29 September 2020

Who Are You?


Though our bios are important,
what do our photos tell
readers about us?
Author bios can be some of the trickiest bits of writing we do. We want a reader to know something of our personality and something of our accomplishments, all within a tightly constrained word count and sometimes following special instructions from an editor.

During the course of our writing careers, our bios take at least three forms—some more stressful to produce than others—and, if we’re lucky, can take a fourth.

BIO LEVEL 1

The first form is the bio we write early in our career, the one accompanying our first few publications when we have no career of note.

It will be simple, and likely filled with information not writing related:
A. Writer eats broccoli, likes cats, and lives in his mother’s basement. This is his first sale.
BIO LEVEL 2

The second bio we write after we establish a modest career, and it is likely filled with info about our publications and, maybe, a personal note:
A. Writer is the author of Really Cool Novel (Small Press Publisher, 2016), and more than a dozen short stories published in Magazine A, Magazine B, and others. He still lives in his mother’s basement.
BIO LEVEL 3

Several years later, after we’ve established ourselves, we have so many accomplishments we could mention that we find ourselves torn. Which do we mention? How much can we say without sounding like an ego-inflated ass? And, so, even though we know it doesn’t include everything we’ve accomplished, our bio looks something like:
A. Writer is the author of several novels, including Really Cool Novel (Small Press Publisher, 2016), Really Cool Novel 2 (Small Press Publisher, 2017), Really Cool Novel 3 (Small Press Publisher, 2018), and the stand-alone My Agent Made Me Write This (Almost a Big Five Publisher, 2020), as well as several hundred short stories published or forthcoming in Major Magazine A, Major Magazine B, Magazine A, Magazine B, Magazine C, Magazine D, Anthology A, and Anthology B. His stories have been short-listed for half-a-dozen awards, some of which you’ve never heard of, and he’s twice had stories good enough to be included in the “Other Distinguished Stories” list at the back of The Best of Year Anthology. He edited Broccoli & Cats, an anthology of food-related cat stories. He finally has his own apartment.
BIO LEVEL 4

This one may be the easiest bio of all but is one few of us ever get to write. This is the point in our career when we have become so famous that our byline is all the bio we need. Think:
  • Stephen King
  • James Patterson
If forced to provide more than a byline, we can add just a touch of personal information:
A. Writer. His mother lives in his basement.
BIO VARIATIONS

Some editors (me, for example) prefer professional bios. That is, they want bios heavy on writing accomplishments and light on personal details. They want to know what awards you’ve received and where your work has been published.

Other editors prefer personal bios. They want to know about your veggie preferences, your cats, your kids, your spouse, your education, your hobbies, and any intimate details of your life you care to reveal.

Still other editors want a combination bio that includes a bit of both.

And, sometimes, an editor wants a specific bit of information included in your bio, regardless of which type (professional or personal) they prefer. For example, I asked contributors to The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods to include something about their connection to Texas, and through the author bios, readers learn which contributors were born in Texas and still live here, which were born here but moved away, who worked on a cattle ranch, who is descended from the first Secretary of War to the Republic of Texas, and so on.

IT’S NOT THE LENGTH OF YOUR BIO, IT’S WHAT YOU DO WITH IT

Editors often have space limitations, so we must be creative within whatever limitations we’re given. Twenty-five words? Fifty words? One hundred words? It varies from publication to publication.

So, pay attention to your editor’s bio guidelines. Pay attention to your word count, your editor’s bio style preferences, and any special requests. Then pack as much information as possible within the word count you’re given.

What you should never do is ignore the editor’s guidelines and send the editor your one-size-fits-all (but doesn’t really) prepackaged bio and ask the editor to revise it to meet her needs or cut it to fit within her publication’s space limitations.

MY BIO

I’m at the Bio Level 3 ego-inflated ass stage of my career—one doesn’t write for forty-plus years without acquiring several accomplishments—and, because I try to write bios that meet each editor’s specific guidelines, I constantly struggle with what information to include.

I’m not complaining about my current bio level, but it certainly would be nice to advance to Bio Level 4.



My past as the King of Confessions rises to the surface. Eight of my confessions have been reprinted in these four anthologies.

28 September 2020

Bam, Scam, Thank you, Ma'am


Every six weeks, or so, my wife Barbara says to me, "Isn't your big break about due again?"

It's a standing joke, going on for so long we no longer remember when it began.

The phone rings and when one of us answers, we hear a young female with an Asian accent asking for "Step-on Leez-cow." This young woman, whose name is always "Mumble" and who works for "Mumble Mumble" promotion group (both of those change from call to call, by the way), is very ex-site-ted about my new book, Post Cards of the Haing-Ging. They would like to promote it and hope I will send (usually 50 or 100) copies to some book event that also changes with each call and which I've never been able to find through an Internet search.

I haven't stayed on the line long enough to learn how much money I'm supposed to invest in their enterprise, but I know it will be enough to make their phone call worthwhile… for them.

My "new" novel Postcards of the Hanging, appeared in February 2014. I have received this phone call at least a dozen times in the last three years and I look forward to it along with offers to update the warranty on my 2004 Honda Accord.

If you're new to writing, you'd probably be thrilled to receive a call like this. Don't be. Ask  how the "Company" heard about your book. Ask what they noticed about your website. Ask where else they have looked to find information about you. It's fun to listen to the dead air before they guess. Sorry, Ms., no lifeline here.

A month ago, I heard from a new caller and was in a bad mood (Surgery does that to me), so I played with him more than usual.

"Kevin" called from some mumbled promotion group, and they were palpitating about Words of Love, which I published "recently." It was late 2019, so props to them for being more up-to-date than Ms Bangkok (Who is due to call again next week). Kevin wanted to promote my book so we could boost the sales enough to bring it to the attention of major publishers and renegotiate a deal. We would split the profits. He didn't say whether it would be an even split.

I interrupted to ask how much he expected me to invest, and he answered, "10 or 15 thousand dollars" (Cue hysterical laughter). After that, like a basketball player who turns the ball over and compounds the error by committing a foul, he asked if I was familiar with traditional publishing.

My first novel was with a small traditional publisher. They peeled me like an apple, partly because I signed a bad contract and partly because they were blood-sucking vermin. Other writers had similar experiences and the company has long since disappeared because word got around, as it always does. Remember, we're writers. We tell stories. That company is one of the reasons I self-publish my novels now.

Then Kevin went for the Trifecta, asking me what I've done to promote my book. This is my answer, pretty much verbatim:

I'm a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. I have served on panels for both MWA and SinC, usually at libraries, but at both the New England Crime Bake and Crime Conn, too. I conduct fiction workshops in libraries and other venues, and have a video workshop available online. I have done radio and TV interviews,  podcasts and print newspaper feature stories. I have won several awards, which are listed on my Website and Facebook Author page. My daughter updates my website frequently. I have also published about thirty short stories (traditionally) and have several others currently under consideration.

Kevin was amazed. I told him he hadn't done his homework or he would have, at the very least, Googled me and found all that stuff--along with reviews of various books and stories.

I didn't bother to point out what would happen on the one in a trillion chance that a traditional publisher decided to take on my book. I simply told Kevin I don't give large sums of money to amateurs.

These are scams. 

Because of the Covid-19 lockdown, many people who have threatened to write "That Book" have actually used the time to do just that. The scammers smell fresh meat and are coming out of the dunghills to take advantage of it.

huckster

The Short Mystery Fiction Society posted a scam letter a few weeks ago, and when I first started out, I might have fallen for it. Now, I got about one sentence beyond the salutation before I knew it was fake. Less than two weeks ago, SMFS published a warning about a questionable literary agency that wanted to put writers in touch with Hollywood to sell their novel as a screenplay. I get email offers like that about once a month. They never name the novel they're looking at.

The problem is, if you're starting out, you're learning to write and query and create a synopsis and do an elevator pitch and revise your novel and create a website, a Twitter feed and a dozen other things. You're already swamped without having to learn to spot the grifters out there. There are a few websites to warn people, but they need to know a scam is active before they can pass the word. That means someone has to spot it and alert them.

Writer's organizations are important because they protect their members.

That's another thing mystery writers do besides tell stories. We try to look out for each other.

27 September 2020

In the Trenches


"In order to write about life
you must first live it.
        — Ernest Hemingway

For most of what goes into my writing, I tried to first live in that life, but then as a kid I had also raised myself on such novels as The Three Musketeers, Scaramouche, Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe. The true adrenaline adventures came later.

If what I was going to write about as an adult was not something I had personally lived or observed, then I would research that topic. I quickly found the best research information came from those who had lived in that life, so when I decided to write my Bookie series, I went out and got myself a bookie. Surprisingly, he wasn't like bookies are depicted in movies and on television. This bet taker turned out to be a young guy, no different than the All-American kid next door. It's just that he illegally took bets on sporting events and laundered some of his cash salary received for booking these bets through his personal legitimate business as a landscaping company.

Now bookies don't necessarily talk to law enforcement and especially not to lay out their entire clandestine operation. Since this particular bookie had a loose, potential connection to my extended family, he agreed to meet with me, but not in the city where we both lived. Which led us to Bernie, my mother-in-law, who lived in a town about an hour away.

At the time, Bernie was a school teacher and the biggest fan of my short stories and magazine articles. She definitely did not condone crime or criminals, but when I explained the situation, she decided that since it was me then I could use her house for the meeting place. She would just go shopping during the appointed meeting time.

The bookie, whom I had never met before, and I got together for a couple of hours and talked. I ended up with four typed pages of notes. Having never made a sports bet, except for friendly wagers with friends while watching various Super Bowls, this was all new to me. I learned about overs and unders and the spread. I learned how bookies only take referred clients, how limits worked, how the odds came from Vegas and the terms for betting. A penny is a hundred dollars, two cents is $200, a nickel is $500 and a dime is $1,000. Back then, bet records were kept on cassette tapes and tossed in a burn barrel after debts were settled. Sometimes, they merely used magnetic erasers to clean the tapes. The client knew he was being taped when he placed the bet. The bookie then repeated the bet on tape and stated the account number of the client.

A Popcorn Bookie was a small wanna-be bookie who usually operated in a bar or other business and laid off his bets to a larger local Book. For very large bets, the local book would usually lay off those bets to an offshore book in order to protect themselves from extreme loses.

Using some of the above information, I wrote the first two stories in my Bookie series. Unfortunately for me, AHMM and EQMM didn't take these stories, so they didn't become an actual series. You know, one is a standalone, two is a sequel and it takes at least three to make a series.

For my E Z Money Pawn Shop series, I went to an actual pawn shop owner on a cold call and spoke to him for an hour. He was not as forthcoming as the bookie when it came to telling shop stories, but I got enough info to write a couple of my own stories. These two pawn shop stories and the two bookie stories can currently be found in 9 Deadly Tales on Amazon in paperback.

For my 9 Tales of the Golden Triangle, I figured a year in Nam (1967-68) was close enough for experience, plus years later, reading the reports on opium warlords that crossed my work desk along with various editions of the South China Morning Post out of Hong Kong. Six of these tales have already been published in AHMM, one more has been purchased by them but not yet published and two more are resting in AHMM's e-slush pile. All nine stories should see print in paperback on Amazon in a year or two.

In past SleuthSayer blog articles, I have written about the backgrounds of 9 Holiday Burglars Mysteries, 9 Historical Mysteries and 9 Twin Brothers Bail Bond Mysteries, so I won't repeat that information except to say they are also available in paperback on Amazon.

And, that's me reporting from the trenches.

Have a nice day and keep on writin'.

26 September 2020

Writing is Hard (in which Bad Girl confesses the truth about all those books)


A long time ago, back when video stores were kind of a cool new thing, I was whooping it up at the Toronto Press club with some eminently more famous Toronto newspaper columnists and reporters. One of them, Scottish he was, asked me this:

"Tell me lass. You have a syndicated humour column, you've written comedy, you've had over two dozen short stories published… So why aren't you writing a novel?"

After much deliberation, my exceedingly clever answer was: "Because they might want me to write another one?"

That got a round of applause (actually make that a round of scotch) from the somewhat sozzled guys at the bar.

No, really. Even then, even in my not-quite-Cleopatra salad days (thanks for that, Mr. Shakespeare) I knew that writing a novel would be a rat-poop load of work. It wasn't that I was allergic to work. I had honed the art of writing 650-800 words every week and making them passably funny. And believe me, that was a challenge after the first 100 columns. But writing 80,000 words on one subject? Especially when you had to make the whole thing up?

That was 1995, twenty-five years ago, they try to tell me (but I'm not buying it.) Since then, I've written 17 novels and a pile more short stories. And let me tell you.

Writing is WORK. Holy poop, it is work. It is a freaking black hole of work and time and bloodletting. Time suck, soul suck, give your life over to the keyboard for MONTHS.

Sure, I love the finished product. Love it 'when a plan comes together' (guess that reference.) But having done this so many times, I can't kid myself that it's going to be easy.

I've heard other authors say they can't wait to sit down to write the first page of a new novel. That they get so excited when they start something new.

That isn't me. After 17 books, I know what's coming. Months and months of hunkering over the keyboard, doubting myself, loving, then hating my characters (Jesus Murphy, WHY is she such a whiny nincompoop?) Finding the Black Moment. BECOMING the black moment.

So to illustrate, my starts are more like this:

Me: "Sob!" (hits head against desk) "I don't want to. Don't make me. I can't do it again..." (reaches for scotch bottle with head still on desk)

Working-class Muse, quite possibly from Jersey, the wrong side: "Listen, sister. Sit your fat bippie down and get a move-on. These things don't write themselves."

Me: "But it's so HARD." (slurping puddle of scotch sideways from desktop)

Muse: "You think THIS is hard? Remember before you were published? Remember all those rejections letters from publishers? We insulated the walls of of the cottage with them."

Me (sniveling): "Too bad the place caught fire."

Muse: "Maybe if you hadn't written BURN IN HELL on all of them…"

At about this time in the ritual, W-C Muse says the magic motivating words: "Sit up sister. YOU GOT A CONTRACT."

Me: "Oh right. Friggin hell. Move over. And pass the scotch."

And so it goes.

I'm at that stage right now. Staring the page in the face, knowing I have to start book 2 in a new series, thinking I'd rather jump out this picture window into the lake below (even though I'm 4 stories up and about 50 feet from shore. So it would be quite a leap.)

Anybody else like this? Anyone else dread starting the new project because it means another dive into that black hole that is writing?

I started life as a columnist, so I know I should end on a positive note. Wrap up these six hundred words with smart repartee, and sage advice for the novice. So here goes.

Writing is Hard. But it's my life.

Melodie Campbell whines about writing from the shores of Lake Ontario. Her 16th book, The Italian Cure, came out this year at about the same time covid did. Hell of a start for a poor book, even a trashy romantic comedy. Available at all the usual suspects. www.melodiecampbell.com

25 September 2020

Wooden-legged Playboy Bequeaths America a Cherished Ideal


Hey, did you all have a rockin’ Constitution Day last Thursday? A great American day off, complete with outdoor grilling, parades, flags, and late-night fireworks? Yeah, me neither. And not because of the pandemic.

Constitution Day (Sept. 17th) is the federal holiday Americans don’t know. Two hundred thirty-three years ago, 74 men were invited to Philadelphia to consider replacing the weak Articles of Confederation that was proving disastrous for the new American states. The nation was bankrupt and had no treasury or military to speak of. Despite this, citizens were deeply suspicious of a plan to hammer out a new system of government. Only 55 men answered the call. After nearly four months of debate, only 40 (39 representatives and the convention’s president George Washington) signed the resulting document on September 17, 1787, and embarked on a campaign for ratification.

It’s sort of like the story of the Declaration of Independence, only more forgettable. The Fourth of July has everything going for it. A rag-tag band of rebels overthrew a king! In contrast, the Seventeenth of September presages an ugly, querulous slog to durable nationhood. Americans argued about the Constitution in 1787. And they argue about it today.

Jefferson fatuously declared that the men of the Constitutional Convention were “an assembly of demigods.” Yeah—they weren’t. But sometimes imperfect people can conceive a more perfect union. Let’s take, for example, my favorite Constitution signer, Gouverneur Morris.

Gouverneur Morris
(Courtesy Library of Congress)

He hailed from a rich New York family whose family seat was located at Morrisania in the Bronx. Six feet tall, Morris was witty, fit, and imposing, and once served as a body double as the French sculptor Houdon shaped marble into the form of George Washington. There’s just one limb Houdon had to dream up out of his own imagination: Washington’s left leg.

You see, in his twenties Gouverneur Morris lost his left leg in a carriage accident. He wore a wooden prosthesis for the rest of his life. (The New-York Historical Society preserves the pegleg in a glass case next to FDR’s leg brace.) A rumor at the time held that Morris had really lost his leg while leaping out of a window to escape an angry husband.

Morris’s bedroom exploits are legendary. In his diaries, Morris recounted steamy encounters with numerous women in passageways, carriages, even a Parisian convent. He did not discriminate. He dallied with young and old, married or single. He once hooked up with a pair of sisters. He did it in the Louvre, which then served as an apartment complex for nobles. The author of the best Morris biography, Richard Brookhiser, reveals that the language in Morris’s diaries are loaded with euphemisms.
“They performed ‘the rites’; he conferred ‘the joy’; they did ‘the needful.’ They ‘sacrificed to the Cyprian Queen [Venus]’; they ‘performed the first commandment given to Adam, [i.e., be fruitful and multiply] or at least we used the means.’ Over and over, Morris boasted, like a teenager (or at least, like a teenager who knows Latin), that he was suaviter in modo, fortiter in re—gentle in manner, resolute in the deed.”
At one point Morris exclaims of a woman: “What fine materials for seduction!” In another passage, he writes that he and his partner “brightened the chain together.” (Brookhiser explains that one brightens a chain by, ahem, rubbing it.) After spying Dolley Madison in a low-cut dress, Morris wonders if she is “amenable to seduction.” Yes, Dolley was happily married, but Morris dismissed fellow signer James Madison, architect of the U.S.’s three branches of government, as “shriveled.”

So that’s the hormonal side of the man. Like a peripatetic Zelig, he also popped up at key moments in history and used his brains to set things to rights. During the American Revolution, he traveled to Valley Forge to check on Washington’s troops, was gob-smacked at what he found, and lost no time describing to Congress the “naked, starving condition” of their army. He developed the U.S.’s decimal-based monetary system, employing the word “cent” to replace the British “penny.” Living abroad after the war, he bore witness to the horrors of the French Revolution and lent money without expectation of repayment to nobles fleeing their homeland. He was at Alexander Hamilton’s bedside when the man died of the bullet lodged near his spine, and later delivered Hamilton’s eulogy. Pressed into service for his hometown, Morris laid out a scrupulously logical street plan for New York City, which satisfied his apparent love of precision and mathematical order, and playfully mocked the European design of Washington, DC.

When in his teens, Morris knocked over a kettle of boiling water and scalded off most of the flesh from his right arm. The nerves were most likely damaged, and the limb remained scarred and impaired for the rest of his life. Considering his double blow—the loss of a leg and the disfiguring of his arm—one would expect Morris to be a bitter man. On the contrary, he was generally happy and took pains to write letters consoling friends and acquaintances in their times of need. And while his father, mother and family all owned slaves, he held no enslaved persons of his own, and in one of the 173 speeches he made at the Constitutional Convention (the most of any signer) he railed against the institution, calling it a “curse of heaven.” Late in life, the old bachelor shocked his family by marrying a woman twenty-two years his junior who had been implicated in the murder of her illegitimate child by another man, her adulterous brother-in-law.

Morris was indeed colorful, but why bore you with his exploits? History is filled with the deeds of dead white men. We certainly don’t need more of them, even if they are accomplished, wooden-legged scoundrels.

If you must know, my thoughts fly to Morris because of one paragraph he wrote. One single graf. He’s remembered as the “penman” of the Constitution, and for translating passages in the founding document from dreadful legalese to normal English. In a famous example, he cut 61 words down to 36. The original preamble read, We the people of the states of … and proceeded to name each of the states in attendance at the Constitutional Convention. Morris retooled the first paragraph, throwing in a few of his own masterful touches:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
His stylistic choices are significant. During the debates, Morris had insisted that the president should be chosen not by Congress but by the citizenry. (The Electoral College is the vestigial compromise the framers made on that point.) Nevertheless, Morris arguably exacted his revenge. In one stroke, he wrenched the power of government from the states and bestowed it upon the people.

When the document flew to those states for ratification, the Virginian Patrick Henry—who declined to attend the Constitutional Convention, famously saying that he smelled a rat—pounced on the three words Brookhiser dubs Gouverneur Morris’s “greatest legacy.”

“What right had they to say ‘We, the People’?” Patrick Henry demanded.

Sigh. Nothing changes.

* * *


See you all in three weeks! If you can forgive a little BSP, I hope you’ll check out the trailer my wife created for our own book about the Constitution signers. I append the video here more for its cheerful animation and comedy than anything else. We were just learning how to use the software back then, and wanted it to sound like a modern-day political ad.

And yes, while I am the perpetrator of two books on the signers of two U.S. founding documents, I’d be the first to admit that they are works of political humor and wiseassery. For a serious look at Morris’s life, see historian Richard Brookhiser’s Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution (Free Press, 2003).

24 September 2020

A Little Touch of Manslaughter


As you may or may not have heard, South Dakota has hit the national news a lot lately. 

  • Governor Kristi Noem has been talking regularly on Fox News, promoting South Dakota's freedoms, and is currently traveling around the upper Midwest to campaign for Trump.  (Fox News)
  • She has also been spending CARES money on ads around the country urging people to move to South Dakota, where "we respect your freedoms" and "We're open for business!"  (AP News)
  • We hosted the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August, where 460,000+ bikers came to a town of 7,000 and held one hell of a week-long party. The national COVID-19 repercussions are debated (Politifact) but I can tell you it's a fact that Meade County (Sturgis) went from 71 cases before Sturgis to 487 and counting (that's 1 out of every 14), and most of the other West River counties show large spikes as well.  (Pennington County - Rapid City, etc. - went from 942 cases to 2,091.)
  • We hosted the Sanford International golf tournament in Sioux Falls September 7-13th, which was the first golf tournament to allow spectators, and we can hardly WAIT until the COVID-19 figures come out from that.  (Argus Leader)  
  • As a result of all this stuff, South Dakota is in the top ten, and may still be the #1 hotspot for COVID-19 in the country for a couple of weeks now, thanks to a 10%+ positivity rate.  A popular response to Gov. Noem's "We're open for business!" ad slogan is, "And we're wide open for COVID!"  (Argus Leader) (NYTimes)
  • And, most recently, our Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg drove home from a GOP political event in Redfield, SD, and hit and killed a man walking along the shoulder of Highway 14, just west of Highmore, SD around 10:30 PM on Saturday, September 12th.  (NYTimes)


From the beginning, AG Ravnsborg has said that he thought he hit a deer.  This has been met with considerable skepticism and some derision here in the Mount Rushmore State, because everybody in SD has either missed or hit a deer at some point in their driving lives.  When we first moved up here, we asked why collision insurance was so expensive and mandatory - since we do have a low population / population density - and were told it was because of the deer.  We have a lot of deer.  


And to be purely informative, I must tell you that humans do not look like deer.  For one thing, we have fewer legs.  We also wear clothing, walk upright, and have arms that flail a lot as we soar through the air.  


Despite an on-going investigation, shrouded in secrecy for almost two weeks now, AG Ravnsborg put out a two-page statement (via his campaign office, on his official Attorney General letterhead, two days after the accident) about what happened. Since my fellow blogger Cory Heidelberger has posted, analyzed and summarized this and other aspects of the case, please check out his blog HERE. The following quotes, etc., are from Cory: 


Ravnsborg apparently views “ongoing investigation” as a conditional excuse for silence: he refuses to answer questions from the media out of “respect” for the “process” and a his desire to let investigators do their work “without any interference or appearance of impropriety on my part.” Yet he feels arguing his case in public, without cross-examination, does not interfere with the investigation at all.

Ravnsborg says he had drunk no alcohol Saturday night.

Ravnsborg fudges his story a bit, saying now that he initially thought the man he hit was “a large animal (likely a deer)”.

Note also the grammatical distancing: Ravnsborg says, “My vehicle struck something….” Making the subject of that sentence “my vehicle” instead of “I” is like saying “My firearm shot something” or “My pen wrote something.”

Ravnsborg says he stopped, called 9-1-1 immediately, and investigated the scene with Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek. He and the sheriff saw no sign of the large animal they were looking for.

Ravnsborg reports his car was too damaged to drive safely. That level of damage suggests Ravnsborg was moving at a pretty good clip coming out of Highmore.

Ravnsborg says Sheriff Volek, who lives near the accident site, loaned him his personal vehicle to go back to Pierre. Ravnsborg brought the car back in the morning with his chief of staff and spokesman, Tim Bormann, to drive him back.

Ravnsborg says he and Bormann stopped at the accident site on the way to Sheriff Volek’s house. The debris from Ravnsborg’s car was still on the road. Ravnsborg and Bormann walked the shoulder and “discovered the body of Mr. Boever in the grass just off the roadway. My chief of staff and I checked and it was apparent that Mr. Boever was deceased.”

“Just off the roadway”—that’s a key detail. The victim was not thrown far away from the road into the beanfield. The grass in the ditch was not high: Boever had hit a hay bale in that ditch with his truck earlier Saturday; a KSFY photo also shows a bale in the ditch, indicating the ditch had been recently mowed. The body does not seem to have been hidden by vegetation.

Ravnsborg drove to Sheriff Volek’s house immediately to tell him they’d found a dead man. The Sheriff came back to the site with Ravnsborg and asked him to go back to Pierre.

An investigation suddenly graduates from car-deer accident to human fatality, and the sheriff on the scene tells the suspect apparently responsible for the death to leave the county?

Interesting... Very interesting... But coming from the state that has given us two big juicy scandals (EB-5 and GearUp!), well, anything's possible.

Meanwhile, KELO-TV has a photo of the car Ravnsborg was driving (Kelo-TV). The windshield is almost gone on the passenger side.

Meanwhile, of course some people are already blaming the victim for taking a walk at night on a rural road.  (See Here)  (The writer of this is a GOP State Legislator.  Politics is EVERYWHERE.)  
My response:  Why Boever took a walk is totally irrelevant. The last I heard, this is South Dakota, in the United States of America, and each and every one of us have the right to take a walk whenever and wherever we want as long as we're not trespassing. Unlit, rural highways are a really excellent place to see the stars, for one thing. For another, he might well have wanted to get something he forgot out of his truck. And finally, his mental condition, history of alcoholism, or anything else is irrelevant. He was the victim, not the driver. It is the driver's responsibility to explain why he hit and killed a human being. QUIT BLAMING THE VICTIM. Someday it might be your cousin lying by the side of a road, dead, while someone else says, "well, what were they wearing?" 


Meanwhile, this is the victim's cousin (SD State Legislator Nick Nemec) on going to the accident scene (KELO):

At the time the brakes were applied (clearly visible due to tire skid marks) the right hand tires of the car were well onto the shoulder of the road. This stretch of US14 has wide paved shoulders with rumble strips at the white line.

I stepped off the tire skid marks and they went on for over 200 feet before there were two parallel blood skid marks on the paved shoulder. This first blood marks were about 6″ wide and 6′-8′ long.

There was then a skip for about 20 feet before a wider blood skid mark closer to the edge of the shoulder that was about 1′ wide and 20′ long. There was then another skip of about 20′ until a dried pool of blood in the grass on the edge of the road. 

The pool of blood was 2′ from the edge of the pavement (I measured with a tape measure) the grass here had been mowed late this summer and had regrown to 8″ tall (I measured it). This was the very edge of the grass and the ground was nearly level with the shoulder of the road at this point, the ditch slope had not really begun yet. Black flies were buzzing in the air just above the blood pool.

As I stood there a flatbed truck drove by carrying a red Ford Taurus with a huge hole in the passenger side of the windshield. The truck turned into the SD DOT yard near the speed limit sign and drove into the shop and the overhead door quickly closed. Highway patrolmen and other authority figures immediately surrounded my vehicle as I drove up to the building and parked. I requested permission to photograph the windshield of the vehicle and was denied...

I saw traffic cones marking stuff and new paint marks of a different color on the road. I don’t know how long the road was reduced to one lane but a friend told my brother Victor that FBI agents were seen on the scene later that afternoon.” 

I will, at this point, allow you all to consider all the clues that are given as to what happened and make your own pre-investigation report conclusions.  Personally, my view is that - with his consistent statement that he thought he hit a deer, and the body was not discovered until the next day - there is no way that AG Ravsnborg could have been looking at the road at the time of impact.  Texting?  Nodding off?  Distracted by something else?  

Updates will follow as they're released from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry and act like Goodfellas.  And sometimes we just BS all over the place.  




23 September 2020

Moby Dick


Moby Dick, the movie.

My grandma Ada had a summer house in South Dartmouth, Mass., and I used to go to the New Bedford whaling museum.  In the 1800’s, New Bedford was the capital of the New England whaling industry – with Nantucket and Provincetown close behind – and the whaling museum is terrific.  Their main draw is a half-scale model of a whaling ship, indoors, that kids or grown-ups can clamber all over and in. 


The world premiere of John Huston’s 1956 movie of Moby Dick was in New Bedford, in June, and my dad scored us tickets.  It was a big deal, both for him and me, and for New Bedford, which never really recovered after the boom days of whaling were over.  Looking up the event, all these years later, it turns out the picture premiered at three downtown theaters simultaneously, and Gregory Peck showed up at all three.  I remember him, vaguely, and I’m sure we bought the souvenir program, but I don’t remember the movie itself making that big an impression.  

It wasn’t, in fact, a huge hit.  I think it made its money back, but that’s about it.  The reviews were lukewarm.  Peck took the biggest beating.  He was too young for the part, and he didn’t have the chops, but more than that, he was Greg Peck, he wasn’t supposed to play some looney tunes with a peg leg.  (That would be Robert Newton.)

Huston cast Orson Welles as Father Mapple, in a cameo.  Andrew Sarris remarked that Huston should have hired Welles to direct, and played Ahab himself.  There’s a certain poetry in this.  Huston’s clear first choice for the part would have been Walter Huston, his father, but his dad was now dead.  Welles went on to do a very interesting stage adaption, where he played Ahab - I saw a later production of the play with Rod Steiger, and trust me, no scenery went unchewed. 


Going back and watching the movie now, though, I have to say it’s unfairly maligned.  Ray Bradbury did the screenplay, with Huston, and it’s very judicious – they emphasize the spectacle, and lean only lightly on the Old Testament aspects.  Peck is actually not embarrassing as Ahab; he’s pretty good.  John Wayne as Genghis Khan it ain’t.  Richard Basehart is wrong for Ishmael, let’s admit, and Woody Strode was going to be the harpooner Queequeg, but had a scheduling conflict.  Leo Genn gets a lot of mileage out of Starbuck, the sympathetic First Mate.  In the long run, what Huston does with the casting is to use faces.  You probably didn’t know then who Harry Andrews or Bernard Miles or Noel Purcell or Mervyn Johns were, but you knew a great face when you saw one.





You get a careful choice of detail.  The movie shows the doldrums, when the wind dies and the sails flap idly, the ship in irons.  You see routine, both the boring and the terrifying: a spooky scene with St. Elmo’s Fire playing through the yardarms, a Nantucket sleigh ride, the harpooned whale dragging a longboat.  There’s a strong sense of how the ship functions, as a mechanism, or a community.  Bluntly, everything In the Heart of the Sea got wrong, this picture gets right. 

One particular thing of note, the cinematography, by Oswald Morris.  You can look this guy up.  He did eight pictures with Huston, Moby Dick was the third.  He worked with Carol Reed and Tony Richardson and Sidney Lumet.  Very much a pro.  But they used a special process, famously, with Moby Dick.  They shot the picture, and desaturated the images.  This is something that’s gotten more common nowadays, because you can do it post-production.  If you’ve seen John Boorman’s The General, for example, the picture loses more and more color as Brendan Gleeson loses more and more of his moral center; at the end it’s black-and-white.  Band of Brothers uses a similar technique: the combat footage has little or no color.  Moby Dick isn’t digitally manipulated.  They apparently printed a black-and-white negative over a color separation, and the result is similar to looking at a hand-tinted illustration, of the period.


So, something perhaps to revisit.  A lot of times we go back, and suffer disappointment.  It’s nice to go back, and be pleasantly surprised.