of such mom-and-pop entities in the nation. Even if he could crack them, how would he convince people who didn’t know him to buy the damn book? Such a thing was well outside his realm of expertise.

Having a “big” one-off book published by a “big” publisher was beginning to feel like a fruitless exercise in vanity. Like getting some very expensive business cards printed up. He was known to be a genius! But now he felt like an ordinary dude with some very interesting ideas. Somewhere in the distance, a breeze kicked up in the horse stables, bringing with it the scent of manure.

 

***


Joseph DAgnese is a professional ghostwriter who occasionally writes fiction. He wishes the foregoing were fiction.


28 July 2022

A Mixed Bag


First off, nursery rhymes and how they got that way.  Before the technological revolution and the industrial revolution, life was very, very quiet, and you had to make your own entertainment. Anything loud was very popular.  

I just found out that the "weasel" in "Pop Goes the Weasel" could well be a spinner's weasel.  Now a spinner's weasel is "a mechanical yarn-measuring device consisting of a spoked wheel with gears attached to a pointer on a marked face (which looks like a clock) and an internal mechanism which makes a "pop" sound after the desired length of yarn is measured" (usually a skein, or 80 yards). (Wikipedia)

On a sleepy rainy day, back in the 1700s, that could really the kids up, couldn't it?  Plus it gave them something to do…

And speaking of things to do, they weren't all as useful and harmless as a spinner's weasel.  Doolin 'Dalton sent me a link to the story of Whipping Tom:


"Whipping Tom and Skiping Ione", detail from the Yale Center 'Panorama'

Actually, there were three Toms:  1672 and 1681 in London and in 1712 in the village of Hackney.  Basically, each of them would attack women walking alone and beat them more or less savagely on their rear ends. We don't know much about the 1st Tom, except that he may have given the example to the 2nd Tom in London.  2nd Tom was known for yelling "Spanko!" as he beat them.  He also got into print:  

"His first Adventure, as near as we can learn, was on a Servant Maid in New-street, who being sent out to look for her Master, as she was turning a Corner, perceived a Tall black Man[n 2] standing up against the wall, as if he had been making water, but she had not passed far, but with great speed and violence seized her, and in a trice, laying her across his knee, took up her Linnen, and lay'd so hard up-on her Backside, as made her cry out most piteously for help, the which he no sooner perceiving to approach (as she declares) then he vanished."
- Whipping Tom Brought to Light and Exposed to View, 1681

Eventually a haberdasher and his apprentice (?) were arrested and tried for it.

The Hackney Tom was even more savage, attacking 70 women and using a "Great Rodd of Birch". Thomas Wallis was captured and confessed to the attacks. According to Wallis, he was "resolved to be Revenged on all the women he could come at after that manner, for the sake of one Perjur'd Female, who had been Barbarously False to him".  (Historian Andrew Martin, Citation from Ashton, John (1937), Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne, vol. 2, London: Chatto & Windus.  HERE)   

Sadly, all documents of the trial and conviction of any of the Whipping Toms have been lost over time... And no one knows who Skipping Joan is.  I tried to find it, and just couldn't.  

Actually, what surprises me most about this case is that they actually investigated and punished the Whipping Toms, because the Middle Ages was not known for its high opinion of women and their rights.  BTW, if you want something frightening, there's a self-described Christo-fascist on social media spouting that what he and his fellows all want is to return to the Middle Ages! When life was sweet! Life was great!  Obviously the jackass didn't realize (1) that they'd all be serfs back then, with all the backbreaking labor that entailed and (2) medieval dentistry & medicine:  



Of course it wasn't all plagues, leeches and purges.  Some of the stuff that sounds the weirdest actually worked:
 
FOR BURNS:  “Take a live snail and rub its slime against the burn and it will heal”
A nice, simple DIY remedy – and yes, it would help reduce blistering and ease the pain! Recent research has shown that snail slime contains antioxidants, antiseptic, anesthetic, anti-irritant, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antiviral properties, as well as collagen and elastin, vital for skin repair.  Modern science now utilizes snail slime, under the heading ‘Snail Gel’, as skin preparations and for treating minor injuries, such as cuts, burns and scalds. It seems that medieval medicine got this one right.  (History Extra)

So keep a snail around - you never know when you might need one.

And now for something completely different, my favorite new streaming channel is Retro Reels, which you can get through Roku for the reasonable price of $2.99 a month.  It has just about every movie you can imagine from the 30s and 40s, and we are having a great time.  The only down side is that it has no search engine, so you have to scroll until you find a title you want to watch. And there's everything - from Charlie Chan to Cary Grant - so you're bound to get distracted from your original search.  Happy accidents abound!

The other night we watched The Public Enemy (1931) with James Cagney, and while everybody knows about this scene:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Public_Enemy#/media/File:Mae_Clarke_and_James_Cagney.jpg

imho, it's nowhere near the most shocking scene in the picture.  But we'll get to that in a minute.  

You can tell The Public Enemy was made pre-Hays Code.  You can also tell it was made in America, because all the good guys are so squeaky-clean they'd bore Billy Graham.  Even Ma... (Oh, Ma, get a new dress and quit pretending you don't know what your Tom does for a living.)  

(I've said it before, and I'll say it again, people really need to reread Victorian novels and find out how to make good people interesting. The stupidest line I ever heard was about 10 years ago on a show where the squeaky-clean hero's girlfriend said "It's easy to be good, but it's so hard to go bad." No, dimwit, it's the exact freaking opposite. The Victorians at least knew that temptation was actually tempting.)  

Speaking of pre-Hays, how about Jean Harlow?  She didn't have a lot of scenes, and she really wasn't that good at delivering her lines (I much prefer her in Red Dust - she and Gable had great chemistry, and they went on to make 6 movies together), but that white silk/satin lounge outfit made all of that irrelevant. 

(Triva: On the set one day, Cagney stared at Harlow's cleavage and asked, "How do you keep those things up?" "I ice them," Harlow said.  IMDB)

Meanwhile, there's Cagney, with charm, energy, one hell of a great grin, and a real gift for that 1930s fast dialog which he made sound like the smartest wisecracks you ever heard, which they often weren't.  The result is that (almost) no matter what he was doing, you root for him. Same as in Angels With Dirty Faces.  (Some people have that gift - watching The Public Enemy, I realized one of the inmates at the pen looks like Cagney's reincarnation, and that explains a lot about his career.)  

Anyway, that charm is what makes the last scene of the movie so shocking. Watch it and see.  All I'll say is, his eyes are open.  

Oh, and one final tidbit I found and am now passing around like cracker jacks at a ball game:  

The One Sentence Persuasion Course:

"People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, assuage their fears, justify their failures, confirm their suspicions, and throw rocks at their enemies."  - Blair Warren

It explains so much...  

27 July 2022

A Dangerous Place


  

After the tenth book in her Maisie Dobbs series, Jackie Winspear took a break.  She wrote a standalone, and then two years later she brought Maisie back in A Dangerous Place.  It seems to me to signal a significant - not to say wrenching – turn. 

A Dangerous Place finds Maisie in Gibraltar.  The year is 1937, and just across the line in Spain, the savagery of the Civil War is drawing in the major combatants.  Britain pretends neutrality; the Germans bomb Guernica, and the Russians support the Republicans, but this is a dress rehearsal for a wider war, between the Fascists and the Reds, and the larger pretense is that this is purely local, and of no consequence to the calculations of the Great Powers.  Gibraltar is awash in spies.  Although it appears sunlit and cheerful, the subtext is more akin to Casablanca than The Wizard of Oz.

I want to pause for a moment, and consider the background.  Europe in the 1930’s was a snakepit.  There was enormous income disparity and class division.  The old ruling class was terrified of Bolshevism; the working classes wanted a living wage.  Hitler didn’t arise in a vacuum.  There were the Black Hundreds in Russia, the Iron Guard in Romania, the Arrow Cross in Hungary.  The common denominator was of course hatred for the Jews – not that the Poles and the French (or the British and Americans, for that matter) were shy in this regard. 

My point, here, is that Maisie, herself a survivor of the first war, 1914-1918, a battlefield triage nurse, with combat fatigue – post-traumatic stress – is no stranger to these questions and concerns, but the stories hitherto have been domestic, by and large.  They hinge on the personal, and the close observation of detail.  You could easily call them cozies, and not be far off the mark.

Let’s not beat around the bush.  A Dangerous Place is a spy story.  Maisie even gets herself smuggled into wartime Madrid, as a visiting fireman, trading on a title she isn’t sure she deserves. 

The dangerous place, however, isn’t on the outside.  The turmoil, the doubt, the anxieties, are all internal.  The inciting, compelling incidents, the dramatic engines, if you will, take place off-stage.  The discovery of the dead guy, which sets the story in motion, happens in the reader’s peripheral vision.  You’re not there.  You’re told about it afterwards.  The huge hole in Maisie’s life, what happened in the two years she was absent from us, is explained (not explained, simply retailed) in a series of letters at the beginning of the book.  Winspear wants to get this plot furniture out of the way, and get on with the real story, which is Maisie’s disintegration and recovery.

There’s a moment about halfway through.  “She knew she had been remiss.  …It was long past time to bring her whole heart to the investigation, instead of leaving something of herself behind, curled up, lost, grieving, and afraid.”  Something of herself left behind.  This is really what the book’s about.  And although much of Maisie’s history, in the previous books, has been about unlocking and engaging with the past, this is the first time she’s seemed to actually come untethered, to disassociate – if that’s the right term.  She steps outside herself, she disengages, because if she were to stay inside, madness would beckon.  Maisie is a healer; she finds her purpose in repairing the damage other people have suffered.  Here, she has to turn her attention to herself, and apply those skills to her own incapacitating grief.  Rescue is in retreat.

This isn’t the book to start with, by any means.  I’ve mentioned before that I read Jackie’s memoir, This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing, before I read any of the Maisie mysteries, and that’s what got me started.  I began with Maisie Dobbs, and read them serially.  A Dangerous Place packs the punch it does, for me, because it takes the familiar, and subverts expectations. 



26 July 2022

The Importance of Tenacity


Hi, everyone. I'm taking a mental-health break. Instead of writing a new column to run today, I'm rerunning one from New Year's Day 2019. Sorry about that, but to use that old NBC slogan, if you haven't seen it, it's new to you!

The Power of Tenacity

I planned to title this column the Power of Persistence and to write about writing goals. It seemed perfect for January 1st, when so many people make resolutions for the new year. And I do love alliteration. But then I thought, maybe "tenacity" would be a better word than "persistence." The Power of Tenacity might not have the same cadence as the Power of Persistence, but is it more on point? I had always treated the words as synonyms, but maybe, I began to think, they aren't. Maybe I should check. So I did, and it turns out there's an important difference between the two words. Persistence means trying repeatedly to reach a goal through the same method, figuring eventually you'll succeed. Tenacity means trying to reach a goal through varying methods, learning from each failure and trying different approaches. For anyone with goals for the new year, tenacity seems the better approach.

How does this apply to writing? First, let's talk about getting writing done. Everyone has their own method. Some people write every morning before daybreak. Others write at night. Some people say they will write for a set number of hours each day. Others say they'll write as long as it takes to meet a daily quota. Some people plot out what they're going to write. Others write by the seat of their pants. It doesn't matter what your approach is, as long as it works for you. So with the new year here, perhaps this is a good time to take stock of your approach. Is your approach working for you? Are you getting enough writing done? Enough revision done? Are you making the best use of your time?

I have a friend (and editing client) who used to be a pantser. But she found that after finishing every draft, she had so many loose ends to address and problems to fix, it took her much longer to revise than she'd like. So she started forcing herself to plot before she began writing each book. Not detailed outlines, but she figures out who kills whom, how, and why, what her subplot will be (again, just the basics), and what her theme is. These changes in her approach have enabled her to be so much more productive. She writes faster now, and she needs less time for revision. That's tenacity in action.

Moving on to a finished product, how do you react to rejection? If you have a rejected short story, for instance, after you finish cursing the universe, do you find another venue and send that story out immediately? Or do you re-read it and look for ways to improve it? And if a story has been rejected several times (there's no shame here; we've all been there), do you keep sending it out anyway or put it in a drawer to let it cool off for a few months or years until perhaps the market has changed or your skills have improved?

If sending a story out a few times without revising after each rejection usually results in a sale for you, great. Then your persistence works, and it means you have more time for other projects. But if it doesn't, if you find yourself sending a story out a dozen times without success, then perhaps you should consider a new approach. After a story is rejected, say, three times, maybe you should give it a hard look and see how it can be changed. Maybe you should let it sit in a drawer for a while first, so when you review it, you'll have a fresh take.

And if you're getting a lot of rejections, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate your markets or what you write. I know some writers who started their careers writing science fiction, but it turned out that they were much better suited to writing mysteries. Once they let their true selves out on the page, they started making sales. I know a writer who's been working on a novel for years, but she can't seem to finish it. Yet she's had a lot of success with short stories. If she were to decide to only write short stories and let the novel lie fallow, that wouldn't be a failure; it would be tenacity in action: finding what works for her.

I was about to write that the one thing you shouldn't do is give up, but there might be value in letting go. If your goal is to write a novel or short story, but you never seem to finish your project, and the mere thought of working on it feels like drudgery instead of joy, then maybe being a professional writer isn't for you. There's no shame in that. Not every person is suited to every task. When I was a kid I loved swimming, but I was never going to make a swim team. I wasn't fast enough. Maybe with a lot of practice and other changes I could have gotten there, but I didn't want to take those steps. And that's okay. I enjoyed swimming for the fun of it, and that was enough for me. Maybe writing for yourself, without the pressure of getting to write "The End," is what gives you joy. If so, more power to you. And maybe it turns out you don't want to finish that book or story you started writing. That's okay too, even if you did tell everyone that you were writing it. You're allowed to try things and stop if it turns out they aren't the right fit for you.

But if you believe writing is the right fit, yet your writing isn't as productive as you want it to be, or your sales aren't as good as you want them to be, then be tenacious. Evaluate your approaches to getting writing done, to editing your work, to seeking publication. Maybe you need to revise how you're doing things. Are you writing in the morning but are more alert in the evening? Change when you write. Is your work typically ready to be sent out into the world as soon as you finish? If you get a lot of rejections, maybe it's not. Maybe you need to force yourself to let your work sit for a while after you finish, so you can review it again with fresh eyes before you start submitting. Do you have a contract, but your books aren't selling as well as you'd like? Perhaps you should find someone you trust who can try to help you improve. No matter how successful you are, there's always something new to learn. The key is to figure out what works for you and keep doing it, and also figure out what isn't working for you and change it.

That, my fellow writers, is my advice for you. Be tenacious. Evaluate what you want, and evaluate your methods for getting there. If your methods aren't working, change them. And if in six months your new methods aren't working, change them again. Work hard. Work smart. And be sure to enjoy yourself along the way, because if you're not enjoying writing, why bother doing it?

25 July 2022

What’s It All About, Reader?


A couple of posts on DorothyL, the mystery lovers’ e-list, got me thinking the other day. DLers read widely and voraciously, and are a great source of recommendations for both reading and watching that I might otherwise have missed. One topic under discussion on this particular occasion was how certain independently published authors attract a huge following. Someone mentioned an “independently published author with a large fan base” whose "series about ... art crimes consistently gets high ratings and apparently good enough sales to keep [the author] turning them out. I do not find the main character credible but I seem to be in the minority.” A disappointed reader who’d enjoyed a traditionally published author’s previous books commented that they have “written some really good mysteries,” but this book “is less about good character development and in depth stories and more about jumping from one thrill to the next.”

The first thought that sprang to my mind on reading these two comments was, “For me, it’s all about the voice.” And “voice,” while it’s not a new word, not a trendy 21st-century word in the way that “curated” is the new word for “selected” and “canceled” is the new word for “shunned,” is more or less what we used to call “the writing.” Amazon’s algorithms can’t detect voice, which is why they constantly make book recommendations I have no interest in buying for my Kindle. As I said last month, Lois McMaster Bujold takes space opera to the stratosphere of high art, marrying it with political thriller, comedy of manners, and other beautifully nuanced genres. Those algorithms can recommend ordinary space operas until the extragalactic cows come without piquing my interest. It’s not about what the book’s about at all. So slap all the “gripping” and “riveting” you want into the blurb, or worse, these days, the subtitle. When I start to read—for economy’s sake, the free sample if it’s not a known and beloved author—I want the voice to sweep me away.

My second thought was, “I can’t say it’s all about voice without mentioning character development, which is crucial to my enjoyment of a read. As a writer, I use character to convey voice in a variety of forms: dialogue, first person narrative, and more subtly in the third person narrative, ie where “voice” meets “writing.” I put down a book I was reading recently because I realized I was reading dutifully, which is my signal that it’s okay not to finish it. It was a Jewish historical novel, and those are of interest to me, because I write Jewish historical novels and stories myself. It wasn’t exactly in my period (18th century vs my 15th and 16th centuries), but it was about secret Jews still living in Spain (as my Mendoza family did until 1492) who had to flee with the Inquisition at their heels.

It could have been an exciting story. When I asked myself why it wasn’t, I decided the characters weren’t well developed. The wife is young and has a baby. The husband is older. She’s Jewish, he’s not. She puts the family in danger by not buying pork at the market on Friday. (That’s right, how could she not realize how stupid that is, just like the damsel going down the cellar alone without a flashlight or a cell phone when the serial killer’s on the loose.) She feels appropriate emotions: dread, fear, uncertainty, hope, love for her baby, determination to practice her religion, which she learned at her mother’s knee. But who is she as a person? The reader has no idea. The author tells us it’s a love match, and that the husband persisted until she said yes. Why did she fall for an older man? What did he think when he found out she was a secret Jew? We’re told he was okay with it because he loved her—stock emotions for a supportive husband, not character development. They flee to America. They meet a slave-holding relative. The situations are interesting, but somehow, the characters were not, at least to me.

Then I asked myself whether as a writer, I’ve done better at making my Jewish historical characters true individuals. Let’s take a look.

We first meet Rachel Mendoza in my novel, Voyage of Strangers, in 1493, escaping from the stuffy convent school where she’s been hidden. She plans to seek out her brother Diego, who is at King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s Court, having just returned with Columbus from the voyage of discovery. The first line from her point of view is in close third person narrative:

How hard could it be to be a boy?

After various adventures, Rachel finds herself in enough danger that Diego is forced to abet her escape from the guardianship of their strict converso aunt, temporarily abandoning his post guarding the half dozen Taino Columbus has brought from the Caribbean along with gold and brightly colored parrots to show the King and Queen. Diego says:

“I must contrive to leave the Taino in good hands. I don’t want them to suffer because of my absence. I believe my friend Fernando will be willing to take my place. He doesn’t care for the Indians as I do, but he has a good heart.”

I glanced over at the Taino, who still slumbered in their poppy-induced stupor. “You can’t imagine how robust and comely they were,” I said, “when we first came upon them.”

“Perhaps,” Rachel said, “being slaves in Spain doesn’t agree with them.”

24 July 2022

Bed, Bath, and Beyond: The Rooming House, part 2


Tales from the Rooming House

Last week I introduced you to the cast of the guest home were I rented a room rather than stay in a hotel for a six month project. I bring you a little more about my landlady, God love her.

Kitchen Computer

The kitchen held a computer for the landlady and anyone else who needed to use one. One day when the house had emptied, she shyly approached me.

“Will you, um, see uh, I have a prob… er, I shouldn’t ask, but… well, I made a mistake and, uh, no, never mind, I just felt… if you… you work with, um, computers, right? No, it’s not fair… to ask, you know, I’m sorry, see. Forget it.”

“Tell me what the problem is.”

She sniffled into a tissue. “Well, um, I went on a web site… or maybe two sites or so. And uh, I gave them my credit card number, er, and I can’t get it back. They um, keep charging me.”

pseudo-porn
“Okay. No sweat. Let’s sit down and figure it out.”

Poor lady. She flushed fifty shades of red. She’d worked up considerable courage to ask me. Respecting her vulnerability, I strove to be kind, gentle, and non-judgmentally professional.

She trembled too much to type the URL, so she slid over while I drove. I didn’t flick an eyelash when she spelled out the address of an ‘enticing teen boys’ porn site. Miserably, she said, “The other’s a bisexual-lesbian teen site.”

“We’ll do this in two steps,” I said. “First we’ll terminate your account and billing. See, that’s done. We’ll do the same thing on the other site, and bingo, that’s done. But to be safe, let’s tell the credit card company not to accept payments from these guys.”

She didn’t say anything, but dabbed her eyes with a soggy Kleenex. I’ve developed a habit of being deliberately incurious about personal matters. Humans are born naturally inquisitive creatures. No one should be punished for lifting the lid of their own curiosity.

I said, “I can set up a secret folder where you can store personal things, you know, bank information, private letters, and uh, home movies and the like. Only if you want.”

“Oh yes. Could you help me set my profile on a singles site?”

Her bio was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, but she wouldn’t let me change them. “No one will care,” she said. I thought it might restrict her potential dating pool, but kept my opinion to myself.

Other than confirming her credit card charges had ceased, neither of us mentioned those web sites again.

The Bickering Fair Ones

I wasn’t used to breakfasts amid mere acquaintances lounging in underthings, but I like to think I handled it with panache. Then I worried; were they treating me as one of the girls? Whew. Fortunately not.

“Jesus, Jill. Can’t you hook your own damn bra?”
“Yeah, Jill. What did you do before he arrived?”
“Shut up, sluts. You’re just jealous of these.”
“Wait til she asks him to do her front clasp.”
“Oh ♩♫Leeeeigh. Can you stuff these in for me?”
Ƒ you. What about Gail’s flash dances?”
“What? Me?”
“Dashing between rooms with only a tea towel.”
“It’s a bath towel.”
“For a hamster. I have hankies bigger than that.”
“Don’t be so mean. You’re so…”
“Aw shit, Gail. We didn’t mean to make you cry.”

Their sniping revealed a drama I wasn’t aware of. With my nose in technical manuals, I had been studying and oblivious. The landlady explained. Apparently Gail, the youngest of the group, wore less than usual when I was in-house, so to speak.

“They’re teasing her because she wants the attention of the only male in the house. Her heart was just broken and she craves validation.”

“Validation… I don’t understand.”

“She just wants you to notice her. Be a friend, that’s all. Be kind. She’s more fragile than she thinks. Neither of you needs rebound romance. Just buy her a rose one day. That will do nicely.”

I had been clueless sixteen ways from Sunday. I humbly felt as if our local High Priestess of Womanly Wisdom had guided me on a path where otherwise I would have fallen flat on my face. Or put another way, guys can be dumb and she saved me from myself.

bedroom floor plan

Bed, Bath, and Beyond

After my initial months of exemplary behavior, the landlady switched me to a larger room at the end of the hall across from hers. A mirror hung at the end of the corridor between the landlady’s room and mine, convenient for the women to check their makeup before heading out in public. Unlike the rest of us, she usually left her bedroom door open and I paid no attention to the darkened expanse of her doorway.

Because my schedule meant I was the last to rise and depart, the landlady asked if I would let her dog out for a bound around the garden before I left for work. No problem. I agreed.

Now, I sleep nude. Don’t judge me. Just sayin’. I don’t have patience with bedclothes.

Once I felt comfortable that only I remained in the house each day, I clambered out of bed naked, immediately let the dog out, and hit the shower amid its rain forest canopy of panty hose. Bras and knickers obscured the steamy mirror, so after bath, I stepped into the hall. Still starkers, I brushed my hair reflected in the mirror. No issues, I always made certain I was alone.

One morning I let the dog out, shaved, showered, brushed my hair before the hall mirror, dressed, let the dog in, threw on my jacket, dashed out the door, and…

There in the driveway stood my landlady’s car.

But where was the landlady? I’d already locked up and didn’t have time to investigate, but that evening, she looked at me speculatively.

I said, “Did you stay home today?”

“Uh-huh. I called in sick.”

“Er, this morning when I got up, uh, my back and forth to the bathroom, brushing my hair in the hall mirror, um, you saw all that?”

“Yes.” Her cat-licking-cream smile hovered between impish delight and giggly satisfaction.

Bed, Bath, and Beyond logo

“Everything?”

“Oh, yes. Every bit.”

“Your room was dark, I didn’t realize…”

“I know.” Her smile turned gleeful. “I know.”

We never mentioned that again either. She might have shared that little adventure with the other women, but I think not. Maybe she appreciated I’d kept her secret, but really, she was just a good person.

My contract ended not long after, but for a guy without sisters, the ladies educated me in record time.

23 July 2022

Women in the Military: From History to Mystery


 Okay, this post isn't really by moi.  I'm merely fronting for my good friend here.

It is my pleasure to introduce Alison Bruce to all you SleuthSayers!  Alison is the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada (yes, she took over from me a few years ago, bless her!)  With a dad who was in the Canadian Navy, and a British mother who was in the Royal Observer Corp during WW-II, her take on using history to embrace story-telling is particularly inspiring, I think.  Take it away, Alison!

Women in the Military:  From History to Mystery

by Alison Bruce

My favourite teacher of my favourite subject knocked the academic wind out of my sales in grade thirteen.  He told me, "You'll never be an historian."

I was hurt, angry, and determined to prove him wrong.

It turned out he was correct.  After graduating with a double major in history and philosphy, I finally got it.  I write stories, not history.

I decided to do my undergraduate thesis on women in the military in World War 1 and 11.  The focus would be World War 11 because my aunt was in the British Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS).  I grew up listening to the war experiences of my aunt, mother (Observer Corps) and grandmother (first time in the workforce.)  Unlike Nana and Mum, however, my aunt kept in touch with the women she served with. With their help, the bulk of the paper was going to be based on the stories of women in the military.

They were able to reach out to friends of friends and post my call for volunteers locally, something I couldn't do in Canada.  (This was the 1980s.  No World Wide Web to access.)

If I'd had enough time to gather more stories,I might have written a good popular history book.  But, as my academic advisor pointed out, I didn't have enough primary research other than stories.

That was okay.  By this time I had added Philosophy as a second major, and had given up on the idea of teaching because of the horror stories I was hearing from friends.  (What do you mean I would be expected to wear  pantyhose and a skirt or dress?) I had also started my second novel.  (I lost the first one in the woman's washroom at college.)

Fast forward a quarter century.  I still love to research history, or almost anything else, but prefer to write stories.  I've used research to write a mystery set in the old west, a romance set in the American Civil War, three mysteries set in Canada, and one in the Arctic Ocean involving the US and Canadian Navies.  Now I'm going back to the stories that put me on the road to becoming a writer.

I don't know of any author who has written about being in the Royal Observer Corps.  If you do know of such a book, fiction or nonfiction, please let me know in the comments.  It was made up of volunteers except for a few naval officers who ran the outfit.  My mother's tales of her service were largely self-deprecating, but that just makes them tailor-made for storytelling.  And all those stories I listened to when I was writing my paper?  Grist for the mill.  I only wish my professor was still alive so I could send her a copy of the book...when I finally finish it.

Alison Bruce is the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada. She writes history, mystery, and suspense.  Her books combine clever mysteries, well-researched backgrounds, and a touch of romance. Four of her novels have been finalists for genre awards.


 
GHOST WRITER 

In her role as ghostwriter, Jen Kirby joins a Canadian Arctic expedition to document and help solve a forty-year-old mystery involving an American submarine station lost during the Cold War. The trouble is, there are people—living and dead—who don't want the story told, and they’ll do anything to stop her.

https://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Writer-Alison-Bruce-ebook/dp/B07Q6SS1K3 

22 July 2022

Best Superhero Costume


The summer of 1964, we lived in Junction City, Kansas, a nice small town. When I look back I see that Twilight Zone episode "Walking Distance" where Gig Young's character goes back into his childhood when he visits his hometown.

It was the summer my cousin Gary came to visit and turned my brother Danny and I on to Marvel Comics.  We went into the small town drug store where Gary bought a Spider-Man comic, Danny an Avengers (his favorite immediately became Captain America). I bought Fantastic Four #39 "A Blind Man Shall Lead Them."


The star of the issue was a guy in red – Daredevil, the blind superhero. That's right. Blind from an accident where a canister of radioactive material fell on his eyes. Blind but the accident gave him superhuman senses as all his senses have been magnified, including a great sense of balance. He was an acrobat, fearless atop buildings as he could not see what was below but knew exactly how far due to his 'radar sense'. OK.

We went back the drug store the next day to buy all of the Marvel comic issues in the drug store, X-Men, The Mighty Thor, Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish, and Daredevil #9 "That He May See."


I was hooked and followed DD until he went dark and the comics became bloodier and too realistic. Superheroes during what is now called The Silver Age of Comics (1956-1969) got into fistfights. The following Dark Ages ushered in blood and guts, characters dying.

Daredevil had the best costume, that red with black shading, the horns. Silver Age DD had some of the best artists as well, Wally Wood, John Romita, Sr., Gene Colon. Take a look:





Yes, DD had an earlier costume (running from DD #1 through DD #6). Black and yellow. Artist Wally Wood changed to the red because DD was 'The Man Without Fear' and anyone fearless cannot wear yellow.

Still, great art:


It was a lot of fun and inspired my imagination.
That's all for now.





21 July 2022

Do Buddhist Monks Play The Lotto?


 As frequent readers of my rotation in this blog (BOTH of them!*rimshot*) may recall, last time around my post was about the broader subject of writing believable fiction based on unlikely-yet-actual real life events. The more immediate subject was my long and on-going adventure in sharing a name with someone in my area whom I've never met, but whose path and my own continue to cross.

For this week's blog post I planned to expand on the broader subject above, but up until around Noon today, I had not gotten much traction. At the time I was driving home from running an errand, and since it was a hot, clear day, I stopped to get a couple of bottles of water. And then....well....

Let me write it as if it's the opening scene of a novel.

*******

The Buddhist monk who had smiled as he graciously held the Quik-E-Mart door open for me now stood in front of the convenience store's Lotto machine pumping in money like a retiree does coins at the nickel slots in an Indian casino.

*******

Yeah, so that's pretty much what happened. Something you don't see every day (or, in my own case, ever before). I walked up to the convenience store's front door, and the smiling man in saffron who got there right in front of me held it for me. I thanked him, went to get a couple of bottles of water, paid for them and left.

As I hit the door the distinctive color of the monk's robes drew my eye, and that was when I noticed him playing the Lotto. I slowed down to watch as I passed the glass walled front of the building. And this monk wasn't just playing the Lotto. As I said above, he was dumping money into the machine.

And I marveled at the incongruity of it as I walked back to my truck, thinking, "Do Buddhist monks actually play the Lotto?"

As I drove home I played out in my head the possible explanations for what I had just seen. Some of the ones I came up with:

"Secret gambling problem?"

"Gambling problem the reason for joining the Brotherhood, and what I witnessed was some sort of relapse?"

"Lotto an investment in the state's infrastructure?"

"Performing an act of kindness for a constituent who is too ill to pick up their weekly supply of Lotto tickets?"

And then I circled back to the notion of a secret gambling addiction being given an outlet by playing the Lotto and I asked myself, "What if he wins?" I tried to picture the man I had just seen smiling for the cameras, saffron robes, oversized Lotto check and all.

This thought led me wonder whether such a man, having won, possibly being unable to publicly claim his reward, might need to find someone else to claim the check, what that might look like, and how many different ways were there for it to go sideways?

And then another thought struck me out of the blue: "What if the gentleman in question wasn't a monk at all, but someone who, for some reason, simply dressed as one?" Which question in turn led to another: "What was this non-monk-in-monk's-clothing doing that he need to disguise himself as a monk in the first place? And why not change before heading home? Or was he stopping to hit the Lotto on his way to do this as-yet-unknown-thing-which-required-him-to-dress-like-a-Buddhist-monk?"

Which, of course, led to more questions and still more questions and more, and more, and more....

A rough approximation of where it all began.

And just like that I've got the beginnings of a plot. And at least one awfully compelling character. Beginnings are wonderful things. And the rest? It'll be a ton of fun to work the rest of it out.

And all because I stopped for a couple of bottles of water on a hot, clear day.

See you in two weeks!


20 July 2022

Doing the Math


 


For months I have had a fragment of a story idea kicking around my head.  Just something I knew I wanted to write about someday.

Then on May 23rd it blossomed into a complete plot.  I started writing and finished the first draft on the 29th.  So it took me a week.  That's pretty fast for me.

And that led me to do the math.  Brace yourself.  All that follows is based on my most recent five stories in each category mentioned below

From the time I start writing a story to the day I am ready to submit it to a publisher turns out to average 635 days.  (I hasten to point out that I am working on many stories at the same time.) So I will be ready to send the story in or around September 2025.

The first market I send it to will probably be Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.  Based on past experience they will hold it for 49 days and then reject it (zero out of the most recent five).  So now we're in November.

I will then ship it to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  It will sit there for 385 days, and they will then accept it, in December 2026. (Four  out of the most recent five).

Eventually I will get a contract for the story.  I will sign it and send it back and then I will get a check. The contract/check process for my last five stories averaged out to 73 days after the story was accepted.  Based on the length of this current tale, it will probably be for about $300.

Roughly a year later my story will be published.  So the story I conceived in May 2022 will, if everything goes well,  finally see the light of day in the spring of 2027.

As somebody said, it's a slow way to get rich.

Believe it or not, the working title of the  story is "Was That So Hard?"

 

19 July 2022

Reason or Insanity


    I meet the mentally ill, an omnipresent feature in the criminal justice system.

    They come into my cinder block courtroom located in the basement of the jail. Some shuffle in, sliding along with a sleepwalker’s gait. Usually slump-shouldered and dressed in dirty clothes, they stand quietly until it is their turn before the judge. They accept their instructions, answering in small voices, dull and flat. Other times, they twist and turn, unable to stand still. They deliver rapid-fire answers laden with asides. Others are brought in, cuffed to wheelchairs, or clad in suicide protection clothes and spit-guards. Although occasionally they sing or berate me during the brief hearings, a surprising number of them are polite in their responses given the expectations I form when they arrive in court ringed with security. 

    When they unleash a fusillade of profanity, they are quickly escorted out of court.
    
    The easiest defendants to identify are my criminal trespassers. They panhandle or simply camp outside gas stations. A couple of my regulars berate patrons seeking lodging at local hotels. The business owners call, and the police arrive. Law enforcement confirms that the loiterers have been formally warned to stay off the property and then they arrest them. They usually go quietly—they know the drill. Although ill, some have a well-honed survival strategy. When the weather turns too hot or too cold, they walk to the bond desk of the Sheriff's Office and settle. They refuse to leave. The deputies arrest them and walk them back to the jail. The scene is like Otis on the Andy Griffith Show only without the good humor.

    If you’re into Venn diagrams, the overlap between mental illness and my criminal trespassers is high. Criminal trespass, however, is not the only offense where I meet the mentally ill. They beat their loved ones, self-medicate with street drugs, set fires, steal, threaten, and hurt. Some research pegs the number of jail inmates reporting mental health problems at 64 percent. Not all my mentally ill are poor. I met an upper-middle-class man last week whose paranoia told him that the neighbors were threatening him. He responded by launching golf balls, shattering their windows. When magistrated, he assured me that he would sue me and all my co-conspirators. 

    I don’t worry much about the ones who only pack a Titleist. 

    I want to pause and parse words for a moment. Mental illness doesn’t make someone a criminal. Limited coping skills, poor impulse control, and a lack of access to proper prescriptions and services does make a criminal path more likely.

    No one likes pouring criminal justice resources into a revolving jail door for the petty crimes of the mentally ill we see. The absence of an alternative safety net brings them to us. My thoughts keep returning to the criminal trespasser. I have never met a police officer or district attorney who chose this career, dreaming of arresting or prosecuting the mentally ill panhandler. Those are not the defendants we tune into Law and Order to see. But I also think about the convenience store owner who watches her customers go to the service station across the street because there, the panhandlers aren’t harassing customers. 

    Sadly, I don’t offer a solution. Better minds have contemplated the issue without success. 

    In 2015, Sandra Bland was preparing to begin a job with her alma mater, Prairie View A & M, located in southeast Texas. Readers may remember the case, it garnered international attention. A brief recap—Sandra Bland was pulled over near campus while returning from an Independence Day vacation to visit with her relatives. What began as a traffic stop for failing to signal a lane change escalated into confrontation. Ms. Bland was arrested for assault on a peace officer. During jail intake, she reported a history of depression and a prior suicide attempt. Unable to post bail, Bland remained in county jail. Three days after her arrest, she hung herself in her cell. 

    In response, during the next legislative session, Texas passed the Sandra Bland Act. One component increased officer education for de-escalating possibly dangerous situations. Relevant to our conversation today, the legislation provided a system for reporting mental health concerns to the criminal courts. It also encouraged law enforcement agencies to get mentally ill misdemeanor defendants out of the criminal justice system through diversion programs and no-money, personal bonds. 

    To divert, however, the agencies need a place for the defendants to go. And with that, we circle back around to the absence of an adequate alternative. Locally, we’re still trying to find ways to cope with our numbers. 

    As readers and writers about crime, it is easy to overlook these cases. They only make the news when something dramatic occurs, as it did with Sandra Bland. This Independence Day as the temperatures soared around Texas, I saw again a spike in criminal trespass arrests. Non-violent, inconvenience misdemeanors are easy cases for the system to churn. A few days in jail and they are pled to credit for time served. 

    A better, more permanent solution proves far more difficult. 
    
    Until next time.