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

25 September 2022

BSP: Paperbacks 7 - 8 & 9


I spent this summer bundling some of my short stories into collections. The result is that three more paperbacks are now in print. Most of these stories were previously published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine or various other magazines or anthologies.

Paperback #7

9 Tales from the Golden Triangle consists of nine stories set in the mountain jungles and opium fields of Southeast Asia in the years after Mao's Red Army had pushed the White Nationalist Army under Chang Kai-Shek out of China during their civil war. Part of the White Army went to Taiwan while other divisions found refuge in the mountain jungles of Burma, Laos and Thailand. And, since an army must eat, as the common wisdom went, those latter army divisions soon became involved in the opium trade.

In these stories, two half-brothers contend to inherit their warlord father's opium empire. The elder half-brother was born of a hill tribe mother and raised in the jungle camps. The younger is full-blood Chinese and was raised in the British education system of Hong Kong. Existence means living with treachery and deceit while trying to live up to their father's expectations. Only one brother can win.

Paperback #8

9 Historical Mysteries Vol 2  is a continuation of the Volume 1 collection. The first five stories are set in the 1660s Paris Underworld during the reign of the Sun King, Louis the Fourteenth, on the throne of France. A young, orphan pickpocket, incompetent at his trade, grows up in a criminal enclave outside the gates of Paris. His fellow criminals tend to take advantage of his youthful ignorance and inexperience in order to draw him into their schemes.

The next four stories are in The Armenian series set in 1850s Chechnya ranging from the Cossack cordon along the Terek River and south into the hill tribes of the Wild Country in the shadows of the Caucasus Mountains. In this land, trust is an unmarked grave in the rolling steppes where The Armenian must survive dangerous encounters by his wits.

Paperback #9

9 Tales of a Criminal Mind are stories ranging from power to greed, from excitement to vengeance, where the criminal rationalizes his actions in order to justify the crime. Inside are nine tales of a criminal mind. Some humorous. Some desperate. Some done out of family loyalty. Yet all are against the law.

The last story collection includes the 2022 Macavity Nominated and Edgar Award winner in the Best Short Story category, "The Road to Hana."

All nine books, now on Amazon, are part of my endeavor to keep my stories out there in the market place for readers.

Thank you for your time.

28 August 2022

July 8th on Juneau Wharf


Port of Skagway
The brown line running downhill was
the landslide that wiped out a dock the
week before we got there.

Jefferson Randolph Smith was born into a wealthy aristocratic family in Georgia, but they lost their fortune and way of life after the Civil War. They subsequently moved to Round Rock, Texas, where Smith found work as a cowboy. This occupation soon introduced him to saloon life.

Outside one of these saloons, Smith watched a con man use sleight of hand to run a game with three shells and a pea. Concluding that fleecing suckers for a living was easier work than the hard life of a cowboy, Smith talked the con man into teaching him how to operate the game.

In time, Smith moved on to Leadville, Colorado, and successfully worked his short con with the shells and pea on the local miners.

Using his charisma, Smith partnered up with another con man and they made more money together than they had separately. Seeking to expand his business, Smith decided to move his game to a larger market.

The Red Onion
An 1898 saloon/brothel in Skagway

Denver had lots of miners with pockets full of cash and Smith was determined to get his share. He soon organized a gang of con men and other criminals. Known for his charming personality, he bribed policemen, "contributed" to politicians and made other criminals aware that they either joined his gang or else some of his people would be around to see them.

Coming up with a new scam, Smith would gather a crowd with his patter while he took a bar of soap, wrapped a hundred-dollar bill around the bar, put a paper wrapper around the money and the soap and finished by tossing the bar into a pile of other soap. He wrapped other bars of soap with various denominations of currency in a similar manner and added them to the pile. Then, for the measly price of $5, he offered to let members of the crowd purchase one bar of soap and try their luck.

At first, the crowd was reluctant, but when the first buyer unwrapped his bar and joyfully revealed a fifty-dollar bill, Smith reminded the crowd that the hundred-dollar bill was still in the pile. After that, the buying rush was on. Of course, all the winning buyers were shills and Smith had palmed the other large bills during the wrapping.

Frank Reid's grave in Skagway

From time to time, Smith would get arrested by unbribed officers. John Holland, one of the officers who did arrest him, forgot Smith's first name while writing up the arrest report, so he called him Soapy Smith. The nickname stuck. When the locals later turned up the heat, Soapy took his criminal operation to Creed, Colorado.

In Creed, which had just found a rich strike of silver, Soapy quickly bought up most of the property lots. He kept the lots he wanted for his saloons and other businesses, while selling the remaining lots to incoming store owners and other businessmen at high prices.

Within a month of moving there, Soapy declared himself as the man running Creed. Only one man refused to acknowledge Soapy as the man in charge. That man was named Bob Ford.

Ford was not well liked by the other residents of Creed. It seems that Ford had committed what the other residents considered to ne an infamous act earlier when he lived in Missouri. There was even a song about him where some of the lines went something like this:

… the dirty little coward who shot Mister Howard and laid poor Jesse in his grave.

Jesse being the outlaw Jesse James, who some people considered to be a folk hero at that time. Soapy subsequently had a private meeting with Bob Ford, after which Ford no longer bucked Soapy's operation.

Soapy's resting place and me

When the U.S. decided to use gold as their standard to back up their currency and to leave silver out of the equation, Soapy read the handwriting on the wall for Creed's silver mines. He quickly sold his properties in that city and moved his gang back to Denver. After wearing out his welcome in Denver a second time, Soapy decided to join the gold rush in Alaska.

Setting up operation in Skagway, Soapy came up with a new con. Since the miners were so far away from home, they were lonely and eager for news from their families. Soapy set up a telegraph office and charged the miners $5 to send a telegram. He also charged $5 for them to receive a telegram. Of course, the telegraph lines didn't go any further than the walls of the telegraph office. Soapy would read the outgoing telegrams, wait a few days and then write a reply telegram allegedly from the miner's family. Somehow, the family always requested the miner to send them money. By telegram, naturally.

In time, the honest citizens of Skagway got tired of Soapy's criminal ways and therefore formed a vigilante group for truth and justice. Not to be outdone, Soapy formed his own much larger, vigilante group to protect his version of the situation.

On July 8th of 1898, Soapy got word that the city's vigilante group was having a meeting in a warehouse on the Juneau Company's Wharf. He got his Winchester rifle, gathered up his private vigilante group and they went down to the docks to break up the other group's meeting.

Frank Reid's head stone

Frank Reid, the city engineer, had been assigned, along with four other men, to guard the meeting on the wharf from outside intruders. Enraged at Soapy's brashness, Frank stepped forward to stop him.

In the ensuing discussion, Soapy took his rifle off his shoulder and shot Frank in the thigh and the abdomen. At the same time, Frank drew his pistol and shot Soapy in the arm, one leg and the heart. (A later version says Frank's first shot was a misfire and that Murphy, one of the other guards, took Soapy's rifle away from him and shot him in the heart.) In any case, Soapy's calendar ceased on that day, July 8th. The uncrowned king of the con men had expired.

Ford was carried around the city on a litter and hailed as a hero. He died twelve days later from his wounds. They buried him in the city cemetery and raised money to buy him a large head stone to mark his grave.

Soapy was buried a few feet outside the cemetery and received a wooden board for a marker.

31 July 2022

Writing My First PI Story


.38 Super

Last September, I wrote a blog article in SleuthSayers challenging myself to create my  first PI story. In that article, I bemoaned the fact that any new PI story would need to come up with a new angle for the PI's background. I didn't have one yet and all the good ones seemed to have already been taken. Intense brainstorming would have to commence. And, it did.

I have now acquired a new slant on a background for a Private Investigator. Will it work? DAMFINO. All I do know is that it is different from what is currently being used out there. The true test will be when I submit it to an editor.

NOTE: It went out on 03/24/22. If it sells at the first submission, you'll hear about it. If it doesn't, then the story will be submitted elsewhere down the line of diminishing payments until it dies a quiet death.

Unfortunately, since I have a certain loyalty, plus a bit of a mercenary bent, I tend to start at the top of the market, it will probably take me a year to find out if this concept will work. In the meantime, I have already written the sequel and have a working title  ("Recidivism") which will stick.

Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I do have a few series which never got past the sequel stage.

SIDE NOTE: It seems that a kind gentleman, whom I was discussing series with at the Bouchercon in Madison several years ago, informed me that one story was a standalone,  it takes two stories to have a sequel and three to make a series. Intentions don't count until they are published. Personally, I would have responded that three stories makes a trilogy and that it took four to make a series, but I wasn't quick enough on the uptake. He was gone. His ride had arrived.

Obviously, I'm not going to tell you what the new concept entails. That would be a spoiler. You'll just have to wait about two years to see if it comes out in print. In any case, I hope to get it into the running for the Shamus Awards before I die. Trust me, it's a great concept, different and fresh. Have I lied to you yet? Well, not that you're aware of.

To keep you occupied in the meantime, there is some trivia about the story which I can entertain you with. You know how some famous authors auction off the rights to name a character in their story after some real person. Well, in this case there was no auction, but the PI character is named Ray, which is Brian Thornton's middle name, and the name of the PI firm is B. Thornton Investigations.

The next bit of trivia was totally unexpected. My wife and I were on a cruise  in the Caribbean from late February into early March and on Day One in the evening dining room, our junior waiter from Indonesia looked at me and asked if I was a Texas Ranger. He said I looked like one (or at least his concept of one). I admitted to being a retired federal agent and a writer. He was impressed more than he should have been, and asked if he could be in one of my stories. Okay, there was a bit of a language barrier and maybe neither one of us totally understood what we were talking about. but I then agreed to name one of my characters after him. In retrospect, I think he envisioned himself as a rescuing knight in shining armor, but the knights in my stories tend to have a lot of tarnish on their armor. The result was that he ended up becoming the PI's contract employee (side kick), and the first story and character got renamed ("Leonardo") after him.  

Oh, the situations we get into when we let those in the general public know that we are writers. But then, I'm sure you have your own tales to tell.

26 June 2022

The Aftermath


This will be my last post on the Edgar and/or my Edgar story. I promise.

Okay, so I've been wondering why "The Road to Hana"? I've read the other nominated stories and they were all great, so why mine? I can't say that my style of writing was literary or exemplary, because in my mind, the way I write is like me telling stories in a bar to friends over drinks. Or maybe like swapping stories with fellow cops (in a bar over drinks) after a raid or large operation. Seeing who can tell the best ones based on what happened during that raid or operation.

I've thought about it a lot because I would like to duplicate whatever it was that I did. The problem is that I can only come up with the possibility that the story resonated for some reason with the reader. I can't tell you how many people came up to me before and after the Edgars to say they have been on that road and the story made them feel it all over again, plus the few who said they could feel the road in the story even though they had not driven that road themselves. If that's the case, then I'm screwed for coming up with another story which resonates with the reader to that same degree. How to come up with a story situation which has the same impact, or resonates with the reader? I am working on it though, cuz Michael Bracken has already challenged me to meet him as a Nominee at the Edgar Awards Banquet next year. Talk about pressure.

Now, on to other items in the aftermath.

About two days after we flew home, I received an e-mail from Hiroyuki of the Hayakawa Publishing Corporation, Tokyo.  They were interested in publishing my Edgar story in their Mystery Magazine, June 25th issue. I have no idea if this is a new thing, or if they have been doing this for some time with the Edgar Best Short Story. Their contracts for reprint rights are very, very simple and they pay more than U.S. editors tend to pay. I don't read Japanese, but do plan on getting a copy or two of that issue for my personal library.

You see, I once thought I was published internationally when I sold a story to Swimming Kangaroo where the editor was named Dindy. But then the check came from Texas and that took care of that. I think we got to keep an eye on that Texas contingency.

Just to keep me humble, the woman sitting across the aisle from me on the 4-hour airplane ride from LaGuardia to Denver coughed on me all the way back. She wore no mask. Yes, I know the airline companies claim that their air circulation systems screen out all the germs and viruses, but those little fellas didn't make it direct to the filtration units. First off, they crossed the aisle to me.

A few days later, the severe head cold hit with a vengeance. Kiti finally dragged me to one of those little mobile huts in the shopping mall parking lot and we both got the lower side of our brain swabbed for Covid. Four days later, the results were negative, but I was still coughing and blowing. Almost healed now. I think I'll live.

I still have to write a story good enough to get nominated in 2023. May have to ask that Naked Singing Cowboy, whose photo I showed you in last month's post, how he keeps from catching cold in that cold, damp weather they have in Times Square and Central Park. Especially if I'm planning to go back there again. What a way to make a living.



29 May 2022

The Boyz


The Boyz

The long journey actually started on January 19th when MWA announced the six short stories nominated for the Edgar, but you've already heard about that from various people, so let's start this rendering of events on Tuesday, April 26th. Ready?

The airplane landed at LaGuardia, the wife and I took a $50 taxi ride into Manhattan and arrived at the Marriott near Times Square. Right off, I knew things were gonna be different.

I had never stayed at a hotel where the Lobby was on the 8th floor. The first obstacle to getting registered for a room was the giant revolving door on the ground floor, plus they must've had trouble paying the electric bill because the lights were dim in this particular area. I promptly got lost in the revolving door. In my defense, the door's pivot column had long slender mirrors on it, and with my failing vision, I should have never looked into the mirror. It was like being in the Fun House at the county fair and seeing no way out. With no regard for me or my large roller suitcase, the door marched on. I had no choice but to follow… until my wife reached in and rescued me.

Our room was very nice and there was a restaurant named Junior's right across the street where we ended up eating at least five of our meals while in residence.

On Wednesday afternoon, we attended the matinee performance of a Broadway play, Moulin Rouge. My wife had bought tickets months ago when I lost a bet on January 19th and then I had to agree that yes, since I had been nominated for an Edgar, we could go back to New York City one more time. And, here we were. The music, the cast, the stage settings were excellent. The audience gave a standing ovation at the conclusion.

Even the intermission was entertaining. I fought my way through the mass of bodies crowding into the refreshment lobby as they pursued quantities of popcorn and glasses of wine. At my advancing age, I instead went for the line headed to the Men's Room. A couple of people behind me, this is what I heard.

David, Liz & R.T. at DELL Reception

Attendant: "Ma'am, where are you going?"

Woman: "I am in the line."

Attendant: "But that's the line to the Men's Room."

Woman: "I am in the line."

She must've won the philosophical discussion, because for several minutes afterwards, I could hear her voice behind me, all the way in.

That evening, we dined at Junior's for the second time. As the hostess wound her way through the restaurant to show us to a table, Michael Bracken recognized Kiti and me and called us over to his table. The hostess, not realizing she had lost her cargo, continued all the way to the back of the restaurant.

Edgar Nominees
2022 Edgar Nominees for Best Short Story

Michael graciously introduced us to his wife Temple, his co-author nominee James Andrew Ahearn and his wife Dawn, and to Stacy Woodson. We all conversed until the hostess made her way back to us and asked if we would like a closer table.

Thursday afternoon was the DELL Publishing (AHMM & EQMM) Publishing Cocktail Reception at a nearby library, which Liz has already written about quite well.

At 6PM that evening was the MWA Nominee Cocktail Reception at the Marriott. Here all the nominees got their group photo taken by the category they were in. At 6:30 PM, the Edgar Banquet Cocktail Reception began, and at 7:25, the doors opened for admittance into the room for the Edgar Award Banquet itself.

R.T., Edgar & James

At Table #1 were Linda Landrigan, Kiti, myself, Brendan DuBois, Michael Bracken, Temple, James Andrew Ahearn, Dawn and two ladies from DELL Publishing, Chris Bagley and Abby Browning. Chris bought a $53 bottle of red and a $53 bottle of white wine for the table, and I do thank her for the very good libation.

All too soon, the presenters went to the podium, the nominated stories and the names of their authors and publications were flashed up on the large screens up front, and the name of the winner in each category was then announced. When they called my name, Kiti suddenly had tears running down her cheeks, Brendan pounded me on the back in congratulations and I gradually realized I was supposed to stand up and go somewhere.

Having spent most of the 25 years of my federal law enforcement career operating in the shadows, I have not been comfortable in the spotlight, yet the light had found me. Fortunately for everyone else, I had a typed copy of my acceptance speech, just in case. Be Prepared was the motto in my youth.

Actually, I had two copies in my suit coat pocket, one in 18 point font and one in 20 point font, figuring that depending upon how much light there was at the podium, I would be able to read one of them. The rest of the night was spent in conversation with various attendees, and then it was midnight and back to the room.

Friday was tourist day, Times Square and Central Park in the cold wind and low temperatures. Don't know how Naked Singing Cowboy keeps his teeth from chattering. We saw homeless people in layered clothing who appeared to be colder than he was. Don't know if he is the same Naked Singing Cowboy we saw working Central Park years ago. If he is, then he must really love his job. Since our legs and feet were now tired, we hired one of those three-wheeled-bikes-with-a-cab-for-two-people-on-the-rear for a ride back to the hotel and supper at Junior's for one last time.

Early Saturday morning, Kiti wrapped and packaged Edgar in a MWA canvas bag and hand-carried him to avoid breakage on the flight home. A $50 taxi ride put us back at LaGuardia. When Edgar rode the conveyor belt through the x-ray machine, TSA took us over to a private table. Then the TSA guy removed Edgar from the bag, unwrapped him and swabbed him down for explosives, while Kiti kept trying to explain he was an award. All the TSA guy could say was, "Lady, keep your hands off the bag." I sneaked a peek at the x-ray screen, and yep, Edgar did kinda look like a warped bomb in all that packing. We did make it all the way home and now Edgar sits on the computer desk with his little brother, Bobblehead.

Oh New York, New York, you are an experience, entertaining, but expensive.

I told Kiti we couldn't go back again unless I got nominated for an Edgar.

Of course, you see how that turned out the last time I said the same thing.

Who knew?

24 April 2022

Breaking It Down


As some of you already know, my story, "The Road to Hana," was one of six to be nominated for an Edgar in the Short Story Category. Plus, there's some of you who may have read my article in The First Two Pages after Art Taylor asked me to write an essay as part of his program to get essays from those short story authors who were nominated this year. So now for the rest of you, I'm going to break down some of my reasoning for the sentences I wrote for the beginning of my story.

The Background

My wife and I had vacationed on the Hawaiian island of Maui for two weeks in February for several years. No, we aren't rich. It's just that we learned how to do it on a lower budget. We got a special (return) rate at a small condo on the beach, rather than staying in an expensive resort area, cooked most of our own meals (it's a budget killer if you eat out a lot, unless you eat where the locals eat) and we found some of the little secrets of Maui. For instance, did you know that native Hawaiians  get a Kamaaina discount at many of the shops and stores? Seems my wife with her suntan at that time was often mistaken for Kamaaiana (local). And, did you know there's a writers open critique group that meets in an old stone church on the road leading upcountry from the old hippie town of Paia? You have to look hard for some of this stuff.

In any case, during our many stays, we traveled the road to Hana on the other side of the island several times, a couple of those times even going beyond Hana to other sites.

Photo by Jim Evans on Wikipedia
On one visit, while reading the local newspaper, I ran across an article about a young man who had smoked some of the petals of the local Trumpet Flower, a known hallucinogenic. The young man then made the decision to go deep water swimming. He was never seen again.

I was intrigued. He will never know it now, but that young man started the brainstorming for a story, even if it did take years before the story actually got written.


And now the opening sentences

There's only one road from Kahului's airport going over to the small town of Hana on the eastern side of the island.

This opening sets the place and tells the reader that the protagonist, or anyone else, going to or from the town of Hana only has one choice of roads to take if traveling by vehicle.

And then, the next line. This Hawaii highway has 59 bridges and 620 curves for the 52 miles it takes to get there. This sentence foreshadows that the road and its curves can be dangerous to drivers if those travelers are not careful. Call it atmosphere, call it background, call it setting, this is a situation where the topography of the land becomes an important part of the story and crucial to the plot, as the reader will soon realize.

I've got no idea who took the time to count the number of curves in the road. This emphasizes the curves and sharp turns to keep that image in the reader's mind for when our protagonist must travel that road, first to Hana and later back to the airport for his flight home.

Whoever he was, he must've been really bored that day and had nothing else to do. Fine by me, I was looking for boredom right about now. There's nothing like being shot on the job to make you want to stop the world and smell the roses, hell, smell any kind of flowers and thank your lucky stars the other guy wasn't a better shot. Okay, now the savvy reader knows the protagonist is some type of law enforcement who has come to the island paradise for peace and recovery from his injuries. Will he find it? A mystery reader already knows the answer to that and reads on to find out what happens next.

After more description of hairpin turns, old one-way cement bridges, deep jungle ravines on one side and steep drops to the ocean on the other, our protagonist notes: If you go off the edge here, you'd best be able to fly.

Later: It was at one of these quick turns reaching out towards the ocean where I saw flashing lights in late afternoon.

Our protagonist gets out of his rental car to check on the situation. Looked to me like two tow trucks were trying to winch a wrecked car out of the foaming surf and drag it up the slope. Also looked like a slumping body was seat-belted behind the steering wheel. Evidently, some poor schlub had tried to take a straight line where the asphalt took a bend.

Was this an accident or murder? The reader has suspicions and journeys on with our hero to find out alongside him as he slowly discovers what is going on.

So now, you tell me, did I do my job? Did the opening sentences draw you in? Is this a story you want to read? I know the opening worked well enough for the editor of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine to accept the story. 

I submitted it on 07/21/18. It was accepted on 09/29/19 and published in the May/June 2021 issue of AHMM. On 04/28/22 at the Edgar Awards Banquet in Manhattan, we will see if the story is good enough for an Edgar.

In the meantime, I, along with everyone else, will keep on writing. There is always next year and who knows which new story will get nominated and which author will win the Edgar. Maybe I'll get another chance at Ed… yeah, I've got this great idea for a story in mind about this…

27 March 2022

Me & Ol' Bobble Head


Years ago at one of the Edgar Award Banquets back when I served on the MWA Board of Directors, Margery gave out Edgar Allan Poe Bobble Heads as party favors. Mine, still in the original box, sits on my computer desk where I write my short stories. Call it a nod to the muses for a little extra assistance in creativity.

For many years, I assumed that Ol' Bobble Head would be the only Edgar to grace my writing area, and that could still be the way things turn out yet. But this year, I do have a slim chance to get a real one. You see, on the early morning of Wednesday, January 19, 2022,my wife informed me that my story, "The Road to Hana," had been nominated for an Edgar in the Short Story category. To say I was astounded, elated and/or greatly pleased would be an understatement. I tried to be cool, but nope, my feet did not touch the floor. In the end, it made no difference, I still had to do the breakfast dishes. So much for fame.

So now you're asking yourself, what are this guy's odds of getting a real Edgar? Well, since I have interviewed an illegal bookie during my professional past, I do feel somewhat qualified to come up with the proper odds for this particular event. Normally, there are five nominations in an Edgar category, so that would give me a 20% chance of winning, however there must have been a tie when it came to the top five short stories this time because for the 2022 competition there are six nominations in the Short Story category. This now gives me a 16.67% chance of winning. Oops, my odds just dropped. Sonuvagun.

Of course, since two of the six nominations are stories published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, this means that the editor, Linda Landrigan, has a 33.33% chance of having one of the two stories in her magazine which were nominated by the judges to receive an Edgar. That's better odds for her.

Now, to throw a ringer into the competition, one of the nominees would have to be awarded posthumously if he wins. It seems this really famous author passed back in 1968, roughly two months after I came back to "the world" from my twelve-month, all-expenses, government-paid vacation in a tropical climate, if you don't count the monsoon season. I was barely trying my hand at writing war poems, much less trying to create short stories for publication. Damn. I think you can see how hard it is for a guy to get a real Edgar these days.

In any case, I would like to commend the judges for their high intellect in nominating my story and throwing my hat in the ring this time. As the saying goes, "It's an honor just to be nominated." I'll stick with that because regardless how it comes out on April 28th at the Banquet in Manhattan, I definitely do feel honored to have even been mentioned in this group of distinguished authors.

As for Michael Bracken and James A. Hearn, I have read your excellent nominated short story, "Blindsided," also in AHMM. So, I'm sure you'll pardon me at this stage if I go find a bar and wish myself some luck, so that my story can at least give yours a little bit of competition. See you guys at the AHMM table at the banquet.

Well, Ol' Bobble Head, I would surely love to introduce you to Ed, but if nothing else, we will always have Manhattan.

27 February 2022

In Another Man's Shoes


There's a fellow member in our Denver MWA Chapter who keeps telling me that I write like Damon Runyon. In case you haven't heard of him, Runyon was a famous journalist from about the 1910s until the 1940s who also wrote short stories about New York characters who hung out on the streets around Broadway. If you are old enough, you have probably seen Marlon Brando in some version of Guys and Dolls based on a few of Runyon's story characters.

As for me, I didn't see the resemblance between my writing and Runyon's writing. If it was that some of the type of characters which I wrote about were similar to Runyon's, then fine. But the styles of writing were completely different in my mind, so I bought a couple of Runyon's collections of short stories to find out what Runyon and his street people were all about and how Runyon wrote, So now, let me introduce you to a few of Runyon's characters and his style of writing.

In More Than Somewhat the reader is introduced to people such as Judge Goldfobber, who is a lawyer, but not a real judge. It pleases him to be called judge and people like to please him because "He is a wonderful hand for keeping citizens from getting into the sneezer (jail), and better than Houdini when it comes to getting them out out of the sneezer after they are in." Furthermore,, "He is such a guy as loves to mingle with the public in these spots (night clubs and other deadfalls)), as he picks up much law business there and sometimes a nice doll."

The Unnamed Narrator of many of these stories "get(s) to thinking of Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore, and the reason (he) figure(s) they must be suffering from the underemployment situation is because if nobody is working and making any money, there is nobody for them to rob, and if there is nobody for them to rob, Harry the Horse, Spanish John and Little Isadore are just naturally bound to be feeling the depression keenly." To remedy the Judge's most recent problem and the three criminals underemployment, the Unnamed Narrator reluctantly recommends the three criminals to the Judge for a job the Judge needs done.

On another front, we meet Dave the Dude. "Only a rank sucker will think of taking two peeks at Dave the Dude's doll, because while Dave may stand for the first peek, figuring it's a mistake, it is a sure thing he will get sored up at the second peek and Dave the Dude is certainly not a man to have sored up at you."

"But this Waldo Winchester is one hundred percent sucker, which is why he takes quite a number of peeks at Dave's doll. And what is more, she takes quite a number of peeks right back at him. And there you are. When a guy and a doll get to taking peeks back and forth at each other, why, there you are indeed." "Now this is bad news, because when Dave the Dude takes a guy out for an airing, this guy very often does not come back."

In Damon Runyon Favorites, along comes Big Butch the safe cracker. "It seems that there is a big coal company which has an office in an old building down in West Eleventh Street, and in that office is an old safe, and in that safe is the company payroll of twenty thousand-dollars cash money. Harry the Horse knows the money is there because a personal friend of his who is the paymaster of the company puts it there this very afternoon.

It seems that this paymaster enters into a dicker with Harry the Horse and Little Isadore and Spanish John for them to slug him while he is carrying the payroll from the bank to the office in  the afternoon, but something happens that they miss connections on the exact spot so the paymaster has to carry the sugar to the office without being slugged, and there it is now in two fat bundles."

To remedy this situation, the three criminals are trying to enlist the talents of Big Butch, however Big Butch has some reluctance to open said safe due to having already been in Sing Sing on three prior occasions for opening safes and should he go for a fourth time, he will be required to stay for life, no argument. Furthermore, he has to mind the baby, little John Ignatius Junior, who is now asleep.

Harry the Horse convinces Butch that this is an old pete box which he can open with a toothpick. "Listen, Butch," Harry says in a whisper, "we can take the baby with us, and you can mind it and work, too." In final negotiations, the sleeping baby gets cut in for five percent of the take, which all concerned figure is only fair since the baby will be going along. As it is, the baby turns out to be more than worth his participation.

And in turn, both story collections were worth the price of admission to Runyon's world. I tried to mimic Runyon's story telling ability and some of his style when I wrote "Most Important Meal of the Day." It sold to Black Cat Mystery Magazine and will be published in a forthcoming edition. Buy that issue when it comes out, read the story and let me know how I did. Thanks.

30 January 2022

From the Response Time Front


It's a frequently asked question on the Short Mystery Fiction Society posting board as to how long the wait time is for  replies on short stories submitted to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  The publication's website does not currently provide an official response time, so I mostly depend upon other submitting authors to get an idea of how long my submissions will ne relaxing in the magazine's e-slush pile.

In the last year, according to my personal notes, the response times I had received were running at about eleven to twelve months. Based on that information, I expected to get a reading and a response about November 29, 2021 for my November 29, 2020 short story submission. Therefore, my mind settled in to wait until then with no expectations until about that date.

As time drew close, I learned that two of our contributing SleuthSayer authors (John Floyd & Rob Lopresti) had each recently received a response of acceptance about fourteen months after they had submitted their stories. I subsequently readjusted my mind to a new date of January 29, 2022. Come the evening of January 9, 2022, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an e-mail of acceptance from the AHMM editor. That made for a thirteen month and one week turnaround. The editor must've been reading like crazy over the Christmas and New Years holidays, while the rest of us were socializing, in order to knock three weeks off the response time during that short of a period of time.

Naturally, I understand that some authors don't like that long for an acceptance or rejection on their submission. And yes, it does tie up a story for a length of time. In which case, my suggestion is to write more stories, send out more submissions and forget about them for a while. In the meantime, to improve your odds, write and submit more.

As for my track record, the AHMM editor had just accepted my 48th story in her magazine. That gave me a 66.66% acceptance rate. I will admit the acceptance rate had been higher than that at one time, but it seems I hit a speed bump last year when I received a run of four straight rejections. Now, with that 48th acceptance in hand, I will use this information to more carefully decide what story content and writing style to send her in the future, which should improve my odds. It's a learning curve.

One more slant on the long wait time. It has been mentioned before that whereas EQMM has a shorter turnaround time, that editor tends to read the first few pages of a submission and if the author doesn't capture her interest in those pages, then the read is finished. The editor of AHMM tends to read the entire manuscript, which admittedly does take more time.

Of course, there is another fairly well-paying publication out there where the author's submission is not acknowledged as received and the author may never receive a reply of acceptance or rejection, in which case the submission sets in limbo unless the author sends an e-mail or letter of withdrawal.

In the end, it's the author's story, the author's time involved and the author's decision or business model as to how they wish to proceed on where to submit their creations.

Best of luck to you all. I love reading good stories.

And, while you are here, give us your thoughts on the submission process.

26 December 2021

The Advantage of Networking


I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but this topic is important enough that I believe it bears mentioning again. You just never know when networking will bring you an unexpected gift or boost at just the right time.

In a previous blog, I told about Brian Thornton (a fellow SleuthSayer) and me taking an MWA Board Member to the Russian Vodka Room in Manhattan for Baltika #3 beers and finding out later that particular member was an editor. This little outing subsequently led to me getting talked into a non-fiction book contract written under an alias. And yes, that was good beer.

Okay, so several years later, I'm on a short story panel at a Bouchercon in Dallas where Barb Goffman is the panel moderator. While waiting for the panel to begin, we start chatting and she happens to mention that she likes my short story "Black Friday" (the 10th story in  my Holiday Burglar series) which was published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine Nov/Dec 2017 issue.

Then, a couple of months ago, Barb looks me up in an e-mail asking if she can reprint "Black Frida" in Black Cat Weekly of which she does the Barb Goffman Presents section and is an Associate Editor of the magazine. (And no, no beer was involved.) But yes, not only does this e-mail come at a good time, Barn also wishes to pay me in good, solid U.S. American Dollars. So, you see this networking thing does pay off in the end.

NOTE: Black Cat Weekly #13 is an e-format, 479 page publication of good reading put out by Wildside Press LLC. Maybe you should buy a copy of this publication and see if it is a good market for you and your work. At least you'll enjoy the reading, if nothing else.

And While you're at it, you too should try some of this networking stuff at critique groups, writers' conferences, chapter meetings, readings, library gatherings, getting involved in writing organizations and/or whatever works for you. Get you and your stories and your name out there by being there.

And, don't be shy. Let us know how it all comes out.

28 November 2021

Using All Your Resources


I was in the process of writing this blog article about how writers should use all of their creative resources to get a new story started and then I got sidetracked. Was the correct word sources or resources? Might be best to have a look. I went to Google as the deciding judge. Sources vs. resources.

Uh huh.

They lost me in their definition examples when they used the sun as both a source of energy and as a resource of energy. So, I'm just going to use the word resource and you readers can decide on your own which word is correct under these circumstances, source or resource.

Anyway, to get back on track, I don't know how the rest of you authors get your ideas going in order to create a new story. Short story or novel, take your pick.

I usually go to sleep putting my brain on notice to come up with something and then wake up with a character in trouble in whatever type of scene, write the scene down that morning and then come up with a plot at a later time. Or take a walk and daydream along the way. That's probably why I have so many story starts setting in computer files waiting to be finished. Of course, this way I always have something to continue writing on.

Even so, my brain doesn't always cooperate at sleep time or on walks, in which case the well runs dry and any lowered bucket hoping to fill up with fresh elixir only bumps against moist sand. But, working undercover and with sly criminals for twenty-five years, I learned early on that it was best to have more than one trick in the bag.

So, I've got this Huey pilot buddy who has done a few things in his time that I'm not allowed to talk about and has a fine brain of his own. He is not a writer himself, but he does understand some of the basics and he likes mysteries. So, we get together every so often and bounce story ideas off each other. Maybe five percent of what he comes up with is pure gold. For instance, a few years ago, he came up with an Archimedes science solution to apply to one of my stories set in the 1660s Paris Underworld series. This solution gave me the second half of the story and an ending. AHMM subsequently published the story, "Of Wax and Watermarks."

And then, a couple of years ago during one of our brainstorming sessions, he produced two main characters and several very visual scenes set it modern day Italy. All I had to do was stitch the scenes together, add the dialogue and come up with the ending. It was like being handed an outline. The story felt like it almost wrote itself.

Did it get published?

Yes it did.

Mystery Weekly Magazine (now known as Mystery Magazine) snapped it up and placed it in their September 2021 issue.

I don't know if any of you writers out there have someone you can bounce story ideas off of as a resource, but you might consider the concept.

As for me, I'll keep the guy around as a resource. I might even ply him with a little Vanilla Crown Royal from time to time to loosen up the corners of his mind for creativity. As a sometime resource, he's gold.

So, what resources do you have in your bag of tricks?

31 October 2021

The Women in my Writing World


Kathleen Jordan

Thinking to give AHMM one more try back in the year 2000, I went to their website to see what type of story they wanted. Kathleen Jordan was the editor at the  time and the website said she wanted stories set in exotic locations. I just happened to have finished a story ("Once, Twice, Dead") set in the Golden Triangle of SE Asia. I figured you couldn't get much more exotic than that, so I sent it in. She bought the story and it was published in AHMM's Sept 2001 issue.

The high of being published in a major mystery magazine quickly ran into the speed bump of reality. What next? Or, was I merely a flash in the pan, a one-trick pony?  I had no story ready to submit next. And, any story I did come up with needed to be of high quality in order to obtain a second sale. It also needed to be different from other stories already out there. So, I looked around and decided to borrow from the best.

Isaac Azimov in his Black Widower series had a character who solved mysteries just by hearing someone relate the circumstances. Nero Wolfe had Archie bring him the clues he needed. And, on the darker side, Lawrence Block had his Ehrengraf series with a crooked attorney who always got his guilty clients off by shady means without going to trial. Plus, in a biography of Dashiell Hammett, it seems that Hammett was acquainted with a pair of brothers in San Francisco who operated as bail bondsmen and used their criminal clients to commit robberies and burglaries. All of this being perfect fodder for a new story.

What to name it if it became a series? Well, let's see, back in the early 1970s, Kansas City had a gang of bank robbers, dope dealers and killers known as the Black Mafia. Two of its members were known on the street as Twin and Twin Brother. Through several incidents on some of the darker streets of the city, Twin and I got to know each other quite well before he joined Twin Brother in prison. So, for a story series, let's have an intelligent but crooked proprietor of a bail bond firm solve mysteries from the clues brought to him by his minion, a not so bright bail agent who is afraid of his boss. And, perhaps all of their clients are guilty criminals who accidently fall from high places, go deep-water swimming without the proper breathing equipment, get hit by an errant taxi cab (but hey, they weren't exactly within the marked crosswalk at the time) or somehow managed to take up temporary residence in the morgue, while the bail firm always makes a profit on the transaction. Thus, the Twin Brothers Bail Bond series was born and Kathleen Jordan bought the first two stories.

Linda Landrigan

Kathleen passed and Linda took over as the editor for AHMM. Suddenly, I was an orphan, I'd lost my rabbi. My first introduction to Linda was when she asked for some changes to the second story in the series, a story already bought and paid for. Maybe this wasn't going to be a series after all.  I made the requested changes and submitted the third story. She bought it and seven more with the same characters. I had a foot in the new door.

At the Las Vegas Bouchercon bar, Linda bought the drinks and I got bold enough to inquire what she would like to see in my future writing. She suggested a Moriarty type character to go up against the proprietor of the bail bond firm. Therefore, in "The Other Bondsman" I created Herr Morden (Mr. Murder), the German phonetic of ermorden: to murder.

Years later at breakfast in Manhattan, I asked the same question again. Linda replied that in my Armenian series set in 1850s Chechnya, she would like a story told from the little Nogai boy's point of view. This was a character who in several preceding stories never had more than three lines of narrative and zero lines of dialogue. She got her story ("The Little Nogai Boy") which then got me a sale and a Derringer nomination. Goes to show that networking and personal relationships can help keep those acceptances coming. To date, I'm at a 66% acceptance rate with AHMM and have four submissions waiting in their e-slush pile.

Pat Dennis

When I went to the Las Vegas Bouchercon, I arrived a couple of days early in order to attend Jerry Healy's all-day novel writing seminar. As I'm sitting in the front row waiting for the session to begin, a lady dragging an oxygen tank on a two-wheel cart, walks up behind me. "You're my screen saver," she says. I had never met this woman before and at the time, I wasn't totally sure how I could be a screen saver. But, I was flattered to be recognized. Turned out she was the editor of the anthology Who Died in Here?. All of the anthology stories submitted had to be set in a bathroom of some type. Payment was $25 and an air freshener. She (Pat Dennis) had accepted my story, "Flying Without a Parachute," based on a real incident where a heroin deal had gone bad and the protagonist/defendant temporarily escaped arrest by leaping from a third story window. Defendants really should know that cement driveways make for a hard landing when you are three floors up. I had a lot of fun promoting that anthology. (acceptance rate 100%, one story.)

Johnene Granger

The Short Mystery Fiction Society had a posting several years ago about Woman's World magazine buying (at that time) 900-word mini-mysteries for the grand payment of $500. I sent them one and the column editor, Johnene Granger, subsequently bought nine more. Since I had a steep learning curve as to what topics were acceptable and what wasn't, my acceptance rate with this publication hovered around 33%. Sometimes, the column editor wanted the story, but for some reason the magazine's chief editor rejected the story. However, when Johnene moved on and a new column editor took over, I could not sell a single mini-mystery to them. So, I took my five thousand dollars and faded away, leaving  that market to our own John Floyd who has now sold over a hundred of his stories to them. You just can't beat success. Good on ya, John.

Kerry Carter

I kept reading posts about authors selling stories to Mystery Weekly Magazine, so I finally sent them a humorous story ("The Job Interview") about three individuals trying to rob the same bank at the same time. The editor, Kerry Carter, bought it.

In that time period, the magazine paid one cent a word through PayPal. I will admit to some confusion when PayPal then took a small fee. Through a small amount of research, I discovered that the magazine is a Canadian company in which case PayPal charges a conversion fee when converting Canadian Loonies to U. S. Dollars.

No sweat, I subbed them a second humorous story ("The Clean Car Company") in which a criminal can obtain a "clean car" the same way he can get a "clean gun" in order to commit a crime. The magazine subsequently raised their payment rate to two cents a word. I sent another submission ("The Story Game"), also accepted. Then they put out a submission call for humorous stories for an anthology (Die Laughing), so I sent them "Blue Light Special" My acceptance rate currently stands at 57% (4 out of 7).

And, as mentioned in a previous post, Kiti is my First Reader, part-time publicist, part-time social media person, all-around mental support and wife of 41 years. Guess my acceptance rate here must be okay to make it all those years.


ADDENDUM:

I can now happily add Barb Goffman to this list. She recently asked if she could reprint "Black Friday" (10th in my Holiday Burglars series) in an upcoming issue of Black Cat Weekly: Barb Goffman Presents. The manuscript has been submitted, the edits have been made and the contract has been signed. Now, I'm just waiting to see it in print. And, I may or may not be working with Barb again, depending upon whether it is Barb or Michael Bracken who edits my submission to our SleuthSayer anthology.


It's a good life.

26 September 2021

So I was Thinking


So, anyway, I was thinking that maybe I should expand my field of writing and possibly try some new markets. I could always write some horror short stories and see how that went, but to enter that market, I would need to come up with something fresh and really scary from what's already out there. Nah, better not, I like to sleep at night.

Maybe I could try for the sci-fi market. The problem with that genre is my my knowledge of space technology is minimal, so I'd probably be limited to writing space opera and dodging incoming from those readers and editors questioning what little science I did use in my stories.

Well, there is one subgenre under the mystery umbrella which I haven't tried yet. The Private Investigator story. Guess the main reason I haven't wandered into that market is my need to find a new angle into a PI story. Seems that some angles have been used so many times that they have become a cliche. You know what I mean, the PI who is an alcoholic, is retired from or fired from the local police department, divorced, disgraced, has one buddy still on the force who gives him case details, has a certain hobby, is handicapped in some manner (whether it is physical, mental or a language barrier), etc.

I think the last innovative angle I've read was by Dave Zeltserman when he invented a micro-computer with a personality named Archie. Archie, disguised as a tie tac, researched records by hacking into computer systems, answered the business phone and gave advice to his (protagonist) PI, all while bringing him clues. So, then I'm wondering what's left to be fresh and new.

In an e-mail discussion with John Floyd, in which I mentioned all of the above, John was gracious enough to provide me with a copy of his PI story in Black Cat Mystery Magazine. His "Mustang Sally" had just won the Shamus Award for Best Short Story. In that story, his PI was just an Average Joe trying to get by, but the story did have a great twist to the ending, and that is probably why it won the award. So, maybe the PI didn't have to be someone or something special, if it was a really good story. Point taken.

Next step forward. As luck would have it, a guy (Steve Pease) in our MWA chapter carpool is a licensed Private Investigator in the state of Colorado. Not only that, but he also recently taught a twelve lesson course on PIs to a local chapter of another national writers group. And for a small negotiated fee, somehow involving a quantity of wine, plus me being a fellow carpool member, retired law enforcement agent and current friend, I could take a gander at his lesson plans. Turned out to be very interesting information, plus it came with war stories for examples. Great stuff.

So now I'm thinking, with all this material, I'm gonna brainstorm me a PI short story.

Look out Shamus Awards. Here I come.

29 August 2021

The Good, The Bad, The Lemonade


 

 If you're writing short stories, I assume you have some sort of business plan for them. In which case, your plan may be as simple as:

Plan A: submitting only to prestigious and high paying markets. (Hey, you'll probably get more money this way, but your overall published stats won't be very high.)

Plan B: submitting to as many markets as possible without regard for pay or prestige. (In this case, your published stats will probably be up there, but you may not make much money.)

Plan C: this one is also known as a portion of the John Floyd/Michael Bracken Plan where you work frequently, write prolifically and submit enough stories in a year that you can do both Plan A and Plan B at the same time.

Now, let's go one step further. Don't some of your stories deserve a second life?

Plan D: keep your eyes and ears open for any reprint markets that accept previously published stories. My bank account knows I miss Great Jones Street, a short story on your cell phone company, which was conceived before its time. I received $500 for eight previously published short stories. There was also a nice chunk of change for a reprint in an Otto Penzler anthology about villains. You could probably get more information on how to find reprint markets from John  and Michael, but you generally need to know about these markets as soon as they open. Many of them are a limited time offer.

and, it's just possible that some of your short stories should get one more chance at a first life.

Plan E: gather your, preferably related, stories into collections. Submit them to a traditional publisher and see if you can get a contract. Of course, if you're in a hurry, or can't find a traditional publisher for your masterpiece, or don't like the terms of a potential contract, you can always put out your story collection in e-format or KDP Paperbacks,

BEST PLAN: if you are dedicated enough, creative enough and have enough time in the day, then combine all of the above plans and keep on going. Success for you as a writer may be just around the corner.

so, where am I at in all this?


The Good:

"Gnawing at the Cat's Tail" will be published in the Sep/Oct 2021 issue of AHMM. This is the 7th story in my Shan Army series set in the Golden Triangle of SE Asia during the time period of the Viet Nam War. It involves two half-brothers vying against their surroundings and each other to inherit their warlord father's opium empire. One brother was raised in the British education system of Hong Kong, the other grew up with the hill tribes in the mountain jungles.

The Bad:

It was a good run with seven published stories in the series. Unfortunately, Stories #8 and #9 were rejected. The reason given was that the stories were good, but the editor thought both stories worked better as part of a novel or in a serial rather than as standalone short stories. Since the editor is the boss, that is that. I will now go and make lemonade.

The Lemonade: 

I currently have six story collections out in e-format for Kindle and other e-readers, plus they are in KDP Paperback form at Amazon. So now in about March 2022, I will release 9 Tales of the Golden Triangle in e-format and KDP Paperback. This collection will include the seven previously published stories and the two rejected stories. It will be book number seven. Book number eight, to be released later that same year will be a second collection of historical mysteries, most of which were previously published in a magazine or an anthology.

THEY LIVE AGAIN !!!

and, that's part of my plan.

Tell us about yours.

25 July 2021

One Movie at a Time


2020 was a long dreary year, but partway through 2021 the future started looking brighter as more people got vaccinated and stores, restaurants and various events began to open up. And then, the D mutation flexed its muscle and put question marks on how bad the future could become.

In our little cul-de-sac of nine houses, the majority of homeowners had a hello and wave relationship with their neighbors. During the eighteen years we had lived in this small community, there had not been a single organized get-together for all the neighbors to get to know each other. It was a friendly place… up to a point, but very few of the neighbors socialized with each other. Then one evening, one of our next door neighbors and his spouse proposed an idea they had. Seems the neighbor had a DVD projector, a folding table to put it on and a movie screen he'd made out of an old white sheet.

As a trial run, he hung the sheet from his pergola in his back yard and set up his projector on the table. We brought over two sets of Bose speakers from our old sound system and we set up some canvas camping chairs on their back lawn. The next door neighbors on the other side of our house were also invited to attend the trial run.

The movie selected was Trouble with the Curve, starring Clint Eastwood as an aging baseball scout who had a rocky relationship with his ambitious lawyer daughter. Everything worked well that night, so now it was time to expand to a larger audience, but we needed a bigger venue than his backyard.

The neighbor with the initial idea made up a handbill invitation to a free movie and ice cream social night. That same neighbor and us would would supply the ice cream, bowls and spoons. Everybody else would bring their favorite ice cream topping to share.

A few days before the event, I went around the cul-de-sac ringing doorbells and handing out handbill invitations. At the time, we didn't know if the audience would be the same seven who attended the trial run or a potential high of twelve in attendance. Since the number of attendees was an unknown factor, our driveway, which had the least slope to it, was elected as the bigger venue for this showing.


The movie screen/white sheet was hung with plastic hooks from the rain gutters over our garage door, while the projector and table were located about halfway down our driveway. The ice cream table was set up off to one side on the sidewalk. Everyone brought their own chairs and found places to put them where they would have a good view of the movie. Tiki torches filled with mosquito repellant were set up off to the side in order to ward off any unwanted pests.

Amazingly, there were eighteen in attendance for ice cream and the movie. Because we didn't know how well this project would be received, we had only allowed a half hour between ice cream social before the movie was scheduled to run. But, when the ice cream half hour was up, the attendees were still engaged in on-going conversation with the neighbors they had lived side-by-side with for years with only a wave and a hello. Of course, ice cream time got extended. Finally, I had to instruct everyone to pick up some popcorn which my wife had bagged up and then to take their seats, the movie was about to start. Otherwise, we may not have wound up this party until well after midnight.

For this movie, we showed Second Hand Lions with Robert Duvall and Michael Caine. Another hit. Afterwards, surprisingly enough, everyone stuck around to take down the screen and carry all the equipment and tables back to the original owner's house and/or backyard.

There's nothing like success. For our next event, we may expand the social time by making it a covered dish supper with each family bringing something for the table. This way, they can talk with their neighbors for a longer period of time.

The question now is which movie to show. It needs to be a family friendly one, kids may attend, yet be appealing to a wide audience. Any ideas?

We're just coming together, one movie at a time.

27 June 2021

Blue Light Special


Back in the summer of 1980,Miami was an open town. The Cocaine Cowboys were riding high with cash, guns, killings and lots of product. Enterprising pilots, flying under the radar, clandestinely dropped parcels of cocaine and bundles of marijuana into the swamps to be recovered by ground crews. Mother ships loaded with marijuana out of Colombian ports ran the high seas headed north. Dealers used grocery sacks to take their money to the bank. Get in a wreck with a van load of marijuana on the Interstate? Walk away, there will be another load. Homicide cops responding to killings of major league dealers found large quantities of money. Temptation set in. After all, the owner of all that cash wasn't alive to complain about his loss. But, when those big payouts went dry, some entrepreneur cops decided to make their own killings. And, guess who did the homicide investigations on those deceased dealers? It could be an exciting time...... if you lived.

That summer, I caught a special and got loaned out to our office in Miami for a few months. Twelve of us agents from various offices across the U.S. were temporarily assigned to the same task force to replace the group of local agents who were being relocated further south to conduct surveillance on clandestine landing strips known to be on several islands in the Caribbean.


Part of our duties were to partner with U.S. Customs out of the port of Miami in order to intercept smugglers along the Florida coast at midnight as they tried running in from the Bahama banks. We hunted in wolf packs with go-fast boats and a Customs tug boat which operated a radar set. Whenever the tug's First Mate got a speeding blip on his radar screen, he radioed the information to the appropriate go-fast boats and the chase was on. At the time, Customs used a flashing blue Kojak light to signify their presence. Some smugglers then idled their engines and trusted to their hidden compartments to get them through. Others goosed their engines and ran for it.

Meanwhile, on the Gulf side of Florida a few enterprising redneck entrepreneurs who didn't have the cash nor connections to purchase large quantities of controlled substances on their own came up with the bright idea of acquiring their own flashing blue lights. This situation made for confusion and adrenaline, not to mention what you might call a touch of modern day piracy conducted under a false flag.

With all of this fodder for a short story, I couldn't resist when Mystery Weekly Magazine put out a submission call for humorous stories to publish in its Die Laughing anthology. My story, "Blue Light Special," was accepted earlier this month, the e-contract has been signed, PayPal has delivered the payment and now I'm somewhat patiently waiting to have the anthology in hand.

Yes, you may sleep easy in your beds at night. Worse thought-out plots of nefarious action have occurred on the high seas in the dark of night. So, pleasant reading to you and yours, and have a few laughs while you're at it.

PS ~415 stories were submitted to the anthology, 44 were accepted. A hearty congratulations to SleuthSayers Rob Lopresti and Bob Mangeot for making the cut.

30 May 2021

The Road to Hana


“The Road to Hana” is one of those stories that took several years from concept to to conclusion and underwent many transformations during the journey. I started out with the right murder weapon in mind and had the correct setting for the story to play out. I just needed to figure out the proper characters for protagonist, antagonist and secondary players.

The setting is an exotic location, a paradise where murder is out of place. It is also a location I am familiar with, having gone back to it many times over the decades.

If you look at the Hawaiian island of Maui as a figure 8, the airport would be located at the waist of the figure. Driving clockwise from the airport on the lower half of the 8 takes you 52 miles to the small villages of Hana on the windy side of the island. Most of this 52 miles of highway clings to volcanic rock cliffs and parallels  the coast. It has 56 bridges and 620 curves with dense jungle on both the uphill and the downhill sides of the road. Most of the bridges are one-way at a time, built of crumbling cement date stamped in the 1920s. The view is beautiful, but don't take your eyes off the road for long. This side of the island is not the side where all the nice, sandy beaches are located, nor the large, fancy resorts. It's where you go on a one-day trip to see what's left of old Hawaii or else to get away from everything.

Wkipedia map

That's setting. So, who would make a good protagonist? How about a big city homicide detective recovering from a bullet wound in the line of duty. He wants someplace warm, quiet and laid back to rest up for a few days. To that end, he rents a tourist bungalow outside Hana and settles in to see a few local sites, find a good restaurant and have a tourist drink or two.

In the beginning, he does not suspect that another visitor's death may actually be a homicide, nor that the antagonist may consider a second murder to cover up the first.

With the above information in place, the antagonist and bit players wrote themselves into the story. Now, I'm not sure what took me so long from start to finish. "The Road to Hana" appears in the AHMM May/Jun 2021 issue. That makes four stories in four straight issues. A good run, but now it will be a long dry spell before any others of mine get published.

Aerial View Hana Highway © Wikipedia

Originally, I wrote this one as a standalone, however I I usually try to keep in mind what it would take for one of my standalones to become a series. In this case, the detective could only make so many trips back to the islands before the concept gets worn out and he needs to retire and move to the islands before he can stumble over more bodies and make it seem credible. Otherwise, the Tourist Board would surly ban him from setting foot in the islands.

If you ever get the chance, I recommend taking a trip to Maui and driving over to the Hana side to enjoy the scenery, if nothing else.  We swam in the Seven Pools, hiked up through bamboo forests on the old volcano to a 100 foot water fall splashing down to a small pool and ate ripe guava off of trees along the way. Also found coconuts on some of the small beaches. Never did make it to aviator Charles Lindbergh's grave in a cemetery behind an old church. Maybe on the next trip.