Showing posts with label R.T. Lawton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label R.T. Lawton. Show all posts

25 October 2020

Evolution of a Story


 Originally, I was going to title this one as "Three Strikes and a Home Run on a Bunt." But that is too long for a title, and as baseball fans know, technically a batter only gets three strikes and then he is out of the batter's box. He doesn't then get another chance to swing at the ball. So, pay attention here because this is the way this game went.

Strike One
Back in the 90's, another short story author proposed that he and I should write a private investigator story together, a story set in the corrupt river-town of Sioux City during the Prohibition Era. At the time, the proposing author had several more published short stories than I did, but he had also received several rejections from AHMM. So, our plan was to co-author the story and submit it to AHMM and he would then get a story into their magazine, well, at least half a story. Since he and I liked the same authors and the same type of stories, it should have been easy working together.

I wrote part of the story and passed it to him. He wrote the next part of the story and passed it back. And, so on until the story was finished. Were there any problems? Of course there were. We didn't agree on the title, the private eye's name or even his height, among some of the important issues. Consulting with other fellow writers as intermediaries resulted in evenly divided opinions or else a third suggestion which neither co-author wished to implement. In the end, there was a lot of coin flipping. I submitted the story with both author's names  for the byline to AHMM. They rejected it. The editor must've had her own coin. At separate times afterwards, my co-author submitted our manuscript to two small press magazines he had previously been published in. In turn, each magazine accepted the story, but then went toes up before a contract could be signed. The story never saw print. With all the fun I'd had on this joint project, I swore to myself to avoid any short story collaboration in the future. This worked for about twenty years.

 Strike Two
Now, we move forward to the 21st Century. An author, whom I highly admire and was already in AHMM, inquired about the two of us co-authoring a short story for AHMM. I explained my prior situation and declined the proposal. A couple of years later, the inquiry came again. By the third request, I decided what the hell, give it a try, see how it goes. I then created a partial story outline proposal involving a bent cop and a gangster during the Prohibition Era, but a completely different plot than the story in Strike One. Next, I wrote about 1,000 words in the POV of one of the two main characters and passed the partial outline and story start to the other author for his turn to write about 1,000 words in the POV of the other main character. After the pass, other projects seemed to have come along and everybody went their separate writing ways. No harm, no foul.

Strike Three
A couple of years ago, I wrote a story about a gangster in 1930's New York City during (you guessed it) the Prohibition Era. Completely different plot than the ones in Strike One and Strike Two. I shipped the manuscript off to AHMM via e-mail in August 2017. The rejection came back in July 2018 with the editor's comments that it looked like I was setting the story up for a series. (Remember her comment for later.)  And, the editor was correct, I had intended for the story to become a series.

The Bunt

Looking through my story starts one day for something to write, I came across my old 1,000 word start from the abandoned Strike Two project. Years had passed without any progress, so I blew the dust off and continued the story. Only now, I changed the story to be written solely from one main character's POV, the bent cop. I finished the outline and the story as I wrote. The manuscript went to AHMM in February 2018 and was accepted in January 2019.

The Ball Keeps On Rolling
In the early part of August 2020, I got an e-mail from the Managing Editor of AHMM saying that I will have a story coming out in their Nov/Dec 2020 issue, but she had been on vacation and was trying to catch up, so she didn't yet know which story it would be. Since they had at the time six of my purchased-but-not-yet-published stories setting in inventory, I obviously didn't know which one it would be either.

The Home Run
In last August, Rob Lopresti e-mailed me with a link to the preview of the Nov/Dec 2020 AHMM issue. The last line in the 2nd paragraph in the Editor's Preview section says: "And R.T. Lawton introduces us to a new series in "A Matter of Values."

And yep, that's the bent cop and gangster story from Strike Two and The Bunt, but I wrote that one as a standalone story. Let's see now, one is a standalone, two is a sequel and at least three is a series, unless you count that as a trilogy, in which case it takes four. This means that in order not to disappoint the editor, I now have to come up with two or more new stories involving those same two main characters and then get contracts for each of those stories.. What a problem to have. Goes to show, you just never know how things will go in this game of ours.

27 September 2020

In the Trenches


"In order to write about life
you must first live it.
        — Ernest Hemingway

For most of what goes into my writing, I tried to first live in that life, but then as a kid I had also raised myself on such novels as The Three Musketeers, Scaramouche, Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe. The true adrenaline adventures came later.

If what I was going to write about as an adult was not something I had personally lived or observed, then I would research that topic. I quickly found the best research information came from those who had lived in that life, so when I decided to write my Bookie series, I went out and got myself a bookie. Surprisingly, he wasn't like bookies are depicted in movies and on television. This bet taker turned out to be a young guy, no different than the All-American kid next door. It's just that he illegally took bets on sporting events and laundered some of his cash salary received for booking these bets through his personal legitimate business as a landscaping company.

Now bookies don't necessarily talk to law enforcement and especially not to lay out their entire clandestine operation. Since this particular bookie had a loose, potential connection to my extended family, he agreed to meet with me, but not in the city where we both lived. Which led us to Bernie, my mother-in-law, who lived in a town about an hour away.

At the time, Bernie was a school teacher and the biggest fan of my short stories and magazine articles. She definitely did not condone crime or criminals, but when I explained the situation, she decided that since it was me then I could use her house for the meeting place. She would just go shopping during the appointed meeting time.

The bookie, whom I had never met before, and I got together for a couple of hours and talked. I ended up with four typed pages of notes. Having never made a sports bet, except for friendly wagers with friends while watching various Super Bowls, this was all new to me. I learned about overs and unders and the spread. I learned how bookies only take referred clients, how limits worked, how the odds came from Vegas and the terms for betting. A penny is a hundred dollars, two cents is $200, a nickel is $500 and a dime is $1,000. Back then, bet records were kept on cassette tapes and tossed in a burn barrel after debts were settled. Sometimes, they merely used magnetic erasers to clean the tapes. The client knew he was being taped when he placed the bet. The bookie then repeated the bet on tape and stated the account number of the client.

A Popcorn Bookie was a small wanna-be bookie who usually operated in a bar or other business and laid off his bets to a larger local Book. For very large bets, the local book would usually lay off those bets to an offshore book in order to protect themselves from extreme loses.

Using some of the above information, I wrote the first two stories in my Bookie series. Unfortunately for me, AHMM and EQMM didn't take these stories, so they didn't become an actual series. You know, one is a standalone, two is a sequel and it takes at least three to make a series.

For my E Z Money Pawn Shop series, I went to an actual pawn shop owner on a cold call and spoke to him for an hour. He was not as forthcoming as the bookie when it came to telling shop stories, but I got enough info to write a couple of my own stories. These two pawn shop stories and the two bookie stories can currently be found in 9 Deadly Tales on Amazon in paperback.

For my 9 Tales of the Golden Triangle, I figured a year in Nam (1967-68) was close enough for experience, plus years later, reading the reports on opium warlords that crossed my work desk along with various editions of the South China Morning Post out of Hong Kong. Six of these tales have already been published in AHMM, one more has been purchased by them but not yet published and two more are resting in AHMM's e-slush pile. All nine stories should see print in paperback on Amazon in a year or two.

In past SleuthSayer blog articles, I have written about the backgrounds of 9 Holiday Burglars Mysteries, 9 Historical Mysteries and 9 Twin Brothers Bail Bond Mysteries, so I won't repeat that information except to say they are also available in paperback on Amazon.

And, that's me reporting from the trenches.

Have a nice day and keep on writin'.

30 August 2020

Talking to Strangers


From March through August is a long time to have a void in your socializing. It's enough to make you start talking to strangers in a park, regardless of what your mother told you about not doing that sort of thing.

The situation finally got so bad that one morning the wife and I decided to hit the drive-up at Starbuck's for coffee and lemon bread snacks. Of course, the people in line behind whoever is being served at the window tend to get a little perturbed if you pause for very long to converse with the window employee, so we soon knew it was time for us to move along. Now, we needed a place to enjoy our morning coffee. This led us to a nice, little, hidden-away park with some elbow room and a beautiful view of nature. A place called Fox Run.

We had barely settled in at a metal picnic table, sipped our coffee and opened our sealed packets of lemon bread, when a young fellow with camera and long lens walked up and inquired if he could use the far end of the table for a short while. Well, I had my large, red, Harley bandanna down around my neck and my wife had her surgical mask off so we could eat and drink in comfort, but it was a large table with plenty of room for social distancing, so we told him to go ahead and use it.

Naturally, one thing led to another and a conversation ensued. It started with cameras and photography. On this particular day, he was shooting photos of the turtles in the upper lake. That led to the usual where are you from, where did you go to college and what kind of work do you do. After all my years of subtly interrogating people as a Special Agent, I don't mind asking questions, and I've found that most people like talking about themselves if you can once get them started. Strangely enough, they get so involved talking about themselves that few of them ask questions back.

We soon found he was an artist painting in the abstract style and had also tried his hand at a little writing. We then had an interesting conversation on such topics as creativity and inspiration. At the end, we swapped get-in-touch information and went our separate ways.

Michael DePalma is his name.

WALKS -in the Goddess series
Over the next couple of weeks, I went to his two websites:http://www.waveformexpressionism.com/and http://www.thewaveformexpressionist.net/ . And, while I know very little about painting and the techniques involved, not to mention the various styles, I do know if something is pleasing to my eye. If we had the money to buy paintings, the wife and I would now be owners of a couple of Michael's paintings which spoke to our artistic interests one way or another.

In some of Michael's blog articles, I found pieces on inspiration, writer's block, creativity and other topics of interest for writers. For myself, I have always found it interesting and motivating to discuss creativity with someone in one of the other branches of the Fine Arts. It seems that the inspiration and creative process in other branches is often comparable to what writers go through for a completed manuscript. It is all art in different forms.

But, like all in the Fine Arts, success is a pyramid with limited room at the top for only a few artists (writers/musicians/actors/etc.) to make big money. Artists are lucky if they can even be high enough on the pyramid to make a living. Some don't become successful and their works valuable until after they are dead and gone, as if they were just then discovered. For many of us writers, it's a good thing we have a steady income, or 9 to 5, or even a retirement pension to pay the bills while we create. For those who don't have that safety net to fall back on, it can be an insecure world.

So what we have here, is a graduate from a prestigious university who is trying to exist on his creative talents, but still needs to live on more than thin air. What he is looking for now, is a job in the graphic arts field where he can put his creative talents to good use.

Check out his two websites, observe his artistic talent and read some of his blog articles. Then, if you like what you see and happen to know of an opening in the field of graphic arts, e-mail him through one of his two websites. Or, if you wish to remain anonymous, send the info to me and I'll pass it on to Michael.

In the meantime, keep on creating.

26 July 2020

With Social Media the Past is never Far Away



A few years ago, on this same blog site, I posted an article which briefly touched on losing a friend of mine by the name of Tom Whitehead. Tom and I had run together during our high school and early college years in Wichita, Kansas. After a couple of years of college, Tom joined the Army. He went to the 25th Infantry near Cu Chi several months before I went to the 1st Air Cav at Ankhe up in the Central Highlands during the Summer of '67. Before I rotated home in mid-'68, I heard from friends that Tom got caught in a mortar attack, came home as a statistic and was buried in Oklahoma. Like I said at the beginning of this paragraph, I had briefly mentioned Tom in a SleuthSayer's blog article. Shortly afterwards, I received a surprise e-mail in response to that mention.

It seems that Tom had a half-brother in Texas and this half-brother was reaching out to me to learn more about the relative he had never met and knew very little about. I gathered photos and information about Tom from friends we had in common and e-mailed these items to Tom's half-brother in Texas to help him fill in the gap he had in his family tree.

At the end, I was surprised at how easily the past could reach out through the ether and touch the present. And now, it's happened again.

A few days ago, I received an e-male from a female I did not know. Her e-mail had been directed through my author website, which told me she did not have either of my direct e-mail addresses. In her e-mail, she told me that she had been going through her father's belongings and had found my old (DEA) business card. She was hoping to learn more about her father and implied that I knew what had happened to him. From her words, I was fairly sure her dad was deceased, but not only did I not know him from his name, I also had no idea what had happened to him.

With luck and a calculated internet search, I learned her father had been a police officer in a western Nebraska town near the South Dakota border and that he had died (a one-line obit) in July 1992 at the age of 32. No other details seemed to be available about his death. I had made a fair-sized cocaine case in that border town during the late 80's/early 90's, but I did not recall meeting the man, nor giving him my business card. I subsequently provided her with the skimpy information I had and then asked a few questions in return.

In her reply e-mails, I learned that her father had gone to work as an undercover operative in central South Dakota to buy drugs on and off the Indian reservation. The day he was to come out of the cold and meet with his handlers in a specific South Dakota city, he was found dead in a small Nebraska border town. Allegedly, he had committed suicide. Also allegedly, there were inconsistencies in the reports.

Three things came to my mind. First, small Midwest towns usually don't have the best forensics and their county coroners may not have any training for their position. Situations are often taken at face value. Second, the undercover game is a tough mental and emotional stretch. Not everyone is suited to the tension of being in a deep cover situation where backup can't get to you in time if circumstances suddenly go south. Maintaining cover as a different personality can be nerve-racking when the other side has guns, but no rules to restrict them. And third, when an operation goes bad, people start distancing themselves, especially those career officials striving to climb the promotion ladder. Take your pick.

Turned out, according to the daughter, that her father was working with the FBI and a regional drug task force to buy drugs and get evidence on some corrupt officials. That was a time period when the FBI had decided they had concurrent jurisdiction on drug cases. Naturally, they did not tell us about their operations. As a matter of fact, they kept the information so tight, that even though it occurred in the eastern part of my territory and just over the river from my first line supervisor's territory, neither one of us heard even a whisper about it when the operation was ongoing, or afterwards, until the daughter e-mailed me. I still don't know how her dad got my business card.

They say the past is history. In truth, it is often seen in terms of dust and death. But, in those times when the past squeezes through the ether to peer over your shoulder and raises the short hairs on the back of your neck, that's not dust reaching out to touch you.

28 June 2020

Lend Me A Scene


Last month, you read my blog article about the creation of "St. Paddy's Day" and the process of brainstorming that story. Today's topic is about the concept of borrowing for a story.

Some writers say borrow from the best. I say borrow whatever works best for the story you are writing. Borrow from wherever it is and from whoever wrote it. I'm not advocating that you should plagiarize someone else's writing, you understand. What I'm talking about here is borrowing the concept of that writer's idea or scene and putting that idea or scene into your own words to use it to best advantage in the story you are currently creating.

4 of the 9 stories in this book are in
my 1660's Paris Underworld series
This brings us to "Green Eyes," the 9th story in my 1660's Paris Underworld series. This is the one I sold to AHMM in May of this year. It is the 47th story the editors of that magazine have accepted over the years, but at the same time I'd prefer not to also think about the prior rejected submissions, nor those sure to come in the future.

For this 9th story in the series, it went like this. I needed a story line and a character arc. Then, I remembered a scene from the memoirs of Eugene Francois Vidocq. Vidocq as you may or may not recall, spent the first part of his life as a master criminal in France and the last part of his life as the Director of the French Surete catching criminals. Literary Note of Interest: When Victor Hugo wrote his novel, Les Miserables,, he loosely based the two main characters, Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, on the two parts of Vidocq's life.

Anyway, in his memoirs, Vidocq wrote about trying to locate a robber so he could arrest the man. After much searching without success, Vidocq decided to try a different method. He was fairly certain that the criminal's wife knew where her husband was hiding out, but would not be willing to tell anyone the location. So, he devised a clever scheme relying on the emotion of jealousy as a catalyst. Enlisting the help of a female criminal who owed him a favor, Vidocq had this female pad her stomach area under her dress and go to the robber's house with a story. The now pregnant-looking female told the wife that she needed to see the wife's husband. When the wife asked what business the female had with her husband, the female patted her ample stomach and replied that the wife's husband knew what business, and then left.

Vidocq, who had been staying out of sight, watched while the wife locked up the house and walked briskly away. As she went through the winding streets of Paris, he followed her until she found her husband. Vidocq then promptly arrested the previously hard-to-find felon.

Okay, if that idea worked for Vidocq in real life, surely in my 1660's Paris Underworld series, I could use something similar for one of my main characters (the Chevalier) who needs to locate the thief who stole his money. The narrator for this series is a young, orphan boy trained as a pickpocket. He is rather incompetent in his occupation, which usually gets him into trouble, plus in previous stories, he has also proven himself to be an unreliable narrator. Being naive and lacking experience in life, he doesn't always realize that some events and actions he witnesses are not quite what they appear to be.

At the opening of "Green Eyes," the orphan sees a man steal money the Chevalier has hidden away in the old Roman ruins where the orphan, the Chevalier and Josette live together in the criminal community on the bluffs above Paris. Later, when the thief becomes hard to find, the Chevalier turns to Josette and some well-placed padding. The orphan boy/narrator, who has a crush on Josette, surreptitiously follows the Chevalier and Josette as they follow after the wife. Not being in on the full plan, what the boy observes confuses him and raises his own emotions. For me to tell more would spoil the story and the ending, so look for "Green Eyes" in a future issue of AHMM. Evidently, the borrowed scene worked great.

How many of you have borrowed an idea,  scene or action from another author because you really liked it and saw a way you could use it in a story of your own? Let us know how well it worked out for you.

31 May 2020

How It All Came Together


At the time, I had eleven short stories in my Holiday Burglars series. That's my humor series, at least as far as I'm concerned. All eleven stories had been sold to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and all of them had seen print in their magazine. Now, it was time to write another story in the series.

10 of the first 11 stories are
now available in paperback

So there I sat, with a list of holidays in one hand and a list of potential valuables to steal in the other hand while staring at a blank computer screen. No title, no plot. Just two burglars, Yarnell and Beaumont, impatiently waiting for me to tell them what shenanigans they are up to for in this next episode. I can hear Beaumont saying, "Get a move on, bud. We don't like being unemployed. We need to go steal something."

Okay, they need something to steal. Preferably an exotic item or an object which is out of the ordinary and reader-attention-getting. We'll have to work on that part. Normally, the holiday comes first in the brainstorming process and that leads to the item to be purloined which leads to the weird situation our two burglars subsequently find themselves in.

So far, we've used up eleven different holidays in previous stories. What's left on the list? Cinco de Mayo? Nope, no current ideas for that one. How about Chinese New Year or Vietnamese Ahn Tet? Sorry, nothing there for now. Well, St. Patrick's Day is on the horizon and you do know some people from your old Texas Street neighborhood in Rapid City, friends who really liked to party. Yeah, of course, the Texas Street Hereford Society.
L to R: Scott, Dan, Fast Eddie, R.T. (holding the tail) and Bob
L'il Tex is the bucket calf in front.
(he just got run through the car wash at the dealership
and doesn't have a clue what's going on)

Let's tighten the focus down to Fast Eddie in the middle. (How this five-member society came into being and some of its subsequent antics can be saved for another time.) Fast Eddie was the heir apparent to a car dealership, a Registered Black Angus ranch and a working commercial cattle ranch. He was also well known in all the bars in Rapid City. The rest of us society members always said that if Eddie died first, we would bungee cord his body to a refrigerator dollie, put a drink in his hand and wheel him through all his favorite bars for one last Grand Tour.

That gives us drinking, St. Patrick's Day and a story character like Fast Eddie after he has passed on. Time to brainstorm the story plot.

What if Yarnell has just entered an Irish bar on St. Pat's Day to meet with his partner in crime, Beaumont? Over green beers and loud Irish music from the jukebox, Beaumont informs Yarnell that they now have a contract to steal a body.  Yeah, that should grab the reader's attention.

Moving on. It seems that a fellow burglar (Padraig, or Paddy as he is known to his associates) has died and his widow has arranged to have the wake at a funeral home. Some of the deceased's long-time drinking friends got into the party spirit, stole the corpse from his coffin while the widow wasn't looking, bungee corded the deceased to a refrigerator dollie and took him on a bar tour. The widow then hired Yarnell and Beaumont to find her wandering deceased husband, steal him back and get him to the funeral home in time for scheduled services, else the contract is void and thus no payment. The story is now open for anything to happen.

As a side note, while the widow may have thought Padraig (Paddy) was a potential saint while he was living, by the time he is returned to the funeral home, there may be evidence that his reputation is tarnished beyond repair.

The resulting story, "St. Paddy's Day," 12th in the series, was submitted to AHMM on 06/13/19 and accepted by their editor on 04/16/20. If I had to guess, I'd say it will probably see print in their March/April 2021 issue.

And there you have it. Another brainstorming session turned into a salable story.

Wish they all turned out that well.

BUSINESS NOTE:   Normally, the acceptance e-mail says that a contract will be coming via e-mail in about 30 days, but I usually get the e-contract in about two weeks, print and sign two copies and immediately mail them to DELL Publishing's contract person. Then, I wait for the check. However, due to the pandemic, the e-contract for the above story took about 42 days to arrive and the instructions were different. For this contract, I printed out and signed one copy. This signed copy was then scanned and e-mailed to DELL's contract person. Saves me postage on mailing the signed contract back to them. We'll see how long it takes for this check to arrive. Hey, I'm just glad to still be selling.

26 April 2020

Pride, The Fall, Redemption



PRIDE:
They say that Pride goeth before The Fall. That's me. For a lot of years, I was a man of consequence, but lately, Father Time has found it humorous to saddle me with age and thus remind me of the limitations I now have. Used to be, I lived the life, whether it was kicking doors,riding roundup, scuba diving, ziplining, branding calves, over the road on Harleys, coming in hot in Hueys, traveling to exotic lands and places... It was a rush.

And then came The Fall.

THE FALL:
In the beginning, it was more a series of little trips and stumbles. A health thing here, a degenerating vision thing there. Sorry pal, you're going to have to slow down to a walk, no more running for you. I was never a top athlete, one who was going to run a marathon, but c'mon knees, ankles, feet, wind, where'd you go? Yeah, I know, I never acted my age, especially in later years, but that was a good thing. It kept me going. Sure, I saw others in my different groups slowing down with age, but that was them. This was me. For a long time, even the mirror was on my side. What the hell happened?

And then, about three weeks ago, Father Time decided that the art of multi-tasking should now be beyond my capabilities. I should no longer be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Of course, I swear I was not chewing gum at the time of the trip, stumble and fall, but down I went anyway. The sidewalk won that bout. I came off second with scrapes, bruises, stitches and a nicked temporal artery. Man them things leak a lot of red stuff. Even the mirror said it didn't like me anymore. Something about if I had bolts in my neck, then I'd have a pieced-together face like Frankenstein's monster. I tell you, I gotta get a new mirror.

The ER doc sewed me up and I figured I could go home and be done with this fiasco. Much later, a nurse came in with discharge papers and explained which direction to walk to get to the ER waiting room where I could wait for my wife to collect me. Cell phones don't get reception in the ER rooms themselves, so I had to wait patiently until I got to the ER waiting room to call my wife for a ride home. AND, since I had no other clothes, AND since relatives are not allowed in ER rooms these days to even bring you fresh clothes, AND since the hospital will not loan you one of their fashionable backless gowns, I had to wear my long-sleeve, denim shirt which was thoroughly soaked with O-Positive, in order for me to leave the ER and go into the waiting room.

Fortunately, there were only two people sitting in the waiting room. Don't know how they got in as neither was a patient. Both had the appearance of street people. However, it was a large waiting room, so no problem keeping my social distancing. Then, I start listening to their conversation which consisted mostly of two related topics; cocaine and overdosing. Seems they had a friend in the ER as a patient. Guess the security guard must've had a soft spot in his heart to let them wait inside and occasionally inquire of the admission staff about their friend. But wait, it gets better.

The door from the ER rooms and into the ER waiting room opens and in strolls a "gentleman" with a long braid of hair hanging down his back and a lengthy key chain hanging from his belt down to his knees and back up into his front pants pocket. Obviously he doesn't have a cell phone because he goes straight to the free, old-style phone on the wall. I have no idea who he calls, but some of the first words out of his mouth quickly grab my attention. Words like: "No, I'm not escaping." Yeah, I know I was supposed to be outside the house at noon for them to pick me up." "No, I'm not trying to escape." "Look, just stall them." "No, don't tell them I'm at the hospital." "I told you, I'm not escaping." Then, he hangs up. Since the door back into the ER automatically locks after it closes, one of the two armed security guards has to let him back into the ER

This particular armed guard, who has previously been content to drink coffee and chat with the admissions people at the ER front door now turns and notices me in my slightly wet, drying from red to very dark red shirt. Coffee and chit chat go by the wayside. He casts a wary eye on me and immediately takes up a position against a nearby wall, with his arms crossed over his chest and a hard look in his eyes. I am now a person of interest.  It must be the company I've been keeping. Thank God my ride soon showed up so the guards could relax and go back to drinking coffee.

REDEMPTION:
Home at last. Fresh clothes. A pocketful of extra strength Tylenol. Yes, we did stop at the scene of the crime on our way home, but still can't figure out how or why the fall happened. It will just have to remain as one of those unexplained mysteries, but I can tell you there won't be any gum chewing in my future, for sure. I'll also have to avoid the mirror for a few days (we aren't getting along lately), but hey, everybody's got some problems these days.

And then.

I did what? You got to be kidding me.

Well then, forget all that other stuff.

I JUST SOLD ANOTHER STORY TO ALFRED HITCHCOCK MYSTERY MAGAZINE.

That makes 46 short stories they've bought from me.

Hey, I'm almost good again. I'll see what the mirror has to say about it.

29 March 2020

A Pound of Flesh: Journaling



The all-powerful "They," whoever these experts are, suggest that writers should journal their daily experiences to help out their writing. Thus, I begin the process. But, first a short prologue to aid the reader on a little background.

A month ago, we returned from a Caribbean cruise and as several of you may know, the cuisine on a large cruise ship is very plentiful and very tasty. Both of which are a problem. Plus, one has to add in all those vacation rum and cokes, not to mention a few rounds of of tropical concoctions served up from various fruits and alcohol. The conclusion of this type of situation usually results in the start of a well-intentioned diet shortly after the traveler returns home.

However, in my case and in the interests of full transparency, I must confess that the weight problem started shortly before we left for the cruise. Somehow, I had gained three pounds before embarkation. My only excuse is that I must have been anticipating the feast to come. But then, as so often happens, succumbing to temptation is sooner or later  followed by remorse and a certain amount of pain while trying to get back on track.

Okay, so here's the deal, starting with the first full day back home:

Sunday:  220.6 lbs.
     ate wisely, no desserts, no alcohol
     Goal: to get back to my 1967 going-to-Vietnam weight of 199 lbs.

Monday:  219.6 lbs.
     ate a big breakfast, no lunch, had soup for supper, no sweets
    okay, you got me, I had a couple of rum and cokes, it's called tapering off, besides, I needed some
    compensation for having to shovel 4" of snow this morning. Snow leeched out my new Caribbean
    tan.

Tuesday:  218.6 lbs.
     don't know why that .6 pound thing keeps hanging on, but hey I'm losing a pound a day so far and
     I have a weight loss haircut to look forward to this afternoon.
     ate a good breakfast, MAY skip lunch.
     Okay, so I put a little white rum in my cranberry juice for breakfast, but I've still got that weight
     loss haircut coming up to help me stay on pace.
     Made half a sandwich with deli-sliced ham, but it was the thick sliced bread, not the thin sliced
     type of sandwich bread, so had to add more ham. Need to speak to wife about buying some thin
     type sandwich bread.
     This afternoon, even though I told her not to do it, the wife baked blueberry muffins for the two
      grandsons to have a snack after school. Those warm muffins are great when they are fresh out of
     the oven. In my defense, I did NOT put butter on them.
     Slipped a little on the rum and cokes after supper, but figured them as a reward for doing so well
     with the weight.

Well, here we are with DAY 4. Today's weight came out at 218.0 pounds. That's still good, I lost .6 pounds from yesterday. Finally, got rid of that .6 thing following me around on the scales every morning. The haircut weight loss must've worked. Not sure what to do about tomorrow. I've only got so much hair.
had a good breakfast, most important meal of the day.
Okay, I did pour some Kalua in my coffee cup, but there was also some coffee in that same cup. It's something I learned from a friend on the ship one morning at breakfast.
Too much good food in the house to skip lunch. Waste not, want not. May have to do a few situps to counteract lunch intake. Supper will be another problem. Don't think I can do that many situps. Wonder if a couple of pushups would suffice to counteract supper?
Rum all gone. Need to make a resupply run.

DAY 5: 219.2 lbs.  Ooops!
Those two growing teenage grandsons coming to the house for a hearty breakfast five mornings a week before school are putting a kink in my diet plans. Wife doesn't help the situation either with all her baking of cookies and other high calorie snacks in the afternoon for after school treats.
Hid the bottle of Vanilla Crown Royal immediately after breakfast, but evidently not well enough. Found it again behind the cans of Coke in the refrigerator right after supper. Gotta get better at hiding things. Still haven't made that resupply run.

DAY 6:  2xx.6  lbs.   Damn!
Well, I gave it a shot, but don't think this journaling thing is going to work out for me.

END of Journal


23 February 2020

Just Doing My Laundry, Officer



Laundry Night
Let's assume you own a legitimate small business in the service industry. Maybe something like a dry cleaners or bar, restaurant or even a body shop. It's a business that deals a lot in cash. True, most consumers now use plastic to pay for whatever services you're selling, but there are several who still pay in cash.

And, let's further presume you are the type of person who can rationalize their actions, whatever they are. Let's face it, most people justify their actions by rationalizing them. Some do it to a small degree like not telling a minor acquaintance that his shirt really doesn't go with the pants he is wearing. You don't want to hurt his feelings. Not your fault he isn't clothes conscious. And, there are others on the far end of the rationalizing stick, such as, "I shot the guy because he dissed me." Only you know where you are on this measuring stick.

Anyway, you've got this business where you have to pay state sales tax on services sold and federal income tax on any profit made. Of course, nobody likes to pay taxes. That is money which could go into your own pocket. If only there was a way.

Well, depending upon your situation, there are two ways with this exact same business to approach the tax thing. For instance, if your enterprise is making lots of money and you want to protect some of that profit from the taxman, what some business people do is a thing called skimming. A certain amount of the cash never makes it to the ledger sheet and therefore becomes tax free cash. Yes, it is illegal to do so. The taxman always wants his cut.

Go to a drinking establishment on different nights when the owner is tending bar and sit up to the counter where you have a clear view of the cash register. When people pay for a drink in cash, does it get rung up on the cash register, or does the cash go into his pocket or into a box under the counter? Remember, just because the cash register drawer opens doesn't mean the sale was rung up.

Here's another version. Several years ago, I met this body shop owner who liked to party in Las Vegas for a weekend. Here's how he financed it off the books. Let's say a customer came in with about $900 of body damage to his vehicle, but his insurance deductible was $1,000. The body shop owner would size up the customer and make a one-time offer: $900 plus tax if paid with plastic or a check, but there was a $100 discount to a flat fee of $800 if paid in cash. The car is fixed, the cash is paid and the body shop owner put that money in his vacation fund. Some Vegas casino then makes out like a one-armed bandit on an upcoming weekend, while Uncle Sam and his state cousin get slighted.

Now, to work it the other way with this same legitimate business, let's assume you are some type of organized crime with lots of money from an illicit enterprise, like drugs or human trafficking or......pick your crime. But, in our case, since we are law abiding citizens not involved with organized crime, let's assume we merely found a briefcase filled with a hundred thousand dollars. How did all this money come to in a briefcase you ask? Well, it's buy money for a drug deal and the meth-head driving down the road got paranoid. He thought the cops were following him, so he threw the briefcase out the window, took evasive action, got lost and forgot where he was when he threw it. And, we just happened to find the briefcase with all this money? Uh, yeah, we were out jogging along that road and Merry Christmas. Naturally, we don't want to call attention to ourselves by declaring our good fortune. Like the Hells Angels say, "Three can keep a secret if two are dead."  And, think about it, even if our conscience says to turn the money in, that meth-head with a gun might see circumstances in a different light. He might believe that we then owe him that money of his that we gave away to the cops. Meth-heads think different. So, we take our own evasive action.

In either situation, organized crime or fairly law abiding citizen, a person wants to make this extra money appear to be legitimate. How do you do this? You launder the cash. Every night, you take some of that cash and put it in with the night's cash deposit. Okay, so you have to create some extra sales tickets to explain the extra money, but you've got plenty of blank receipts laying around. And, yeah, you have to pay sales tax on something your legitimate business didn't sell in the first place, plus pay the income tax on that extra phantom profit, but if you're in the 20% tax bracket, you're still making 80 cents on the dollar on money you didn't have to work for. Plus, now that money appears to be legal. You don't have to explain to others why you have extra money. Nope, you are a successful businessman running a successful business. Of course, laundering money is illegal, even though this time the taxmen are getting their cut.

I was sitting in a mob bar once in Kansas City, up to the counter where I could see the cash register on one wall and the cigarette vending machine on another wall. I gave the waitress some money and asked her to get me a pack of cigarettes. She took her time, stopping for drink orders at other tables, took the orders to the bartender, went to the back room, came back to the bartender, delivered the drinks and then gave me my cigarettes. She never once went to the vending machine. The pack of cigarettes she got from the back room didn't have a tax stamp on them. Evidently, they came from a high-jacked semi on the East Coast or else they got sold out the back door of the factory. The mob bar could have been skimming the profits on the untaxed cigarettes, or they could have been using them to pad their inventory to explain expanded profits.

Just know, that whichever way the business is handling its money, the taxman has parameters for those types of service businesses and if the business shows too much profit according to the taxman's charts, or too little profit, the taxman will then dig deeper into accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventories and connecting receipts. It doesn't pay to get too greedy either way.

So, there you have it. It's best not to do anything you have to rationalize about when it comes to large amounts of extra money.

Wait a minute !!!

You're still thinking about how YOU would handle that extra hundred thousand dollars, aren't you?

As Elmer Fudd would say, "Be berry, berry careful."

26 January 2020

Record Keeping



Two weeks ago, Travis posted his spreadsheet method for keeping track of his writing and his submissions. I can see how his method works for him.

My system developed gradually as I saw the need to record certain information, therefore it became a conglomeration of Word documents. But then, authors go about their writing differently, so maybe authors keep their writing records differently. In any case, here's a brief look at my system.

Naturally, I have a Bibliography document. This allows me to at least consider myself as a semi-successful, short-fiction author on the commercial side of writing and serves to collect some handy-to-have statistics. And yes, there are some duplicate entries from one document to another.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
R.T. Lawton
(as of 01/17/2020)

11/1976   1 "Dead End Alley" Easyriders Magazine ($250) [aka Pockets/ R.E. Silverman] 
                 NOTE: DEA agents weren't allowed 2nd occupations, thus the double alias.

05/1977  2 "...to ashes,...to dust" Easyriders magazine ($225) [aka Pockets/ R.E. Silverman]

10/1984  3 "Jeffrey" Time Out & Recess [aka Arthur Twillinger/R.T.]

12/1984  4 "Peer Pressure" Time Out & Recess [aka Arthur Twillinger/R.T.]

NOTE: Yes, I did write 22 children's stories for two different state-wide elementary school newspapers at the same time as writing three biker stories, but I had to be careful writing on two different levels simultaneously because there are some words bikers don't understand.

*   *   *  skip to end of document  *   *   *

09/14/19 9 Holiday Burglars, KDP Paperback (all stories previously published in AHMM

09/22/19 31 Mini-Mysteries, KDP Paperback (31 mini's, plus 1 previously unpublished "And the
               Band Played On" as a bonus story.

11/01/19 137 "A Loaf of Bread" #7 PU 40 AHMM ($370)

12/01/19 138 "The Job Interview" Mystery Weekly ($35.86 minus $1.88 fee)

Bought, but not yet scheduled:  "Reckoning with your Host" #6 SA 41 AHMM ($360) + "A Matter of Values" 42 AHMM ($430) + "A Helping Hand" #8 PU 43 AHMM ($410) + "The Road to Hana" 44 AHMM ($340) + "Gnawing at the Cat's Tail" #7 SA 45 AHMM ($340)

a total of 143 published short stories
(and below this line is a list we'll skip of published writings in other categories, such as cowboy poems, articles, etc., plus a compilation of short story statistics.)

Some of the number codes above are easy to figure out, some aren't.  For instance, "A Loaf of Bread" is the 137th published short story, the 7th in my Paris Underworld series and the 40th story bought by Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

The next document is my SUBMISSION LOG kept in 4 year increments. It keeps track of when and where a story was submitted, what happened to it, when the contract and check came and when the story got published. This document lets me know how long some processes take and if something is overdue. Here are some samples of entries:

10/01/19  "The Job Interview"                                         Mystery Weekly
  10/02/19  e-mail acceptance, signed e-contract
  10/03/19  payment via PayPal
  12/01/19  published
11/12/19  "The Release Factor" #8 SA                             AHMM # 903457

01/17/19  "The 14K Assassin" #9 SA                               AHMM # 994625

Any time there is a blank space between the lines above, that means there is pending action and my eyes are quickly drawn there.

Lastly, there is an UNSOLD STORY TRACKER where I can tell at a glance which stories are still in inventory and who rejected them. Here's a short example:

WAS: "Taking Down the Room"                                        AHMM, EQMM
WAS: "Slipping into Darkness" (long version)                   MWA anthology
WAS: "Down in Jersey"                                                      Deadly Ink
SOLD: "Slipping into Darkness" 750 word flash sold to  Flash Bang Magazine

WAS: "Mom's Day"                                                            AHMM
NOW: "Mum's Day"                                                           Weekly News

"The Queen"                                                                       Blue Cubicle Press (casino issue)

If an anthology or other call for submissions comes out with a short deadline, I can refer to the above document and instantly know if a story languishing in inventory has the right ingredients for their writer's guidelines.

Those three record-keeping documents are the main ones I'm concerned with. However, I do have a tendency to make lists and also keep various writing statistics. For instance, a list I'll skip showing here is my AHMM stories sold, how much was paid for each one (with a running total) and the word count in each story (with a running total). I only made this list up in order to use the stats as a means to argue my point of view in a blog article I wrote a couple of years ago about short stories vs. novels.

So, there it is. I'm open to any and all ideas. It may not be a glamorous side to writing, but how do you keep your writing records?

29 December 2019

Season to Taste


Just for fun, let's use the premise that the act of writing stories is similar to the art of cooking fine foods. We'll skip any images of hopping from the frying pan and into the fire as far as plots and scenes go. No, what I'm referring to here is adding a little extra flavor specifically to a particular story or its series. Just like every chef prefers to season various foods with certain flavors to add more richness to the taste, I think stories should be flavored with a little extra seasoning to enrich the consumer's enjoyment. So, pick your own condiment: mustard, ketchup, salt, pepper, curry... I have one series where Buddha Soy Sauce comes to mind, therefore, I'll start with that one.

Paperback cover - coming in 2021
Tales from the Golden Triangle

When I came back to the world from Nam in '68, I brought back a brown, rough-cast glass bottle of Buddha Soy Sauce. Over there, we put it on cooked white rice and the Vietnamese version of sub sandwiches. Seems the French had had a large influence in that country for a while and had introduced the Annamese to long, narrow loaves of French bread.

As a young lad fresh from Kansas, I found that part of the Orient to be a fascinating and exotic land. Many years later, I went on to write fiction about the Golden Triangle, an area contained in Burma, Laos and Thailand, right next door to the conflict in Nam. My story protagonist was a pure-blood Chinese young man raised in the British school system of Hong Kong. His father was an old White Nationalist Chinese soldier turned opium warlord who had taken his younger son (the protagonist) out of the civilized world and placed him in the jungle camps to learn the family business. The protagonist's elder brother who was half-Chinese and half-Shan hill tribe was raised in the savage environment of the jungle and wants no obstacle between him and inheriting their warlord father's opium empire. Plots and counter-plots begin.

For extra seasoning in this series, I added at least one Chinese proverb to the mix in every story. Not only did one of the characters recite the proverb in the story dialogue, it was said in the appropriate place in the story to foreshadow the action about to happen or to explain what had already happened. For instance: "He who reckons without his host must reckon again." Roughly translates to: Some people think only of the advantages they can get in a relationship and yet make no allowances for any potential disadvantages that could happen. In the story, Elder Brother has made a nefarious deal with a rival opium group, but the rival double-crosses him. Bad reckoning on the part of older brother. Then, after the protagonist rescues Elder Brother from the rival group, Elder Brother thinks he is still in a position to be one up on his rescuer, but in the end, he hasn't reckoned with his new host, his younger half-brother.

E-book cover, also in Paperback
as of 2019

Twin Brothers Bail Bond series

Here, I think the heat of curry is appropriate. The proprietor of the Twin Brothers Bail firm has reluctantly hired a new Executive Secretary. Seems all the other candidates have died in accidents, committed suicide, moved, disappeared or were otherwise no longer available for the job. The new hire is a cadaverous Hindu later reputed to have come from an old-time family of Thuggees in India. In this series, to match the action in an appropriate place, the Secretary/Thuggee will utter a saying from the pacifist Mahatma Gandhi. But, when the Secretary says the same words, they end up with a sinister meaning. Example:

     Late the following morning, Theodore entered the outer office and found the swarthy man sitting behind the executive Secretary's desk.

     "What are you doing here?"

     The Hindu fixed his unblinking gaze on Theodore.

     "The divine law is that man must earn his bread by laboring with his own hands."

    Moklal Feringheea then stretched his outstretched fingers.

     Theodore watched the sinuous movement of the muscular hands and took a step sideways.

(NOTE: Thuggees usually strangled their victims. Not quite what Gandhi had in mind for use of  hands.)
E-book cover, also in paperback as of 2019

Holiday Burglars series

For this series, I think sweet and sour sauce, two opposite or different flavors in one. Here, the title of each story has more than one meaning. In "Click, Click, Click," a Christmas season burglary, Beaumont and Yarnell are breaking into the house of Antoine, a drug dealer who hides his illicit proceeds in gift boxes under the Christmas tree. Normally, the "Click, Click, Click" would put one to thinking of the Christmas song where the line goes: Up on the rooftop, click, click, click... referring to the sound of reindeer hooves. However, in this case, our boys have counted houses from the wrong corner and have now broken into a house belonging to a member of the NRA. So, what noise does a revolver make when it's being cocked before firing? Right. And so it goes with the other titles, such as "Labor Day" where the burglars are escaping from the scene of the crime in an ancient elevator when it stops for a pregnant female headed to the hospital..

Anyway, these are just a few examples of how I try to spice up my stories and put a little something extra in them to differentiate my stories from all the other good stories out there.

How about you?

Got any tricks of the trade you would care to share?

All this talk of food made me hungry. I'll go make a sandwich while we're waiting for your answer.


24 November 2019

2 or more persons...


There are times when law enforcement can't get some of the people operating in the criminal world. These people may be elevated in the  hierarchy, insulating themselves by using underlings to do the dirty work, thus appearing to keep their own hands clean. Or, they might be fringe players who contribute goods or services to other criminals, which then allow the crimes of these lawbreakers to go forward. Under these types of circumstances is where the smart investigator looks to the conspiracy laws.

The general conspiracy law is found in 18 U.S. Code 371. Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States. If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

From there, some specific conspiracy laws can be found for specific crimes. For instance, illegal drugs/controlled substances come under 21 U.S. Code 846. Attempt and conspiracy. Any person who attempts or conspires to commit any offense defined in this sub-chapter shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.

So now, let's construct a simple drug conspiracy case.

Let's say that Jorge and Billy Bob are sitting in Nogales, Sonora, having a few tequilas and bemoaning the fact they're driving broken down pickups instead of Ferrari's. As a possible way out of their lowly financial predicament, Jorge mentions that he has a cousin in the cocaina business. Maybe if he asked nicely, this cousin would front him a kilo of high grade coke. If so, would Billy Bob be able to transport the kilo across the border to Nogales, Arizona, cut it with milk sugar so they then had two kilos of 40% cocaine and sell it to distributors that Billy Bob knew on the U.S. side? Billy Bob replies, "Hell, yeah." And so it begins.  There's no crime yet, but it is rapidly heading that way.

We now have two or more persons in agreement, or conspiring to transport and distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S. Code 841, Distribution of a Controlled Substance. Next, we need an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.

Jorge goes to his cousin in the local cartel and gets a kilo fronted to him. He then waits for Billy Bob to return from the U.S. side of the border. Jorge just committed an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy and is about to commit more.

Billy Bob has gone to his buddy Larry in Nogales, Arizona, and asked to borrow his fishing boat which has a concealed hiding place built into the fiberglass wall. Larry's not so sure, but finally agrees after Billy Bob explains about the fronted kilo and offers to pay Larry a thousand dollars for the loan of the boat and trailer to smuggle the coke across the border. Larry helps Billy Bob hook up the the boat and trailer to Billy Bob's pickup. Larry has now joined the conspiracy and both have committed overt acts.

Billy Bob drives down to Sonora, meets with Jorge and they hide the coke in the concealed space and fill the empty air space leftover with coffee grounds because they had heard that keeps drug dogs from sniffing it out. More overt acts. Billy Bob heads north and catches a lax search at Customs. He continues home, where he calls an associate to bring over some milk sugar to cut the coke. Agreeing on a price, the associate delivers the milk sugar and leaves. The associate has now joined the conspiracy, plus committed an overt act.

Billy Bob cuts the coke and fronts a half key each to three different friends. A week later, these three friends pay Billy Bob the agreed upon price because they have sold enough to acquire some cash. Billy Bob goes over to Larry's house and pays him the thousand dollars. He then drives south, meets Jorge in a bar and pays what he owes him. A whole bunch of overt acts, plus violations of other federal statutes. Our conspiracy to distribute cocaine is well under way.

Okay, so how do we build the case and prove it in a court of law?

One method would be the use of a Title III, also known as a wire tap. Let's say a reliable informant was sitting at the table when Jorge and Billy Bob had their initial discussion and he then relayed that information to us. We used the info to get a Title III warrant, set up a house with recorders and a tap on Billy Bob's phone, and started listening in on calls. A surveillance team sets up on Billy Bob's house. The first calls we get are the three friends saying they sold their product and are coming over to pay Billy Bob for the coke he fronted them. Surveillance verifies they showed up. Billy Bob calls his associate and says he's coming over to pay for the milk sugar he cut the coke with. Surveillance verifies he went to the associates house. Billy Bob then calls Larry and says he's coming over to pay him the thousand dollars for using Larry's boat with the concealed hiding place to smuggle the cocaine. Surveillance follows Billy over to Larry's house and back. Billy then calls Jorge to say he's coming down to the bar to pay for that kilo of fronted cocaine. Surveillance verifies the trip south and the meeting.

Or, maybe we insert an agent into the group as a buyer and he gets to meet other conspirators and witnesses some overt acts. Plus, if one of the conspirators flips, then they could all be toast. That's one of the reasons we make deals for a lesser sentence.


In any case, we go to grand jury with recordings and surveillance, or witness testimony and surveillance. We also have phone records to back up testimony. (NOTE: Use of a communications facility is both a separate crime and an overt act.) Border crossing records, financial records and sales receipts, if you can find them,for the milk sugar, also back up testimony. With your normal undercover buy, you usually only get the dealer who sold you the drugs. In our conspiracy case here, we got seven clearly involved defendants. And, if Jorge flips, then we start working on his cousin and the cartel.

I think you can see how the conspiracy laws allow us to cast a wider net and catch more fish. I would like to think that the conspiracy laws keep criminals awake at night, but most of them don't think that far. That's why we call it dope. They have to be right every time. We only have to be right once.


27 October 2019

Nice Body You Got There


Sorry, but this article has nothing to do with 6-pack abs, working out regularly, nor plastic surgeons, although it does involve doctors. So, in the spirit of Halloween, ghouls, skeletons and the walking dead (well, these corpses do get around, even if it's not under their own power), here's the not so distant past.

At the beginning of the 19th Century (that's the early 1800's for those of you who like to convert), there was a high demand by surgeons for cadavers to dissect in order to figure out what the heck was really inside the human body and how all those systems were connected. Most of these fresh cadavers came from murderers who had been hanged.

Unfortunately, at the period of time we are concerned with, only 55 murderers took the trip to the scaffold, whereas 500 cadavers were needed to teach new surgeons how to best operate. Since good money was being paid for fresh corpses, local entrepreneurs, known as resurrectionists, soon stepped forward to fill the gap. Fresh holes began to pop up in cemeteries where the recently deceased had been buried. More on this in a minute.

SIDE NOTE: While most resurrectionists plied their trade in the church graveyard, there was one grim pair of partners who took the occupation to a new level. In Edinburgh, Scotland, William Burke and William Hare became best known for their innovation of creating their own fresh corpses via the lure and murder method. Their system for increasing inventory was quickly adopted by a group later known as the London Burkers. Poor Mister Hare, even though equally as infamous as was Mister Burke, did not get equal billing with the London Burkers. I guess that the London Burkers as a name had a better sound bite in the media than the London Hares would have had. In any case, Burke was hanged for his crimes, subsequently dissected (nice of him to have provided one last fresh cadaver on his way out), and his skeleton preserved in the Anatomical Museum at the Edinburgh Medical School. Hare, who had turned Queen's evidence, got a walk. After testifying in Burke's trial, Hare left town under duress (sticks, stones and several different angry mobs). He then disappeared into the world at large. Unless of course, a more surreptitious mob found him walking on the road to England.

Mort safes in a Scottish cemetery
We now return to the problem of fresh cadavers who couldn't seem to remain in their graves. The solution for the more affluent relatives and loved ones of the recently deceased was to have some way to guard the body from body-snatchers. This led to hired watchmen, mort safes and mort houses.

A mort safe was a contraption of various designs built over the grave to deter anyone from digging up and removing the coffin. The so-called safe was usually constructed from thick interlocking metal rods or bands in an accumulative weight so heavy as to make it too difficult  for a grave robber to get at the coffin while trying to work in quiet secrecy during the dead of night. Several examples of these mort safes still exist in some Scottish graveyards.

Udny Mort House
One example of a mort house can be found in the old kirkyard at Udny Green, Aberdeenshire, in northeast Scotland. This house was built in 1832. Its construction costs were intended to be paid for by subscription, however, not enough people signed up, as a result of which the services of the mort house could then be purchased on a body by body basis. The house itself was a circular building with a conical roof covered with slate. The outside door was made of heavy oak and the inside door was iron. Inside the building, and using the same general concept of a lazy-Susan, was a revolving, wooden floor about three feet above the ground. When someone died, their coffin constructed of 7/8ths inch fir boards would be placed on the revolving wood floor, along with any other coffins in the mort house, to set for approximately 90 days each. At the end of this time, the body was considered to have decomposed sufficiently to be safe from body-snatchers. The floor was then rotated, the proper coffin removed and the remains were interred in the appropriate church graveyard. As security for the mort house, four of the initial subscribers were designated as holders for the door keys. All four key holders were required to be present any time the doors were to be unlocked and opened.

The use of mort safes and mort houses gradually fell into disuse a few years after The Anatomy Act of 1832 when other methods of obtaining fresh cadavers, other than grave robbing or executed murderers, became legal. The Udny Mort House itself ceased business in 1836 after its last meeting of the board.

Since grave robbing as an occupation these days has taken a great decline, you can probably now rest in peace, assured that your remains are not likely to be sold at a back alley door to some cutup in the dark of night.

So, sleep well and pleasant dreams this Halloween.

Although, you might want to lock all the doors and turn on the security cameras just to be sure.

29 September 2019

KDP Paperback Decisions


Warning. Today's offering may give you a headache. It covers number of pages, font and font size, cost of printing, cost per page, book size, pricing and royalties to be received when you convert an e-book to a KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) paperback, or even just going straight to KDP paperback.
Naturally, if you can get your manuscript printed by a traditional publisher, then good for you and your book. That option just might keep you from eating Advil by the handful like M & M's. Professional publishing will handle all your book formatting, printing and distribution work. You may have to handle your own publicity, but then, unless you are with one of the big houses, we are getting there anyway. And, with an advance (assuming you get one) plus with traditional distribution, you may get paid more money. I've heard more money is generally a good thing for writers.

If you don't go traditional, then you will have to figure out a way to publish your book on your own. Create Space used to be one option for your manuscript to get printed in paperback form, however Create Space doesn't exist anymore. Amazon gobbled it up. KDP took the software it wanted and developed its own method of getting the job done. So, assuming you are going the KDP paperback route, allow me to make you aware of some of the decisions you will have to make.

Size Matters

Bigger is not necessarily better. There is a balancing act to consider. The number of pages in your book is determined by the number of words in your manuscript, the font used, the size of the font, the size of the book itself and how much fluff you put in  it. As examples, we will use the six e-books I've converted so far. Each paperback is in Garamond font with a 13 size. It is easy to read and is an accepted font. Change the font type or size and you will have more or less pages. All my books are 5.5" x 8.5", which is an acceptable size. Change the book size and you will have more or less pages.

Why does the number of pages matter? Because when KDP starts calculating their share versus your share of the profits, they deduct a base amount for printing, plus a small amount for each page in your book, plus their royalty. So, in my 162 page paperback with a selling price of $8.99, the total printing cost is $2.80, my royalty is $2.60 if Amazon sells it and $.80 if another distributor sells it. My 210 page paperback at the same selling price of $8.99 has a total printing cost of $3.35, the royalty is $2.02 with an expanded royalty of $.23 if sold by another distributor.

Price

You can set your own price, however KDP will tell you the minimum price you can set on your book. When you run the figures on their calculator for this minimum price, you may find your royalty is no more than a penny and your expanded royalty is in the hole, meaning no other distributor will sell your book. But then, you are going to set a high enough price to make a decent royalty, yet not so high that no one will buy your book. Right? The KDP calculator lets you enter your figures and in return, it provides you with what the costs and royalties will be.

Fluff

Every book has what I call fluff in it. Usually, fluff is not reading material, but it is necessary to the book. Examples are the Table of Contents, the copyright page, the Bibliography, the About the Author page, a list of other books by the author and however many blank pages are needed to get certain pages to fall on the right side of the book. You may or may not also have an introduction, pages of quotes from reviewers, an acknowledgement page, etc.

My books have six unnumbered pages in the front, followed by the numbered pages with story on them. Since 9 is my brand and all my books (save one) have 9 in the title, each book has 9 stories in it. Now, because some of my stories have a smaller word count in them, which makes for a smaller book, I will then throw in a 10th story in that series and call it a free Bonus Story. Also, to advertise another of my paperbacks, at the end of most of these books, I will add up to five pages of a story from a different book. Naturally, these five pages end on a cliff-hanger with an inducement for the reader to buy that next book in order to finish the story. You should know though that all these pages up the cost of printing.

Author Copies

Remember that $2.80 printing cost and that $3.35 printing cost? That is roughly my price to obtain author copies. Interestingly enough, when I do order author copies, I can get up to 999 at a time. Why draw the line at 999? I have no idea. Maybe because Amazon is switching away from Fedex and UPS to their own delivery system called Amazon Prime (I've seen their trucks) and therefore they are afraid of hurting their deliverymen's backs? Personally, I wouldn't know what to do with that many copies of my books.
NOTE: Author copies do not qualify for Amazon Prime free shipping.

Covers

I won't go into covers except to say that KDP's free Cover Creator software does have some nice generic designs where the author adds his own title and back cover blurbs. But, for my purposes, I use the art work my buddy does.


Let us know if you try KDP paperbacks and how well that process works for you.

25 August 2019

My Small Business Plan


I'm not getting rich from my writing sales, so I'm grateful I don't have to rely on writing for my main income, otherwise my office would be a cardboard box in some alley with a long extension cord running up to someone's outside electrical outlet. You know, for a coffee pot and a computer.  In any case, regardless how you look at your writing, it's probably best in the long run if you have a business plan. For one thing, you want to keep track of your income and expenses (lots of expenses) so as to avoid paying too much to the tax man. Seems he always has one hand in your pocket.

So, having said that, here's the accounts receivable part of My Small Business Plan. It's got to be a small plan, you see, because I only write short stories, which don't pay much over any one year period, and the occasional cowboy poem, which doesn't pay at all. The important thing is, I have a plan and I'm finally using that Business Degree which Uncle Sam paid for after I responded to that nice letter draft he sent me way back in 1966.

Mine is a three-part plan

Part 1 - Short Stories
     I write short stories for paying markets. First submissions go to the higher paying publications. In case of a rejection, I work my submissions down the payment ladder until the story sells or goes into inventory. All of this is common sense and most writers already know this part. Moving on.

Part 2 - Reprints & Other Secondary Markets

   I was surprised one day to read about a market call from a company named Great Jones Street for reprints. This was a startup venture to put short stories on cell phones where readers paid a subscription to read the stories. I sold them seven reprints for $500 while they were collecting a base inventory. Ultimately, they got on the wrong side of the ledger and went out of business.
     In a different situation, Otto Penzler paid me $250 to use one of my reprints in one of his many anthologies. Since then, I've seen other markets for reprints. It's like found money.

     Another good use of short stories, whether they were previously published or not, is putting them into e-collections. So, after I had a list of previously published stories, plus an inventory of unpublished short stories, I started looking at Amazon for Kindle and Smashwords for other e-readers. Both of them are free to setup your e-books, all you need is to figure out how to format e-books. It is a different setup for each of the two companies, but due to advances in software, it is now easier than it used to be. Fortunately for me, I had a Huey pilot friend who made the mistake of saying, "I can figure that out." And he did. In 2011, we turned some of my short stories into four e-collections: 9 Historical Mysteries, 9 Twin Brothers Bail Bond Mysteries, 9 Chronicles of Crime and 9 Deadly Tales. Kindle paid royalties by EFT and Smashwords paid via PayPal. Then in 2018, we added two more e-collections: 9 Holiday Burglars Mysteries and 31 Mini-Mysteries. These last two led to Part 3.

Part 3 - Paperbacks
     Kindle Direct Publishing recently acquired Create Space, which published paperback books. It was while uploading one of my last two e-books that I was faced with a new situation at the end of the upload. The Kindle software inquired if I wanted to also publish my e-book as a paperback. What the heck, one more form in which to offer potential buyers a choice to spend money on my books? I immediately checked yes only to discover that I needed my cover in a different format for this option. After all, an e-book only needs a front cover, while a paperback needs a front cover, a spine and a rear cover.

I went back to my Huey pilot friend. He is now figuring out the requirements for a paperback and we are working on the final details. The paperback has a fixed charge, plus a very small charge for every page, none of which the author pays upfront. It's all covered by the buyer when he purchases the book. First, you need to decide what size of book you want and the size of font you prefer. Those two items and the length of your manuscript will determine how many pages your book will have. Then, KDP has a program where you enter the number of pages your book will have and the program will tell you the minimum price you have to put on your book, which is also the cost to KDP for printing your book. Naturally, you want to make a profit, so you also enter the price you want to charge and the program will tell you your royalty profit. Simple, huh?

Well, we'll see. Seems there's a bleed factor on the cover when it comes to cover size. My friend says he's got it figured out, and while he did teach me how to fly OH-6 and OH-58 observation helicopters, I think this cover and formatting thing is over my head. It's nice to have friends.

QUICK UPDATE: A week and a half ago, the 1st paperback went live. We are now working on the conversion of the other five from e-book to paperback.

You've now heard about My Small Business Plan. Do you have your own plan? Feel free to share. Or are you still working on one? We'd like to hear about that too.

28 July 2019

Finding Your Niche


by R.T. Lawton

When I was chief judge for the Edgars Best Novel Award a few years back, I started to notice how many niche books were out there in the mystery genre. Our panel of judges read approximately 410 novels for that one year, so I would say that makes a fairly good sample of what was selling to publishing houses at the time. Some of those books I'll call craft books because they used knitting, quilting or some other craft as a background for the mystery story to be set in.

Cooking was another setting some authors used. These novels usually contained a recipe or more to enhance the cooking part of the mystery. And there were wine specialty backgrounds, presumably for wine connoisseurs who liked their mysteries consumed with wine. Evidently, for some, there is nothing like selecting the right wine to pair with the latest suspect. Plus, there are mysteries set in pet backgrounds with dogs or cats or birds, and of course horses for those equestrians among us in the mystery reading audience. In the past, I've even seen bird watcher series where deceased humans pile up as birds get watched.

As I recall, none of the niche books scored high enough  with our panel of judges to make it into the Nominee Round, HOWEVER, upon looking at the list of prior books written by some of those authors contending for that year's Edgar, some of those lists ran to ten or twelve published books. I don't know how much money these niche authors were making, but they had found a background category with a large enough readership, that some houses considered those niches profitable enough to keep on publishing in them.

So, where am I going with this thread? Here's my thoughts. If you want to be a published writer and really think you have the writing and marketing skills to produce the next Great American Mystery Novel and sell it to one of the big traditional publishing houses, then go for it. See if you can reach out and grab the gold ring on your turn around on the carousel.

BUT, if for some reason, you don't make the big time--after all, the top of that pyramid is rather small and not a lot of authors will fit up there--and, you still want to be published, then you may want to find yourself a niche of some kind that no one else is currently using. Most of the craft, cooking and pet backgrounds are already taken, so unless you've got a new twist on those categories, I'd suggest finding your own niche in a different category. Find something fresh, something mind-catching, something where a jaded agent or editor can raise their hands and say, "Eureka, an author with a story we can sell!"

Now the hard part. You do realize you are on your own to find your special niche? Personally, I would recommend brainstorming sessions with other writers and possibly some with non-writers who are big readers. Rum and Coke has been known to lubricate the creative process of brainstorming, each to his or her own. And, remember that no idea is totally wrong, it may just need tweaking to make it acceptable. Some ideas may take more tweaking than others.

Here's some of my niche examples. When looking at the historical mystery market in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine,  I found short stories set in ancient Greece, ancient Rome, medieval England, old China, old Japan and the Old West. All well taken by other authors. So, I researched other historical backgrounds with inherent conflict already in place; locations no one else was currently using. One of my series became the Armenian, set in 1850's Chechnya where the Russians had designs on moving into India and Afghanistan.  The Tsars in Moscow fronted off the Cossacks as border guards to fight the Muslim Chechens.  The Cossacks disliked the Russian troops quartered in their homes, while at the same time had much in common with the Chechen culture and standards, the people they were fighting. Over 150 years later, they are still fighting in Chechnya, so every time that area makes the news, I get free advertising. My Shan Army series set in the Golden Triangle with opium warlord rivalries during the time of the Vietnam War became another historical niche, as did my 1660's Paris Underworld series involving an orphan, incompetent pickpocket during the reign of Louis the Fourteenth, the Sun King.

Dave Zeltserman found a new short story niche by creating a new type of private detective sidekick, a miniature processor, named Archie, with the artificial intelligence capabilities of seeing and hearing. The human detective wears Archie as a stickpin on his clothes and uses him to gather clues in his cases. Naturally, since Archie has AI abilities, he tries to guess the solutions to various crimes in competition with his owner's decision as to who did it and why. For all the data available and the processing abilities Archie has, he is usually a mental step or two behind his human counterpart.

Chris Muessig found a couple of niches in AHMM and EQMM. One with his pro wrestling series and secondly with his Jake Miller during World War I series. I am a fan of Jake's journey from training camps on the East Coast to the ship taking troops across the Atlantic to the killing fields of France. There is always a great mystery involved.

Barb Nickless, a novelist, found her niche with her creation of a protagonist working as a railroad detective. When she needed access to a real-life railroad detective in order to do research for her series, I introduced her to one. It must have worked out, because she now has book four under contract. Her Ambush, book 3 is a great read.

All those examples noted above were niches other authors weren't currently using. And, they worked out quite well.

How about you? Any thoughts on the subject? Any niche that is working for you?

Don't be shy. We all love to hear about what worked, and...even what didn't work. As for me, my EZ Money Pawn Shoppe series, my Bookie series,  my 1900's Perfume River series and my 1900's Boer War series failed to make the cut. I'm still looking around for a new niche that piques my interest.