Showing posts with label Josh Pachter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Josh Pachter. Show all posts

16 September 2023

The Scene of the Crime

Pachter in the Begijnhof.

The Scene of the Crime 

by Josh Pachter  

As readers of this blog may remember, I have been selling short fiction to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and other places since the late Sixties. This September, fifty-five years after my first appearance in EQMM, I finally had a novel come out. It’s called Dutch Threat, and it is set in Amsterdam—where my first wife and I lived from 1976 through 1982. 

During those years, I worked as an editor for Excerpta Medica, which published medical textbooks and conference proceedings in English. Their offices were located on the Keizersgracht (“Emperor’s Canal”), one of the Dutch capital’s main ring canals, a short walk from one of my favorite places in the world: the Begijnhof. More often than not, I’d spend my lunch break in this oasis of calm in the middle of the bustling city, and when I sat down to write my first novel I decided to set most of the action there. 

Het Houten Huys.
In fact, the Begijnhof is an ideal location for one particular subgenre of the traditional crime story: the closed-community mystery. 

Just in case anyone here is unfamiliar with the term, a “closed-community” (or, as it is also sometimes called, “closed-circle”) mystery is one that takes place in a location which, by its own nature or due to external circumstances, can only be accessed by a specific and limited group of people—which means that any crime occurring there can only have been committed by one of the people who had access to the scene. 

Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel, for example—originally published as Ten Little N-Words and later retitled And Then There Were None—takes place on a small island off England’s Devon coast. There are ten people on the island, and one by one they begin to fall victim to a murderer. Since no one else is on the island, the murderer must be one of the ever-decreasing number of survivors. In the 1965 film version—titled Ten Little Indians—the island is replaced by a snowbound mansion. Either way, it’s a closed-community mystery. 

And the Begijnhof is a classic closed community. Originally established during the Middle Ages—we don’t know exactly when, but it is first mentioned in print in 1389—it is a ring of forty-six gabled brick townhouses (and one of the only two wooden houses remaining in central Amsterdam) built around a central courtyard to house beguines, who were religious women who chose to live in a communal setting without taking vows or fully separating themselves from the world outside. The complex also includes a large off-limits grassy area (known as the “bleaching green” because the beguines laid their laundry there to dry and be whitened by the sun, and now off limits because some of the beguines were buried there), a lovely Dutch church that’s much larger on the inside than seems possible from the outside and—of all things—the English Reformed Church, which holds services in English and sometimes hosts free concerts of religious and secular music. 

The bleaching green.

The last beguine died at the age of eighty-four in 1971, but even today the Begijnhof’s one hundred and five residents are all women, mostly elderly, and the waiting list for a space is years long. 

Originally, there was only one entrance to the complex, though a second was added in 1574 and a third in 1725. Although two of the three access points are open during the day and the courtyard is much more heavily touristed today than it was when I worked nearby, all three doors are locked at night—so a nighttime murder would have to have been committed either by one of the residents or by someone in possession of a key. 

In my book, American graduate student Jack Farmer is sent to The Netherlands to do historical research in the Begijnhof and is granted special permission to move into Het Houten Huys (“The Wooden House”) for the two weeks of his stay. He finds himself—if you’ll forgive an old-fashioned word—smitten with Jet Schilders, the young nurse who checks in regularly on several of the elderly residents … and when one of them is murdered and Jet turns out to be a suspect, Jack teams up with her to investigate the killing and clear her name. 

There are a number of major characters in the book, and one of them is the Begijnhof itself. One of my goals in writing Dutch Threat—in addition to providing a perplexing whodunit with some twists and turns and a satisfying resolution—was to present a compelling portrait of one of my favorite places in the world. If the next time you visit Amsterdam you put the Begijnhof on your must-see list, I’ll feel that I’ve accomplished at least that part of what I set out to accomplish! 

Dutch Threat is available directly from the publisher, Genius Book Publishing, at this link, and also from the usual clicks-and-mortar booksellers.


18 July 2023

Dutch Treat


by Josh Pachter

Hebban, the largest online literary community in The Netherlands, recently asked its readers to nominate their favorite Dutch-language crime novels. Based on the results of that survey, they published a list of the ninety-nine best crime novels written in Dutch.

The list includes books by fifty-four different authors—forty-one men, twelve women, and one husband/wife collaboration. Most of the writers are Dutch, and a few are Flemish writing in Dutch (since only about two million people read the Flemish language but twenty-two million read Dutch). Five of the Dutch writers—Tomas Ross, Esther Verhoef, Peter de Zwaan, Charles den Tex, and René Appel—account for twenty-five of the ninety-nine books on the list.

Dutch-language crime novels are referred to in The Netherlands and Flanders as “thrillers,” although that term is used more generically there than it is here and includes the full range of crime fiction’s subgenres. Although the literature certainly includes what we would call police procedurals and even the traditional locked-room mystery, most Dutch-language crime fiction is psychological, examining the impact crime has on both those who commit it and those who are victimized by it.

I lived in Amsterdam for several years during the 1980s and wound up fluent in the language, so I’ve read a considerable amount of Dutch crime fiction. There’s a lot of top-quality work out there, and I wish that more of it was available in English, so you Sayers of the Sleuth could enjoy it. Here’s a guided tour to some of what is available in translation, with purchase links:

• The Dutch author with whom you’re probably most likely to already be familiar is Janwillen van de Wetering (1931-2008). Van de Wetering was for some years a police officer in Amsterdam, and he wrote a series of fifteen novels and a collection of short stories about two cops named Grijpstra and de Gier (in addition to three books about Hugh Pine, five standalones, and several volumes of nonfiction). Click here for links to his work now available on the ’Zon.

• The second most important Dutch crime writer in English translation was Robert van Gulik (1910-1967), whose seventeen Judge Dee mysteries are set in Seventh Century China and based on a real-life statesman/detective, Di Renjie. Click here for purchase links.

• When it comes to publication in English, Baantjer (1923-2010) was the most prolific. His full name was Albert Cornelis Baantjer, and he was one of a number of Dutch crime writers who published mononymically (including Havank and Ivans, among others). Like van de Wetering, Baantjer also served as an Amsterdam policeman, and thirty of his long series of novels featuring Inspector DeKok have been published in English. Here’s a link to those available on Amazon. (By the way, the character’s original name was De Cock, which isn’t as funny in Dutch as it would be in English, so the spelling was changed out of deference to US readers. From 1995 to 2006, there were a hundred and twenty-four episodes of a Dutch television series based on the character. Oddly, the series was titled Baantjer rather than De Cock.)

• Under the pen name “Michael Berg,” Michel van Bergen Henegouwen (1956- ) has produced a number of excellent books about investigative journalist Chantal Zwart and several standalones. To date, only one volume of the Zwart series—Nightmare in Paris—has appeared in English, but it’s an exciting rollercoaster ride of a tale, as Chantal investigates the death of a famous politician … in the bed of one of her old school friends.

• Esther Verhoef is one of only two authors to appear on the Hebban list six times, although that accomplishment probably needs an asterisk, since three of those six books were cowritten with her husband, Berry Verhoef, and published as by “Escober.” (ESther COllaborating with BERry, get it?) Only two of her novels have been published in English so far—Mother Dear and Close to the Cradle—and both of those were released under another pseudonym, Nova Lee Meier. (The other six-time Hebban Lister is Tomas Ross (1969- ), author of more than fifty novels, none of which has yet been published in English!)

• Flemish author Bob Van Laerhoven (1953- ) has had some success in the US with his award-winning literary crime novels, including Baudelaire’s Revenge and The Shadow of the Mole. Van Laerhoven spent many years as a war correspondent, and his work—while often poetic—digs deeply into man’s inhumanity to man.

• Bram Dehouck (1978- ) is another Flemish writer. He’s only published five novels (and one volume of nonfiction), but his 2009 debut, De Minzame Mordenaar—which is one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read—remains the only book to date to have won both the Golden Noose for Best Dutch-Language Crime Novel of the Year and the Shadow Prize for Best First Dutch-Language Crime Novel. His sophomore novel, Sleepless Summer, also won the Golden Noose, and is so far his only full-length work in English. Its premise—and I wouldn’t call this a spoiler—is that the noise produced by a newly installed wind turbine drives some of the residents of a small Dutch town mad enough that they begin to behave violently.

• Hilde Vandermeeren (1970- ) is from Flanders, too. She began as a successful author of books for children, but then “graduated” to thrillers. The Scorpion’s Head is the first of her books to be published in English. Gaelle wakes up in a psychiatric hospital with no memory of the events that brought her there. Michael is a paid assassin on the run from his employers. Their paths cross in a book that crackles with suspense.

• With some reluctance, I should probably include Pieter Aspe (1953-2021) in this essay. Aspe was far and away the most successful Flemish crime writer to date: while a typical Flemish thriller might sell as many as fifteen hundred copies, Aspe at the height of his popularity was selling sixty thousand copies of each of his Inspector Van In procedurals (and a Dutch-language TV series named Aspe rather than Van In ran for a hundred and twenty-seven episodes from 2004 to 2014, just edging out Baantjer’s Baantjer). Why the reluctance? Well, when the first of Aspe’s forty Van In books was published in English in 2013 as The Square of Revenge, I was eager to read it—and revolted by the extremely poor quality of the translation. Three more entries in the series have subsequently appeared, and I’ll admit that I haven’t bothered to check them out. If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can get all four books for your Kindle for the bargain-basement price of $2.99 here.

Speaking of translation, some readers of this website are aware that I have translated many short stories by Dutch and Flemish writers (including one by Aspe) into English. I’ll come back to short stories in a bit, but first let me mention one author of each nationality whose novels I’ve translated.

• René Appel (1945- ) is known as “the godfather of the Dutch psychological novel” and has written some two dozen standalones, including two Golden Noose winners. His first novel to appear in English was The Amsterdam Lawyer, which came out earlier this year. I’m obviously biased, but I think it’s one of René’s best, a closeup look at a hardworking attorney who slowly spirals into crime and madness.

• And then there’s Bavo Dhooge (1973- ), a Flemish workaholic who since his debut in 2001 has published more than a hundred novels, including winners of the Shadow Prize, the Diamond Bullet, and the Hercule Poirot Prize. In 2015, Simon & Schuster released my translation of Styx, a cross-genre romp in which a corrupt homicide cop is murdered by a serial killer labeled “The Stuffer” by the news media … and then returns as a zombie to end the Stuffer’s reign of terror. 

The book blends crime fiction, horror, science fiction, and fantasy, and although it got great reviews Simon & Schuster had no idea how to promote it. (If the Belgian Netflix miniseries currently in production winds up on American Netflix, perhaps the book will have a second chance at building a readership.) Last fall, a US edition of Dhooge’s Santa Monica, the first of ten standalones set in and around L.A., was published under the pseudonym “Bo Dodge.” (I didn’t find out about the pseudonym until it was too late to change it. It’s an unfortunate choice, I think, since it suggests that the book is a Western, which it isn’t. It’s an Elmore-Leonardesque caper story about a female burglar, the bouncer who falls for her, and the televangelist they set out to rip off.)

Okay, let’s move on as promised to short fiction. 

Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine published a number of Janwillem van de Wetering’s short stories during the 1980s. Once Janwillem hit it big with American readers, he moved to Maine and began to write his novels in English, translating them back into Dutch himself. For some reason, he reversed that pattern with his short stories, writing them in Dutch and translating them himself (with two exceptions, which I was asked to translate) into English. One of the ones I translated, “There Goes Ravelaar!,” was a finalist for the Best Short Story Edgar in 1986.

In 2002, current EQMM editor Janet Hutchings introduced a regular feature called “Passport to Crime” to the magazine’s readers, with one translated story appearing in every issue, and she asked me to find and translate work by Dutch (and, later, Flemish) writers. Over the last twenty years, I’ve provided about two dozen Dutch and Flemish crime stories to EQMM. If you have access to back issues of the magazine, you can click here and scroll down past the testimonials to a bibliography of all of my translations, including but not limited to my “Passport” stories.

You can also find fourteen stories by Dutch crime writers collected in Amsterdam Noir, a volume in Akashic Books’ excellent “City Noir” series. René Appel and I co-edited the book and co-wrote one of the stories, and I translated twelve of them. Each story is set in a different part of the city, and several are—as per Akashic’s model for the series—by professional writers who hadn’t previously tried their hands at crime fiction.

If you’re interested in reading crime novels about The Netherlands but not necessarily written by Dutch authors, you can’t go wrong with the ten-book Van der Valk series by British writer Nicholas Freeling (1927-2003).  Piet van der Valk is—like van de Wetering’s Grijpstra and de Gier and Baantjer’s DeKok—an Amsterdam cop. Also like DeKok (and Aspe’s Van In), his adventures wound up on television—though in this case it was a British series, filmed in English but set in The Netherlands, that ran more seasons than Freeling wrote books about the character, with Barry Foster playing the inspector. A remake starring Marc Warren as a younger van der Valk began in 2020, and both versions can be watched on Amazon Prime. 

(By the way, in “case” you’re wondering whether it’s the lower-case v in “van de Wetering” and “van der Valk” or the upper-case V in “Van In” that’s the typo, the answer is: neither. The Dutch use the lower-case, except at the beginning of a sentence, while the Flemish use the upper-case. Ya learn something new every day here at Sleuthsayers, dontcha?...)

 Finally, if I can get away with a paragraph of BSP, there’s Dutch T(h)reat, my own first novel, coming from Genius Books this fall. An American graduate student is sent to Amsterdam to conduct historical research for one of his professors in the Begijnhof, a closed community whose residents are all elderly women. As the ladies begin to die, an attractive young nurse is the prime suspect, and the American joins forces with her to track down the real killer in order to clear the nurse of suspicion.

If you haven’t yet dipped your toes into the waters of Dutch-language crime-fiction, I hope this overview will encourage you to do so. Much reading pleasure awaits you! Geniet ervan!

27 June 2023

Writing an American Novel

Dutch author Anne van Doorn has previously written for SleuthSayers. Today, in the wake of the Dutch publication of the novel he's deemed his "American Project," I'm delighted to welcome him back so he can tell you about this project and possibly provide a blueprint for those who'd like to attempt something similar.
— Barb Goffman

My American Project – The Procedure

by Anne van Doorn

In two previous articles on SleuthSayers, I talked about my intention to write an American mystery novel set in New York City. Since my last post, I’ve done exactly that. Some of you may have heard of The Delft Blue Mystery, the Dutch translation of which was released at the end of May. The first copy was presented to Josh Pachter, to whom I dedicated the book. Since I’m still looking for a literary agent—and subsequently a publisher—the English version has yet to come out.

I dedicated the novel to Josh for various reasons. Basically, The Delft Blue Mystery would never have been written if he hadn’t encouraged me.

Josh contacted me in the summer of 2017 and said he’d heard I had written a short story that could be of interest to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. This initial contact led to the publication of “The Poet Who Locked Himself In” in the September/October 2019 issue of EQMM. Through our correspondence, I have come to know Josh as a true professional. He knows a lot about getting short fiction published in magazines. He told me that my English is probably good enough to translate my stories myself and get them published. He also gave me sound advice to achieve that goal. With that encouragement, I succeeded. EQMM published “The Doctor Who Fell Into Sin” last year. Once I made that sale, I wanted to try my hand at a novel too—and why not write it in English from scratch?

This article is not intended to BSP my novel or my published short stories, but to highlight the procedure I used, which may be relevant to other non-American speakers considering writing an American (mystery) novel. My method could be a blueprint, or at least inspire others on how to go about it.

First two stages

I’m a plotter, and I write plot-driven novels. On my computer, I have a file titled “What to do” that guides me step-by-step through creating a plot and plot structure (stage 1), writing the story (stage 2), and editing it (stage 3). In this post, I will not go into detail about the creation of the plot, but I would like to show you where the procedure for The Delft Blue Mystery differs from what I normally do when I write in my own language—Dutch.

Concerning stage 1, the normal routine didn’t change much, but I read many books by American authors and wrote down words I needed to express my story. I know many English words, but in specific situations, my knowledge falls short. For example, what jargon does a Medical Examiner use? What does slang look like on the page? In my first post on SleuthSayers, I talked about creating a palette file. I used it during the first stage to determine how each character expresses themselves non-verbally.

Stage 2 was easy: write the book! As a plotter, I work with a detailed outline that shows how many scenes there will be, where each scene takes place, which characters are involved, and how the plot should develop. This detailed outline was vetted by a fellow Dutch author, Paul Dieudonné—my soundboard for this novel. I used his feedback to improve the outline.

Writing according to an outline is a routine matter. What differs from the usual procedure is that I utilized my palette file, which helped me decide which words to use. Does a character walk, stride, tiptoe, or move in another way? How does he put something down—gently or slamming it down? What forms of non-verbal communication might I use? The palette file turned out to be a very useful tool.

Third stage – The editing, part I

Most of the additional steps can be found in the third stage. After writing the first draft, I took several steps to improve the manuscript. Most of them I apply to each book: I analyzed and improved plot structure, characterization, and setting. But now on to the additions to my step-by-step guide.

Since I was taught British English at school, I created a file explaining the differences. I used it to weed out British spelling and words with (slightly) different meanings. As I write about the New York City Police Department (NYPD), I have a file of information on how the NYPD operates, and I’ve used it to enhance the story. I collected English words I didn’t know and wrote down their meanings, an example sentence, and synonyms in a file, and then consulted that file to change words in my manuscript where and when needed.

As a daily visitor to SleuthSayers, I have saved some articles on my computer. Leigh Lundin wrote an excellent piece on deadwords. I used the post to weed out overused words. John M. Floyd drew our attention to a similar topic: redundancies. He also wrote the article “Where's A Grammar Cop When You Need One?” Another valuable weed killer!

I know myself. I know I tend to repeat mistakes. Barb Goffman edited “The Doctor Who Fell Into Sin” and two other short stories I translated from Dutch. I collected the kind of errors I might repeat in a file titled “Edits by Barb Goffman.” I went over all my notes in that document to find similar mistakes I made in The Delft Blue Mystery. By the way, Josh Pachter introduced me to Barb, so he facilitated Barb’s involvement too!

Third stage – The editing, part II

Once I was confident I had done all I could, I would normally have sent the manuscript to my publisher. But not now. I added several steps to the procedure.

Josh Pachter told me one day that he uses Google Translate to translate stories from Chinese, Spanish, and other languages, into English. A splendid idea. I used the tool to translate my English manuscript into Dutch. It only took an hour or so. That translation wasn’t too bad. Eighty percent of the sentences turned out to be fine. But I had to edit the other twenty. And the punctuation was off. I created a file with common Google Translate errors for future use. That will make it easier next time.

I finished the Dutch version and sent it to publisher Hans van den Boom. Based on his feedback, I made some changes to the plot of both versions. Then I ran the Dutch text through Google Translate, from Dutch into English, and I used that new version to improve my own English draft. Most of the changes concerned word choice and the sequence of words. Then I ran that improved English text through the free version of Grammarly. That tool helped me improve punctuation—especially comma use—and change wordy sentences.

Third stage – The editing, part III

I’m not an American, and I have never worked for any of the police departments in the USA. While I’ve carefully researched the NYPD (for example, their radio communication procedures; I have two files about this subject on my computer), I can make mistakes. I take certain liberties to create a readable and suspenseful story, but it shouldn’t deviate too far from reality. Therefore, I needed a beta reader who is—or had been—a policeman.

Tom Mead

As far as I can remember, it was (again) Josh Pachter who introduced me to David Dean, a retired police chief, who served with a police department in New Jersey. He’s also a very accomplished short-story writer. I was much impressed by his “The Duelist,” and consider it one of the three best stories I’ve read in EQMM since I subscribed in 2019. I think he’s a far better author than I am.

When I approached him, David was most kind. He was keen on reading my manuscript (which still hadn’t been professionally edited), which he then did, giving me useful feedback. I made a couple of necessary changes to both versions.

British author Tom Mead, writer of Death and the Conjuror—a mystery novel I thoroughly enjoyed—was my second beta reader. I write whodunits and sometimes dabble in locked-room mysteries, which The Delft Blue Mystery is. I needed a beta reader to assess that aspect of my manuscript: the fine-tuning of the plot, the clues, the red herrings, and the final revelation. Tom gave me some ideas to improve the plot.

Third stage – The editing, part IV

At last, I had the story ready for my editor, the aforementioned Barb Goffman. Does she need an introduction? Not only is Barb a professional developmental, copy, and line editor, but she’s also an award-winning short fiction author. She won so many awards and received so many nominations, I should probably go back to school and learn how to count again. What can I say about what she did with The Delft Blue Mystery? Well, a lot had to be done! So much so, that I’m still amazed that David Dean and Tom Mead were willing to read an early, unedited version. It can’t have been easy for them.

Naturally, I’ve updated my “Edits by Barb Goffman” file for future use.

Josh Pachter

Do you think the manuscript was finished now? Almost. Barb’s edits also impacted the Dutch version. Hans van den Boom and his wife, Erna Teunissen, did a final round of corrections of Het Delfts blauw mysterie, as the novel is titled in Dutch. Some of their corrections necessitated changes to the English version as well.

Thus The Delft Blue Mystery is completed (for now). Much of this was made possible by Josh Pachter. Hence my decision to dedicate the novel to him—to express my gratitude and admiration for what he did. The first copy of the Dutch version was handed to Josh by his wife, Laurie Stahl Pachter, whom I had asked for assistance. The photos she took of the memorable event commemorate this high point in my career. I feel very fortunate to have worked with him and with so many other talented people.

Thank you all!

30 March 2022

Unknowing What You Know

Rebecca K Jones
Rebecca K Jones

In 2020, Rebecca Jones was named the top Arizona felony prosecutor by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council, one of the highest honors in her field. In addition to her work for the state of Arizona, Rebecca also writes compelling crime fiction.

Her debut publication was in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine's "Department of First Stories" in 2009, and her debut novel, Steadying the Ark, was published by Bella Books this spring. She's also got several new short stories coming out — one in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, another in an anthology due from Down and Out Books this November — and she's translated short fiction by Thomas Narcejac from French to English for two anthologies I edited in recent years.

Her writing and her translations are not the reason I know her, though. Actually, I've known her since long before she began to write and translate: I'm her father, and I couldn't possibly be prouder to introduce her to the Sayers of the Sleuth.

— Josh Pachter


Unknowing What You Know

by Rebecca K Jones

If not for NaNoWriMo in 2015, I might have written a different book altogether– or none at all. Although I’d written short stories– including a collaboration with my father, Josh Pachter, which appeared in EQMM in 2009– and wrote a lot of non-fiction for my day job, I’d never had much interest in trying to write a novel. As it happens, my mom told me about National Novel Writing Month a few days after it began on November 1, and on the spur of the moment I decided to jump right in.

Writing a sixty-thousand-word piece of fiction in a month was intended to be an experiment, nothing more. Could I sustain the pace over four weeks while working at a demanding full-time job? Could I produce an interesting product? I had no idea– but this seemed like a challenging way to find out.

At the time, I was a sex-crimes prosecutor at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix, Arizona, and had worked in that position for about three years. Since my workload didn’t leave me with a lot of free time, I figured my best bet was to follow that age-old piece of advice and “write what I knew.”

What I knew, what I lived and breathed all day every day, was sex crimes. I handled all kinds of cases– child molest, adult rape, child pornography, plus a wide range of miscellaneous offenses including voyeurism, public sexual indecency, and whatever else crossed my desk.

That sounds like a grim description, and it was a pretty grim life. I wound up leaving MCAO in 2018 to prosecute complex drug trafficking and racketeering cases for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office– a job I enjoyed for four years before recently switching to appellate work at the same office.

Back in 2015, when I challenged myself to write a novel in a month, I knew I wanted my protagonist to be a young, gay, female sex-crimes prosecutor. As it happened, I had already written a short story featuring just such a character, Mackenzie Wilson (although she hadn’t yet made it to sex crimes when I wrote “Failure to Obey,” which appears in the current issue of Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine). I liked Mack in that first story and decided to graduate her to sex crimes, but that’s where the resemblance between my character and my real life ended. Mack is a great attorney, but she has a number of maladaptive coping strategies that I’m relieved we don’t share. Of course, who knows, she might say the same about me.

It isn’t unprecedented for prosecutors to become novelists. Linda Fairstein and Marcia Clark are two of my favorites, and they both write courtroom thrillers that I find exciting. Marcia Clark also wrote a non-fiction book about her most high-profile case– I don’t need to remind you which case that was, do I?– and she’s certainly not the only prosecutor to have taken that route. There’s even a former Maricopa County Attorney with a true-crime book about a high-profile case. (In that one, defense counsel actually wrote his own true-crime book, about the same case, and wound up consenting to being disbarred for his trouble!)

It can be tricky, though, to write about real cases. Although I’ve tried some crazy cases, none of them has the drama necessary for a compelling read– and writing about cases before their appeals deadline tolls would be ethically questionable at best.

Most prosecutors don’t participate actively in investigations, and a book set entirely behind a prosecutor’s desk– watching most cases end up with plea agreements and few of them actually going to trial– who would want to read that? The day-to-day reality of being a prosecutor– like the day-to-day reality of most jobs (I hope, or is it just mine?)– is that, when you get right down to it … it’s pretty boring.

An additional consideration for me was that I knew there would have to be some bad actors in my story– judges, defense attorneys, even prosecutors and cops who didn’t do the right thing, or weren’t smart, or otherwise weren’t heroes. As a person who works with attorneys, judges, and (until recently) cops all day every day, I didn’t want my real-life colleagues wondering if they were being lampooned or speculating as to the inspirations for my characters. 

So for those reasons– ethics, drama, and my desire to be a nice person– it was crucial that my book be wholly fictional. Although I tried to present the legal process faithfully, I found that I had to take some liberties. The “big case” that Mack deals with, for example, winds up in trial within about six months. In reality, it would take years to get such a case in front of a judge and jury, but where’s the dramatic tension in that?

Steadying the Ark, novel

While juggling all of these considerations, I wrote my sixty thousand words in November 2015, and, by the end of the year, I finished a first draft of the book.

One of the most time-intensive parts of the revision process was ensuring that any accidental similarities between the cases and people in my novel and the cases and people I dealt with in real life were edited into oblivion. Once I was satisfied that I had a draft I could consider “final,” I began to shop the manuscript around to publishers– and it was released as Steadying the Ark in March of this year by Bella Books.

When Bella bought it, they told me they envisioned Mack as a series character. That was, as you can imagine, music to my ears– but it was also terrifying. Now, I realized, I’ve got to invent a whole new set of made-up people? I have to make sure I don’t accidentally write about real cases again?

For as long as I can remember, though, I’ve been a person who loves a challenge, so I am currently hard at work on a new adventure for Mackenzie Wilson. Next up? Homicide cases– which I’ve never handled, so am busy.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have spent ten years doing work I love– work that makes my community a safer and better place. In a way, Steadying the Ark is a love story. It’s not about, but it’s dedicated to the real-life people who face the darkness day in and day out and come out the other side having done work that matters. It is my attempt to show readers how brave and dedicated these individuals are. I hope I’ve been successful!

29 September 2021

I Killed Gummo

I think my first exposure to the Marx Brothers was Groucho's quiz show You Bet Your Life. (In another inversion, I watched Alfred Hitchcock's TV show long before I saw any of his movies.  Growing up in the sixties…)

By the time I graduated college I was a fan of the brothers.  I remember going into New York in 1974 with a gang of friends to see Animal Crackers after it had been re-released after decades in studio-prison. I have seen all the existent Marx Brothers movies, the good ones many times.  (Seriously: has anyone sat through Love Happy more than once?  If so, did they lose a bet?)

Naturally I was delighted when Josh Pachter invited me to write something for Monkey Business: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Films of the Marx Brothers.  (It has just been published this month.)

Since I was the last contributor to join Josh told me there were certain guidelines I had to follow, largely to fill gaps and not duplicate other stories:

  • My story had to be inspired by (and titled) At The Circus.
  • The brothers themselves could not appear.
  • It should preferably be set in the year the film was released or the present day.
  • No jewel heists.
  • Please include a murder.

I hadn't seen At the Circus in decades but even before I viewed it again (and it was better than I remembered) I quickly dreamed up a plan.  You see, I had read Joe Adamson's excellent and funny book Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Sometimes Zeppo.  In it he relates a story Groucho used to tell about the making of that movie. The plot of At The Circus involves a gorilla…

MGM had to hire a man to play a gorilla.   They hired the man, and then they found out he didn't have a gorilla suit.  (They watched him do a gorilla imitation without a gorilla suit.  They weren't convinced.)  They hired a gorilla suit for the man to wear.  The man had an agent who examined the gorilla suit.  Even the gorilla suit had an agent, and he examined the man.  The problem, as Groucho recalls, was that "Mother Nature, with her customary slipshod design, had neglected to equip the gorilla with a window."  After two hours of shooting under bright lamps on one of the warmer days of a Los Angeles summer, the man fainted, right in the middle of his gorilla imitation.  The gorilla imitator's agent said the man had been inside hundreds of gorilla suits before, and he'd NEVER fainted.  The gorilla suit's agent said that hundreds of gorilla imitators had been inside his suit before, and they'd ALWAYS fainted.  [The director] said "Lunch!"

The ape impersonator attempted to solve the problem by puncturing holes in the suit with  an ice pick. This led to the owner marching off with the suit, so that part of the movie features a different man in an orangutan skin.

In my opinion this was a Groucho-invented tall tale, but the fact that he was telling it was all that I needed.

I set the story in 1940 and created a low-rent circus owned by a Marx Brothers fanatic.  Inspired by the recent movie he purchased a gorilla suit.  Alas, the only person who fit in it was Gummo, so-called because he was the least competent of several circus-working brothers.  Suffering from fainting in the hot suit Gummo used the ice pick-perforation trick he had heard about, only to have someone perforate him.

Which gave me a chance to write something very unusual for me: a fair-play murder mystery.

I also had a lot of fun learning and using circus jargon.  For example, the entrance to the circus grounds is the "front door."  The staff's quarters are in the "back yard," which is protected from prying eyes by "sucker netting."  I learned a lot. I hope my research doesn't show!

I look forward to reading the book which includes a killer line-up including SleuthSayers Barb Goffman and Terence Faherty, as well as Donna Andrews, Frankie Y. Bailey, Jeff Cohen, Leslie A. Diehl, Brendan DuBois, Joseph Goodrich,  Sandra Murphy, Josh Pachter, Robert J. Randisi, Marilyn Todd, and Joseph S. Walker.  

03 August 2021

My American Project—How to Write Like an American

Anne van Doorn is a regular reader and back blogger here at SleuthSayers. He's also an author (with a charming way with words) and a friend of mine. I'm pleased to share his guest column with you today. Welcome, Anne. 

                                                                                                            -- Barb Goffman

My American Project—How to Write Like an American

Avid readers of SleuthSayers may have seen my name appear in the comments section here. I came across this blog through Google and instantly liked how professional writers shared their experiences. It's an honest, entertaining, and informative bloga tempting combination. Now I have also been invited to write an article too, which I consider a great honor.

My name is Anne van Doorn. It's one of my two pen names; the other is M.P.O. Books. I'm a professional writer from the Netherlands, where I earn a modest but sufficient income. In my spare time, I work on a book on 600 years of my family's history.

None other than Josh Pachter introduced me to an international readership. He translated from Dutch my story "The Poet Who Locked Himself In." It was published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine's Sept/Oct 2019 issue. I feel very grateful to Josh and the staff at EQMM for giving me this opportunity. Editor Janet Hutchings even gave me the chance to write a guest post for her blog Something is Going to Happen.

In case you're starting to think I'm writing this post to BSP myself—no, I'm here to enlist your assistance, dear SleuthSayers. 

I like a challenge. My introduction to an international audience made me wonder if I would be able to write an American detective novel. I'm sure I can—but to what level of performance? How convincing will it be? Your help is direly needed!

Dutch Writers Crossing Borders

Other writers from the Netherlands have tried this before—writing in English. Maarten Maartens (1858-1915), who lived the last years of his life in my hometown of Doorn, is said to be the first Dutchman to have written a detective novel for adults. It was titled The Black Box Murder (Remington & Co, London, 1889), and he wrote it in English. In fact, the novel has never been translated into Dutch. Maartens, who lived in England from 1864-1870, wrote almost exclusively in English. Regrettably, The Black Box Murder is his only detective novel. 

Other glowing examples are Robert van Gulik (1910-1967), who is famed for his wonderful Judge Dee stories, set in ancient China, and Janwillem van de Wetering (1931-2008), noted for his characters Grijpstra and De Gier, two Amsterdam police detectives. By the way, Josh Pachter translated two short stories by Janwillem van de Wetering for EQMM. One of them, "There Goes Ravelaar!," was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Short Story of 1986 by Mystery Writers of America. 

It was also Josh Pachter who encouraged me to translate my short stories and gave me solid advice. Last year, I took on the challenge of translating "The Doctor Who Fell Into Sin" and submitted it to EQMM. I inked their contract in November. It was all the encouragement I needed. Apparently, my English is good enoughat least in short form.

The American Project

At the moment, my full-length so-called "American Project" is in the preliminary stages. I'm improving my understanding of the language and creating what I call my "palette."

I learned British English in school, so now I need to know how it differs from American English. I've made a list of idioms. I also study from the Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. Furthermore, I've created an extensive list of words I don't use and write down their meanings and synonyms to discover their connotations. This should allow me to use them. I also list police jargon, slang, abbreviations, and terms of abuse. As a Christian, I don't like expletives, so I'm selective in this regard. 

And I'm making my palette. It's a document full of all kinds of expressions for motions and positions. Take for instance the way you move through a room. There are many variations for it. You can walk, run, stroll, tiptoe, lumber, and so on. Some of these words are new to me, so I need to write them down. While writing a novel, I can consult my palette document, choose the best option, adapt it to the situation, and use it. 

And by positions, I mean variations like these:

    "The statuette rested on a shelf."

    "The statuette was displayed on a shelf."

The same applies to non-verbal communicationthe way we express our emotions and thoughts. I'm talking about shrugs, frowns, blushes, looks, and so on. You probably know them all, but I have to write them down to choose the best option for a given situation. And, of course, I also need to know all the ways of speaking: saying, whispering, screaming, stammering, and all other variants. 

Eventually, my palette will be a helpful tool.

Learn by Reading Others

I read a lot of American English. Besides a daily visit to SleuthSayers, I read a short story every day. To cater to my needs, I subscribed to EQMM. Recently, I purchased Black Cat Mystery Magazine #8, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine #13, and Shanks on Crime by Robert Lopresti in ebook format. Crime novels by Lou Manfredo (Rizzo's War), Anthony Boucher (The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars), and Steven Torres (Precinct Puerto Rico) are at the top of my TBR pile. I'm sure all these books will help me in one way or another.

Even then, I'm well aware that I will make mistakes. I'm not a flawless writer. But thank God there are copy editors who can save me from my follies! Dis article, for a sample, was copi-editit by Barb Goffmanaccept vor dis sentins. (Yeah, copy editing is hard labor!) I hope she's willing to help me on my American Project too, but I'm not sure she can, as this brave lady is learning to say no.

Now, my dear SleuthSayers, I turn to you. Over the years, this blog has published countless articles on the use of language, grammar, punctuation, and related topics. You've spotted my gravest mistakes in my comments on your posts. What particular article would you recommend to get me started?

19 April 2021


Our friend Josh Pachter has appeared in these pages before. He won the 2020 Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Golden Derringer Award for Lifetime Achievement. In addition to writing and translating, he edited The Great Filling Station Holdup: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Jimmy Buffett (Down & Out Books), The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell (Untreed Reads), and The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe (Mysterious Press). He co-edited Amsterdam Noir (Akashic Books) and The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (Wildside Press).

You can find Josh at

— Velma
A Note about Remainders
As kids, we sometimes saw comics or paperbacks with the upper half of the covers ripped off. Those were ‘remainders’, a publisher’s overstock. Likewise, bargain book tables at Barnes & Noble and Walmart are likely remainders too, excess copies deeply discounted by publishing houses. In extreme cases, publishers will ‘pulp’ books, grinding them to powder to be recycled into… books.

Remaindrance of Things Past: A Memoir

by Josh Pachter

Chapter 1: The Remainder Bind

In the Olden Days, BigFive Press would agree to publish your book. Their marketing geniuses would do the math and decide on a first printing of X copies. In principle, those copies would all sell, and BigFive would go to a second printing—and then a third, and so on ad infinitum, until you were wealthy enough to buy a little cottage on the Sussex Downs, where you could keep bees and lord it over your serfs.

In practice, though, what was much more likely to happen was that BigFive would wind up with unsold copies of your baby. Those copies took up valuable warehouse space, and if BigFive later needed that space for newer books, they would “remainder” the remaining copies of yours.

That meant that they would sell your leftovers to Wal-Mart or one of the other big-box retailers for pennies on the dollar, and Wal-Mart (or whoever) would dump them into a big bin—the dreaded remainder bin—priced higher than what they paid for them but way lower than the original retail price.

So, for example, let’s say I opened a vein and poured onto the page my magnum opus, Gone Girl With the Wind in the Willows. BigFive would slap a retail price of $20 on it and print five thousand copies. Only three thousand of those copies would sell: two thousand to liberries (remember liberries?) and a thousand to my mother, who would give them away as Christmas presents.

That meant that BigFive would be stuck with two thousand copies of a book they couldn’t sell. Those copies would sit in the warehouse for a while, until BigFive needed the shelf space for the eighth novel James Patterson “wrote” that month. At that point, they’d dump their remaining stock of GGWTWITW onto Wal-Mart for, say fifty cents a copy, and Wal-Mart would mark them up to two bucks apiece and toss them in the bin.

A win-win situation, right? BigFive got rid of some books they didn’t want to continue to warehouse, Wal-Mart cleared a three-hundred-percent profit on every copy they sold, and the customer got a $20 book for a tenth of its retail price.

Wait a second, that’s actually a win-win-win: everybody wins!

Well, almost everybody. The one loser would be me, since instead of earning a royalty of two bucks a copy (ten percent of the retail price), I’d only get a measly five cents a copy (ten percent of BigFive's remainder price)—and then I’d have to give fifteen percent of that to my agent, leaving me four and a quarter cents a copy for a book that ought to have earned me forty times that amount.

So I guess we’d have to call Remainderama a win-win-win-lose situation, with the author the one and only loser.

The Great Filling Station Holdup anthology colourful cover

The Beat of Black Wings anthology cover

Top Science Fiction cover

Top Fantasy cover

Top Horror cover

Top Crime cover
Chapter 2: Remaindeus Unbound

Those Sayers of the Sleuth who know me—or know of me—were perhaps surprised a couple of years ago when, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I suddenly began editing anthologies.

Since 2018, in fact, I've done eight of them for six different publishers with more on the way:

  • The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell (Untreed Reads)
  • Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Billy Joel (Untreed Reads)
  • The Great Filling Station Holdup: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Jimmy Buffett (Down and Out Books)
  • The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (Wildside Press)
  • The Further Misadventures of Ellery Queen (Wildside Press)
  • The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe (Mysterious Press)
  • Amsterdam Noir (Akashic)
  • The Man Who Read Mysteries: The Short Fiction of William Brittain (Crippen & Landru)

My emergence as an anthologist wasn’t exactly “out of the blue,” though. Forty years ago, I was living in Amsterdam, and I edited half a dozen anthologies for a midsized Dutch publisher, Loeb Uitgevers. Loeb marketed four of them—Top Crime, Top Science Fiction, Top Fantasy and Top Horror—internationally at the Frankfort Book Fair, and various combinations of the four titles sold to an assortment of publishers in Europe and the Americas. Heyne Verlag in Germany, for example, did all four books in mass-market paperback editions (TSF in three volumes and TF in two volumes.) Top Crime, Top Science Fiction, and Top Fantasy were published in England by J.M. Dent & Sons in hardcover and paperback, and Top Crime had a US hardcover edition from St. Martin's Press (with one of the worst cover designs I have ever seen in my life, featuring a silhouette of a gun without a trigger — and what did that say about the twenty-five stories in the book?!).

But I digress. A couple of years later, I was living in what was then still West Germany and teaching for the University of Maryland's European Division on American military bases. One day, I got a snail-mail letter from J.M. Dent, notifying me they were about to remainder the last thousand copies of the hardcover edition of Top Science Fiction to W.H. Smith & Sons for something like a quarter apiece—and, as a courtesy to me, they were offering me the opportunity to buy some at that price.

I remember that I was in my kitchen with this letter literally in my hand, trying to decide whether to buy twenty-five copies or fifty to give away as Christmas presents, when my phone rang. On the line was the director of the UMED textbook office: another instructor wanted to use my anthology as the text for a course in the literature of science fiction, but he wasn’t sure where to find copies and wanted to know if I could help.

“As it happens,” I said, “I own all remaining copies of the book, and I'd be happy to sell you as many as you need.”

The caller was hesitant, because (he said) he usually bought texts in enough bulk that the publisher was willing to offer him a discount.”

“How much of a discount,” I asked, “do you usually get?”

Twenty-five percent off the retail price, he said.

“And how many copies do you want to buy?”

A hundred, he told me.

“Well,” I said, “I can give you a twenty-five-percent discount, but I’ll need you to take two hundred copies.”

And I’ll be damned: he agreed!

I hung up and immediately called Dent in London. “I got your letter,” I said, “and I want to buy some copies of Top Science Fiction at the remainder price.”

How many did I want?

“I’ll take all of them.”

There was a long pause at the other end of the line. Finally, the voice asked if I realized how many copies that was.

“Yes, I read the letter,” I said. “I’ll take them all.”

Another pause. Did I realize how much storage space I’d need for a thousand hardcovers?

“Yes,” I said, “I do. I’ll take them all.”

An even longer pause. Did I realize how much the shipping charge for a thousand hardcovers would be?

“If you sell the lot to W.H. Smith,” I said, “you’ll comp them the shipping, so I expect you won’t charge me for it, either.”

And that’s the way we ultimately worked it. I bought a thousand books for two hundred and fifty dollars including shipping, having pre-sold two hundred of them to UMED for something like three thousand dollars plus shipping, making me the only person I’ve ever heard of who actually made money off a remaindered book.

Chapter 3: The Remainders of The Day

There’s a little more to the story.

Over the next couple of years, UMED reordered Top Science Fiction several times … and, each time, I told them the price had gone up. By the time I moved back to the US in 1991, I’d gotten them to buy almost all of my thousand hardcovers—and I’d also picked up the entire remaindered stock of the paperback edition.

I shipped the last of the hardbacks and several hundred of the paperbacks to the US, and I still have some of each in the attic—including one box of paperbacks that’s moved from Germany to New York to Ohio to Maryland to Iowa to Virginia over the last thirty-one years and is still factory sealed.

It’s a pretty cool anthology: twenty-five excellent stories by twenty-five of the greatest science-fiction writers alive in the early 1980s—Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Harry Harrison, Ursula K. LeGuin, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Silverberg, A.E. Van Vogt, Connie Willis, Gene Wolfe, more than a dozen others—each story selected and introduced by its author as their favorite of the stories they’d written up to that point in their careers.

Anybody wanna buy a copy? I make you good price, my friend!

21 February 2021

A Buffett Buffet

Why get stoned when there’s rock? Stone crabs and rock shrimp, of course, boiling in sea water seasoned with Old Bay, served outside a rusted beach shack. Delicious.

Unless you’ve been living under a conch shell, you probably heard Margaritaville has a new criminal element in town. Disreputable word-slingers have been spotted skulking amongst the happy drunks at beachside bars, gathered around a piratey privateer, Josh Pachter. This disreputable lot call themselves anthologists. Book 'em, I say, in fact, it’s already booked: The Great Filling Station Holdup.

The Great Filling Station Holdup anthology colourful cover

Let’s face it. Jimmy Buffett is a damn good lyricist. If he’d migrated from Nashville to Tin Pan Alley, he’d reside among the best of Broadway songwriters.

While Buffett is known for lighthearted, cheerful tunes, scratch many a surface and you’ll reveal more serious strata. Take as example the lyrics of Margaritaville:

But there’s booze in the blender
And soon it will render
That frozen concoction that helps me hang on.

Wasted away again in Margaritaville,
Searching for my lost shaker of salt.
Some people claim that there's a woman to blame,
And I know it's my own damn fault.

A reviewer at opines:

The song is about a man spending an entire season at a beach resort, enjoying carefree Caribbean lifestyle with margarita cocktails. There is some lyric confusion about words ‘Wasted away’ in the chorus of the song.

Whut? Seriously? Are we listening to the same song? You can’t hear the tone of forlorn desperation? Sir, put down the rum and step away from the bar.

While many of Buffett’s songs carry a serious secondary layer, a few like ‘Southern Cross’ will break your heart, and some of his early work is downright dark and dangerous. And I like it. But, when Josh Pachter invited me to sail the Buffett brigantine, I was immensely flattered and simultaneously panicked. What the hell could I possibly come up with? Then parts fell into place.

I find it difficult to write about myself. Talk about my work, okay, fine, but talk about me, not so easy. To deflect scrutiny, I hatched the notion of writing about my SleuthSayers colleagues and their stories appearing in Josh’s latest and greatest anthology. Good excuse. And why not include Pachter’s headlining story as well? Let’s begin.

Spending Money
Beach House on the Moon
John Floyd

John sent me his story first, so we’ll start there. Jimmy’s song, ‘Spending Money’, is a light-hearted, whistling ditty. Part of the chorus subtly hints at skullduggery,

A little spending money, money to burn.
Money that you did not necessarily earn.

John has molded his story into a morality play. Greek playwrights could recognize the plot. Russian authors might embrace such a protagonist.

In John’s story, a hint of a pending train wreck hovers in the air, a force that can’t be stopped. The main character has an issue with honesty, a shortcoming of which a rare friend, a waitress, tries to disabuse him of his wayward ways.

To tell you more would tell you too much. I’ve read many of John’s stories and haven’t encountered one like this. Enjoy it.

Tampico Trauma
Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes
Michael Bracken

I’ve read Michael Bracken over the years, but I hadn’t absorbed what a master of atmosphere he is. From the beginning, you feel like you’ve been dropped into Tamaulipas– no, not a Taco Bell menu item, the Mexican Gulf state. In Michael’s story, you can smell aromatic herbs seasoning the broth, you can hear a touristy guitar.

Buffett’s song is barely 150 words, fewer than twenty lines. In contrast, Michael has fleshed out a complete story, a simmering plot spiced by the kind and compelling Hernández hermanas. I can’t help but wonder if he didn’t borrow a refrain from another song:

First you learn the native custom,
Soon a word of Spanish or two.
You know that you cannot trust them,
Cause they know they can’t trust you.

Trust me, Bracken has smuggled a lot in a small packet.

The Great Filling Station Holdup
A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean
Josh Pachter

Josh Pachter shuttles us through the dimensions of space, time, and sound, back to a Jimmy country song. Both artists convey an old-fashioned tone, a feeling when informal policing could accomplish more than modern day school resource officers and zero-tolerance policies.

We got fifteen dollars and a can of STP,
A big ole jar of cashew nuts and a Japanese TV.
Feelin’ we’dd pulled the biggest heist of our career.
We're wanted men– we’ll strike again!
But first let’s have a beer.

Josh delivers a surprisingly gentle story. He pays considerable attention to characterization, so by the time the story wraps, you’re glad to witness a happy ending.

And for enquiring minds who want to know, he’s a damn fine editor. He’s also donating a third of the royalties to two Buffett charities, Singing for Change Charitable Foundation and Save the Manatee Club,

Truckstop Salvation
Down to Earth
Leigh Lundin

After Josh’s invitation, I sweated, coming up with zero ideas. As the acceptance deadline approached, I feared having to decline.

One evening, my scalpel-tongued brother Glen mentioned one of his ironic descriptors– dirty, furrin’ lovin’, commie, pinko, hippie, peace queers (considerably cleaned up for our refined audience). I tossed out, “Long-haired, greasy-looking ape,” and immediately wondered where that came from.

Googling found it in a song on Jimmy Buffett’s first album, Down to Earth. The lyrics of ‘Truckstop Salvation’ hinted at an off-camera not-so-pleasant ending.

A silly ditty floated in my brain to the tune of ‘Harper Valley PTA’ (written here in awkward pentameter):

I want to tell you about a valley in Eastern Tennessee.
Good folks and bad struggle in a place called Suwannachee.
No McDonalds, no mall, no factory, no future, no pay,
Then along comes a notice from the local valley TVA.

Those in Washington know you love your rustic neighborhood,
But Congress tells you to give it up for the greater good.
Though eminent domain puts your family in a jam,
Those vacate orders on your doors mean they don’t give a dam.

Once my brain juxtaposed my brother with his Tom Petty hair and live-by-his-own-rules attitude, a Southern gothic began to sketch itself in dark, dark tones. What if Edgar Allan Poe engaged in a forbidden romance with Bobbie Gentry? You know, Deliverance without all the fun and frolic?

Those rock shrimp and stone crabs are rolling to a boil. Beer tub in the sand, nutcrackers at the ready. Pick up the hammer and tongs, have at them.

Florida’s Broward College is sponsoring the launch party. It’s virtual. It’s Zoom. It’s free. It’s 11 March, 2021 at 07:30p. Sign up here!

And yeah, the Jimmy Buffett anthology has lots of damn good stories. Don’t be a crusty crustacean, pre-order at a discount. Do it quickly– it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.