Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts

16 June 2024

Darkling at Dawn

I was adopted.

No, I don’t mean I was abandoned or orphaned, although strictly speaking, most of us are as parents pass on.

Melayna plays the horns
Melayna as Valkyrie

My adoption happened a mere 3-4 years ago. At the time, not only was I supposedly, theoretically adult (adulterated?), but so was Layna. Words like putative, ostensible, and purported might be useful here when talking about grown-uptitude.

Before we met, Melayna told her mother not to expect her to like me, but soon my charm, my wit, and my bountiful modesty won her over.

Frankly, she won my respect and admiration. I’ve mentioned elsewhere she saved a man’s life one stormy night at no small risk to herself.

Convenience Store

While she was pursuing her medical education, she briefly worked the night shift at 7-Eleven north of Orlando’s main airport near the East-West Expressway. I worried about her safety and picked her up one night.

She puzzled me by spending a few minutes buying a hot sandwich, a cold juice, chips, a candy bar, and an apple. I knew her mother had dinner awaiting her at home, but I said nothing.

As I headed toward my car, she swerved toward the dumpsters. There she handed the food she’d bought to a homeless man, a derelict who thanked her by name. He was a man others mistreated, but not Layna. I thanked him for keeping an eye on her.

Melayna as biker chick

Grocery Store

So here’s a girl, my polar opposite in many ways, an Illustrated Woman whose fifty-some tattoos could have inspired another two Ray Bradbury novels. This photo from an earlier article shows one side, but she’s one ruff-tuff creme puff.

When she grocery shops, she enquires what I might need. She’s even careful about date stamps on milk.

On forms that ask for emergency contacts, I list her as number one. If hospitals want to pull the plug, Hell will freeze before she allows that to happen. As Erma Bombeck noted, as we age, the child becomes the parent and the parent the child.

My friend Steve is the same way. His ancient, creaking, blind and deaf dog was like a pet out of a Vincent Price reanimated movie. The line between living and taxidermied became thinner than a microtome slice.

Daddy Tissues

I’m not sure when Melayna began calling me Dad… Daddy. The first time, I wasn’t certain I heard right, but I was flattered.

Lil Darkling baby vampire tattoo design

I skipped the Terrible Twos and dodged the Know-It-All Nines. I didn’t suffer through those fractious teenage years. I missed all that floor-pacing at 2am wondering where my child was. Arguably I’ve unduly benefited.

Or course when I say we’re opposites, it’s only superficially true. I admire her kindness and consideration. She loves animals. Like my brother, she knows music well beyond her decades.

We share the same twisted sense of humor. Many times, one of us will remark sotto voce. Nobody else gets it, but I catch her eye in the rearview mirror, a quiet joke shared. Her mother thinks we should DNA test to be sure we’re not related.

For her birthday, I tentatively created a tattoo for her. Her mother opposed tats and had made her promise not to increase her art count until mama was long gone. So I showed her mom what I’d created and braced for the firestorm. The conversation went,

Never, ever! Over my dead body will I allow… Oh, my God, it’s so cute. It’s her! She’ll love it. Yes, okay this once, yes.”

I assigned the Lil Darkling baby vampire copyright to Melayna to share or not as she wishes.

Follow the Bouncing Balls

Josh, Katrina, Ezra infant trying to talk cartoon

Melayna came with a couple of hatchlings of her own. Her XY offspring recently adopted an infant. I sketched a cartoon for the happy couple. Before giving it to them, I asked others to critique and comment in an effort to nail the humor. To my dismay, no one got the joke. I began to consider adding a caption, when someone sent a draft to the parents… and they got it immediately. They’re the ones who counted. Yay, win!

And me, I’ve leapt from zero kids to a multi-generational great-grand-something. And that’s great-great.

Just in case you have a life outside of texting on your phone, many message apps, sensing the person on the other end is preparing a message, display an indicator of three dots rotating on the screen. For this article, I animated the dots, an advantage my poor test subjects didn’t have.

02 June 2024

My First Story

First story I recall telling happened in 1st Grade. I didn’t plan a tall tale, nor did I intend to entertain anyone, only myself. As mentioned back on Criminal Brief, our teacher, Miss Ruth, who’d been in place since the War of 1812, taught the dangers of gossip and rumors in a Game of Telephone, aka Telegraph aka Game of Whispers.

She paraded us down to the gymnasium, where we took off our shoes. Lining us up alphabetically in a row, she seated us on the floor. Then she explained the plan: Teacher would whisper a short story to Sara Arnett, who would in turn would whisper to Roger Batton beside her, and so on across the row, passing through me, dead center in the middle. Mike Young, seated last, would hear the final iteration. Finally, Sara and he would stand and deliver what they heard, Versions 1,0 and 1.32, so to speak, thus we could grasp how inaccurate rumors were.

bunny and duck

The story took a few minutes to reach me, a tale about a wee bonnie bunny on a bicycle. At that moment, lightning struck and Igor babbled in my ear.

I’ve always been a mad scientist. It dawned on me I could run a double experiment. I related a story to Walter Meyers about an ice-skating ducky with an umbrella. Snap. Story Version 2.1 moved on and on.

Then I panicked. What if the teacher did a trace-back? Had I just sinned, lied in some way? Surely worse than lying, what if they kicked me out of school? Forever? What if no one hired me, would I live on the streets while my classmates ran farms and worked at big name companies?

Then Sara and Mike stood. She repeated Story 1.0, after which Michael rattled off Story version 2.16. Poor Miss Ruth looked dumbfounded. With a slightly stunned expression, she mumbled, “I’ve never had this happen before.” Probably wishing she retired half-a-century earlier, she muttered, “Let’s… Let’s go upstairs.”

Without realizing it, I’d just told my first story.

19 May 2024

The Flaw of the Draw

gunslinger in the street

In a follow-up to the previous article about Western movies, what does Niels Bohr have in common with Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood?

Western quickdraw gunfights.

To be sure, few human endeavors (okay, male endeavors) are more idiotic than gunfights. I can’t imagine the genius who said, “Okay, boys, arm wrestling is fun and all, but we need more excitement. You and you, set down your beer, go out in the street, and shoot one another.” Then everyone (okay, males) cheered and chortled and ordered a further round of drinks before staggering out in the dusty avenue to burps and bangs, sparks and splatter.

Eventually Mother Nature winnowed the pool of foolish candidates. No doubt a few wives told husbands, “Your choice, Henry: At high noon, you can meet Pete in the street or join me at the train station where I’ll board the 12:05 back to my mother in Ohio.”

Later at the Short Branch Saloon:

“Henry, you yellow jelly-bellied, lily-livered, mutt-butt, rotted snivel-snotted, slimy slug of a coward, what do you mean you ain’t gonna gunfight me?”
“Uh, my wife gave me an ultimatum: show or go.”
“Did she? Listen, Henry, don’t tell no one, but Alma tole me same thing. She said I shoot you, she shoot me where I will live to regret it.”
“Did you mean what you said about jelly-belly?”
“Nah, that was whiskey talking. But the part about your mutt-butt, how does your wife tolerate that ugly saddle sore ass of yours?”
“Good to laugh, Pete. What say we get a drink, maybe invite our ladies like we used to?”
gunslinger in the street

Reactive Advantage

Niels Bohr, Nobel prizewinning physicist, and contemporary and colleague of Albert Einstein, studied quickdraw gunfights. He wanted to know why the man who shot first died… at least in the movies. Bohr hypothesized initiating action takes more time than to react to the same movement.

Researchers call this reactive advantage. If you’ve ever seen a viper versus a cat, rabbit, or mongoose, the serpent rarely wins. The little furry animals are generally far faster than snake strikes.

A few years ago, neuroscientist Andrew Welchman of the University of Birmingham studied Bohr’s experiments. He worked out a simpler experiment and concluded Bohr was on the right track. Although Bohr won every faux gunfight (with toy pistols), there’s a little matter that it takes the brain about ten times longer to launch the reaction than the actual execution.

The Quick and the Dead

As mentioned last time, I very much like the second film of the Eastwood man-with-no-name trilogy, For a Few Dollars More. I felt it portrayed a flaw in the gunfight premise. In the movie, Lee Van Cleef and the bad guy wait for a musical watch chime to run down, after which the shootout begins. I wondered why wait? As the watch plays, why not draw, go bang, and apologize later. “Oops, I thought the music was done. My bad.”

I mean seriously? The bad guy is about to kill you. Why leave anything to chance?

At the risk of affronting my betters, I suggest two problems with Welchman’s and Bohr’s supposition.

  1. Perhaps it made little difference, but in their experiments, no one’s life was on line. After their laboratory rundowns, they shook hands and went home for the night. They couldn’t feel the pressure of life or death. Also, many real-life shootouts were alcohol fueled, which could factor in.

  2. Returning to For a Few Dollars More, in the beginning, a bad guy flees bounty hunter Van Cleef. He hops on a horse and gallops down the street.

    Van Cleef unhurriedly strolls to his horse and unrolls a small arsenal. He selects a revolver with a long barrel, takes careful aim, and judiciously pulls the trigger.

    Bad guy falls from his horse, but Van Cleef again takes his time, sights the baddie, and bang, he’s down for good. The scene represents a lesson learned from duels: Take your time. A duelist who shoots rapidly may compromise aim. One who takes his time can aim carefully while the other remains frozen.

gunslinger in the street

Wyatt Earp agreed. He wrote, “The most important lesson I learned was the winner of gunplay usually was the one who took his time.”

The were admirable exceptions in the dark world of duelling. Occasionally a duelist would deliberately fire into the ground, leaving his opponent the moral dilemma of wreaking death or mercy. A wise choice, especially when combatants were former friends.

After the Show

In the early 1900s, gunmen (and Annie Oakley) who survived found themselves in Wild West Shows where they showed off their skills along with trick riders and rambunctious stage coach robberies, à la, WestWorld. As mentioned previously, my father as a child became acquainted with the last of the fancy shooters. They could literally shoot coins tossed in the air.

Several years ago at a fair, I watched a quick-draw artist do his thing. He extend his right leg well forward so that his thigh was pointed toward and about even with his target. His draw and reholstering was so fast, it was barely a blur. The suspicious part of my mind wondered if it was a magic trick, one where he pretended to draw and reholster, while a bang sounded and a hole popped in the target.

On the other hand, a woman at the back of the tent sold VCR tapes. They could be slowed and studied frame-by-frame, which argued against trickery, a damn fast 20ms. What do you think?

05 May 2024

How the West has Worn

What defines a Western? Many argue it’s an American phenomenon although European filmmakers have left a sizable stamp. It’s more than six-guns and shootouts and Mama, fetch the rifle.

To me, their morality plays with clearly delineated rôles, good and evil, male and female, peace and violence. Good triumphs over wickedness and although we vicariously enjoy violence in pursuit of justice, peace eventually reigns. All becomes right with the world.

List of Lists

I was thumbing through my feed when it decided I needed more exposure to Westerns. The internet is loaded with articles about the 10 Best Westerns and the 20 Best Western Actors. More than most genres,  opinions differ wildly but not violently. An actor at the top of one list doesn’t appear on other lists at all. I was surprised one film list opened with WestWorld and The Three Amigos comedy on the list. Are those even Westerns?

So be it. When we were children, lists in no special order might include:

 1. Roy Rogers11. Richard Boone
 2. Gene Autry12. Jimmy Stewart
 3. Clayton Moore13. Michael Landon
 4. Jay Silverheels14. Dan Blocker
 5. Duncan Renaldo15. Hugh O’Brian
 6. James Arness16. Gene Barry
 7. James Garner17. Josh Randall
 8. Steve McQueen18. William Boyd
 9. Chuck Connors19. Lash La Rue
10. Clint Walker20. … and many more

Haboob has watched more Westerns than Sergio Leone’s film editor. Some of her favorites are obscure, some she’s watched many times. Her popularity list runs thus:

 1. John Wayne 4. Sam Elliot
 2. Walter Brennan 5. Barbara Stanwick
 3. Yul Brynner 6. Maureen O’Hara

Frankly, I’m not sure Haboob could be trusted in a room alone with Sam Elliot. Similarly, Sharon’s list goes like this:

 1. Kevin Costner 4. no one worth mentioning
 2. Kevin Costner 5.  
 3. Kevin Costner 6.  

To me, the mark of a good film is what we remember five or ten years after viewing it. Some blockbusters (i.e, The French Connection) have left few memory traces, but other less popular movies had scenes that stuck. My own list isn’t as well considered, but I’d hazard my favorite actors include:

 1. Clint Eastwood 5. John Wayne
 2. Lee Van Cleef 6. Charles Bronson
 3. Henry Fonda 7. Jack Elam
 4. Yul Brynner 8. umm…

Jack Elam had a wandering eye. No, not that kind, although he was once called the most loathsome man in Hollywood. Sadly, two of my favorites have been called Mr. Loathsome and Mr. Ugly. Elam injured his eye as a child and it became a kind of trademark, terrifying children with his bad guy portrayals in B-movie after movie Westerns. He appears so often, that he earned a kind of audience affection and went on to become a leading man and even starred in comedies.

I put Fonda on my list not because of his heroic rôles, but when he played a bad guy with chilling ice-cold blue eyes. Fans could easily believe the presence of evil. His interaction with Charles Bronson is memorable.

Since I was a kid, Lee Van Cleef fascinated me. When spaghetti Westerns emerged, Ol’ Squinty Eyes came into his own. He seconded Eastwood in a couple of man-with-no-name Westerns and starred in his own, once matched against a knife-thrower and a psychotic German bounty hunter. He also starred in a near-Western as a ferry operator facing off against an army.

My favorite of the man-with-no-name series was the middle one, A Few Dollars More. Many will challenge that, although I think John mentioned he agreed. The most humane of the films, it combines an intriguing plot with a poignant relationship between bounty hunters Van Cleef and Eastwood. We can see Eastwood doesn’t mind poking fun at himself and we discover Van Cleef is a better nimrod than Eastwood himself.

Train Spotters

I’ll end with a clip not of Van Cleef, but of Eastwood chatting up an old man in his shack by the railroad. The scene is unusual in that you simultaneously know and don’t know what’s coming, laughing when you least expect it.

  To Kill a Dead Man @ Portishead


In modern slang, nimrod means fool, but in traditional use dating back to Biblical times, nimrod refers to a good hunter, a good shot with gun or bow.

21 April 2024

The Tintinnitus of the Bells, Bells, Bells

My parents used to rebuke us: “Enunciate!”

Humph. I didn’t think I spoke badly, but they would’ve instructed the nation with resolutely precise enunciation if they’d had their own Discord and YouTube channels.

A couple of decades later found me in France at a colleague’s dinner table talking about the weather. I mention the harsh winter in Minnesota and my French friend stopped me.

letter T

“The harsh what?” he asked.

“Harsh winter,” I said. At his request, repeated it yet again.

He said, “I don’t understand.”

“Spring, summer, autumn, winter.”

He looked puzzled. “I thought winter had a T in it.”

He was right. I wasn’t pronouncing the T. Same with ‘plenty’. Likewise, I pronounced only the first T in ‘twenty’'. Some words with an ’nt’ combination – but not all– lost their ’T’s coming out of my mouth.

Banter and canter, linty and minty seem fine, but I swallow the T in ‘painter’. Returning after a year overseas and more conscious of enunciation, I sounded like a foreigner. “I just love German accents,” said my bank teller, cooing and fluttering her eyelashes.

Language in Flux

By age 8 or so, I’d become adept at soldering and still use the skill for repairs, projects, and mad scientist experiments. Pitifully, it took me decades to realize I didn’t know how to pronounce it.

I’m not sure if it’s a Midwestern thing or an American attribute, but I leave out the bloody letter L. Most people I know pronounce that compound of tin, lead, and silver as “sodder.”

I don’t do that with other LD combinations like bolder, colder, and folder. Even with practice, solder with an L does not trip readily off my tongue.

letter L

The Apple electronic dictionary that comes with Macs shows North American pronunciation as [ ˈsädər ]. Interesting… no L. Then I switched tabs to the British English dictionary where I learned it’s pronounced [ ˈsɒldə, ˈsəʊldə ]. Okay, there’s an L. But hello… What’s this? What happened to the R? Whoa-ho-ho.

Speaking of L&R, when was the R in ‘colonel’ granted leave? Kernel I understand; colonel, not so much. What about British ‘lieutenant’? The OED blames the French, claiming ‘lievtenant’ evolved to ‘lieutenant’ but pronounced ‘lieftenant’.

Finally, what happened to the L in could, would, and should? They seem to have broken the mould. The Oxford lords giveth and they taketh away.

Sounds of Silence

I know precisely why another word gave me difficulty. I tended to add a syllable to the word ‘tinnitus’, which came out ‘tintinnitus’. I’ve puzzled an otolaryngologist or two, because I conflated tinnitus with tintinnabulation.

(Otolaryngologist? Speak of words difficult to pronounce!)

Which brings us to a trivia question all our readers should know: How does ‘tintinnabulation’ connect with the world of mystery?

Rhymes Not with Venatio

Before Trevor Noah became a US political humorist, his career began as a South African standup comic. On one of his DVDs, he altered words to sound snooty and high class, such as ‘patio’ rhymed with ‘ratio’.

Junior high, Bubbles Mclaughlin: nineteen months and three days older than me. Like Trevor, this ‘older woman’ had no idea how to pronounce another word ending in ‘atio’. For years, neither did I, but she could have rhymed it with ‘aardvark’ and I wouldn’t have minded.

letter C

C Creatures

I’ve been listening to ebooks recently. Almost all text-to-speech apps claim to use buzzwordy AI, but most don’t, not when ‘epitome’ sounds like ‘git home’. Similarly, ‘façade’ does not rhyme with ‘arcade’.

When making the Prohibition Peepers video, I altered spelling of a few words to get the sound I needed, such as ‘lyve’ instead of ‘live’. What a pane in the AIss.

I wondered if ebook programs would pronounce façade correctly if their closed captions were correctly spelled with C-cédille, that letter C with the comma-looking tail that indicates a soft C. If you stretch your imagination, you can kinda, sorta imagine a cedilla (or cédille) looking a little like a distorted S. (For Apple users employing text-to-speech, a Mac pronounces it correctly either way.)

Our local Publix grocery (when their founder’s granddaughter and heiress isn’t funding riots) spells the South American palm berry drink as ‘acai’, which meant both employees and I sounded it with a K. If they’d spelled ‘açai’ with the C-cédille, I would have learned the word much sooner.

I could say ‘anemone’ before I knew how to spell it. The names of this flower and sea creature are spoken like ‘uh-NEM-uh-nee’, which rhymes with ‘enemy’.


Permit me to introduce you to Rachel and Rachel’s English YouTube channel. She kindly explains we often learn words through reading and don’t learn their sound until much later. I was shocked that three of the words she led with have given me trouble including one I hadn’t realized I was currently mispronouncing– echelon. I was saying it as CH (as in China) instead of SH (as in Chicago).

Those other two words: In grade school, I became confused how to say mischievous and triathlon, requiring more careful attention.

Rachel also discusses how modern usage omits syllables. I say ‘modern’ because my teachers would have rounded smartly on us had we dared abbreviate, so I tend to fully sound out several of her examples. One she doesn’t mention is ‘secretary’, at times said as ’SEK-ruh-tree’.

When is a T not a T?

The phrase ‘can not’ has been shortened and shortened again over time:

    • can not
    • cannot
    • can’t
    • can’

What? Rachel enters extreme territory beyond my ken, explaining the ’stop-T’. Listen to what she has to say about it. That’s all for now!

  © SleuthSayers


Answer to trivia question: Edgar Allan Poe famously used the obscure but wonderful word ‘tintinnabulation’ in his poem, ‘The Bells’.

06 April 2024

The Mystery of the Firebear

Firebear as seen by Indians and pioneer boy

This real-life mystery sounds like the title of a Nancy Drew / Hardy Boys novel, doesn’t it? But stay tuned.

First Nations near Flat Rock, Indiana first told of the Firebear living in nearby caves. At night, the Firebear roamed forests and fields, burning brightly at night. Seen by generation after generation of Native Americans, the creature was deemed immortal.

In pioneer times when homesteaders settled Flat Rock, they learned of the legend. Not only did they hear of the myth from local Indians, they saw the Firebear for themselves, coming out at night, flaming in the dark.

So, if I told you the Firebear was actual, factual, what explanation might you give? Historical records indicate it was real. Take a moment to ponder before we solve the mystery.

Major Works

My recent story, Dime Detective, was influenced by Booth Tarkington’s Penrod stories. Tarkington was among a number of Indiana authors wildly popular in their time, but, despite films, stage plays, and now audiobooks, are virtually forgotten by subsequent generations.

Firebear at the mouth of his cave

Along similar lines, Indianapolis attorney Charles Major took to writing, and success eventually allowed him to give up lawyering. His intensively researched historical romances became immediately popular, beginning with When Knighthood was in Flower in 1898. Three years later as Knighthood was finally giving up its bestselling status, a new children’s novel set in soon-to-be Shelby County, Indiana, The Bears of Blue River, made a hit with youngsters and adults alike. Today, the town square of Shelbyville features a sculpture of a boy with bears.

Major was certainly aware of the Firebear legend. So how would you explain the mystery of the Firebear?

See solution below the break.    ⤵︎

31 March 2024

Nursery Crimes and Grim Fairie Tales

Jack Spratt fleeing from his wife bearing a bottle of poison

Last week, we brought you the surprise discovery of Zelphpubb Blish’s L’Histoire Romantique et les Aventures Malheureuses de Jacques Horner Hubbard Ripper Beanstalker Candlesticken Spratt, also titled Grim Faerie Tayles, a crime story believed lost to the ages.

Thanks to an arrangement with the British Museum non-Egyptian archives at the University of Brisbane in Glasgow, we are pleased to bring you this legendary poem, a work considered to rival William McGonagall’s Scottish translation of Poetic Edda.

The Curiously Murderously Nursery Mysteriosity Atrocity

A Grim Faerie Tale by Zelphpubb Blish (1419-1456)

woodcut scene: Jack and bad wife Jill Jack Spratt of nursery rhyme fact:
    With merry men his wife was seen.
He had no clue Jill wasn’t true,
    How could she be so mean?
“Render him dead,” her lover said.
    Why did they act so cruel?
With nightshade fruit and mandrake root,
    She played Jack for a fool.
woodcut scene: Jill and her lover plot
woodcut scene: Jill stews and brews Under low heat she sautéed meat,
    Badger brains and ferret feet.
She hated waste and tried a taste,
    And found it savory sweet.
She stirred in newt and poisoned fruit.
    The odor made her faint.
She added mouse found round the house,
    And now the mouse– it ain’t.
woodcut scene: Jill stews and brews
woodcut scene: Jill and lover plotting She shirred a dish of poison fish,
    She dosed it sight unseen.
She sniffed it twice, she added spice,
    But still Jack stayed the scene.
She stirred the vat. She sprinkled gnat,
    Sliced in a long dead rat.
That killed a bat, it killed her cat,
    Yet Jack remained intact.
woodcut scene: Jill brews poisoned stew
woodcut scene: Jack comprehends the peril Soon Jack fell ill, he sensed ill will,
    Finally dawned a notion.
How à propos, he had to know
    About her deadly potion.
Jack felt quite old, flushed hot and cold,
    Consumed by prickly fever.
With some alarm, he grasped the harm,
    When she snatched up a cleaver.
woodcut scene: Jack comprehends the peril
woodcut scene: Jack flees. Fearing his wife, he ran for life.
    Jill appeared ready to kill.
Rather than dead, poor Jackie fled
    And tottered up the hill.
Heart a’flicker, he felt sicker.
    He'd drunk a dram of liquor.
He glanced aghast. She ran so fast.
    She hastened much, much quicker.
woodcut scene: Jill overtakes an ailing Jack
woodcut scene: Jill kills Jack Cresting the hill. Jack took a spill.
    Cobblestones made him stumble.
The resulting wreck fractured his neck,
    Jill’s push caused him to tumble.
Twas no avail, Jack kicked the pail,
    Shuffled off this mortal coil,
Gave up the ghost, demised utmost
    Because she’d been disloyal.
woodcut scene: Jack dies
woodcut scene: authorities investigate Jill Though she’d contrived, coppers arrived.
    They inspected how Jack died.
The sergeant said, “We’ve got one dead.”
    He wrote murder, homicide.
Plods sniffed the vat. They smelled a rat.
    They seized Jill’s deadly bucket.
They eyed the stew, the deadly brew.
    Twas then Jill muttered, “chuck it.”
woodcut scene: authorities investigate Jill
Grim Fairie Tales book cover • This was thought to be the end of the epic poem until the team's archivist, Rob Lopresti, discovered their Teutonic landlady making shelf liners and patching broken plaster with 600-year-old folios. Much of Zelphpubb Blish’s work has been lost behind mouse-run laths of the German inn, but the team found a scrap deemed to be the true ending of the poem:
With pen in hand, Sergeant LeGrand
    Jotted her infamous last words.
“I lost my nerve and forgot to serve
    Four and twenty sickly blackbirds.”
woodcut scene: Jack and bad wife Jill.
woodcut scene: A defiant Jill pretends to pray before the noose. Under arrest, Jack’s wife confessed
    In the church’s saintly hallows.
Disdaining hood, froward she stood,
    Defiantly faced the gallows.
She lost her head, poor Jill lay dead
    Over a man, the village said.
Committing vice, she paid the price
    When she took a lover to bed.
woodcut scene: Jill is laid to rest in her coffin.

— end —

Happy Easter and April Fool’s Eve.

Spratt was known to ingest no polyunsaturated fat substitutes rendering poisoning difficult.

Last year, we shared a nursery rhyme about a greedy sister by Australian poet David Lewis Paget.

authorities investigating death of Jack Spratt

24 March 2024

Bonfires of the Vanity Press

Gutenberg/Vanity Press Strasbourg
Three convenient locations • Strasbourg

Last October prior to publication of Murder, Neat, a SleuthSayers research team investigated a gasthaus tavern in Mainz, Deutschland. In the beautifully appointed lounge of their ancient hotel, they uncovered a remarkable revelation.

Like many discoveries, theirs was a happy accident. The team’s philologist, having imbibed 2.75ℓ of Köstritzer-WeihenstePaulaner-Bräu Hefe Edelweißbier double bock (7.9% on the Richter scale), slid under the table out of sight, where he spent the night, his snores disturbing remaining patrons.

When he awoke, he cracked his aching head on an antique étagère, popping loose a secret panel. The proprietress scolded him for potentially damaging a six-hundred-year-old antique, but quieted as academics explored contents of the hidden cache.

Scholars found a folio, a quire of fragile paper with crisp lettering and woodcuts. They gasped at the name and date– the legendary Baron Zelphpubb Blish and a notation believed to predate Gutenberg’s Bible. Literary academics were surprised to discover pages contained forerunners of nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

Gutenberg/Vanity Press Heidelberg
Three convenient locations • Heidelberg

Revised History of the Press

Thanks to this historically significant discovery in Germany, we now know on Thursday, 31st March 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press, which started the printing revolution. The following Friday, 1st of April 1440, Baron Zelphpubb Blish invented the vanity press, which started a printing counterrevolution.

Blish, a close friend of famed Scottish poet William McGonagall, breached the fortress of the professional publishing cabal and berated the fledgling printing industry. He cited a scribe conspiracy by the ‘trad press’ to prevent the best ‘Indy authors’ – especially him – filling bookstore shelves.

He set numerous precedents such as decrying Georgia selection fraud by Tbilisi monks, deriding competition committees for not recognizing excellent writing, and deeming ‘legacy’ editors an unnecessary affliction upon up-and-coming literary talent.

Three convenient locations • Mainz

Blish is noted for many contributions to the art and craft of self-publishing. History credits him for innovative spelling in Tayles of Derring-Doo, random punctuation and the Oxnard comma, still in use today. He is thought to be the first to embed emoticons in essays and biographies.

Blish is revered for outstanding modernizations such as combining 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person in simultaneous past and future perfect present tense. His rich, trend-setting covers included all six primary colours [ CMYRGBK ] and his famous semi-autobiographical volume Picaresque Çelfpubbè still holds the record for an astonishing fifty-four fonts on its crowded vellum jacket.


Next week, we bring you Blish’s epic poem, L’Histoire Romantique et les Aventures Malheureuses de Jacques Horner Hubbard Ripper Beanstalker Candlesticken Spratt, otherwise known as Grim Fairie Tales. See you then.

03 March 2024

Music, Neat

Many SleuthSayers enjoy a music background. I’ve long known Rob’s interest in folk music dating back to the classic electric zitherphone. Our Fran Rizer, no longer with us, was an avid bluegrass fan and picker. Liz Zelvin released an album. And I gathered Brian Thornton and Steve Liskow stay active in the music scene. Turns out Eve Fisher and Chris Knopf keep up as well. And then I learned Stephen Ross pretty much operates a home recording studio.

“Stephen, Lady Ga-Ga on line 2.”

After intense cogitation, I mapped out a trailer for our first anthology based on Deborah Elliott-Upton’s book cover. I loaded up tavern sound effects– laughter, tinkling glasses, breakage, yelps and more laughter. I snagged karaoke tracks featuring Chris Stapleton, George Thorogood, and a little bit drunk Lady Antebellum. But as much as I like ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ (the song at least, thank you, Melayna), the cuts didn’t quite match the mood of the book. But I knew who could.

I put out a call and a half dozen SleuthSayers responded gleefully when I proposed a nearly impossible task– coming up with a bar song amid a time crunch. Using groundwork laid by Lopresti and Liskow, the team figured out how to pull off a global effort. Thank you, everyone. Here is the song, composed and sung by Rob Lopresti, instrumentals by Stephen Ross.

Murder, Neat

sung by Rob Lopresti, keyboards and percussion by Stephen Ross

Following are Rob's clever lyrics. No alcohols were unduly harmed in the making of this song.

Murder, Neat

lyrics and melody by Rob Lopresti

Come in the tavern and kindly ignore
The ax in the bar stool, the blood on the floor
You’re in no danger. Here death has no sting
For this is crime fiction and not the real thing.

There’s bourbon for burglars, and robbers get rye
Cocktail or blackmail? One vodka per spy.
Here partners may swindle and spouses might cheat
When SleuthSayers serve you up Murder, Neat.

The cops drop a beer in their favorite saloon
Where hardboiled detectives start drinking by noon
Amateur sleuths take red herrings and Scotch
While pickpockets covet your wallet and watch.

Femme fatales ask as they sip the champagne
Does gunpowder leave an indelible stain?
A dive bar is waiting down any mean street
Where SleuthSayers serve you up Murder, Neat.

Murder, Neat. Murder, Neat
That’s the name of the book
Where convict and constable, conman and crook
Will pour you a ninety proof story of crime
To make you turn pages way past closing time.

In the back room there are gangsters today
Planning a caper to steal cabernet.
If you aren’t driving the getaway car
They’ve got pinot grigio and plenty of noir.

The mastermind villain advances the plot
And chuckles that arsenic sure hits the spot.
Each cozy village has pubs so discreet
Where SleuthSayers serve you up Murder, Neat.

Murder, Neat. Murder, Neat
That’s the book you should choose
If you like your clues well-infused with some booze
You can buy it online or in bookstores downtown
But don’t steal a copy or we’ll track you down
When SleuthSayers serve you up Murder, Neat.

18 February 2024

Razing the Bar

Imagine if you will a lonely pub, a neighborhood taproom caught between urban blight and city renewal, the setting for my story in the first SleuthSayers anthology, Murder, Neat. Its owner Barney and his loyal friend and assistant Grace serve those who wander in. One taciturn customer takes a table by himself. He rarely speaks and never removes his baseball cap.

As Barney locks up, baseball man thrusts a revolver in Barney’s throat. He demands Barney serve up Glenfiddich, an under-the-counter scotch far outside the affordable range of local patrons. Sipping his drink, the man commences a pattern of checking the time with his cell phone.

As menacing clues accumulate, Barney grows alarmed. He realizes robbery isn’t on the stranger’s agenda but his life is. Our bartender has minutes to figure out who the stranger is and why he wants him dead.

Plot Points

This is one of my shorter stories, weighing less than 2000 words. Almost a one-act play, it’s a quick read. The idea for it came quickly, too.

I’d been working on another story, one that hasn’t yet sold. In a flash of inspiration, I realized its crucial plot point could be applied to this new project in an almost unrecognizable way.

The original tale features a broken hi-tech genius in a gradually evolving twist. Now in a faster paced narrative, this new story in Murder, Neat centers around a bartender who struggles to count down a cash drawer. Place the two stories side by side, they are so different, few readers– including me– could identify the nexus, and yet without that plot point, the story would be entirely different.

Title Bout

John Floyd is especially adept coming up with smart titles. The hazard for many writers is the risk of an almost clever name, a title that sounds smart at first blush, but proves gratuitous and not particularly applicable.

Three miles down the street from me abides a tavern called The Bar Code. Its outdoor signage features a large scannable UPC code.

I toyed with a title of Bar Code, stretching its context to disguise the ragged gap in its meaning. It was cleverish, but not satisfactory. And then inspiration struck:

Razing the Bar

I was pleased. Best of all, you, my reader, will discover the title is especially apt. Do enjoy the read.

05 February 2024

The Fine Art of Collaboration

For some writers, collaboration is a fact of life; for others, it's a rare gift. I’m in the second category. I’m awestruck at the harmonious working relationship of writing duos who turn out seamless works, whether they’re bestselling series like the historical mysteries of Charles Todd and his mother Caroline (the other half of author Charles Todd until her death in 2021) or one-offs like the Edgar-nominated short story "Blind-Sided" (2021) by SleuthSayer Michael Bracken and James A. Hearn.

I've participated in a number of musical collaborations, starting in high school, when a friend and I achieved fame for presenting our parody of Hamlet to the tune of folksong "Putting on the Style," with guitars, in numerous English classes. For years afterwards, when I met someone who'd attended my very large high school, they'd say, "Ohh, you're the one who wrote "Hamlet!"

In the noughties, as Brits call the first decade of the present century, I took part in several songwriting workshops led by legendary singer-songwriter Jimmie Dale Gilmore, whose work defies classification, though he's received a couple of Grammy nominations in the contemporary folk category. Jimmie and the other members of his original band, the Flatlanders, hail from Lubbock, Texas, along with Buddy Holly and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. In a long career, he's learned a lot about creative collaboration. In his workshops, he makes songwriters work in groups. He believes the creative group process mirrors the process in the individual writer's head. As he put it, the dialogue in one case and the monologue in the other both go, "That's brilliant! No, that's stupid!" In my case, since I didn't get to pick the people, the group process ended in tears a few times. But I think he's right about how the process works.

Between 2010 and 2012, I had the great joy of collaborating with my friend Ray Korona on an album of songs that I'd written over the course of half a century. It's called Outrageous Older Woman. I produced the album, Ray co-produced and acted as sound engineer, and we collected a tremendously gifted array of backup singers and musicians to create an album of my music that sounded the way I'd heard it only in my wildest dreams. We spent many, many hours in Ray's basement recording studio in New Jersey, and every hour was a happy one. Ten years after Ray's untimely death from cancer, I still cherish a moment when we got exactly the sound we wanted for a solo passage from a fingerstyle guitarist (think Chet Atkins or Ricky Skaggs) after auditioning four different musicians for the descriptor "a git-tar picker who had lightning in his hands" in a song about a country music band. Ray and I exchanged a look of delight and perfect satisfaction that still warms my heart when I remember it. There's nothing like that "Got it!" moment in a good collaboration.

I've never collaborated on a pure writing project, as opposed to lyrics. Like the late Parnell Hall, I would have sold out and said yes to big bestseller Stuart Woods, if I’d gotten the call, or to James Patterson, like everyone else. Bestsellers aside, I’d do my best if invited to collaborate with a writer I respect and trust on a publishable project. But no one’s ever asked. I've had a handful of brilliant editors and quite a few bad ones, and I tend to trust my own judgment over that of most other writers. I hate writing by committee, and while I may dream occasionally of the perfect writing partner, I'm unlikely to encounter one.

My most recent collaboration was with fellow SleuthSayer and multi-talented writer, graphic artist, tech wiz, etc, my friend Leigh Lundin. After reading my post on my adventures checking out my DNA, Leigh had the bright idea of creating a cartoon that riffed on them. He thought it up and did all the work. I got to critique both the artwork ("My complexion isn't green." "Can you make the angry woman thinner?") and the text ("It's funnier if you mention the DNA." "No hyphen in storyteller.") as Leigh patiently produced one version after another. We were both busy with other projects, so it took more than a year, but we finally achieved our "Got it!" moment. Here's the result:

04 February 2024

Une Humeur Noire

Matches with Patches

On a September Friday in 1984, a new crime series debuted on NBC. The plot of the program was subordinate to its glossy appearance. As a director said, “The show is written for an audience … more interested in images, emotions and energy, than plot and character and words.”

The program focused on style rather than substance. Producers literally specified a pastel color palette, while simultaneously banning earth tone browns, beiges, and the color red. Crews repainted buildings to match color patches. The show’s look and feel built a peach and sea-foam green monument to the gods of cars, cash, and cocaine.

Mocs without Socks

Their stars posed as much as acted. The five season run set styles in cars, boats, handguns and holsters, houses, and men’s fashion and accessories. The word metrosexual wouldn’t appear for another decade, but the cast defined the term: pink T-shirts under Italian unstructured jackets, French linen trousers, European mocs without socks, carefully groomed beard stubble.

By now you’re hearing Jan Hammer’s Miami Vice theme, and yes, they featured damn good music of the era. Wikipedia after-the-fact defines its genre as ’neo-noir’, whatever that implies, but it’s all about mood.

Noire Afar

Une humeur noire means a dark mood, on the off chance I managed the français feminine endings in the title correctly. Mystery writers know noir, but here follows a different take.

Sometime after Crockett and Tubbs committed their last heartbreak, heartache, and visit to the STD clinic, a couple of English bands came out with real noire but with a twist. Rather than write a novel or film a movie and then add music, these groups created music and subsequently filmed vignettes that set mood and hint at a story. They aren’t by any means recent, but their take on retro-noire remains intriguing.

A Plot it’s Not

Here now is the group Pulp.

  This is Hardcore @ Pulp


A predecessor (and still active) group was Portishead. I’ve mentioned it before, a favorite of our colleague Paul Marks. Same idea– music first and then a video setting a premise and mood for a story– without the actual story, leaving you to fill in the blanks.

Here is Portishead.

  To Kill a Dead Man @ Portishead


Even today, this approach remains unusual and controversial, the telling of a story without a story. How can noir become bleaker than that?

25 January 2024

Where's the Stuff?

Eve Fisher avatar

by Eve Fisher and Leigh Lundin


My SleuthSayers compadre Leigh Lundin
sent me the following email the other day:

Leigh (avatar)
      Eve, I've long wondered what happens to possessions when prisoners are incarcerated. Without a family or girlfriend or close friend, they wouldn't be able to pay a mortgage.
    But what about personal goods, valuables and items with sentimental meaning. It wouldn't be fair for, say, a landlord to keep them (unjust enrichment), but what does… or doesn't happen?

Well, I thought about that for a while, and decided that the outcome would largely depend upon whether or not the apartment or house was a crime scene in an ongoing investigation. Leigh also comments on foreclosure and eviction situations.


Right now, the Gilgo Beach serial killer suspect is in jail, pending trial, no bail has been granted, and the police are combing that house from top to bottom for evidence. His personal goods, valuables, and items with (slight shudder appropriate here) 'sentimental meaning' are probably boxed up by now and in evidence rooms downtown.

The same is true of the 2022 Moscow, Idaho killings suspect, at least some of whose property – as well as his parents' – is in police hands. (BTW, I still disagree with demolishing the house where the victims lived before the trial – I know the police signed off on it, but still… Who knows what evidence still lurked there?)

And don't even think about keeping your laptop and cell phone if you've committed assault, manslaughter, or worse. The first thing law enforcement wants to see is your computer, email, texts, etc. And, as I've said many times before, do not put anything on any social media that can be used against you in a court of law.  


If you have money and are allowed to post bail, great, you don't have to worry about your property very much even if you are alone and no one cares. You go home, hire a good lawyer, and keep on keeping on. However, DO NOT try to saw the ankle monitor off, because you're gonna go right back to the slammer.

But say you're not allowed bail, or can't afford it, or get lost in the system? Or you get convicted and "catch a heavy case", i.e., go to prison for a long time?

Well, I'm not sure how long the landlord has to hold your apartment or your stuff until re-renting it and tossing the stuff out into the yard – or his pocket.

Leigh (avatar)
  TL/DR: Once a Writ of Possession (eviction) is executed, and a landlord comes into possession of personal property, landlord is required to hold and give ten business days notice before disposing of goods. Eviction of a non-military tenant typically take 30-60, even 90 days. Eviction rarely takes less time but a bad renter can take much longer.
    The clock for eviction is partially spelled out by statute and partially how long it takes to get the case before a judge. See, eviction becomes a lawsuit. If a renter resists eviction, in most cases a landlord/landlady is frozen from taking further action until a judge’s decision: no harassing visits, no shutting off utilities, no interference in residents’ lives. The minimum is about a month, but an unscrupulous tenant or a squatter can draw eviction out months or more while not paying rent.
    An exception centers around a 7-day Notice to Cure involving situations that put the property at risk: accidental or deliberate damage, housing unauthorized residents, allowing unauthorized pets, violating association rules, dealing drugs, prostitution, and so on. In that case, a landlord may not only move faster, but can be forced to do so.
    Except for pictures and photos, tenants may not remove items affixed to the property, i.e, drapes, blinds, etc. I don’t find the procedure for final disposition spelled out in statutes. By tradition and under the watchful eye of a deputy, landlords set tenant's possessions ‘on the curb’. Landlords are not allowed to help themselves nor allow others, but over time, goods tend to scatter until picked up by garbage collectors.
    I’ve seen curb disposals in nice neighborhoods where furniture and household goods disappeared with a day or two. Contrary to common expectations, when a poor tenant was evicted in a not-nice complex, the lady’s personal goods remained untouched for a week.
    The homeowner can pay off the certificate any time within the seven year period.

And I have no idea what the bank / mortgage company would do, other than foreclose, and have someone clean it all out. Who knows where it goes then?

Leigh (avatar)
  TL/DR: In a foreclosure, personal property rights transfer to the new owner.
    Foreclosure rules differ considerably in that a change of ownership is involved. The two main reasons I can think of are (1) failure to meet mortgage payments and (2) failure to pay taxes. Homeowner and condo associations have ways of forcing evictions, but other than suing homeowners into oblivion, I don’t know how they work.
    Obviously, if a homeowner doesn’t pay his mortgage, he risks losing his house. The note holder then can exercise his right to repossess the property. Unlike a tenancy, once a mortgagee take possession he can dispose of personal property as he wishes.
    Failure to pay taxes puts a property at risk but not immediate foreclosure. In Florida, an unpaid tax bill turns into a tax certificate, which the public may buy at auction. The certificate can not be redeemed within the next two years but must be cashed in before year seven, else it is forfeited. Between years 2 and 7, the holder can have the county clerk sell the property ‘on the courthouse steps’, a figurative term, no longer literal. The new owner taxes possession of any real and personal property left behind.
    I couldn’t find specific instructions, but it’s safer– and kinder– to attempt a ten day notice.

Worst Case Scenario:

Worst case scenario with family: Kalief Browder spent 1,000 days in Rykers Island because his family couldn't afford the $3,000 bail that was set, the criminal justice system was overcrowded, and between the judge(s) and his court-appointed attorney, his case was delayed for 3 years, without any trial at all. Eventually, it was dismissed. Tragically, two years later, he hanged himself. (Wikipedia)


If you really don't want law enforcement in your house, looking over your possessions and confiscating the same, don't shoot someone while wearing an ankle monitor. Luke Eagle Star, of Rapid City, SD, shot a woman in the arm about a week ago, and then ran. Police were able to track Mr. Eagle Star because he was still wearing his ankle monitor. They are currently working "to gather additional details," and I'll bet that apartment/house is going to get a real going over.  And considering that he MIGHT have shot his girlfriend, I'd say most of the contents are going to go out in the snow... (Rapid City)

Florida Statutes Ch 83§62, Ch 83§67, Ch 715§104, Ch 702§035-702§10