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

26 May 2019

When Life Gives You Limoncello

by R.T. Lawton

Let's say you just finished your short story or novel. Your creation is complete. It's been a long, hard journey getting to this point, but now you find yourself with a feeling of contentment, exhilaration. You want to celebrate while this good feeling lasts, and rightly so. But what to use to mark this short celebration?

A beer? Yes, beers are good, but no, that's a common every day drink. Champagne? Not really. Cheap champagne isn't that good and the good stuff is pricey. Besides, you've only completed your creation, you haven't sold it yet. A cocktail? Well, that's more like being on vacation or for some serious drinking. Actually, what you need is something different, something special and something within your budget.

The small glasses that Limoncello is normally served in
I've got just the thing. You know that old saying, "When life gives you Limoncello, you must've done something special." Okay, it's not an old saying yet, but if enough people get behind it, then it will become one. So now, I'm going to teach you how to make your own Limoncello. The same stuff they serve on cruise ships when it's Italian Night. This way, this same fine liqueur will be handy when you do something special, like finish your short story or novel.

The glass I serve me in




Assemble the following:

8-10 ~ large lemons
1 ~ 750 ml of vodka (we use Tito's for its smoothness)
7 ~ cups of whole milk
1 ~ cup of Half & Half
4  & 1/2 ~ cups of sugar
1 ~ vanilla bean
cheesecloth
a few 12-16 ounce glass bottles (empty wine bottles work too)

Limoncello in an EZ Cap bottle for a gift
Naturally, we helped our friends consume half of their gift
Ready, Begin:

1. Zest the lemons. For you guys who aren't familiar with the term, it means fine grate the outside of the lemons. Now, combine the grated peelings and the vodka in a large glass container, cover (or use a lid), and store in a cool, dark place for ten days to infuse the vodka with a lemon flavor. [NOTE: the remaining body of the lemons can be used to make lemon juice or some tasty lemon meringue pies.]
2. After ten days are up, strain the liquid through the cheesecloth into a large glass, ceramic or stainless steel bowl.
3. In a large pot, combine and warm the milk, the 1/2 & 1/2, the sugar and the vanilla bean over medium heat, stirring frequently until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temp. Take out the vanilla bean, wash it and save the bean for another use. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth into the bowl containing the vodka infusion. Stir the two liquids together.
4. Funnel into whatever bottles you have, leaving enough room for the liquid to expand. Store in the freezer.
5. About an hour before consumption, remove one bottle from the freezer, so the contents can return to liquid form. Pour into small glasses and enjoy. Any leftover Limoncello may now be stored in the refrigerator or back in the freezer. Depending upon how often you tip the bottle, or how many friends you share with, know that the shelf life is approximately six months on any remaining Limoncello.

There you have it. Have a good celebration. Then get back to work. You still have to market that splendid creation you just finished writing.

PS ~ Limoncello in EZ Cap bottles also makes nice gifts for close friends.

28 April 2019

Left Coast Traveler

by R.T. Lawton


A Steely Dan anthology, available June 24, 2019
Old Saying: Getting there is half the fun.

Visiting places like Canada and Mexico used to be so simple. You merely went. To get back, you might have to show a driver's license or a birth certificate and declare what you bought or otherwise acquired in that country, but life was easy. Sure, going to Europe was all passport and customs officials, but that was another continent, another world away, and to be expected.

And then came the Left Coast Crime Conference being held at the end of last March in the nice Canadian port city of Vancouver. Since Canada considers itself to be our trading partner ( as opposed to being some third world country like several islands in the Caribbean), they prefer that we southern cousins spend Canadian currency when we make purchases in their country. After all, we don't accept their money in our country. Fair is fair. Plus, there is a fee to exchange money if it's not that particular country's currency. So, we went to Wells Fargo Bank in advance of our trip and acquired $200 Canadian. Fortunately, most of our expenses could go on our credit card, one which charged no fee for the conversion.

Author book signing for Steely Dan anthology at LCCC
Continuing. The last time we renewed our passports, we forked over the extra $35 each to also get the credit card sized passport which is allegedly valid for Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean islands. We were quickly all packed and ready. Then we found we could not use our home computer to print out our airline tickets. Since our flight was designated as an International flight, we had to show a passport to get our tickets. Okay, so we drove to the airport on the morning of our trip to acquire the tickets and catch our plane.

Law Enforcement Panel at Left Coast Crime Conference
Whoops, the credit card sized passports did not work in the ticket kiosk. They only take the paper booklet passports, which we were just paranoid enough to have with us anyway. Got tickets. Flew to Denver to change planes for the second leg of the journey. In Denver, had to show tickets AND passports in order to board the aircraft. Landed in Vancouver. Beautiful and very modern airport, but had a long walk high in the air to an area where we found machines that read our passports, asked a series of questions and took our photos. The machine then printed out a receipt with our photo on it which we gave to the non-uniform man guarding that area. (NOTE: if you are wearing a hat or glasses, those items must come off for your photo, and again for the man guarding that exit.) We proceeded through a long roped-off maze and descended to the ground transportation exits.

The harbour (their spelling) three blocks from conference hotel
For those of you who have taken a taxi from La Guardia Airport to mid-Manhattan in New York, you already know your life is not your own.. Those drivers all consume quarts of Red Bull and train on dirt tracks somewhere in the Appalachians. Our driver in Vancouver had evidently won several trophies on that same dirt track. We paid him in Canadian dollars, along with a hefty tip, glad to have arrived unscathed. Turned out, it was a $31 Canadian flat fee from airport to our hotel. As the proverb says: Time is Money. I assume that our driver was merely trying to maximize his ratio of dollars per minute. During our running conversation darting through the streets, I also learned he is the one who is teaching his teenage children how to drive so they can get their drivers licenses. I expect there will soon be more racing trophies on the family mantel.

One end of the sea plane docks
The LCC Conference was excellent, many good panels, great people to converse with, much good info acquired, lots of laughs, fine food, nice beer, discovered several local bakeries for pastries and morning coffee, walked down to the harbor sea wall, watched sea planes take off and land, saw the steam clock operate in Gas Town, and had a very great time.

Sunday morning, we caught a cab to the airport. Did better at the ticket kiosk, got tickets and found we were TSA Pre-Approved. Yay! Finally managed to find where they had located the security lines. Could not find the TSA Pre-Approved line. Turns out that TSA Pre-Approved doesn't mean anything in Canada. Nice security man put us in a line anyway which used the metal detector arch, instead of the giant x-ray after which they always want to pat me down for some reason. Can't be my good looks. Got dressed again and walked a long maze to a different passport reading machine area. Inserted passports, answered questions for the machine, took my hat off and it took my photo. Presented my photo receipt and passport to a uniformed guard at the area exit. Told my wife later that I thought the guard had a U.S. Customs badge on his uniform. Turned out, we had gone through U.S. Customs while still in Canada. Walked another long maze to the departure gate. Had to show ticket AND passport to board the aircraft.

Made it home.

Now what do I do with the $20 in Canadian bills, the Toonies, the Loonies and the other coins we didn't spend?

Guess we'll just have to go back to Canada for another writers conference.

31 March 2019

The Grapes of Writing

by R.T. Lawton

There are those, none of whom you fine people know, that would kindly suggest I am a slow learner. That's because it has been fifty years since I took my first creative writing class and yet I have only managed an approximate average of not quite three published short stories per year during those five decades. And due to the multiple rejections in the early stages of my writing infancy, I had to greatly increase the editorial acceptances in my older age to even remotely approach said average. I think this falls under the category of There is Yet Hope For Those Writers Just Beginning.
photo by Dragonflyir in wikipedia

And no, I will not discuss the dismal grade I received in that creative writing course. Suffice it to say that due to sleight-of-mind and the ability to take quick advantage of a developing situation, that particular grade does not appear anywhere on my university transcript. Perhaps it was those surreptitious talents that subsequently led me to a twenty-five year career on the streets as an undercover agent for a certain federal law enforcement group. In any case, said low grade which I received for the class should now give even more hope to beginning writers for their own future success in the field of writing. I.E., if even I can do it, then they surely can.

As for grapes and writing, the analogy goes like this. There are those of us who pick the grapes off the vine (or get them from the grocery store, depending upon where you get your inspiration), wash them, cook them and end up with a tasty homemade jam. We'll call this the John Floyd method of writing. It's done in one day, it's easy to keep your focus on the end product and it's something that almost everybody enjoys as is proven by our esteemed colleague's more than one thousand published short stories, plus some books.

Okay, at this point, we'll skip the fact that John sometimes writes the end of his story before he starts the beginning. We'll skip this because it doesn't fit the tasty grape jam analogy. And for those of you you out there who are overly obsessed with details and have to know if these particular grapes are red, purple, black, green, Concord, or even seedless, just lighten up. Have a cold one and consider all these aspects of the grape to be genres and sub-genres within the analogy.

Moving on.

Now, other people, myself for example, will take those same grapes, wash them, squeeze them and put them in a vat with a quantity of sugar, yeast and water and let the mixture ferment for a while. That's because I have a different vision for the grape. Occasionally, I look in on the process and check the specific gravity, but I'm generally in no hurry. Many, many days later, I filter and bottle my product to age. Fortunately, this ongoing procedure allows me to keep a mature glassful at my elbow while working on my computer, which greatly aids in my development of obscure analogies. We'll call this the R.T. Lawton method of writing. It takes longer, doesn't appeal to everyone (depending upon your personal taste), fits my particular frame of mind, pleases my taste buds and keeps the muse satisfied and talkative. Yet, it too ends up a marketable product.

At this point, someone is sure to say, "Yeah, but don't let it set too long, because it will turn to vinegar." And you know, that someone is right. Regardless of which product you're making, you really should take it off the shelf and try it in the market place to let other people savor the flavor of your creation.

So, whether you are a fast writer or a slow writer, the next time you see a bunch of grapes, you know exactly what to do. Proceed immediately to the kitchen and make yourself some peanut butter and tasty grape jam sandwiches and/or pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine. Then hurry directly to your computer and start writing down those story ideas before they grow old and mildew. And, very importantly, remember to enjoy yourself.

You'll have to excuse me now. It appears that my glass is more than half empty and I'm thinking about a refill.

Ahhhh! I wonder if The Grapes of Wrath was written by one of these methods?

24 February 2019

Remembering Miami 1980

by R.T. Lawton

The Chinese have a saying that runs along the lines of "May you live in exciting times." For a guy who was 12 years out of Vietnam and had joined federal law enforcement, for the adrenaline, 2-1/2 years after the SE Asian tour, Miami became a very exciting time.

It was late summer of 1980 and Miami was pretty much an open city. Castro had emptied his prisons and mental hospitals of those who could get someone to pick them up in boats at the Port of Mariel. Other Cuban citizens bribed their way out to join the flotilla headed to Florida. These people soon became known as the Marielitos. Some of the ones who made it to Miami ended up being held in the Orange Bowl stadium, but with the beginning of football season, they were moved to Liberty City, a tent city under an I-95 overpass inside Miami. (Think Scarface with Al Pacino as a rising drug lord in Miami.) The noise under the overpass from constant traffic was relentless and overwhelming. Plus, tent city residents had trouble finding a sponsor to get them out of the place, and those that did had trouble getting jobs because they didn't speak English. Faced with depression and a bleak future, some of them would do almost anything to survive. Like the song says, it's the lure of easy money.

Meanwhile, the go-fast boats were coming in with their loads from the Bahama banks, the Cocaine Cowboys were in full swing moving their product, mother ships were coming up from Colombia, airplanes were dropping their loads in the Florida swamps where drug crews waited to retrieve the illicit cargo, and dealers were taking grocery sacks of U.S. currency to local banks after their sales. In the beginning, dealers merely weighed their money until they got their own counting machines. If a van carrying a couple hundred pounds of marijuana got in a wreck on the Interstate, the driver and shotgun rider simply walked away and disappeared into the populace. Drug dealers were shot by rival organizations who left the drugs and cash behind to show it was just business, a territory thing, not a drug rip-off. After a while, all that left-behind money with no one to claim it became a temptation to some of the responding homicide cops. Some of that money got split up and disappeared. Later, some of the left-behind drugs also got split up and sold instead of going into evidence. Nobody was going to claim ownership of the drugs anyway was the theory. When the time came there wasn't enough drug homicides to respond to, some of the dirty cops created their own. Honest cops weren't sure who to trust. One of the honest cops came over to us and later testified to what he knew.

With all that drug money to spend, Miami underwent a building boom. Money talked and some got richer. Others got dead.

The Miami Regional Director sent one of his agent groups south on an interdiction program to the Caribbean. To replace his lost manpower, he drew from other offices for a "special." I went down to Miami on a "special" op, along with agents from Minneapolis, the Arizona border, the Texas border, New Orleans, and other offices. We took over the duties of those guys gone off to the Caribbean program. Our new group worked with the U.S. Coast Guard on the northbound mother ships laden with tons of pot. Some nights, we found ourselves off the Miami coast with Customs, hunting in wolf packs to catch the go-fast boats coming in from the Bahama banks. We ran our own go-fast boats seized from previous smugglers. We conducted surveillance on clandestine landing strips in the Keys. We escorted tons of seized pot up to the incinerators in Orlando just to get rid of the massive inventory in evidence. It's a heady time, just keep your automatic handy. Bullet proof vests weren't in vogue yet.

We ate our suppers in Cuban restaurants and did our laundry down in Miami's Calle Ocho, the Cuban district, hoping no one recognized us from some of our excursions in the city or out on the water. There's a Latin rhythm on the streets and Mambo clubs at night, with Cuban beauties escorted by macho males in high Cuban-heeled shoes. It's a style, a culture, a living on the edge. Easy money and quickly spent. Miami Vice isn't far off.

Eventually, someone in the main office got the bright idea to "sell" some of the massive pot inventory in a sting operation. A few hundred pounds (after the court case is done) was transferred to a rental truck parked inside a rented storage unit. Marijuana brokers who are unaware they are dealing with undercover agents, go out and solicited buyers for our product. The broker and the buyer show up at the storage unit, money changed hands, the pot load was taken and they leave. The broker goes his own way. He isn't bothered yet because we need him to bring in more buyers, but a few miles from the site, the latest buyers are stopped and arrested. Samples are taken from each pot bale for evidence in court and the remainder is driven back to the storage unit to be "sold" again. Naturally, the buying money is seized for court and forfeiture. The recent buyers? They're going away for a long vacation in the grey bar hotel.

Then comes the alleged time when an unmarked police car pulls up to the storage unit and two men get out. One shows a badge, identifies himself as a plain clothes cop to the undercover agents and then draws his gun. The other guy checks out the rental truck and prepares to drive away with the pot. The cop with the badge is getting ready to kill the undercover agents until they identify themselves. Then it becomes chaos and paranoia. Badge guy beats feet for his unmarked cop car, but is quickly surrounded. The other guy tries to drive off in the rental truck. Surveillance agents descend on the scene en masse. One agent allegedly steps up on the rental truck's foot board on the passenger side and empties his .45 into the rental truck driver. He then steps down and the truck crashes into a tree. That's the end of the "sale" program.

Like the Chinese said, "May you live in exciting times." Yeah, I think I did. Hard to imagine all that was almost four decades ago, and yet some scenes and faces are as vivid as if they were just last week.

So raise your glasses to those who were there in a time gone by.

A toast to the old days now faded into history.

Exciting times.

27 January 2019

On the Subject of Murder

by R.T. Lawton

You've seen the large print headlines of your local newspaper. You've heard the news from your television commentators. Someone, or even several people, were murdered. Maybe the victim was shot down in the street. Or maybe multiple bodies were found in a house. Police are investigating. If you're lucky, these murders didn't happen to anyone you know. But, if you live in a large city, these type of local headlines seem to occur with a growing frequency. And, regardless of where you live, it appears that people are going crazy.

How the hell did we get to this point?

According to Dr. David Buss (author of The Murderer Next Door), an evolutionary psychologist, who examined over 400,000 FBI files of murderers, "the vast majority of murders are committed by people, who until the day they kill, seem pretty normal." Now that's a scary thought. The world was so much more tidy on my end when I could consider psychological misfits and stone cold street criminals as the prime candidates for being the guys that kill. So now, I have to watch out for Uncle Benny who takes umbrage at me kidding him for still wearing a bow tie after all these years? And what about Neighbor Jim who thinks my grandkids took a shortcut across the corner of his lawn? Am I destined to be doomed by Joe Everyman? What is pushing that normal everyday person over the edge and converting him into a killer?

I'm glad you asked. Conveniently for us, Dr. Buss, besides examining those 429,729 homicide files in the FBI system, also conducted a fantasy homicide study with 5,000 subjects, 175 of which were actual murderers. (Guess for these latter few, it wasn't just a fantasy.) Out of this total group, 91% of the men and 84% of the women had had at least one homicidal fantasy. These were vivid fantasies, often going into great detail. That's a lot of people thinking about murder and how to do it. No wonder bodies keep piling up in novels, and the mystery genre is doing so well.

Fortunately, most of the study participants got their homicide fantasies worked out in other ways to resolve whatever the original problem was. What seemed to separate the non-killers from the killers? Fear of being caught and sent to prison was a common response. However, when asked if they could commit the murder without being caught, most men thought the chances of them going forward would increase about fourfold. So, it appears that if you have caused someone to suffer mentally and/or socially and are still alive to read today's post, you may owe your life to the cost/benefit ratio of committing murder these days. Perhaps, television shows like CSI, where the investigators identify the criminals within an hour by forensic science, have had a positive influence to help keep down the murder statistics to some degree.

In the doctor's fantasy study, public humiliation was the leading factor for especially violent and detailed fantasies when disposing of the tormentor. Now, think of the teen bullied at school, or the guy who lost his job and blames his boss or coworkers. You've already seen those headlines. Seems like a certain amount of social cost and psychological pain to a person's pride and reputation can make for that person taking a bent towards revenge, where the next step may be a giant one called murder.

Under the right circumstances, it appears that most people are willing to kill. And, it's not all for pride and reputation. You've probably heard lots of people say that they would kill to protect their children or themselves from being killed. How about you? How far would you go to protect family and/or yourself? Depending upon the laws in your state, the act of killing another person under certain circumstances may not make you a murderer, but the act itself does make you a killer.

So now, let's go one step further. Have you had your own homicidal fantasies towards someone who has seriously tormented you? If so, then I hope those thoughts worked as some kind of therapy for you, and you could then put those fantasies out of your mind and get on with your life before doing something stupid.

Dr. Buss thinks we can maybe design environments that prevent the stimulation of those feelings which lead to murder. I don't know exactly what the doctor has in mind, but us showing a little kindness to those we cross paths with just might help some with the daily grind of living that we all get caught up in. A few kind words, a compliment here and there, a helping hand. See if we can make this a better world without so many dark headlines. Maybe we can save a few lives and not even know it.

Of course, authors can still murder people, as long as they only do it in books.

31 December 2018

The World Revolved and We Resolved

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great New Year!

30 December 2018

Stealing Christmas?

by R.T. Lawton

     T'was the night before Christmas, and all through the casa,
     not a creature is stirring, Caramba, que pasa?
     The stockings are hanging, con mucho cuidado,
     in hopes that St. Nick will feel obligado.
                   *          *          *
     But Santa esta at the corner saloon,
     muy borrachito since mid-afternoon.
     ............


Whoops wrong version. I use to hear the above poem on the radio at Christmas time when I was a kid in New Mexico. Guess it was so different that parts of it stuck with me. Allegedly, that version of the poem was written by Robie, Anita and Juan LNU (Last Name Unknown) in 1930 for a Spanish class at Indiana University. I rediscovered it recently through the power of the internet and found that several versions of it have been recorded by various Latin musicians.

Of course, you probably know the English version rather than the Spanglish one. And this brings us to the original Christmas Eve poem. "Twas the Night before Christnas," originally known as "Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas," first published in 1823 in a New York newspaper. At the time, the author for the English version was that infamous guy known as Anonymous. Seems that in those days, "great gentlemen" considered it beneath themselves to publish in newspapers, so they used the byline of Anonymous.

Within two decades after first publication, the English version had been reprinted several times and received great popularity with the American public. At this point in its rising popularity, two different camps stepped forward to claim authorship. There are facts to to support both claimants, so you can take your pick.

If you find yourself as more of a traditional person and being resistant to change, then you will probably go with the original claimant, Clement Clarke Moore, a bible professor of German extraction. If you are a fan of technological advances, then you will probably go with Major Henry Livingston Jr., a gentleman poet of Dutch extraction. Both were New Yorkers and Livingston was distantly related to Moore's wife.

No original document of the poem has surfaced, and Moore later explained that he was too embarrassed at the time to acknowledge what he considered to be a trifle. Supposedly, a friend of his was the one who submitted the poem to the newspaper. In 1844, at the request of his family, Moore finally took credit as the author, however, it is alleged that before he took the credit, he first wrote to the newspaper to inquire if anyone there knew who the original author was. By that time, those who knew the real name of the author were dead.

When the poem was first published, two of Santa's reindeer were named as "Dunder" (Thunder) and "Blixem" (Lightning), which is Dutch. Years later, when Moore hand wrote some copies of the poem, he named the same reindeer as "Donder" and "Blitzen," which is German. Moore spoke German, but not Dutch. Livingston spoke Dutch.

The Livingston family claimed that Major Livingston wrote the poem, but they had no physical proof to their claim. In recent years, the family sought the help of Don Foster, an English professor at Vassar University. He is also a scholar of authorial attribution. Foster made comparisons between the Christmas poem and Moore's body of works, beliefs and personality. He also made comparisons between the poem and Livingston's body of works, beliefs and personality. The end result was that Forster said Livingston was the author. Critics claimed that a bible man such as Moore would never make such a false claim. Foster countered with an incident of Moore hand-writing in the front of a sheep farming manual that he had translated this book from French into English, however, a small copyright in the back of the book gave that credit to someone else.

Then, in 2016, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of New Auckland McDonald P. Jackson published a book in which he analyzed the opposing arguments. Jackson used modern computational stylistics and statistical analysis of phonemes. His conclusion was that Livingston wrote the Christmas poem.

So, in short, there you are. You can dig deeper into the various arguments, comparisons and what facts do exist, or you can just choose a side and enjoy the poem regardless. The original claimants and their witnesses are all deceased, so we can't polygraph any of them now to see who is telling the truth. Bottom line: Somebody tried to steal Christmas, but which claimant is the original author and which is the Grinch?

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

That's another thing. One claimant said Happy Christmas instead of Merry Christmas.

Just make sure your works get a copyright, even those you may consider to be a trifle. Who knew?


25 November 2018

Hey, I'm Writing Here

by R.T. Lawton


So, here I am writing at my computer on a Friday morning somewhere around 10:45, minding my own business, preparing my next blog article in advance so as to stay ahead of the game. For some reason, I glance out the study window. Across the street, but not parked at the curb, sets a black Jeep Cherokee, pointing in the wrong direction for that side of our cul de sac. The driver is leaning forward in his seat like he's reading the dashboard or looking at something on the floor. He stays in that position for a while, but his head moves occasionally, so I'm pretty sure it isn't a problem where I'll have to out and give him CPR. I go back to writing.

About five minutes later, I glance out the study window again to check on the vehicle. It hasn't moved, but the driver is now standing on the rear bumper. On the roof of his Jeep, he has positioned an orange Home Depot bucket, a reddish one-gallon plastic jug and a length of rubber hose. One end of the hose is in the bucket and the other end disappears over the driver's side of the vehicle. Obviously, the poor guy has run out of gas.

Since my vision has declined to the point where the state no longer allows me to drive at night, I call my wife into the study and ask her if it's anyone we know. She replies in the negative, watches for a few seconds and then goes upstairs and starts taking pictures. Unfortunately, her cell phone camera focuses on the screen mesh in the storm window. She then goes out the back of our house and shoots off a few more from the corner of our garage. I need to get that woman one of them long range lenses.

I pick up the binoculars to see what the guy is doing now. He keeps pulling up on a cloth to cover his lower face. I tell you, something ain't right here.

Two neighbor women who frequently walk together for exercise, pass by the guy and barely notice him and his actions.

Well, you can take the cop out of the street, but you can't necessarily take the street out of the cop. I abandon my writing, put on my hat, lace up my tennie-runners and exit the rear of my house to walk around to the street. Wished I'd a had a baseball bat to carry along, but I'd given both bats to my grandsons years ago when they got interested in baseball. Could have taken my 9mm, but I'm not law enforcement anymore. Civilians get in trouble for shooting other people, even shooting criminals if it's a non life threatening situation. This appears to be a misdemeanor, which is a non capital crime. Oh sure, we have the Make-My-Day-Law, but the guy isn't in my house, so no free shots here. I'm better off, at this point, not carrying a firearm. Still, the bat would have been a good idea because the guy is in his twenties, slender, about 5'10" and healthy. Me, I've managed to put more than seven decades behind me, but while my mind still thinks it's got it, my body is not so sure. It's like having the brains of a fighting rooster with the body of a..... Never mind, form your own picture.

By now, the guy is sitting on the curb beside my neighbor's red Jeep. The guy's head is almost inside the red Jeep's rear wheel well. His head comes out when he hears my approach.

I lead off.

"Does Frede know you're siphoning gas out of his Jeep?"

The guy remains unruffled and calm.

"Yep."

Well, hell, that slowed me down. I expected a shouting confrontation or to have the guy make a dash for freedom. Nothing.

Next question.

"How do you know Fred?"

"From school."

Now he's got me because Fred is a college professor and I've had at least one other weird run-in with some of Fred's strange associates. Something about an early morning encounter a few years ago when a young woman crawled underneath this same red Jeep and staying there while her male companion tried to get her out. And, no, she wasn't a transmission mechanic. People sure are entertaining.

One way to find out what's going on this time. I head up the sidewalk to Fred's house. At this point, the guy immediately jumps up, runs to his car and drives away. Me being armed with only pen and paper, I jot down his license plate number and go ring Fred's doorbell. Fred comes out in his stockinged feet.

The gas thief has punctured the gas refill hose above the fuel tank with a knife, stuck one end of the hose into the line and down into the gas tank. By sucking on the other end of the hose, he got the fuel moving and then stuck that end in the bucket. The gas was still siphoning out of the red Jeep when Fred got down on his hands and knees to look into the wheel well.

Amazingly enough, a uniform cop shows up to take statements and make a report. I transfer the photos my wife took over to the cop's cell phone. Unfortunately, there are no photos of the thief's face, but then he kept the lower half covered anyway. Turns out the license plate comes back to a green Jeep Cherokee, not a black one. Probably a stolen plate.

All this happened in broad daylight in a nice residential area. Pretty bold for a thief.

I tell my wife we may need to start up a mini-neighborhood watch, just for our cul de sac. She agrees, but then she probably wants to be in charge of the photography department.

I also tell my two grandsons that I want my bats back. I'm not going out there un-weaponed again. Hell, I'm over seventy and have more writing to do.

Damn distractions.

                                                           *     *      *      *

On a side note, the Best American Mystery Stories 2018 put my name in their list of Other Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2017 for "Black Friday" AHMM Nov/Dec 2017. According to John Floyd's record keeping, that's my third time on their list. Now, if I could only edge over into the Top Twenty category.

28 October 2018

The Rashomon Effect

by R.T. Lawton

In 1922, a short story titled "In a Grove" by Ryunosuke Akutagawa was published in the January edition of the Japanese monthly, Shincho. This short story tells a tale about the rape of a samurai's wife and the subsequent murder of that samurai from the point of view of several different characters, and with contradictory information from one character to the next.

Twenty-eight years later, movie director Akira, Kurosawa (famous director of The Seven Samurai) used Akutagawa's short story as the basis to make his 1950 film, Rashomon. Similar to the short story, Rashomon is a tale told by four witnesses to a rape and murder: the bandit, the samurai's wife, the murdered samurai who tells his part through a medium, and a woodcutter who appears to have no bias in his telling. All of the witnesses seem to agree on some facts, but disagree on others. These disagreements on the same incident though, may be subjective, self-serving or due to the ego of that witness. Because of the contradictions in the stories of each witness, the actors in this film asked the director which version was the truth. Kurosawa replied that his film was meant to explore multiple realities rather than just one truth.

Then along comes Martin Ritt, who remakes the Japanese Rashomon into a 1964 American western titled The Outrage. Paul Newman is cast in the role of the bandit Juan Carrasco, William Shatner as a disillusioned preacher, Howard Da Silva as an unsuccessful prospector, Edward G. Robinson as a cynical conman. and Paul Fix as an old Indian shaman. Laurence Harvey plays an aristocratic Southerner married to Nina, who is played by Claire Bloom. At the bandit's trial, Juan (Paul Newman) claims he killed the husband (the Southerner) in a duel. The wife claims she stabbed her husband to death because he blamed her for encouraging the bandit, which led to the rape, while the dead husband (through the old Indian shaman) claimed he committed suicide as the manner of his death. The prospector has a fourth version for the trial.

In later years, television and movies used The Rashomon Effect to reveal "the truth" in the final version of some of their stories, which put a neat and tidy ending on those Hollywood's stories. However, in real life, a Rashomon effect is more like what cops deal with on the street whenever an incident happens, especially one that involves the emotions or prejudices of the witnesses. By the time interviews start with an incident involving law enforcement, the recollection of the events and timeline, descriptions of perpetrators and vehicles, types of guns or if there actually were any guns and/or the type and color of clothing worn by alleged suspects can vary quite a bit.

For our purposes as writers, The Rashomon Effect may be defined as a story told by several witnesses or alleged witnesses to the same incident. Each story as told by a separate witness and from their Point of View, will have some of the facts straight, but their story may also be colored or influenced by their personal biases, opinions, or even flavored to benefit themselves or others. Each witness story will contradict some of the alleged facts in the stories of other witnesses. The final version may be "the truth." Or not.

Curiosity led me to research The Roshomon Effect. And now that I have, I'm intrigued enough with the process to attempt a short story using that method. I already have the main characters and a skeleton plot mapped out. Now, I merely need to write my six-part story and see if all the contradictory parts fit.

But then, it's always something, isn't it?

#

And now for a little Blatant Self-Promotion:

The November/December 2018 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine has my story, "Vet's Day," 11th in my Holiday Burglars series. As with many of the titles in this series, I like putting double meanings into the title. In this episode, Beaumont finds himself compelled to do a favor for his old Army First Sergeant who once had Beaumont running an off-the-books NCO Club in a Muslim country in exchange for an early out from the military. Due to a lack of personal funds, Beaumont figures the only way he can complete the favor now asked by his old sergeant is for him to commit a strange burglary. And, in order to talk his partner Yarnell into going along with him on this job, Beaumont must agree to something that Yarnell wants in return.

NOTE: Fellow SleuthSayers Michael Bracken and Rob Lopresti also have short stories in this issue.

Catch ya later.

30 September 2018

Just Another Day at the Office

by R.T. Lawton

Okay, I was going to write something about Bouchercon for this Sunday's blog, but not too long after I got back from St. Petersburg, there was a curious letter in my stack of mail. The letter was addressed to me at my home and had a return address from the Colorado Springs Police Department. First off, they never write to me about anything, and second, if it's not a request for help of some kind or a speaking engagement, then it can't be something good.

My wife opened the letter and told me I might be in trouble. I grabbed the letter and started reading. It seemed that I was hereby being notified that in accordance with the Revised Municipal Code of the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Motor Vehicle Laws that the following vehicle has been impounded:

     Vehicle:    1990 WHI JEEP WRANGLER          Lic. Plate:   CO960YCR
     VIN:         2J4FY29T7LJ516354                         Impound #  3259-18
     Reason:    RECOVERED STOLEN               
     Date:         09/17/2018          J Strachan  1778

The storage fee was $30 a day and if the vehicle was not claimed, then it would be sold at auction on 01/14/2019. Also, I could not claim the car after 4 PM because they close the office at that time.

WOW!

This was a lot to think about, mainly because I had never owned a Jeep Wrangler of any year or color, much less an old 1990 white one. And, to my knowledge, I had never owned or licensed any vehicle which had been subsequently stolen. Was this a scam letter? If so, how were they hoping to get the money? Had I missed something? Or was this a new type of sting operation run by the police to see if someone would try to get a vehicle on the cheap by making a false claim and bonding out the car? And most importantly, why was my name and address tied to a stolen vehicle?

Time to do some sleuthing.

I called the telephone number for the police impound lot. Not the number on the letter. I knew better than to do that, thus I called the number on their internet website. Turned out to be the same number. So much for being cautious. After a long taped recitation of my choices as to which button to push in order to speak with the party I needed, I finally got put on hold until a real person came on the line. I explained the situation and that I had never owned this Jeep, nor did I know anything about it.

The impound lot employee was polite and sounded helpful. He plugged the impound number into his computer and started checking.

HIM: "So when you took the license plates off..."
ME:   "No, no, I never owned the vehicle. I don't have anything to do with it."
HIM: "Okay. Well, the new owner picked it up today."
ME:  "That's good, but how did my name and address get associated with the stolen Jeep?"
HIM: "Just a minute, I'll check the file."  LONG PAUSE  "The DMV said that's who the VIN came back to."
HE & I in CHORUS:  "Have a good day."

Next step, drive to the DMV and wait in line. Twenty-four people in the vehicle registration line ahead of me. My ticket number in the queue is 654. Drivers license people and other problems get different group numbers than the 600 series. I settle in. Just before I fall out of the chair asleep, the loud speaker announces my number.

At Desk #3 (there are well over twenty numbered desks surrounding our cattle pen), I hand my letter from the impound lot to the nice lady and explain my problem. She also takes my driver's license for proper identification and then consults her computer. After much careful looking, she assures me the VIN on the stolen Jeep in my letter is not registered to me.

"Then how," I inquire, "did the police department get my name?"

"Well," she says, "the name on the VIN is very close to your name."

It appears that I got caught in the scatter gun approach to legal notification. And that was all the information I could gather. I never did find out the owner's name, nor whether he was the new owner or the old owner, nor the complete circumstances of the stolen Jeep. You know, like who stole it to begin with and how was it recovered?

It's tough not being in law enforcement anymore, a position where people would give you the rest of the story.

Now, it's just another day at the writing office.

What next?

26 August 2018

A Parable?

by R.T. Lawton

Fables, parables and allegories are all similar. Roughly, a fable is a short story where animals or objects tell a story by speaking in order to teach a moral or religious lesson; a parable is a story designed to teach a moral or religious lesson with people doing the speaking; and an allegory is a story where ideas are symbolized as people. Sometimes a short story may be considered as more than one of these at the same time and sometimes in general conversation, people will interchange the three words.

When you think of fables, the first ones to your mind are probably the ancient Greek stories such as the dog in the manger and the fox and the grapes. Those types of old stories. Many old civilizations have used fables, parables and allegories as a method of teaching about life. One parable believed to be derived from early Taoism is the farmer whose horse ran away and all his neighbors lamented his bad fortune. The farmer's response was, "We'll see." The next day, his runaway horse returned to the farm with another horse and the neighbors rejoiced at the farmer's good fortune of obtaining a free horse. Again, the farmer said, "We'll see." The next day, the farmer's son fell off the new horse and broke his leg. The neighbors lamented the farmer's ill luck of his son having broken a leg. Again, the farmer said, "We'll see." On the following morning, the army came through the village and pressed all the healthy young men into service, but they left the farmer's son alone because he had a broken leg. The moral being, as the farmer had learned, was that life is unpredictable and you never know how a situation will turn out.

From old Hinduism came the parable of six blind men describing an elephant, but each blind man only felt one part of this elephant. One felt the trunk, another the tail, another a leg, another a tusk, another the body and another the head. Therefore, each man's description varied from the others, depending upon the part he touched. In the end, each blind man was partially correct, but none of them saw, or rather knew, the full picture. These days, you can easily apply this parable to various people in politics.

This issue also has a story by SS member
Janice Law, while James Lincoln Warren's
story gets the cover.
This topic of teaching lessons through various story methods brings us to my short story, "The Chinese Box," in the September/October 2018 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. (The same issue that DELL Publishing is giving out at the 2018 Bouchercon in St. Petersberg, FL) This is the 5th story in my Shan Army series concerning the two sons of an opium warlord vying to inherit their father's empire in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia.

The story involves a wooden puzzle box with movable parts, probably much like ones you've seen and handled yourself. It also involves another inanimate object, however all the speaking and storytelling is done by humans, so the story is not a fable. Whether or not the story itself can be considered a parable, the younger half-brother sees the end result of the trek that he and his elder half-brother are on through mountain jungles to deliver their father's opium to dragon powder factories in northern Thailand to be a lesson in life being taught to them by their father. At the end of the journey, the younger son tells his old Mon scout the moral of what he's learned.

Several of my stories in the Shan Army series and in my Twin Brothers Bail Bond series involve Chinese proverbs in the former and the sayings of Ghandi in the latter as key elements in the story line, but I don't know that I've involved or written any parables before this.

How about you guys? Have you written or used any parables in your own works?

29 July 2018

The Modular Story

by R.T. Lawton

So far, all of my 100+ published short stories have been what is known as straight line stories, those told in chronological order. But then in the May/June 2018 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, I read "Suspect Zero" by Benjamin Percy. His story is called a modular story, one which is told out of sequence, but the modules are related by thematic meaning. It's not that the author can just rearrange the segments in the telling of the story and call it good. If the author has done his job correctly, then the reader can find the connection from one story module to the other.

And yes, I did have to read the story twice to pick up some of the elements, however, I will chalk that up to the slowing of my brain function due to advancing age rather than upon Percy's abilities. Frankly, I found his story to be very well written. Intrigued by the concept, I researched what goes into the making of a modular story. Then, I dissected "Suspect Zero" to see the details of how this particular story worked. Below are my short notes. Of course, you as a different reader may find other items of interest in your own reading and dissection of this story.

The story modules in my dissection are presented here in the same consecutive order that the story reads from the first module to the last one. The numbers in bold (#4, #2, etc.) are the way that the story segments would read if they were put in chronological order if it had been written as a straight line story. Thus, the note labeled #4 5:32 am is the first module in the story, but would be the 4th set of events in chronological order.The times, dates and locations in bold are the same ones the author used as headings for each module. The subsequent notes are my condensing of the action or events happening in that module.

#4  5:32 am 11/20 Chip County, WI
     Train moving through the early morning, stops, conductor checks cars and finds a foot sticking out (from a dead man) in a coal car.         Conductor's POV

#2  1:00 am 11/20 Steele County, MN
     Man watches train go by, remembers laying pennies on the track as a kid, remembers hints of him getting in trouble when a girl disappeared, no proof against him, but his mother knew and threw him out of the house. Train passes, he parks the truck out in the country. He's dressed as a shadow, gloves, sneaks up on a house, tries the windows, then breaks out sliding glass back door as train noise covers his sounds. Reader feels he's going to kill/rape someone.
        Man's POV (reader sees as potential killer)

#1  3:01 pm 11/19 Steele County, MN
     Laura in house thinks she's far enough out in country that no one would bother her, but she has four visitors come to door: deliveryman, Girl Scout, Mormon boys, and meat truck driver/seller with Pete's Meat Truck. Truck driver/seller comes in house w/o permission, asks questions about her living way out here. As she pushes him out, train goes by like a banshee cry.
         Laura's POV (NOTE: she ends up being the criminal protag)

#5  10:30 am 11/20 New Auburn, WI
     Funeral director Mildred is also the coroner of a dying town. Sheriff asks her to look at dead man found on top of RR car. She says dead about 12 hours. Corpse has no teeth and no hands. Mildred says that was because the killer was looking for time to get away without being discovered.   
         Mildred's POV (NOTE: sex of corpse is not disclosed)

#6  4:16 pm 11/24 Steele County, MN
     Templetons return home from Europe to find that someone has been in their house. Call deputies. Talk about what has been disturbed. Deputies ask if they have dogs or cats. Why? They found blood by back door, but no bodies.             Homeowner's POV

#3  2:00 am 11/20 St. Paul, MN
     Jimmy, a fence with a room below his pawn shop, meets with a female maybe named Laura. He shows a pistol in his belt. They dicker on price for stolen merchandise, then go to the truck (Pete's Meat Truck) to show Jimmy the stolen goods. She gives him the truck keys. He wants sex with her before he pays, tries to force her. She pulls a knife, stabs his wrist to the table and takes his gun. She also takes the security footage and all his money. "Already, Jimmy understood that she was in fact the blade and not the meat to be butchered."                   Jimmy's POV

It is only in the final module that the readers, if they have followed the clues, realize that the body on the train was the man/truck driver/seller in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th modules of the story and that the house in the 2nd, 3rd and 5th modules is the same house. The final module also reveals that Laura is the real killer and not some innocent housewife as the reader is led to believe she is based on information in the 3rd module (chronological segment #1).

So now, assuming you've read this far, you have probably figured out why I had to read the story twice. In any case, I enjoyed the story so much that I laid out a plan to write my own modular story, "The Band Played On." It is now almost ready to submit. Unfortunately, we won't know for about eleven months whether or not my modular story gets accepted for publication. Regardless of the outcome, I had fun with the modular story structure and fleshing out the details.

As long as we're talking about different story structures, did you know there is also the Rashomon method for telling stories?

24 June 2018

Putting Up E-books

by R.T. Lawton


1st e-book, 2011
For those of you wondering about putting up e-books, it's easier now than it was a few years ago, but there's still a few things you might want to know if you're starting from scratch.  Roughly, there's two systems you can work in. (NOTE: The following is not intended to be an everything step-by-step guide.)

When you format for Kindle, your e-books are sold only on Amazon. When you format for Smashwords, they distribute your e-books in six different platforms to their respective sellers for the other e-readers out there. For instance, if a buyer desiring to purchase your story has a Nook, then that buyer acquires your e-book through Barnes & Noble. For an Apple, Kobo, etc., they have their own stores to carry your e-book which is distributed through the Smashwords' catalog. Fortunately for you, both formats can now use a Word document to turn your manuscript into an e-book.

2nd e-book, 2011
In 2011, when I put up my first four e-collections of short stories, it was best to do a nuclear option system of formatting, in which case the simple way was to use two computers. One computer used Word as you normally would. The other computer was used to strip out most of Word's formatting commands to put your manuscript in submission format. The problem being if you ever opened the submission manuscript on the normal computer, then the Word formatting commands automatically came back in again. Yeah, you could do it all on one computer, but it could be a headache. Nowadays, the process is easier.

3rd e-book, 2011
To publish for Kindle, go to https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200635650  and print out their 19 page how-to-do-it manual. Follow their steps and it's fairly easy. When your manuscript is ready, the manual will direct you to the proper place for uploading it into their system. Be prepared to answer a lot of questions during the uploading process. For instance, have a long and a short description of your book ready. Also have an idea of the keywords and categories you want to plug in for any search engine. Mystery and Fiction are givens, but is your book humorous, hard-boiled, cozy, young adult, etc.? Have a price in mind. More on price later. Have a cover. More on that later. And, have a lot of patience. It may take more than one attempt to get all the way through the process.

One decision you will have to make with Kindle is whether or not you want your e-book to be exclusive to Amazon/Kindle. If so, they offer some special programs and incentives to do so. However, that also means that your e-book cannot be distributed to other e-readers.

4th e-book, 2011
This brings us to Smashwords, which distributes to the other e-readers. They have somehow developed a software program that takes your Word manuscript in and turns it into several different formatted platforms. The original software was aptly named "The Meatgrinder."

Go to: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52 and download their 62 page style guide for directions on formatting your manuscript and entering their publishing process. Be sure to set up the best formatted manuscript you can in order to get your e-book into their Premium Catalog for wider distribution. And again, be prepared to answer pretty much the same questions as required by Kindle during the process.

5th e-book, 2018
E-book Formatting: You can do your own formatting according to the respective guideline manuals, or you can hire out the work. If you hire out the formatting, consider it as fronting the money and hoping for enough return in sales to cover your financial investment. I'm not computer savvy, but I do have a retired Huey pilot friend who made the mistake of saying, "I think I can figure out how to do that (in those days nuclear option) formatting thing." So, I let him. And now, he gets a percentage of my percentage.

Price: Once you enter a price for your e-book, the program usually tells you how much the author gets. Ninety-nine cents is usually the lowest price acceptable, although I have seen other prices listed as choices during the process. At ninety-nine cents, the author usually gets about 35% of the sale amount, whereas at $2.99 and up, the author usually gets about 70%. There is some small variation when your e-book is sold in foreign countries, although you are still paid in U.S. dollars. Which brings us to method of payment. Amazon/Kindle pays via EFT (electronic funds transfer), while Smaeshwords pays via PayPal. You will probably want to set up one method or the other or both (assuming you decide to publish with both companies).

6th e-book, 2018
Cover: If you are artistically inclined, you can make your own cover. If not, then you can find someone who is or hire someone to make you a book cover. Look at other authors' e-book covers to decide what you like and what you don't. Then, if you are hiring someone else to do the cover, decide how much you are willing to spend, in which case you are guessing whether or not your e-book sales will at least pay for the cost of the cover. In my case, my Huey pilot friend also has artistic ability, so he created the first six covers you see in this blog article. The first four were done in 2011 for those e-books. For the 5th and 6th covers, I wanted a different look, so we used personal photographs as artwork to make those covers.

Brian's cover

Two very professional covers I've been impressed with were commissioned by our own SleuthSayer author Brian Thornton for his "Suicide Blonde" and "Paper Son." Both stories originally appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine as short stories, however, "Suicide Blonde" is now in the process of becoming a novella for an e-book and also as a print book. A contract has already been inked for future publication.

Brian's other cover
For any questions on how Brian had his covers made, contact him directly and he'll be glad to explain the process and who he went through to get those covers.


If you plan on putting up your own e-books or e-collections, let us know what you have in mind. Or, if you have already put them up, please share your experiences and any tips you might have to make the process go easy.


Thanks.

27 May 2018

I Didn't Plan for This

by R.T. Lawton

Memorial Day is right around the corner. A time for thinking about cemeteries and flags and flowers. A time to reflect on those who've gone before us and decide how we can best honor them. Possibly a good time to ponder over how we ourselves would like to be remembered.

Some honorees are traditional in their ceremonies or may establish their own traditions. Some of these approaches are just plain different.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849( was first buried in an unmarked, weed-covered grave over which the sexton later placed a small block of sandstone with the number 90 engraved into the stone. Later, a marble headstone was commissioned. Because of the immense weight of these memorials, the place where they were carved was next to the railway yards to facilitate easy transportation. Unfortunately, a train ran off the tracks and through the monument yard, destroying Poe's marble headstone before it could be moved for installation at his grave.

About 1949, and possibly earlier, on the anniversary of Poe's birth, an anonymous person would enter the Baltimore cemetery and leave a bottle of cognac and three roses on Poe's grave. This tradition continued until the last official visit in 2009.

Marily Monroe's crypt
Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962), real name Norma Jean Baker, was interred at the Westwood Village Memorial Cemetery, crypt 24, in Los Angeles three days after she committed suicide. Her ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, took care of the arrangements. He didn't want the funeral to become a Hollywood affair, so he tried to keep the ceremony private. However, in the years after Marilyn was interred there, it became a popular cemetery for celebrities. Hugh Hefner even bought the tomb next to Marilyn so he could rest eternally beside the first Playboy Playmate.

For three successive years, DiMaggio had red roses delivered to Marilyn's tomb. Over time, her stone became discolored from lipstick imprints of kisses from fans.

Al's grave in Mt. Carmel Cemetery
Photo by JOE M200
Alphonse Gabriel Capone (1899-1947), known as Al Capone, was originally buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Chicago, but after his headstone was vandalized a few times, he was relocated to Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois. His original black headstone was left in Mt. Olivet as an attempt to fool sightseers and souvenir hunters as to his final resting place.

The large grey upright headstone in Mt. Carmel with the name Capone carved in it is for the Capone family. Al has his own small flat stone nearby. People still leave various objects on his grave.

Jesse James grave in Kearney, MO cemetery
Jesse Woodruff James (1847-1882) got shot in the back of the head in St. Joseph, Missouri and was originally buried on the family property. His body was later exhumed and subsequently planted in a cemetery in Kearney, Missouri. However, a man named J. Frank Dalton (1850-1951) and claiming to be Jesse Woodruff James, or Jesse passing himself off as J. Frank Dalton to avoid the law (as was claimed), got buried in Grandbury, Texas. To figure out which one was the real Jesse James, both bodies were exhumed and DNA analysis was performed. The body in the Kearney grave passed the James test, while the other corpse didn't live up to the required data. Seems that just because you're right though, doesn't mean you get to rest in peace.

1967 photo of the French graves taken from a Huey
by Jim Bracewell, 229th Avn Bn
After the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, French Mobile Group 100 abandoned Ankhe and retreated along Route 19 towards Pleiku in the highlands of French Indo-China. En route, they were ambushed several times by the Viet Minh and lost over half their strength. One of the first to die was a trooper who took a poisoned dart to the head from a Montagnard blowgun. Most of the French dead were buried in Mang Yang Pass on the north side of the highway. Allegedly, they were buried upright and facing west towards France. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Vietnamese Communists were said to have removed the white headstones from the site.

In a cemetery near the New Orleans French Quarter you can sometimes read a brief history or a comment about the occupant of certain graves. A headstone might label the resident as "the consort of" a particular person, or might state that the occupant died of a certain disease. Or, you might see three graves in a row and discover that the occupants had once been involved in a love triangle and eventually ended up in side-by-side tombs.

So, how do you plan to be remembered? Planned anything poignant to be engraved on your stone? Or even possibly safer, are your ashes hopefully taking a flier in some special place? Speaking of which, I had an ex-partner who asked a Sheriff's Deputy he played golf with to scatter his ashes on a certain golf course. A year after my ex-partner's death, the deputy was cleaning out his own closet and discovered he still had the ashes. So much for making plans.

At this point, please feel free to share any graveyard trivia you might have.