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

20 March 2019

Popcorn Proverbs, Number 4

by Robert Lopresti

We have done this before and we are doing it again. These are quotations from crime movies, alphabetical by the titles of the flicks.  Only one of the posters references a movie on the list.  Answers in two weeks.  Have fun!

Remember you're old.

You said to me this is a family secret, and you gave it up to me, boom just like that. You spill the secret family recipe today, maybe you spill a little something about me tomorrow, hm?

-Aren't you worried?
-Would it help?

When they send for you, you go in alive, you come out dead, and it's your best friend that does it.

-You can't give back what you've taken from me.
-OK, then... Plan B, why don't we just kill each other?

-I didn't kill my wife!
-I don't care!

-In this family, we do not solve our problems by hitting people!
-No, in this family, we shoot them!

The competitor is our friend and the customer is our enemy.

How did you ever rob a bank? When you robbed banks, did you forget where your car was then too? No wonder you went to jail.

It takes more than a few firecrackers to kill Danny Greene!

Men would pay $200 for me, and here you are turning down a freebie. You could get a perfectly good dishwasher for that.

A man abandoned his family and wrote his son a story. He wouldn't be the first to cloak his cowardice in a flag of sacrifice.

You can add Sebastian's name to my list of playmates.

-There's a ninety-five pound Chinese man with a hundred sixty million dollars behind this door.
-Let's get him out.

We should all be clowns, Milly.

You get four guys all fighting over who's gonna be Mr. Black, but they don't know each other, so nobody wants to back down. No way. I pick. You're Mr. Pink. Be thankful you're not Mr. Yellow.

- I am a moral outcast.
-Well, it's always nice to meet a writer. 

Frank, let's face it. Who can trust a cop who don't take money?

-Looks like trouble.
-Looks like Christmas.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.

- I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.
- It's not true.  He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.

To protect the sheep you have to catch the wolves and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.

-Not everyone loves us, Rex.
-Save the punditry for someone whose paid to have an opinion.
-I'm cool with censorship, I know the American people love that.

I do favors for people and in return, they give me gifts. So, what can I do for you?

-Man, I get so mad I want to fight the whole world.  You got any idea what that feels like?
-I do.  I decided to fight the feeling instead.  Cause I figured the world would win.



15 March 2019

Today in Mystery History: March 15th

by Robert Lopresti

A few years ago I started a website called Today in Mystery History, listing one event in our field for every day.  It turned out that the amount of Fame and Glory generated was not sufficient to balance the effort, so I stopped adding to it.  But that left me with a whole lot of date-specific data.   I decided I will occasionally use some of it here.  So, take a gander at what happened on this date in previous years...

March 15, 1861. Rodriguez Ottolengui was born in Charleston, South Carolina.  He was a pioneer in the field of dentistry (x-rays, root canals, etc.) but he was also an author of mystery novels and short stories.  Ellery Queen listed his book Final Proof as a major step in the history of the mystery short story.

March 15, 1946. On this day Kenneth Millar left the navy.  A year later he published his first novel, Blue City. Eventually he settled on the pseudonym Ross Macdonald.

March 15, 1948. On this date the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote to his friend the mystery writer Norbert Davis: “Your mags are wonderful. How people can read Mind if they could Street and Smith [Detective Story Magazine] beats me."


March 15, 1950. Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train was published.

March 15, 1972.  Francis Ford Coppola's  The Godfather was released.  It went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

March 15, 1985.  On this date Ian Rankin  conceived his great character, Inspector John Rebus.

March 15, 1989. Sue Grafton's F is for Fugitive was published.

March 15, 200?  On this date 22-year-old singing star Cherry Pie suffers yet another overdose in Miami Beach.  Thus begins Carl Hiassin's Star Island..

So that's one date.  364 to go. 



20 February 2019

Dominating the Submissions

by Robert Lopresti

This piece may not be of use to most readers.  It's a niche thing, I guess.  I am writing it for two reasons.

First, recently someone wrote an email to a list for mystery fans that went vaguely like this:

I just wrote a parody of a well-known crime novel.  It's not a REAL mystery so I don't want to send it to mystery magazines.  Where do you recommend I submit it?

I immediately thought of a few things I wanted to say.  But I felt that if I did it would sound like I was piling on, trying to discourage the newbie.  Not at all my goal.  So I decided to expand my thoughts, and write some advice today for people thinking about submitting a story for publication for the first time.

The second reason I'm writing this will become obvious in two weeks when my next blog appears.  Suspenseful, huh?  Tune in, same bat-time, same bat-channel...

Okay.  Five  thoughts for the newbies out there.

1. If all you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails.  If you go to a list of mystery fans/writers  and ask about markets, they are likely to tell you about mystery markets.  If that isn't what you want you should probably ask somewhere else.

2. Don't try to read tea leaves when the ingredients are listed right on the box.  You want to know what a magazine editor is looking for?  They show you detailed examples in every issue.  Before you submit to a magazine, read it.  If you peruse a few issues of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, for example, you will probably determine that they are not averse to parodies.

3. There are times to think outside the box,  and times not to.  Creativity and originality are wonderful things in your story.  They do not belong in your text-formatting.  If you use an unusual font, strange margins, or other gimmicks you are basically offering the editor a written invitation  to drop your story in favor of something more professional.  If the editor hasn't made specific recommendations (you did check their website, right?) then go with William Shunn's Proper Manuscript Format, which is considered an industry standard.

4.  Even if you're paranoid there is probably no one out to get you.  If you are determined to convince the editor that you are 1) an amateur, and 2) way too much trouble to bother with, you can't do much better than filling your cover letter and manuscript with copyright notices and dire warnings to anyone who might dare to steal your idea.  Trust me; they see hundreds of ideas every year; they aren't going to risk career suicide and personal disgrace by swiping yours.

5. There is a time for patience and a time for the other thing.   What do you do if you submit a story and never hear back?  Again, you have checked the publication's website, right?  It will tell you how long they expect to hold onto a story before they get back to you.  Alas, they tend to be optimists. You might want to try Duotrope a site with records which come from actual submissions.  If your story is long past its expected return date, send the editor a polite query.  By the way, some publishers say flat out that they won't bother to notify you that they have rejected your story, which I think is disgraceful, but people submit there anyway.  Keep in mind that if you haven't heard back from a market and you decide to send a story somewhere else  it is good policy to send an email  saying "I am withdrawing the story." 

And that is everything I know about submitting a story to a magazine or other market.  Read the comments for advice that will likely pour in from wiser heads than mine.  And good luck!

06 February 2019

Smile! Your Story Has Been Rejected!

by Robert Lopresti

Here they are, folks.  The top ten reasons you should be grateful your latest short story was rejected.

10.  Unless you asked the editor out on a date, nobody rejected you. They rejected some pages with words on them. For example, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine rejected the first seventy-six stories I sent them, but that didn't stop them from buying the seventy-seventh, when I finally got the words on the pages that they wanted.

9. You have a new opportunity to look at the story, checking for flaws, typos, or new aspects.

8.  You have had a valuable reminder of the fact that rejection does not kill you.

7.  You have a new opportunity to examine available markets.    Of my seventy-plus published stories, fifteen eventually appeared in paying markets that did not exist when I first started submitting that story.

6. You just learned something about that market/editor.

5. Your skin just grew a millimeter thicker.

4.  Your story is closer to finding its proper home.   My stories have received some sort of honor ten times.   Eight of those were for stories that had been rejected by at least one market.

3.  Be proud that you are submitting.  As they say in basketball, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

2.  Be proud that you are finishing what you write.  That puts you light-years ahead of millions of wannabes.

1. Be proud that you are writing.  That's what you're doing it for, right?  Because if the goal is wealth, try buying lottery tickets instead.

And a Bonus Reason, for those who sell most of what they write: If your success rate is very high, maybe you need to experiment more, or try more ambitious markets.  Then you can have the satisfaction of failing sometimes, like the rest of us.

Other reasons?  Put 'em in the comments.



30 January 2019

Besty McBestface 2018

by Robert Lopresti

I was somewhat surprised to discover that this is my tenth annual list of the best short mysteries of the year, as determined by me.   I will have to do something to celebrate that  in a month or two.  I should remind you that these reviews are taken from the longer weekly summaries I do at Little Big Crimes.

This year was 16% worse than last, insert political joke here, based on my best-of list dropping from 18 to 15.  Writers, was it you or was it me?   Speaking of writers, eleven were men, five women.  (One story had two authors.)  Two authors were British, one Canadian.

The big winner this year was Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, with four stories.  Three other sources supplied two each: Akashic Press's Noir Cities series, Mystery Weekly Magazine, and the anthology Deadlines: A Tribute to William E. Wallace.

Three stories are historical, two are funny, and one has fantasy elements.   Six have surprise endings.  Remarkably, five of the authors are making repeat appearances.  All right, let's dig down into the data.

Brookmyre, Chris, "The Last Siege of Bothwell Castle,"  in Bloody Scotland, edited by James Crawford, Pegasus, 2018.

There's a historical reenactment going on at Bothwell Castle in Scotland and the place is crowded with tourists.  Some very bad people take advantage of the confusion, and soon they are taking hostages and making demands.

The cops arrive but the hostages's best chance for rescue might be Sanny and Sid, two young sneak thieves who were scooped up with the tourists.

Brosky, Ken. "The Cold Hunt," Mystery Weekly Magazine, August 2018.

Roxy is a young American biologist, studying tigers in Siberia.  She and her mentor, Dr. Siddig, have been called to investigation what appears to be a killing by a big cat.  The evidence of footprints and corpse show that the tiger had a big meal of the flesh of a local man.  But the evidence does not prove that the man was alive when the tiger arrived.

The villagers are ready to hunt and kill the beast.  Can the scientists prove it is innocent of the killing - if indeed it is?

Day, Russell, "The Icing on the Cake," in Noirville, Fahrenheit Press, 2018.  

Gareth is a gofer for Mr. Driscoll, a British crime boss.  Today his mission is to drive a Jaguar dow to a prison where the car's owner, Harry the Spider Linton, is being released after seven years for robbing a post office.  It turns out that Harry thinks he owes his incarceration to the stupidity of Mr. Driscoll.

Harry's rage is so feverish that it seems like the trip may end prematurely.  Gareth might be in danger.  What will happen if/when Harry arrives at his old mate's mansion, and encounters the man he sees as the cause of his lost years?


Greenaway, R.M. "The Threshold,"  in Vancouver Noir, edited by Sam Wiebe, Akashic Press, 2018.

The publisher gave me a free copy of this book.  

Blaine is a photographer.  Perhaps a bit obsessive about it.  And one morning, just at sunrise, he's out snapping pictures at the Vancouver waterfront and he find a very fresh corpse.  Of course he knows he should call 911, but the lighting is perfect for capturing the corpse, and how long will that last?  Surely it won't hurt if he just changes lenses and takes a couple of artful frames...

And then the body twitches, and things get complicated.



Hallman, Tom, Jr. "Kindness,"  in Mystery Weekly Magazine, April 2018.

Phil's family moved to an inner city neighborhood that is gentrifying.  Great house, nice neighbors.  But then the old man across the street dies and his house is inherited by a jerk who parties all night The jerk is a huge guy who "reminded me of one of those men featured on cable shows taking viewers inside America's roughest prisons."

When this guy takes an unhealthy interest in Phil's teenage daughter things seem really desperate.  But  then Phil meets Deke, a member of a criminal motorcycle gang, and helps him with a problem...  Twice I thought I knew where this story was headed. Twice I was wrong.

Lang, Preston, "Top Ten Vacation Selfies of Youtube Stars," in Deadlines: A Tribute to William E. Wallace, edited by Chris Rhatigan and Ron Earl Phillips,  Shotgun Honey, 2018.

Michael Roth used to be a reporter.  Or maybe we should say he is currently a reporter without a job, struggling to survive as a freelancer, writing Internet clickbait. (See the title of this story.)

He gets a call from somebody named Brack who used to be a hitman.  Would he like to meet and talk about Brack's illustrious career?   He would.  But Brack, as it turns out,  has another, more dangerous offer to make...


Law, Janice, "The Crucial Game,"  in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, January-February 2018.

This is the fourth appearance on my annual best-of list by my  friend and fellow SleuthSayer.  No one else has made it to the top of the heap more than three times, so far. 

Since his wife died Frank has been lonely and somewhat obsessed with hockey.  Walking through Manhattan he sees a "little makeshift stand offering sports CDs and DVDS..."  The merchant is "thin, almost gaunt, and very dark so that his large eyes gleamed above the bold cheekbones and the wide, and to Frank's mind, somewhat predatory nose."  Sounds a bit spooky?  How about when he calls out: "I have what you need"? 


Neville, Stuart, "Faith," in Blood Work: Remembering Gary Shulze: Once Upon A Crime, edited by Rick Ollerman, Down and Out Books, 2018.

The day I lost my belief was the same day Mrs. Garrick asked me to help kill her husband.

The narrator is an Irish clergyman, five years a widower. Mrs. Garrick's husband was brutally maimed in a terrorist attack.  Our protagonist tries to comfort her and one thing leads to another.

Classic noir, right?  But Neville has a surprise or two up his sleeve.

Page, Anita,  "Isaac's Daughters," in Malice Domestic Presents: Murder Most Geographical, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, Wildside Press, 2018.

This is Anita Page's second appearance on the winner's list.

The narrator is an old woman, relating  how she came to America from Russia at the age of fourteen in 1911.  The reason for the voyage is that her mother has just received a message that "your Isaac has taken up with a whore from Galicia."

They start out on the difficult voyage, and things happen. The family is divided between the father and narrator who you might describe as new-world rationalists, and the mother and sister who are subject to old-world superstitions, believing in demons and lucky charms.  Which side, if either, will win? 

Perks, Micah, "Treasure island,"  in Santa Cruz Noir, edited by Susie Bright, Akashic Press, 2018.

The publisher gave me a free copy of this book.  

Mr. Nowicki is, he tells us, "a seventy-two-two-year-old retired middle school assistant principal who has lived in Grant Park for forty years."  He is furious about what is happening in his neighborhood so he has gone to a website called Good Neighbor!(tm) to report what he sees.

And he has strong opinions about that.  For example he has a problem with his neighbor who is (the internal quotation marks are his): "a 'writer' who 'works' from home.  ('Writer' always takes morning tea on his porch in his pajamas and at five p.m., takes cocktail on porch, still in his pajamas.  You've probably seen him on your way to and from actual work.)"

Pronzini, Bill and Barry N. Malzberg, "Night Walker," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March-April 2018.

This is Pronzini's second appearance on my annual Best-of bash.

Henry Boyd's life changed forever when a moment of his own carelessness destroyed his family.  He hoped to be sent to prison but the courts thought otherwise.  He can't face the thought of suicide so now he walks through the night, hoping some criminal will do to him what he lacks the courage to do to himself.  But something else happens.

Richardson, Travis, "Plan Z," in Deadlines: A Tribute to William E. Wallace, edited by Chris Rhatigan and Ron Earl Phillips, Shotgun Honey, 2018.

This is a simple story of three guys who "decide to up their game from B&E and liquor stores."  We don't learn much about them except what positions they played in Little League.

So, not a lot of character development.  What the story has is a wonderful way of unwrapping the adventures of our luckless trio.  Plan A is to rob a check-cashing joint.  They throw that over for Plan B which is to rob an armored car that Uncle Arnie drives.  But Arnie gets fired which leads to Plan C.  When Arnie shows up drunk we move on to Plan D...


Rusch, Kristine Kathryn, "The Wedding Ring,"  in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2018.

Rusch is making her third appearance in Best-of Land.

Serena is a classics professor and after a bad breakup she goes to Las Vegas for what she calls her Liberation Vacation.  There she meets the man of her dreams.  Shortly after that they are married.  Shortly after that he disappears, taking her cash, self-confidence, and much more.  One cop says about the crooks: "They're not in it for the money.  They're in it to destroy their marks."

Serena replies.  "They didn't destroy me...  I'm right here. And I'm going to destroy them right back."


Rutter, Eric, "Hateful in the Eyes of God,"  Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2018.


This is Rutter's second appearance in my best-of lists.

It is London in the 1830s.  John Alcorn is a freelance reporter, a "penny-a-liner."  His specialty is the criminal courts because, then as now, scandal is always popular.  He is in the gallery when Charles Stanbridge is brought into the courtroom.  This fine, outstanding married gentleman has been accused of indecent assault, which is a reduced version of the charge of "the infamous crime,"  alias, homosexuality.  That greater offense could get a man sentenced to exile or even death.

Alcorn offers to sell his story on the case to the defendant rather that to the press, a form of extortion which was perfectly legal.  But when Stanbridge apparently kills himself the reporter feels guilt and tries to learn more about the case.  And so he, and we, find out a good deal about the secret life of what we would call gay men, but what in this era were called sods or Mary Anns.


Thielman, Mark, "The Black Drop of Venus," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2018.

This is Thielman's second appearance here, both for historical mysteries that won the Black Orchid Novella Award.

It is 1769, deep in the South Pacific.  Our narrator is Joseph Banks, chief naturalist on the HMS Endeavour, which has been sent on a scientific investigation to observe the Transit of Venus.  When one of Banks's assistants is found with his throat cut just as they arrive at Tahiti, Banks is ordered to investigate the crime by none other than Captain James Cook.  He is handicapped by his lack of knowledge of navy ways and nautical  vocabulary, but he brings back the facts which allow Cook to cleverly determine the identity of the murderer.

02 January 2019

Spy TV

by Robert Lopresti

I recently had an experience that carried me off on a cheerful wave of nostalgia.  Our current TV package provides access to an obscure channel called TubiTV.  And on it I was able to make my reacquaintance with The Sandbaggers, a spy series from Britain's ITV.  I had watched it on PBS back around 1980 when it premiered.  I was surprised at how much I remembered and how well it held up.  (It also seems to be available on Youtube.)

The series revolves around the Secret Intelligence Service (never called MI6 in the show), and it's Director of Operations, Neil Burnside (played by Roy Marsden, before he became better known as Adam Dalgleish).  Burnside is in charge of all the British agents in foreign countries around the world, but his first love is the Special Operations Section, known as the Sandbaggers.  These are the smash-and-grab boys, the ones who get sent to perform an extraction or an assassination (or prevent one). Please don't compare them to James Bond or Burnside will slit your throat.  He hates Ian Fleming's famous creation.

And as for slitting your throat, he is himself a former Sandbagger, and as ruthless as they come.  And yes, this crowd is pretty ruthless.  In the 20 episodes you will see virtually all the characters lying to each other, and often doublecrossing their superiors and allies.  Burnside would defend himself by saying he is true to the service and to his ultimate goal: destroying the KGB.  And he is willing to destroy his own career to do it.

An example of Burnside's charming personality.  In one episode he is in a restaurant and someone informs him: "I just saw your ex-wife out on the street."

"Best place for her."  Like I said, charming.

One thing I love about the show is the title.  I like to imagine it made John Le Carre, the master of fictional spy jargon, terribly jealous.  His name for the same type of group was the Scalphunters, but Sandbaggers is so much better.  "To sandbag" means "to launch a sneak attack" but it also means "to build emergency defenses."  Clever, eh?

The show had its flaws, of course.  The SIS is seen to be strangled with personnel shortages but it felt like that had more to do with TV budgets than anything else.  The inside sets look like a high school drama club production.  So many of the international crises take place in Malta that one can only assume ITV had a deal with the local tourist board.  And the last episode of the show only makes sense if you forgot everything that happened four episodes earlier.

None the less, it has been called one of the best spy shows of all time, and I'm not arguing.

The show was created, and most episodes were written, by Ian MacKintosh, a former naval officer.  Because of the series' sense of realism there was speculation that he had been involved in the spy world, but he played coy about it.  The series ends with a (hell of a) cliffhanger, because MacKintosh died unexpectedly and the network decided no one else could do it justice.

But I oversimplified when I said MacKintosh died.  In reality he and his girlfriend disappeared in a small airplane over the Pacific Ocean after radioing for help. The plane disappeared in a small area where neither U.S. nor Soviet radar reached.

I wonder what Burnside would make of that.

Oh, the show also has a great musical theme (just about the only music ever used in the program). Listen all the way to the last note.



But wait, there's more!  In the midst of my Sandbaggery I discovered a very different spy show which is, curiously, both older and newer than The Sandbaggers.  Available on Netflix A Very Secret Service (Au Service de la France) was created in 2015, but is set in 1960. And now let's give Grandpa a moment to marvel here over the fact that The Sandbaggers is set closer in time to 1960 than to 2015.

The series (in French, with subtitles) tells the story of Andre Merlaux, a naive young man who is forcibly recruited into the French Secret Service, which promptly makes it clear that they don't much want him.   It is a rather peculiar agency where doing your job is much less important than turning in proper receipts and wearing suits from the correct tailors.

On his first day on the job Merlaux gets in trouble for committing the incredible faux pas - I know you will be stunned by this blunder -- of answering the ringing phone on his desk. Quel imb├ęcile!

This show is wildly and wickedly funny.  In one episode Merlaux assumes that a suspect cannot be a terrorist because she is a woman  His tutor firmly instructs him: "In cases of terrorism women must be considered humans!"

In another episode the French capture a German on his way from Argentina and suspect he is a Nazi. Fortunately they have a scientific survey which allows them to detect such barbarians.  (Sample question: "Adolf Hitler: pleasant or unpleasant?")

The best spy in the bunch is Clayborn, who will never get promoted because she is a woman.  All her operations are described as "courtesy missions," which means they involve getting naked with someone, but don't think that means they don't also involve theft, blackmail, and murder.

At one point Merlaux pours out all his troubles to Clayborn. She is, of course, sympathetic: "You feel out of place.  I understand.  This is the women's bathroom."

Neil Burnside would not be amused, but I was.


31 December 2018

The World Revolved and We Resolved

Happy New Year!  To celebrate the occasion some of the regular mob here decided to offer a resolution for you to ponder.  Feel free to contribute your own in the comments.

It has been an interesting year  at SleuthSayers and we hope it has been one for you as well.  We wish you a prosperous and criminous 2019.

Steve Hockensmith. My new year's resolution is to write the kind of book that I would really enjoy reading but which will also have a decent chance of finding an enthusiastic publisher...which might be the equivalent of resolving to lose 30 pounds by only eating your favorite pizza.

Eve Fisher. Mine is to break my addiction to distracting myself on the internet.  


John M. Floyd.  
1. Read more new authors.
2. Write more in different genres.  
3. Let my manuscripts “cool off” longer before sending them in. 
4. Read more classics.
5. Search out some new markets. 
6. Cut back on semicolons.
7. Go to more conferences.
8. Go to more writers’ meetings.  
9. Get a Twitter account.
10. Try submitting to a contest now and then.  This one’s low on my list—I avoid contests like I avoid blue cheese—but I probably should give it a try. (Contests, not blue cheese.)   

Paul D. Marks. I resolve to watch fewer murder shows on Discovery ID and murder more people on paper.

Barb Goffman.  My new year's resolution is to finish all my projects early. Anyone who knows me is likely rolling with laughter now because finishing on time is usually a push for me. Heck I'm often writing my SleuthSayers column right before the deadline, and I'm probably sending in this resolution later than desired too. But at least I'm consistent!

Janice Law. I resolve to start reading a lot of books- and only finish the good ones.

Stephen Ross.  My New Year resolution is to FINALLY finish a science fiction short story I started two years ago, but have yet to think of a decent ending!

Steve Liskow.  I love short stories but find them very difficult to write. I've resolved that I will write and submit four new short stories in 2019.  My other resolution is to lose 15 pounds. That will be tricky since I don't know an English bookie...

Art Taylor. My resolutions are pretty regular—by which I mean not just ordinary but recurrent; for example, I’m redoubling my resolution to write first and to finish projects—keeping on track with some stories and a novel currently in the works. I fell short on my big reading resolution of 2018 (reading aloud the complete Continental Op stories—still working on it!) but I did keep up with reading a list of novels, stories, and essays set in boarding schools (related to my novel-in-progress) and that’s a resolution that’s continuing into 2019 as well, with several books recently added to the list, including The Night of the Twelfth by Michael Gilbert and A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake. I know these might seem more like “things to do” than “resolutions” but that’s how I plan, I guess! For a real resolution, how about this one? Be nicer to our cats. (They’re demanding.) 

Robert Lopresti.  Back in 2012 I won the Black Orchid Novella Award for a story about a beat poet named Delgardo, set in October 1958.  I am currently editing his next adventure, which takes place in November 1958.  In 2019 I want to write "Christmas Dinner," which will be set in... oh, you guessed.

Melodie Campbell. This fall, we found out my husband has widespread cancer.  He isn't yet retirement age, so this has been a shocking plot twist.  In the book of our lives together, we have entered a new chapter.

That metaphor has become my new resolution, in that it is a new way of looking at life in all its beauty and sorrow.  I am a writer.  I have come to view my life as a book.  There are many chapters...growing up, meeting one's mate, raising children, seeing them fly the nest.  Even the different careers I've tried have become chapters in this continuing book.  Some chapters are wonderful, like the last five years of my life.  We don't want them to end.  Others are more difficult, but even those will lead to new chapters, hopefully brighter ones. 
May your book be filled with many chapters, and the comforting knowledge that many more are to come.

Leigh Lundin.  Each year my resolution is to make no resolutions.  A logical fallacy probably is involved.

R.T. Lawton.  I tend not to make New Year’s resolutions anymore. Why? So as to not disappoint myself. At my age, there are fewer things I feel driven to change, and for those circumstances I do feel driven about, I make that decision and attempt regardless of the time of year.

For instance, there is the ongoing weight concern, but I hate dieting or restricting myself from temptation. Other than working out, my idea of a dieting program these days is not using Coke in my evening cocktails. Instead, I’ll merely sip the Jack Daniels or Vanilla Crown Royal straight or on the rocks. Not many calories in ice. On the days I gain a pound (weigh-ins every morning), I can usually guess why. On the days I lose weight, I have no idea why. My best weight loss (usually five pounds at a crack), mostly comes from some health problem I did not anticipate and which involved minimal eating for a few days. Naturally, I’m eating well these days, so we’re back to the temptation thing.

As for any writing and getting published resolutions, that’s a constantly renewable action, however, I can only control the writing and submitting part. The getting published part is up to other people and beyond my control, except for e-publishing.

For those of you making New Year’s resolutions, I wish you much success and hope you meet your goal. And, to spur you on with your commitment, let me know in June how well you did.

Have a great New Year!

19 December 2018

Fever Dream

Courtesy Western Washington University Libraries
by Robert Lopresti

Before we get started: I have an essay up at Trace Evidence, the Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine blog, discussing "A Bad Day For Algebra Tests," my story in the current issue of AHMM.   Now, on to our regularly scheduled piece...

It happened like this.

I was reading a nonfiction book and enjoying it very much.  And then one day, it happened to be a Sunday, a little switch in my brain flipped and a voice asked:  Can I get a crime story out of this?

The more I thought about it the more it seemed like the answer was: Yes. Maybe a whole bunch of them.

On Monday I pondered characters, names, premises, and the shreds of a plot.  Pretty soon I had all the basics except one.  I wanted this to be a fair-play mystery, and that required a clue.

I hate clues.  They are the bane of my writerly existence.  I have several stories that will never be finished because I literally could not get a clue.

On Tuesday I figured out a clue.

Wednesday I had to make a trip to Seattle, two hours away.  (If you must know I had been invited to lecture at the University of Washington about my own nonfiction book.  There, you dragged it out of me.)

My wife drove.  She prefers to do the driving on long trips because she suspects that when I'm driving part of my mind is busy dreaming up characters, names, premises, plots, and clues.  She isn't wrong.

So I was free to open my Surface and start to work on my story.  The tentative title is "Law of the Jungle," which is all I'll say until it's published.  (Notice how he said "until" like it was a sure thing.  That's confidence, folks.  Or bravado.)

As I have said here many times I am a slow writer.  This is exacerbated by the fact that I have to rewrite and rewrite to translate my work into English from the original Gibberati.  Because of this I always try to write first draft as fast as I can.  It doesn't need to be perfect because quite likely not a single sentence will remain untouched through the final edit.

But there is another reason.  I will never be as in touch with the original inspiration for the story as in those first few days.  I want to get the whole story done before the fever wears off and I am back to my normal self.

And this time I succeeded.  I finished the draft on Monday, still hot with my idea.  6,300 words in five days. For me, that's light speed.

I know there are months of work ahead.  One scene needs to be set in a different location.  A character needs a new name.  Some information needs to be better hidden.

But I can see the road ahead.  In six months or a year this story will be flying off in search of a good home. And it will be a better tale because I wrote the first draft at a fever pitch.

One more thing to add: In retirement I have decided to try to learn to play the guitar.  My first lesson came just about the same time as the idea for this story.  Now every time I start plunking out a few chords I find myself thinking about my characters.  Has something like that ever happened to you?

05 December 2018

Two Guns, No Waiting

by Robert Lopresti

Two guys came through my door with guns in their hands.

Logically I should have been terrified but for some reason I was mostly irritated.

"What the hell!" I said, pushing away from my desk.  "Who are you?"

The first one, a yegg, sneered at me.  "You know who we are.  The great Raymond Chandler said 'When in doubt have two guys come through a door with guns in their hands.'  That's us."

"Yeah," said the other one, a goon.  "That's us."

"I don't care what Chandler said." They gasped. "You can't just come barging into my office whenever you want."

"It's what you want," said the yegg.  He covered a corner of my desk with a corner of his sizable tush. "Obviously you're stuck on what you're writing or we wouldn't have appeared."

"Yeah," said the goon.  "You're stuck."

I frowned.  "What's the difference between a yegg and a goon, anyway?"

The yegg waved his non-gun hand in a professorial way.  "Well, the word 'yegg' comes from the argot of hobos.  It meant a criminal who traveled by train and often preyed on his fellow tramps.  Later it came to mean any low gangster."

The goon seemed fascinated.  "What about me?"

"Goons are muscle men.  Not as erudite or articulate as yeggs."

"Huh," said the goon.  "What do those words mean?"

The yegg shrugged.  "You see what I'm working with here."

"Poor you," I said.  Then I remembered that my work table was a standing/sitting desk.  I pushed a button and the motor tried to lift with the yegg sitting on it.  Irritably, he jumped off.

"Listen," I said.  "I appreciate the trouble you two have gone to but I don't think you can help me much."

"Are you saying you aren't stuck?"

"I am, but I'm writing a love story."

"A love story?" The yegg frowned.  "I thought you wrote mysteries."

"I do.  But a man can try something else."

"Sure, but you risk diluting your brand."

I stared at him.  "Where'd you get your M.B.A.?"

"Oh, a wise guy."

"The point is, having two guys coming in with guns doesn't help in a love story."

"Maybe," said the goon, "maybe you could have two beautiful women come in with... With..."  He went silent.

"Are you blushing?" said his partner.  "For Pete's sake!"

"I don't show up in many love stories," said the goon.

"That's no surprise."  The yegg glared at me.  "So we came here for nothing.  And you have no respect for the words of the great Chandler."

"That's another thing," I said.  "I just looked it up and Chandler was criticizing that gimmick, not recommending it."

"How did you look it up without us seeing you do it?"

"It's a literary device.  And another thing.  He didn't say two guys.  He said a guy."

"So," said the goon,  "you've been quoting it wrong all these years."

"I guess I have."  I did a double-take.  "Where did your friend  go?"

The goon shrugged.  "Turns out there's only supposed to be one of us.  He's probably gone off to harass some other mystery writer."

"You're suddenly much more articulate."

He scratched his forehead with the barrel of his gun.  "Probably more erudite too.  Good luck with the love story."

"Thanks."

Halfway through the doorway he paused to look back at me.  "Personally, I always preferred Hammett."






21 November 2018

Meeting Some Old Friends

by Robert Lopresti

I had an odd and  interesting experience today.

I am working on the seventeenth story in my series about mystery writer Leopold Longshanks.  This one will include several characters who have been mentioned before and I realized I needed a scorecard, so to speak. So I skimmed through all the previous stories to see what I have already mentioned about any characters who have, or are likely to, appear more than once.

And am I glad I did.  It turns out that the woman I have been referring to in my draft as Meghan McDonough is really Megan McKenzie.  Oops.

More annoying is the fact that another character I wanted to bring back is Fiona Makem.  It is an absolute grudge of mine about authors who confuse their readers by giving characters similar names.  If you have five people in your story why name them Pete, Pat, Paul, Polly, and Thusnelda?  There are so  many initial letters to choose from!

But in my case Makem and McKenzie had appeared in separate stories so I hadn't noticed the similarity before.  So in my current tale I got them on a first name basis immediately.

Another reason to make careful notes is that Fiona is attempting to write a mystery novel set in each county in Ireland.  I need to remember that she has already covered Death in Donegal, Whacked in Wicklow, and (my favorite) Plugged in Cork.  God only knows how she is going to handle Fermanagh and Laios.

My list of characters also set my fevered brain to work. What if straight-laced Officer Dereske met eccentric philanthropist Dixie Traynor?  That might provide some fun.

I always make character lists before starting a novel (for one reason, to avoid multiple use of the same initial, of course).  But this is the first time I have had to do it with a series of stories.

And I guess that's a good thing.  I like a series with a large supporting cast.  Think of Nero Wolfe or Amelia Peabody.

Now I had better get back to story #17.  Our hero is just about to reveal the solution...

07 November 2018

Snow Job

by Robert Lopresti

In September I mentioned one of the rare snowstorms my city receives.  Today I am going to talk about a different, more recent, one.

The storm was harsh enough to give both my wife and I the day off and so we decided to walk the half-mile to our closest grocery store for a look around and some lunch.

My back yard
As we trudged off through the beautiful whiteness I had a sudden thought: With our ski masks and scarves and gloves we were dressed exactly the way banks tell us not to.  You've seen the signs: "For your safety and ours remove hats, glasses, and scarves before entering." Or words to that effect.

Because I suffer from CWB (Crime Writer's Brain) an idea immediately appeared in my skull.  What if some bank robbers decided to take advantage of a blizzard to stroll into a bank unnoticed? 

Hmm.  How would they make their getaway?  Obviously they would have to steal some snowmobiles!

When you get right down to it, that was a pretty stupid idea.  But the great thing about writing fiction is that even a stupid idea can make a smart story.

And speaking of stupid, I realized instantly that this was a case for Officer Kite.  This peace officer has appeared in two of my previous stories, "A Bad Day for Pink and Yellow Shirts," and "A Bad Day for Bargain Hunters."

Kite is not a very competent cop.  In his first appearance he got run over by his own police car..  That made him seem like the perfect foil for my snowmobiling bandits.

All the "Bad Day" stories are set in fictional Brune County, and involve strangers getting involved in a tangled mess of bad intentions and worse planning.  So far each story is longer and more convoluted than the last.

If you pick up the current (November/December 2018) issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine you will discover "A Bad Day for Algebra Tests."  I hope you enjoy it.  And bundle up.

31 October 2018

My Spooky Moment

by Robert Lopresti

Happy Halloween!  May you be visited by enough costumed children to entertain you and not so many that they get  all the good candy and leave you with the healthy stuff.

I have been pondering what to write about today and decided to tell about my one-and-only brush with the supernatural.

Now, I need to explain that I am not a fan of such stuff.  I have no belief in ghosts, an afterlife, or monsters.  Things that go bump in the night are, in my experience, usually restless cats.

But there was this one time...

It happened in late August, about twenty years ago.  I was bicycling home from work, my usual form of commute, and I was thinking about a couple of songs I had been invited to perform at a friend's birthday party that night.  I turned the corner onto one of the busiest streets on my city and--

After that everything fades away.  I am sure you are familiar with pointilism, those paintings made up of individual dots?  Well, that is how my memory of that moment feels.  I can see the city scene and then it shifts into individual dots and disappears to black.

As I found out later, I had fallen off my bicycle and sustained a concussion.

The next thing I remember I was in a long black tunnel.  There was a bright but fuzzy light at the end of it and I sensed that I was being drawn farther away from that light.  I heard someone call my name.

Some of you may recognize that this event contains many elements common to what are called near-death-experiences.  People who have had such events often report that their whole view of the world has been changed by them.

And indeed, if I had blacked out at that moment I imagine my philosophy might be quite different than it is now.

But I didn't lose consciousness again.  And I slowly realized that the dark tunnel was actually the inside of an ambulance.  The light at the end of the tunnel was the sunny afternoon outside.  It was fuzzy because my glasses were broken.  The sensation of being drawn away from the light was caused by my being strapped onto a gurney which was being pushed deeper into the ambulance.  And the voice calling my name?  A paramedic calling the hospital to tell them who was coming.

Disappointing, I know.  There went my one chance to write a bestselling memoir of my visit to the afterlife.

So, on the whole, not as spooky a story as you might have hoped for.  But there are pleasures to be found in the real world too.  Snag yourself a candy bar before the goblins grab 'em all.

Oh, and one last trick or treat.  What do these two book covers have to do with Halloween?  Answer will be in the comments.

17 October 2018

Based on an Untrue Movie

by Robert Lopresti

When the movie American Animals  came to town this summer it was pretty much foreordained that I would see it.  The subject is attempted theft of rare books from a college library, a subject with which I am not unfamiliar.  In fact, the flick was based on an event I had already blogged briefly about.

To summarize,  four college students decided to get rich by stealing some valuable books from the Special Collections room at the library of Transylvania University in Kentucky.  Their planning technique consisted mostly of getting drunk/stoned and watching heist movies.  The resulting event  was a disaster and about the only positive things you can say about it are: 1) The victims did not suffer lasting physical damage, 2) No books were destroyed, and 3) All four of the fools went to prison.

The movie is worth seeing but I want to bring up one specific complaint about it.  It begins by pompously announcing that: this isn't based on a true story; it is a true story.

And, of course, it ain't.

The gimmick that makes American Animals unique is that while the main part of the story is carried out by actors, it also contains interviews with the actual culprits, and sometimes even shows the same scene more than once, to reflect the version of whoever is talking.  It's clever and interesting, but like I said, you are not seeing a true story.

I have complained before about a better movie that played fast and loose with the facts.  So call me a serial grumbler.

The important things that American Animals got wrong, as far as I am concerned, involved (surprise!) librarians.  The burglars in the movie showed much more concern about harming the rare books librarian than their real life counterparts did.  And the "true story" completely erased the library director who put herself in harm's way to try to stop the theft.  Maybe she didn't give the producers permission to include her?  I don't know but leaving her out was not the truth.

A few more questions and I am not the first person to ask them: If instead of white suburban guys the crooks had been African-American urbanites would this movie have been made?  If so would the script have tried so hard to show them as Good Boys Gone Wrong?  Hell, would they have even survived their arrests?

Unanswerable, of course.

By coincidence I just rewatched another movie based on a true story, one I liked better than American Animals or Argo.  The Informant! concerns Mark Whitacre who is apparently the highest executive to ever voluntarily turn whistleblower about his company's wrong deeds.  In the 1990s Whitacre was a biochemist and high-paid executive for ADM, one of the world's largest food processors.

And he told an FBI agent that his company was involved in an ongoing world-wide conspiracy to fix the prices for corn syrup, which finds its way into everything. As one agent says in amazement "Every American is a victim of corporate crime before he finishes breakfast."  So Whitacre agrees to wear a wire.

This sounds like we are building up to a dark brooding movie with heart-pounding suspense.  That's not what we get.  The flick is full of bright colors and Illinois sunshine and most of the time Whitacre seems to be having a marvelous time doing his spy gig.  At one point he shows his secret recorder to a virtual stranger and explains that he is Secret Agent Double-oh-fourteen "because I'm twice as smart as James Bond!'

Whitacre often provides a running narration on events, which is not surprising.  But his narrative almost never relates to what's going on.  As he is about to plot price-fixing with fellow executives he tells us: "I think I have nice hands.  They're probably my favorite part of my body..."

By now you may have the idea that Whitacre was not playing with a full corn silo.  In fact, as near as I can tell the place where the movie may depart most from the facts is in choosing to show us whether he was crazy from the start, or cracked under pressure.  (As his lawyer points out, FBI agents going undercover get training on coping with a double life.  All Whitacre got was a recorder and a firm handshake.)

I have simplified the story considerably.  The complications are what makes it so fascinating.  I loved watching Scott Bakula and Joel McHale playing FBI agents looking on in stunned horror as shoe after shoe after shoe drops on their case.

One person who seems to have had a wonderful time with this movie is composer Marvin Hamlisch.  In keeping with the spirit of the film, his music usually has nothing to do with the plot of the film.  When a character is taking a lie detector test the accompanying music is -- a square dance?

In closing, let me just wish that if they make a film of your life it has a happy ending.