31 December 2023

Christmas Past


Most families seem to have their own traditions for the winter holidays in December, many of which get passed down from generation to generation. Some stem from the family's religion, some start up from events going on in the world, and some come from family circumstances.

Many of ours came from family circumstances. Because my dad, an electronics engineer, job-hopped a lot, we frequently found ourselves living in states far from the one my grandparents lived in. For several years, we (two adults and three kids) would get in the Kaiser (the car before the Studebaker) and drive from Ft. Worth, or Roswell, or Albuquerque, or Minot to the small town of Newton, Iowa, in order to spend Christmas with my grandparents. And, because we couldn't be in two places at the same time, we would spend Christmas Eve at my paternal grandparent's house where we kids got to open the presents they gave us, and we would spend Christmas morning at the maternal grandparents where we opened the gifts they gave us. In later years, after the grandparents were gone and we stayed home, the tradition morphed into we only got to open one present on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas morning. The latter tradition got passed down to our kids and then from them to their kids.

Because we kids were always shaking the gift-wrapped packages and trying to guess what items were inside, the folks would often resort to trickery. Sometimes, the package contained only a single note which led to a treasure hunt to find another note or more, while the real gift was concealed behind the couch or in a closet. Loose marbles might be placed inside a gift box to roll around and confuse the receiver of the gift, or an inflated small balloon might be taped to the box before it was gift-wrapped. The gift giver was only restrained by his or her imagination.

Food itself often became a holiday tradition. My German grandmother always made a gooseberry pie for my dad and a rhubarb (not cut with strawberries or other fruit) pie for me. My pie always had sugar crystals on the top crust. Plus, she made her pie crusts with homemade lard. My mom was the last in the line of pie makers to make her pie crusts with Crisco. Both grandma and mom cooked up cranberries in sugar water to serve at the Christmas table. None of that weak cranberry sauce in a can. In later years, mom added marshmallows to the boiling mixture and stirred them in until they melted. When the mixture cooled in the refrigerator, a beautiful white froth raised to the surface of the cranberry sauce. It makes for a nice presentation. I still make my cranberry sauce in the same way.

And, don't forget those retold Christmas stories that come out from Christmas Past. Like the year my folks gave me a B-B gun, but I wasn't allowed to handle it until after dad gave me safety lessons. My dad then inadvertently put a B-B into the ceiling. That was a quick end to Lesson One. Mom was not happy with the new addition to the ceiling in her living room. Of course, the year I got an electric train, I had to wait until my dad and uncles got through playing with it before I could start.

Naturally, kids could be mischievous too. Like the year I rigged the stairs at my aunt's house with string and camel bells so us kids would be awakened when Santa came. Unfortunately, one of my uncles tripped the camel bell alarm system way too early on his way to the bathroom.

Regardless of your religion, I'm sure you have your own traditions, foods and family stories. Now is the time to lay aside any thoughts of hard times you may have had in life and instead warm your heart with any of the pleasant memories you might have. And, if you want to share those warm memories of good times, please feel free to tell those stories here.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS to all.....

Now go make some new family traditions to talk about.

       .....and may 2024 be a year of many publications !!!

30 December 2023

2023 in Review


Another year's almost done, and I'm posting an easy-to-write column today: a look back at the stories I've published in the past twelve months. It's a task that's occasionally fun and occasionally disappointing. Sometimes editors seem to welcome me into their publications with grins and open arms, and sometimes they kick me off their doorsteps and then throw my hat after me like a frisbee. As it turned out, this was a good year, writingwise--a little better than 2022, not quite as good as 2021--and I guess I can't complain.

Here are some observations about my 2023 literary output and thought processes:


- I had 57 short stories published this year, and have 34 more in my PENDING file (accepted but not yet published). The reason that pending number sounds high is that 16 of those have been accepted for a 2024 (or early 2025) collection of my "detective" stories. 

- I wrote 25 new stories in 2023, fewer than usual, but many of those were longer stories, so maybe my typing fingers didn't know the difference.

- For the first time ever, I had almost as many stories published in anthologies as in magazines, if you count markets like Crimeucopia and Two-Minute Mini-Mysteries as anthologies. I think the reason I had more stories in anthologies than usual--even though I didn't see as many open-submission antho calls as I used to--was that (1) several anthologies chose to publish some of my reprints and (2) a good many others were invitations to submit themed stories--and I try hard to say yes to those. I don't always, but I try.

- Far more of my stories in 2023 were firmly mystery/crime than any other genre. Specifically, five of the others were Westerns--I love 'em--and four were SF/fantasy. Two more were a combination of Western and fantasy (picture the movie Cowboys and Aliens--or at least the concept behind it). One was published in an anthology called, if you can believe it, Monster Fight at the O.K. Corral. That one was a LOT of fun to write!

- Most of my magazine stories appeared in seven markets: AHMM, Strand Magazine, Mystery Magazine, Woman's World, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and Black Cat Weekly. Nothing unusual, there. But I had a story in every issue of the Strand this year, which was unusual.

- I had only three private-eye stories published in 2023, two of them in Michael Bracken-edited anthologies. (Eight more PI tales have been accepted and are awaiting publication.) Andrew McAleer and the late Paul Marks are the ones who got me started writing about private investigators, for a 2017 anthology called Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, and Michael published my first magazine private-eye story, "Mustang Sally," in 2020's Special PI Issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine. I owe a great debt to all three of those editors, because (as I realize now) that kind of story is always interesting to write; I'd just never before gotten around to trying it.


- I'm repeating myself here, but for the second year in a row, most of my original stories published were longer than what I've usually written. I've tried to put a reason to that, and I don't think there is one. The storylines that pop into my head recently just seem to take longer to tell.

- In 2023, as in the previous year, I had three stories appear in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. I was fortunate there, because that doesn't happen to me often. Over the years my AHMM stories have usually been, alas, spaced much farther apart. Two of those three this year were installments in a series. 

- Not that it matters, but since we're talking about statistics, about a fourth of my published stories this year were installments from four different mystery series. Those series feature (1) Sheriff Ray Douglas, (2) PI Tom Langford, (3) Angela Potts & Chunky Jones, and (4) Fran & Lucy Valentine. The rest of my     2023 stories were standalones. 

- Around two-thirds of my stories were in third-person POV, none were present tense, and none were set outside the U.S. And, as it turns out, only two of my stories this year were published outside the U.S.

- Three of my anthology publications in 2023 were in music-themed anthologies. In all, I think I've now published seven stories in anthos with music themes (four of those were edited by Josh Pachter), and several more have been accepted and are upcoming. Not sure why that topic has become so popular in recent years, but I admit those stories are always fun to write, and to read. (How could they not be?--For each story, you have a specific song in your head the whole time you're writing it.)

- I think about two-thirds of my this-year's stories could be called lighthearted instead of gritty. Not necessarily funny, but they didn't take themselves too seriously. Violencewise, most would probably carry the literary equivalent of a PG-13 rating, and some were PG.

- Almost three-quarters of this year's stories were set here in the South. Part of that is probably laziness. Not only am I more comfortable writing about locations I'm familiar with, they also require less research. Another part of it is that--as I mentioned--I didn't have as many Westerns published this year as I normally do. 

One thing I haven't said, here: Every magazine I mentioned also rejected at least one of my stories this year. Sad but true.


What have you noticed about the stories you've published, or submitted, or written, in 2023? Is the structure, content, genre, etc., the same as, or similar to, what you've done in the past? Any experimentation or big changes? Have you tried any new or different markets? Any success there? Please let me know, in the comments section.

Meanwhile, I hope all of you had a great Christmas, and I wish everyone a happy and successful new year, lifewise and writingwise. 

See you next Saturday . . . which IS next year.

29 December 2023

Let Them Want More

Got an email from a reader who said my book GILDED TIME left her in tears. She re-read the ending three times and it brought tears to her eyes. The book does not have a sad ending but I knew what she meant. Damn, I did my job. I'd purposefully left the storyline with an open ending. I stopped following the characters, let them walk off the scene, let the reader walk off wondering what would happen next.

A lot of writers do this. The hard part is to create characters the reader doesn't want to leave.

She asked if there would be a sequel and I wrote back I didn't think so. Everything I wanted to say was in the book. I told her to let her mind take the characters wherever she wanted them to go.

Took a moment to look back at some of my other books and realized how many of them ended similarly, like BATTLE KISS, USS RELENTLESS and especially DEATH ANGELS.

Series novels come with an automatic more to come. Unless the writer gets tired of following the main character around and writing his/her adventures. Haven't reached that point with any of my series characters. Yet.

It's all a process. SleuthSayers blogs have lots of advice, lots of suggestions on how to write. Some excellent information. Y'all who are new to following us, go back and read some of them.

For now, well, have a Happy New Year.

GILDED TIME a novel of the Gilded Age by O'Neil De Noux. Here is a sneak preview of the audiobook narrated by Gabriel Jose Perez. The narration is dynamite. The novel is already available as a trade paperback and eBook at amazon dot com.



That's all for now,


28 December 2023

Closing out the Year with Some Loose Ends

First of all, there's no "auld lang syne" in my house.  My husband Allan and I are more than happy to see the end of 2023 because it's been a hard year. A very hard year.

It started off with a call from a Florida detective to tell us that Allan's son, Eric, died in his sleep (he was only 53). It was the kind of call that we knew was coming (he'd been living on the beaches in Florida for 10-15 years), but it's still horrific when it comes. And never to be forgotten. 

Anyway, we started making plans as to what to do about the body... 

And then came a fight between exes, etc., for Eric's body, which got so complicated that I wasn't sure if I wasn't in "The Wrong Box", or "The Comedy of Terrors", or a soon to be a new version of "Vacation at Bernie's".  Among other things, there was a semi-fraudulent so-called mortician, another real mortician who turned out to be a drunk, and a torrential rain storm… 

I'm still juggling it all around in my head. But sooner or later, I'll figure out a way to write about it in a story.  As we all know, everything's grist to the mill to a writer.  

Also, Allan was in the hospital 4 times this year, March, May, July, and December (he just got out last week, barely in time for Christmas) for low blood pressure, then COPD exacerbation, for internal bleeding, and the last time for another COPD exacerbation. Our calendar is full of doctors' appointments, so we're having an active social life. Of sorts.  

Meanwhile, dear friends, this is why no Christmas cards have gone out in the continental United States...

As for me, I'm a bit fragile myself (I've been diagnosed with migraine headaches, when I always thought it was just really bad sinus trouble, on top of the a long-ago diagnosis of arthritis and osteoporosis), but I manage to take care of Allan pretty well. 

The good news is that Allan has done 3 portraits and is currently working on a memorial sculpture. 

And I'm still writing and getting published in various magazines and anthologies. The latest is "The Four Directions" in Black Cat Weekly #120 December 17, 2023.


And now for some loose ends of stories I can't forget or just found out about:

Back on Nov. 2nd, in my "Crime and Punishment" blogpost (HERE), I brought up the case of Arnold March, 91, who was arrested for shooting his son.  But the story never mentioned the son's name, and nothing else was said for quite a while.  Well, there's finally been an update:  

Earlier this week, 91-year-old Arnold March was arrested and charged with attempted murder for shooting his son. Since the incident, Dan March, who was at first NOT identified by authorities, has gone through three surgeries to fix the gunshot wound to his arm.  Dan was transferred to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and a family member started a GoFundMe to try and help cover some of the medical expenses.  (HERE)  

And then there's a new one:  I would like to say I've heard it all, but this one has me going WTF? 

"A man was shot dead in the parking lot of the YMCA on November 15, 2023. [Police Capt. Tanner] Jondahl said, officers have determined two vehicles pulled into the parking lot and one person shot the other in the north entrance of the YMCA parking lot." While they finally named the victim - 70 year old Donald Michael Heinz - four days later, the shooter has not yet been named, nor have any charges been filed. “We want to have all the evidence before making a charging decision,” Brown County State's Attorney Winter said.  (HERE)  (Who is the shooter related to anyway? T. Denny Sanford?)


Meanwhile, going back to hospitals and doctors and such, it's my confirmed decision that what is desperately needed in this country are hospital doulas, who (if you've been in hospital for a certain number of days) will go home and/or meet you at your home and help you the first day back.  I had to bring every piece of home medical equipment to the hospital so they "could see if it was doing a good job for him", and then, the last day, lug it all back home, and then hook it all up again, AND go get new prescriptions, and did I mention dinner time?  Seriously.  GIVE US DOULAS!!!!  


But let's leave this year on a good note:  I remember, back in 1970 or was it 71? Sitting in the back of the Whisky a Go-Go in L.A., on  Sunset Strip, getting a little – okay, a LOT – merry, while John Mayall played on stage…

So here's my annual farewell to the year, an oldie but a goodie, "Farewell December" by John Mayall.

Time for reflection…
Winter is here
Goodbye December
The passing away of a year…

Watching the day of the wind
Blowing the dirt from the sky
Clearing the air for tomorrow
Bidding December goodbye

Make celebration...
Another year is gone
Now part of history
Got to be moving along…

Look for the sunrise…
Old days are dead
Goodbye December
Got a big future ahead

        — John Mayall

27 December 2023

Bread & Circuses

I’m not sure whether this is a parable, a trope, or a template – I’m sure there’s a term, a part of speech, an expression in Fowler, synecdoche, perhaps?  (I had to look that up.)  Something that happens, or you happen upon, that appears to illustrate some larger truth. 


I bought a loaf of Pepperidge Farm bread a week or so ago, Sweet Hawaiian, as it happens, and when I went to buy it again, it was nowhere to be found.  At first, I figured I’d gone to a different store than usual, Smith’s instead of Albertson’s, but then I ran into an Orowheat guy, stocking shelves at Sprouts, and he told me he guessed Pepperidge Farm was giving up on the northern New Mexico market, because they couldn’t find anybody to take over the route.  I’m like, What?  Pepperidge Farm was a local staple, when I was growing up.  They were a New England brand, like Hood milk, or Narragansett beer, or Nehi.  Later, they rolled out nationally, and nowadays you can find their cookies at a CVS, or Walgreens.  Milk chocolate macadamia is no longer a specialty item.  But what was up with the bread?

There have been a lot of problems with the supply chain, lately.  It has to do primarily with businesses not carrying inventory, and depending on distributorships.  We’ve all gotten used to immediate gratification, Amazon delivering on demand.  The problem comes when the world runs out of toilet paper, or salt, or any other commodity, and the system clanks to a halt.  All those container ships anchored off of Long Beach, waiting to unload sneakers.

Another possible villain in this narrative is vertical integration.  A single corporate structure is responsible for too many steps; in other words, the company’s work philosophy is manifest all up and down the chain of command, and whether that philosophy is loose and intuitive, or uptight and hierarchal, the law of diminishing returns sets in.  One example would be publishing.  There used to be dozens of trade publishers putting out books, and now there are essentially the five majors.  It hasn’t turned out all that well for writers, or books, or the publishing industry at large.  I’m sorry, am I wrong about this?  The more you consolidate, the less diverse your results.  It seems self-evident.  Any one true church enforces orthodoxy. 

The place this leads me is the diminishing marketplace of ideas.  There’s less competition.   The loudest voices shout down our conversation, and suck all the air out of the room.  Your product won’t get shelf space, even if it’s the hottest thing since sliced bread.

I really want this coming New Year to be better, to show some promise, and give us hope.  Here we are in the season of the shortest days, and the longest nights.  But as my pal Alice used to say, the day after the winter solstice is the first day of summer.  Each morning is brighter.  It’s hard to believe in, when the hours are so dark.  I can only suggest we nourish ourselves, and turn toward the light. 

                                                      photo credit: Carole Aine Langrall

26 December 2023

Boxing: Round One

    December 26th, as all British mystery fans know, is recognized as Boxing Day. The holiday never became established in the United States. Boxing Day rose to prominence in the Victorian Era. By then the United States had separated from the United Kingdom and were busily creating our own holidays. 

    Within the early Christian calendar, the day was, and for some remains, St. Stephen's Day. December 26th commemorates the early Christian deacon and First Century CE martyr. St. Stephen, by tradition, dedicated his life in service to the poor. 

    Celtic people began celebrating Wren Day on December 26th. A dead wren was mounted on a pole and paraded through the village streets. The wren boys knocked on doors asking for money. In exchange, they gave the household a tail feather. The plume is supposed to bring good luck (Unless of course, you're the wren). At least one legend binds these two tales together. St. Stephen, although he was just Mr. Stephen at the time, was hiding from his enemies behind a bush. A chattering wren revealed his location to his captors. Different versions are reported, but in each story, the wren is labeled as treacherous. 

    In the spirit of St. Stephen, the money collected was to be donated to worthy charities. 

    At least two different origin stories exist for Boxing Day. The predominant one holds that during Victorian England, wealthy landowners presented gifts to servants and the poor on the day after Christmas. The servants had to work Christmas Day preparing their employer's feast. The day after, they were allowed to celebrate the holiday with their families. The landowners ate informal meals consisting of leftovers. The servants were provided with boxes containing money, hand-me-down clothing, and other goods, as well as leftovers from the family meal. These Christmas boxes lend their name to the day. 

    The other common theory holds that on the day after Christmas, the church opened the alms boxes, and the parish distributed the proceeds to the needy. 

    Victorians also often spent December 26th outside. After Christmas Day, inside a house jammed with relatives, the urge to get into the open air, burn pent-up energy, and get space from the family proved overwhelming. The hunt became a popular Boxing Day activity. Presumably, if wrens were killed, they would be distributed to Irish friends and subsequently hung from poles. 

    A host of traditions have come together to make this day after Christmas a holiday for more than just post-yuletide retail therapy. 

    One December holiday tradition important to the SleuthSayers community is the announcement of the Black Orchid Novella Award winner. Since 2006, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and The Wolfe Pack, the Nero Wolfe Literary Society, have been recognizing novellas. Robert Lopresti and Steve Liskow are past recipients of the award. Back in 2016, I submitted "A Meter of Murder" to the contest.  In "Meter," John Milton, the blind 17th-century author of Paradise Lost, served as the sleuth. The committee chose my story and inducted me into the community of published short story authors. I remain indebted to them.

    My congratulations, therefore, to Libby Cudmore for her winning story, "Alibi in Ice." We'll get to read her tale in the summer issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

  I'm circling back to a Milton story, sort of, in the January/February issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. In "The Devil in the Details," an English professor finds inspiration for his misdeeds in the words of Paradise Lost. As always, I'm honored to be included in the pages of the magazine, this time alongside fellow 'sleuthers, Robert Lopresti and Michael Bracken. Now here is a tradition I'd love to continue throughout 2024.

    Whatever your holiday traditions include, I hope that you enjoy them with family and friends either inside or outside. May all your books and stories sell. And if your holiday tradition involves wren slaughtering, may the SPCA never find your home address. 

    Nollaig Shona Dhuit. (Google tells me that's a holiday greeting in Irish.) 

    Until next year.

25 December 2023

Honorable Heroes

Jan Grape
Jan Grape

Despite what some in our country have said or even still say, and despite the public's lack of remembrances on D-Day and Pearl Harbor Day, the 7th of December, I still like to remember and honor WW-II veterans. Maybe because it's been over 82 years since Pearl Harbor was bombed. While the wars afterwards, like Korea, Viet Nam are in the distant, 70 and 48 years ago, respectively, too many people think of them as ancient history. My children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren should all know of those historical days and learn about things that happened during my father's life-time and my life-time.

You should know heroes come in all shapes and colors and religions and backgrounds and perhaps even other planets. Sometimes it might be a family member of some person you know and love. Like even a best friend's husband.

Like this young man, Courtenay Wright who was born and raised in Canada.

He was 16 when Germany declared war on Britain and France. He immediately wanted to enlist, but needed his mother's permission. She refused, saying he must finish his undergrad studies first. He immediately enrolled at the University of British Columbia, attending around the clock and finishing with a degree in physics at age 19.

A week later Courtenay, joined the Canadian Navy and almost was immediately seconded to the Royal Fleet. Canada had agreed to provide engineering and physics students to the British Navy to train in the new field of radar and work on British warships.

Courtenay Wright
Courtenay Wright

At age 20, Courtenay was the radar officer on the HMS Apollo which took Eisenhower and Montgomery to Normandy beaches. He was the officer on duty when the coded signal came in from the Admiralty. He was the first person in the world to know the exact time and destination of the landing as he translated the radar message and hand carried it to the head of the fleet. This historical day, is also known as June 6, 1944 D-Day. The troops landing at Normandy, which was the beginning of the end of Germany and WW-II.

The BBC once interviewed Courtenay Wright, former Royal Navy Lieutenant, long-time professor physics at the University of Chicago, and if you haven't yet guessed, he was husband of mystery novelist Sara Paretsky. The young interviewer wanted to know what had it felt like, the thrill, the awe, whatever emotion Courtenay could remember from that moment.

Sara Paretsky (young)
Sara Paretsky (older)
Sara Paretsky

Courtenay kept saying, "It was my job. I was doing my duty." That overrode any sense of being special. No hero or glory in this man's mind or being.

Sara says, "Courtenay had the highest sense of duty and the highest level of integrity and morality of anyone I have ever known."

I personally never met Professor Wright, sadly he passed away in 2018 age age 95, but he was a hero. He certainly was not "a loser or a sucker" as an ex-President once said about soldiers or military persons.

We don't just have war heroes. They may be law enforcement, fire-fighters, first responders, life-guards or your own dad or wife or signifigent other. They seldom ever talk about it and if you ask them they usually smile. "I was just doing my job. Or I just happened to be there at the right time."

Overboard (novel)

Professor Wright worked with scientists of his day, including Enrico Fermi, and was one of the scientists who wrote to the president advising against using atomic weapons in Southeast Asia. Men like Courtenay Wright are honorable heroes because of their life-long work to keep all of us safe.

May all your heroes know you care for them this Christmas Day. May Santa fill your stocking with acceptance letters and royalty checks and may we all have PEACE from wars wherever they may be waging. And bring home all hostages NOW, please, Santa.

24 December 2023

Christmas Eve in 3D

Many years ago, SleuthSayers published a charming animated version of White Christmas as sung by the Drifters. This year I stumbled upon a 3D version. Given an excuse to compare and contrast whilst enjoying the Drifters, here are the two versions. Enjoy and a have a wonderful Christmas.

White Christmas, © 1942, composed by Irving Berlin, performed 1954 by the Drifters featuring Bill Pinkney (bass) and Clyde McPhatter (tenor).
  Original 2D animation by Joshua Held


  3D animation Dominique Gervais & Karen Dufour


Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

23 December 2023

Bad Santa! (More humour, and pass the scotch)

Santa, I have a complaint. 

Put bluntly, you are simply not up to the task anymore.  

In fact, I am going to suggest that if there IS a Santa, he is doing a terrible job and needs to be replaced.

Let me explain.

After the events of today, I'm about to propose a new category of writing award, one that has been previously overlooked.  One that, at the very least,  I feel would add great amusement to our field:

Unluckiest Author of the Year

                                                 (this is me)  

Ideally, this would be a money-winning category, but no doubt if I won it, the cheque would be lost in the mail.

To wit:

Friends will remember that - exactly two years ago - the entire 2nd printing of my YA book Crime Club fell off a container ship into the Pacific Ocean (along with 17 other containers).  Just in time for Christmas sales.

(Pass the scotch.)

Santa, we had a long talk about that.

This year, I've had a thrilling thing happen.  I had a column in The Globe and Mail (Toronto and National editions) that was picked up by Reader's Digest for Canadian and World Rights. In addition, they asked me to write more for them. As one industry person put it, Reader's Digest is the "pinnacle archive of our times."  So it was kind of a big deal, for me.

Headline in The Globe and Mail today:


(Pass the scotch.)

The column was to appear in the Feb. 2024 issue.  I sent my invoice yesterday.  

To be fair, the door that is closing is the Canadian issue.  The column might still appear in Lichtenstein and Bolivia - who knows?

But I'm willing to bet all my royalties from the 2nd printing of Crime Club (ha-ha), that this invoice will go unpaid.

Really, Santa, can't you do something about all this bad stuff happening right before Christmas?  I mean, one understands that there's no good time for bad things to happen.


Have a heart, Big Guy!  I'm starting to lose faith in you.  Oh, what's that you say?   Your goal is to give me 'spectacularly zany' material with which to continue my comedy career?

All I can say is, there better be a lot of scotch under the tree this year.


The real me, before scotch.





22 December 2023

Holiday Tradition: A Very Tom Waits Christmas - An Homage to the Master

Author's Note: I've posted this annually, more or less, every year since the mid-2000s. It's going here this year.

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
Christmas Eve was dark, and the snow fell like cocaine off some politician’s coffee table
Rudolph looked to the sky. He had a shiny nose, but it was from too much vodka
He said, “Boys, it’s gonna be a rough one this year.”

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
The elves scrambled to pack up the last of the lumps of coal for deserving suburban brats
And a bottle of Jamie for some forgotten soul whose wife just left him
Santa’s like that. He’s been there.
Oh, he still loves Mrs. Claus, a spent piece of used sleigh trash who
Makes good vodka martinis, knows when to keep her mouth shut
But it’s the loneliness, the loneliness only Santa knows

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
And the workshop reeks of too much peppermint
The candy canes all have the names of prostitutes
And Santa stands there, breathing in the loneliness
The loneliness that creeps out of the main house
And out through the stables
Sometimes it follows the big guy down the chimneys
Wraps itself around your tannenbaum and sleeps in your hat

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
We all line up for the annual ride
I’m behind Vixen, who’s showin’ her age these days
She has a certain tiredness that comes with being the only girl on the team
Ah, there’s nothing wrong with her a hundred dollars wouldn’t fix
She’s got a tear drop tattooed under her eye now, one for every year Dancer’s away

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh and
I asked myself, “That elf. What’s he building in there?”
He has no elf friends, no elf children
What’s he building in there?
He doesn’t make toys like the other elves
I heard he used to work for Halliburton,
And he’s got an ex-wife in someplace called Santa Claus, Pennsylvania
But what’s he building in there?
We got a right to know.

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
And we’re off
Off into the night
Watching the world burn below
All chimney red and Halloween orange

I’ve seen it all
I’ve seen it all
Every Christmas Eve, I’ve seen it all

There’s nothing sadder than landing on a roof in a town with no cheer.

21 December 2023

Not Just Another Year’s End “Best Of” List

 First things first: Happy Holidays!

Here we are, half-a-week before Christmas, and Year's End "Best Of" lists are bustin' out all over, as usual. Is this going to be one of those lists?




I always admire people who dedicate themselves to spending the year making a point of reading deeply and broadly across a genre for the duration of the calendar year, in order to be able to authoritatively fill out this sort of list.

Mostly because I don't possess that sort of dedication.

Over the course of my writing career I have allowed myself to be talked in to judging for established writing awards a number of times (which number? TOO MANY! That's the number!), and have borne the sacrifices made in exchange for access to a staggering number of recently published mystery/crime fiction books. The year I judged the best novel award for Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Awards, the members of the committee I served on each received 512 (Yes, you read right: FIVE-HUNDRED-AND-TWELVE) separate entries for Best Novel that year. I read all or part of each of them.

In light of this experience, I tend to take year-end "Best Of" lists with a heavy dose of salt. Because no one in their right mind is going to stay much on top of what's getting published that year unless they're getting free copies shoved down their collective throats by publishers eager to win the lottery of having a prize-winning author they can promote and whose sales an award such as this could only add to.

Does that mean I don't value year-end "Best Of" lists? Or that I suspect them of somehow being "fake"?

Absolutely not.

I cannot, however, escape the notion that lists such as this, no matter how authoritative, cannot be either objective or in any meaningful way comprehensive. This is assuming, of course, that said list is compiled by a single person, and not, say, a team of people. That sort of list would be a different animal altogether.

And so I make the following disclaimer: what you will see below is a subjective list of the books I enjoyed reading most, over the course of this year, 2023. Some of these books were published this year, and some weren't. Some are mystery/crime fiction and some are not. For my money each of the entries below is well-written and thus, well worth your time.

And Now For a Brief (and completely RANDOM) "Best Of" List:


Best PI Novel: Sunset and Jericho by Sam Wiebe

1920s San Francisco had Dashiell Hammett. '30s/'40s/'50s Los Angeles had Raymond Chandler. New York City has....well...take your pick: Matt Scudder, Mike Hammer, Nero Wolfe, etc.

And 21st century Vancouver has Sam Wiebe.

This book, the latest in Wiebe's incredible "Wakeland" series, does to the city of Vancouver what director John Ford's cavalry movies did to Monument Valley: it takes the setting of the story and makes of it another character. 

And it was actually published this year!

All of Sam Wiebe's books are great. This one is no exception. Highest recommendation.

Benjamin Brown French
Best Memoir I Read NOT Written in 2023: Witness to the Young Republic: A Yankee's Journal, 1828-1870 by Benjamin Brown French

First a state legislator in New Hampshire, then for several years Clerk of the United States House of Representatives, and eventually the long-serving Commissioner of Public Buildings in Washington, D.C., first under old friend and fellow New Hampshire Democrat President Franklin Pierce (whom French felt had every advantage in seeking reelection, and squandered it all, and whom French eventually dismissed as a "fool.") and eventually under both Abraham Lincoln (whose wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, ever referred to as "The Queen") and Andrew Johnson during the American Civil War, Benjamin Brown French was an interesting character, who brought a ready wit, an incisive view of humanity and a skilled diarist's approach to serving as an eye witness to History over the course of nearly 40 years spent in public service. For anyone who thinks Washington, D.C. has never been quite like it is now, French's writings tend to reinforce the notion that quite the contrary, nothing much seems to have changed over the past 150 plus years.

Best Book About a Mutiny: Sailing the Graveyard Sea: The Deathly Voyage of the Somers, the U.S. Navy's Only Mutiny, and the Trial That Gripped the Nation by Richard Snow

Historian Richard Snow, who went to work right out of college at Columbia University for American Heritage Magazine, where he eventually worked his way up to editor of the publication (1990-2007) has, since his retirement, carved a second career as an author of riveting accounts of such signal events in maritime history as the World War II Battle of the Atlantic (A Measureless Peril: America in the Fight for the Atlantic, the Longest Battle of World War II) and the Civil War clash between ironclads the C.S.S Virginia, and the U.S.S. Monitor (Iron Dawn: the Monitor, the Merrimack, and the Civil War Sea Battle that Changed History). Published this year, Sailing the Graveyard Sea is a welcome addition his previous works of maritime history: an authoritative account of the only "attempted mutiny" in the history of the United States Navy. And the "mutiny" is only the beginning. The resulting scandal rocked the nation, even causing fist-fight during a presidential cabinet meeting between the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of the Treasury (who just happened to be the father of one of the hanged "mutineers."). A must-read for students of history and politics alike!

Best Historical Mystery: The Second Murderer: a Philip Marlowe Novel by Denise Mina 

Best-selling Scottish crime novelist Denise Mina is likely best known for her award-winning series featuring Glasgow journalist Paddy Meehan. And rightly so. It's a great series, and Mina has demonstrated herself time and again to be one hell of a writer.

Mina has also demonstrated her unwillingness to be boxed in as a writer of just one kind of fiction. In addition to her novels, she's penned a number of plays–including a radio play broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 2009–and several comic books for DC Comics' Vertigo imprint.

So of course it ought to come as no surprise that she is game for taking a whack at writing a novel continuing one of the most successful PI novel series of all time: Raymond Chandler's iconic Philip Marlowe series. I read this novel (released this year, 2023), in addition to the others commissioned in turn by the Chandler estate. I reviewed Mina's work here (and the work of the likes of Robert B. Parker, Benjamin Black and Lawrence Osborne in their takes on Chandler's "tarnished knight errant" here.).

To be brief: The Second Murderer is, for me, the best of the lot, hands down.

But don't just take my word for it: read it for yourself. You'll be glad you did!

And this concludes my oddly specific unspecific, completely random listing of books I enjoyed the Hell out of this year. 

Next time around it will be 2024, and we'll have all new things to talk about.

Until then, Happy Holidays, and Safe Travels for those of you traveling during this holiday season!

See you in two weeks!

20 December 2023

A Christmas Carol Chronology

 I whipped this chart up a few years ago and have updated it every December.  Seems like this might be a good place for it.

One interesting thing I learned this year: "Up On the Housetop" (I learned it as "Up on the Rooftop"), which is apparently the oldest song about Santa Claus, was written by a minister, of all people.  Didn't he know that we aren't supposed to secularize Christmas?  The gentleman in question was Benjamin Hanby, who was also an abolitionist.  His second most famous song, "Darling Nelly Gray," is from the viewpoint of a enslaved man whose beloved has been sold away.  Some say it is the musical equivalent of Uncle Tom's Cabin in terms of converting people to abolitionism.

If you want a crime element consider that the music for the "Carol of the Bells" (one of my favorites) was composed by Mykola Leontovych, a Ukrainian, who was murdered by a Soviet spy.

And, while I didn't include it on my list, the murder that the song "Staggerlee" is based on  took place on December 25th, 1895, so I guess it's a Christmas carol?  If Die Hard is a Christmas movie, anyway...

Start pulling on the strings of folksongs and you find all kinds of interesting connections.

One more thing: What do these songs have in common?  Answer is in the comments.

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Deck the Halls

Frosty the Snowman

Jingle Bell Rock

Jingle Bells

Let it Snow

Sleigh Ride

Winter Wonderland

19 December 2023

The Best Private Eye Stories of the Year

As we celebrate the holidays and wrap up 2023, we’ll soon be reviewing this year’s accomplishments and making our plans (let’s not call them resolutions!) for the coming year. I’ll certainly do that in my first post of the new year—as I’ve been doing each year even before joining SleuthSayers. For my last post of this year, though, I’m announcing a new anthology series that will have me spending more time walking the mean streets: The Best Private Eye Stories of the Year.

Though my original goal was to become a science fiction/fantasy writer and my first professional fiction sale was a fantasy (“The Magic Stone,” Young World, November 1978), my second pro sale was a private eye story (“City Desk,” Gentleman’s Companion, January 1983). Technically, the protagonist was a newspaper reporter, but the Private Eye Writers of America includes reporters within their broad definition of private eye.

Since then, I’ve written dozens of private eye stories and one private eye novel, was nominated for a Shamus Award, edited several private eye anthologies for Betancourt & Co. and Down & Out Books, served on a handful of Shamus Award committees, served one term as vice president of the PWA, and gave the keynote address at the 2019 Shamus Awards Banquet in Dallas. So, I’ve been a regular visitor to the mean streets.

And now, as series editor of The Best Private Eye Stories of the Year, thanks to Level Best Books, I can celebrate the best short stories in a sub-genre that has played a significant role in my crime fiction writing career.

Joining me as guest editor of the inaugural edition is Matt Coyle, a writer I’ve faced across the poker table at several Bouchercons and who has a special place in Temple’s heart because she won a copy of his Night Tremors at her first Bouchercon (New Orleans 2016).

Joining us to write a year in review essay is Kevin Burton Smith, the driving force behind ThrillingDetective.com and the author of numerous articles and essays about private eye fiction. Though I didn’t meet Kevin until this year’s Bouchercon in San Diego, we’ve crossed paths several times in the virtual world, and he published one of my PI stories (“My Client’s Wife,” Spring 2007), back when Thrilling Detective published fiction.

There’s more information about Matt and Kevin in the official media release (below), as well as a link to information about how writers, editors, and fans can bring PI stories to my attention for possible inclusion in the inaugural edition of The Best Private Eye Stories of the Year.


The Best Private Eye Stories of the Year, an annual anthology celebrating the best private eye short stories published each year, will be released by Level Short, an imprint of Level Best Books, beginning in 2025. The inaugural edition will honor the best PI stories published in 2024.

Series editor Michael Bracken welcomes Matt Coyle as guest editor for the first volume and notes that Kevin Burton Smith will contribute “The Year in Review,” an essay looking at the year’s significant events in private eye fiction.

Matt Coyle is the Anthony Award, Lefty Award, and two-time Shamus Award winning author of the long-running Rick Cahill series. He was named the 2021 Mystery Writer of the Year by the San Diego Writer’s Festival, and he has received the San Diego Book Award for Best Mystery as well as a silver Ben Franklin Award for Best New Voice in Fiction. He has also been nominated for Barry, Derringer, and Macavity awards.

Kevin Burton Smith is the creator and driving force behind The Thrilling Detective Web Site, founded in 1998, and he has written extensively about private eye fiction for Mystery Scene, January Magazine, The Rap Sheet, Deadly Pleasures, and many others. He has also spoken on the subject at numerous mystery conventions, and on radio and television.

Michael Bracken, the Anthony Award-nominated editor or co-editor of more than two dozen published and forthcoming anthologies, is a consulting editor at Level Short, editor of Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and associate editor of Black Cat Weekly. Also a writer, Bracken is the Edgar- and Shamus-nominated, Derringer-winning author of more than 1,200 short stories, including crime fiction published in The Best American Mystery Stories and The Year’s Best Mystery Stories.

Only private eye stories published in English during 2024 will be considered. For a complete description of submission requirements, visit https://www.crimefictionwriter.com/submissions.html.

Learn more about series editor Michael Bracken at https://www.crimefictionwriter.com/; learn more guest editor Matt Coyle at https://mattcoylebooks.com/; learn more about Level Best Books at https://www.levelbestbooks.us/.

Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 4 (Down & Out Books) was released December 11, 2023.

Homecoming” appeared in Yellow Mama, December 15, 2023.

Jolly Fat Man” appeared in Kings River Life, December 18, 2023.

18 December 2023

Writing, writing, writing.

            You really don’t have to write every day.  You can avoid writing for a week, and then spend two days developing carpal tunnel by writing non-stop.  It’s up to you.  The point is to write a lot, because not writing is not writing.  Writing a lot is like playing the guitar a lot.  The more you do, the better you’ll get.  That’s the only advice I feel confident giving. 

            No one has the exact formula.  For you.  Read everything all the writing coaches have to say, then set your own course.  

            In the same way, listen to all the advice from other writers (including this blog post), take it seriously, then do what you think you should.  You’re the goddess, or god, or you own work.  Only you know what will make it work.  And where you’ll do it.  You can have a quiet, private place somewhere in your apartment or house.  Or you can go to a loud bar.  It can be your back porch or your Uncle Bennie’s basement.  It’s yours to discover.  What other writers do is irrelevant.  Their proper place is probably not yours.

             You can try to game the market by writing what you think will sell.  You might hit it, you might not.  Some have done this, and they are now wealthy.  Most have not.  By most, I mean 99.999%.  Some of us win the lottery, some get fricasseed by lightning.  Ignore the press on these matters.  They only focus on the unicorns. 

            Expect to fail.  It’s a lot easier on your mental health than you think it is, because every failure is a lesson.  When you do make it, and you will if you try and have the talent, and don’t give up, it’ll be a pleasant surprise.  But don’t sit there thinking about how your work will succeed in a material way.  Or any way.  Don’t think at all about the idea of writing.  Just do it. 

When Glenn Frey was an aspiring rock musician he was befriended by Bob Seger.  Seger told him. “You know, if you want to make it, you’re gonna have to write your own songs."  And Frey said, "Well, what it they’re bad?”  And Seger replied, “Well, they’re gonna be bad.  You just keep writing and writing and eventually, you’ll write a good song.”           

Do the work you want to do.  What moves you, what makes you feel good to compose.  This is way more fun than trying to write about something you don’t care very much about.  And much more productive.  “Write what you know”, then, is good advice, but it’s not the whole story.  Sometimes writing what you simply imagine can be just as fruitful.  Science fiction is often the result.  But not always.  You can be interested in something you know nothing about, say high school curling competitions in Northern Minnesota.  All it takes is a little effort doing research (Googling, reading, watching a lot of curling matches, interviewing the Minnesota State Junior Curling Champion).  This can also be a lot of fun, and chances are good you’ll learn things that you never imagined, things about the subject that launch you in a totally  unexpected direction. 

           Writing begets writing.  It’s one of the magical things about it.  The very act of composition tends to generate ideas and plot moves, fresh characters, and voices and insights you didn’t know you had.  These are all unavailable to people who think about writing, but rarely actually write. 

When it comes to flexing the muscle, it doesn’t matter what you write, because everything is exercise.  So if you don‘t feel like advancing the novel, there’s nothing wrong with starting a short story.  Or finally writing to your Cousin Francine in Duluth (where they do a lot of curling.)  Essays are good practice.  And letters to the editor.  And outdoing your siblings for Funniest Birthday Card to Mom. 

Charlie Parker played the sax every day, all day and into the night.  His roommates report removing the instrument from his lips when he fell asleep.  Jimi Hendrix, from all accounts, was rarely seen without a guitar hanging from his shoulder.  Stephen King has written about 8 million words worth of novels alone.

It worked out for them.

17 December 2023


Think of a number, any single digit number between 1 and 400. Need a hint? Let’s refine it to the largest decimal digit, the square of 3, the square root of 81. Another clue? Count the number of Greek Muses. It’s the Hebrew Sabbath day of the month (23:32 וַיִּקְרָא), a number signifying truth and completeness. It’s the number of Brahma the Creator and At-Tawbah (ٱلتوبة‎), the nth Surah of the Holy Qur’an. It’s the atomic number of fluorine, the number of circles in Dante’s Inferno, and the number of innings in baseball. You guessed!

It’s also how high FeedSpot, a RSS feed reader, ranked SleuthSayers out of nearly 400 crime and mystery blogs it follows.

№ 9.

Wow. Rumors that SleuthSayers is respected and well regarded in the criminal community have reached this troglodyte’s outpost. That’s thanks to you, loyal reader (you know whom I’m talking about), and the dedication of two dozen of the smartest writers this side of Dorothy and Dashiell.

We have good company. I’ve read and interacted with other blogs I consider top-notch: Criminal Element (#1), Crimespree (#8), Crime Readers’ Association (#19), Murder is Everywhere (#28), Crime Time (#22), Criminal Minds (#32), Crime Space (#49), and Femmes Fatales (#69).

Look who else is featured: Rob Lopresti (#47) and Michael Bracken (#37).

The list contains a number of intriguing new-to-me crime sites. Although no trophies or fat prizes are awarded, it’s nice to be recognized and be ranked so high.

FeedSpot’s original list offers considerable detail as well as 300 additional entries, but check the list below to get a quick Who’s Who of the mystery blogging world. Again, thank you.

What do you think? Criminal minds want to know. And now, a selection from the list:

1. Criminal Element - Original crime stories, exclusive excerpts, blog posts, giveaways Criminal Element
New York, US
45 The Crime Segments Crime Segments
Florida, US
2. Crime Fiction Lover - The site for die hard crime & thriller fans Crime Fiction Lover
46 Indie Crime Scene Indie Crime Scene
3. Crime Reads Crime Reads
47 Little Big Crimes Little Big Crimes
Bellingham, Wash, US
4. Crime Writer Sue Coletta - Inside the mind of a crime writer Sue Coletta
48 International Noir Fiction International Noir
5. Crime by the Book Crime By The Book
New York, NY, US
49 Crime Space Crime Space
6. True Crime Diva True Crime Diva
50 Vintage Crime - Crime and spy fiction from Poe up to 1950 Vintage Crime
7. The Venetian Vase Venetian Vase
51 The Crime Fiction Writer's Forensics Blog Writer's Forensics
California, US
8. Crimespree Magazine Crime Spree Mag
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US
52 Crime Always Pays by Declan Burke Crime Always Pays
9. Sleuth Sayers SleuthSayers
Ca, Fr, NZ, UK, US, ZA
53 Detectives Beyond Borders Detectives > Borders
10 Do You Write Under Your Own Name? Under Your Name?
54 Jane Isaac - UK Crime Fiction Writer, Amazon Bestseller Jane Isaac
Northampton, England, UK
11 Crime Book Junkie Crime Book Junkie
55 True Crime Reader True Crime Reader
12 Kittling Books Kittling Books
Phoenix, Arizona, US
56 Scandinavian Crime Fiction Scandinavian Crime
13 SHOTS Shots Mag
57 Crime Scene NI Crime Scene N.I.
Northern Ireland, UK
14 The Rap Sheet The Rap Sheet
58 Unlawful Acts Unlawful Acts
Wilmington, Delaware, US
15 In Reference to Murder Blog In Reference To Murder
59 Where The Reader Grows Where Readers Grow
New York, US
16 BOLO BOOKS Bolo Books
Maryland, US
60 COL'S CRIMINAL LIBRARY Col's Criminal Library
England, UK
17 AustCrimeFiction | Australia & New Zealand Crime Fiction Reviews since 2006 Aust Crime Fiction
Victoria, Australia
61 Rowmark | The Pauline Rowson website crime novels, events, news and blog Rowmark
England, UK
18 Raven Crime Reads Raven Crime Reads
62 International Crime Fiction Research Group - Information and news about the activities of the Inter International Crime
Belfast, N.I, UK
19 Crime Writers/Readers Association Crime Writers' Assoc
63 TheCrimeHouse - Everything crime fiction The Crime House
20 Chapter In My Life Chapter In My Life
Glasgow, Scotland, UK
64 Steph Broadribb Steph Broadribb
London, England, UK
21 Hooked From Page One Hooked From Page 1
Essex, Ontario, Canada
65 Historical True Crime Detective Historical True Detective
22 Crime Time - There's always time for Crime..... Crime Time
66 Past Offences - Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews Past Offences
23 Euro Crime Euro Crime
67 The Crime Warp - Writers' and Readers' Perspectives | A blog reviewing crime fiction and int The Crime Warp
Bradford, England, UK
24 George Kelley George Kelley
N Tonawanda, NY, US
68 Keeper of Pages Keeper Of Pages
England, UK
25 Do Some Damage Do Some Damage
69 Femmes Fatales Femmes Fatales
26 Cross Examining Crime Cross-Examining Crime
England, UK
70 Jim Fisher True Crime Jim Fisher True Crime
Pennsylvania, US
27 A Crime Readers Blog Crime Reader's Blog
71 Chris Longmuir, Crime Writer Chris Longmuir
Montrose, Scotland, UK
28 Murder is Everywhere Murder Is Everywhere
72 Crime Time by Mathew Paust MD Paust
Hampton, Virginia, US
29 Type M for Murder Type M 4 Murder
73 Chillers Killers and Thrillers Chillers Killers Thrillers
London, England, UK
30 Promoting Crime Fiction Promoting Crime
74 Crime Fiction Ireland Crime Ire
Dublin, Ireland
31 Murder in Common Murder In Common
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
75 Unlawful Acts - Small Press Crime Fiction Unlawful Acts
32 Criminal Minds 7 Criminal Minds
76 Mystery Pod – Stephen Usery Mystery Pod
33 The Invisible Event The Invisible Event
London, England, UK
77 Crime Scraps Review - All about crime fiction Crime Scraps Review
England, UK
34 JOFFE BOOKS | Leading UK publisher of crime fiction, mysteries, thrillers Joffe Books
London, England, UK
78 Permission to Kill Permission to Kill
35 Cath Staincliffe Blog Cath Staincliffe
Manchester, England, UK
79 The Crime Review Crime Review
England, UK
36 Crime Worm Crime Worm
Scotland, UK
80 Fiction Formula Fiction Formula
37 Crime Fiction Writer Crime Fiction Writer
Hewitt, Texas, US
81 Northern Crime reviews Northern Crime reviews
Leeds, England, UK
38 Nobody Move! Armed Robbery
Albany, New York, US
82 Fair Dinkum Crime Fair Dinkum Crime
39 A Crime is Afoot JIE Scribano
Madrid, Spain
83 Mark McGinn Mark McGinn crime blog
Christchurch Canterbury NZ
40 Hawley Reviews Hawley Reviews
84 True Crime True Crime
41 Crime Watch - Investigating crime fiction from a Kiwi perspective Kiwi Crime
New Zealand
85 Crimezine - #1 for Crime Crimezine
Los Angeles, California, US
42 Chrissie Poulson Blog Christine Poulson
86 Only Detect Only Detect
43 Ron Franscell | An American Storyteller Ron Franscell
San Antonio, Texas, US
87 Crime Thriller Fella Crime Thrilla Fella
44 Beneath the Stains of Time Moonlight Detective
88 Crime Thriller Fella The Reader is Warned