31 August 2023

A Question of Empathy

 The other day I had a well-dressed, impeccably kempt older man approach me while I was getting gas at a local service station. He asked me in broken English laced with a lot of Italian, for help getting his rental car back to Portland. I offered to pay for some gas, but he told me his minivan didn't need gas. He needed money.

I rarely carry cash and this time was no exception. Plus, the kiosk attendant at this particular station was not set up to give customers cash. On top of this, I was on my way to work, and didn't have time to get to a cash machine. I apologized and told him I couldn't help him.

While I filled up I watched him approach a number of other people at the other pumps, and have more success. I felt relieved and wished him well.

The above got me thinking about the limits and limitations of human empathy on my drive in to work, and several times since. 

So of course I turned this into a thought exercise on the impact of empathy (or lack thereof) on writing fiction.

Jane Austen once famously said, “I intend to write a protagonist that no one will like. But I shall like her.” Austen was, of course, talking about the titular protagonist of her novel, Emma. And even though Emma Woodhouse frequently comes across as self-satisfied, wrong-headed, and hard-to-like, She never comes across as undeserving of the reader’s empathy. Also, Austen clearly felt empathy for this, one of her more famous creations.

This is interesting to me, because the difference between affection and empathy with regard to literary characters is so often papered over by writers, either in a hurry, or blessed with onlya marginal amount of insight and skill.

Of course, affection and empathy are not the same thing. One requires an emotional reaction in favor of the character whereas the other requires only the acknowledgment of the basic humanity of the character, and thus that character’s being deserving of empathy.

And not just “deserving.” Empathy is not a luxury in writing good fiction. It is a necessity. And while it’s truly needed for one’s protagonists, and any supporting characters more complex than the stock background characters who wander in and out of so many stories with only one thing to do, one sentence to deliver, etc., in service of the story’s plot, it is all the more important that the writer have it and employ it when writing the antagonist of the piece.

Because one truism of writing is that the best villains are the fully drawn ones. And a character drawn without empathy on the part of the writer is doomed to be a caricature, a cartoon.

This is in large part because non-cartoony characters tend not to think of themselves as the “bad guy.” In their narrative, they are the hero, not the ostensible protagonist.

Well-drawn villains possess their own desires, goals and resources, same as the best protagonists. The difference between the character and the cartoon is the difference between Heathcliff the complex, Byronic antihero of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff the orange cat from the classic comic strip.

Mustache twirling is best left to the Dick Dastardlys of the literary world. For me, give me characters whose motives and desires I can understand and respect, even if I don’t share them.

That’s what empathy on the part of the author can give the reader. And what a gift it is.

See you in two weeks!

30 August 2023

The Picture on Pratchett's Wall

I just finished reading Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes: The Official Biography, by Rob Wilkins.  I have written about Pratchett before but I want to discuss one aspect of his life that shows up a lot in this book.

Sir Terry Pratchett (or STP, as his fans called him) was a bestselling British author of comic fantasy novels.  That description is selling him pretty cheap, since he has also been called the greatest satirist since Chaucer.

And "cheap" is sort of the point, because I want to talk about his relationship with money.  Pratchett was raised by working class parents (his father was an auto mechanic).  He got a job as a reporter for a small local newspaper and later moved to public relations for the nuclear power industry.

During this time he had started publishing novels. After several had appeared he decided, with great trepidation, to try writing full-time.  His publisher (who became his agent) said "His conclusion was that he thought he would see a dip in income in the short term, but then he would quite possibly be all right."

Which turned out to be understatement.  At one point he and Wilkins (personal assistant turned business manager and then offficial biographer) calculated that his novels were paying him ten pounds per word.  I assure you those of us who write mystery short stories do not make that much.

Pratchett seemed a bit obsessed with money, which is understandable because, besides providing for the necessities and luxuries of life, it was a way of keeping score.  For many years critics were not lining up to heap his work with praise and awards. After all, this couldn't be serious work.  The wrote about vampires, for heaven's sake.  And golems.  It took all those serious critics a while to catch onto the fact that  his vampires struggled with addiction problems and the golems were fighting for their civil rights. 

Why do I say he was obsessed with money?  Here is one of many examples.  At one point he created a book that was different from anything he had done before and he was so offended by the bids publishers made on it that he took the book off the market for many years.  What was wrong with the bids?  He felt they were too high.  He worried that whichever publisher released the book would lose money.

I diagnose a case of imposter's syndrome, a terrible fear that people might realize he was not as good as they thought.

Fortunately that never happened.  Pratchett  was even knighted for his "services to literature" although he maintained that his greatest service to literature was never trying to write any.

He was not shy about donating money, including a million pounds for Alzheimer's research after he was diagnosed with an early-onset variant.  (He lived with it for eight  years. and remarkably kept writing until near the end.)  Generally he gave money to organizations that were also finding money elsewhere.  "Pratchetts help those who help themselves."

He kept a photo on his office wall, one he got from W.H. Smith's, Britain's biggest bookstore chain. Was it a cozy picture of the front of one of their shops? No. Perhaps a candid snap of him signing books?  Sorry.

It was a photo of the company's book-pulping machine, where unloved volumes went to die.

It was, he said, a reminder to write better.  And he did.

29 August 2023

Game On!

I'm delighted to welcome Kristin Kisska back to SleuthSayers today with this guest post. It's perfect timing because today is a special day for her--publication day for her first novel! Congratulations, Kristin!

--Barb Goffman

Game On

by Kristin Kisska

Credit-Lindsey Pantele
Thank you, Barb Goffman, for letting me take over your Sleuthsayers’ byline today!

Picture this.

A diligent, twenty-something graduate student sitting through her fourth lecture of the day, the statistics class, which had earned the reputation for being the dullest required course for the degree. She’s two semesters deep into her MBA program and wishes she’d had the foresight to skip this one lecture. But with her notebook open and a No. 2 pencil in hand (this story is set in the analog era, not digital), she waits for the bell to ring, announcing the start of class.

But instead of yet another mind-numbing lecture swirling with math terms like means, medians, and regression lines, the professor introduces a topic that perks her up—game theory, a mathematical model of corporate and geo-political strategy. This has been used to analyze everything from the Cold War, mergers and acquisitions of global companies, privatizing utilities (hello, Ma Bell), and even chess strategies.

While most of this high-level concept was beyond this starry-eyed grad student’s mere human-level grasp of math, one of game theory’s core elements resonated with her:

Every player (a) is rational, and (b) will always make decisions in their best interest.

The element’s inverse truism is that if a player does something that seems counter to their best interest, then the opponent does not have complete or perfect information.

Spoiler alert. This grad student was me.

Let’s fast forward a couple decades (or three). I’ve since traded my global corporate finance hat for my #SuspenseGirl author hat. Not many lessons from my MBA days have helped me in my current career path, but I’ve used this one element from that epic statistics lecture every single time I sit down to write fiction.

If all fictional characters were to behave predictably, what fun would that be? Not much. I’d argue most readers crave the chance to solve puzzles. If not, mysteries wouldn’t be the thriving genre they are today.

When it comes to fiction—particularly crime fiction—astute authors can use this game theory element to their advantage. By layering in a character’s unexpected behavior, either subtle or obvious, a crime fiction author can signal to the reader that new—surprising—information will be forthcoming. It can elevate the reader’s experience by hinting at the richness of the character’s as-yet unrevealed backstory:

Secrets. Relationships. Unresolved traumas. Character wounds. Behind-the-scenes conflicts. Or even a deeper understanding of the stakes involved.

Let’s consider the classic movie Star Wars. When Obi-One Kenobi is fighting Darth Vader, the first-time viewer would expect Obi-One to fight for his life. Survival is a rational, relatable, and universally assumed goal. But for no explicable reason, when Obi-One sees Luke Skywalker watching the fight from a distance, he surrenders by raising his lightsaber and allows Vader to strike a death blow. In the moment, we (the viewers) are as confused and shocked as Luke Skywalker. It’s not until later that we learn that by dying, Obi-One could amplify his power for good because he becomes one with the energy of the Force.

Or, as is in the case of my debut novel, The Hint of Light, (published today!), the unconditional love of a mother toward her child can make her actions seem irrational and unpredictable. In real life, over-protective mothers are so common in society we’ve labeled them as mama bears, helicopter moms, and even tiger moms, but these terms boil down to the same concept. The maternal-child relationship can be so intense it can make people do very strange things when placed under pressure. A mother, in an effort to keep her child safe, can seem both irrational and unpredictable. And yet, when viewed from the mother’s lens with her specific interpretation of events, her priorities, and the options open to her, readers may understand the extreme choices she has made.

We could carry this example one step further by also challenging the first part of this game theory element—that all players are rational. It’s not always a given. In fact, we have a thriving subgenre called psychological suspense, which depends on the concept of the unreliable narrator. But I addressed this in another Sleuthsayers blog post, Deconstructing a Narrator: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2020/05/deconstructing-narrator.html

Now, I have a little game theory homework for you. What character in a novel or movie made a choice that shocked you? What new information did you learn after the fact that made their choice seem reasonable?


PS - Let's be social:
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Kristin Kisska
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28 August 2023

What could go wrong?

I start every new project, whether it’s repairing a toilet, designing a four-bedroom house or starting a novel, flush with optimism.  This time, I think, everything’s going to go smoothly and efficiently.  A relentless march from beginning to end with nary a hiccup.  Because, after all, I’d done all these things before and I have the positive results to show for it.

Yet this never happens.  A better way to describe my projects is a series of screwups and miscalculations, strung together by intermittent moments of good luck, and relentless revision.  In retrospect, the degree of difficulty for each project is inversely  proportionate to my expectations for smooth sailing. 

I think in this, I’ve inherited the same delusional thinking that infects entrepreneurs, research scientists and treasure hunters.  We’re excellent at imagining successful outcomes, and blind to the realities that come with the actual experience, even though experience should be informing our states of mind. 

You could make a case that this mad, irrepressible sanguinity is what compels human achievement, driving our ancestors out of the grasslands to spread out across the globe, and eventually sending some of us all the way to the lunar surface.  That’s probably true.  Though there’s another quality that sustains the effort, however naïve the launch. 

I know someone who’s always surprised and affronted when a project doesn’t go exactly according to plan.  As if a hitch in the works is the act of a malevolent, supernatural being, or the result of gross incompetence by someone other than the planner himself.   This flows from an assumption that things should always go right, when all the evidence tells us things will inevitably go wrong. 

At this late stage of life, I’ve come to accept that glitches, goof-ups, gaffes, blunders and misapprehensions are an integral part of the process, necessary, even indispensable.  At the company I used to run, people would ask if we had a problem, and I’d say it isn’t a problem unless we don’t have a solution.  It’s just the work. 

In the woodworking world, much of what I’ve learned has come from noodling through problems, or mistakes.  Since I hate wasting wood, I can usually salvage the effort, often by tinkering with the design.  (A piece cut too long is rarely an issue, since you can just cut it again.  It’s the too-short ones that wreak havoc.)  The goal isn’t to never make mistakes, it’s to avoid making the same mistake more than once. 

There are also those pleasant occasions when a mistake makes the project better.  Like a random mutation that improves a species’ chance of survival, some goofs are revealed to be a better approach in the first place.   Something faster, more precise or just better looking. 

Every writer has experienced those happy accidents when the writing suddenly veers off course and a far better idea emerges.  One could argue that these aren’t really mistakes, but rather the machinations of the subconscious taking control over the work and sending it along to where it should have been going in the first place.  The trick for the writer, or the woodworker, or plumber, is to embrace these little diversions, make adjustments and thank them for their service. 

Since it’s popular to relabel things once considered negative in order to sooth easily offended sensibilities (you’re not tone-deaf, just harmonically challenged), what’s called for is a redefinition of mistake.  Back at the company I worked for, we’d sarcastically describe some monumental f**kup as a growth opportunity.  That’s a good start.  Maybe “Unplanned Deviation From Projected Outcome”, or UDFPO. 

Or maybe just another life lesson, which if you’re lucky, will never stop being taught. 

27 August 2023

KDP Paperback Change in Pricing

Prior to June 20th of this year, Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing stated that due to inflation. it would be increasing its pricing on paperbacks by about 23 cents per book in order to cover their increased costs for ink, paper, etc. Authors in turn could increase their book's selling price to a value of their choice, or they could accept a sell price determined by KDP where they would not lose any royalty income. Or, the author could do nothing and therefore lose about 23 cents per paperback in royalty sales.

All 9 of my e-book short story collections were listed at $2.99 per e-book and were not affected by KDP's inflation-based raise in their price. However, I had considered raising my sale price anyway, so this was probably a good time to do it. Same for the paperbacks regardless of what KDP was doing.

Curious to see what price KDP would set on my 9 paperbacks which were selling for $8.99 each at the time, I chose to let KDP set my paperback sale price, with me having the option to change the price later. On June 20th, KDP left my e-book sale price alone and set my paperback sale price at $9.21 per book. I would not lose any royalty money at that level, but I had wanted to increase my price above that figure anyway.

A day later, I went to work on the figures. KDP had given easy instructions on how an author could change their prices. I went down my Book Shelf list and took each e-book and/or paperback in order. Strangely enough, I found that not all my e-books were linked to their paperback.

I increased all my e-book sale prices from $2.99 to $3.99, which increased my royalties per e-book. Hit the PUBLISH button and sent the e-book off to be reviewed by KDP.

For my paperbacks, I increased the sales price from KDP's $9.21 to a $9,47 figure. It's not much, but now knowing how easy it is to change pricing, I can always increase the selling price later. I hit the PUBLISH button and off  the paperback went to KDP for review. Reviews for both forms of books came back accepted within a day.

While working on the process to change prices, I kept noticing buttons to link the previously unlinked e-books to their paperback, or vice versa. Me being slightly paranoid about changing two variables on an established product at the same time, I ignored those buttons under the theory that it is easier to solve a software choice if you are only dealing with one variable change at a time. Surprise, surprise, Amazon/KDP linked each e-book with the proper paperback anyway.

One other item I noticed. When the author sets the selling price, the software automatically calculates the author's royalty for all Amazon.com sales, plus for all Amazon foreign sales. There is also a box the author can check for expanded royalty sales if he wants access to other distributors. This expanded royalty is about 20% of what the regular royalty is. I was sure I had checked the box first time around, but found my original check mark wasn't there, so I needed to check the box all over again. One of these days, I'll need to go back and see if all the other paperbacks need a check mark. In which case, I'll have to hit the PUBLISH button again.

Side Note: The majority of the short stories collected in these 9 e-books/paperbacks were previously published in magazines or anthologies, so every sale of these is like found money.

I hope this makes it easier for any authors going through or contemplating the KDP pricing change, And, if anyone is interested, my spreadsheet is below.

New Prices & Royalties on Paperbacks as of 06/20/23

  Title                                Pages    Price     Royalty    Exp. Royalty   Status

9 Chronicles of Crime       168      $9.47      $2.64             .42            08/21/19

9 Deadly Tales                   162      $9.47      $2.74             .44            08/27/19

9 Twin Brothers                  204      $9.47      $2.23             .39            09/12/19

9 Historical Mysteries        214       $9.47      $2.11             .22            09/12/19

9 Holiday Burglars             210        $9.47      $2.06             .47            09/14/19

9 Tales Golden Triangle     194        $9.47      $2.33              .41            06/09/22

9 Historical Mysteries II    196        $9.47       $2.40              .42            08/09/22

9 Tales Criminal Mind        196        $9.47      $2.38              .48            09/xx/22

31 Mini-Mysteries               170        $9.47      $2.64               .42           09/22/19

Now, can anyone tell me why one of my paperbacks listed on Amazon has a line through the price I set and is being offered at a discounted price? To my knowledge, I did not sign up for any sale or promotion program.

26 August 2023

A Fun Post: Why Book Tours are Expensive... (More comedy on the road)

 It's rerun season! 

I dug into the archives, and found my third ever column for Sleuthsayers, from NINE YEARS AGO, to the month.  

It also happens to be a favourite of mine (which usually points to loopy comedy.)  There have been ten books since The Goddaughter's Revenge, would you believe.

by Melodie Campbell 

I’ve recently been on a book tour for my latest crime comedy, The Goddaughter’s Revenge (winner of the 2014 Derringer and Arthur Ellis Awards for Best Novella. There. I got it in.  My publisher can relax now.)

Book tours are expensive.  You travel around to independent book stores and you sell some books and sign them. 

It’s fun.  You meet a lot of great people.  But it’s expensive.  And I’m not talking about the hotel bill and the bar tab.

I should have just stayed in the bar.  It was leaving the bar that become expensive.

Nice night.  We decided to go for a walk.  It was dark, but I had on my brand new expensive progressive eye-glasses, so not a problem, right?

One second I was walking and talking.  The next, I was flying through the air.

Someone screamed. 

WHOMP.  (That was me, doing a face plant.)

“OHMYGOD! Are you okay?”  said my colleague.

I was clearly not okay.  In fact, I was splat on the sidewalk and could not move. 

“Fine!” I yelled into the flagstone.  “I’m Fine!”

I tried to lift my head.  Ouch.

“That must have hurt,” said someone helpfully.

I write about a mob Goddaughter. So I know a bit about mob take-outs.  It may come in handy.

A crowd had gathered.  Not the sort of crowd that gently lifts you off the ground.  More the sort of crowd that gawks.

“Couldn’t figure out why you were running ahead of us.” My colleague shook his head.

I wasn’t running.  I was tripping and falling.

“That sidewalk is uneven.  Your heel must have caught on it.”

No shit, Sherlock.

By now I had tested various body parts.  Knees were numb.  Hands, scraped.  Chin, a little sore. 

But here’s the thing.  I hit in this order: knees, tummy, boobs, palms.  My boobs cushioned the fall and saved my face. 

Yes, this was going through my mind as I pushed back with my tender palms to balance on my bloody knees.

“Ouch!”  I said.  No, that’s a lie.  I said something else.

I stood up.  Surveyed the damage.  My knees were a bloody mess, but the dress survived without a scratch.  It was made in China, of course.  Of plastic.

The crowd was dispersing.  But the pain wasn’t over.

Next day, I hobbled to the clinic.  The doctor, who probably isn’t old enough to drive a car, shook his head.

“Progressive glasses are the number one reason seniors fall.  They are looking through the reading part of their glasses when they walk, and can’t see the ground properly.”

Seniors?  I’ve still got my baby fat.

“Get some distance-only glasses,” he advised.

So I did.  Another 350 bucks later, I have a third pair of glasses to carry around in my purse.
Which means my purse isn’t big enough.

So I need to buy a new purse.

And that’s why book tours are so expensive.

Melodie Campbell is an infant Sleuthsayer, and this is her third column.  She writes comedies (No shit, Sherlock.)  You can find them at www.melodiecampbell.com and all the usual book places.

Update!  Melodie Campbell is a veteran Sleuthsayer now, with seventeen books and a few more years on the bod.  Might even admit to being a senior now, if a senior means over 55.  Hope to be around to rerun this humour column in another nine years.  Hope you are too!

(cartoon of me with offending shoes)

25 August 2023

Historical Fiction (including Historical Mysteries) Again

In his excellent SleuthSayer's post of 14 August 2023 (What was, what could be, and everything in between), Chris Knopf's advice to writers is don't be afraid of history, embrace it. Know your history.

Chris notes some writers hate the notion of being pinned down by reality.

Yep. Yet knowing President Charles DeGaulle wasn't assassinated in 1962 did not lessen the suspense in Frederick Forsyth's THE DAY OF THE JACKAL. The beauty of the book is how in the hell did the French police prevent The Jackal from killing DeGaulle. Great book, won the Best Novel Edgar Award and made into a riveting movie starring Edward Fox and Michael Lonsdale.

Frederick Forsyth knew his history and the book is an historically accurate novel.

Lesser writers like me extensively research the history before we write historical fiction, including historical mysteries, of course. We often learn things we did not know, some information inspires other story ideas.

As we move into the 21st Century, some writers find it easier to write about the 20th Century or even earlier times. Things are chaning too quickly these days. The internet provides quick information about the past, although not all of the information is accurate. You have to go use multiple sources.

It's all hard work. If it wasn't, everyone would be a writer. Wait. Everyone is. Just go online.

Here's an added comment on John Floyd's SleuthSayer column "I Don't Say Eye-ther (Not Nigh-ther, Nee-ther). John says, "I won't even get start on the stupid ways a lot of people -- including newscasters -- pronounce New Orleans.

New Orleans is New Awlins to a local. The "R" is a "W". New-aw-lee-uns is also a colloquial pronunciation. Some uptowns call it New-aw-yuns. It is acceptable to pronounce the city New Orleens to rhyme it in a poem or song, as in the song "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" written by Eddie DeLange and Louis Alter, first heard in the movie "New Orleans" (1847), performed by Louis Armstrong and sung by Billie Holliday. I remember the song from the movie "The Wackiest Ship in the Army" sung by Ricky Nelson. I've never heard a local call the city N'Awlins. Orleans Avenue in the French Quarter is pronounced Orleens Avenue.

Thanks all for now.


24 August 2023

It's August, so it Must Be Sturgis

And so it was.

First, STATISTICS!!!!!  

Total attendees were 458,161, the lowest in a long time.
In total, 1,479 citations were issued this year, up from 2022′s 1,430.
Drug arrests saw the biggest jump, with 155 felony drug arrests made compared to 103 in 2022. Misdemeanor drug arrests also rose to 246 compared to 148 in 2022.
The number of DUI arrests totaled 120, down from last year’s 148. The number of citations issued also went down to 4,296 from 5,288 in 2022.
There were a total of 127 accidents this year, 64 were injury accidents and five were fatal. Last year’s rally saw a total of 98 accidents with three total fatalities. (Link)

A few notes on the statistics:
Everyone knows that you have to be particularly obnoxious / dangerous to get a DUI at Sturgis.  All those folks at the Buffalo Chip, drunk and stoned out of their gourds, aren't going to get DUIs, because they're not going anywhere - they're going to pass out where they are.  

The death total is for those actually at the Rally, not on the drive there or the drive home or driving around the Black Hills.  Official reports are 12 people dying in motorcycle crashes.  Many of them were older, such as the 66-year-old woman and her 78 year old husband, riding on a Harley trike that for some reason left the road, went into a ditch, and went airborne. She was thrown from the trike, he was not.  Neither were wearing helmets. Both died. They were not included in the Rally toll.  

NOTE to future Rally attendees:  After a certain age, if you go flying off a motorcycle, you will find that you no longer bounce, and you might no longer breathe.  Please, WEAR A HELMET!!!

Also, five South Dakota men were arrested for sex trafficking at 2023's Sturgis rally. (LINK)

But as Tom Lawrence said, "So several bikers don’t make it home alive. So some kids are exploited by weirdos looking for kinky kicks. So the hospitals and other health-care centers are jammed with the casualties of the 'Best Party Anywhere."  The important thing is that Sturgis brings in $45 million in state and local tax revenue.  (LINK)  

Meanwhile, our Governor wrote an... interesting op-ed on "I didn’t think I’d find so much Jesus at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. He’s everywhere all the time, but I didn’t expect to feel his presence at a pancake breakfast at the Buffalo Chip. He was clearly there when the Sons of Light Ministry graciously hosted hundreds of guests, including myself and Lawrence Jones from Fox and Friends. The Sons of Light witnessed by serving a free breakfast to all who came, sharing songs of praise, and just joining in fellowship." (LINK)  

Sarcastic hilarity was the general response.  STURGIS?  Family friendly revival STURGIS?  No.  No.  No.  People don't go to Sturgis for that.  They go for the sex, drugs, and rock n' roll and/or kicking country music.  And some great scenery to enjoy while nursing the hangover.  The same reason my generation went to three day music concerts out in the desert, mountains, wherever.  

So if you believed the governor's hype, don't worry. In fact, Harley-Davison's own insurance division says Sturgis is not really a family event:

Sturgis isn’t kid-friendly, but it can be if you want it to be.
For a family-friendly version of the Rally, you’ll want to avoid nighttime activities when things tend to get wild. You’ll also want to avoid hotels that host many attendees because rally-goers frequently like to party late into the night. Even a campground with many motorcycles can keep you and your kids up if there’s revving late into the night [Harley-Davidson Insurance, “Sturgis Motorcycle Rally 2023 Guide,” 2023.05.22].

Sturgis is, and has always been, the motorcycle version of Vegas in the old days, when "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."  

Our temporary denizens are clad in skull caps, sunglasses, boots, sleeveless shirts, and black leather. Tattoos are required; piercings are optional. Body paint, thongs, and pasties will do for women. For men, cleanliness is not a virtue; grimy grubbiness is fine and chest hair encouraged. Don’t come to Sturgis looking for metrosexuals—you won’t find any.

The streets are teeming with beautiful, scantily dressed women, but the real beauties are the motorcycles, their chrome sparkling in the sun as though they had just left the showroom floor. Few things you will ever see are as impressive as thousands of custom-painted Harley Davidsons parked four rows deep and lined up for blocks, many of them true works of art. Few things you will encounter can compare to the noise made by an undulating river of 700-pound motorcycles. Hunter S. Thompson described it as “a burst of dirty thunder.” (LINK)

And then there are the t-shirts, like “I’m here to drink and f—, and I’m about done drinking” that people wear proudly.  
Or the Snake Lady, who wears nothing but snakes.  Seriously.
Also, overheard at the rally by someone (not me, I never go):

Sturgis Biker One: “Dude! Welcome back! I heard ya got married.”
Sturgis Biker Two: “Yeah, man, it was like something to do.”
Sturgis Biker One: “How’s the sex, man?”
Sturgis Biker Two: “Not so good, but at least I don’t gonna stand in line.”

(Link - read the comments)

But then again, none of that might not bother some people.  Give the kids the full experience and all that.  For example, the fans of WEE 1 Tactical, which has just put out the JR-15 assault rifle for CHILDREN, 'just like dad's gun'.  The JR-15 is modeled on the AR-15 assault rifle, but is 20% smaller and weighs just 2.3lbs, with a lighter trigger, and real ammunition. (LINK)  For those with a strong stomach, you can listen to WEE 1 Tactical's owner Eric Schmid praise the JR-15 here.  Start 'em at 3, folks:

It takes all kinds, but I'd like fewer of some of them.  

23 August 2023


First off, we have to posit that Justified is one of the best series ever.  Period, full stop.  I won’t hear any argument.  I’m a big fan of Bosch, Happy Valley is amazing, I love Unforgotten and Shetland, but Justified is king.

Here’s what you do.  Go on YouTube, search for “Raylan Givens vs. Fletcher ‘The Ice Pick’ Nix,” and treat yourself to what comes.  Just the one scene.


There are, of course, other scenes as fully flavorable, but this has the essentials.

Raylan makes his appearance in Dutch Leonard’s 1993 novel, Pronto, and then in Riding the Rap, in 1995.  The immediate jumping-off point for Justified is the 2001 short story, “Fire in the Hole.”  Dutch revisited the character in 2012, with Raylan, his last published title.

I think it’s common knowledge in the Justified fanbase that the writers’ room – headed by exec producer Graham Yost – had a mantra, What would Dutch do?  In any situation where they’d written themselves into a corner, or they weren’t entirely confident of a story development, they went back to the baseline: How would Dutch Leonard himself handle it?  They usually got it right.

Much has been made of the casting.  Timothy Olyphant and Walt Goggins, and astonishing support, Nick Searcy and Mikelti Williamson, Kaitlyn Dever and Joelle Carter, the Crowes and the Bennetts.  I’d happily list each one.  Not to mention the guest heavies - my stars and whiskers!  The incomparable Margo Martindale; Neal McDonough, no Band of Brothers, here; Sam Elliott and Mary Steenburgen.  Villains all, who get their just desserts. 

Timothy Olyphant and Graham Yost closed the book with Season Six.  FX, the network, wasn’t entirely happy about it.  (Justified was their highest-rated show.)  But hold the phone.  The sequel, Justified: City Primeval, just premiered a limited run in July, and Tim Olyphant’s back as Raylan. 

The new series is a hybrid.  The novel, City Primeval (subtitled High Noon in Detroit), came out in 1980, and it doesn’t feature Raylan, but local cop Ray Cruz.  Raylan has been added to the mix.  This has no ill effect.  You still got the basic Elmore Leonard elements, a crooked judge, a car bombing, Albanian gangsters, a long con, and the usual mix of opportunists and low-lifes, fast-talkers and the criminally insane.  This time around, we have more of the fish-out-of-water trope, but Raylan is nothing if not resourceful, and since you were wondering, he hasn’t slowed down.  Nor does the show waste any time getting stoked. 

You might miss the hillbillies, for about thirty seconds.