Showing posts with label Lopresti. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lopresti. Show all posts

19 January 2022

Go Poe! Yo ho ho!



  Joyous felicitations of the season.  I wish all of you a happy Edgar Allan Poe's birthday!  He entered this world of wonders on January 19, 1809.  I trust that in his honor today you will all do something appropriately Poe-ish, such as:

* Marry your thirteen-year-old cousin.

* Become a champion broad-jumper.

* Get court-martialed out of West Point.

* Inspire Robert Louis Stevenson to write Treasure Island, thereby becoming godfather to what everyone imagines is the way pirates spoke. 

* Apply for a position as a customs official and then fail to show up for the interview.

* Write the only poem to inspire the name of a professional football team.

* Join the army and become a sergeant major, the highest  rank available to a non-commissioned  officer.

* Be the author of 425 movies, according to IMDB

* Drop out of college due to insufficient funds.  (This may be the easiest item on the list for modern Americans.)

* Get fired from an editing job for drunkenness.


* Write an essay that seems to describe the Big Bang Theory, eighty years before it was formally explained. 

* Die at age 40 after being found wandering around Baltimore in someone else's clothes.

* Be slandered as a madman in your obituary by a rival who also became your literary executor. 

Or if all that seem like too much hassle, how about this easy one?

* Invent a genre of literature that is still going strong 170 years after your death, and have its major award named in your honor.  (And congratulations to everyone who was nominated for an Edgar today!)

Happy 213th, Eddy.  You don't look a day over 200.

05 January 2022

Today in Mystery History: January 5


 
This is our tenth adventure in stalking the history of our genre. 

January 5, 1909.   Harry Kurnitz was born on this date in New York City.  He wrote mysteries under the name Marco Page.  MGM bought the rights to his book Fast Company and brought him to Hollywood to write the screenplay.  Among the more than forty movies he wrote were Witness for the Prosecution, and How to Steal a Million.

January 5, 1921.  Friedrich Durrenmatt was born in Bern, Switzerland.  Best known as a playwright, he wrote three crime novels which are considered classics: The Judge and his Hangman, Suspicion, and The Pledge.  The last of these was made into an excellent movie directed by Sean Penn and starring Jack Nicholson as a cop who, on the day he retires, promises parents that he will find the man who murdered their daughter.


January 5, 1932.
  Umberto Eco was born in Piedmont, Italy.  He was known as a philosopher until he wrote the astonishingly successful medieval crime novel, The Name of the Rose, in which a monk named William of Baskerville investigates a series of grisly murders in a monastery.

January 5, 1939.  Homicide Bureau was released. Bruce Cabot starred as a cop under pressure to solve crimes without violating suspects' civil rights (hmm... sounds vaguely familiar). Rita Hayworth  plays the head of internal affairs.

January 5, 1946.  Arthur Lyons was born in Los Angeles.  Most of his novels were about reporter-turned-private-eye Jacob Asch.  The movie Slow Burn was based on his novel Castle Burning. 

January 5, 195?. On this date the action begins in John LeCarre's Call For The Dead, which means master spy George Smiley is introduced to the world.  Smiley quits his employment in this book, which is no surprise.  In most of the novels about him he quits the Circus or gets rehired there.  Man can't seem to keep a job.

January 5, 1965.  On this date Mrs. Rachel Bruner came to Nero Wolfe with an impossible assignment: make the FBI stop bothering her.  Naturally, he succeeds and The Doorbell Rang became Rex Stout's biggest success, pushing his fame and sales to unheard of levels.   Reporters who asked the FBI for comments on the book were referred to the Criminal Division, with the implication that something vaguely illegal was involved in criticizing the Bureau and its director.

January 5, 1970.  This date saw something doubly rare: fiction in Sports Illustrated, and a short story by novelist Dick Francis.  "A Carrot for a Chestnut" is one of my fifty favorite crime stories.  If you don't happen to keep half a century worth of old magazines around you can find it in Francis's collection Field of Thirteen. 

January 5, 1974. Vincent Starrett died in Chicago.  Canadian born, he was an early member of the Baker Street Irregulars and wrote "The Adventure of the Unique 'Hamlet,'"  and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.  (No relation to the later movie with the same title.)


 

29 December 2021

My Adventures with the Fiction Elves



Something weird happened to me.

Back in 2018 I thought up an idea for a short story.  That wasn't weird.  It happens, though not as often as I would like.

So I wrote the story. But I was editing it a year later (I take a long time to edit a story, usually going through at least ten drafts) and I saw a fatal flaw.  I was basing it on technology that was out of date.  Setting the story in the past would not work as a solution.  I could not think of a way around the problem so, with a sigh, I left the story on the virtual pile of never-to-be-published tales.  Too bad, because I really liked parts of it.

Dimitsana

Jump ahead to 2021, and I am visiting Greece.  Somewhere around Dimitsana I found myself thinking about my poor dead story.  And suddenly I saw a solution to the problem.  It meant ripping out half the story and writing some more, but I could keep the best parts.

So back in the good ol' USA I pulled up the last version of the story and started reading it.  And I got a shock, because that's when I found something weird.

On page two there were a couple of paragraphs I didn't remember.  I had no idea why they were there or what they had to do with the rest of the story.  I kept reading and on the next-to-last page I found another addition, completely unfamiliar to me.  It tied into the first and together they solved my technology problem!  In fact, it was a better solution than the one I had thought of in Greece.

I felt like the shoemaker in the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale, who entered his shop one morning and found that overnight elves had finished the shoes he had left half-made.  

Not a big believer in the fae I assume that I must have solved that problem in a bolt of inspiration and then forgotten about it.  The additions appeared only in the last (twelfth) draft of the story.  (Lucky for me that I didn't pull up version 11 by mistake.)

So now I have to start editing and polishing my newly recovered tale.  Only the future will reveal whether the elves provided me with a pair of Manolo Blahnik Gold Grosgrain Crystal Buckle Mules or a couple of cheap knock-off tennis shoes.  Either way, I would be happy if they show up again.

15 December 2021

Ngrams, or How to Be Groovy in 1864.


 Let's get a bit convoluted, shall we? Last month on the Short Mystery Fiction Society* list Judy Penz Sheluk pointed to a blog piece she wrote about a webinar Iona Whishaw gave.  Her subject was Ngrams.  According to Wikipedia "an n-gram (sometimes also called Q-gram) is a contiguous sequence of n items from a given sample of text or speech."

And what the hell does that mean, you may ask. Take a look at the diagram below.  This is an ngram of Google books showing how often the terms crime fiction, detective fiction, mystery fiction, and noir fiction showed up in each year.  More accurately, it indicates what percentage of pairs of words published in a given year consists of the pair you are looking for.  So detective fiction was the most popular term until 2011 when crime fiction surpassed it.  I would have guessed that happened decades earlier.

Pretty cool?  But wait: we are just starting.  Not visible at the bottom of the screen is the fact that you can look up all the books (magazines, law codes, etc.) that contain your phrase in a given year or time period.

If you are writing historical fiction you have just acquired an amazing new tool, thanks to Sheluk and Wishaw.

 I wrote a story earlier this year set in 1967 and I used the word groovy.  So let's see how that word does in the ngram world.  The diagram below shows the word was very popular in 1967, although it peaked in 1970.

But wait - why do we see that huge jump around 2010?  A quick click on the 2009-2011 button reveals a programming language called Groovy. And sure enough, if we make the ngram case sensitive Groovy becomes briefly more popular than its lower case sibling.





But I learned something even weirder. Groovy was being used long before the flower children's parents were even born. I found this quotation from the Saturday Review, January 1864: "For a groovy parent trains a groovy child, and the groovy child must be father of a groovy man."

How hip those Victorian English dudes were, you may be saying. Alas, the anonymous writer did not mean it as a compliment. He was talking about being stuck in a rut, thinking inside the box. Very much not groovy.

I am also writing a story set in 1959 and one of the characters is socially awkward, has certain verbal tics, and can do amazing mathematical feats in his head. Today most of us amateur diagnosticians would say "he's on the autistic spectrum." But would anyone have used that term sixty years ago? We can go to ngrams again, but this reveals a weakness of the tool.


Because when I search for uses before 1960 I find publications that supposedly have that date, but were really published later.  There is a 1992 edition, for example, of a psychiatric manual which was first published in the 1950s, and Google Books can't spot the difference.  There is a similar problem with journals that were founded a long time ago.  (HathiTrust, another great free tool for historical sources, suffers from the same limitation.)

On the other hand... A few weeks ago Leigh wrote a fascinating piece here about words and concepts that started in the 1980s.  His source claimed that "eggs benedict" wasn't given that name until 1984.  Google Books Ngrams quickly found it in a  the Hotel St. Francis Cookbook, 1919 edition.

And now I'm hungry.  But before I head to the fridge, much thanks to Judy Penz Sheluk and Iona Wishaw for pointing out this cool tool.  You can play around with the Google Books ngram viewer here.

*I am the Society's current president and I hereby invite you to join.  It's free but new memberships are not accepted between January 1- May 1, so hop to it here.












01 December 2021

Greece is the Word


 


 In October my wife and I took a trip of Greece.  To be exact we toured the Peloponnese with 10 other adventurers and two guides.  Had a great time.  I want to tell you a few things about the trip from a writer's point of view.

One point that kept recurring was the influence classical Greece had on our culture, and especially our language.

Take for instance, the stoa, which is a roofed colonnade.  For those of us who are architecturally illiterate, that means a wall-less roof supported by columns.  Nice public building for hot climates.

Corinth 

There was one in classical Athens called the Royal Stoa and a group of philosophers hung around there so often that the name of the place was hung on them: the Stoics.  And that's where we get the word.

Leaving Athens for the Peloponnese peninsula you have to cross a narrow strip of land where Corinth was located, and on it you will find a place called Isthmia.  Which is why a narrow strip of land connecting two larger parts is called an isthmus.

Sparta Museum


In the peninsula you come to Sparta, whose residents were well-known for their no-frills lifestyle.  In other words, the Spartans led a spartan existence.  

They were also famously stingy with words. (They even sent the first TL:DR message.  Another city sent a long letter asking for their help in a war and the Spartans replied that the missive was too long to read; send something shorter.)  Sparta is in the Laconia region, which is why we describe people who don't talk much as laconic.

See the pattern?  I could add marathon but we didn't visit that site.

On a different but related note:  When we visited the Acropolis we passed the Theatre of Dionysus and our tour guide casually pointed out that this was the theatre.  It took me a moment to grasp what she meant.


Oedipus Rex
premiered here.  The Oresteia had its opening night (well, afternoon) on this spot.  Athenians sat on these stone seats to watch Lysistrata, Aristophanes' satire on sex and war.

In other words, everything the Western world thinks of as drama started in this very space.  Made me shiver.

It is interesting to remember that those drama festivals were competitions.  Each year the man who paid for the production of the winning play would put up a monument boasting of the fact.  Unfortunately for scholars all that was included was the man's name and the year.  Petty details like the author and title of the play were not deemed important enough to mention.  It seems like theatrical producers haven't changed much in 2,500 years.

Let's move on to another topic we love: Crime!  Fortunately, we did not experience any on our trip, except...  In Athens I saw something I never expected to witness in real life.  On a busy pedestrian walk there was a young man with a small table on a high stand.  On the table were three cups.

It was the shell game, live and in person!  The thimblerig has been recorded all the way back to  ancient Greece, and here it was in allegedly modern times.

If we hadn't been with a group I would have walked closer for  a better view, with my hand firmly on my wallet - not because I would have been tempted to bet, but because pickpockets love to orbit these scams.  

And speaking of crime, the photo on the right shows the street (?) in Nafplio where our 17th century hotel was located.  Before you reach it you pass a church with a plaque commemorating Ioannis Kapodistria, the first head of independent Greece, who was assassinated there in 1831.


Which reminds me... Jeffrey Siger is an American crime writer who spends part of the year in Greece and writes about an Athenian police detective.  (He has also written for SleuthSayers.) I told him about our itinerary and asked which of his novels we should read for background.  He recommended Sons of Sparta, which is set in the Mani (and I recommend it too).  

There are three little peninsulas at the south end of the Peloponnese and the Mani is the middle finger, geographically and also figuratively, you might say.  It has a certain reputation. When we arrived in the Maniot town of Areopoli, one of our tour guides solemnly told us: "The Mani is famous for vendettas, so please be very polite.  We don't want to start any blood feuds."  But our other guide replied: "You are being more than usually stupid."  So take that with a grain of salt.

But maybe not too much salt.  The statue you see here was right in front of our hotel in Areopoli. It commemorates Petrobey Mavromichalis, the Maniot who started the Greek War of Independence.  Ten years later, his brother and nephew were the very men who assassinated Kapodistria in Nafplio.

Interesting place, the Mani...



03 November 2021

Welcome to Avram Davidson's Universe


Avram Davidson was an unusual writer.  He won two Edgar Awards (mystery), a Hugo Award (science fiction), and three World Fantasy Awards.  Some of us haven't won any of those.

Born in Yonkers, NY, he was a Marine medic during WWII. He first published as a Talmudic scholar .He ghost-authored two of Ellery Queen's novels. He edited the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. 

He was a shepherd in Palestine just before the birth of the state of Israel.  He spent part of his life in Mexico and Belize, and lived in Bellingham, WA, a few years before I got here, alas.

Eccentric or protean don't begin to cover the guy.

My favorite of his works is a novella called "The Lord of Central Park."  I once described it like this:

... the simple story of a young lady from New Jersey and her encounters with a pickpocket, the Mafia, the NAFIA, an Albanian Trotskyite who wants to blow up the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Hudson River Pirates, and, of course, the Lord High Keeper of the Queen's Bears, who lives in a cave in Central Park.  Okay, maybe I lied about it being a simple story.

Davidson tended toward the baroque in language and he had a ton of historical and geographic knowledge to add detail to his fiction.


I was recently contacted by Seth Davis who has started a podcast called the Avram Davidson Universe and he invited me to  be his guest on an episode to discuss my other favorite Davidson extravaganza, "The Necessity of His Condition."  You can hear a very professional reading of the story in the podcast, by the way.  That episode went live this week and it is available ffree.

Seth was kind enough to answer a few questions for me:

What is your connection to Avram?

Avram was married to my mom.  They divorced but remained very close. They continued to collaborate on many books.   Avram became my Godfather and for a variety of reasons his literary estate passed to me.

Favorite memories of Avram?

When I was 13 Avram was very involved in helping me through my Bar Mitzvah.  He made the best soups!  Later when he became wheelchair bound we had a grand time as I pushed him down Clement street in San Francisco.

Did you meet any mystery writers through him?

It wasn’t until Covid hit that I really had time to start reading his stories and understanding what an incredible writer Avram was. I knew him more as a doting Godfather than as a writer. Since my mom was a writer as well we had all sorts of authors who came by our house.  Philip K. Dick, Robert Silverberg, Greg Benford certainly came by. I never met any writers who were solely focused on mystery. Dick Lupoff was very sweet and he helped my mom publish The Investigations of Avram Davidson which is an anthology of Avram’s mystery stories.    Avram did live with us when I was younger and I know Harlan Ellison came by and I have vague memories of meeting Harlan. Michael Kurland was probably the writer I remember the most. He was and still is such a kind man.

Tell us about your podcast.

The Avram Davidson Universe Podcast is dedicated to keeping Avram’s legacy alive. In each episode we perform a reading and discussion of his works with a special guest

Plans for future publications?

Most exciting right now is Beer! Beer! Beer! will be going live on December 14.  It is a historical fiction/crime/mystery novel based on the true story of the crime boss Dutch Schultz who was piping beer under the streets of Yonkers during prohibition.  I am actually looking for a handful of avid readers especially Davidson fans for my ARC team who would get an early copy of the book to review. If folks are interested they can contact me at www.avramdavidson.com

One of my beta readers described the story as an amazing glimpse of Americana, beautifully told and that the way the characters converged with all their short stories reminded her of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.

Unfortunately when my mom passed Avram’s literary estate was disorganized. My goal over the next 10 years it to make sure everything is organized. I want to make sure every story Avram wrote is available.  This includes some incredible unpublished stories like Beer! Beer! Beer!.  We recently published Skinny which was a semi-autobiographical short story about Avram’s time as a medic in China post World War II.  In 2022 we will be publishing Dragons in the Trees which is Avram’s exciting Belize travel journal. In 2023 we will be publishing AD 100 - 100 of Avram’s unpublished or uncollected short stories in honor of his 100th birthday. 

20 October 2021

Popcorn Proverbs #5



Are you heading back in the theatres yet?  Not me.  But as a reminder of the goodle days, here are quotes from 25 crime movies.  As before, they are in alphabetical order by titles.  Purely by coincidence, three actors get two quotes each.  The answers are below. Good luck!
 
1. Or maybe she didn't die. Maybe she just moved to the suburbs - I always confuse those two. 
 
2. Can I trust you?  Can I trust you?  Can I trust you? 
 
3. I loved Al Lipshitz more than I could possibly say. He was a real artistic guy, sensitive, a painter. But he was always trying to find himself. He'd go out every night looking for himself. And on the way, he found Ruth. Gladys. Rosemary. And Irving. I guess you could say we broke up because of artistic differences. He saw himself as alive. And I saw him dead.
 
4. One of us had to die. With me, it tends to be the other guy. 
 

5. -What are you going to do?
-I'm going to sit in the car and whistle "Rule Britannia".
 
6. Isn't it touching how a perfect murder has kept our friendship alive all these years? 
 
7. I don't feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies. 
 
8. -The fellow whose job I'm taking, will he show me the ropes?
  -  Maybe - if you're in touch with the spirit world. 
 
9. I hear you paint houses.
 
10. It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms.  
 
11. Who do men instinctively pull at loose threads on their parachutes? 
 

12. What can I tell you?  Don't piss off a motivated stripper. 
 
13. Has it occurred to you that there are too many clues in this room?
 
14. - Do you realize that because of you this city is being overrun by baboons?
-Well, isn't that the fault of the voters? 
 
15. -Can you be any more of a condescending ass?
-Yes. 
 
16. In my book "brave" rhymes with "stupid."
 
17. Go ahead. Jump. He never loved you, so why go on living? Jump and it will all be over.
 
18. You shoot me in a dream, you better wake up and apologize. 
 

19. The funny thing is - on the outside, I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook 
 
20. I studied on killing you. Studied on it quite a bit. But I reckon there ain't no need for it if all you're gonna do is sit there in that chair. You'll be dead soon enough and the world 'll be shut of ya. You ought not killed my little brother, he should've had a chance to grow up. He woulda had fun some time.  
 
21.Women make the best psychoanalysts until they fall in love. After that, they make the best patients.

22. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.


23. We're going to let 'em keep the goddamn subway train. Hell, we've got plenty of them; we'll never even miss it.

24. What I do for a living may not be very reputable... but I am. In this town I'm the leper with the most fingers. 
 
25. -Do you know what a blood oath is, Mr. Ness?
-  Yes.
-Good, 'cause you just took one.
 
THE ANSWERS LURK BELOW...
 

1. - Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) Can You Ever Forgive Me?


2.- Ace Rothstein (Robert DeNiro) Casino

3. -Mona ( Mya ) Chicago

4. - Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) The Departed
 
5. -Edna (Rosemarie Dunham)/ Carter (Michael Caine) Get Carter

6. -Arthur Adamson (William Devane) Family Plot
 
7. -Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) The Godfather, Part Two
 

8. -Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) / Major Dalby (Nigel Green) The Ipcress File

9. -Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) The Irishman

10. - Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) Kind Hearts and Coronets

11. - Harlan Thromby (Christopher Plummer) Knives Out

12.  -Michael Clayton (George Clooney) Michael Clayton

13. -Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) Murder on the Orient Express (1974)


14. -Commissioner Brumford (Jacqueline Brooks) / Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear
 
15. -Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) / Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) Now You See Me
 
16. - Josh Howard (Sammy Davis Jr.) Ocean's Eleven

17. - Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) Rebecca

18. -Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) Reservoir Dogs

19.  -Andy DuFresne (Tim Robbins) The Shawshank Redemption

20. - Karl Childers  (Billy Bob Thornton)  Sling Blade


21. - Dr. Brulov (Michael Chekhov) Spellbound

22.  - Harry Lime (Orson Welles) The Third Man

23.  -Mayor (Lee Wallace) The Taking of Pelham 123

24. -Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) The Two Jakes

25.  -Malone (Sean Connery) / Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) The Untouchables
 
 
 

06 October 2021

Half a FOAF is Better Than None


 

The Folklorist and the Librarian

I assume that last month you, like the rest of the world, heard that rapper Nicki Minaj told her millions of followers that her Trinidadian cousin refused to get the covid vaccine because his friend got it and his testicles swelled up.

I know nothing about Nicki Minaj and less about virology, but my instant reaction was: "I recognize a FOAF when I hear about one."  And that brings up a subject I have been meaning to write about for years: urban legends.

I first learned about them when I read Jan Harold Brunvand's book The Vanishing Hitchhiker.  Dr. Brunvand is a folklorist and he did not invent the study of urban legends but he popularized it in a series of books, starting with TVH.  (By the way, I corresponded with Dr. B. in the early days of email and even coaxed him into speaking at my university.)

"Urban legends" are so named to distinguish them from standard folklore which is assumed to be the product of rural regions and allegedly unsophisticated people.  Like their country cousins, urban legends are told by people who believe them to be true, and often swear that they know people who know the person they happened to (the Friend of a Friend, or FOAF). The stories often reflect whatever issues are running through the zeitgeist, and frequently have a moral, usually in the form of a warning.


An urban legend is a classic example of a story a reporter may consider "too good to check" but Brunvand pointed out at least one example of a reporter eagerly trying to find the origin of a tale -- only to see it constantly receding like the horizon.  After realizing there was no truth to it, he kept following from source to source, just to see how far back it would go.  Of course, he could not identify its beginning.

Let's take an example: the "Choking Doberman."  This version appeared in Woman's World magazine in 1982, as part of an article called "Rumor Madness":

A weird thing happened to a woman at work.  She got home one afternoon and her German shepherd was in convulsions.  So she rushed the dog to the vet, then raced home to get ready for a date.  As she got back in the door her phone rang.  It was the vet, telling her that two human fingers had been lodged in her dog's throat.  The police arrived and they all followed a bloody trail to her bedroom closet, where a young burglar huddled -- moaning over his missing thumb and forefinger.


This legend had appeared in various newspapers a year earlier with reporters contacting local authorities in search of the truth, to no avail of course.  ("Police can't put finger on story.")  An interesting fact is that as the story mutates the burglar's digits often become "black" or "Mexican" fingers.  As I said, you can learn a lot about American obsessions by watching legends grow.   

By the way, years later I read a short story in a mystery magazine which ended with the dog owner getting a call from the vet urging him to "Leave the apartment now!" but the bloody burglar is already coming toward him, seeking revenge.

Brunvand also tells about the "Attempted Abduction," in which a child disappears while shopping with her mother in a department store.  Two women are caught in the bathroom, having cut and dyed the child's hair and changed her clothes.  The moral is clear: Keep a close eye on your kids!


Of course, the story is highly unlikely.  One attorney: "How could you dye a kid's hair in a public restroom?  I'd rather give a cat a bath."  And reporters were (surprise!) unable to trace the source of a story in which the location, store name, and gender of the child kept shifting with each telling.  

Brunvand noted that the story seemed to appear every five years, but it actually popped up again three years after he reported it.  And the next year it showed up in Ann Landers' column.

As far as I can tell the good professor stopped writing his books before social media came along, much less "alternative facts."  I'm sure folklorists are keeping busy following the latest versions.





 

15 September 2021

Today in Mystery History: September 15


 


This is the ninth in my series on the past of our wonderful field. 

 September 15, 1885.  Marcel Allain was born,  Together with Pierre Souvestre he created Fantomas, a villain who became one of the most popular characters in French crime fiction.  The authors wrote alternating chapters (I had never heard of anyone writing books that way other than Sjowall and Wahloo), producing more than 40 novels.  Fantomas appeared in movies, TV, and comic books.

September 15, 1890.  Agatha Christie was born in Torquay.  She became a moderately successful chiropractor.  Oh, all right, she became the bestselling mystery author of all time.  Happy?

September 15, 1934.  John Lawrence's "Fade Out" appeared in Dime Detective.  It was his fifth story about New York private eye Cass Blue.  Kevin Burton Smith said that Lawrence was "one of many prolific pulpsters who managed to keep cranking 'em out, logic and finesse be damned."


September 15, 1939.
  On this date Raymond Chandler finished the first draft of Farewell, My Lovely, his second Marlowe novel, and my personal favorite.

September 15, 1977.  CHiPs premiered this evening. The show about California Highway motorcycle cops lasted six years.

September 15, 1988. On this date a Calypso musician is found shot to death in Isola, starting the plot of Ed McBain's 33rd novel about the 87th Precinct.  As was often the case in his books, the title has at least two meanings...

September 15, 1981. This date saw the premiere of Seeing Things, a quirky and funny mystery series from Canada.  Louis Del Grande is the antithesis of the glamorous
detective - a balding middle-aged reporter who can't get a break.  When his beloved wife leaves him he moves into the storage room of his parent's store, refusing to consider that the split may be final.  Then he starts having visions about crimes.  Unfortunately the visions never tell him whodunit, so he has to figure that out on his own.  When it aired, it was Canada's most successful "home-grown" series.

September 15, 1989.  The movie Sea of Love was released.  Screenwriter Richard Price was nominated for an Edgar for best movie. And Al Pacino was nominated for a Golden Globe for best actor.

 September 15, 199?.  On this day sports agent Myron Bolitar had a meeting in a cemetery with a murderer.  This is the beginning of One False Move, the fifth novel in Harlan Coben's  terrific series.


September 15, 1993. 
On this date Julian Semyonovich died.  He had an interesting life, traveling the world with surprising freedom for a Soviet journalist, leading some people to speculate about his connections to the government.  "Look,'' he told a reporter, "if I tell you the truth, you won't print it. So let me tell you what you want to hear: I'm the general in charge of interrogation and intelligence for the KGB."  Probably not.  But he was the founder of the International Association of Writers of Detective and Political Novels, and one of the first Russians to have mysteries published in the west.

September 15, 2000.  Jamie Foxx starred in Bait, a cop comedy-adventure released on this date.

 


Post: Edit

10 September 2021

Ten Rules For Writing Mystery Fiction



1. Write fiction.

2.  Include a crime or the threat of crime as a major element.

3. Keep the reader interested to the end.

4. Leave the reader wanting to encounter more of your work.

5. Optional.

6. Optional.

7. Optional.

8. Optional.

9. Optional.

10. Optional.

01 September 2021

Pop Quiz


 


I've been (mentally) collecting books of a certain type and I am going to share the results with you here.  These are all well-known novels in our field, and they have one important characteristic in common.  Can you spot it? 

I will put the answer in the comments later...

J.J. Connolly. Layer Cake.

 




Len Deighton. The Ipcress File.

 

 

 

 

 


Daphne DuMaurier. Rebecca.

 

 

 

 

 


Dashiell Hammett. The Dain Curse.

 

 

 

 

 

Geoffrey Household. Rogue Male.






Bill Pronzini. Hoodwink.





18 August 2021

A Trend, An Anecdote, and an Exhibit



Sometimes I get a story idea in one nice neat package, a blast from the muse.

More often it comes in pieces.  I call some of those tales mash-ups.

It isn't that one type is necessarily better than the other.  Two brands of cars, but they both get you to the same place, if you're lucky.

Take "Taxonomy Lesson," my story in the September/October issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, which was published yesterday.  It is a definite mash-up of three elements:

A TREND.  I worked as a librarian in academia for more than three decades.  Like any other field, higher education has its trade publications that talk about what's new in the biz.  

And one trend I've been reading about for a decade has been sexual harassment.  The reports started long before the #Me Too movement. 

The classic scenario is a male tenured professor pressuring a female grad student with promises of support if she gives in and threats of punishment if she doesn't.  The power differential between, say, a Ph.D. student and a professor on her dissertation committee is extreme, the ability to make or break a career.  

There has long been a whisper network in academia (as in many other fields) in which women warn each other not to do field research with Professor X or, if you must go to a conference with Professor Y, don't go to his room for a chat, or even get in an elevator with him.

Dr. Karen Kelsey created a website called Sexual Harassment in the Academy: A Crowdsource Survey.   She eventually closed it to new entries due to trolls and hackers, but you can read enough to spoil your lunch.

I was ignored in meetings when I was the most knowledgeable about the content (in favor of a male new hire with less experience/education); inappropriate comments made about my body while pregnant; a female colleague was called a slut by our chair when she reported a job candidate had stalked her while they were in school.  When issues were reported to HR/Title IX/ Dean's Office, grossly inept responses were provided (Female Dean invited me to meeting to talk about these issues and then said "do you want to hear my stories? It could get worse" and proceeded to suggest that I do not fit in at my institution.  Ultimately, I was denied a promotion on the grounds of my pregnancy.

I knew I wanted to write about  this sort of thing in fiction someday.  But a premise is not a plot, and I needed more.  It turned out I needed...

AN ANECDOTE.  Back in 2015 Bouchercon was held in Raleigh, North Carolina.  A tiny but riveting  event happened there which I witnessed and the moment it happened I grabbed my notebook and started writing.  "That's going to go into a story!" I announced.  Amazingly enough, I was right.

I can't tell you what happened that day, but when you read my story you will probably have a pretty good idea.  

But I still didn't have my story yet.  That required...


AN EXHIBIT.
  My family enjoys visiting the Pacific Science Center in Seattle.  One of the parts we always explore is the Butterfly House which has live insects from around the world.  The last time we visited I noted an exhibit just outside on scientific names.  Homo Sapien. Helianthus Annuus.  Gorilla Gorilla.

And bingo.  That was the one missing piece.

My story is about a taxonomy professor - that is, an expert on how species are biologically related to each other, and on  scientific nomenclature.  He is at a conference where he will receive a major award for his work.  But alas, his relationships with  students haven't been as excellent as his research.  And that is about to become a big problem...

I hope you enjoy it.