Showing posts with label Murderous Intent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Murderous Intent. Show all posts

29 April 2020

Robbing Victor to Pay Shanks

As I mentioned  here not too long ago, I think one of my writing strengths is premises and one of my weaknesses is plots.  A result of that is a notebook full of ideas which will probably never bloom into short stories.

Several pages of said notebook are devoted to Shanks, the crime-writing character who has appeared in a bunch of my stories.   Years ago I dreamed up this idea: Shank is on a committee trying to restore a Depression-era opera house in his city.  It would be called the World Theatre, which would let me use the title (snicker) "Shanks Saves The World."

I liked it a lot.  Only problem: What would my hero do to get the money for the restoration?

Sort of a big plot gap, right?  And so the story sat in my notebook for years.  But then I had a breakthrough.

I have mentioned before here that I also wrote a series of stories about Uncle Victor.  He is the elderly, eccentric relative of a crime boss.  His nephew reluctantly tolerates him because doing so was the last request of  the previous godfather.  So when Victor decides to become a private eye, nephew Benny pulls strings to get him a license.

Several stories about this odd duck made it into print but then my market for them, Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, went the way of all periodicals and I moved onto other things.

However, I remembered that I had written a story in which an aging music producer hires Victor to hunt down some musicians he cheated and now wants to do right by  The draft was still sitting in my files.

So what if we offer Uncle Victor a well-deserved retirement and send Shanks to the producer instead, asking for a big donation for the theatre where, by a wonderful coincidence, some of the old man's bands used to perform?  And the producer says, to get my money you have to find these musicians I ripped off decades ago...

Suddenly I had a plot.  The result, titled (as you probably guessed) "Shanks Saves The World," is featured in the current (May/June 2020) issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  It is my 31st appearance there, and Shanks' tenth.

I am especially glad the story made it into this issue because another Shanks story, a sort of sequel to this one, will coming out this summer in an anthology.  More on that in a later installment.

And speaking of more, if you want to read a completely different essay I wrote about "Shank Saves The World," you will find it at Trace Evidence, the AHMM blog.

And I hope you enjoy the story.  Now back to my notebook...

02 December 2015

Caching in on Uncle Victor

This is a somewhat convoluted tale about an old form of entertainment meeting up with a much newer one.

Back in the 1990s there was a publication called Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine. I used to write a column called FYI in every issue which allowed me to say anything I wanted as long as it was related to mystery fiction. Call it rehearsal for the blogging I have been doing for so many Wednesdays.

I also created my first series character there. Uncle Victor was inspired by Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Robert Graves' I, Claudius, and Jack Ritchie's Henry Turnbuckle stories.

You see, Victor was an elderly and eccentric member of an organized crime family. Like Claudius, he survived in his murderous clan because no one took him seriously enough to kill him. His brother, the actual crime boss, told his son on his death bed, "Take care of Victor. God knows he needs it."

Benny, the son and new boss, is not a nice man, and he doesn't like his uncle. But he wants to make a lot of changes in the business and so, to please the traditionalists, he has to honor his father's dying words. When Uncle Victor decides to become a private eye Benny pulls strings to get him a license. Alas, Victor's main qualification, like that of Henry Turnbuckle, Jack Ritchie's police detective, is totally unjustified self-confidence.

I wrote a bunch of stories about this gentleman and then Murderous Intent went out of business and I moved on to other subjects. But naturally I included the stories in my online bibliography.

And that's where things remained earlier this year when I heard from some geocachers. Do you know about geocaching? I first learned about it from Maphead, Ken Jennings wonderful book about people who obsess about geography.

Here is a definition, from

Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.

The geocachers who contacted me were Kathleen and Bob Loose (and like the fictional Henry Turnbuckle, they are residents of Milwaukee). Their nom de cache is Team~DNF (DNF stands for Did Not Find, a signal that either the hider or the finder went wrong).

And now I will let Kathleen Loose explain why they wrote to me, and what happened next. With her permission I have done a little editing.

Geocachers hunting for Uncle Victor
A team of geogcachers searching for Uncle Victor
Where do the ideas for a geocache come from? They can come from anywhere. Often a geocacher may find a geocache that is different and it inspires them to use a similar technique. That was the case for Team~DNF with Cache GC5XM0N. We had discovered the possible use of ultraviolet paint as part of a cache we attempted in Arizona. Upon returning home, we determined that there weren't any UV caches hidden in our area. We decided to change that and began to brainstorm ideas for possible caches incorporating UV paint/light.

We settled on making our next hide a two stage cache with the UV light needed to get the coordinates for the second (final) stage where the log would be hidden. We tested materials to use for the first stage. Our plan was taking shape. Besides the physical items for the first stage and the cache container for the final, the cache page was needed. Most geocachers try to make the cache pages for their hides interesting, intriguing and inviting to encourage fellow geocachers to go out and find them. We brainstormed ideas for working "UV" into the cache title and cache page ... besides listing the geocache attribute "UV light required". We tossed around word combinations using "U" and "V" starting with the military "Uniform" "Victor" which quickly morphed into "Uncle Victor". We then searched the web and found that "Uncle Victor" was the featured detective in a series of stories by Robert Lopresti.

Finding the first stage
Being a detective is what geocaching is all about. "Uncle Victor's First Case" sure sounded like a good cache title for this first UV hide. Mrs. DNF, figuring nothing ventured, nothing gained, decided to contact the author to see if there might be a way to weave the story in to the cache page. After receiving and reading the story, it seemed clear to Team~DNF that there was a good fit. They enjoyed working with Rob to get the cache page ready for publication. We hope that geocachers who find the first page of the story in our cache will finish the story by visiting Rob's website.

There were a few set backs in placing the cache. The initial location attempts ended up being unsuitable due to several mystery (puzzle) caches hidden closer than the minimum 528' distance between cache hides. A new location was found that met the hide requirements and the cache was published on August 1, 2015. The FTF (first to find) was claimed on August 2.

The successful hunters: Silyngufy, Mewwi101,
Ranger Boy and Ranger Rob, and Mrs DNF
While many in the geocaching community looked at the cache page, no one else was attempting a find. This may have been due in part to an intense competition going on involving many of the very active Milwaukee area geocachers during the time the cache was released. This competition ended in mid-October. After confirming the competition was over, Mrs. DNF decided to put in a plug on the local geocaching community's facebook page on October 18th. In the following days there was positive discussion and one geocacher decided to organize a hunt for Friday Oct 23 at 9:00 AM. Mrs. DNF was also available during that time, so she tagged along with the group of four as they hunted the geocache. Everyone had a good time and two of the four even gave the cache a favorite point.

As for Team~DNF, they are working on more ideas for geocache hides involving UV light and increasing their geocache find count.

16 September 2015

Alien Fires 2

Continuing my report on Sasquan, the World Science Fiction Convention, held in Spokane in the middle of a wildfire disaster last month.

To the best of my knowledge the biggest squabble that ever occurred in the mystery world happened in the 1980s when some people complained that women were underrepresented in reviews, sales, and awards.  This was one fact that led to the creation of Sister in Crime, and caused MWA to change the way they formed award committees.

Well, trust me, that struggle was a pebble compared to the Mount Rushmore that hit Worldcon this year.

If you want details search the internet for "Sad Puppies."  As I understand it, one group of SF readers/writers was unhappy about what they saw as the field becoming more political and favoring certain stories and authors.  Frankly, to my ignorant outsider eyes it looked like they were complaining that an insufficient number of straight white men were being nominated.  But what do I know about science fiction?

In any case, they created a slate of candidates for the Hugo nominations and, in a quite legal way, gamed the election. The Hugo Award nominees and winners are chosen by people who register for the con (like our Anthony Awards), but for $40 you can buy a supporting membership.  That doesn't entitle you to attend, but it does let you vote.  I am told that approximately 400 people bought memberships so they could support the Sad Puppy slate.

One hundred and sixty grand can build an awfully high spite fence.

In some categories all the chosen nominees were part of the Sad Puppies slate.  (And some of these writers chose to remove their names from the ballot, rather than be associated with the Puppies.  Imagine waiting for years for a nomination and then feeling you have to turn it down!)

It got even weirder.  One writer on the Sad Puppy slate wrote to the Spokane Police Department, warning them that one of the guests of honor was "insane" and might incite violence.  (This wasn't a secret, by the way: he announced on a podcast that he did this.)  He later apologized.

The actual  Hugo Awards voting is complicated and allows for No Award (i.e. none of the above).  In five categories the voters rejected all the candidates, and in no cases did anyone supported by the Sad Puppies win.   Now the fans have to figure out a way to clean up the mess and I hope that none of this will repeat net year.

Oh!  Remember the con?  Panels and stuff like that?  Let's talk about that, shall we?  I will stick to stuff that can reasonably be tied to mystery fiction.

I had the chance to hear Connie Willis, one of my favorite SF writers,  read from her next book, Crosstalk.  It is a romantic comedy about telepathy.  (Think about that one for a moment.  The essence of romantic comedy is misunderstanding between sweethearts.  If they can read each other's minds... She set her self a challenge didn't she?)  But Willis also announced that for a future project she is rereading all of Agatha Christie.  She is convinced that Dame Agatha left clues behind concerning her famous disappearance in 1926.  I look forward to Willis's future reports.

There was a panel on fantasy and horror noir which I enjoyed a lot although there was the usual confusion between hardboiled and noir. Panelist John Pitts made the proper distinction, although he later blotted his copybook by calling Han Solo an anti-hero.  A rogue is not an anti-hero.

I attended a memorial for Stu Shiffman, a friend of mine who died last fall.  He was a wonderful graphic artist who worked in both the mystery and science fiction fields.  Attached is one of the many covers he did for Margo Power's late lamented magazine.

I attended three panels on short stories.  It was at one of those that I picked up the best piece of writing advice I heard that weekend, from Daryl Gregory: "Stop just short of the ending.  If you act like Tom Sawyer and let your readers do the rest of the work, they'll be more connected to the story, and thank you for it."

And speaking of quotations, here are a few gems I picked up.  As usual, if you want context, you're on your own.

"Style is what the writer does.  Genre is what the marketing department does."  - Richard Vadry

"Why is some short fiction better than novels?  Because it's riskier."  -Stefan Rudnick

"Other people have 'Do Not Resuscitate' orders.  I have 'No One Edits My Manuscript.'" - -Connie Willis.

"There's no platonic ideal of story."  -C.C. Finlay

"Every other writer's process is sort of vaguely scary and appalling." - Daryl Gregory.

"I can't say hello in less than five thousand words." -Mark J. Ferrari

"What relationships need is less communication, not more." -Connie Willis.

"I vote for more pretty boys reading the weather." -Janet Freeman-Daily

"'Theme' is what the critics use to describe what you did." - Eileen Gunn

"Writing a short story is a tightrope walk.  The craft is getting from one end to the other.  The art is doing a backflip in the middle."  - C.C. Finlay

"We need eco-zombies." - Gregg Castro

"The literary market does not believe in money.  At least, not for you." - Mir Plemmons.

"The happy ending is sadly underrated.  But it has to be earned." -Connie Willis.