My latest story, "A Helping Hand," is currently out in the AHMM January/February 2021 issue. It is the 8th in my 1660's Paris Underworld series. The protagonist, a young, orphan, incompetent pickpocket, tells of his adventures trying to survive in the criminal community of old Paris.
31 January 2021
My latest story, "A Helping Hand," is currently out in the AHMM January/February 2021 issue. It is the 8th in my 1660's Paris Underworld series. The protagonist, a young, orphan, incompetent pickpocket, tells of his adventures trying to survive in the criminal community of old Paris.
05 January 2021
That's the case with one of the stories I had published in December, "A Family Matter." While driving a few years ago, I passed a house with a clothesline. They certainly aren't uncommon, but for whatever reason it made me remember a story my mom once told about moving into the neighborhood where I grew up. This was in 1962, years before I was born. One day shortly after my parents and siblings moved in, my mom was in the backyard hanging up the laundry on a clothesline when one of the next-door neighbors hurried over to tell my mom that drying laundry on a clothesline just wasn't done there. My mom needed to get a dryer to fit in. I don't know if this story is true or not (my mom sometimes told tales), but seeing that clothesline evoked that memory, from which grew "A Family Matter," a story set in 1962 suburbia about what happens when new neighbors violate the unwritten social code. The story is published in the January/February 2021 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.
The other main source of my story ideas (when I can figure out the source) is the news. It feels bad to say that I hear about someone else's misfortune and think: I can use that! But I'm sure I'm not the only author who does it. "Compulsive Bubba" grew out of a terrible accidental death in which someone waited in a car while it warmed up, not knowing the car's exhaust pipe was covered with snow and the carbon monoxide was backing up into the car. I got the idea for "Ulterior Motives" after reading about an Oregon county whose residents voted down a bond referendum to fund the police department, which resulted in them having police only part time. "Have Gun, Won't Travel" came about after reading about an Ansel Adams print worth a lot of money that sold at a garage sale for practically nothing because the seller didn't realize who created it. (The story was later debunked, but it gave me my idea nonetheless.) "Alex's Choice" was prompted by the horrific death of a family after one of them went into the ocean to save their dog, and when that person didn't come out, the next person went in to save him, and it went from there.
A side effect of admitting you used a real-life event as a story springboard is having people ask if everything in the story really happened. That's a big no. That's why it's called fiction. But just in case you're wondering:
I never tried to kill my fifth-grade teacher.
I never tried to get revenge on the person who found and kept the ring I lost at Sleuthfest (the fact that I don't know who it was is irrelevant, I assure you).
I never tried to kill the woman who was dating my father when he died.
I never tried to kill my boss (none of them, really).
Nothing in "A Family Matter" is based on real life except that clothesline incident (in case anyone has read the story and is wondering).
And I really was not an evil little girl, despite what that school librarian thought. But if you think otherwise, well, it might be best not to tell me. It's always better to be safe than sorry. After all, you wouldn't want to end up on the news, giving someone else a good story idea, would you?
If you want to read any of the stories I mentioned above, you can find them listed on my website, along with where they were published. Just click here. And in case you missed my last post, I had three stories published recently: "A Family Matter," discussed above, in the January/February AHMM; "That Poor Woman," a flash story in the January/February Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine; and "Second Chance" in Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir.
15 December 2020
- I had a new story published yesterday: "Second Chance" in the anthology Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, edited by my fellow SleuthSayer Michael Bracken.
- Today is the publication day for two more stories: "A Family Matter" in the January/February 2021 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and "That Poor Woman" in the January/February 2021 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
- A fourth story, "An Inconvenient Sleuth," is scheduled to be published later this month in issue eight of Black Cat Mystery Magazine.
"Second Chance" is a tale of twin brothers who were placed in separate foster homes at age ten. Now eighteen, one finds the other, but the reunion is not the stuff of Hallmark movies. I hope you'll consider picking up a copy of Mickey Finn. It's published in ebook and trade paperback, with twenty stories perfect for the noir reader on your holiday gift list. You can buy it from all the usual sources, as well as from the publisher here.
"A Family Matter" in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine is set in 1962, the closest I've ever come to a historical story. In this tale, Doris and her neighbors are determined to move up the ladder of success together. When a new family that moves in next door doesn't know the unwritten social code, Doris makes it her business to help them conform. This story was inspired by something that happened to my mom when my parents and siblings (years before I showed up) moved into a new neighborhood.
"That Poor Woman" in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine is a flash story about a crime victim who takes the law into her own hands.
You can find individual issues of AHMM and EQMM at bookstores and newsstands. For a paper subscription of either magazine--or both, they make a great holiday gift--click here for AHMM and here for EQMM. As of 11 p.m. last night (Monday night), the new issues scheduled for publication today (Tuesday) aren't up yet on the AHMM and EQMM websites, but they should be soon.
You can also get electronic individual issues as well as subscriptions for your Kindle, Nook, iPad, and other readers. Learn more here about EQMM and here about AHMM. (Because I've had friends unable to easily find the Kindle pages before, here's the EQMM Amazon link and here's the AHMM link.)
I'll talk about "An Inconvenient Sleuth" next month, after the issue of BCMM comes out.
It's interesting that these four stories are all coming out in the same month because I didn't write them all around the same time. I wrote "Second Chance" in 2014, "A Family Matter" in January of 2018, "An Inconvenient Sleuth" in February of 2018, and "That Poor Woman" in October of 2019. As you can imagine, some stories take a long time to sell. (I submitted "A Second Chance" five times before Michael Bracken took a chance on it. (See what I did there?)) Other stories sell on their first submission. But no matter how long it takes for a story to sell and then be published, I'm always glad when a new story comes out. So that makes this week--and this month--a good time for me.
I'll be back in 2021. In the meanwhile, happy holidays and happy reading.
03 November 2020
The story is about the owner of a small city newspaper and the lengths she'll go to try to save the paper because she believes in the important role journalists play in our society as a check on government--national and local. I grew up believing in that role. While reporters sometimes make mistakes, because that's what humans do, I believe most of them are good people who strive for accuracy and fairness, sometimes risking their lives to share the news. It breaks my heart that so many people these days think otherwise, that they don't believe what reputable news organizations report and repudiate journalists as the enemy. They are anything but. Journalists play a vital role in our democracy.
This negative mindset toward journalism is not the only reason many newspapers are struggling these days and so many others have closed. The advent of the internet has, as we all know, led many people to seek their news online, often without wanting to pay for that privilege. But news gathering isn't free. Even if all newspapers went completely digital so that the cost of paper and printing could be saved, there still would be reporters to pay, as well as editors, graphic artists, photographers, the people who work in advertising and composition and circulation and probably other departments I'm not thinking of right now.
I appreciate the newspapers that offer online editions and allow people to check out the occasional article for free. But I also understand why newspapers have firewalls and only allow you to view a limited number of stories per month without paying. Democracy has its price, and one way to help keep democracy going is to support newspapers, which shed sunlight on government and remind politicians that they work for us, not the other way around. You support newspapers by paying for your news. And you support democracy and the First Amendment by treating journalists with respect.
This issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine can be purchased from the usual sources, including bookstores and newsstands. If you subscribe to the print version, they'll mail a copy to your home every other month. You also can read the magazine digitally. Individual copies and subscriptions can be purchased for your Kindle and other types of e-readers. Magazines need support these days, just like newspapers. So if you have some dollars to spare and would like to bring some regular entertainment into your world, I encourage you to consider a subscription to AHMM and/or its sister publication, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, for yourself, a friend, and/or family member this holiday season.
If you've read "Eat, Drink, and Be Murdered," I hope you loved it. If you haven't, I hope you get the magazine and read it right away. But not before you vote. If you haven't voted yet, please do that first. Then tomorrow, go buy your local newspaper, read the election results that have come in so far, and maybe even take out a subscription to the paper. Newspapers need your support to stay afloat. Our democracy needs their spotlight to stay afloat too.
25 October 2020
Back in the 90's, another short story author proposed that he and I should write a private investigator story together, a story set in the corrupt river-town of Sioux City during the Prohibition Era. At the time, the proposing author had several more published short stories than I did, but he had also received several rejections from AHMM. So, our plan was to co-author the story and submit it to AHMM and he would then get a story into their magazine, well, at least half a story. Since he and I liked the same authors and the same type of stories, it should have been easy working together.
I wrote part of the story and passed it to him. He wrote the next part of the story and passed it back. And, so on until the story was finished. Were there any problems? Of course there were. We didn't agree on the title, the private eye's name or even his height, among some of the important issues. Consulting with other fellow writers as intermediaries resulted in evenly divided opinions or else a third suggestion which neither co-author wished to implement. In the end, there was a lot of coin flipping. I submitted the story with both author's names for the byline to AHMM. They rejected it. The editor must've had her own coin. At separate times afterwards, my co-author submitted our manuscript to two small press magazines he had previously been published in. In turn, each magazine accepted the story, but then went toes up before a contract could be signed. The story never saw print. With all the fun I'd had on this joint project, I swore to myself to avoid any short story collaboration in the future. This worked for about twenty years.
Now, we move forward to the 21st Century. An author, whom I highly admire and was already in AHMM, inquired about the two of us co-authoring a short story for AHMM. I explained my prior situation and declined the proposal. A couple of years later, the inquiry came again. By the third request, I decided what the hell, give it a try, see how it goes. I then created a partial story outline proposal involving a bent cop and a gangster during the Prohibition Era, but a completely different plot than the story in Strike One. Next, I wrote about 1,000 words in the POV of one of the two main characters and passed the partial outline and story start to the other author for his turn to write about 1,000 words in the POV of the other main character. After the pass, other projects seemed to have come along and everybody went their separate writing ways. No harm, no foul.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a story about a gangster in 1930's New York City during (you guessed it) the Prohibition Era. Completely different plot than the ones in Strike One and Strike Two. I shipped the manuscript off to AHMM via e-mail in August 2017. The rejection came back in July 2018 with the editor's comments that it looked like I was setting the story up for a series. (Remember her comment for later.) And, the editor was correct, I had intended for the story to become a series.
Looking through my story starts one day for something to write, I came across my old 1,000 word start from the abandoned Strike Two project. Years had passed without any progress, so I blew the dust off and continued the story. Only now, I changed the story to be written solely from one main character's POV, the bent cop. I finished the outline and the story as I wrote. The manuscript went to AHMM in February 2018 and was accepted in January 2019.
The Ball Keeps On Rolling
In the early part of August 2020, I got an e-mail from the Managing Editor of AHMM saying that I will have a story coming out in their Nov/Dec 2020 issue, but she had been on vacation and was trying to catch up, so she didn't yet know which story it would be. Since they had at the time six of my purchased-but-not-yet-published stories setting in inventory, I obviously didn't know which one it would be either.
The Home Run
In last August, Rob Lopresti e-mailed me with a link to the preview of the Nov/Dec 2020 AHMM issue. The last line in the 2nd paragraph in the Editor's Preview section says: "And R.T. Lawton introduces us to a new series in "A Matter of Values."
And yep, that's the bent cop and gangster story from Strike Two and The Bunt, but I wrote that one as a standalone story. Let's see now, one is a standalone, two is a sequel and at least three is a series, unless you count that as a trilogy, in which case it takes four. This means that in order not to disappoint the editor, I now have to come up with two or more new stories involving those same two main characters and then get contracts for each of those stories.. What a problem to have. Goes to show, you just never know how things will go in this game of ours.
27 June 2020
WHAT WENT WRONG: The Publisher Version
1. The publication that never was. John, you mentioned in your recent post Strange but True, that you have received acceptance letters from publishers who then realized they sent them to the wrong person. I can do you one better (if you really want to call it that.)
This year, I received a very public congratulations from the Ontario Library Association for being a finalist for their YA award. I was thrilled! It was my first YA crime book, after 16 adult ones, and they don't usually give awards to crime books. I basked in glory and excitement for about five minutes until I realized the title of the book they mentioned was not the book I had written. There ensued a very public retraction. Everywhere. And apology. I am not sure there is anything more embarrassing than receiving a very public apology for an honour snatched back from you.
2. It isn't often a publisher buys ads for your book and we all celebrate when they do. The publisher of Rowena and the Dark Lord was out to create gold. The first book in the series was a bestseller. So they decided to throw money at book 2, advertising it at more than two dozen places. And throw money, they did. Throw it away, that is. Unfortunately, the ad company misspelled the title of the book in all the ads. ROWENA AND THE DARK LARD might be popular in cooking circles, but it didn't make a splash with the epic fantasy audience to which it was targeted.
3. Back in the mid 90s, I was making it, or so I thought. Had some stories with STAR magazine. Broke into Hitchcock. And later, big time, with Moxie magazine. Remember Moxie? Up there with Good Housekeeping and Cosmo? No, perhaps you don't. I was really pleased when they offered me a 50% kill fee of $750. Not that I wanted to collect it, but it was a status symbol back then to get offered kill fees in your short story contract. Unfortunately, if you story is killed because the magazine goes under, ain't nothing left for a kill fee. Big time becomes no time.
WHAT WENT WRONG: The Event Version
1. It's always tough when you are shortlisted for a prize and you don't win. It's even tougher when you are actually at the gala event, and all your friends are waiting for you to be named the winner. Tougher still, when you are shortlisted in TWO categories, and you don't win either.
But that doesn't touch the case when you are the actual Emcee for the event, you've just finished doing an opening stand-up routine to great applause, you have media there and a full house, you are shortlisted in two categories, and you don't win a sausage. And still have to run the rest of the event from the stage.
This is why they invented scotch.
WHAT WENT WRONG: The Agent Version
1. No fewer than THREE big production companies have approached my agent about optioning The Goddaughter series for TV. This has gone on for four years, and included hours of negotiating. "Really excited - back to you on Friday!" said the last one. That was last summer. I'm still waiting to see any money.
2. My first agent was a respected older gent from New York. Sort of a father figure, very classy. Like some - okay many - agents, he wasn't the best at getting back to us in a timely manner, particularly by email. We kind of got used to it. So it was with some shock that I got a phone call from another author, who had discovered that the reason we hadn't heard back from J is because he had died two months before. Nobody had gotten around to telling us.
I have a really good agent now. She's still alive, which I've found is a huge advantage in an agent.
Here's the book that was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award last year, along with that short story that also didn't win (pass the scotch):
17 June 2020
"The Library of Poisonville" is full of literary references, appropriately enough. The title refers to Jorge Luis Borges' great story "The Library of Babel," which inspired my piece, and also to a work by Dashiell Hammett. Most of the references are obvious, but I thought I would write about an author who my story only touches on tangentially.
John Collier was born in London in 1901. He was reading Hans Christian Andersen by age 3. As a teenager he told his father he wanted to be a poet. Believe it or not, that was fine with dear old Dad, who never required him to get a job or even go to university. (His work contains several odd father-son relationships.)
By age thirty he had switched his emphasis to fiction which gave him the chance to show off his, um, unique imagination. (In what way unique? Well, his first novel was entitled His Monkey Wife, or I Married A Chimp.) His story collection Fancies and Goodnights won both the Edgar Award and the International Fantasy Award. And how often has one book scored both of those?
My favorite Collier story - which I list among my all-time favorite fifty crime tales - is "Witch's Money." In spite of the title this is no fantasy, but rather a tale of cross-cultural misunderstanding in which the arrival of an American painter in a village in southern France leads, with the inevitability of Greek tragedy, to utter destruction.
Of all of his works the one that has been adapted for other media the most is probably "Evening Primrose," about a poet who rejects society by living what might be the ultimate consumer dream: dwelling secretly in a department store. It was even turned into a TV musical starring Anthony Perkins, with songs by Stephen Sondheim!
"I sometimes marvel," Collier once wrote, "that a third-rate writer like me has been able to pass himself off as a second-rate writer."
Here are some of my favorite lines from this first-rate writer:
"Alice and Irwin were as simple and as happy as any young couple in a family-style motion picture. In fact, they were even happier, for people were not looking at them all the time and their joys were not restricted by the censorship code." - Over Insurance
"How happy I might be if only she was less greedy, better tempered, not so addicted to raking up old grudges, more affectionate, with slightly yellower hair, slimmer, and about twenty years younger! But what is the good of expecting such a woman to reform?" - Three Bears Cottage
"It's been done."
"Not as I shall do it. You shall write a new script, especially for me." - Pictures in the Fire
"So Mrs. Beaseley went resentfully along, prepared to endure Hell herself if she could deprive her husband of a little of his Heaven." - Incident on a Lake
"Annoyed with the world, I took a large studio in Hampstead. Here I resolved to live in utter aloofness, until the world should approach me on its knees, whining it apologies." -Night! Youth! Paris! And the Moon!
"As soon as Einstein declared that space was finite, the price of building sites, both in Heaven and Hell, soared outrageously." -Hell Hath No Fury
"It is the fate of those who kiss sleeping beauties to be awakened themselves." -Sleeping Beauty
"The first cognac is utilitarian merely. It is like a beautiful woman who has, however, devoted herself entirely to doing good, to nursing, for example. Nothing is more admirable, but one would like to meet her sister." - Old Acquaintance
If you have read this far I have an offer for you. As I said, my reference to Collier's work in "The Library of Poisonville" is obscure, but it should ring clear to any fan of the man. If someone can tell me which of his stories I referred to - and where - I will send that person an autographed copy of the magazine or something of equally dubious merit. First responder only!
31 May 2020
|10 of the first 11 stories are|
now available in paperback
So there I sat, with a list of holidays in one hand and a list of potential valuables to steal in the other hand while staring at a blank computer screen. No title, no plot. Just two burglars, Yarnell and Beaumont, impatiently waiting for me to tell them what shenanigans they are up to for in this next episode. I can hear Beaumont saying, "Get a move on, bud. We don't like being unemployed. We need to go steal something."
Okay, they need something to steal. Preferably an exotic item or an object which is out of the ordinary and reader-attention-getting. We'll have to work on that part. Normally, the holiday comes first in the brainstorming process and that leads to the item to be purloined which leads to the weird situation our two burglars subsequently find themselves in.
So far, we've used up eleven different holidays in previous stories. What's left on the list? Cinco de Mayo? Nope, no current ideas for that one. How about Chinese New Year or Vietnamese Ahn Tet? Sorry, nothing there for now. Well, St. Patrick's Day is on the horizon and you do know some people from your old Texas Street neighborhood in Rapid City, friends who really liked to party. Yeah, of course, the Texas Street Hereford Society.
|L to R: Scott, Dan, Fast Eddie, R.T. (holding the tail) and Bob|
L'il Tex is the bucket calf in front.
(he just got run through the car wash at the dealership
and doesn't have a clue what's going on)
Let's tighten the focus down to Fast Eddie in the middle. (How this five-member society came into being and some of its subsequent antics can be saved for another time.) Fast Eddie was the heir apparent to a car dealership, a Registered Black Angus ranch and a working commercial cattle ranch. He was also well known in all the bars in Rapid City. The rest of us society members always said that if Eddie died first, we would bungee cord his body to a refrigerator dollie, put a drink in his hand and wheel him through all his favorite bars for one last Grand Tour.
That gives us drinking, St. Patrick's Day and a story character like Fast Eddie after he has passed on. Time to brainstorm the story plot.
What if Yarnell has just entered an Irish bar on St. Pat's Day to meet with his partner in crime, Beaumont? Over green beers and loud Irish music from the jukebox, Beaumont informs Yarnell that they now have a contract to steal a body. Yeah, that should grab the reader's attention.
Moving on. It seems that a fellow burglar (Padraig, or Paddy as he is known to his associates) has died and his widow has arranged to have the wake at a funeral home. Some of the deceased's long-time drinking friends got into the party spirit, stole the corpse from his coffin while the widow wasn't looking, bungee corded the deceased to a refrigerator dollie and took him on a bar tour. The widow then hired Yarnell and Beaumont to find her wandering deceased husband, steal him back and get him to the funeral home in time for scheduled services, else the contract is void and thus no payment. The story is now open for anything to happen.
As a side note, while the widow may have thought Padraig (Paddy) was a potential saint while he was living, by the time he is returned to the funeral home, there may be evidence that his reputation is tarnished beyond repair.
The resulting story, "St. Paddy's Day," 12th in the series, was submitted to AHMM on 06/13/19 and accepted by their editor on 04/16/20. If I had to guess, I'd say it will probably see print in their March/April 2021 issue.
And there you have it. Another brainstorming session turned into a salable story.
Wish they all turned out that well.
BUSINESS NOTE: Normally, the acceptance e-mail says that a contract will be coming via e-mail in about 30 days, but I usually get the e-contract in about two weeks, print and sign two copies and immediately mail them to DELL Publishing's contract person. Then, I wait for the check. However, due to the pandemic, the e-contract for the above story took about 42 days to arrive and the instructions were different. For this contract, I printed out and signed one copy. This signed copy was then scanned and e-mailed to DELL's contract person. Saves me postage on mailing the signed contract back to them. We'll see how long it takes for this check to arrive. Hey, I'm just glad to still be selling.
29 April 2020
Several pages of said notebook are devoted to Shanks, the crime-writing character who has appeared in a bunch of my stories. Years ago I dreamed up this idea: Shank is on a committee trying to restore a Depression-era opera house in his city. It would be called the World Theatre, which would let me use the title (snicker) "Shanks Saves The World."
I liked it a lot. Only problem: What would my hero do to get the money for the restoration?
Sort of a big plot gap, right? And so the story sat in my notebook for years. But then I had a breakthrough.
Several stories about this odd duck made it into print but then my market for them, Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, went the way of all periodicals and I moved onto other things.
So what if we offer Uncle Victor a well-deserved retirement and send Shanks to the producer instead, asking for a big donation for the theatre where, by a wonderful coincidence, some of the old man's bands used to perform? And the producer says, to get my money you have to find these musicians I ripped off decades ago...
Suddenly I had a plot. The result, titled (as you probably guessed) "Shanks Saves The World," is featured in the current (May/June 2020) issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. It is my 31st appearance there, and Shanks' tenth.
And speaking of more, if you want to read a completely different essay I wrote about "Shank Saves The World," you will find it at Trace Evidence, the AHMM blog.
And I hope you enjoy the story. Now back to my notebook...
26 April 2020
They say that Pride goeth before The Fall. That's me. For a lot of years, I was a man of consequence, but lately, Father Time has found it humorous to saddle me with age and thus remind me of the limitations I now have. Used to be, I lived the life, whether it was kicking doors,riding roundup, scuba diving, ziplining, branding calves, over the road on Harleys, coming in hot in Hueys, traveling to exotic lands and places... It was a rush.
And then came The Fall.
In the beginning, it was more a series of little trips and stumbles. A health thing here, a degenerating vision thing there. Sorry pal, you're going to have to slow down to a walk, no more running for you. I was never a top athlete, one who was going to run a marathon, but c'mon knees, ankles, feet, wind, where'd you go? Yeah, I know, I never acted my age, especially in later years, but that was a good thing. It kept me going. Sure, I saw others in my different groups slowing down with age, but that was them. This was me. For a long time, even the mirror was on my side. What the hell happened?
And then, about three weeks ago, Father Time decided that the art of multi-tasking should now be beyond my capabilities. I should no longer be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Of course, I swear I was not chewing gum at the time of the trip, stumble and fall, but down I went anyway. The sidewalk won that bout. I came off second with scrapes, bruises, stitches and a nicked temporal artery. Man them things leak a lot of red stuff. Even the mirror said it didn't like me anymore. Something about if I had bolts in my neck, then I'd have a pieced-together face like Frankenstein's monster. I tell you, I gotta get a new mirror.
The ER doc sewed me up and I figured I could go home and be done with this fiasco. Much later, a nurse came in with discharge papers and explained which direction to walk to get to the ER waiting room where I could wait for my wife to collect me. Cell phones don't get reception in the ER rooms themselves, so I had to wait patiently until I got to the ER waiting room to call my wife for a ride home. AND, since I had no other clothes, AND since relatives are not allowed in ER rooms these days to even bring you fresh clothes, AND since the hospital will not loan you one of their fashionable backless gowns, I had to wear my long-sleeve, denim shirt which was thoroughly soaked with O-Positive, in order for me to leave the ER and go into the waiting room.
Fortunately, there were only two people sitting in the waiting room. Don't know how they got in as neither was a patient. Both had the appearance of street people. However, it was a large waiting room, so no problem keeping my social distancing. Then, I start listening to their conversation which consisted mostly of two related topics; cocaine and overdosing. Seems they had a friend in the ER as a patient. Guess the security guard must've had a soft spot in his heart to let them wait inside and occasionally inquire of the admission staff about their friend. But wait, it gets better.
The door from the ER rooms and into the ER waiting room opens and in strolls a "gentleman" with a long braid of hair hanging down his back and a lengthy key chain hanging from his belt down to his knees and back up into his front pants pocket. Obviously he doesn't have a cell phone because he goes straight to the free, old-style phone on the wall. I have no idea who he calls, but some of the first words out of his mouth quickly grab my attention. Words like: "No, I'm not escaping." Yeah, I know I was supposed to be outside the house at noon for them to pick me up." "No, I'm not trying to escape." "Look, just stall them." "No, don't tell them I'm at the hospital." "I told you, I'm not escaping." Then, he hangs up. Since the door back into the ER automatically locks after it closes, one of the two armed security guards has to let him back into the ER
This particular armed guard, who has previously been content to drink coffee and chat with the admissions people at the ER front door now turns and notices me in my slightly wet, drying from red to very dark red shirt. Coffee and chit chat go by the wayside. He casts a wary eye on me and immediately takes up a position against a nearby wall, with his arms crossed over his chest and a hard look in his eyes. I am now a person of interest. It must be the company I've been keeping. Thank God my ride soon showed up so the guards could relax and go back to drinking coffee.
Home at last. Fresh clothes. A pocketful of extra strength Tylenol. Yes, we did stop at the scene of the crime on our way home, but still can't figure out how or why the fall happened. It will just have to remain as one of those unexplained mysteries, but I can tell you there won't be any gum chewing in my future, for sure. I'll also have to avoid the mirror for a few days (we aren't getting along lately), but hey, everybody's got some problems these days.
I did what? You got to be kidding me.
Well then, forget all that other stuff.
I JUST SOLD ANOTHER STORY TO ALFRED HITCHCOCK MYSTERY MAGAZINE.
That makes 46 short stories they've bought from me.
Hey, I'm almost good again. I'll see what the mirror has to say about it.
08 February 2020
My hometown’s business district, as depicted in an old postcard, long before I arrived on the scene. (The Blue Onion not pictured.)
(credit: Denise Kiernan)
17 December 2019
The Godfather and its two sequels: Godfather I is one of the greatest movies ever made. And Godfather II is even better. Three isn’t as bad as I first thought it was and if one can get around Sofia Coppola’s Valley Girl Mafia chic it’s pretty good actually. You can get them individually, in a set or as the Godfather Saga where they’ve been cut together chronologically. I’ll take my Godfather any way I can get it.
Chinatown and Two Jakes: At the risk of being repetitive, Chinatown is one of the greatest movies ever made. And one of the best and most perfect screenplays I’ve ever read. When task master Amy was trying to get me to pare down on things, she “made” me get rid of a ton of screenplays I had – lots of good ones, too. But one of the few that I kept was Chinatown, which still sits on a shelf in my office for inspiration. Some people don’t like the subject matter, they find it repulsive. But it’s still a terrific movie. And the sequel, Two Jakes, also isn’t as bad as I first thought it was. But it’s best to watch it right after you view Chinatown so everything that it refers to is fresh in your mind. That will enhance your enjoyment of it.
In a Lonely Place: Tied for my second favorite movie of all time (see towards the end for the other second fave). And yes, I like the movie better than the book it’s based on. It resonates with me on so many levels. Back in the day, the Smithereens did a song called In a Lonely Place, inspired by the movie. It even has some lines from the movie. I really like this song. I got a poster of the movie from Pat DiNizio, the lead singer/guitarist/songwriter of the Smithereens. And when I look at the poster I like to think that DiNizio was also looking at that very poster when he wrote that song.
Film Noir 10-Movie Spotlight Collection: Okay, even if you don’t have anyone to get this for, get it for yourself. It’s one of the best collections of noir I’ve seen. It includes: This Gun For Hire, The Glass Key, Double Indemnity, Phantom Lady, The Blue Dahlia, Black Angel, The Killers (1946 version), The Big Clock, Criss Cross, Touch of Evil. There’s not a bad movie in the bunch. And it includes the ultimate film noir imo, Double Indemnity. Plus Blue Dahlia, which Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay for. But they’re all good to great. Some have commentaries and other features. I’ve given this as gifts to a few people and I’m always envious when I do. I have all the movies, but in other versions, but somehow I still want this set for me. One great set.
Pulp Fiction: Everybody knows this one. It’s a terrific movie. And would make a great stocking stuffer, along with Reservoir Dogs.
Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile: Two movies based on Stephen King stories. Not horror tales, like he’s generally known for. And I tend to like his non-horror stories – like these and Stand by Me – much more than the horror ones. You can get these two in a set, both directed by Frank Darabont. A terrific two-fer.
Thin Man Boxed Set: Unfortunately, I think I was wrong about this one still being available. Well, it is still available but it’s over 200 bucks. So maybe another time when it’s reissued. We all know the Thin Man movies. The playful banter and plentiful drink. One of my film school teachers wrote one of them – I always thought that was so cool. There’s other good William Powell Myrna Loy movies as well, especially Libeled Lady and Love Crazy.
LA Confidential: I’m a James Ellroy fan, though not as much as I used to be. This is one hell of a good movie based on his book. And, though I loved the book, after watching the movie about 500 times, I reread it and think I actually like the movie better.
Here’s some non-crime movies that might work, too:
Reuben Reuben: A minor gem and a great satire. Here’s a couple quotes from the movie:
“There's nothing I cherish more than the truth. I don't practice it, but I cherish it.”
“That’s where they live. (Points to sign that says “Birch Hills”.) And in other subdivisions with names like Orchard View and Vineyard Haven. All of them named, God help us, for the woods and the vineyards and the apple trees they bulldozed out of existence to make way for the new culture.”
After Hours: Something a little different from Martin Scorsese. The Grateful Dead sang, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” They might have been writing about Griffin Dunne’s very long, odd night in this movie.
Casablanca: Number 1 fave movie, bar none. Do I really need to say anything about this?
Beatles on Ed Sullivan: What can I say about this? They changed the world – at least they changed my world.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles: The other John Candy/John Hughes film on this list. Also funny with a warm heart.
My Cousin Vinny: I’ve seen this in whole or in part about 1,000,000 times. And I always laugh. It never gets old.
Can’t Buy Me Love: Patrick Dempsey as a high school student who finds out the real price of being popular. And the title is from a Beatle song that’s played in the movie. How can you go wrong?
It’s Alive: Ramones concert footage. Great stuff from a terrific, punchy band. Gabba Gabba Hey! Johnny Ramone came in #28 on Rolling Stone’s list of top 100 guitar players. See why on this 2 DVD set. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/100-greatest-guitarists-153675/johnny-ramone-154110/
Soldier in the Rain: A special movie, starring Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen. If it doesn’t touch your heart you don’t have one.
Fred and Ginger movies, individually or boxed: always good for the holiday spirit
Ghost World: My other second favorite movie, along with In a Lonely Place. I’m not a teenage girl, but I totally relate to the alienation these characters, played by Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson, feel. And for those who haven’t seen it it’s not a horror movie despite the title. (Also w/ Steve Buscemi.)
Sideways: a wonderful movie for writers, even more than for people who hate Merlot.
I don’t think he’s really talking about wine here:
Miles (Paul Giamatti): “Uh, I don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet.”
Here’s a link to another SleuthSayers piece I did on Christmas movies with both a Christmas and crime element. Some movies you might think are missing from today’s list might be found here: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/12/have-holly-jolly-crime-season.html
I could keep going, but all good things must come to an end and maybe crime doesn’t pay but it pays to watch these movies.
So have yourself a Merry Little Mayhem Murderous Christmas. Happy Holidays Everyone!
BSP: Oh, and maybe a couple stocking stuffer books:
30 October 2019
reported that I had been invited to speak to the Northwest branch of the Mystery Writers of American on the subject: "Ten Things I learned Writing Short Stories." I listed nine of them and promised to deliver the last one this week. Here goes!
10. What's the difference between Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine? That's the second-most common question I hear about my writing. (The first is the dreaded WDYGYI?)
For many years my reply was simple: AH buys my stories and EQ doesn't. But since EQ has surrendered to my dubious charms several times I have to come up with some better distinction. So here are a few.
Origin stories. I mean the origins of the magazines themselves. I think they are useful in thinking about how the editors think: What is in the magazine's DNA, so to speak? Because as the old saying goes "What's bred in the bone, comes out in the flesh."
Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which actually filmed some stories that had originally appeared in the magazine. Like the TV show, the magazine leaned toward suspense, twist endings, and a macabre sense of humor. It still does.
Distinctions today. EQ has regular departments. Going all the way back to Dannay's day it has featured the Department of First Stories, which has premiered the work of up-and-coming artists who went on to fame such as Harry Kemelman, Henry Slesar, Stanley Ellin, and Thomas Flanagan. Every issue features Passport to Crime, a story translated from another language. EQ also owns the rights to the Black Mask name and often features a story in that magazine's hardboiled style.
allowed in the mystery world.)
And some more quick generalizations.
EQ seems to lean more toward the grim, the longer, and the fair-play detection stories.
It is important to be clear that everything I am saying here is about tendencies, not absolutes. You can find exceptions in every issue, but if you are trying to decide which magazine to submit a story to first, this might help you.
One thing both seem to insist on, is high quality, which may explain why my overall sale record at AHMM is only about 33% and much worse at EQMM.
Your mileage, needless to say, may vary.
25 August 2019
So, having said that, here's the accounts receivable part of My Small Business Plan. It's got to be a small plan, you see, because I only write short stories, which don't pay much over any one year period, and the occasional cowboy poem, which doesn't pay at all. The important thing is, I have a plan and I'm finally using that Business Degree which Uncle Sam paid for after I responded to that nice letter draft he sent me way back in 1966.
Mine is a three-part plan
Part 1 - Short Stories
I write short stories for paying markets. First submissions go to the higher paying publications. In case of a rejection, I work my submissions down the payment ladder until the story sells or goes into inventory. All of this is common sense and most writers already know this part. Moving on.
Part 2 - Reprints & Other Secondary Markets
In a different situation, Otto Penzler paid me $250 to use one of my reprints in one of his many anthologies. Since then, I've seen other markets for reprints. It's like found money.
Another good use of short stories, whether they were previously published or not, is putting them into e-collections. So, after I had a list of previously published stories, plus an inventory of unpublished short stories, I started looking at Amazon for Kindle and Smashwords for other e-readers. Both of them are free to setup your e-books, all you need is to figure out how to format e-books. It is a different setup for each of the two companies, but due to advances in software, it is now easier than it used to be. Fortunately for me, I had a Huey pilot friend who made the mistake of saying, "I can figure that out." And he did. In 2011, we turned some of my short stories into four e-collections: 9 Historical Mysteries, 9 Twin Brothers Bail Bond Mysteries, 9 Chronicles of Crime and 9 Deadly Tales. Kindle paid royalties by EFT and Smashwords paid via PayPal. Then in 2018, we added two more e-collections: 9 Holiday Burglars Mysteries and 31 Mini-Mysteries. These last two led to Part 3.
Part 3 - Paperbacks
I went back to my Huey pilot friend. He is now figuring out the requirements for a paperback and we are working on the final details. The paperback has a fixed charge, plus a very small charge for every page, none of which the author pays upfront. It's all covered by the buyer when he purchases the book. First, you need to decide what size of book you want and the size of font you prefer. Those two items and the length of your manuscript will determine how many pages your book will have. Then, KDP has a program where you enter the number of pages your book will have and the program will tell you the minimum price you have to put on your book, which is also the cost to KDP for printing your book. Naturally, you want to make a profit, so you also enter the price you want to charge and the program will tell you your royalty profit. Simple, huh?
Well, we'll see. Seems there's a bleed factor on the cover when it comes to cover size. My friend says he's got it figured out, and while he did teach me how to fly OH-6 and OH-58 observation helicopters, I think this cover and formatting thing is over my head. It's nice to have friends.
QUICK UPDATE: A week and a half ago, the 1st paperback went live. We are now working on the conversion of the other five from e-book to paperback.
You've now heard about My Small Business Plan. Do you have your own plan? Feel free to share. Or are you still working on one? We'd like to hear about that too.