Showing posts with label Eve Fisher. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eve Fisher. Show all posts

13 June 2024

The Timeless Advice of Dylan Thomas

We have all run across people who ask us the damnedest questions, sometimes so stupid they beggar belief:

"How do I write a bestseller?" Look, if I knew, I'd be doing a tour of morning news shows.

"Do you have Stephen King's address and phone number?" No, and I doubt if he has mine, either.

"Could I make more money writing spy thrillers or horror stories?" Flip a coin, flip a coin.

"I have a great idea - do you know a good agent?" No. The only people who get to pitch ideas are Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, James Patterson, et al, and all they have to do is whisper, and the contract shows up.

"I have a great idea - you could write it, and we'd split the profits 50/50." Better yet, you write it and I won't read it.


But sometimes someone writes the most brilliant response to all these questions. Back in 1951 or thereabouts, the editor of "Circus" asked Dylan Thomas "to describe the steps which help to establish a popular poet in England today. It was an opportunity for irony which he has not wasted."


How to Be a Poet or the Ascent of Parnassus Made Easy
by Dylan Thomas

Let me, at once, make it clear that I am not considering, in these supposedly informative jotrhythmic, Poetry as an Art or a Craft, as the rhythmic verbal expression of a spiritual necessity or urge, but solely as the means to a social end; that end being the achievement of a status in society solid enough to warrant the poet discarding and expunging those affectations, so essential in the early stages, of speech, dress, and behavior; an income large enough to satisfy his physical demands, unless he has already fallen victim to the Poet’s Evil, or Great Wen; and a permanent security from the fear of having to write any more. I do not intend to ask, let alone to answer, the question, “Is Poetry a Good Thing?” but only, “Can Poetry Be Made Good Business?"

I shall, to begin with, introduce to you a few of the main types of poets who have made the social and financial grade.

First, though not in order of importance, is the poet who has emerged docketed “lyrical,” from the Civil Service. He can be divided, so far as his physical appearance goes, into two types.

He is either thin, not to say of a shagged-out appearance, with lips as fulsome, sensual, and inviting as a hen’s ovipositor, bald from all too maculate birth, his eyes made small and reddened by reading books in French, a language he cannot understand, in an attic in the provinces while young and repellent, his voice like the noise of a mouse’s nail on tinfoil, his nostrils transparent, his breath gray; or else he is jowlcd and bushy, with curved pipe and his nose full of dottle, the look of all Sussex in his stingo’d eyes, his burry tweeds smelling of the dogs he loathes, with a voice like a literate Airedale’s that has learned its vowels by correspondence course, and an intimate friend of Chesterton’s, whom he never met.

Let us see in what manner our man has arrived at his present and enviable position as the Poet who has made Poetry Pay:

Dropped into the Civil Service at an age when many of our young poets now are running away to Broadcasting House, today’s equivalent of the Sea, he is at first lost to sight in the mountains of red tape which, in future years, he is so mordantly, though with a wry and puckered smile, to dismiss in a paragraph in his “Around and About My Shelves.” After a few years, he begins to peer out from the forms and files in which he leads his ordered, nibbling life, and picks up a cheese crumb here, a dropping there, in his ink-stained thumbs. His ears are uncannily sensitive: he can hear an opening being opened a block of offices away.

And soon he learns that a poem in a Civil Service magazine is, if not a step up the ladder, at least a lick in the right direction. And he writes a poem. It is, of course, about Nature; it confesses a wish to escape from humdrum routine and embrace the unsophisticated life of the farm laborer; he desires, though without scandal, to wake up with the birds; he expresses the opinion that a plowshare, not a pen, best fits his little strength; a decorous pantheist, he is one with the rill, the rhyming mill, the rosy-bottomed milkmaid, the russet-cheeked rat-catcher, swains, swine, pipits, pippins. You can smell the country in his poems, the fields, the flowers, the armpits of Triptolemus, the barns, the byres, the hay, and, most of all, the corn. The poem is published. A single lyrical extract from the beginning must suffice: —

The roaring street is hushed!
Hushed, do I say?
The wing of a bird has brushed
Time’s cobwebs away.
Still, still as death, the air
Over the gray stones!
And over the gray thoroughfare
I hear — sweet tones! —
A blackbird open its bill,
— A blackbird, aye! —
And sing its liquid fill
From the London sky.

A little time after the publication of the poem, he is nodded to in the corridor by Hotchkiss of Inland Revenue... Hotchkiss, lunching with Sowerby of Customs, himself a literary figure of importance with a weekly column in Will o’ Lincoln’s Weekly and his name on the editorial list of the Masterpiece of the Fortnight Club (volumes at reduced rates to all writers, and a complete set of the works of Mary Webb quarter-price at Christmas), says casually, “You’ve rather a promising fellow in your department, Sowerby. Young Cribbe. I’ve been reading a little thing of his, ‘I desire the Curlew.’” And Cribbe’s name goes the small fetid rounds.

He is next asked to contribute a group of poems to Hotchkiss’s anthology, “New Pipes,” which Sowerby praises — “a rare gift for the haunting phrase” — in Will o’ Lincoln’s. Cribbe sends copies of the anthology, each laboriously signed, “To the greatest living English poet, in homage,” to twenty of the dullest poets still on their hind legs. Some of his inscribed gifts are acknowledged. Sir Tom Knight spares a few generous, though bemused, moments to scribble a message on a sheet of crested writing paper removed, during a never-to-be-repeated week-end visit, from a shortsighted but not all that shortsighted peer. “Dear Mr. Crabbe,” Sir Tom writes, '’I appreciate your little tribute. Your poem, ‘Nocturne with Lilies,’ is worthy of Shanks. Go on. Go on. There is room on the mount.” The fact that Cribbe’s poem is not “Nocturne with Lilies” at all, but “On Hearing Delius by a Lych-Gate,” does not perturb Cribbe, who carefully files the letter, after blowing away the dandruff, and soon is in the throes of collecting his poems to make a book, “Linnet and Spindle,” dedicated “To Clem Sowerby, that green-fingered gardener in the Gardens of the Hesperides.”

The book appears. Some favorable notice is taken, particularly in Middlesex. And Sowerby, too modest to review it himself after such a gratifying dedication, reviews it under a different name. “This young poet,” he writes, “is not, thanks be it, too ‘modernistic’ to pay reverence to the shining source of his inspiration. Cribbe will go far.”

And Cribbe goes to his publishers. A contract is drawn up, Messrs. Stitch and Time undertaking to publish his next book of verse on condition that they have the first option on his next nine novels. He contrives also to be engaged as a casual reader of manuscripts to Messrs. Stitch and Time, and returns home clutching a parcel which contains a book on the Development of the Oxford Movement in Finland by a Cotswold Major, three blank-verse tragedies about Mary Queen of Scots, and a novel entitled “Tomorrow, Jennifer.”

Now Cribbe, until his contract, has never thought of writing a novel. But, undaunted by the fact that he cannot tell one person from another—people, to him, are all one dull, gray mass, except celebrities and departmental superiors — that he has no interest whatsoever in anything they do or say, except in so far as it concerns his career, and that his inventive resources are as limited as those of a chipmunk on a treadmill, he sits down in his shirt sleeves, loosens his collar, thumbs in the shag, and begins to study in earnest how best, with no qualifications, to make a success of commercial fiction.

He soon comes to the conclusion that only quick sales and ephemeral reputations are made by tough novels with such titles as “I’ve Got It Coming” or “Ten Cents a Dice,” by proletarian novels about the conversion to dialectical materialism of Palais-de wide boys, entitled, maybe, “ Red Rain on You, A If,” by novels called, maybe, “Melody in Clover,” about dark men with slight limps. And he soon sees that only the smallest sales, and notices only in the loftiest monthlies of the most limited circulation, will ever result from his writing such a novel as “The Inner Zodiac,” by G. H. Q. Bidet, a ruthless analysis of the ideological conflicts arising from the relationship between Philip Armour, an international impotent physicist, Tristram Wolf, a bisexual sculptor in teak, and Philip’s virginal but dynamic Creole wife, Titania, a lecturer in Balkan Economics, and how these highly sensitized characters react a profound synthesis while working together, for the sake of One-ness, in a Unesco Clinic.

No fool, Cribbe realizes, even in the early stages of his exploration, with theodolite and respirator through darkest Foyle, that the novel to write is that which commands a steady, unsensational, provincial and suburban sale and concerns, for choice, the birth, education, financial ups-and-downs, marriages, separations, and deaths of five generations of a family of Lancashire cotton brokers. This novel, he grasps at once, should be in the form of a trilogy, and each volume should bear some such solid, uneventful title as “The Warp,” “The Woof,” and “The Way.” And he sets to work.

From the reviews of Cribbe’s first novel, one may select: “Here is sound craftsmanship allied to sterling characterization.” “English as Manchester rain.” “Mr. Cribbe is a bull-terrier.” “A story in the Phyllis Bottome class.” On the success of the novel, Cribbe joins the N.I.B. Club, delivers a paper on the Early Brett Young Country, and becomes a regular reviewer, praising every other novel he receives— (“The prose shimmers”) and inviting every third novelist to dine at the Servile Club, to which he has recently been elected.

When the whole of the trilogy has appeared, Cribbe rises, like scum, to the N.I.B. committee, attends all the memorial services for men of letters who are really dead for the first time in fifty years, tears up his old contract and signs another, brings out a new novel, which becomes a Book Society choice, is offered, by Messrs. Stitch and Time, a position in an “advisory capacity,” which he accepts, leaves the Civil Service, buys a cottage in Bucks (“You wouldn’t think it was only thirty miles from London, would you. Look, old man, see that crested grebe.” A starling flies by), a new desk and a secretary whom he later marries for her touch-typing. Poetry? Perhaps a sonnet in the Sunday Times every now and then: a little collection of verse once in a while (“ My first love, you know”). But it doesn’t really bother him any more, though it got him where he is. He has made the grade!

But let us look, very quickly, at some other methods of making poetry a going concern.

The Provincial Rush, or the Up-Rimbaud-and-At-Em approach. This is not wholeheartedly to be recommended as certain qualifications are essential. Before you swoop and burst upon the center of literary activity — which means, when you are very young, the right pubs, and, later, the right flats, and, later still, the right clubs — you must have behind you a body (it need have no head) of ferocious and un-understandable verse. (It is not, as I said before, my function to describe how these gauche and verbose ecstasies are achieved. Hart Crane found that, while listening, drunk, to Sibelius, he could turn out the stuff like billyho. A friend of mine, who has been suffering from a violent headache since he was eight, finds it so easy to write anyway he has to tie knots in his unpleasant handkerchief to remind him to stop. There are many methods, and always, when there’s a will and slight delirium, there’s a way.) Again, this poet, must possess a thirst and constitution like that of a salt-eating pony, a hippo’s hide, boundless energy, prodigious conceit, no scruples, and — most important of all, this can never be overestimated — a home to go hack to in the provinces whenever he breaks down.

White Horse Tavern (NYC)
The White Horse Tavern in New York City
where Thomas was drinking before his death

Of the poet who merely writes because he wants to write, who does not deeply mind if he is published or not, and who can put up with poverty and total lack of recognition in his lifetime, nothing of any pertinent value can be said. He is no businessman. Posterity Does Not Pay.  

Also, and highly unrecommended, are the following: —

The writing of limericks. Vast market, little or no pay.

Poems in crackers. Too seasonal.

Poems for children. This will kill you, and the children.

Obituaries in verse. Only established favorites used. Poetry as a method of blackmail (by boring). Dangerous. The one you blackmail might retaliate by reading you aloud his unfinished tragedy about St. Bernard: “The Flask.”

And lastly: Poems on lavatory walls. The reward is purely psychological."

Thomas' writing shed
Dylan Thomas' writing shed.
photo by Richard Knight

To read the whole article, go HERE.

30 May 2024

Voices, Voices, I Hear Voices...

So many of my fellow SleuthSayers have written such excellent articles on writing that I feel like it's got to be my turn to give it a go. But all I can really say about writing is: 

Read a lot, stare out the window a lot, and, when possible, sit down in your chair and write. 

Get up and go for a walk. Read some more. Stare some more.  Sit down and write some more. 

Repeat endlessly, until the damn thing is done.   

So much for the actual process of physically putting words on paper.  (There used to be more cigarettes involved, but I quit smoking in 2010.)

As for all the endless stuff that goes into getting to the point where you want to put words on paper, well, I'm certain that insanity runs in my family, and that we all hear(d) voices. 

Like so many writers, of course I have notebooks crammed with things I spot, things I hear, conversations I overhear, etc.  For example:

  • The other day I was driving down a street I hadn't been down before and spotted a decorative rock in the front yard, about 3 foot tall and shaped like a crouching monkey.  Hmm...
  • Or the time I was at a 12-Step Conference and overheard someone at breakfast explaining that they'd do a Step Five, but they were never going tell a sponsor everything they did "because there's no damn way I'm going to prison, okay?"  Hmm...
  • In Italy, watching as a resident's little dog pissed on a tourist’s suitcase; the resident kept walking, muttering “scuzi” without stopping. Hmm...
  • On a recent news feed scroll, "TSA finds small bag of snakes in man's pants." Hmm...

Any detail counts. You never know when you'll use it.

Now I will admit, freely, that plots are not my strong point. In fact, I have to claw plots out of thick clay with my bare hands.  But one trick I have learned is that, if you know your characters, they will tell the story themselves.  Especially if you can see them walking, know some of their habits, and hear their voices as they speak.

One gift I do have - and it may be having been adopted so young from Greece, so that I had to learn a new language (English) quickly, along with a variety of accents - is that I memorize voices.  I watch a lot of Britbox and Acorn TV shows, and I'm always turning to my husband and saying, "That's the guy in New Tricks [or some other show], but at least 30 years younger."  Because I recognize the voice.  

This is why I am infuriated at the common soap opera device of having someone getting plastic surgery to look exactly like someone else - and somehow the surgeon managed to get the voice exactly the same too...  No.  No, no, no, no.  A really good impersonator has a special gift all  their own.  

And I also memorize accents: I can reel off a variety, at least in my head, from various American accents to Australian to Scots to Irish, etc.  Some I can actually reproduce myself.  Since my mother's family came from Kentucky, and I spent my summers there, I can do a dead-on impression of Mitch McConnell that I can proudly say has made many Southern friends snort coffee out of their nose.    

The result is that I can and do take someone's voice and/or accent and listen to them talking, interacting, in my head, and, as I say, a lot of the time they'll tell me what's going on, especially (please tell me I'm not the only one...) when I get really stuck. 

And I get stuck a lot.  Like I say, I have to dig for plots the way other people have to dig for buried treasure.  

Lot of work.  

Another gift I have is research.  Remember, I'm a retired historian, from an age when, as a graduate student, if you wrote a paper or a thesis or a dissertation, you damn well better be able to show every reference for every statement you made.  And I do love research.  For example, my first post this May began with an anonymous tip about RFK Jr.'s arrest for heroin in Rapid City back in 1983.  Well, researching that led to me finding the story about RFK Jr. and Riverkeeper and the bird smugglers, and next thing you know it's testosterone and sex diaries...  You never know where you're going to end up, or, again, how you'll use it.  

The result is my head is crammed full of trivia:

  • The most popular cafe in post-WW2 Vienna was the Gasthaus Kopp.
  • It's not "the man in the moon" but the "rabbit in the moon" in both East Asian and indigenous American cultures.
  • The nobility in Heian Japanese culture painted their faces white but blackened their teeth, and were apparently (diaries abound, not to mention "Genji") highly promiscuous. 
  • In France, cold cream is called cĂ©rat de Galien ('Galen's Wax') after the 2nd century Greek physician who invented it.
  • The primary translator of Edgar Allan Poe in French was Baudelaire, whose translation is still in common use.
  • Etc., etc., etc...

But all of that is the preliminary work, which (let's admit it) sometimes is the most fun.  For the actual writing, well...

Read a lot, stare out the window a lot, and, when possible, sit down in your chair and write. 

Get up and go for a walk. Read some more. Stare some more.  Sit down and write some more. 

Repeat endlessly, until the damn thing is done.  

I'd go back to smoking, but I'd just have to quit again...

16 May 2024

From the Annals of Unforced Errors: RFK Jr and Kristi Noem

But this is not an unforced error.  RFK Jr. didn't go out and actively seek a brain worm, and he hasn't been bragging about it:  his undisclosed health issues, from the brain worm to the mercury poisoning (10 times the recommended limit in his blood),  - all of these were in a legal deposition and had been available for quite a while to the earnest researcher.  

Why in a legal deposition? Because he was getting a divorce from his second wife, and wanted to show that memory loss and cognitive decline meant his earnings were going to go down, meaning he shouldn't have to pay as much alimony.  

What may turn out to be an unforced error is the article he did for Inside Edition, in which he talked about his daily "fistful of supplements" and testosterone replacement therapy - but don't call them steroids around RFK Jr., because steroids are bad (LINK) - while providing hunky pictures of himself doing pushups and going as shirtless as Putin (all that was missing is the crocodile).  

Why would this be an unforced error?  Because men who take testosterone replacement, a/k/a anabolic steroids, often get "mood swings, runaway irritability, and a general inability to listen to anyone else, but they also tend to find their mental functioning—especially their memories—going through a certain Swiss-cheese transformation. The holes in what they recall keep getting bigger."  (LINK)  Testosterone supplements can also cause heart trouble, heart attacks, and strokes, but details, details... 

Okay I can't resist:  The irony of a man who is 1000% anti-vaccination putting anabolic steroids as well as "a fistful of supplements" in his body on a daily basis...  

But the worst unforced error is the diary that RFK Jr. kept in the early 2000s, with a file called Cash Accounts, "where he recorded the date of the infidelity, the name of the woman involved, and a code of numbers, ranging from 1 to 10, representing the performance of certain sex acts."  And there were a lot of them.  His second wife read them during the divorce proceedings, and it sent her into a literally suicidal depression, but not before she shared them with others. You can read some of the grotty details here:  (LINK)

Look, even Samuel Pepys knew enough to use code to record his philandering.  Granted, it would be better to never have an affair, but today that seems to be impossible for politicians and entertainers.  

 Of course, the Queen of Unforced Errors has been Governor Kristi Noem who has kept the fire hose going at full force:

  • Killing the puppy in the gravel pit. 
  • Killing the male goat in the same gravel pit because it was smelly.
  • Claiming to meet Kim Jong Un and staring him down.  
    • My favorite part of that one is "I'm sure he underestimated me, having no clue about my experience staring down little tyrants (I'd been a children's pastor, after all)."  Since when are Sunday School teachers called "children's pastors"?  And isn't calling your students "little tyrants" just adding more mud to the pile?  Or is it gravel to the pit? 
  • Claiming to have cancelled a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron because of his "pro-Hamas / anti-Israeli comments."
  • Promising that if she got to the White House, she would say "Commander, say hello to Cricket."
  • Going on news media all over the country and blaming the puppy (by the time she was done, Cricket sounded like another Cujo), the he-goat, the "woke" mob who don't have the guts to shoot a puppy in the face, the unnamed ghost writer who wrote it all and got it published without her ever knowing, despite the fact that she posted a publicity still of her reading the audio version.  (How do you record something you don't read?)  

Well, after a number of media interviews, almost all of them scathing (when Newsmax tells you you're not on the VP list anymore, you're in trouble), she did a classic runaway, worthy of Monty Python:  cancelling her appearances on Fox News and CNN because of snow back in South Dakota.  LINK 

 (NOTE:  Some snow fell in the Black Hills May 6-8; they're used to it, and some folks went snowmobiling. By May 12, the weather was in the 60s, and the streets were clear.) 

Oh, and Fox News host Greg Gutfeld responded to her cancellation with a brutal interview of her anyway, with Dana Perino taking Kristi's role.  I think she's toast at Fox, too. (LINK)


And finally - yes, Governor Noem has now managed to get banned from seven out of the nine Native American reservations in this state. Crow Creek, Sisseton-Wahpeton Lake Traverse Indian Reservation and the Yankton Sioux Tribe are the latest three to get thoroughly fed up with interviews like this one:  (LINK)

Kristi Noem and Elizabeth Vargas on News Nation, May 8th, 2024:

“But we have the cartels set up in South Dakota,” said Noem.

“They are set up?” asked Vargas.

“They are set up in South Dakota,” said Noem.

“How do you know that?” asked Vargas.

“Because I’ve seen the pictures, and our investigators have interacted with them,” said Noem. “In fact, we had a cartel member kidnap an FBI officer just last week. You know it is well known, and they are able to operate on those tribal reservations because they are protected.”

Now, granted, it may be top secret and all that (and if so, what is she doing talking about it on national news?), but nobody up here has heard anything about an FBI officer being kidnapped in the last two weeks.  But two weeks before that, a Rapid City judge did sentence three people to federal prison for carjacking/kidnapping an FBI agent (not knowing that he was an FBI agent) in 2022.  Does that count?  (LINK)  Yet another unforced error… 

No, you can't make this stuff up, but I wish you could.


When you have a nice little political career going,
don't take it to the gravel pit.


My latest new story, "At the Dig" is in Black Cat Weekly #138. (HERE)

And let's not forget the wonderful anthologies, Murder Neat, and Paranoia Blues, both available on which have, respectively, my "Bad Influence" and "Cool Papa Bell" in them:



02 May 2024

Where's the Documentary?: RFK Jr. Edition - and Kristi Noem

It's amazing how many people here in South Dakota do not know that on September 28, 1983, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was arrested in Rapid City, South Dakota for possession and ingestion of heroin.

Some backstory: After being sworn in in 1982 as assistant district attorney in Manhattan, RFK Jr. failed the bar exam and resigned in July 1983, saying he needed a rest. Apparently he hadn't shared with anyone, including his employers, the fact that he'd been doing heroin since at least 1969, when he was 15 years old. (He later told the New Yorker (July 7, 2023), “I was a heroin addict for fourteen years. I’m lucky to be alive. People have plenty of reason to write me off forever because of the way I conducted my life during that fourteen-year period.")

Anyway, in September, he ended up on a Republic flight to Rapid City, where he either

  1. got into a spat with another traveler on the flight, and went to the toilet where he did some heroin, OR
  2. fell sick on an airplane (most likely from doing heroin in the toilet) on the way out there.

In any case, when the plane arrived in the airport, the Rapid City police met the plane at the airport and arrested him for possession of a small amount of heroin. Who also met him at the airport was Bill Walsh, the prior owner of the Franklin Hotel in Deadwood a state congressman, ex-priest, now in the SD Hall of Fame, and strong Democrat, allegedly to help Robert Jr to a rehab center. (Anonymous source)

"Heroin possession is a Class 4 felony with a penalty that may include a fine of up to $20,000, up to 10 years in prison, or both.
The maximum penalty for the unlawful ingestion of a Schedule I or II controlled drug or substance is 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine." (South Dakota Law Code)

Being from a famous, wealthy, and white family, RFK Jr. did not get either of those sentences. It probably also helped that his defense attorney was John Fitzpatrick Sr, who'd moved from Boston to Rapid City after the mob injured his leg with a car bomb. (At the time, he was representing a mob hitman who the mob feared was about to become an informant. He later became a SD judge.)

Now I admit, this steams me up: For one thing, instead of jail time pending trial and sentencing, RFK Jr. got to go to a drug treatment center. (I have no idea which one.) That doesn't happen for poor folk. Or even "middle class" folk. For one thing, inpatient drug treatment centers cost a lot of money. Try between $10,000 and $30,000 on average for a 30 day program, and not all health insurance will cover it. (Source) And I know far too many people who have been sentenced to the full 10 years plus 5 years, and been slapped with the $30,000 fine, which they can only afford to pay off if deal drugs as soon as they get out to raise the cash. That or win the lottery.

Anyway, finally, at the last moment, RFK pled guilty to a single felony charge of possession of heroin in February 1984, and got two years' probation and community service. Kennedy did his community service working as a volunteer for Riverkeeper, an environmental organization in the Hudson Valley (not in Rapid City) founded by Robert H. Boyle (SPOILER ALERT: This will be very important in a few moments!) and was required to attend regular drug-rehabilitation sessions. His probation ended a year early. Chances are, his record has been expunged as well. (Wikipedia, UPI.)

First of all, good for RFK, Jr., that he got clean and stayed clean.

Secondly, this is not the story that would make a great documentary.


A while back, Washington Post did a story on Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s tenure at Riverkeeper, from his volunteer year of commnity service (see above) to becoming their senior attorney in 1985, to his dramatic resignation in 2017 where he said (completely falsely) “It is extraordinarily difficult to leave the organization which I co-founded thirty-three years ago, built from the ground up and to which I’ve devoted most of my career."

As I said before, Riverkeeper was founded by Robert H. Boyle, a renowned environmentalist, was the founder of the original organization, Hudson River Fisherman's Association (HRFA) in 1966, which later changed its name to Riverkeeper. HRFA and Riverkeeper's purpose was to clean up the Hudson River, and to continue to fight environmental pollution in the Hudson River Valley. They were very successful. (Wikipedia)

So what happened?

Well, RFK Jr. had risen through the ranks to become Riverkeeper's primary attorney and a very important fundraiser for the organization. He also co-founded an environmental litigation clinic at Pace Law School in 1987 that worked primarily on cases for Riverkeeper. John Humbach, a former Pace law professor and associate dean, said Kennedy quickly became famous among students as a dazzling instructor. And he had, as they say, connections with the rich, famous, and politically active.

But not everyone was dazzled:

Alex Boyle, son of Robert H. Boyle, became wary of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. following an incident when they were collecting samples from Quassaick Creek. “I said to my father, ‘You have a pet rattlesnake. Eventually he’s going to bite you.’” (Jeenah Moon for The Washington Post)

And then in 1999, he hired William Wegner. "Kennedy described him as a skilled scientist, but Riverkeeper had not been looking for a scientist. As Boyle later described it, he became suspicious — and then horrified — as he began digging into Wegner’s background. Wegner, then 49, had been released from federal prison just a few months earlier, after serving about 3½ years of a five-year sentence for tax fraud, perjury and conspiracy to violate wildlife protection laws. The charges all sprang from his roughly decade-long run as the alleged kingpin of a smuggling ring that trafficked in Australian cockatoos.

Richard.Fisher derivative work: Snowmanradio,
originally posted to flickr at Major Mitchell's Cockatoo
at Australia Zoo
and uploaded to commons at

"According to prosecutors, Wegner recruited a team of at least 10 “mules” who raided tree hollows in Australia to steal the birds’ eggs. The mules incubated the eggs using Styrofoam and hair dryers and then hid their contraband in special vests as they flew back to the United States. If the eggs hatched en route, Wegner’s couriers had instructions to flush the chicks down the airplane toilet."

"Boyle was livid when he learned about Wegner’s past and ordered that he be fired. Kennedy objected, taking his case to the board. Among other things, he argued that Wegner was an experienced scientist who would come cheap because of his inability to find other work and that his crimes had involved birds so common in Australia they were considered agricultural pests. 'Every species that he smuggled was a vermin species that the Australian government was paying people to destroy,' RFK Jr. said. But that was a lie: Today at least three of the species targeted by Wegner’s ring are listed as endangered by the Australian government.'

RFK Jr. also said that Wagner had been working for "environmental consulting firms" in the Hudson River Valley for years. That also was a lie.

What RFK Jr. didn't say was that he and Wagner had an old bond, an obsession with raptors: “We weren’t friends,” he said in an interview. “I mean, we’re friends in terms of — you know, I’m kind of a friend with anyone who’s flying a hawk. You have an instant basis for friendship.”

But the two did share a close mutual friend and fellow Hudson Valley falconer, Thomas Cullen III. Cullen, whom Kennedy described to The Post as “one of my best friends,” appears in a November 2023 campaign video about the presidential candidate’s love of falconry.

Now this is interesting: Cullen himself was also involved in bird smuggling: in 1984, he was arrested by Australian authorities, who alleged he had been climbing a tree with a hatchet in a wildlife sanctuary in Western Australia, trying to steal eggs from a cockatoo’s nesting hollow. He pleaded guilty to charges in Australia and paid a fine. Cullen was never charged by U.S. officials in connection with Wegner’s smuggling conspiracy, which according to federal records involved several falconers from the Hudson Valley. But in 2006, Cullen was sentenced to four months in prison and a $1,000 fine for importing black sparrow hawks in violation of the Wild Bird Conservation Act and making false statements to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Anyway, there was a board meeting over the whole Wagner hullabaloo, and RFK, Jr. managed to turn enough people to his side that he won by 13 to 8. Boyle, and his supporters, quit immediately.

With Boyle gone, RFK Jr. was President of Riverkeeper, until 2017, when he resigned for two reasons: "the toll on his family by his cross-country commute from California and the demands of his work with World Mercury Project, the anti-vaccine group that would soon become Children’s Health Defense. Under Kennedy’s leadership, the annual revenue of Children’s Health Defense would balloon from a half-million dollars to more than $23 million, placing it in the vanguard of anti-vaccination advocacy groups."

The man who had discovered an already successful environmental group while doing court-imposed community service now falsely claimed to have founded Riverkeeper, which he said had “a budget of zero” before he arrived. “It is extraordinarily difficult to leave the organization which I co-founded thirty-three years ago, built from the ground up and to which I’ve devoted most of my career,” Kennedy wrote.

In an interview with The Post, Kennedy said his resignation letter “was certainly accurate as to what I believed at that time.” He added, “I have no memory of writing that letter, and I have no memory of anybody disputing anything that I said about my role at Riverkeeper.”

The Boyles did.

(The full source article from Washington Post is HERE: WaPO)

So, when is the Netflix or Hulu documentary coming out?


Congratulations to everyone who managed to NOT spend the weekend killing a pet dog, or a smelly billy goat, or reading about any of this. (All you have to do is look up "Kristi Noem Killed Dog" and you will be flooded with websites and memes, saying everything more eloquently, sarcastically, and profanely than even I can.)

What I will say is that many people did not realize that our Governor has done other peculiar things:

On April 6, 2019, she gathered her family around a caged raccoon and they proceeded to kill it as good family fun. She posted the pictures on her very public Governor Kristi Noem Facebook page, which you can find easily, and the date, as I said, is April 6, 2019. The pictures are still there as is this blurb:

"Love seeing kids this excited about being outside!! Our nest predator bounty program launched this week, and we’re seeing great results. Let’s get kids away from the X-box and out with the live box!"

Scared raccoon, live in a box.   Dead raccoon out of the box.
Scared raccoon, live in a box.   Dead raccoon out of the box.

This was all part of her Predator Bounty project, which pays people $10 per tail to kill animals that (could) eat pheasant eggs. It has become a habit up here for locals to stop when they see roadkill of a possum or raccoon to stop and cut off the tail. It's an easy $10. If you have a hatchet or a sharp enough knife.

She asked for a flamethrower for as a Christmas gift the next year, and her staff gave it to her. So of course she made an Instagram photo with it: (LINK)

Also, she's been the centerpiece of a national workforce recruitment campaign, with herself in various job uniforms saying, basically, come to South Dakota and find jobs and freedom (the ad company was paid $2.9 million for this is out of Minnesota, not South Dakota, so ironically, there's no ad jobs here, at least not for state government). Hilariously, Sen. Michael Rohl, R-Aberdeen said, “I certainly hope the next phase isn’t highlighting a need for veterinarians."

I can see it now: Kristi dressed as a veterinarian, while a wire-haired pointer tries frantically to scrabble its way off the examination table... Jobs and freedom, people.


My brand new story, "At the Dig" is in Black Cat Weekly #138. (HERE)

And let's not forget the wonderful anthologies, Murder Neat and Paranoia Blues, both available on which have, respectively, my "Bad Influence" and "Cool Papa Bell" in them:


18 April 2024

South Dakota - Criming and Whining Edition

We do get some interesting crimes in South Dakota.  Some of it is that, when you have a very few people scattered over very large distances, privacy can lead to... odd behavior.  Or criminal behavior.  As Sherlock Holmes once said, 

“It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

“You horrify me!”

“But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser."

— Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

Thus Joel Koskan, disgraced former SD Senate candidate, could groom and rape his adopted Native American daughter for years in a small town of Wood, SD (population 41) and still maintain a "pristine image". Apparently none of the neighbors noticed the cameras in every room of their house… (LINK) He was finally sentenced to 10 years in prison, which frankly (imho) was not enough, because he filed a motion recently to get out and NOT have to register as a sex offender, because it was simply "consensual incest", which is no worse than bigamy, and why is he being punished so badly?  (LINK 1)

My Note:  Perps gonna whine while they do their time.

Meanwhile, we have two interstates which cross our fine state, I-29 running north/south and I-90 running west/east, which brings all kinds of people and things in by car, RVs, and trucks, including the occasional dead body.  

Back around March 10, 2024, the body of a dead woman was found at the I-90 Travel Center near Mitchell, SD, shoved under some pallets.  Her head was found in a trashcan nearby.  Apparently someone had run over her, multiple times, in the parking lot. It didn't take very long to track down Anthony Melvin Harris, Sr., 60, of Detroit, MI, and he was charged with second-degree murder, a Class B felony, and improper disposal of a body, a misdemeanor.

However, South Dakota AG Marty Jackley released additional information on Friday that stated the victim, Melody Faye Gooch, 57, of Detroit, died of an “accidental drug overdose.” The statement said Gooch’s overdose did not occur in South Dakota. Autopsy results showed Gooch’s death was caused by “combined drug toxicity due to Buprenorphine, Fentanyl, and Cocaine, and that the manner of death to be accidental.” And the blunt force trauma Gooch sustained from being run over at the I-90 Travel Center “did not occur when she was alive." So they dropped the second-degree murder charge, but he's is still facing improper disposal, which is a Class 1 misdemeanor charge.  (LINK)

Being the curious sort, I still want to know why he ran over her body multiple times to the point where literally her guts were on the pavement, how she got beheaded, and why he tossed that part of her in a garbage can?

Oh, let's change the subject.

Gov. Kristi Noem has been banned from yet another Native American Reservation in South Dakota (that's four out of nine, folks) after doubling down on her claims that Mexican cartels are infiltrating Native American reservations in South Dakota. (LINK) She claimed that South Dakota DCI and the SD Attorney General's Office had photographic proof of the cartels operating on the reservation - specifically, "the Bandidos Gang and the Ghost Dancers Gang". (See my exasperated post about the Ghost Dancers HERE)

A couple of questions:

  1. Which Reservation?  We have nine of them in South Dakota: Cheyenne River (Noem banned), Crow Creek, Flandreau, Lower Brule, Oglala (Noem banned), Rosebud (Noem banned), Sisseton Wahpeton, Standing Rock (Noem banned) and Yankton.  One or two?  All nine of them?
  2. If they have the photographs, why aren't there FBI, South Dakota State Troopers, etc., posted at the roads leading into the reservation so they can arrest them whenever they leave?

Eagle Butte, tribal headquarters of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, pop. 1,258.  

General map of the US state of South Dakota.
Shown are state's topography, major cities,
roads, boundaries, and bodies of water.
Credit: Jon Platek (Wikipedia)

It could be done.  Or would that be too simple?

Finally, there was a "disturbance" or a "disruption" or a "small riot" (depends on who you talk to) at East Hall at the Hill complex of the Sioux Falls, South Dakota penitentiary for two days at the end of March, 2024.  One corrections officer was injured, but will be okay.

Background: Back a couple of years ago, the DOC administration gave out tablets to all inmates, which allowed them to make telephone calls and send messages (all carefully screened - no privacy).  They could also listen to music, access an on-line law library (saved money on someone actually manning the libraries), and a few other carefully curated items.  They could not, and never could, surf the internet.  At the same time, once everyone got the hang of the tablets, the administration took out most of the wall phones that had been the old way of communicating with family.  The result was there were like, 5 telephones left for 500 men.

And then on March 8, calling and messaging were restricted since as a result of an investigation into what Noem called “nefarious” uses by some inmates. So the administration removed the ability to message or call families on the tablets, and there were some strong objections in East Hall. Now the disturbance / riot becomes much more understandable once you realize that East Hall is where they put all the young knuckleheads whose basic mentality is - and I am quoting:

"The last time anyone told me what to do, it was my Dad, and I told him to f*** off, so why the f*** should I listen to you?"

Anyway, thanks to them, everyone on the Hill was put on lockdown for a few days (now it's only East Hall), so all the lifers and old-timers are, as always, fed up with the knuckleheads.

Meanwhile, an ex-inmate pointed out that “When you’re on the Hill or in Jameson, 95% of your communications are done with your loved one on the tablets because you’re locked down so much. Kristi Noem is saying ‘oh, they still have access to phones on the wall.’ Well, okay, yeah, that’s technically true. But we’re talking about 1,000-plus inmates with maybe two to three hours a day to have access to those phones.”  And, as I said, there are about 5 phones to every 500 inmates. (LINK)

Anyway, the administration in Pierre has restored the ability to call / message on the tablets, although now the inmates will be allowed 5 calls / messages a day.  BTW, the resumption of tablet communications isn't entirely altruistic or even realistic: some of it is economic.  The State of South Dakota gets a commission on messaging and phone calls: $6.25 million a year.  That's a lot of money to pass up in a poor state... (LINK)


Global Tel Link (GTL), the tablet providers, hid a 2020 data breach for nine months and then told only a fraction of affected users about it, according to a settlement filed in late February with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC’s decision and order in the data breach and fraud case against GTL was issued on Feb. 27, two weeks before the South Dakota Department of Corrections took away the tablets. So there's a strong possibility that the "nefarious activities" with the tablets might very well have been the PROVIDER'S (Global Tel Link, a/k/a GTL) "nefarious activities": selling data to outside nefarious agencies… (LINK)

"Perps gonna whine while they do their time":  I heard about a new inmate who (before the disturbance / riot) was having a fit because his means of livelihood was trading on-line on the stock market.  He was planning to sue for his right to earn a living, even in prison, which was so ridiculous that everyone started laughing, which only made him madder.  Tough.  I told my friend to tell him, "Good l uck with that.  At least you'll give an attorney and a judge a really good laugh.  And thanks for giving me one hell of a laugh."

04 April 2024

Warnings Don't Always Work – But Sometimes They Do

There's been a run of very important warnings given and unheeded this year, haven't there?


Bibi Netanyahu was warned about the Hamas attacks, and apparently blew it off. Much conjecture about why, but I personally start with the premise that Netanyahu was in deep trouble both criminally and politically, and there's nothing like a bloody hard war to keep someone in power. If they're ruthless enough.

Recently, the US embassy warned Putin about upcoming attacks on a large public gathering by ISIS. Apparently, he ignored it. But after the attack on the Crocus City Hall concert, Putin blasted the American warnings as “provocative,” saying “these actions resemble outright blackmail and the intention to intimidate and destabilize our society.” (CNN) And then went on to accuse Ukraine of ordering it. (Reuters) Nonsense.

NOTE: My personal theory is that the ISIS-K group or whatever that did it was based on Chechnya, based on the remarkably similar Moscow Theater attack of 2010. Afterwards, many of the Chechen rebels went off to help Isis in Syria, and then came back to Chechnya in 2018, which would give them plenty of time to plan a larger attack against Moscow. (LINK)

UPDATE! Four of the suspected gunmen are Tajik citizens and were arrested along with seven other suspects, some of whom also come from the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation [of Tajikistan]. "There are estimated to be well over three million Tajiks living in Russia, about one-third of the total Tajik population. Most of them hold the precarious status of "guest workers", holding low-paying jobs in construction, produce markets or even cleaning public toilets... Non-Slavs are systematically discriminated against in Russia, and since 2022 they have been disproportionately conscripted and sent to Ukraine to serve as cannon fodder at the front." (LINK) And now they're scrambling to get out of Russia... preferably alive...


My SECOND NOTE: Interestingly, Tajikistan, along with its neighbor Kyrgistan, are completely omitted on the Chinese made Map of the World shower curtain I own. (See HERE)

But warnings being given yet not heeded, not acted upon isn't exactly new. Sometimes there's so much chatter, or so many assumptions of threats, that of COURSE there are too many to worry about. It can't happen here. After all, Warnings abounded before 9/11 actually happened. ("Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US").


And when it comes to assassinations, well... the most famous assassination victim (perhaps) of all time, Julius Caesar, was warned repeatedly and still went to his fatal meeting with the Senate.

For the matter, Abraham Lincoln: Ward Hill Lamon said that three days before his death, Lincoln related a dream in which he wandered the White House searching for the source of mournful sounds:

"I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. "Who is dead in the White House?" I demanded of one of the soldiers, "The President," was his answer; "he was killed by an assassin."

But the day of his death, Lincoln happily told his cabinet that he had dreamed of being on a "singular and indescribable vessel that was moving with great rapidity toward a dark and indefinite shore", and that he had had the same dream before "nearly every great and important event of the War." (Wikipedia) And the rest is history...

But there are also successful warnings, and one of the most unknown came up in my Reuters' feed the other day:

The Al Qaeda plot to kill President Bill Clinton in Manila.

Back on November 23, 1996, just as Air Force One with President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton on board, was approaching Manila, when their U.S. Secret Service detail received the alarming intelligence that an explosive device had been planted on the motorcade route into the Philippines capital. Being Secret Service, they got on it, and set up a back-up route to the hotel, getting the Clintons there safely. But, according to retired agents, Filipino security officers found a powerful bomb on a bridge the convoy would have taken and an SUV abandoned nearby containing AK-47 assault rifles.

This assassination attempt was mentioned briefly in books published in 2010 and 2019, but I certainly don't remember any mention of it in the news.

Now, eight retired secret service agents – seven of whom were in Manila – have given Reuters the most detailed account to date of the failed plot. And no one stuck around to conduct a thorough investigation:

"I always wondered why I wasn't kept back to stay in Manila to monitor any investigation," said Gregory Glod, the lead Secret Service intelligence agent in Manila and one of seven agents who spoke out for the first time. "Instead, they flew me out the day after Clinton left."

"There was an incident," said Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. "It remains classified." He declined to say what, if any, actions the United States took in response.

Clinton did not respond to multiple attempts to reach him through his spokesperson and the Clinton Foundation. And the FBI declined to comment on the Manila assassination attempt.

Former CIA director Leon Panetta, who was Clinton's chief of staff at the time, said he was unaware of the incident but that an attempt to kill a president should be investigated. "As a former chief of staff, I'd be very interested in trying to find out whether somebody put this information to the side and didn't bring it to the attention of people who should have been aware that something like that happened."

Glod said a U.S. intelligence agency later assessed that the plot was set up at bin Laden's behest by al Qaeda operatives and the Abu Sayyaf Group, Filipino Islamists widely considered an arm of al Qaeda. According to a 2022 International Crisis Group report, the group is in disarray, with only a handful of its leaders still alive.

Four of the Secret Service agents who spoke to Reuters noted that Ramzi Yousef - the al Qaeda-linked mastermind of the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 and a nephew of September 11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who had trained Abu Sayyaf militants - was in Manila days before a 1994 visit by Clinton. Yousef is currently serving a life sentence plus 240 years in a federal "supermax" prison in Colorado.

Why / how did it get as far as it did? Chatter. Multiple problems roiling under the surface: "The Philippines was battling communist and Islamist insurgencies. Police discovered a bomb at Manila airport and another at the summit conference center in Subic Bay several days before the Clintons' arrival. The U.S. State Department warned of threats against American diplomats in Manila the day before the First Couple flew in." (Reuters)

Chatter is always a problem: how much of what is heard in rumor, innuendo, and warnings is true? How much matters? And these days, what with social media, conspiracy theories from here to Saturn, and general threats from everyone who wants attention... how do you find the one almond in the peanut butter? And how do you get the people who can do something about it (like Netanyahu or Putin) to listen?

But at least there was one time when people did listen, and a disaster was averted.


Murder, Neat—our first SleuthSayers anthology—is available in both paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon and your favorite bookstores.

21 March 2024

Bestsellers Then and Now

by Eve Fisher

Constant Reader (me) is part of an Anthony Trollope Group that has almost as much fun as we do here.  A while back we read (okay, re-read, we've worked our way through the canon more than once) The Way We Live Now (which was done in pretty fabulous manner by the BBC with David Suchet as Melmotte the Swindler, and available on Britbox).  TWWLN is the story of a financial swindler (Melmotte), who is running a railroad scam / ponzi scheme (no, this is not a spoiler alert) in 1873 London. The not-surprising part (to us moderns) is how many people are quite willing to throw in tons of money to get in on the pot of gold.  Major characters include a noblewoman who writes bad novels and bad history and gets them published by "persuading" critics to praise them, her rotter/rotten son, her virgin daughter, the virgin's two suitors, a feisty American woman who's shot a man in her day, and the most feckless county family in literary history, which hands over title deeds as if they're just another cup of tea. Great stuff.  

Now in its day, TWWLN was seen as a semi-comic satire, a bit vulgar, and a bit over the top, not the towering novel that many modern critics perceive it to be.  It did not make that big a ripple in the small Victorian pond, but is now considered to be Trollope's masterpiece, and one of the greatest Victorian novels ever. 

Anyway, I started thinking about the contemporary view of shows like "Boston Legal" or "The West Wing" or "The Good Wife" or "House of Cards" or "Succession", etc. v. what (if any) media studies of them will be done a hundred years from now. First of all, a lot of the true meaning of it will be lost. I loved "Boston Legal" back when it was a hit show and watched it religiously every week. So when it finally hit syndication I sat down and watched with eagerness - and realized that half the punch lines weren't relevant anymore. "Ripped from the headlines" means that, when you've forgotten the headlines, there's not a lot left. On the other hand, there are some shows and some themes that will probably be obvious to the future historian that aren't to us. 

So what about novels?  

From for 2010-2019:

1. E. L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) – 15.2 million copies
2. E. L. James, Fifty Shades Darker (2011) – 10.4 million copies
3. E. L. James, Fifty Shades Freed (2012) – 9.3 million copies
4. Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (2008) – 8.7 million copies
5. Kathryn Stockett, The Help (2009) – 8.7 million copies
6. Paula Hawkins, The Girl on The Train (2015) – 8.2 million copies
7. Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (2012) – 8.1 million copies
8. John Green, The Fault in Our Stars (2012) – 8 million copies
9. Stieg Larsson, The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo (2008) – 7.9 million copies
10. Veronica Roth, Divergent (2011) – 6.6 million copies

So the best-sellers of the last decade are 3 soft-core BDSM; 2 unreliable female narrators; 2 young adult dystopian novels; 1 on race relations in the pre-Civil Rights Era South; 1 revenge spy conspiracy thriller; and 1 (The Fault in Our Stars) that would have had any Victorian reader sobbing their hearts out and made it #1 for YEARS. It would be interesting to see what the future analysis will be of that.

I would be more depressed by this, except that the best-selling books (by # of books sold, not of how highly they were rated or remembered) of Victorian times included: 

Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), perhaps the most popular of the Gothic novels (i.e.,  horror novels), dripping with enough gore and decaying corpses to make Bram Stoker's Dracula look pretty tame.  BTW, Jane Austin's Northanger Abbey is a combination homage and satire of Radcliffe novels, and all Jane's readers knew it.  For one thing, the characters and the omniscient narrator all quote from Udolpho all the time. 

NOTE:  The very first Gothic horror novel was The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford and Whig politician.  Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) was also considered part of the Gothic fad, which hasn't faded yet.  

Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley's Secret (1862) - Unreliable narrators abound.  And no, the secret is not what you think you know from the beginning. 

Mrs. Henry Wood, East Lynne (1861). Seriously, probably the #1 bestseller of the entire age, and was transformed into a play that was performed well into the early 1900s in Britain and America.  There were also a few movie versions.

Plot:  Young woman marries honorable but boring guy; later runs off with an old flame who is a complete cad; is seduced and ruined; returns to her former home in disguise (her boring Hero husband has remarried) to be the governess to her own children, one of whom dies; she dies shortly thereafter; weepy deathbed scenes ensue.  There's also a complex secondary plot that involves a slut (I'm being kind) and her two lovers, a nobleman and a lawyer's son (who happens to be the brother of the Hero's second wife), one of whom murders the slut's father.  

Now in True Confessions: Sixty Years of Sin, Suffering and Sorrow, there are no less than 3 adaptations of East Lynne over the decades under the names of My Mad Elopement, My Own Story of Love, and Playing With Fire.  That plot has LEGS.  

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1860) - Loaded with unreliable narrators, shifting personas, endless secrets, kidnapping, murder, and switching bodies...  This one also started a whole fashion in women's dress, style, and even in perfume.  (Yes, there was a perfume called "Woman in White".)  

But the biggest sellers of all were the Penny Dreadfuls.  A weekly dose of 6-12 pages of sensation: murder, crime, the supernatural, detection, and each one only a penny.  Now that a working class bloke could afford. And if you couldn't, you could club in with another bloke, half-penny each, and buy it. Popular characters included Sweeney Todd, Dick Turpin (highwaymen were very popular), Spring-heeled Jack (a ghostly monster who had claws and breathed fire), vampires, ghosts, etc.  

Some were rewrites of Gothic and other thrillers. What eventually ended the Penny Dreadfuls were what A. A. Milne called the "ha'penny dreadfuller".  Those started out as high minded moral tales, but ended up the equivalent of the Grand Guignol - extremely graphic horror / thriller / monster tales.  Basically, I blame the creation of Hannibal Lector on Penny Halfdreadfuls.  They were that graphic.

But what about tearjerkers, you ask?  Oh, my dear, the Victorians took that old tearjerker (1748) Clarissa, and polished it up to a faretheewell.  

You want weepy deathbeds?  The Heir of Redclyffe by Charlotte Yonge, Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop (the death of Little Nell...), Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (the death of Beth...), and many, many more.

You want star-crossed lovers?  You can start off with the Bronte sisters:  Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and move on to George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, Charlotte Yonge's The Daisy Chain, and the most harrowing of all, Thomas Hardy, who specialized in them for reasons of his own:  Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure...

So what do we learn from this?

Horror and gore always sells, and there never have really been many, if any, limits on it.

Sex, of course: the Mysteries of UdolphoDraculaDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the Penny Dreadfuls all have a lot of sexual innuendo which were obvious to the Victorian / Edwardian reader.  

Complex tales of adultery and murder always keep people fascinated until the last page is turned.  

And when you want a good cry, have one of them die young and/or star-crossed or both...

Some things never change.

22 February 2024

Bad Influence

The Norseman's Bar is the oldest in Laskin, South Dakota. That doesn't mean the building is old or impressive. The original Norseman's was a sod house, and when that finally collapsed, its replacement was a board shanty, which burned in the dirty 30s, and up went the cinderblock building. But it's always been in the same place, same name. As well as a lot of the same names sitting in the same place, being served by the same people year after year. Norwegian Lutherans don't like change. As Detective Jonasson once said, "The main similarity between the Norseman's and the Lutheran church is that everybody knows their pew and keeps to it."
— Eve Fisher, "Bad Influence."

In case you haven't heard, Murder, Neat: A Sleuthsayers Anthology dropped on Tuesday, February 13th, and the above is from my story: "Bad Influence."

Now I have a long history with bars, beginning with parents who loved to go to Tahoe and Las Vegas to gamble (back in the days when big goombahs watched 24/7 to make sure no one stole any money or messed with the kids whose parents were busy losing at slots or cards). And later, I too have pulled all- nighters with friends, ending up with a last beer in a dive bar at 7AM. (Too old for that now. Shudder just thinking about it.) And I've been living in South Dakota for over 30 years now, and I have been a number of different bars all across the state, because... where else are you gonna go?

Here's the deal: South Dakota has 436 towns, 350 have a population of under a thousand, and over 100 of those have a population of less than 100 – and they all have a bar. And in those small towns, the bar is often the only place to get something to eat. Beer, whiskey, burgers, fries and chislic are the staples.

Beef chislic at a restaurant in South Dakota. Wikipedia

If you're lucky, they might have a grilled chicken sandwich, but I wouldn't count on it. Some places do have a special on Saturday nights: one place has prime rib, another (don't ask me how) really good Indonesian food, another hot roast beef sandwiches to die for. But by and large, no. Just the standards.

But really, what else are you going to do in a small town where the reception is poor, there is no cable, during the long Dakota winter nights, or the even longer summer late afternoons? Granted, you're going to pretty much talk about the same stuff you did last night, last week, last year… But there's something about the rehearsal of dreams, grudges, stories, and suspicions over a cold beer and hot fries that warms the soul. And can trigger the occasional fight, where everyone invites themselves to watch, until their cojones freeze, their beer runs out, and/or the cop(s) show up, and they have to go back inside. It's even better when a Poker Run comes to town, or there's a street dance. More opportunities for mayhem, mischief, and multiple arrests.

One thing that is certain is that the people serving and the people drinking remain pretty much the same. Sometimes a waitress or a bartender gets fed up and moves on to the next small town bar. Sometimes a waitress or a bartender is let go, and rumors of sexual assault, embezzlement or other misconduct fly. But here's the thing: they'll always get hired again. You'll see them down the road, at the next bar, the next town. South Dakota, especially rural South Dakota, just doesn't have enough of an employment pool to find new blood.

So what happens when old blood, bad reputations, an ex-con, and a Poker Run all combine on a long hot summer night in Laskin, South Dakota? Well, you'll just have to read "Bad Influence."


Murder, Neat on Kindle and in paperback, is now available at Amazon HERE.

A great, great read, all the way through!