Showing posts with label Florida. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Florida. Show all posts

01 September 2019

Helpful Hurricane Guide


by Leigh Lundin

At times I live my life around hurricanes, which is far better than dying by hurricane and not quite the same as living with a certain Gale. For the moment, powerful Dorian is presently confounding predictions but, with luck, may spare Florida and most of the North American east coast.

In honor of the moment, I promise not to be long-winded. For those who suffer mere tornadoes, here are actual tracking maps followed by what the hurricane categories mean.

Hurricane Tracking Charts
Hurricane v Florida size comparison
Florida Hurricane tracks
‘Smallish’ Hurricane Fran Hurricane Tracking Example

Hurricane Meanings and Actions
Category 1     119kmph • 74mph • 64knots
When cooking on the grill, you switch from paper plates to weightier melamine. You’re careful your new drone doesn't drift too far off course.

Category 2     154kmph • 96mph • 83knots
You bring beach towels in from the clothes line, assuming you live in a community that permits clothes lines. Peculiarly, many Florida towns and homeowners associations ban drying laundry outdoors in the Sunshine State.

Category 3     178kmph • 111mph • 96knots
Mow the yard. Think briefly about purchasing extra water, food, propane, and gas for your generator and your car… then decide to buy if the storm makes Cat 4. Chuckle about your timid neighbor who packs his SUV full of supplies and family and heads for Georgia or Alabama.

Category 4     209kmph • 130mph • 113knots
Reluctantly head to Costco for 400 gallons of water and discover the wretch before you bought the last three litres. Decide queue for gasoline looks too long. Buy beer.

Category 5     252kmph • 157mph • 137knots
Damn. Governor calls for evacuation. Your car’s tank reads ⅜ and your wife’s Volvo reads a quarter. Find the lawnmower where you left it in the back yard. Empty the fuel cans for mowing and then the mower’s tank itself into your car. Drain fuel from your motorcycle, your kid’s go-kart, weed-whacker, and chainsaw. Siphon wife’s vehicle. Your gas gauge now reads ¾, thanks to discovery of a gas can your neighbor left when they packed up and ran two days ago. Whoops! Electrical power goes out. You scramble to find your flashlights and then realize why batteries were on the shopping list. By candlelight, you grab a forgotten bottle of Zephyrhills someone opened and stuck in the fridge. Way in the back your wife retrieves a can of Tab she’s been hoarding. You load the unrefrigerated beer and depart with wife and child. The gate at the guard shack has blown shut, wrapping itself around a post. You squeeze past as it scrapes your car. Child wants to stop for restroom and food. Thanks to buffeting headwinds, your mileage drops to 14mpg. Every gas station has closed. Screaming child wants McBurgers. No restaurants remain open. Dodging debris, uprooted trees, and a sailboat in the road, you’ll make Gainesville and perhaps a little farther. And then you encounter a flying cow…

Category 6     285kmph • 178mph • 155knots ?
No such thing… yet. However, as climate change accelerates, so does the violence of cyclonic winds. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (actually a peculiarly numbered damage scale) does not define anything above a Cat 5 storm. Many experts believe it’s merely a matter of time before meteorologists are forced to include at least a Category 6 and possibly 7 if not switch to another scale entirely.
Stay safe!

21 July 2019

A Public Service Announcement


Florida politicians are as environmentally sensitive as Jeffrey Epstein at Scott Pruitt’s Mar-a-Lago bachelor party. In the eighty years since Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Florida hasn’t exactly become a hotbed of environmentalism.

“Drain the swamps” is the rallying cry of misguided developers. Wetlands are Nature’s kidneys, filtering polluted water before it enters ever-depleting aquifers, shrinking underground rivers supplying the state’s water.

“Chop down the forests” isn’t heard quite as often these days, but I encountered a guy who still believes trees cause pollution and environmentalism is a dastardly plot. He forgets William F Buckley Jr mentioned conservation and conservatism share the same root words and meanings.

Imagine my pleasant shock when I began seeing posters and postcards from some Orange County government subversives with tips to save the environment. Bless their hearts. Here is an example:

Orange County Public Service Announcement Nº 4

Orange County fertilizer brochure

However, those icons in the left middle of the page reminded me of a guy with a gun to his head and then possibly a gas pump. Nah. Eventually I settled upon pesticide sprayers in the land where roaches are the size of rats, rats are the size of cats, and a mouse the size of humans. But for fertilizer? At least their hearts are in the right place.

Florida panther
Florida housecat
Naturally my next thought concluded SleuthSayers would be remiss not to create its own public service announcement. But what should a criminal PSA include?
  • It should pay homage to its inspiration.
  • Orange County’s orange inexplicably went missing above, but we can fix that.
  • It should respect the work the county put into theirs. After all, they should know what a PSA looks like.
  • Therefore it should look attractive.
  • Maybe it should be informative. Or not. But yes, let’s.
I considered a bit of humor made especially for the occasion:
Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day.
Give a man a puffer fish, you feed him for a lifetime.
Too subtle, huh? Maybe if I copyrighted it…

So after much head scratching, I came up with the following.

SleuthSayers Public Service Announcement Nº 1

Florida crime craft poster

What do you think? Have we succeeded in alerting the public? If not, it’s the fault of, uh, Orange County, yeah, that’s it.

17 May 2019

Editorial: Stop Insalting Florida


Great Seal of Columbia County, Florida
Special to the Editor from the Office of His Honorable Mayor Beau Daeshus Boondok of Lake Hamlet, Lake Village, Lake City, formerly known as Alligator Town in Columbia County, of the Great State of Florida, to wit:

SleuthSayers has been known to say derogatorian half-untruths about the Sunshine State. To preempt another scurrylus slur, I asked the SleuthSayers Board to present my editorial about certain recent events.

The fine folks of Columbia County don’t understand the hoopla outcry about a recent arrest that somehow made national news. Let’s set the record straight about this libraltarian doonboggle.

Surprisingly animal rights groups haven’t been up in arms over a recent arrest case in our fine Florida county. You’ve read about it, the idiot with the decal on his pick-up. Now I ain’t no vegetarian, but I don’t find that funny.

I eat ass

Many folks might object, especially horse and donkey lovers. Fact is, horse meat is lower in fat than cow meat, although higher in purines. Mules I reckon run about the same gamut of proteins and fats. It ain’t just locals. Chinese also hanker for a taste of fine, fresh donkey meat (活叫驴), slaughtered to order, $5 a pound.

Now I’ve eaten burros, at least that’s what it said on the Mexican menu at Bad Hombres. Their illegal alien cook fills rolled tortillas with, well, I suppose burros. And cheese and enough beans and chili verde you couldn’t tell it was burros. I don’t advertise on my truck though.

I eat burros

If you turn your nose up, chances are you’ve sampled horse without knowing it. The once competitive Burger Chef chain was maybe found mixing equine and bovine products in their ground round. It wasn’t illegal, but it ruined the once successful franchiser.

My 5th grade teacher said the importance of words matters. That horse’s ass of a truck owner was just plain mulish. Nobody puts stickers on their vehicle saying, “I eat bunny rabbit,” or “I eat cuddly little lambs.” They could save screaming children if they said, “I ❤︎ bunnies,” and likewise, “I ❤︎ ass.”

I ♥︎ ass

Even dimmer than the animal abuser, our decent but not-overly swift law officer arrested him, saying he felt offended. Worse, radio dispatch told him, “Tow his shit” and drag the guy’s ass into the station. Poor donkeys can’t get a break.

Nowadays folks gossip about my ladyfriend I met in Tallahassee. We almost didn’t connect because of bad grammar on her bumper sticker. In my ear, I kept hearing Mrs. Prunehilda in 5th Grade English smacking my knuckles and harping that complete sentences require a verb, not just a pronoun and noun. The verb went completely missing, so you might imagine how offended I felt her bad grammar read.

I swallow

At least she didn’t say she ate baby chicks or wrens. As a bird lover, I reckon she meant “I ❤︎ swallows.” Anyway, we’ve been happily seeing one another for the past six months and I’ve never felt more cheerful about bad grammar. I decided bumper stickers don’t matter none.

Now back to the business of mayoring, and thank you SleuthSayers for allowing my little editorial.

The Esteemed Honorable Mayor Beau Daeshus Boondok



charge sheet
charge sheet
Note: Police arrested Dillon Shane Webb, 23 going on 13, on obscenity charges and resisting arrest. The latter came about because the officer ordered Webb to scrape off at least one S, and he refused.

The county prosecutor kept a cooler head and dismissed charges. Webb’s attorney says they’re now switching from defense to offense. Some might argue the he’s gone from offense to defense to offense again.

28 March 2019

Florida Man


In case you haven't heard, there's a Florida Man Contest out there, where you Google "Florida Man" for your birthday or some such date and see what comes up.  Jack Holmes at Esquire provides quite a list: FLORIDA MAN 2015.   But every state has its own crazies.  So I thought I'd add a few from South Dakota to the mix.  Only one of these is not a true story!
Florida Man Covers Himself in Ashes, Says He's a 400-Year-Old Indian, Crashes Stolen Car

Florida Man Puts Dragon Lizard in His Mouth, Smacks People with It

Dakota Man Known for Exposing Himself, Takes His Talent to Florida

Florida Man Killed 5 Gators, Ate Them for Super Bowl Dinner

Drunk, Machete-Wielding Florida Man Chases Neighbor on Lawnmower

Ride Naked, Ride Quiet, Ride An Indian [to Sturgis, SD]

Florida Man Tries to Sell 3 Iguanas Taped to His Bike to Passersby as Dinner

Florida Man on Bath Salts Head-Butts Car, Slaps Fire Chief

South Dakota Man Sentenced for killing Bald Eagle in Nebraska.

Drunk, High Florida Men Post Video to Facebook of Themselves Driving Around at 3 AM with Wounded, Possibly Endangered Owl

Aliens Converge on Sioux Falls, SD.

SD Breastfeeding Bandit Sneaks Into Home and Suckles Stranger's Baby

Florida Man Impersonating a Police Officer Pulls Over Real Cops

Florida Man Advertises "Legit Counterfeit $" on Craigslist, Is Arrested


South Dakota Man Gets $190 Fine for Snake Without a Leash

Florida Man Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn to Demand Campaign Finance Reform, Is Arrested

South Dakota Man Sues Over Burst Exercise Ball

Florida Man High on Meth Jumps on Strangers' Cars, Surfs Them

Florida Man Interested in Getting Tased Runs Through Airport in Underwear Waiving Nunchucks


Identical Twin Florida Men Arrested After Getting in Brick Fight

Florida Man Arrested for Grand Theft After Trying to Walk Out of Store with AK-47s Stuffed Down His Pants

82-Year-Old Florida Man Slashes 88-Year-Old Florida Woman's Tires with an Ice Pick for Taking His Seat at Bingo

Florida Man Dances on Top of Police Cruiser to Ward Off Vampires

Clark, SD, Home to World Famous Mashed Potato Wrestling Contest

Florida Man Rips Hole in Store Ceiling, Steals More Than 70 Guns, Flees on 3-Wheel Bicycle

Florida Man Dressed as Pirate Arrested for Firing Musket at Passing Cars

Doing Black Hair at Home No Longer Illegal in South Dakota

Florida Man Steals Operating Table from Hospital

Florida Man Steals $2 Million in Legos

Crack-Smoking Florida Man Drinks Capri Sun to Rehydrate During Police Chase

Florida Man's Fishing Trip Interrupts Weather Report

SD man stuck in tree bites firefighter during rescue.

Florida Man Flees Library on Scooter After Smelling Woman's Feet

Dakota Man Accused of Stripping, Getting Into Holy Water Fountain

Florida Man on the Lam Butt Dials 911, Is Arrested

Dakota Man Found Asleep in Truck in Miami With an Arsenal of Guns

Florida Man Too Drunk to Be Honored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Florida Man Catches Shark That Bit Him, Pledges to Eat It

Florida Man Crawls into Cracker Barrel Bathroom Stall to Proposition Occupant for Sex

Florida Man Crashes Car into Business While Trying to Time Travel




I'll post the answer to which one is fake in the comments section later.

Enjoy!

24 February 2019

Remembering Miami 1980


The Chinese have a saying that runs along the lines of "May you live in exciting times." For a guy who was 12 years out of Vietnam and had joined federal law enforcement, for the adrenaline, 2-1/2 years after the SE Asian tour, Miami became a very exciting time.

It was late summer of 1980 and Miami was pretty much an open city. Castro had emptied his prisons and mental hospitals of those who could get someone to pick them up in boats at the Port of Mariel. Other Cuban citizens bribed their way out to join the flotilla headed to Florida. These people soon became known as the Marielitos. Some of the ones who made it to Miami ended up being held in the Orange Bowl stadium, but with the beginning of football season, they were moved to Liberty City, a tent city under an I-95 overpass inside Miami. (Think Scarface with Al Pacino as a rising drug lord in Miami.) The noise under the overpass from constant traffic was relentless and overwhelming. Plus, tent city residents had trouble finding a sponsor to get them out of the place, and those that did had trouble getting jobs because they didn't speak English. Faced with depression and a bleak future, some of them would do almost anything to survive. Like the song says, it's the lure of easy money.

Meanwhile, the go-fast boats were coming in with their loads from the Bahama banks, the Cocaine Cowboys were in full swing moving their product, mother ships were coming up from Colombia, airplanes were dropping their loads in the Florida swamps where drug crews waited to retrieve the illicit cargo, and dealers were taking grocery sacks of U.S. currency to local banks after their sales. In the beginning, dealers merely weighed their money until they got their own counting machines. If a van carrying a couple hundred pounds of marijuana got in a wreck on the Interstate, the driver and shotgun rider simply walked away and disappeared into the populace. Drug dealers were shot by rival organizations who left the drugs and cash behind to show it was just business, a territory thing, not a drug rip-off. After a while, all that left-behind money with no one to claim it became a temptation to some of the responding homicide cops. Some of that money got split up and disappeared. Later, some of the left-behind drugs also got split up and sold instead of going into evidence. Nobody was going to claim ownership of the drugs anyway was the theory. When the time came there wasn't enough drug homicides to respond to, some of the dirty cops created their own. Honest cops weren't sure who to trust. One of the honest cops came over to us and later testified to what he knew.

With all that drug money to spend, Miami underwent a building boom. Money talked and some got richer. Others got dead.

The Miami Regional Director sent one of his agent groups south on an interdiction program to the Caribbean. To replace his lost manpower, he drew from other offices for a "special." I went down to Miami on a "special" op, along with agents from Minneapolis, the Arizona border, the Texas border, New Orleans, and other offices. We took over the duties of those guys gone off to the Caribbean program. Our new group worked with the U.S. Coast Guard on the northbound mother ships laden with tons of pot. Some nights, we found ourselves off the Miami coast with Customs, hunting in wolf packs to catch the go-fast boats coming in from the Bahama banks. We ran our own go-fast boats seized from previous smugglers. We conducted surveillance on clandestine landing strips in the Keys. We escorted tons of seized pot up to the incinerators in Orlando just to get rid of the massive inventory in evidence. It's a heady time, just keep your automatic handy. Bullet proof vests weren't in vogue yet.

We ate our suppers in Cuban restaurants and did our laundry down in Miami's Calle Ocho, the Cuban district, hoping no one recognized us from some of our excursions in the city or out on the water. There's a Latin rhythm on the streets and Mambo clubs at night, with Cuban beauties escorted by macho males in high Cuban-heeled shoes. It's a style, a culture, a living on the edge. Easy money and quickly spent. Miami Vice isn't far off.

Eventually, someone in the main office got the bright idea to "sell" some of the massive pot inventory in a sting operation. A few hundred pounds (after the court case is done) was transferred to a rental truck parked inside a rented storage unit. Marijuana brokers who are unaware they are dealing with undercover agents, go out and solicited buyers for our product. The broker and the buyer show up at the storage unit, money changed hands, the pot load was taken and they leave. The broker goes his own way. He isn't bothered yet because we need him to bring in more buyers, but a few miles from the site, the latest buyers are stopped and arrested. Samples are taken from each pot bale for evidence in court and the remainder is driven back to the storage unit to be "sold" again. Naturally, the buying money is seized for court and forfeiture. The recent buyers? They're going away for a long vacation in the grey bar hotel.

Then comes the alleged time when an unmarked police car pulls up to the storage unit and two men get out. One shows a badge, identifies himself as a plain clothes cop to the undercover agents and then draws his gun. The other guy checks out the rental truck and prepares to drive away with the pot. The cop with the badge is getting ready to kill the undercover agents until they identify themselves. Then it becomes chaos and paranoia. Badge guy beats feet for his unmarked cop car, but is quickly surrounded. The other guy tries to drive off in the rental truck. Surveillance agents descend on the scene en masse. One agent allegedly steps up on the rental truck's foot board on the passenger side and empties his .45 into the rental truck driver. He then steps down and the truck crashes into a tree. That's the end of the "sale" program.

Like the Chinese said, "May you live in exciting times." Yeah, I think I did. Hard to imagine all that was almost four decades ago, and yet some scenes and faces are as vivid as if they were just last week.

So raise your glasses to those who were there in a time gone by.

A toast to the old days now faded into history.

Exciting times.

12 February 2019

Agatha Award short-story finalists for this year


Given that I am swamped with work, I've decided to take the easy way out this week and write something short for you. But never fear. I'm a short-story writer, so brevity is my friend.
Allow me to introduce the finalists for this year's Agatha Award in the short-story category, all of whom know how to make every word count. I'm pleased to be one of the nominees, along with my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor, and the three other finalists, all of whom I'm also proud to call my friends. So without further ado, the finalists and their stories. Each title is a link to that story, for your reading pleasure.

  • Leslie Budewitz. Her story "All God's Sparrows" was published in the May/June 2018 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  


  • Barb Goffman. (Yep, that's me.) My story "Bug Appetit" was published in the November/December 2018 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.



Attendees of the Malice Domestic mystery convention will be able to vote for their favorite story during the convention this May. In the meanwhile, happy reading! See you in three weeks.

20 January 2019

Florida News– Year in Review


by Leigh Lundin

Florida postcard
It’s been quite a while since the last posting vis-à-vis the madness that constitutes Florida. Ask Dave Barry. Ask Carl Hiaasen. Ask Fark.com, which awarded Florida its own tag, the only state to have earned that, er, particular honor. It’s time to review this past year.

Scott-Free

Tallahassee, FL.  Since we last spoke, our crooked Governor Rick Scott has now become our crooked Senator Rick Scott. I use the word ‘crook’ accurately and advisedly. After all, this is a crime site, not a political blog, and from a criminal standpoint, Rick Scott has made us all proud. In the land of crooks, cons, and craziness, how did he accomplish such singular honor?

Scott engineered the most massive Medicare/Medicaid fraud in history. After fines of $1.7-billion– that’s ‘billion’ with a ‘B’– he left the lucrative health care business a very wealthy man. In 2010, he turned his jaundiced sights on a fresh target– politics– where he outspent the Florida Republican party to win the nomination, and then outspent the Florida Democratic party to win the governorship. Now he becomes an unbecoming senator. Pass the fermented orange juice, please.

Reptilian Brain

St. Augustine, FL.  Sheesh. Stay out of the pool if you can’t tell a crocodile from an alligator. But wait, there’s more: The dude’s accused of  jumping in while wearing Crocs. A reptilian brain trumps no brain at all.

Leave Fluffy Alone!

Clearwater, FL.  Where’s that crocodile when we need him? A year and a half earlier at Orlando Executive Airport, an alligator took a bite out of an airplane wing. That’s not unusual, but this plane was in flight.

Tuff Mothers

Sarasota, FL.  My tiny 5-foot nothing mom was a fearsome spitfire, but these bitches fight with broken glass. It’s that reptilian brain, see.

Bouncing’s Not Only for Checks

Jacksonville, FL.  It’s not funny. Police are hunting a masked man who beat a dozing laundromat patron with a pogo stick. Was it a lack of coordination or the extra starch? Next Up: Assault with a deadly unicycle.
Note:  When I first heard this story, I chuckled in disbelief at the peculiarity of Florida. Later I learned the victim died from the oddball attack. It’s wise to remember even the goofiest crimes can have dire real-world consequences. To my knowledge, police have not located the perpetrator nor know a reason for the attack.

Extra Starch Again: It’s the Carbs

Yulee, FL. Stick a fork in it,” a North Florida man took seriously. He stabbed a poor woman in the head for undercooking his potato. What an idiot. Think she’ll ever bake a spud for him again? Lucky for him, Nassau County jail serves all the fries he can eat.

Damn, the Driver Missed

Jacksonville, FL.  Why chase ambulances when clients come to your door?

No Relation to Catherine the Great

Citra, FL.  I’m… I’m without words… and creeped out. I’ve heard of kinky pony girls, but this bizarre bozo leaves me speechless.

Kill ’em with Kindness

Milton, FL.  Can’t say our bad guys don’t wield a sense of humor. In Santa Rosa County, a wannabe killer scrawled ‘kindness’ on the blade of his machete and attacked his neighbor. The real shocker is this product of Florida education spelt the word correctly.

It’s the Carbs, Man

Lake City, FL.  Let’s close on a sweet, feel-good story ya gotta love. Cops rescued a stolen Krispy Kreme Doughnut truck and about a zillion maple-glazed, which they (munch, munch) shared with homeless folks. (urp, ’scuse me)

Orlando, FL.  An Orlando officer showed considerably less humor when he complained to a call-in talk show about that stereotype of police and doughnuts. A radio engineer isolated the background noise and realized he was phoning from a Dunkin’ Donuts.

01 January 2019

The Power of Tenacity


I planned to title this column the Power of Persistence and to write about writing goals. It seemed perfect for January 1st, when so many people make resolutions for the new year. And I do love alliteration. But then I thought, maybe "tenacity" would be a better word than "persistence." The Power of Tenacity might not have the same cadence as the Power of Persuasion, but is it more on point? I had always treated the words as synonyms, but maybe they aren't, I began to think. Maybe I should check. So I did, and it turns out there's an important difference between the two words.
Persistence means trying repeatedly to reach a goal through the same method, figuring eventually you'll succeed. Tenacity means trying to reach a goal through varying methods, learning from each failure and trying different approaches. For anyone with goals for 2019, tenacity seems the better approach.

How does this apply to writing? First, let's talk about getting writing done. Everyone has their own method. Some people write every morning before daybreak. Others write at night. Some people say they will write for a set number of hours each day. Others say they'll write as long as it takes to meet a daily quota. Some people plot out what they're going to write. Others write by the seat of their pants. It doesn't matter what your approach is, as long as it works for you. So with the new year here, perhaps this is a good time to take stock of your approach. Is your approach working for you? Are you getting enough writing done? Enough revision done? Are you making the best use of your time?

I have a friend (and editing client) who used to be a pantser. But she found that after finishing every draft, she had so many loose ends to address and problems to fix, it took her much longer to revise than she'd like. So she started forcing herself to plot before she began writing each book. Not detailed outlines, but she figures out who kills whom, how, and why, what her subplot will be (again, just the basics), and what her theme is. These changes in her approach have enabled her to be so much more productive. She writes faster now, and she needs less time for revision. That's tenacity in action.

Moving on to a finished product, how do you react to rejection? If you have a rejected short story, for instance, after you finish cursing the universe, do you find another venue and send that story out immediately? Or do you re-read it and look for ways to improve it? And if a story has been rejected several times (there's no shame here; we've all been there), do you keep sending it out anyway or put it in a drawer to let it cool off for a few months or years until perhaps the market has changed or your skills have improved?

If sending a story out a few times without revising after each rejection usually results in a sale for you, great. Then your persistence works, and it means you have more time for other projects. But if it doesn't, if you find yourself sending a story out a dozen times without success, then perhaps you should consider a new approach. After a story is rejected, say, three times, maybe you should give it a hard look and see how it can be changed. Maybe you should let it sit in a drawer for a while first, so when you review it, you'll have a fresh take.

And if you're getting a lot of rejections, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate your markets or what you write. I know some writers who started their careers writing science fiction, but it turned out that they were much better suited to writing mysteries. Once they let their true selves out on the page, they started making sales. I know a writer who's been working on a novel for years, but she can't seem to finish it. Yet she's had a lot of success with short stories. If she were to decide to only write short stories and let the novel lie fallow, that wouldn't be a failure; it would be tenacity in action: finding what works for her.

I was about to write that the one thing you shouldn't do is give up, but there might be value in letting go. If your goal is to write a novel or short story, but you never seem to finish your project, and the mere thought of working on it feels like drudgery instead of joy, then maybe being a professional writer isn't for you. There's no shame in that. Not every person is suited to every task. When I was a kid I loved swimming, but I was never going to make a swim team. I wasn't fast enough. Maybe with a lot of practice and other changes I could have gotten there, but I didn't want to take those steps. And that's okay. I enjoyed swimming for the fun of it, and that was enough for me. Maybe writing for yourself, without the pressure of getting to write "The End," is what gives you joy. If so, more power to you. And maybe it turns out you don't want to finish that book or story you started writing. That's okay too, even if you did tell everyone that you were writing it. You're allowed to try things and stop if it turns out they aren't the right fit for you.

But if you believe writing is the right fit, yet your writing isn't as productive as you want it to be, or your sales aren't as good as you want them to be, then be tenacious. Evaluate your approaches to getting writing done, to editing your work, to seeking publication. Maybe you need to revise how you're doing things. Are you writing in the morning but are more alert in the evening? Change when you write. Is your work typically ready to be sent out into the world as soon as you finish? If you get a lot of rejections, maybe it's not. Maybe you need to force yourself to let your work sit for a while after you finish, so you can review it again with fresh eyes before you start submitting. Do you have a contract, but your books aren't selling as well as you'd like? Perhaps you should find someone you trust who can try to help you improve. No matter how successful you are, there's always something new to learn. The key is to figure out what works for you and keep doing it, and also figure out what isn't working for you and change it.

That, my fellow writers, is my advice for 2019. Be tenacious. Evaluate what you want, and evaluate your methods for getting there. If your methods aren't working, change them. And if in six months your new methods aren't working, change them again. Work hard. Work smart. And be sure to enjoy yourself along the way, because if you're not enjoying writing, why bother doing it?

***

And now for a little BSP: I usually have one or two of my short stories up on my website so folks can get a feel for my fiction writing style. I just changed those stories. Now you can read "Bug Appétit" (which was published in the November/December 2018 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine) and "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" (from the 2018 Bouchercon Anthology, Florida Happens). For "Bug Appétit"click here, and for "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" click here. Happy reading. And I hope you have a wonderful new year.

09 October 2018

Some Reasons Short Stories Get Rejected


Whether you're a seasoned writer or a first-timer, submitting a short story to any publication probably involves anxiety. You wouldn't have written the story if you didn't enjoy doing it. You wouldn't have submitted the story for publication if you didn't hope it's good enough and want the editor to say yes.
Hearing that someone else likes your work is validating. Knowing that strangers will read your work is invigorating. Telling your family that you made a sale is good for the soul.

But not every story sells, especially on first submission. Editors usually try to be kind in their rejection letters, at least in my experience. They might say that they got a lot of submissions, and  many of the stories were wonderful, but they simply couldn't take them all. Or they might say that your story just wasn't a good fit for the publication, but please don't take it personally. Or they might say that they received a very similar story from someone else and simply couldn't publish both in the same book. It's this last type of rejection I'm going to focus on here. It sounds made up, doesn't it? Like an excuse.
There are all kinds of rejection.

And yet ...

I can tell you from personal experience that authors sometimes get very similar ideas. Sometimes this might be expected, especially when anthologies have narrow(ish) themes. For instance, Chesapeake Crimes: They Had It Comin' (which I co-edited) received a bunch of submissions involving revenge. (No big surprise.) A call for stories for a culinary anthology might result in a bunch of submissions involving poisoning. A book that wants weather-related short stories might receive multiple submissions about folks who are snowbound and someone is murdered.

But even when an anthology's call for stories is broad (let's say, the editor wants crime stories with a female protagonist), you can still end up with several similar stories under consideration. One reason could be that authors are subject to the same national news, so it would make sense if several might be inspired by the same news story, especially a big one. For example, I'd bet there are lot more #MeToo-type stories being written and submitted now than three years ago.

Authors also might be inspired by other industry successes. For instance, when vampire novels were all the rage, I knew several short-story authors writing about vampires, too. These authors weren't necessarily following the trend just to be trendy. Instead they were taking advantage of the trend to write about something they were interested in and that they thought they could sell.

I imagine that when novels with unreliable protagonists became big, more than one editor received short stories with unreliable protagonists, too. Perhaps some authors were following the trend, but I bet others simply were inspired and wanted to see if they could pull off an unreliable narrator, as well.

There's nothing wrong with any of these scenarios, but you can see how editors might end up with two similar stories to choose from. Or more. They all might be great, but an editor likely will only take one because he doesn't want the book to be monotonous.

And then, of course, there's the weird scenario, when two authors respond to a very broad call for stories with an oddly similar idea that isn't inspired by the news or trends or, it seems, anything. These two authors were simply on the same wavelength. This scenario is what made me decide to write about this topic today.

When Bouchercon put out its call for stories last autumn for the anthology that came out last month (Florida Happens), they asked for stories "set in, or inspired by, Florida and its eccentricity and complexity. We want diverse voices and characters, tales of darkness and violence, whether they are noir, cozy, hard-boiled or suspense. Push the boundaries of your creativity and the theme! Note: the stories don't have to actually be set in Florida, but can be 'inspired' by itso a character can be from here, it can be built around a piece of music about Florida; etc."

That's a pretty broad theme. With that theme, I wouldn't be surprised if they got a bunch of submissions involving older people, since Florida is where many people retire. And I wouldn't be surprised if they received a lot of submissions involving the beach or the ocean, since Florida is where so many people vacation. But what are the odds that two (or maybe more) authors were going to submit stories about missing cats?

And yet, that is nearly what happened. Hilary Davidson wrote one such story. Her story in the anthology, "Mr. Bones," is about a missing cat. My story in the anthology, "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast," involves a missing pot roast. But as originally planned, that pot roast was going to be  ... yep ... a cat.

If you've read my story, you can imagine how changing the pot roast into a cat would make the story incredibly darker. It was the darkness that got to me. When I was writing and reached page two of the story, I knew I couldn't do it. I couldn't write the story as planned with the object going missing being a cat. (Sorry for being vague, but I don't want to spoil things if you haven't read the story.)

Thank goodness for my unease, because I like the story much better with the pot roast. It makes the story lighter. Funnier. And it turned out that using the roast likely increased my chances of my story being accepted because I wasn't directly competing with Hilary Davidson (who wrote a great story). Indeed, imagine if I had gone through with my story as originally planned. The people who chose the stories would have had two submissions involving missing cats! And they likely would not have taken both stories.

So the next time you get a rejection letter and the editor says, please don't take this personally, take the editor at her word. You never know when someone else has an idea quite similar to yours. The world is funny that way.

18 September 2018

Put Some Feeling Into It


Authors often hear the advice to write what you know. The advice is usually offered to make sure the author gets plot details right. You wouldn't want to write a story about a police officer if you know nothing about police procedure. You wouldn't want to write about skydiving if you know nothing about the sport. Getting details wrong annoys readers who knows those details. And you don't want that. You want readers to turn pages without noticing, to be enveloped by the story, not disengaged by errant details.
The beauty of such a predicament is you can find out what you need to know. You can interview police officers. You can go on ride-alongs. You can watch skydivers. You even could jump out of a plane. (The emphasis here is on you. I would not jump out of a plane for any amount of money. I like it when my stomach isn't six feet below the rest of my body.) Ultimately you can learn the information you need to provide a true reflection of whatever it is you choose to write about.

But correct plot details will only get you so far. If you want to write a story that readers love, you need to write characters that are real, and that means characters that react like real people do. This is what readers are talking about when they say they don't like two-dimensional characters. They don't want to read about someone who's all good or all evil. After a while, such characters become predictable and boring. Readers want to see the shades of gray. They want to see characters acting like real people do, with all the emotion that entails.

And the good part about all this? You don't need to interview people or go on ride-alongs to get these details right, though you can. (And is there a "right"? More on that below.) To get emotions and emotional reactions right, all you need are two things: a good imagination--which I hope you have if you're a writer--and you need the special sauce of solid writing, empathy.

First imagination: A good imagination will enable you to understand, to truly picture, whatever scenario you're writing about. And I don't mean to simply imagine the setting. I mean imagine who your character is in relation to the conflict in which you are placing him or her in that setting. You could write a setup involving an avalanche, for instance. A character who is an expert rock-climber would react differently to it than one who is a first-timer.

Now once you've got your characters established and your setup and conflict imagined, empathy enters the picture. You may have never been in an avalanche, but can you imagine how someone in that situation might be feeling? I hope so. Dig deep if you have to. Not everyone will react the same way, even first-timers. But react they will in some way. Some will be terrified. Some will be practical. Some might even be invigorated. If you truly know your characters, you should be able to empathize with each one and understand how he or she would react to different situations in thoughts, words, and actions. Showing those thoughts and how they impact the dialogue and actions is what brings the character truly to life.

That brings me to the question I asked above. Can you get emotions wrong? Not if you make them seem realistic. Not if you let the reader understand where the character is coming from. Show a character whose mother just died and he merely shrugs, and your reader might think the character is one-dimensional. They might have a gut reaction that no one would act that way. But if you show the conflict in the character's head, letting the reader understand why he's shrugging, then that action can become believable. And the character is suddenly real.

I dug deep, trying to make my characters real, when I wrote my newest short story, "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast," which came out last week in this year's Bouchercon anthology, Florida Happens. My main character's husband has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. I've never been in that position, but I've watched friends and family dealing with a parent with such a diagnosis. So I've seen what the reactions can be. But even if I hadn't had this experience, I could imagine it. A character could be horrified, saddened, determined to do the right thing, or some or all of those things at onceor have some other reaction. If you can empathize with who your character is, you can understand how he would react to the situation he finds himself in. And then you need to show it in thoughts and dialogue, as well as actions.

In my pot roast story, my main character, Bev, becomes determined to care for her husband, Charles, in their home, despite that her doctor recommends otherwise. If I had just had Bev decide to care for Charles at home by herself without showing her reasoning, some readers might have gotten aggravated with Bev (or with me), thinking that Bev is reacting unrealistically or stupidly. But I do show Bev's thoughts in the story:

"I was determined to care for Charles in our home for as long as I could. He was my husband. My love. I owed him that."


Four simple sentences, but suddenly Bev's actions make sense. They are believable because the reader can understand where Bev is coming from.

There are a number of other things that happen in the story that might be hard to believe if you didn't understand where the characters were coming from. That's true for most fiction, books and movies.

In Gone With The Wind (not sure why this particular movie came to mind, but here it is), when Scarlet helps Melanie give birth, it might seem unbelievable considering how selfish Scarlet is and how much it must bother her that Melanie is giving birth to Ashley's son, but she does help. And the reader/viewer buys Scarlet's actions because the reader/viewer understands that Scarlet is doing it for a selfish reason, to look good for Ashley, but also for some non-selfish reasons: despite her best intentions, Scarlet has come to care for Melanie and some small bit of conscience is trying to push its way to her surface.


In Casablanca, Rick hated Ilsa for leaving him in Paris. He didn't know why she did it. But once he learned her reasons, he could understand because he could empathize with her. And suddenly she wasn't two-dimensional to him or to the viewer. And that made the story all the more interesting.

So if you want to create characters that readers want to follow, characters that readers love, get to know your characters well and then imagine how each of them would react to the events of your story and then show those reactions. It's the reactions that bring the characters to life. It's the reactions that make them real.

Authors, have you had a book or story that particularly resonated with you or with readers because you created a character that felt particularly real? What was it? And what was it about the character that stood out?

And readers, have you read any books or stories that affected you especially and unexpectedly because the characters felt so true to life? What was one and why?

And finally, if you want to read more about Bev and Charles, you can buy Florida Happens in ebook or trade paperback. Here's a link to the Amazon version. And here's a little more about the story:

"The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" is about aging with dignity. Bev and Charles live in a retirement community near the Everglades. Their home looks out on a lake in which an alligator named Romeo lives. The couple has always loved watching Romeo. But now Charles has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and Romeo has become a source of stress. And these two don't need more stress. When Bev gets injured, she hires an aide to help care for combative Charles. But then items start to go missing, and Bev doesn't know who she can depend on. A friend suggests the aide isn't trustworthy, but Bev begins to wonder if the real person she can't trust is herself.

28 August 2018

Rounding Things Out


A few nights ago as I was brushing my teeth, I glanced at the calendar hanging on my bathroom door. It was about eleven p.m. As I focused on the date, a memory flashed through my mind, and I realized to my horror that I had one hour left of being young.
You see, when the clock struck midnight, I was to turn forty-nine-and-a-half years old, which meant I would be entering ... my rounding years. You've never heard of rounding years? Well, allow me to enlighten you.

It was December 1978. I was nine years old and had been working on a family newspaper all that autumn. It was filled with juicy stories including:

  • Was there some sort of connection between my father and maternal grandfather besides marriage? After all, they both had a growth on their nose in the exact same spot. I know--it's spooky right? Or was it nefarious?
  • One of my brothers had been banned from Idaho after being caught speeding there. In a response to the editor, the subject of the story claimed he had been misunderstood, but this reporter stands by her story. His exact quote: "I can't go back there."
  • My mother was always rushing around. She would always know if she had somewhere to go and could get there without stress if she left early enough. But she always left late so everything was a big rush. This was more a feature piece, since it certainly wasn't news to anyone in the family. Everyone knew.

I typed the newspaper on a typewriter just like this one.
 And then there was the story that sparked this trip down Memory Lane. The article about my dad entering his rounding years. You see, when I was young I was a black-or-white kind of girl. You either lived in the city or the country.  You either were rich or poor. And you either were young or old. I clung to this worldview despite that we lived in the suburbs, were (upper) middle-class, and my parents were middle-aged. As Dad was approaching age fifty, I knew that old age was coming for him. But it felt odd to me that one second you could be young and the next second you could be old. Since I didn't grasp the concept of middle-age, I came up with my own idea: rounding years.

Here's how it works: Up to age forty-nine and a day less than six months, you are young. (Woo-hoo!) Then bam! You hit forty-nine-and-a-half and you've entered this period where your body starts wearing out. (I was nine and didn't really think this through, but let's say that during this time your hair turns gray, your bones start to creak, and you start saying "oof" when you sit down.) You get two full years to slowly turn old. Then when you reach the ripe age of fifty-one-and-a-half, bam again! You are old. It's all down hill from there.

Why did I choose a two-year period from forty-nine-and-a-half to fifty-one-and-a-half? Beats me. I was nine years old and clearly had way too much time on my hands. Plus an active imagination.

So you'll have to bear with me from here on out if I start getting nostalgic for an earlier time or begin doing things that are quirky. (Okay, fine. Quirkier.) I'm no longer young, you see. I'm rounding things out.

But I stand by that Idaho story. It was spot on.

*******

And now, for a little BSP:

Next week I'll be heading to the Bouchercon mystery convention in St. Petersburg, Florida, along with several other SleuthSayers. If you too will be there, I'd love to see you. Here's my schedule:
  • I'll be participating in a mass panel/signing for the new Bouchercon anthology, Florida
    Pot roast, anyone?
    Happens
    , on Thursday, Sept. 6th at 1 p.m. The book is scheduled to be released next Tuesday, the 4th. It includes stories by fellow SleuthSayers John Floyd and Paul D. Marks, as well as my newest story, "The Case of the Missing Post Roast." The reviews coming in have been excellent. Publisher's Weekly said in part, "These 21 tales are testimony to the wealth of notable crime fiction rooted in the Sunshine State." The amazing Hank Phillippi Ryan called the book, "As crazy-unpredictable as a Florida vacation! These short-story gems are quirky, surprising, original and irresistible. It's a collaboration of mystery rock stars that's absolutely terrific." You can pre-order a copy now by clicking here. Or if you'll be at Bouchercon, you can buy a copy there and come to the signing. 
  • At six p.m. on Thursday, I'll be at opening ceremonies, where (among other things) the winners for this year's Macavity Award will be announced. My story "Whose Wine Is It Anyway?" is a finalist in the short-story category, along with stories by fellow SleuthSayers Paul D. Marks and Art Taylor, as well as stories by Craig Faustus Buck, Matt Coyle, and Terence Faherty.
  • On Friday the 7th at 1 p.m. I'll be on a panel with my fellow nominees for this year's Anthony Award in the short-story category. I'm honored to share finalist honors this year with Susanna Calkins, Jen Conley, Hilary Davidson, Debra H. Goldstein, and fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor. If you haven't read the six nominated stories, it's not too late. They're all online. Click here and you'll find links to reach them all. Read before you vote!
  • On Saturday the 8th at 7 p.m. I'll be at the presentation for the Anthony Award.
Fingers crossed on multiple fronts! I hope to see you there.