Showing posts with label Alfred Hitchcock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alfred Hitchcock. Show all posts

20 June 2018

The Mysterious Women of Dell Magazines: Jackie Sherbow



Jackie Sherbow
photo by Ché Ryback

Leigh Lundin had the wonderful idea of inviting some of our favorite editors to sit for interviews. As the guiding hands at the mystery side of Dell Magazines (EQMM and AHMM) they have a huge influence on our field by bringing new readers and writers into it. Tomorrow we will feature Janet Hutchings, and Friday will star Linda Landrigan. But today we have the delightful Jackie Sherbow.
— Robert Lopresti

Jackie Sherbow is the Associate Editor of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. She is also the editor of Newtown Literary Journal and her poetry has appeared in places like Day One, Moonchild Magazine, and Luna Luna Magazine. She lives in Queens, New York.



What is one thing you wish everyone would know about your publications?

First and foremost, that they (still) exist. This of course seems like child’s play to anyone reading SleuthSayers, but you don’t know how many people come up to us at events and say the words “I didn’t know you were still around,” or otherwise think we’re publishing reprints of older issues. It’s wonderful to speak with readers who have a long-time, nostalgic connection to the magazines (and/or have unearthed their parents’ or grandparents’ collections, which they remember from childhood), but I think there’s no reason why short mystery fiction shouldn’t have a wide and growing audience—especially since so many different modes of contemporary and traditional fiction fall under that umbrella and can be found in the magazines.


What are you reading right now?

I’m reading the short-story collection Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti, and Eye Level, poems by Jenny Xie. I am usually reading two or three books concurrently, and trying to catch up on magazine or journal subscriptions too—I try to balance my reading between short stories, novels, poetry, and nonfiction at all times. Looks like I need to pick up some nonfiction.


What other hobbies or jobs do you have?

I’m the editor of a community-based literary journal in Queens called Newtown Literary, and I’m involved with the nonprofit organization that publishes it. I am also a writer (of poetry) and a runner (albeit a very slow one).


Dottie
Do you have any pets?

I’ve somewhat recently adopted a small asthmatic cat named Dottie (after Miss Fisher’s companion in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries). And now I’m the kind of person who has attached a photo of the cat to this e-mail.


What great short story or collection have you read recently?

I loved Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, which came out last year from Graywolf Press and has received a handful of awards and nominations since then. A story that really unnerved me recently was “The Midnight Zone” by Lauren Groff, originally published in the New Yorker and reprinted in The Best American Short Stories of 2017. I had to put it down and give it a break before finishing it. I read a lot of short horror as well as—naturally—crime and thriller, but I can’t remember the last time I had such a visceral reaction to a story. Very uncomfortable, but very memorable.


What do you love about short stories?

As a poet, I’m always impressed by fiction in general: what an author can pull off in terms of plot while also concentrating on theme and form—and as we know this is accentuated in a short story, where there’s less wordly “real estate.” As an editor and reader of short fiction, I particularly find intriguing the plot and character arcs in a short story (especially when there’s a mystery—which there almost always is!). I find that in a short story, imaginative leaps, experimental form, and other playful or innovative methods can be pulled off more successfully. And I really love how reading a short story on its own and then among others (whether in a single-author collection or a periodical or anthology) can bring out something new in the work. In terms of practicality, I’m a fairly slow reader, so short stories tend to strike me more in this way than a series of novels do.


Who is your favorite author?

Gabriel García Marquéz.


If you knew you’d be deserted on an island, what book would you bring?

One Hundred Years of Solitude.


What is your personal editorial philosophy?

In general I edit for clarity, consistency, and then refinement in service of the author’s voice and the entirety of the piece. I think that everything in a piece of writing matters, down to the smallest element of punctuation, but that it’s important as an editor to examine the power structures underlying the use of different types of language. I think it’s irresponsible not to do this. In everyday life, I think it can be pernicious to promote unsolicited, moralized adherence to traditional correctness without thinking about it. Language is a gift and powerful tool, and I think the words, style, and usages we choose to employ (or choose not to) have a cumulative effect on our communities.


Aside from short mystery fiction, what other parts of the genre do you enjoy?

I am a fan of mystery novels, television shows, and movies, and I am fascinated by true crime, but I would have to say the community of writers, readers, and fans. I think mysteries bring people together. Speaking of which, thank you, SleuthSayers, for inviting me, Janet, and Linda to participate.

Thank you, Jackie. Tomorrow, Janet Hutchings.

19 June 2018

Yesterday and Today


Yesterday was Paul McCartney’s birthday and I was going to do a post related to the Beatles, writing and me. But when I found out that the next three days will be posts from the three editors at Dell Magazines,  Janet Hutchings, Linda Landrigan and Jackie Sherbow (in alphabetical order) I thought I’d do a little lead into that. I’ve met all three on various occasions and broken bread with them and they’re all terrific. So, I hope no one minds that I revisit our trip to NYC in April, 2017 where we got to hang with them.
Amy and I got to meet Janet and Linda at Bouchercons in Raleigh and Long Beach. And when we went to NYC last year we got to meet up with them again and also meet Jackie Sherbow in person. So, in honor of these editors’ posts coming up, I hope you don’t mind if I rerun my post from a little over a year ago. Hey, the TV networks do it. So here’s a revisit to that wonderful trip.

From L to R around the table: Janet Hutchings, me, Eve Allyn, Doug Allyn, Jackie Sherbow, Linda Landrigan

***

New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town. The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down. Or is it the other way around? Amy (the wife) and I recently spent a week in New York City and I’m still not sure.  (Well, I am, but it plays better the other way.) And now the legally required disclaimer: I wrote about this trip for another blog a few weeks ago as my last slot for SleuthSayers was the family blog post that Amy did. So I didn’t have a chance to talk about our trip here. But it was writing-related and so great and so much fun I wanted to share a slightly revised version with SleuthSayers too.

Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building
The trip came up very unexpectedly when I got an e-mail from Janet Hutchings, editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, telling me that my story Ghosts of Bunker Hill had won the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll and inviting us to come to the Ellery Queen cocktail party and awards ceremony, as well as to be their guests at the Edgar Awards. I think I was in disbelief for several days, so we made no plans to head to New York…until the wonderful reality actually sunk in and we headed off to The Big Apple from The Big Sour, I mean, Big Orange.

We booked out on Jet Blue because we heard about their great on-time record. We got lucky—they were late both coming and going. I guess someone has to be the exception to the rule.

The week was a whirlwind of adventures and some sightseeing, much of it filled up with literary events. We arrived Monday night and since the hotel is next door to Grand Central Terminal we decided to check it out and have dinner at the famous Oyster Bar. Talk about a cool place. Then we walked around the neighborhood near the hotel late into the night.

On Tuesday we went to the Ellery Queen offices for tea with Janet and Linda Landrigan, editor of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and Jackie Sherbow, senior assistant editor for both EQMM and AHMM. Also there were Doug Allyn and his wife, Eve. Doug’s stories came in #2 and 3 in this year’s poll. But he’s been #1 11 times. I think it will be a long time before anyone can top that!

From L to R: Jackie Sherbow, Doug Allyn, Linda Landrigan,
Janet Hutchings, me

Everyone was very gracious. And it was good to talk with Janet again and Linda, who I’d met briefly before. And to meet Jackie for the first time in person, but who I’ve had a lot of correspondence with.
Me and Jackie Sherbow
After the afternoon tea, Jackie very graciously offered to be our guide on the subway, something I really wanted to do. So we subwayed to Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop for a gathering of Edgar nominees, authors, publishers and more (I think we fell into the “more” category, though now that I think about it I guess I’m an author too). It was crowded, it was fun. It was great to see the famous bookstore. And to meet Otto Penzler himself. And to see some people I know, including Edgar nominee Jim Ziskin and many others. And Doug Allyn was kind enough to introduce me to several people.


In the subway: L to R me, Eve Allyn,
Doug Allyn and Amy

After the party at the Mysterious Bookshop, Jackie was once again our subway guide, taking us to a real New York pizza place that she likes. So she, Doug and Eve, and Amy and I, braved the rain to get to the subway and then the pizza place. And in a scene that could have been out of a Woody Allen movie, we stepped just inside a local market to get out of the rain for a few minutes. I was waiting for the “nasty” New Yorkers to kick us out, but nobody was nasty and nobody kicked us out. Eve grabbed some plastic bags from the produce section to cover our heads and we ventured back out into the rain. We still got soaked by the time we made it to the pizza place. But the pizza was good and it was all worth it. After dinner, Jackie headed home. Doug and Eve, Amy and I took a cab back to the hotel. And this was the one loquacious cabby we had the whole time we were in New York and he was a riot. When we were just about at the hotel he nudged through a crosswalk and some guy in the walk started yelling at him, challenging him to a fight. Now we felt like we were in New York.

Jackie guiding us through the subway.
Wednesday we had a free day, so we played tourists (which we were). Lots of other tourists all around us. We did a tour of Grand Central Terminal, which was right next to the Grand Hyatt Hotel where we were staying and where the Edgars would be held the following evening. (On the other side of the hotel was the Chrysler Building, which we had a view of from our window. Now that’s pretty cool to be sandwiched between the Chrysler Building and Grand Central. During our tour we had another “New York” experience when some jerk called the tour guide a “dirty scumbag” and neither she nor any of us on the tour could figure out why or what she’d done. But despite that, most everyone was really friendly and nice and we had no problems with anyone.


Grand Central Terminal
After our tour of Grand Central we followed Clint Eastwood’s “Speed Zoo” example from the movie True Crime, where he jams his kid through the zoo at the speed of sound, and did “Speed New York.” We bought tickets for the hop on-hop off buses—buses where you can get on at one location and off at the next, hang out, then get back on and go to the next location. This way we saw a lot of the city in one day. Everything from the Empire State Building to the Flat Iron and various neighborhoods. We also hopped onto the Staten Island Ferry. From there we could see the Statue of Liberty. We ended the day in Rockefeller Center and then Times Square and dinner in a pretty good Italian restaurant off Times Square. Our meal was served family style—and being only 2 people we ended up with enough left over to feed everyone in Times Square.

The next day was the Ellery Queen cocktail party and awards, held at a specialized library not too far from the hotel. And it was a truly terrific experience. But the best part (besides picking up the award of course 😉) was being able to meet people in person that I know online but hadn’t met for one reason or another. Fellow SleuthSayer David Dean. Tom Savage. Dave Zeltserman, who published some of my stories early on in his HardLuck Stories magazine, and whose Small Crimes was just made into a movie on Netflix that released recently, so check it out. Besides hanging with Janet, Linda and Jackie, we also got to hang with Doug and Eve Allyn again, both of whom were great to hang with.
Me and Doug Allyn at the Ellery Queen cocktail party.

And, of course, it was more than a thrill to win the award!

Me receiving the Award.
And then it was off to the Edgars that evening. Very exciting. And all was going well, I even liked the food (and who likes the food at these things?), until the Master of Ceremonies, Jeffrey Deaver, stumbled and then fainted on the stage while doing some introductions. That was scary. Luckily he was okay, though whisked off to the hospital to make sure it was nothing serious. I believe tests showed that it wasn’t—hope so.

That’s the litany, now for the real deal: While we loved New York and all of the events, the best part of anything like this, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, etc., is the people. The community of mystery writers is a very warm, very supportive group. And, as I’ve mentioned, it was great to see old friends and also meet new people. We saw Jim Ziskin and Catriona McPherson, and had a nice chat with both of them. Met Otto Penzler. And it was good to meet Sam Reaves, Dave Zeltserman and too many others to name here. And great to spend time with Janet, Linda and Jackie.

Amy and Jackie at the Edgars.
New York has a bad rep in some ways and people who know me thought I’d hate it (as I haven’t been there in years…decades). I loved it. I loved the crowds. I loved the energy. I loved the writing community. I loved this whole unexpected trip. And I’m more than appreciative to Janet Hutchings for publishing Ghosts of Bunker Hill and taking a chance on my first story for Ellery Queen, Howling at the Moon (which, by the way, made it to #7 in the Ellery Queen Readers Poll). And to Linda Landrigan for publishing my story Twelve Angry Days in the current (May/June 2017) issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. And to Jackie for everything she does to keep the wheels turning. And last but certainly not least to the people who voted for Ghosts of Bunker Hill and made it #1.

***



Look for Past is Prologue and Fade Out on Bunker Hill (a Howard Hamm story) in upcoming issues of AHMM and EQMM, respectively.

***

And now for the usual BSP:

And some good news: My story “Windward,” from Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea (edited by Andrew McAleer & me) is nominated for a Macavity Award for Best Short Story. Our own Art Taylor’s story, “A Necessary Ingredient,” and Matt Coyle’s story, “The #2 Pencil,” also from Coast to Coast are also nominated. Congratulations Art and Matt! And I’m truly thrilled at how much recognition our little anthology is receiving. It’s very rewarding. And thanks to all who contributed and everyone who voted for these stories!




Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com

04 April 2018

Who Do You Trust?


If you haven't charged through the March/April issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine yet, I encourage you to get off the proverbial dime and do so.  You will find many good stories including appearances by three SleuthSayers: Michael Bracken, R.T. Lawton, and your humble (oh, shut up) reporter.

It was R.T.'s story that inspired my sermon today.  (And if you missed it, you can read his own thoughts about the tale here.)

What I want to talk about is something much beloved of literary critics: the unreliable narrator.  The concept has appeared in literature for thousands of years but the phrase comes from William C. Booth in 1961.  It refers to a piece of literature with a first-person narration which the reader, for whatever reason, would be unwise to trust.

To my mind there are four varieties, all of whom can be found in mystery fiction.

The Lunatic.  This one goes all the way back to Edgar Allan Poe.  (Hint: When a character begins by insisting that he is not crazy you would be wise to doubt him.)

The Liar. Agatha Christie did the most famous version of this, infuriating many readers.  Decades later something happened that I imagine went like this:
Critics: Of course, having the narrator secretly being the murderer is a one-off stunt, and no author could use it again.
Dame Agatha: Is that so?  Hold my tea.
And to everyone's consternation, she did it again.

I mentioned this a long time ago, but: One of my favorite examples of this category was The Black Donnellys, a short-lived TV series about Irish-American criminals in New York (2007).  The framing device is Joey Ice Cream, either a hanger-on or the Donnelly brothers' best friend, depending on who is telling the story.  Joey is in prison and he is being interrogated by the cops about the Donnelly's career.  And he is a compulsive liar, happy to change his story when they catch him fibbing.  YOu can see the brilliant pilot episode here. 

The Self-Deluded.  Not crazy and not deliberately lying.  This character is just so wrapped up in himself and so devoted to defending his actions that his views can't be trusted.  Think of Jonathan Gash's Lovejoy with his endless stream of explanations for his failures and dubious decisions.  I remember one book in which  he casually mentions breaking a man's arm "practically by accident."  My private eye character Marty Crow is quite trustworthy - unless he is talking about his gambling problem.  Problem?  What problem?

The Innocent.  This narrator describes accurately what he saw, but fails to understand it.  A famous example is Ring Lardner's classic story "Haircut."  The barber describes a crime, and doesn't even realize it.

And that brings us back to R.T. Lawton's story.  "The Left Hand of Leonard" is part of his series about the criminal underground during the reign of Louis the Fourteenth.  His narrator is a young pickpocket, not very skilled and not very clever, who is sent by the king of the criminals to help steal the bones of a saint.  Things go wrong and then seem to go right and the boy can't figure out what happened.  Ah, but the reader will, just as R.T. intended.

Do you have any favorite tales with unreliable narrators? And if you say you do, should we believe you?

02 April 2018

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Truth About Villains


Superman isn't a hero because he can fly or see through walls or bend steel with his bare hands. He's a hero because of kryptonite, the element that will render him helpless. That's how it is in mystery writing, too.

If you're writing a crime or mystery story, the villain drives your plot. Without a strong opponent, your hero looks weak because he or she doesn't really face a challenge. That's bad.

So how do you make your villain strong?

Remember, your Bad Guy explores alternatives, stepping over the line into the darkness to get something he or she wants, by whatever means necessary. If those means include lying, stealing, or killing, so much the better. The villain's goal is usually money, love, or power, and those are the issues that give your story high stakes. Without stakes, who cares?

The more your villain influences the story, the better. The hero/sleuth has to meet the increasingly difficult challenges.

That's comparatively easy in suspense novels that use the Bad Guy's point of view for some scenes. Suspense stories seem to be getting bigger and bigger now, and Armageddon needs a full-scale Ming the Merciless (Yeah, I'm dating myself)
to carry the ball. Sometimes those stories present the Bad Guy as a monster. Don't TELL us your character is a monster, though, a Joker, Snidely Whiplash, or Hannibal Lector, SHOW us. He has to be willing to kill dozens of people, dance with glee over starving kittens and scheme to bring back Disco.
He doesn't have to wring his hands and cackle "Bwah-hah-hah, my pretty" whenever we see him, and he doesn't need a pet cobra or a bullwhip. But we like to see someone enjoy his work and take pride in it. My favorite line in the entire Batman series is Heath Ledger as the Joker proclaiming, "When you're very good at something, never do it for free."

The best Bad Guys have redeeming qualities, too. They have a good reason (to them) for what they do. Revenge for a dead sibling or child, pursuit of a cause they believe is noble, a cure for tone-deafness. And except for some bloodthirsty little peccadillo, they may be great people. Hannibal Lector has superb taste and a sense of humor. In the early James Bond films, Blofeld often cradled a white Persian cat. If he likes animals, how bad can e really be? Well, come to think of it...

That's suspense. In mysteries, we can't be that obvious. We want the reader to wonder who the Bad Guy is. My villains seem like ordinary people until we discover why they do those nasty things. But my Bad Guys (or gals, I have several of them--I love subtle femme fatales) keep the squirrel running on the treadmill.

In Who Wrote the Book of Death? Zach Barnes is trying to find the person who threatens Beth Shepard.
Beth is the visible half of a writing team, and Barnes isn't sure if she's the target or if the Bad Guy really wants to kill Jim Leslie, who writes under a female pen name. He spends lots of time looking at both peoples' backstory to see who might want to kill them. In the meantime, Leslie nearly gets electrocuted in his own home. The killer tampers with the wiring, but nobody sees him. Beth is almost run down, but nobody gets a good look at the car. Later, someone shoots at her while she's presenting an author event at a bookstore, and nobody sees the shooter.

The villain is hiding, but his work drives the story. Even though we haven't seen him, Barnes must scramble to protect both people and figure out who the heck is doing all this stuff.

In The Whammer Jammers, several characters have nasty agendas. Someone stalks a roller derby skater, someone plans a bank robbery, and someone sets fires to a geriatric hospital, but we don't know who is pulling all the strings until Trash and Byrne solve those cases and find the common denominator...in the very last scene.

Blood On the Tracks revolves around a cold case that comes to light when Woody Guthrie agrees to recover a missing audio tape of a 1991 recording session. Someone killed a man to steal that tape, and Guthrie has to figure out why a recording of a long-forgotten band matters that much. The tape is what Alfred Hitchcock used to call a "MacGuffin," the gizmo that drives the plot, but the killer and his reasons are real. Guthrie has to understand how a twenty-years-old death links to three violent deaths in the present. That's a lot of influence by an invisible Bad Guy.

I put all these villains in plain sight and have them behave like decent people because I want to play fair with the reader. I give him or her information to unravel the mystery along with my detective, but I don't make my villain a weirdo or a demon or a cartoon. He or she is simply a person like you or me (But not as handsome or beautiful)
who made a really bad choice. Maybe that's what fascinates me the most about villains. Not all of them are monsters. There's a place for those, too, but it's not in my particular stories.

Unfortunately, opening the morning newspaper reminds me that we have enough monsters out there in real life.

07 March 2018

Write in Haste, Publish at Leisure


There were so many killings that year I had to look up his name.  It was Philando Castile.

He was a Black man in Minnesota, killed by a Latino cop moments after telling the man that he had a licensed handgun in the car. The police officer was acquitted.

The shooting happened on Wednesday, July 6, 2016. The next day someone put up a link to this (already existing) video in which a jolly cop and cheerful civilian explain how to safely inform a police officer that you are carrying a weapon.  Someone had added in the comments, approximately: "For best results, be White."

The next day I went to synagogue and the rabbi's sermon was about the killing. As I biked home I remembered that video.  The plot of a story burst into my brain.

I am usually  a slow writer.  Very slow.  It takes me months to write a first draft and then a couple of years to turn it into something publishable.

But I wrote the very short "Nobody Gets Killed" in two hours that Friday night.  I revised it the next day and sent it to a friend for editing.  By Monday it was on its way to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and you can find it in their current, March/April, issue.


I have said before that every piece of fiction involves two sides of the brain, the Miner, and the Jeweler.  Some people talk about conscious/unconscious mind, or left and right brain, but this metaphor is what works for me.  The Miner digs out the raw material and may do some of the work, but eventually he hands it off to the Jeweler who polishes it into something that is hopefully publishable.  Often when the Miner is running the show the writer has little conscious memory of the process.  "It's like I wasn't even there.  The words just flowed out."

A lot of the time my Miner comes up with only the bare idea and leaves the Jeweler to do everything else.  But "Nobody Gets Killed" was 90% Miner.  Doesn't mean it's a better or worse story for that, by the way.  You will have to read it and see what you think.

One more thing...  I have just had stories in three issues of Hitchcock in a row.  "The Chair Thief" was a short comic tale  of office politics, with an unexpected sting in its tail.   "Train Tracks" was a long historic semi-Western story of revenge and redemption.  And now "Nobody Gets Killed" is a brief ripped-from-the-headlines slice-of-life anecdote.  Hitchcock has purchased one more  but it is not yet scheduled; "A Bad Day for Algebra Tests" is a comic crime caper.

It would appear that I am having some difficulty establishing a consistent brand for myself.   But as long as Hitchcock keeps buying (I am up to thirty sales there) I guess I shouldn't complain.

By the way, I wrote another piece about writing "Nobody Gets Killed," and it appears on Trace Evidence, the AHMM blog.



13 February 2018

Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light


This is going to be a rather morbid post, but it’s something that’s been on my mind for some time. It also might be a little bit unfocused as there’s so many things going round my head on this subject, but I think the main points will come across.

Lately, I’ve been noticing on Facebook a lot of people being sick to one degree or another and even some who’ve passed on. This has been happening since I joined FB but it seems like there’s more lately and that it’s happening more frequently. As I was thinking about this, I’ve also seen posts from other people who’ve noticed the same thing. Maybe it’s because we have more FB friends, maybe it’s because that’s just life or people are getting older? Either way, every time I see these messages—and even the ones about people’s pets—I get a pang of sadness. On the one hand, it’s part of life, still, on the other it hurts to see so many people going gently—or otherwise—into that good night.

It gives me pause. Maybe because my world is so much bigger, in some ways, thanks to FB. Therefore, I see more of this than I would in pre-FB days. I’ve had friends and relatives die since I was a little kid, of course. Some well before their time, either because of “natural” causes or war or in the case of my birth father, from being hit by a drunk driver. Somehow he made it through World War II, but not the mean streets of L.A.

So I wanted to talk a little about writers and recognition, both in our lifetimes and beyond: mortality and immortality. It’s an uncomfortable subject, maybe one of those that we don’t like to talk about in “polite” company, but maybe one that we think about on occasion.

We write for various reasons. To get our point of view out there, to entertain, to get fame and recognition, maybe even a little money...very little money 😉. And it might seem vain, but I think we also write because many of us would like that little chunk of immortality that leaving behind our words gives us. We want to think that in a hundred years or a thousand someone searching some “dusty” silicon chips (or whatever the current medium is) for a bit of nostalgia or a glimpse of how the world used to be might stumble upon our words. And just for that little moment in time we might live again. Of course, we also want to be recognized while we’re here—wouldn’t that be nice?

Some people say that writing in itself is its own reward—maybe, or to an extent. But, speaking for myself, while I enjoy the writing, creating stories, characters, settings, plots and putting it all together like a jigsaw puzzle, if no one else read it it would be like the sound of that famous tree falling in the forest—with no one there to hear it. So, aren’t we really writing for others—whether today or for posterity? Otherwise why share our work with anyone else? Writing for yourself is like eating a pizza by yourself (or watching a movie, playing cards or a game), it’s definitely enjoyable, but it’s often more fun to do with someone else. And if we’re writing for others our work can live on even if we can’t.

In Sonnet 18, Shakespeare, whoever he was in reality, said…

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

…referring to his poem living on, making him immortal.



Does everyone think or hope they’ll be the next Jane Austen or Charles Dickens—or even Dan Brown? Did any of these people think they’d be remembered a hundred or more years later—maybe, or maybe not. They, probably like a lot of writers, just felt compelled to write—but maybe with one eye toward some type of immortality. For some of us, writing is like breathing. But are we really writing for a tiny audience of our wives, husbands and mothers? I don’t think so.

Jane Austen

Most people want to leave a mark—hopefully for something good or at worst neutral, though some prefer being known for their evil deeds (which gives us fodder to write about). Nobody wants to be ignored or forgotten. To some that means leaving children to carry on the family legacy and name, to others curing cancer, and yet to others leaving a piece of writing that will endure. But after a generation or two even our great grandchildren don’t really know us either, but our readers do.

If we don’t care about these things, both being known in our lifetimes and beyond, why do we get upset when our work is rejected, when we can’t get agents, etc.? Sure, part of it is ego, no one likes being rejected. But maybe part of it is also losing another shot at a little piece of immortality.

At some points in our lives, particularly when we’re younger, I think we don’t see the possibility of not being here anymore. We know it happens intellectually, but we don’t like to think about it. Which brings to mind these lines from Flowers Never Bend in the Rainfall, by Paul Simon:

So I'll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end,
And flowers never bend with the rainfall.

And that also brings me to one of my favorite songs about mortality:

There's no place in this world where I'll belong when I'm gone
And I won't know the right from the wrong when I'm gone
And you won't find me singin' on this song when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here




So, do it while you’re here, do it now and don’t put it off ’cause you never know what will happen. And hopefully it will last. And, like Dylan Thomas said, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

***

And now for a little BSP that will hopefully help me on the road to immortality: Mind Blowing News: My story “Windward” from Coast to Coast: Privates Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea (edited by Andrew McAleer and Me, published by Down & Out Books) has been selected for the 2018 Best American Mystery Stories edited by Louise Penny & Otto Penzler. It will be out in the fall. To say I’m blown away is an understatement. Also selected for Best American Mysteries from this collection is John Floyd’s “Gun Work,” and Art Taylor’s “A Necessary Ingredient” has been nominated for an Agatha. Not a bad batting average for one book 😁.

And a shoutout to SleuthSayers Michael Bracken and David Edgerly Gates, who also have stories in the Best American Mysteries, and Barb Goffman on her Agatha Nom. SleuthSayers is cleaning up!

https://www.mysteriousbookshop.com/blogs/news/best-american-mystery-stories-2018 


Also, my Shamus-winning novel, White Heat, is being reissued in May by Down and Out Books. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon. Here is the new cover reveal:



Also, there’s a fun and interesting article on Alfred Hitchcock in the Washington Post (and other places) from Associated Press writer Hillel Italie: Alfred Hitchcock Remains an Influence on Crime Writers. It includes quotes from Linda Landrigan of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Mike Mallory, SJ Rozan, A.J. Finn, Otto Penzler.......and even me! Enjoy!

###

06 February 2018

Stiffed


by Michael Bracken

When I began writing crime fiction in the early 1980s, many magazines published mysteries, but there were only three mystery magazines—the digest-sized Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. (Two more digests were soon to join them, the short-lived Espionage Magazine, which published fourteen issues beginning in December 1984 and ending in September 1987, and the even shorter-lived The Saint Magazine, which published three monthly issues—June, July, and August—in 1984.) I was deep into my career before I cracked EQMM and even deeper before I cracked AHMM, but four of my first seven published mysteries appeared in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

My first two mysteries appeared in Gentleman’s Companion (“City Desk,” January 1983; “Adam’s Rib,” March 1983) and my third appeared in Mike Shayne that same year. “Vengeance to Show in the Third” (October 1983)—the story of an ex-jockey, a girlfriend who isn’t who she appears to be, and race fixing—was clearly influenced by reading Dick Francis. Just like my initial sale to Espionage, I targeted the men’s magazines first and, after rejections from Hustler, Gallery, Stag, and Cavalier, I stripped out 500 words of graphic sex and submitted the story to Mike Shayne on March 8, 1983. A postcard from editor Charles E. Fritch dated July 10 notified me of my first Mike Shayne acceptance.

I described the genesis of “With Extreme Prejudice” (August 1984), my second appearance in the magazine, in “You Only Live Twice,” when I explored by brief foray into writing spy fiction.

The story of an insurance investigator who steals from the company’s clients, “A Matter of Policy,” my third appearance in Mike Shayne (February 1985), was also first submitted to several men’s magazine. After rejections from Hustler, Playboy, Gem, Buf, Cavalier, Gallery, and Swank, I stripped out 600 words of graphic sex and saw the new version rejected by The Saint Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine before acceptance by Mike Shayne on November 11, 1984. Unlike the postcards I received for the first two acceptances, this one came typed at the bottom of a rejection for another story. (The rejected story, “All My Yesterdays,” finally saw publication in Suddenly V [Stone River Press, 2003] and, in 2004, earned a Derringer Award for Best Flash.)

My final appearance in Mike Shayne—“The Great Little Train Robbery” (June 1985), the story of a gang preparing for a train robbery—is the first story the magazine published that did not start life intended for a men’s magazine. AHMM, Spiderweb, and EQMM all passed on the story before Mike Shayne accepted it February 13, 1985, and “The Great Little Train Robbery” has become one of my most-often reprinted short stories: Detective Mystery Stories, September 2002; Sniplits, April 2008; and Kings River Life (as “The Great Train Robbery”), August 19, 2017.

Just like when Espionage bit the dust with an accepted story in its files, Mike Shayne also had an accepted story in its files when it ceased publication in August 1985, and that story—“Fresh Kill”—finally appeared in the April/May 2001 Blue Murder.

(Though The Saint Magazine never published my work, it also accepted one of my stories prior to its demise, and “Sharing” did not see publication until the July 2001 Judas_ezine. That means each of the three mystery magazines that died in the mid-1980s died clinging to one of my stories. Maybe it’s a good thing for us all that neither AHMM nor EQMM began accepting my work until well into the twenty-first century.)

“Unfortunately,” notes James Reasoner, frequent contributor and ghostwriter of many of the magazine’s Mike Shayne stories, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazinehad a habit of not paying their writers unless they were badgered and threatened into it.

Apparently, I never mastered the art of badgering and threatening because Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine stiffed me. I was never paid for the four stories they published.

Unfortunately, they aren’t the last publication to go belly up owing me money.
Of more recent vintage: “Texas Hot Flash” appears in Tough and “Skirts” appears in Black Cat Mystery Magazine #2“Smoked, which first appeared in Noir at the Salad Bar, has been selected for inclusion in this year’s The Best American Mystery Stories.

17 January 2018

Train songs, Train story


Shirt courtesy of Joann Lopresti Scanlon
I am thrilled to bits to have the cover story in the January/February issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  I also have a piece up on Trace Evidence, the AHMM  blog site, about the Orphan Train movement, which is the fact  behind my fiction. Today I want to discuss how I found out about it.

It goes back to the 1970s, when my future wife and I attended our first-ever folk  festival.  This was in Middletown, New Jersey and it had more than  a dozen performers, none of whom we had ever heard of.  (Honestly, I think the only folksingers we could have named back then were Dylan, Baez, Seeger, and Guthrie - Arlo, not Woody).

At one point Marlene Levine, the MC, said, "We had this man  here a few years ago and we think we've recovered enough to have him back.  Here he is, a legend in  his own mind, U. Utah Phillips, the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest!"

Out came an old man (ha, younger than I am now) with a gray ponytail under a cowboy hat.  When he left the stage twenty minutes later my wife and I were committed lifelong folkies.

Utah Phillips was a singer-songwriter, raconteur  and performer. He shared a body with Bruce Phillips, who was a veteran, a pacifist, an anarchist, a Wobblie, and a railroad nut.

One day, a decade after I first heard him, Phillips was touring in the midwest.  He came back to his hotel and saw a sign that read ORPHAN TRAIN REUNION.  Considering what I told you about him, you should realize that Bruce could no more walk past that sign than he could have flapped his arms and flown past it.

Of course he went in and asked "What's an Orphan Train and why a Reunion?"  The answer led him to writing one of his best songs.  I can't find a recording on Youtube of Utah performing it but there are several good covers and here is one.  (Hi, Jim Portillo!)



That song introduced me to the Orphan Train.  It led me to read a couple of books on the subject and that inspired me to write a song of my own.  Mine is based on the true story of the Woodruffe family of Trenton, Missouri.  I rearranged some of the facts but the main events really happened to Phyllis Weir, later Phyllis Woodruffe.


But after writing that song I still wanted to say more about the Orphan Train.  So being the kind of writer I am I asked: Is there a way to write a crime story about this phenomenon?  The result is "Train Tracks."  I hope you like it.

24 December 2017

A Holiday Gift Puzzle


by R.T. Lawton

In the old days, or at least about a decade and a half ago, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine used to publish a column in which the reader was presented with a logic puzzle. After I finally figured out how the logic puzzle worked, I wrote a story in my Twin Brothers Bail Bond series where the characters used that same type of logic to solve the story puzzle. The reader got a chance to solve the puzzle before the story characters did. So, in honor of that past tradition, here's part of the story, and your own Happy Holidays logic puzzle for you to solve. Don't worry, hints are provided in the story to guide you through the logic process to find which person is the designated hitman.

"Yes sir," said Theodore, the bail agent. "it seems by the descriptions I was given, that we have one man with short, curly red hair, one blond male with a crew cut, one with medium brown hair and a man with black hair. Their names are Erikson, Zanos, Harris and Robertson. Their occupations, again in no particular order, seem to be a Stock Broker, a Car Salesman and an Insurance Salesman. The fourth is unknown and therefore obviously our Contract Killer, but I don't know which of these men has which occupation."

"I really hope you have more than that for me to go on," replied the proprietor.

"Well, there are a few more items of information that might help:
   1) the man with the unknown occupation, beat Zanos at golf a couple of days ago.
   2) Harris and the Car Salesman play poker once a week with the brown-haired man and the black-          haired man.
   3) Erikson and the Insurance Salesman dislike the brown-haired man.
   4) The Stock Broker has red hair.
and that's all I managed to get. The gift shop girl and the maids talked for free, but I had to cough up twenty bucks apiece to the others before they'd tell me anything. A bunch of crooks is what they are."

"Hush for a minute, I'm thinking."

The proprietor gazed off into the dark recesses of the inner sanctum's high ceiling. As the clock on the wall ticked off the minutes, he slowly began to stroke the silky sides of his long, black Bandito mustache. In time, he spoke.

"From what your interviews tell me, we know that Harris is not the Car Salesman and has neither brown nor black hair. Also that Erikson is not the Insurance Salesman and does not have brown hair. But, we do know the Stock Broker has red hair. And we know that Zanos is not the Contract Killer. The rest is a matter of logical thinking, thus we know that the color of the hair of the Car Salesman is..."

At this point, Theodore rubbed the tips of his pudgy, almost webbed fingers over the top of his bald head.

"Excuse me, sir. I kept up with you until you got to the logical thinking part, but I can't do this stuff in my head the way you do. Is there, perhaps.....an easier method?"

The proprietor removed paper and pen from the top drawer of his desk. Rapidly, he prepared a grid, which he then pushed across the desk to Theodore, along with a pen.

"Study this, then you fill in the blank spaces with an "O" for a positive and an "X" for a negative fact."

Theodore stared at the chart.

                    red   blond   black   brown    Stock Broker   Car Salesman   Insurance Salesman   Killer

Erikson                                          X                                                                        X

Zanos                                                                                                                                                X

Harris                                X         X                                             X

Robertson
_________________________________________________________________________________

Stk Brkr        O

Car Sales                            X         X

Ins Sales                                         X

Killer


"Okay, sir, I understand where the facts are on the chart, but can you give me a little boost on the logical thinking part?"

The proprietor sadly shook his head.

"Theodore, if you know that the Stock Broker has red hair, then you can place an 'X' in that row under "blond', 'black' and 'brown.' Those are negative facts. Go ahead and mark those in. Now, reading down the brown column, you see that the Stock Broker, the Car Salesman and the Insurance Salesman all have negative X's in their rows, therefore the Killer has brown hair. Put an 'O' in his row. You can figure out the rest."

Five minutes later, Theodore put down his pen.

"Okay, boss, I worked it out that the Car Salesman had blond hair and the Insurance Salesman had black hair, but I'm not sure where to go from here."

CAN YOU WORK IT OUT FROM HERE ?
(if not, then keep reading)

"Now it is a matter of simple elimination," said the proprietor. "Take Harris for example, his row has several blanks You know by those blanks that he can have red or blond hair and he can be the Stock Broker, the Insurance Salesman or the Contract Killer, but blond hair only goes with the Car Salesman as you determined earlier. Thus you eliminate the 'blond' in that row and you now know that that Harris has to be the Stock Broker, the only one with red hair. Keep working on it."

Ten minutes later, after several cross-outs, much scratching of his head and a few "Oh's", Theodore quietly laid down his pen. A self-satisfied smile radiated from his round, lumpy face.

"I figured out who the Contract Killer is. He's....."

DID YOU FIGURE IT OUT ?
(the answer is below)


"Ah, the Contract Killer is Mr. Robertson."

Happy Holidays from our house to yours !!!

26 November 2017

The Big Book of Rogues and Villains


by R.T. Lawton

Christmas is coming and the shopping days will soon be counting down at a rapid pace. And while Santa may be the one who knows whether you've been naughty or nice, sometimes good things happen regardless of how you've been.

To me, it started when I went to the DELL Cocktail Reception in Manhattan during Edgars Week about a year and a half ago. Although, if you wanted to be picky, you could successfully argue that it all started when Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine published my 1660's Paris Underworld story, "Boudin Noir," in their December 2009 issue. In any case, while I was conversing with fellow authors at the reception, I happened to notice Otto Penzler, anthology editor and owner of Mysterious Bookstore, talking with Linda Landrigan, editor of AHMM. Not wanting to interrupt them, I waited until they were finished before making myself known to Linda. As things turned out, it was probably a wise choice on my part.

About a month later, I received an e-mail from Otto. He wanted to purchase the reprint rights to "Boudin Noir" for his upcoming anthology, The Big Book of Rogues and Villains, scheduled for a Fall 2017 publication. Hey, for extra money on an already published in AHMM story, AND to appear in an Otto Penzler anthology, you bet. Months afterwards, I spoke with Linda at a conference and mentioned the e-mail from Otto. That's when I learned that Otto had been asking her about any authors he should include in his anthology, and Linda had mentioned my name and one of my stories. Made me glad I hadn't interrupted their conversation at the reception.

So now, as of October 24, 2017, the book is available both in paper and in Kindle. You don't want to miss this one. 72 handpicked stories concerning some of the best and/or worst criminals that ever walked the earth.

Just think, you can be your own Santa Claus this year and it doesn't make any difference if you've been naughty or nice, you can still reward yourself with a great Christmas present. Order up a copy of  The Big Book of Rogues and Villains for your own reading pleasure. And, if you're feeling generous, order a copy for a friend or two.

I know what my four kids are getting for Christmas. Makes shopping easy.

21 November 2017

A Writer’s Thanksgiving


Well, since Thanksgiving is in a couple of days I thought I’d write about what I, as a writer in particular, am thankful for. We all have things in our “regular” lives to be thankful for, so this column will address specifically some of what this writer has to be thankful for:
Computers: Whoa! I can’t say enough about this one. Changed my life. I’ve mentioned before how when personal PCs came out I thought they were just another silly toy. Then my former writing partner got one and I saw him move a paragraph from one page to another and I was hooked. How much better than literally cutting and pasting with scissors and white out. (Of course I’m sorry for Mike Nesmith and his mom, who invented white out, but I think they’re doing okay anyway.) So I was the second person I knew to get a PC: two floppy drives, wow! And we know how far computers have come from those days. Now your phone is a mini-computer.

Microsoft Word: When I started out on that dual floppy computer I used a word processing program called XyWrite, which I really liked. But it didn’t weather the transition to GUI programs like Windows. So I switched to Word. One can complain about both Microsoft and Word plenty, but overall they’ve made my life a hell of a lot easier.

Paying Markets: In the ye olden days of the mid-20th century writers could actually make a living selling short stories. That’s not really true anymore. There aren’t a lot of paying markets. No one would think of not paying their doctor or plumber, but for some reason people don’t think writers’ work is worth paying for. Sure, sometimes they’re struggling themselves, but even a token payment would be nice. When I was teaching screenwriting seminars on occasion I would always tell the students not to work for free. And, though I have published with non-paying markets it’s definitely better to get paid. So thanks to Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock (and others)—magazines that still pay and still publish short stories. Long may they live!

Assistants: I’m most grateful for all the wonderful assistants I’ve had over the years. A variety of dogs and cats, who’ve kept me company, provided inspiration, and sometimes aggravation, but have always been wonderful companions and who make the solitude of writing much more bearable. And who, on occasion, have tripped the light fantastic over the keyboard and probably added a little extra dazzle to my writing.
One of my former assistants

My current assistants

Kindle and E-publishing:  I have mixed feelings on this one. Yes, I prefer hard copy books, though I read about 50-50 these days between those and e-books. But e-publishing has opened the door for lots of people to read my scintillating syntax (or is that sin tax).  And it’s kind of cool to be able to go on a trip and bring 100 books along so I can read whatever I feel like. And even more cool to be able to buy a book at 3am and have it in my cyber-hands faster than you can say “Amazon-one-click”.

Social Media/Facebook/Twitter: Aside from the marketing benefits of social media, it’s a great way for writers, who are pretty much a solitary bunch of people, to be able to get together at the cyber “water cooler” to chat, share ideas, happy moments, sad moments, laughter and opinions—sometimes too many damn opinions…. I’ve made many friends across the country (and the world for that matter) and figure there’s someone I could have lunch with almost anywhere in the country and in many parts of the world.  Of course, as with anything, there’s always some jerks and trolls in the bunch. And to those people I say CENSORED.

The Internet: In a word—research. I love being able to research everything on the internet. From
murder methods, to maps, history, music and how-to videos on You-Tube. Of course some of those how to videos are how to play this or that guitar or bass part or just watching a bunch of old clips of rock bands. As for murder methods, I hope the police never have to search my computer—I’m guilty. Guilty. Guilty of researching heinous methods of offing people. But what better way for a writer to procrastinate and call it work!

Smart Phones & tablets: At first I was reluctant to get a smart phone, but now I love being able to check my e-mail on the go, post photos on Instagram of my doctor’s waiting room while I wait and wait and wait, like the people trying to get an exit visa out of Casablanca, for the doc to show up. Or snap a picture of the traffic jam I’m stuck in on the drive home. And while I never want to become one of those people with their noses glued to their cell phones all day and all of the night (to borrow a line from the Kinks), I am grateful for the little distractions both the phone and tablet provide and how I can stay connected even when I’m away from my computer. Oh, and thankful for Android. I love that all my Google contacts, etc., are integrated across all my devices.

Support from Friends and Fellow Writers:  I’m thankful for all the friends and writers who have supported me and cheered me on, read my books and stories, nominated me for awards and voted for my writing, given me great reviews, interviewed me, published me in their magazines, given me space on their blogs (including this one: shout out to Leigh and Rob and everyone else here!), congratulated me on FB, liked my FB posts, shared my good news and sympathized when bad things happened, and on and on. Grateful, too, for Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, et al. Writing is a lonely profession and the support of friends who understand the struggles of a writer is…to quote a famous commercial…priceless…

And last but not least: My wife, the indomitable, inimitable, indefatigable, intrepid and on occasion infuriating ;-) when she wants me to rewrite things (but she’s almost always right), Amy, who has stood by me through thick and thin. Who, though not a writer, is my number one reader, number one editor, number one fan and number one supporter. And who puts up both with me general (a job in itself) and as a writer (another job in itself as all the significant others of writers are well aware).




So, Thank You All And Have A Wonderful Thanksgiving!




***

22 October 2017

Black Friday


by R.T. Lawton

Walking into a pawn shop in the middle of a robbery can be a hazardous experience, especially if the robber is a relative amateur in these types of situations. That's the circumstances that Yarnell, a professional burglar, finds himself in when he goes to redeem his wife's diamond wedding ring from the shop. Fortunately for him, his wife doesn't know that her ring has been hocked, and he intends to keep it that way.

Anyway, it's hands up, hands down, hands up, then hands down again for Yarnell as he converses with the robber. And just when Yarnell and the robber come to some sort of  understanding about proper procedure, in walks Beaumont, Yarnell's partner in crime, who has his own thoughts about robbery etiquette.

Meanwhile, behind the counter in the back of the pawn shop, the recipient of the robbery, Lebanese George, who is also the owner of the pawn shop, has developed a case of tired arm muscles. So now, one of his hands has slowly declined to a half-raised position while he slurps coffee out of a mug held by his other hand.

The robber soon decides he wants everybody's money, in which case Yarnell tries to hand his money to Lebanese George first in order to pay off the hock on his wife's wedding ring. George, knowing he is going to lose the money anyway, refuses to accept the cash as payment to redeem the ring. That's when Yarnell learns his wife's ring is already part of the jewelry the robber is stealing. Thus, the robbery progresses. Up to a point.

"Black Friday" is the tenth story in my Holiday Burglars series, all ten of which have been published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Short story critic Rob Lopresti has remarked that this one is the funniest story of mine that he has read to date. Who am I to argue with such a great mind?

This is Lebanese George's second appearance in one of my stories.His debut as a story character was in my Twin Brothers Bail Bond series as a crooked wine merchant. In real life, the model for "Lebanese George" was a man who sold used cars with my Uncle Dick. Stories of some of their escapades were truly scam jobs on the general car buying public and hilarious situations in the telling. In his middle years, George had to go on the run from the Dixie Mafia and did his hiding out on a houseboat which traveled up and down the river as a means of frequently changing his address. I only met George once, and that was during his later years. At that time, he claimed to own a steak house in the city we were visiting. He did invite my wife and I to his restaurant for a free steak dinner, but we never made it to his establishment. I always wondered what that free steak dinner would've cost me.

George was a likable and very entertaining individual, which probably made him successful at whatever he did. With all that in mind, I'd say if he's still alive and you happen to meet up with him, keep one hand on your wallet and be sure it stays in your pocket. You can count your money before and after, but please don't count it in front of him.

Til next time.

13 September 2017

Cabin Fever


The current issue of Alfred Hitchcock (September/October) includes stories by me, Eve Fisher, and Janice Law - all of us SleuthSayers contributors. Here's looking at you, kid.


My story, "Cabin Fever," was written quite some time ago, and it's taken a while for it to work its way to the top of the stack. I'm mentioning this because what I'd like to talk about here is how stories get started, why an idea takes hold, and what kind of legs it needs to get us across the finish line.

Here's a curious thing. For some years now, Craig Johnson has been coming through Santa Fe as each new Longmire title launches, and for the past six years, his visits have coincided with the shooting schedule of Longmire, the TV series. As it happens, when Craig came to town to promote Hell Is Empty, the Longmire cast and crew were shooting the episode based on the book. And also, somewhere in this time period, or not long after, I'd started "Cabin Fever." The point is, Hell Is Empty has Walt tracking down an escaped con through a winter blizzard. "Cabin Fever" has my guy, Hector, held hostage by escaped cons in the middle of a forest fire. But. I didn't catch up with Hell Is Empty until later that year and the Longmire season opener wasn't broadcast until a year after that. There wasn't any cross-pollination. My idea came out of thin air.

Or not? We've all had the experience of things floating around in the zeitgeist, or drifting by, in our peripheral vision, that suddenly take on shape, and density. In our sentimental moments, we might even call it inspiration, the light on the road to Damascus. On a less exalted plane, it's more like you're hitching a ride, and somebody pulls over. I couldn't tell you where the set-up for "Cabin Fever" came from. Hector's truck breaks down, he's out in the back of beyond with no cell coverage, and a weather system's blowing in. He decides to try and find shelter, and beat the storm. There turn out to be other people lost in the woods, and soon enough they find each other.

I think it's safe to say that a story's going to change with different storytellers. The approach, the attack, the retreat. We might call the story "Stop Me If You've Heard This." A cop, a priest, and a hooker walk into a bar. You and I are entirely likely to go off at right angles to one another, or in completely opposite directions. It depends on what we think the story is. Where's the emphasis, who's got the POV, when do you show your hole cards?

Supposing that Craig and I did have a similar idea, and at more or less the same time, the end results turn out differently in the actual telling. I can give you another example. And in this case, I know where and when the match lit the fuse.

I was faithful reader of Marc Simmons' weekly column Trail Dust, in the Santa Fe New Mexican, until he retired the column last year. (Simmons, a highly-regarded New Mexico historian, has a reported forty-nine books under his belt.) He wrote a piece about the Butterfield freight line and a stagecoach loaded with gold that disappeared on the eve of the Civil War, in the desert west of Lordsburg. Was there treasure buried in a place called Doubtful Canyon? OK. First off, Lordsburg. John Ford's movie Stagecoach is based on the Ernest Haycox story "Stage to Lordsburg." I couldn't possibly pass that up. Secondly, how does anybody resist a name like Doubtful Canyon? There's your title, ready-to-wear. Last but not least, the bare bones of the story itself, men on the run with thirty thousand in Yankee gold, in hostile Apache country. I'm lathered up already.

The story I wound up writing ("Doubtful Canyon," of course) clocked in at some 20,000 words. It capped off, at least for a while, the bounty hunter series. I thought it was terrific, fully fleshed, peopled with rattlesnakes and rascals, and a satisfying answer to the puzzle, if made up out of whole cloth. It wasn't an easy sell, though, not at that length. I was a little disheartened. About a year later, then, you can imagine my shock when I ran across a new novel on the Westerns shelf at Collected Works bookshop called Doubtful Cañon - Cañon the Spanish spelling. What fresh hell was this? I knew the name, too. Johnny D. Boggs. I'd read one of his earlier books, Camp Ford, and liked it a lot. I was going to revisit my opinion now, you can bet your sweet ass.

Much to my chagrin, this Boggs turns out to be no schlump, as a writer. And this being Santa Fe, we bump into each other, sooner rather than later, at a library event. He's genuine, personable, and funny. All-around good company. The guy coaches Little League, for John's sake. Impossible not to like, which is even more annoying.



Johnny's novel is a YA, and yes, it does take off from the same start point, the missing stagecoach full of gold. There are other synchronicities. We both tell the story from a distance, in hindsight, although he gives it twenty years, and I gave it fifty. Part of this is, I think, a sense of perspective, tilting the horizon, and another part of it artful misdirection. Johnny and I both used a split screen, in effect, and the device of a not entirely reliable narration as well, but we deployed it differently. In my case, I alternated the two time-frames, too.

As a writer - or as one of two writers grazing the same section of fence - I'm probably more interested in the confluences between Johnny's approach to the canvas and mine. A critical reader, who doesn't have skin in the game, might well be more interested in where we diverged. But absent the annotated Library of America edition, we'll skip the play by play. The question isn't whether the idea is original, it's whether we made it our own.

Here's a last little teaser, a sort of exercise. I ran across this poster at my local frame shop. Tell me it doesn't conjure up all sorts of possibilities. I'm not sure how I'd use it, myself, but I'm going to let it rattle around in the cupboards for awhile. How about you?