30 November 2023

Things I've Learned From the Media

There is, somewhere (according to soap operas and some mysteries), a store or service which will make available, at any hour of the day or night, a dead body that you can use to fake your own / someone else's death.  I am assuming they deliver, because no one ever has to go get it themselves. Still trying to figure out how they get it into the hospital / crime scene without being spotted.  Aliens?  

I'm also still trying to figure out what plastic surgeon can not only make you look EXACTLY like someone else but change your voice, body movements, and speech patterns to match.  For that matter, who the hell replaced Silva's mouth / throat / esophagus, etc., with a removable implant in Skyfall?  I think a lot of people with esophageal and other oral cancers would love to know that that was possible.  

BTW, if you want it, you can own the world's largest pheasant for $180,000.  Or make them an offer.  (HERE)  Includes retail space, and a bathroom in the basement.

Speaking of giants, the family of the South Dakota couple who earned millions from the sale of Sue the T-Rex is suing each other. In 1997, Maurice and Darlene Williams made $7.6 million from the auction of Sue, who is still on display at Chicago’s Field Museum. (At 47 feet long, Sue is among the largest and best-preserved T-Rex skeletons ever discovered.) Apparently, there are two wills, one made in 2017, dividing the estate equally, and another made two weeks before Darlene's death, when she was in hospice, leaving everything to only one of the daughters. And that, my dears, will always launch a lawsuit... (LINK)  

The Sioux Falls Catholic Diocese sent out a retweet from a Nashville priest and exorcist that Taylor Swift is summoning demons at her concerts.  (LINK)  I think they're just jealous that she gets into football games for free.  Meanwhile, I think I can hear the beginning of a story in all of this...

Janice Law wrote a great piece a couple of days ago (We Keep The Dead Close) about closed systems, like Harvard or small towns, and how difficult it can be to find out who did something when a chosen culprit has been decided on.  Or when it's been decided (silently but collectively) to just ignore something.  I know from living in a small town for three decades that that is absolutely true.  Think about "To Kill A Mockingbird" - there's morphine addict Mrs. Dubose, whose addiction is politely ignored by everyone in town, thanks to her status. There's Boo Radley, whose father is considered "one of the meanest men that ever drew breath" - but no one ever rescues Boo from him. Nor, for that matter, do they rescue Mayella Ewell from her father, who not only beats the crap out of her but (it is strongly hinted) sexually abuses her as well. 

It's amazing how many people who have NOT heard the story about Peter Antonacci, the DeSantis-appointed head of Governor DeSantis's Federal Election Fraud Office.  He died. Suddenly:

He collapsed and died in a hallway in the governor’s office moments after “abruptly” leaving a contentious meeting on Sept. 23, 2022. That Antonacci, 74, was stricken in the governor’s office was kept secret at the time. Instead, authorities only said he died while at work in the Capitol building, of which the governor’s office is a part. Florida Department of Law Enforcement records released to Florida Bulldog also say Antonacci lay dead or dying on the hallway floor of the governor’s office for more than 20 minutes before anyone apparently noticed and came to his aid. More precisely, 24 minutes, in a hallway under real time video-only surveillance.

The reports provided by the FDLE to the Florida Bulldog were heavily redacted, and no security camera footage was provided at all.

While the FDLE reports include such mundane observations as how Antonacci was dressed – “a sky blue shirt, dark blue dress coat, and gray dress pants” – they stand out for what’s missing: the identities of everyone attending the meeting and any inquiry as to why Antonacci lay undiscovered on the hallway floor for so long.  (LINK)

Also, the medical examiner wasn't called; no autopsy was carried out; and the Chief of Staff at the meeting "retired" abruptly. Oh, and "no comment" on all of this from the Governor and staff.  So why isn't there more reporting on this nationally?  

Finally, linking back to my last SleuthSayers blog post, "What's the Problem With Young Men?", Lyz at "Men Yell at Me" has pointed out yet another column saying that women are too damn picky about who they marry, and the latest twist – from WaPo of all places – is not only that they should marry "down", i.e., to men who make less money or are less successful than they, but (since more young women are liberal than young men) they should marry conservative men who are otherwise going to have to live off porn and Skittles, and that's not just fair. (HERE).

Really?  From Axios, the tender tale of the "Students for Trump" founder who assaulted his girlfriend, "grabbing her right arm and striking her in the forehead" with a handgun. Thankfully, he was charged with domestic assault on a female and assault with a deadly weapon.  (Axios)

29 November 2023

Mind the Gap

Pottery shard, Ramat Rachel, Israel.

Today I find myself in a situation I have not experienced since, at least, July 5, 2021. Specifically, I don't have a short story to be working on.

I know the date, because I just finished a novella, and I started it on July 6, two years ago.  You may be surprised that it takes me two years to write a novella.  Well, here's the thing.  When I get an idea for a new story I generally drop everything and start to work on it.  My reasoning is that I'm a very slow writer and I want to strike while the iron is hot, to use a cliche.  Write the story as close to the moment of inspiration as possible.

So, I have probably written a dozen stories since starting this novella. But I have nothing on hand to write next.

This is not a panicky moment.  I know exactly  what I will be doing tomorrow, writing-wise.

For one thing, I will edit some of the seven stories I have finished a draft of but don't have ready to submit.  My stories average  ten drafts.  I work on one most days after doing my first-draft writing for the day.  And when I finish a first draft completely I usually take a week off from writing new stuff, and just edit.  

Secondly, it is not quite accurate to say I have no idea what to write next.  You see, the novella I have been working on is the fourth in my series about Delgardo, a beat poet.  Hitchcock's has published two and purchased the third.

The first story in the series was set in October 1958 and each story moves ahead by one month.  A real event occurred in February 1959 which fits perfectly into the lives of my characters, so my next job is to research that event and figure out how to turn  it into a plot.

So don't worry about me.  I'll fill the hours somehow.  How about you?

ADDENDUM: Two days after I wrote the above an editor asked me to write a story for an anthology.  I immediately had an idea for a sequel to a different tale.  So Delgardo will have to wait. I'm off to the races... 

28 November 2023

Reading for Gems

Some of the many
reasons Michael doesn’t
have much time for
pleasure reading.
Last year, 120 short stories appeared in projects I edited or co-edited. I’m on track to edit or co-edit projects containing a similar number of stories this year, and I have projects in the works that should have me working with a similar number of stories each year for several subsequent years.

For every short-story manuscript I read that ultimately sees publication in one of my projects, I read at least two that don’t. So, reading for entertainment and pleasure has almost disappeared because I now read a significant amount of unpublished fiction.

And I’m becoming jaded. A few years ago, when I wasn’t doing as much editing, I had time to work with stories that showed potential, and I could work with writers who showed potential but hadn’t made the leap to regular publication. These days, I’m looking for stories that are as close to publication-ready as possible.

That means I’m doing fewer open-call projects (as a percentage of total projects). (The Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir anthology series remains open call and Black Cat Mystery Magazine, when it reopens to submissions at some indefinable date in the future, will also be open call.) Instead, I’m mostly working with writers who have proven they can deliver on-time and on theme, and who have proven themselves easy to work with through the revision and/or editing process.


I’ve been involved in several discussions recently where it has been clear that writers don’t understand all that editors do. They see “editors” as people who fix spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors and maybe point out plot holes and faulty story structure.

That’s part of what they do. In fact, if it’s an editor hired by the writer, that may be all they do.

But an anthology or magazine editor does much more than that. When working on an anthology, editors develop the concept and pitch the idea to a publisher (or work with an organization or publisher who presents the concept to the editor), determine how to obtain content, work with writers to ensure that content fits within the concept, prepare manuscripts for publication, and proofread galley proofs and/or page proofs. (FYI: No one produces galley proofs these days.) A magazine editor—especially the editor of a small-press magazine—does much the same.

In short, an anthology or magazine editor—especially those working with smaller presses—is often a concept generator, acquisitions editor, development editor, fact-checking editor, line editor, copy editor, and proofreader all rolled into one.

While doing all of this, editors maintain records, ensuring they know what stage each manuscript is at; maintain contact with writers to ensure all deadlines are met; and maintain contact with the publisher’s staff to ensure all deliverables are on time and in the correct format.

Editors’ responsibilities continue after publication. They may be involved with marketing and promotion, and a good editor ensures the work they publish is considered for all appropriate awards and best-of-year reprint opportunities.


What compensates for a decreasing amount of time for entertainment and pleasure reading is finding story gems in the submission queue, regardless of whether the stories were solicited via an invitation call or unsolicited via an open call, and then shepherding those stories into the world where readers can find them.

Knowing I played a small part in entertaining readers when these stories appear more than compensates for all the reading pleasure time I’ve given up.

Got Milk?”—a blog post about how Temple’s great uncle was indicted for his involvement in the Louisiana Milk Strike of 1947 and how my father-in-law’s research led me to write “Spilt Milk” (
Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, November/December 2023)—was published at Trace Evidence.

27 November 2023

We Keep the Dead Close

Although I share many of our colleague Brian Thorton's (Doolin Dalton) reservations about true crime writing, I am going to make an exception for Becky Cooper's We Keep the Dead Close, subtitled, A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence, a very long, sober, and ambitious book. Part memoir, part true crime, the book takes on sex discrimination at Harvard, examines gossip as power, and speculates on the sometimes deceptive power of narrative. Cooper wasn't a Radcliffe student for nothing.

She first heard Jane Britton's story in 2009, forty years after the graduate student in the Harvard Anthropology Department had been found bludgeoned to death in her Cambridge apartment. Athletic and artistic, Britton was a complex character, a forceful, confident personality, susceptible to depression but independent and memorable. Her killer was never identified, but decades on students still relayed the chosen campus story: she had an affair with one of her professors who murdered her and scattered red ochre, famous from prehistoric burials, over her corpse. Kicker: the professor, charismatic and tenured, was still employed at Harvard!

Well, there was a hook for any crime writer, but what seems to have caught Cooper's attention was the implied power of Harvard. She was not to the institution born and while delighted with much of Radcliffe, she often felt like an outsider in a seductive and powerful institution. Powerful enough to conceal a murder? Cooper began to think so, and the gallery of eccentrics in the insular Department of Anthropology, which included archeology, Jane Britton's field, gave plenty of room for speculation.

Nor was she the only one. By the end of We Keep the Dead Close, we have been introduced to a range of amateur detectives, some nursing their own painful losses, who offer a variety of suspects, including the original professor highlighted by student gossip. He was a riveting teacher, if a bit of a poseur, inspiring, temperamental, hot-tempered, and a believer in the power and utility of narrative. Explanation, not raw facts, was the key to archeology in his mind. 

Another candidate, in what was a homophobic environment, was an alcoholic and closeted gay man who had made late night visits to knock (unsuccessfully) on Jane's door. And then there was the archeologist whose female colleague had gone missing on a trip to Labrador. Ironically for a department that feared weakening its status by hiring women, Anthropology seems to have had more than its share of dodgy characters.

It is curious to an outsider that the assumption always was that Britton's killer was a Harvard man and, in particular, someone in Britton's department. Closed corporations often prefer the outsider hypothesis, and perhaps the Harvard powers that be leaned that way. But the undergrads and the graduate students were firm in their focus on one of the University's own. This leads Cooper to interesting asides about gossip and the way that salacious speculation helps even out power imbalances and serves up cautionary tales.

In any case, the university and even Britton's well-connected family seem to have wanted the whole thing to go away. What seems like carelessness and incompetence by the Cambridge police – they failed to secure the crime scene for days while trying to bully a confession out of her neighbors – sealed the failure. Jane Britton's murder was a cold case for forty years before Cooper and a number of other interested parties started pushing FOI requests.

We Keep the Dead Close is a record of Cooper's pursuit of every possible lead, interview and document for ten years. There is a fine line between persistence and obsession, but to do Cooper justice, she frequently reminds herself that she is not the central figure. By the end of the book, she has spoken, often productively, with Britton friends, relatives, suspects, professors, administrators, and cops. Still she hasn't solved the case.

What finally brings resolution turns out to be something as simple as stored samples and improved DNA testing. The results lead Cooper to a more modest ambition for her book but to interesting reflections about narratives, whether about the long-distant past or a cold case murder.

"I know even less about whether telling a responsible story of the past is possible," she writes, "having learned all too well how the act of interpretation molds the facts in the service of the story teller...There are no true stories; there are only facts, and the stories we tell ourselves about those facts."

A comment pertinent at this troubling political moment for the general public as well as for writers.


The Falling Men, a novel with strong mystery elements, has been issued as an ebook on Amazon Kindle. Also on kindle: The Complete Madame Selina Stories.

The Man Who Met the Elf Queen with two other fanciful short stories and 4 illustrations and The Dictator's Double 3 short mysteries and 4 illustrations are available from Apple Books

26 November 2023


In January 2006, I attended my first MWA Board of Directors meeting at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan. At the start of the meeting, the vice-president had each attendee sitting around the conference table introduce themselves and tell what they wrote.

Sitting there among several best-selling novelists, I told them I wrote only short stories, and concluded with I doubted I'd live long enough to get as many published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine as the famous short story author Ed Hoch had. At the time, I had only eight stories published in AHMM, whereas Ed went on to have 450 in EQMM, plus I don't know how many in AHMM before he passed two years later.

My first story ("Once, Twice, Dead") published in AHMM's November 2001 issue, was set in the Golden Triangle. Kathleen Jordan was the editor and her web page said she wanted mystery stories in exotic locations. To me, Southeast Asia was exotic, I'd seen it for myself in '67, so I submitted the story and she bought it.

Elation soon turned into panic when I realized I had no second story to submit. The next story had to be high quality, else I could be considered as a one-trick pony. After much brainstorming, the Twin Brothers Bail Bond series was born. Kathleen bought the first three in the series before she passed.

Shortly after Linda Landrigan took over as editor, she sent me an e-mail requesting some changes in that third story which had already been accepted, bought and paid for, though not yet published. I figured this was probably the end of my short career in AHMM. Since the editor is the boss, I made the requested changes and went on to sell her seven more stories in that series.

I soon branched out to The Armenian series set in 1850s Chechnya; the 1660s Paris Underworld series, involving a young, inept pickpocket trying to survive in a criminal enclave; the Holiday Burglars series;  and The Golden Triangle series, involving two feuding half-brothers vying to take over their warlord father's opium empire in the mountain jungles of Southeast Asia.

In my Prohibition Era series, "Whiskey Curb" is set in a Manhattan location where actual gangsters used to sell and trade liquor. It is my 49th sale to AHMM and is published in their Nov/Dec 2023 issue. The third story in this series was rejected with the dreaded doesn't fit our needs at the moment type comment. The fourth story in the series is currently resting in the editor's e-slush pile, waiting for a verdict.

Naturally, there are some standalone stories not necessarily conducive to acquiring series status. And, there are some potential series stories which died aborning because I had already written and submitted the second story in the series before the first one was rejected.

And now, we come to my first ever P.I. series. An earlier post talks about the genesis of my first ever P.I. story, "Leonardo." Unfortunately, it will have to find a different home, since it was rejected by AHMM. Seems that the upper brass does not want any stories mentioning teens and sex. My P.I. broke up a ring of pornographers. Nothing graphic, mind you, just the rescue scene and the mention seemed to nix the story. So, put that on your list of No-Nos and save yourself the trouble.

Here's the interesting part to go with the paragraph above. On 09/24/23, I received an e-mail from AHMM accepting the second story in my intended P.I. series. Same protagonist and sidekick, different crime. In which case, "Recidivism" becomes my 50th story sold to AHMM. Thank you, thank you.

Returning to the beginning of this blog, it appears I'm a long way from Ed Hoch's 450 stories in EQMM and I don't know how many in AHMM. Furthermore, with my fading eyesight, body parts which are showing the wear of a life well lived, and a brain like that cheese made in an European country where the natives yodel at each other in their mountains, I seriously doubt my sold/accepted numbers in AHMM will make it to as high as 100, or even to the number of years in my age.

God, I wish I were 50 again.

25 November 2023

To dream the impossible dream, to reach the unreachable star...

Today, I'm pleased to welcome my friend and colleague Lisa de Nikolits to Sleuthsayers.  I smiled after reading her post, because it pertains to me so well.

To wit:  In 1993, I had a humorous - okay, loopy - play performed in Toronto.  In the audience were some industry people, and in particular, a television producer.  He came up to me, and said, "You are completely nuts, and I'd like you to come write pilots for me."  Of course, this meant moving to LA.  I hesitated and let the opportunity go, because it seemed too much to move my husband and two preschoolers to a different country.  And of course, this wouldn't be the only time I'd be asked, right?

The producer was from a company called HBO.  Who had ever heard of HBO in 1993?  Needless to say, this is probably one of the worst mistakes ever made by someone not legally insane.

So read Lisa's post below, and see if you agree!

To dream the impossible dream, to reach the unreachable star…

by Lisa de Nikolits

For many writers, books and publishing are exactly that; unreachable stars and impossible dreams. To scale the heights we want to can seem like a hopeless quest – nay, merely staying afloat is sometimes heroic enough!

And this year has, no doubt about it, been a tough one on the writing front.

I've been pondering the magical ingredients that help us float our authorly boats, and enjoy the journey as we travel towards the sparkly lights that we know are there, even if they are shrouded by mist and clouds.

In my opinion, it comes down to three things:




Let's start with obsession.  You have to want something to the exclusion of all else.  Yes, family dinner parties and events may see you at the dining room table but your mind will be plotting and planning your next writerly move.  What will your characters do next? Each place you visit, to shop or dine or travel, all go into the melting pot of your next story.  You cannot escape the writerly perspective. Never mind rose-coloured glasses, we wear author lenses which, much like James Bond spy glasses, distill the whole into a single funnel - The Story.

And, once you have written The Story, then it must be published.  Because until it is published, it's no more than a silent invisible spectre, existing to no one but you.

Next, is opportunity.  Without the right opportunity, your story will never morph from that spectre into the flesh and bone of books: ink and paper.

And, never be so unwise as to think that opportunities are limitless.  I never understand it when people are cavalier about an opportunity, saying, "oh well, if I miss this one, something else will come along."

It might not!  There are no guarantees.  So, when an opportunity pops up, you have to seize it with both hands and you have to do whatever it takes to make the most of it, no matter how tired you are, no matter how weary.

So, be vigilant, look out for opportunities.  Sometimes they're like buried treasure, and you have to unearth them.

The final ingredient is support.  From loved ones, from friends, from the community, from one's publisher.  You don't only need support while you're trudging that long road, you need support to celebrate, so when you throw a party, you can share the joy when things do work out!

Obsession, opportunity and support.

And one more thing.  Karma.  Be nice to people.  Camaraderie is the oil that keeps the wheels of our industry turning.

And dream the impossible dream!

ABOUT LISA....Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits is the award-winning author of eleven published novels (Inanna Publications). She has appeared on recommended reading lists for Open Book Toronto, 49th Shelf, All Lit Up, The Miramachi Reader, Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Hello! Canada, the Quill & Quire, the CBC and the Toronto Star. Mad Dog and the Sea Dragon (2024) will be her twelfth book. 

About the book...Mad Dog and the Sea Dragon is a noir, darkly comedic caper set in current time, written as a 1950’s hard-boiled suspense thriller with a series of age-old cons playing out in real time. You don’t want to mess with mob boss antagonist, gangster Serafino D’Angelo, whose love for the murder photographer, Weegee finds its way into his business dealings and private obsessions. Greed drives the stakes higher and higher, complicated by sibling rivalry, doomed love affairs and terrifying familial cruelty. 




24 November 2023

The Holiday for Math Geeks Hidden in November

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the United States. But if you happen to be an American mathematician, yesterday was more than just turkey and families. It was Fibonacci Day, so named because the month and date—in American notation, anyway—expressed the first four digits in the famous number sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3. (Oh, to have been alive on 11/23/58!) To talk about that, I’m repurposing an article I wrote years ago for a website that has since gone dark.

In 1996, I was floundering with a children’s picture book manuscript on the life of the medieval mathematician Leonardo of Pisa (~1170-1250), better known as Fibonacci.

Leonardo helped convert Europe from the Roman numerals I-II-III to the Hindu-Arabic numerals 1-2-3, and introduced the west to the world’s most important nonentity: zero. Without it, we’d have no concept of place value. He is best known for a word problem about multiplying rabbits, and the number pattern derived from it called the Fibonacci Sequence.

Fibonacci, as drawn by New Yorker cartoonist John O'Brien

My dilemma was two-fold: First, the real Leonardo never knew that Fibonacci numbers occur in nature. Later mathematicians and scientists made that association.

Either I wrote about Fibonacci or I wrote about the Sequence. I had trouble unifying the two because it didn’t happen that way.

Second, facts on Leonardo’s life are sparse: He grew up in Pisa, sailed to Algeria to keep his merchant father’s accounts, and later traveled the then-known world studying mathematics. A few of his math tomes have survived, but they tell us little of his personal life. To write a picture book about him, one ought to know what made him tick.

What, I wondered, drives a person to chase numbers across the world?

Statue of Leonardo in Pisa today. 

I was intrigued by Leonardo’s Latin nickname, Bigollus. A funny name could make a good book title, but I couldn’t find an authoritative translation. The Fibonacci Association offered an expert. I dreaded making that call. I’m not a mathematician. Indeed, who was I to write such a book?

Herta Taussig Freitag, a professor emeritus of mathematics, took the call in Virginia. She had a thick German accent, and proved to be a delightful, friendly, patient person who was tickled to be speaking with a (then) editor of a math magazine for children.

She had wanted to become a teacher of mathematics since age 12. (As a girl in her native Austria, she had once written in her diary, “I don’t want just to be a teacher of mathematics. I want to be a good teacher of mathematics.”)

We had a long chat, and she assured me that I was grappling with a genuine mystery. No one was satisfied with the translation of Fibonacci’s nickname. It could mean “wanderer,” “daydreamer,” or “absent-minded.” The words seemed in line with modern stereotypes of academics. In modern Italian, a bighellone is a loafer, a slouch, loiterer, dawdler, or gadabout. You get the idea.

When we concluded our call, I promised to send her copies of our magazine. Days after the magazine arrived at her home, a note from the professor arrived in my mail, penned in exquisite calligraphy. “As I have said over the phone,” it read in part, “I feel like praising you and thanking you for doing such valuable service to our Goddess Mathesis!”

The note cheered me. Mathesis is a Greek word meaning knowledge or science, but Freitag and her colleagues had elevated that word to the status of a feminine divine creature said to inspire math scholars.

The math muse inspired me now: What if Fibonacci knew the secret of his famous numbers all along? What if this book was in fact his sly manifesto written only for children?

I’ve never told anyone the secret of my numbers, he could say, but now I’ve told you.

Having Fibonacci speak directly to the reader could make the book playful. Kids—not to mention a certain octogenarian academic—might like it. The manuscript came together nicely, and a year or so later, Holt offered to publish it. I called it Blockhead. An illustrator got to work on the sketches. I phoned the professor to tell her the news. It had been a while since our first talk, and her fragile voice spoke volumes. I rang off, apologizing for disturbing her. She and I never spoke again. She died in 2000 at the age of 91.

Soon after, the book became a problem project, dragging on for years with little progress. Finally, the illustrator quit, forcing us to start from scratch. John O’Brien, a marvelous illustrator, musician, Jersey boy, and a longtime New Yorker cartoonist, took the job. All told, the book took fourteen years to reach bookstores. I was frustrated and angry, but now consider myself fortunate. I had time to polish the prose, understand my hero, and learn about the woman who brought Mathesis to my doorstep.

Professor Freitag had earned a degree in mathematics in Austria, but fled her homeland after Hitler’s invasion in 1938. For six years, she put her dream of teaching on hold while working as a domestic in England, angling for a visa to the USA. She finally came by freighter. She earned her PhD at Columbia University at age 45. She built the math department at Hollins University in Roanoke, and for decades inspired young women. She published papers well into her last decade, gave a “last lecture” for 20 years, and never missed a meeting of the Fibonacci Association, which is devoted to the analysis of those famous numbers. Just how much do these people love the Fibonacci Sequence? Well, let’s just say that their quarterly magazine chose to celebrate not Freitag’s 90th birthday, but her 89th, since 89 is a Fibonacci number.

The color photo of her (top right) of this page was taken in Lucca, Italy, during a conference at Leonardo’s hometown, Pisa.

How can I complain about a book’s long genesis? Imagine leaving your home forever, and putting your dream career on hold for six years while you worked as a maid, restaurant server, or governess? How many of us would have given up? Yet she clung to her passion.

With time I came to understand him through her. A young boy boards a medieval ship and sets sail on a journey to a faraway land. A young woman steps on a freighter bound for New York with only $10 in her purse. I picture them both and know they are plying the seas toward something only they can hear: the ancient call of Mathesis.

I am older now and tend to view Mathesis in the original Greek sense—knowledge, science, learning, mental discipline—and I cling stubbornly to the hope that she speaks to us all. With luck, she strikes young and old alike. Hand a book to a child and you never know what will enchant them. With her voice in their ears, some kids chase math, others art, still others music, rocks, dance, nuclear physics, whatever.

She goes by various names, but she is the same goddess.

* * * 

On that note: If you are thinking about giving to a good cause this season, please consider buying a book for a child. One of our own, crime writer Duane Swierczynski, lost his daughter Evie to cancer in 2018. The Team Evie Foundation holds an annual book drive to benefit the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Five indie bookstores (and Amazon) maintain wish lists of titles approved by the hospital, which you can buy direct from the store websites. (One of the indies can only handle in-person orders.) Survey the list of stores and books at the Team Evie events page. The drive closes December 4th.

I wish my American colleagues a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend. 

See you in three weeks!


23 November 2023

Giving Thanks in 2023

 Holiday Greetings, SleuthSayers Faithful! Since my spot in the SleuthSayers rotation comes every other Thursday, it seems inevitable that every few years my spot will fall on this, in many ways the most American of holidays.

I'm speaking, of course, about Thanksgiving.

The last time I wrote a Thanksgiving post for Sleuthsayers was in 2020, when we as a planet found ourselves mired deep in the Time of COVID. If you'd like to compare, you can find that post here.

So here's my three-year update of what I'm thankful for:

My Family: most especially for my wife, Robyn, and my son, James. The two of them keep me honest and keep things around Casa Thornton fun. Also grateful for my parents, my brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, etc.

My Friends: What can I say? Friends old and more recent, they fill me up, and support me. And I do my damnedest to return the favor.

My Health: After some recent challenges to my health, things have been looking up for the lion's share of 2023, with only metaphorical blue skies in evidence for 2024.

My Writing: I dove into the deep end of the short story market this past twelve months, and it was nice to be able to not only find my groove again, but really work to up my game, write scenes I might not have considered, conceived or attempted earlier in my career. It's been, and continues to be, a wonderful ride!

My Day Gig:
 I love my job. Make this, jobs. Both of them. My writing career (see above) has been, and continues to be, a labor of love that has paid dividends since the jump. My day job is teaching history (currently, and for the past seventeen years, to eighth graders). With COVID, overcrowded classes, and wrestling with a district administration that frequently seems to fail to understand the importance of what I do for a living, it had admittedly been a struggle over the past years.

The kids, for the most part, have remained AWESOME. Absolutely the best portion of what I do. And this year, even more so.

This year, I'm teaching a new subject (Yay U.S. History! And I'll miss Ancient & Medieval, but this is still a welcome change.), working on updating curriculum across multiple fronts. And get this: one of the newest members of my school's history department is a former student of mine. Yes, I have indeed been around that long.

I've written before about "Kids These Days", and fresh on the heels of parent-teacher conferences held just last night, my thoughts turn yet again to this subject: these children and the families who love, support and raise them, are our collective future. And judging from the families I've gotten to know and their wondrous progeny, our future rests in good hands.

The Writing Community At Large: I mentioned "friends" above, and many of my friendships began as acquaintances in the writing community, so of course I have friendships which double dip in "both" my daily life and my peers among the Writing Community at large (thinking especially of my MWA-Northwest cronies here). But more than that, I continue to find writers in general interested in what other writers (myself among them) are up to, and more than willing to be of assistance if at all possible. Twenty or so years into the game, I cherish these associations, and this community, more than ever.

Where I Live: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I've lived a lot of places, but there really is no place like home. Still love the Pacific Northwest.

Yes, I know, I know. The rain. I've lived in the desert. Still enjoy visiting. Lived on the prairies. Magic there, too. LOVE going back.

Still, this is home.

The Seattle Mariners and Baseball in General: Yes, I know they missed the playoffs. Don't care. We'll get 'em next year. And it's only 80 days until "Pitchers and Catchers Report"!

SleuthSayers: This place helps keep me writing. Those twice-monthly deadlines are always there, looming. And as my wife (who ought to know best) is fond of saying of me, I do my best work on a deadline. And that thankfulness includes those of you dear readers who took the time to read this, and for all the folks who have stopped in to have a look at my work over the past decade and a bit.

And on that positive note I am off. Here's wishing us all a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

22 November 2023

John Woo: Hard Boiled

John Woo is back.  His new picture, Silent Night, drops December 1st.  It’s his first American movie since Paycheck, in 2003, so it’s been awhile.

Woo came to the States in 1992, to work with Jean-Claude Van Damme.  He later made movies with Travolta, Christian Slater, Nic Cage, Dolph Lundgren, Tom Cruise, and Ben Affleck, before he went back to China.  The truth is, he was never a good fit with the American studio system, and I don’t honestly think any of the pictures from his American period are as good as the ones he made before and after. Of his later movies, the five-hour historical epic Red Cliff is a jaw-dropper.  But for sheer delirium, nothing can beat Hard Boiled, the last picture he made in Hong Kong thirty years ago, before he left for Hollywood.

Chow Yun-Fat is the tough cop, Tony Leung is the gang enforcer, and they of course go head-to-head.  But in fact, Tony’s character is undercover, which leads to a lot of doubling up and doubling back and double-crosses, which are John Woo trademarks.   

You didn’t really come for psychological twists and moral crises, though.  You came for the choreographed set pieces, and in Hard Boiled, there are three doozies. 

The first is the shoot-out in the restaurant, which is filled with caged birds, with highly decorative plumage, and you know feathers will start to fly.  (Birds are another repeated Woo visual.)  This is also the first time I recall seeing the stunt where the guy slides down a stairwell banister on his back, shooting a gun in each hand as he slides, all the way to the foot of the stairs.  The second is the shoot-out in the warehouse/garage, which involves a lot of crazy motorcycle jumps and crashes, along with rappelling through a skylight and other acrobatics.  The third and last gunfight is the showdown at the hospital maternity ward, which has to be seen to be believed.

The two cops, our heroes, are trying to thwart a hostage situation, including an entire floor of newborn babies.  There are dozens of bad guys, natch, and as I remember, the whole place has been wired with explosives, but fear not.  At one point, our guys are moving down a long corridor, back to back, so they can cover each other, and shooting out glass walls, left and right, and when it looks like they’re trapped, they duck into an elevator - do a speed reload with fresh magazines – and get out of the elevator on a different floor, and keep shooting.  Lest you think it’s small potatoes, this scene is shot in one take.  Two minutes and forty seconds long.  Word has it that the final shootout took forty days to shoot.

John Woo is nothing if not a technical master, and you find yourself holding your breath in some of his action scenes.  All the same, I think he’s a romantic at heart, like Peckinpah.  The visuals stay with you, but he gives you the emotional punch, to go with them.

21 November 2023

Embarking on a Series

I'm happy to have my friend Alan Orloff taking over my slot today. He's a great writer and a heck of a guy. Today he's talking about the benefits of writing a series. Welcome, Alan. And happy early Thanksgiving, everyone. I'll see you again in three weeks.

Barb Goffman

 Embarking on a Series by Alan Orloff

Thanks to Barb and the rest of the SleuthSayers for being such gracious blog hosts! I can’t wait for the guest blogger banquet! I hope that SANCTUARY MOTEL, my new suspense novel, is the first in a long, long series featuring Mess Hopkins (the do-gooder proprietor of a seen-better-days motel). But having a long-running series wasn’t always at the top of my writer wish list. The first five (or maybe six) manuscripts I ever wrote were all designed to be standalone novels. A self-contained story. A beginning, a middle, and an end, for the plots and for the characters. Where characters can be killed off, because you don’t *need* them to populate a future story. Now, my main characters can rest easy—their lives are protected. Even if something terrible happens to them, I’m pretty sure they’ll recover in time for the next adventure. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy writing standalones. As a writer, you’re free to explore different milieus, using different voices, creating different characters. You have plenty of freedom to follow your whims, not constrained by choices you made seven books ago that may no longer suit your needs. But boy, isn’t there something comforting about revisiting old friends in familiar settings once a year? And because I’m very lazy, isn’t there something, uh, efficient, about not having to create an entire cast of characters and build a new world with every book? U betcha! So, after a string of standalones, I decided to embark on a series. Here are some (mostly pragmatic) things I considered as I mapped out my series: Premise I sought a premise that wasn’t too narrow—I wanted a basic set-up that could be used as a foundation on which to build stories. The idea for SANCTUARY MOTEL grew out of two thoughts. One, I saw a news report about a municipality converting abandoned motels and hotels into housing for the homeless (great idea!). I combined this with my love for quirky and run-down motels. (Trust me, I stayed in some doozies, back in the day! But that’s a different blog post.) Weirdly, there just happened to be a couple of independent motels fitting this description that already existed in the City of Fairfax. I modeled the physical characteristics of the fictional Fairfax Manor Inn by mashing up those two (in my head) and adding a few embellishments. Thus my idea was born and ready for further refinements. In the end, I think I succeeded. A motel that opens up its doors to those needing sanctuary (from a bad situation) gives me the foundational premise (and flexibility) I was looking for. Setting SANCTUARY MOTEL is set in the City of Fairfax, VA, an area I am quite familiar with. In many respects, it’s a typical big-city suburb (so many readers will identify with it), but my hometown knowledge can also take them on interesting side trips to places not widely known.  (A quick aside: my only other “series” (two books, KILLER ROUTINE and DEADLY CAMPAIGN) was also set in Northern Virginia, and I even managed to include one of my favorite characters from those books (a bookie named Jimmy the Raisin) in my new series.) Cast of Characters I wanted to create a cast of characters that was varied enough to support many different storylines (most of which I haven’t even thought up yet!). In SANCTUARY MOTEL, I include the requisite sidekick, the requisite love interest, the requisite relatives (good and bad), the requisite work colleague, the requisite cop/old friend. But I also managed to introduce a host of other interesting folks: a wise street informant, the aforementioned Jimmy the Raisin, a vet who owns a nearby bagel place, a gruff security guy named Griff, a fortune-teller, and others. Some of these characters have relatively minor roles in this book, but they certainly might “come in handy” in future books. Character Growth In a novel, characters are supposed to grow or undergo some sort of transformative transformation (or something like that—I never took a formal creative writing class). But there’s more room for growth and character arcs over a number of books. While it might require a little more planning, I think it will ultimately prove more satisfying to see my characters grow meaningfully from book to book. I’m working on the second novel in the series now, and already I’ve thanked my past-self several times for having the foresight to set things up in a way that lends itself to my current story. Now, if I could just tell my past-self to make a few different life decisions (like invest in Apple decades ago), I’d be driving a nicer car! Okay, back to work. My series isn’t going to write itself. Isn’t that right, future-self? Alan Orloff has published ten novels and more than forty-five short stories. His work has won an Anthony, an Agatha, a Derringer, and two ITW Thriller Awards. His latest novel is SANCTUARY MOTEL, from Level Best Books. He loves cake and arugula, but not together. Never together. He lives and writes in South Florida, where the examples of hijinks are endless. www.alanorloff.com

About SANCTUARY MOTEL Mess Hopkins, proprietor of the seen-better-days Fairfax Manor Inn, never met a person in need who couldn’t use a helping hand—his helping hand. So he’s thrown open the doors of the motel to the homeless, victims of abuse, or anyone else who could benefit from a comfy bed with clean sheets and a roof overhead. This rankles his parents and uncle, who technically still own the place and are more concerned with profits than philanthropy. When a mother and her teenage boy seek refuge from an abusive husband, Mess takes them in until they can get back on their feet. Shortly after arriving, the mom goes missing and some very bad people come sniffing around, searching for some money they claim belongs to them. Mess tries to pump the boy for helpful information, but he’s in full uncooperative teen mode—grunts, shrugs, and monosyllabic answers. From what he does learn, Mess can tell he’s not getting the straight scoop. It’s not long before the boy vanishes too. Abducted? Run away? Something worse? And who took the missing money? Mess, along with his friend Vell Jackson and local news reporter Lia Katsaros, take to the streets to locate the missing mother and son—and the elusive, abusive husband—before the kneecapping loansharks find them first.

20 November 2023

Often wrong, rarely in doubt.

We’re living in the Information Age. I don’t know what they’ll call the next age, since we don’t yet have enough information to make the call, probably because it’s too hard to imagine anything more wonderful than our modern technology (in the archaic sense of the word – filling a person with wonder).

The computing ability of that little device in my pocket is powerful enough to deliver most of the world’s information in a matter of seconds, any time, day or night. I marvel at this, in the same way I marvel at giant aircraft that fly to Japan and the little handful of pills I take every night I’m told is keeping me alive. The pleasant female voice on my iPhone telling me how to get from Dublin to Killarney. I feel if you aren’t dazzled by these technical miracles, you aren’t paying attention. But still.

Hadron Collider
Hadron Collider

Is information the same as learning, and is learning the same as knowledge?

I’m what they call an Infomaniac, which is a common condition with writers, who want to know everything all the time. I obsessively absorb all the information I can grab, which is a lot, because I never know when it will come in handy. Though I’m beginning to think it’s too much.

One of the conclusions emerging from this gush of information is that much of it is inaccurate. While disinformation is rampant, most inaccuracies are unintentional, because the individual chronicler can only know so much, as is true with those who advise her, so she has to get some things wrong. Consequently, you have to take the things you learn with a grain of salt. A big, honking, room-sized boulder of salt.

A recent article in the New York Times by a learned scientist tells us we really shouldn’t expect science to have the right answers. Actually, quite the contrary. They’re often wrong, and the more conviction they display, the less reliable their assertions. I’ve known this for some time, having studied the history of science. Nearly every groundbreaking study and elegant theory is full of caveats, and put forth usually more as a proposition than an iron-clad, done deal. They will only know how close they got to a definitive answer over time, as additional research adds to the understanding, and the worthy process of challenges and counterarguments takes its course.

And the most wonderful thing to me, is that while science can often predict with 100% certainty what will happen from a set of organized interactions, they often don’t know why. Much of modern electronic wizardry is based on theories of quantum mechanics, which not a single physicist in history has fully understood. They can just guess and approximate, and hope that their children and grandchildren will get us closer to the truth.

(Quantum mechanics is so hard to understand that at least one theoretical physicist thinks his science has given up trying. I agree with him that this is foolish. What if Lewis and Clark had stopped in Kansas, telling each other, this is just too hard?)

So that’s the other leg of the stool. Information leads to learning, which may or may not yield reliable knowledge, which rarely serves up truth, in the absolute way we all understand the word.

Consequently, truth is likely the most revered and slipperiest word in the language. An advertising colleague of mine once said, in the midst of a very confusing and stressful period at work, “I know my name is Joan and I live in a house.” Like her, I know certain things to be true. I love my wife, my dog and my family. I love the places I live, and my friends. I was born in Philadelphia and if I root for the Phillies, they’ll likely lose in the playoffs. Everything else is up for grabs.

glass of red wine

Everyday I read something that totally contradicts what we’ve always considered to be established fact. Coffee is bad for you? Nope. It’s great. Drink all you want. Red wine is great for your health? Nope. Even a little bit will shorten your life. Neanderthals were lumbering, inferior oafs. Nope. Their brains were bigger than ours and they could kick our asses with one foot tied behind their backs. Honey bees are disappearing? Nope. We’re lousy with them.

My goal, and intended default setting, is to be a skeptic, without becoming a cynic. To be open to everything, without believing anything prior to further examination. Trust but verify. As much as you can, and then still keep some skepticism in reserve.

As a young person, I was usually flush with passionate conviction. At his stage, when someone asks my opinion on something, anything, I usually say, “I’m not sure.”

19 November 2023

To Bed, Too Bad

My parents used to quote a rhyme at bedtime, which I recently mentioned to a friend. Naturally, curiosity demanded yet another internet deep dive. Here are two main variations:

“Come, let’s to bed!”
Said Sleepy-head.
“Let’s stay awhile,” said Sloe.
“Put on the pot,”
Said Greedy Sot,
“We'll sup before we go.”
“To bed! To bed!”
Said Sleepyhead.
“Tarry awhile,” said Slow.
“Put on the pan,”
Said Greedy Nan;
“We'll sup before we go.”

The nursery rhyme ‘To Bed, To Bed’ was first printed by Sir Henry Cole in 1843 in Traditional Nursery Songs of England with Pictures by Eminent Modern Artists. Seven decades later, a variation was republished in The Little Mother Goose in 1912.

3 girls preparing for bed

“Okay,” you say, stifling a yawn worthy of Sleepyhead. “So what?”

In internet perambulations, I stumbled upon a homicidal version. It didn’t take much digging to trace this dastardly deadly document to an Australian poet, David Lewis Paget.

“Murder? What sick mind would do such a thing?” you wonder aloud.

Uh, me! Me! But my attempt will have to appear another time. Here now is David Paget’s take where “To bed, to bed,” means deathbed, never to arise again.

To Bed, To Bed (deadly version)
“To bed! To bed!”
Said Sleepy-head.
“Tarry awhile,” said Slow.
“Put on the pan,”
Said Greedy Nan.
“We'll sup before we go.”
They sat at the kitchen table as
The candle flickered low,
And Greedy Nan put on the pan
To indulge her sister, Slow,
While Sleepy Weepy Annabelle
Blotted her book with tears,
And thought of her Beau from long ago
Who she hadn’t seen for years.
“Why doesn’t Roger notice me,
Why doesn’t Alan O’Dell?
I’m wearing the dress cut low for me
And I’ve hitched my skirt as well.
I’ve a pretty turn to my ankle, so
You’d think it would drive them wild.’
“But men are a mystery,” said Slow,
“And Alan O’Dell’s a child.”
While over the pan stood Greedy Nan,
Was cracking a turkey’s egg,
A lump of yeast and a slice of beast
And a single spider’s leg.
With a wing of bat and an ounce of fat
And a toe of frog for the spell,
She needed to turn her sister off
From her crush on Alan O’Dell.
For Greedy Nan was the eldest girl
And would have to marry first,
The other two would wait in the queue
Or their fortunes be reversed,
The omelette sizzled, and in the pan
She added before they saw,
A piece of some Devil’s Trumpet plant
For the mating game meant war.
She sliced the omelette into half
And she served them up a piece,
“Didn’t you want?” said Annabelle
But Slow enjoyed the feast.
“I’m not that terribly hungry now
I’ve cooked it up in the pan,
I think I’ll just have a slice of bread,”
Said the scheming Greedy Nan.
They finished up and they sat awhile,
And they mused about their fate,
“If Greedy Nan isn’t married soon,
For us it will be too late.’
“I’ve set my sights on a country squire,”
Said Nan, without a blink,
Lured them away from her secret fire
To confuse what they might think.
“The room is woozy, spinning around,
I’d better get me to bed,”
Said Annabelle, while Slow with a frown
Saw Dwarves dancing in her head.
But Greedy Nan was cleaning the pan
To clear all signs of the spell,
Her back was turned to her sisters, spurned
For the sake of Alan O’Dell.
And when he came in the morning
Greedy Nan was sat by the door,
While Annabelle and her sister Slow
Were lying dead on the floor,
“I didn’t mean it to kill them all,
It was only a simple spell,”
But as they cuffed and led her away
He frowned, did Alan O’Dell.

Sot in this case means fool. Some readers may have been confused by the term, because another, more modern variation uses the phrase Greedy Gut.

18 November 2023

The Storia Story

It's my great pleasure today to feature a guest post by my friend Josh Pachter. He's practically a regular here at SleuthSayers lately anyway, but in case you don't know, Josh was the 2020 recipient of the Short Mystery Fiction Society's Golden Derringer Award for Lifetime Achievement, and after fifty-five years of selling short fiction to EQMM, AHMM, and elsewhere, his first novel Dutch Threat was published this September. He's also the editor of some twenty anthologies, including six (so far!) books of stories inspired by the songs of singer/songwriters and the films of the Marx Brothers, most recently Happiness Is a Warm Gun: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of the Beatles. Welcome back, Josh!

— John Floyd

The Storia Story

by Josh Pachter

There's a new market for short genre fiction in town, and since I've been involved with it from pretty close to the beginning my buddy John Floyd has asked me to drop by today and tell you about it. 

On July 24 of this year, I got the following out-of-the-blue email from someone named Todd Gallet.

    Reaching out to see if you might be interested/available for a paid collaboration on our new immersive reading app launching this fall. Storia's vision is to transform reading into a fun, immersive and entertaining routine with a fresh new format for the Gen-Z audience. With a mix of reading, 2D/3D animation, audio, and tactile experiences, we're reinventing the way the mobile generation reads. We are looking to partner with a writer like yourself on an original short story (~2-3K words) for the app. Our story categories include SciFi, Fantasy, Horror, Action/Adventure, and Mystery.

    I'd love to schedule a brief intro call to discuss the project in more detail. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks!

I Googled Todd, of course, and learned that he's an actor out in La-La Land, and Googling "Storia" brought up a bare-bones placeholder web page, nothing more. The pitch was intriguing, but I thought it had a whiff of scam to it, so I cautiously replied to Todd's email requesting more information and cut-and-pasted it to the Short Mystery Fiction Society's listserv, asking if anyone else had gotten the same email I'd received. 

Several of us had (John, Stacy Woodson, and Bill McCormick), while some others I would have expected to have been contacted hadn't been (such as Michael Bracken and Rob Lopresti).

Todd wrote back promptly and answered my questions satisfactorily, and I wound up having a couple of enjoyable FaceTime conversations with him. Before sending him any of my fiction, though, I asked to see the contract he intended to ask contributors to sign. He sent it, I read through it carefully and wrote back to say that I thought it was one-sided in favor of Storia, and asked for about a dozen changes . . . all of which were promptly made. 

John, Stacy, Bill, and I met several times via Zoom--with Bill calling in from his temporary home in Latvia!--and given the revised contract we agreed that it would be worth giving Storia a try.

All four of us have now sold Todd's company one to three stories, and we were all paid the promised amount remarkably quickly. The Storia app doesn't launch until December, so we haven't yet seen the final product, but some brief animation samples that were subsequently posted to the website and some character sketches John received suggest that the quality is going to be solid and that we'll wind up happy with the way our work has been treated.

With all that backstory in place, let me tell you now what Storia is looking for and what they're offering. 

As Todd said in his original email, they're buying genre fiction that runs between two and three thousand words (although the website now suggests that they'll consider stories up to four thousand words.). As we went back and forth by email and FaceTime, I learned that a successful story will begin and end with action that can be animated, and that there'll be animatable moments every couple to four hundred words. Stories can be written in first or third person, past or present tense. Including dialogue is fine, but less talking and more action is better than more talking and less action. 

For an original story, the company is paying a flat fee of a thousand dollars, no royalties, and what they want in return is a permanent exclusive license to use the story in their app. The authors retain the right to include the story in collections of their own short fiction, and it can be reprinted in a year's-best collection, but otherwise Storia owns both the story and its characters for the life of the app.

For reprints, the fee is seven hundred and fifty dollars, and the license runs for ten years on the story and three years on the characters. 

For both originals and reprints, all rights revert to the author if Storia goes under.

A permanent license for an original and ten years for a reprint are lengthy terms, and that might well turn some writers off. On the other hand, I know that I've sold more than a hundred short crime stories over the last fifty years, and only once have I ever been paid a thousand bucks for a single story . . . while I've sold many stories, especially to anthologies in recent years, for a twenty-five-dollar advance against royalties that never materialized. And I don't think I've ever written a story that paid me anything close to seven hundred and fifty dollars in reprint rights over any given ten-year period.

One cautionary note: since Storia buys not only the rights to your story but also to its characters, I recommend against sending them a series story unless you change the names of the characters first.

Also, be aware that the company may ask for revisions--generally to punch up the action scenes--and may ask you to submit the story with the dialogue presented in basic script format.

FLOYD (puzzled)

You mean like this?

PACHTER (patiently)

Exactly, John. (he points to the screen) Just like I'm showing you here.

Go to storia.io for more information and a look at some of the company's early character designs and animation samples. You'll also find links for both writers and animators to submit their work (and, if you look closely, thumbnail headshots of John, Stacy--and Michael Bracken, who apparently has now connected with them, after all!) and a "Request Access" button that'll put you in line for early access to a limited amount of free content when the app launches in (if all goes according to plan) December.

Storia seems very interested in building ongoing relationships with writers, and Todd has reached out to me several times to ask me to submit more stories, and most recently he asked if I'd be interested in adapting existing public-domain fiction for the Storia platform.

It remains to be seen whether or not the market will welcome another attempt at presenting short fiction via a smartphone app--anyone remember Great Jones Street?--but at a thousand dollars a story paid in actual money and not just vague promises, this is a bandwagon the Sayers of the Sleuth might well consider jumping on.