Showing posts with label Ray Bradbury. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ray Bradbury. Show all posts

31 March 2018

Space Opera and Horse Opera


Those who know me know I like to write--and read--mostly mystery stories. As for the writing part, my "genre specialty" is made easier because almost any story involving a crime can be considered a mystery.

Today, though, I want to tell you about two pieces of fiction that I recently discovered from other genres, and they're stories that I found exceptional. One's a western and one's science fiction, but both are chock full of crime and deception; does that mean they could be loosely defined as mysteries? Probably not. But I liked 'em anyway.

The first is a Netflix Orginal series called Godless. And I need to clarify that a bit. A lot of TV shows that I've watched lately, like Goliath, True Detective, Fargo, etc. (and unlike Longmire, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, House of Cards, and most others), have been what's become known as "limited-series" presentations--stories that are told start-to-finish in one season. There might be some degree of similarity and continuity between seasons, but mostly the story ends when the season ends, and you wind up with what amounts to a single seven-to-ten-hour, full-character-arc movie. I usually binge-watch them.


Godless is a western, and one of the best I've seen. It features a few familiar faces like Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston and a bunch of lesser-known actors that have become better known as a result of their being cast here. The story involves a legendary outlaw in pursuit of a former friend who betrayed him, but the strangest thing about the show is that it takes place in the fictional La Belle, New Mexico, which is a town of mostly women--all the men have been killed in a catastrophic mining accident. I won't get into too many details here, but this seven-episode series is truly well done, in every way. The writing, the acting, the direction, the cinematography, everything just works. By the way, any of you who might still think of Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber or Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey will barely recognize them here. Daniels is as good in this as he was in the HBO series The Newsroom, and that's saying a lot.

My other recent discovery was a novel called Artemis, by Andy Weir (who also write The Martian). I loved The Martian--book and movie--and I thought this second novel was just as good. The protagonist, a young woman named Jasmine (Jazz) Bashara, is as tough and resourceful as any hero/heroine I've seen in a long time, and outrageous as well. At the start of the book Jazz is a wannabe tour-guide for some of the attractions around Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, and since she can't seem to pass the test to become a guide she makes a living smuggling certain items when they arrive from Earth to her customers here in space. Long story short, because of her lack of funds and need for employment she finds herself a part of a get-rich-quick scheme that instead gets her into deep trouble, including dealing with hitmen who are sent from Earth sort of like the four gunmen in High Noon. You'll wind up cheering her on, while you learn (or at least I did) a lot about life on the Final Frontier.


That's my sermon for today. And don't get me wrong, I've watched a lot of other good movies lately--Wind River, Baby Driver, Arrival, Logan Lucky, Gerald's Game, Hell or High Water, No Escape, Wonder Woman, Bushwick, Mudbound, The Last Jedi, Get Out, Blackway, Bullet Head, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri--and I've read some other good novels too--The Cuban Affair, The Fireman, The Girl from Venice, Dragon Teeth, Home, Gwendy's Button Box, World Gone By, Blackjack, Mississippi Blood, Sleeping Beauties, Goldeline, Fierce Kingdom, El Paso, The Midnight Line, Paradise Sky, The Big Finish, A Column of Fire, etc.--but I believe these two stories were as good as any of them, and better than most. If any of you have seen Godless, or read Artemis, please pass along your thoughts.

I also wouldn't mind some recommendations. I've been devouring collections of short stories lately, mainly those by Bill Pronzini, Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, John Cheever, Richard Matheson, Fredric Brown, Annie Proulx, and (believe it or not) Tom Hanks. I need to get back into some novels.

Meanwhile, happy reading, and viewing.

08 January 2018

Wandering with a Story


by Stephen Ross

A friend sent me a link to an article in The Atlantic. It's about how writers run. Maybe she was suggesting something. I'm a writer, but I don't run... but then I'm not exactly immobile. I walk; as in long walks for no reason other than the walk itself. So, in a sense, I am a writer who runs, I just do it with, ahem, "considered application." And like the authors mentioned in the Atlantic article (Louisa May Alcott, Joyce Carol Oates, Don DeLillo, et al), the forward propelled movement with no specific goal other than the movement itself is absolutely linked to my writing.

Absolutely is perhaps too strong an adverb. But the relationship is symbiotic. There is simply nothing better after a long day of writing to throwing on a t-shirt and pair of shorts, lacing up a pair of sneakers, and heading out for a brisk stroll. I have a natural circuit around my neighborhood. It's about seven kilometers, features a hill climb, and takes about an hour. Perfect.

First up out the door is the intake of fresh air; great lungfuls of it. And any kind of exercise has to be good after sitting at a desk for several hours. It gets the dopamine flowing. But what it's really about is the plunge back into reality after a day spent ensconced in the imagination. Writing is a form of meditation. It's a concentration that disconnects you from the here and now. You go with your story. You flow with it. You enter its world and your mind "exists" in its space and time.  Walking brings you back.

And brisk walking is a form of meditation itself, although a more rhythmic sort. It's a straightforward repetition of physical action. And it's passive, so you don't need to think at all while you do it. But, of course it is, in that passive state, with the dopamine flowing, the perfect time to think; to ponder, reflect, and consider. And here's where it's symbiotic for me, because I think about the writing I've just been doing.

And I realized sometime ago why the walking + thinking about the day's writing can be so effective: I can't edit. I can't call up the text on a screen in front of me and read it over. I can't move things around: a word dropped here, a sentence rewritten there.


Everything has to be from the memory. And as such, the thinking becomes more analytical in nature. Firstly, questions, e.g., Does the story really work? Are the characters' motivations clear and defined? Is the twist at the end twisty enough? And so on. And then out into the realms of meta-thinking, where, in the meditative state of the walking, the mind wanders in and out of the story, and I'll ponder everything from its word count to the hero's hat size. It's here where the imagination roams free.

And it's here where things can spark.

I wrote a story once about a young boy who enlisted the help of an elderly, retired policeman to look for a missing friend (The Man with One Eye, EQMM, December 2010). While out on a walk during the writing, an idea came out of nowhere to make the old man a retired gangster, instead. The character immediately became more interesting to write and the story was better for it.

Just about every story I've written has had a spark or two like this. Walking invokes a form of lateral thinking, or thinking outside the box (leastways, outside the house), which is completely different to the thinking when sitting at the desk staring at the text on the monitor.

Needless-to-say, I always have a notepad and pencil on standby for when I return home.

Beethoven was keen walker. He favored forests, and he was lucky; in 18th Century Germany there always seemed to be one handy. I don't have the luck of dense foliage to roam about, but it helps that where I live (borderline suburbs/rural) is low density traffic and people, so I encounter little distraction when out. My fellow footpath travelers are dogs, mostly; out taking their humans for walks, and no doubt mulling over their day's work, just like I am. This bone or that bone? Shall I annoy the cat, this evening? Shall I continue work on my memoirs?

Ray Bradbury was another walker. He hated cars and never got a driver license.
"What are you doing out?"
"Walking," said Leonard Mead.
"Walking!"
"Just walking," he said simply, but his face felt cold.
"Walking, just walking, walking?"
"Yes, sir."
"Walking where? For what?"
"Walking for air. Walking to see."
From The Pedestrian
Ray Bradbury, 1951
And, of course, the last thing I would say is that all that walking is kind of healthy. So there it is.

The article at The Atlantic is here: Why Writers Run

www.StephenRoss.live

Photo from www.Pexels.com

04 June 2015

Science Fiction Fantasy Mysteries


I just got my copy of the July/August Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and (no surprise, folks!) SleuthSayers is well represented:
  • Robert Lopresti's "Shooting at Firemen" just knocked me out. I already knew to look out for it from Rob's blog here (http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/05/telling-fiction-from-fact.html) and it's a wonderful story about riots, politics, and race.
  • David Edgerly Gates gave us "In For a Penny", and what the cover says is true: The graft is greener at the border.
  • Janice Law's "A Domestic Incident" - besides being a harrowing account of betrayal on almost every level - raises the question, "what would/should I have done?"

Congratulations to all!

Another great story is Donald Moffitt's "A Handful of Clay". Sadly, Mr. Moffitt died just before publication. He was a multiple science fiction/fantasy/ and mystery writer. I love this story, both as an historian (setting a story in ancient Sumeria - 4500 years ago - and getting the details right without bogging down in them while keeping the universal humanity of the past, now that's an achievement) and as a mystery buff (love the plot). And it also got me thinking about the way so many people have shifted between sci-fi / fantasy/ mystery / horror without missing a beat.

First, some BSP:


Yes, that's me on the left, and later on the right, at the reception and panel discussion for the Startling Sci-Fi anthology that was held on May 16th in Greenwich Village, NYC, NY. Yes, I got my 15 minutes of fame. We answered questions, posed for photos, and signed books. We signed a lot of books. (Huzzah!)

It's a darned good anthology, if I do say so myself: My story, "Embraced" is a black comedy of lust, obsession, war, prophecy, and resistance during the apocalypse, as told by Yuri Dzhankov, who is, unfortunately, having the time of his life. Jhon Sanchez' "The Japanese Rice Cooker" may be all things to all men (and women), but is it the right thing? And Daniel Gooding's "Cro-Magnum Xix" is one of the best takes I've ever read on poor planning in the search for eternal life. And many, many more.

Copies can be purchased here.

This isn't the first of my sci-fi/fantasy work. "Dark Hollow" appeared in the Fall, 2000 issue of Space and Time, and its semi-sequel, "At the End of the Path", in the July/August 2002 issue of AHMM. And I've written a few others that have showed up in various places.

But here's the thing, innumerable authors, far better than I, have done the same thing. To wit:

DoAndroidsDream.png
a/k/a Bladerunner
  • First off, I would argue that every ghost story is also a mystery story - why are they there? Why won't they leave? Why won't they leave us alone? What do they want? Etc.
  • "Dracula", in case you've never noticed, is a mystery as well as a horror/fantasy story. It's not my fault that Jonathan Harker is a lousy detective, at least compared with Van Helsing.
  • Isaac Asimov - who wrote about freaking everything (says the owner of his "Annotated Gulliver's Travels", which I highly recommend) wrote 66 stories about the "Black Widowers", mostly published in EQMM. There's also The Caves of Steel, introducing policeman Elijah Baley and robot detective R. Daneel Olivaw.
  • Ray Bradbury's work switches regularly between fantasy (he himself claimed he never wrote science fiction) and mystery/horror (Something Wicked This Way Comes).
  • Len Deighton's alternate history novel SS-GB, about a British homicide detective in Nazi-occupied London.
  • J. K. Rowling's Cormoran Strike mysteries (which, to be honest, I have not yet read...) The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm.
  • Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. (Delicious!)
  • Stephen King has been writing horror/sci-fi/fantasy/and now Westerns, so you figure it out.
  • Our own Melissa Yi recently posted about being a finalist for the Roswell Award for Short Science Fiction http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/04/the-writers-dilemma-risk-vs-reward.html
  • and Melissa just posted about some modern mash-ups of mysteries and werewolves (and other creatures) in Monday's post: http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/06/would-you-like-little-werewolf-in-your.html
  • And my personal favorite: that unique, beautiful, crazy, hilarious, and haunting mash-up of history, mystery, fantasy, and Chinese myth, Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was. I read it in one gulp at a library and went out and bought it that afternoon. (Can you tell that I used to teach Chinese history?)
    • Best quote: 'Immortality is only for the gods,' he whispered. 'I wonder how they can stand it.'
    • Seriously - go buy it, read it, just revel in it. An amazing work…
Anyway, I think this sort of switching between genres is pretty normal and fairly common. When you're killing people [fictionally] for a living, sometimes you need a wider horizon, or a shift in time, or a shift in dimensions in order to get the point sharpened, the point across, the point driven in.

And really, given the basic universals of pride, anger, envy, greed, lust, gluttony, and even sloth - and yes, I remember reading, long ago, a sci-fi story about murder by betrayal being done because of sloth - Anyway, given these universals it just doesn't matter about ages, universes, or much of anything else. It can always work. Anything is possible. Or at least wildly improbable.


And keep writing.

12 February 2015

Write What You Know


"Write what you know!"  That old cliche gets trotted out regularly.  Now usually it's meant as an encouragement, but it's also used to set up (and even justify) limitations. I've had people seriously ask how I could teach World History without having visited every country in the world.  I've talked to writers who seriously said that they couldn't write about a ski bum or a serial killer or a heartbroken mother of a dying child because they'd never experienced that.

My response to the first is, "Does a medieval historian have to go to the Middle Ages?"  [Perennial note to self:  get a Tardis.  NOW.]

And my response to the second is, Emily Bronte, Emily Dickinson, and Flannery O'Connor.

Or Terence:

"I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me."
                        --Terence, The Self-Tormenter (163 BCE)

Or Walt Whitman:

"I am large; I contain multitudes."
                       --Walt Whitman, Song of Myself (1892 CE)

We are (almost) all born with the same emotional equipment.  Love, jealousy, envy, happiness, sadness, depression, joy, verve, hatred, need, greed, etc.  You want to know how someone else feels?  Pay attention.  To them and yourself.  Look inside and amplify (or de-amplify) as necessary. Everything that happens starts inside the human heart and mind.  If we're lucky, not all of it gets out, except in fiction.
NOTE:  "Just because it leaps into your head doesn't mean you have to DO it," is an observation I keep trying to share with my friends at the pen.  One of the main differences between (most) writers and (most) criminals is that writers have the ability to delay gratification.  (Per word, per piece, perhaps....) 
But seriously, think about writers:  Besides absolute loners like the Brontes and Emily Dickinson, there are many others who wrote amazingly atypical stuff.  In real life, Conan Doyle had far more in common with Dr. Watson than Mr. Holmes.  By all accounts Margaret Mitchell was neither a bitch nor lived during the Civil War.  Elizabeth George is neither a viscount nor a working class frump, and she's never lived in England.  Patricia Highsmith never actually killed anybody, although I understand that some people wanted to kill her.  Ray Bradbury never drove a car.  Rex Stout was happily married (at least the 2nd time), and fairly thin.  Our own Janice Law has never been a male gay artist of extremely unconventional genius with a liking for rough trade.  (That or she has the most fantastic disguise in history.)  It's called imagination.  And observation.  And mulling things over.  And wondering...  That's why we write.

Look, there's nothing new under the sun.  Humans are humans (including Neanderthals).  Everyone on Jerry Springer could be any of us, given the wrong circumstances and a complete lack of self-control in public.  There are really no new plots, which is a godsend to those of us who scramble to figure out not whodunnit but how the heck they did it.  My story "Sophistication" used a 4,000 year old plot device and I'm damned proud of it.  And if the news is quiet, and you just can't think of a reason why someone would commit a violent act, consider Steven Pinker's breakdown of the Five Inner Demons from his book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature":
  • Practical violence (means to an end)
  • Dominance violence (the quest for authority, prestige, power, glory, etc.)
  • Revenge 
  • Sadism 
  • Ideology 
There's a list to haunt your dreams.

James Joyce,
painted by Patrick Tuohy
in Paris, 1924
So we have all the emotions, we can crib the plots, what do we really need?  Education.  Facts.  And here's where we are the luckiest generation in history.  You can research almost ANYTHING on the internet.  I don't have to be James Joyce, sitting in Paris, writing frantic letters back home to Dublin, trying to nail down details of Dublin, June 16, 1904.  (Although there's worse things to be, that's for sure.  I wouldn't want his failing eyesight, but otherwise...)  I can find out almost anything I want to know about guns, poisons, crime, statistics, spyware, malware, anything-ware online.  I can read old diaries, old letters, old cuneiform, and go to an infinity of historical websites dedicated to Life In ___ (fill in the blank).  It's out there. And I have done it:  I am proud to say that my most recent sale to AHMM (thank you, Linda Landrigan!) is "Miss West's First Case", set in a tuberculosis sanatorium in post-WW2 Vienna, and I did ALL the research either on-line or amongst my books.  

Write what you know?  Honey, we can know anything we want.  We just have to put it together. Excuse me, I have to get writing!


27 February 2014

Tales Around the Fireside


I am a short story writer.  Yes, I've written two novels, one (The Best is Yet to Be) as part of the Guideposts mystery series, "Mystery and the Minister's Wife", the other a sci-fi/fantasy piece that is still sitting in my closet.  I've written plays.  I used to write songs for myself and, later, a Southern rock-and-roll band called "Fantasy's Hand." (Those were fun days...)  But what I really feel most comfortable with is short stories.
I think a lot of this comes from my childhood.  I was an only child, and my parents were 40 when they adopted me; everyone around me was (it seemed) at least 40 years older than me, and back then children were expected to keep their mouths shut and just be there while the adults talked, talked, talked.  Luckily for me, most of them were storytellers.  A story, told in the night, to make you sigh or smile or shiver...  still pretty much the ideal.
File:Johncollier80.jpg
John Collier

And I like reading short stories.  I don't understand why so few magazines carry short stories anymore.  Why there are so few short-story magazines.  (Especially considering that attention spans seem to be growing shorter and shorter all the time, but that's another rant.)  I love them.  And some of the finest writing anywhere has been done in that format.  Here are my picks for some of the greatest short story writers:

John Collier.  "Fancies and Goodnights" contains some of his best work.  (It won the Edgar Award in 1962.)  Read "Bottle Party" to find out what really happens with a genie in the bottle.  "The Chaser" - on how tastes change over time.  "If Youth Knew What Age Could"... One of my favorites, "The Lady on the Grey."  And on and on.  Many of his stories were adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Tales of the Unexpected.  He also wrote screenplays (including "Sylvia Scarlett", [uncredited] "The African Queen", and "I am A Camera"), and a couple of novels of which my favorite is the mordant, devilish, unforgettable "His Monkey Wife."

File:Ray Bradbury (1975) -cropped-.jpgRay Bradbury.  There are not enough words in the English language to praise his amazing output of short stories.  From "The Fruit in the Bottom of the Bowl" to "I Sing the Body Electric," "April Witch" to "The Veldt", "A Sound of Thunder" to the heartbreaking "There Will Come Soft Rains", "Dark They Were and Golden Eyed", the whole body of "The Martian Chronicles", and on and on, I gobbled each and every one of his stories I could get my hands on. His work inspired me, amazed me, touched me...  couldn't get enough of it. And he was primarily a short-story writer:  aside from "Fahrenheit 451", his other novels didn't really gel for me.  ("The Martian Chronicles" is a collection of short stories, with a narration in between.)  He showed what could be done in the medium of short fiction.  And, of course, he was a regular writer for "Twilight Zone" and other TV shows...

File:The Letter poster.jpg
Somerset Maugham.  One of the few who could write both great novels, and great short stories.  "The Letter" - made into film twice, most notably with Bette Davis as the cool and collected murderess.  "The Lotus Eater" - when Paradise runs out...  "Red" - what really happens when you look up your old childhood sweetheart...  "The Luncheon" - never ask questions you can't take the answer to...  The hilarious "Three Fat Women of Antibes", "The Vessel of Wrath", "The Verger"...  and, of course, the "Ashenden" series which practically began secret agent stories.  (Alfred Hitchcock combined "The Hairless Mexican" and "The Traitor" into the 1936 movie "Secret Agent" with John Gielgud and Peter Lorre.) Seriously, his short stories are like popcorn at the movies - once I start reading them (I have a four-volume set), I can't quit until I've worked my way through...  way too many.
File:Edgar Allan Poe daguerreotype crop.png
Poe

File:Lovecraft1934.jpg
Lovecraft
File:ShirleyJack.jpg
Jackson
H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and Shirley Jackson.  And how do you want to be scared today, my precious?  My sweets?  By many-tentacled horrors from beyond space, or by crumbling ruins of decay and death, or the quiet malevolence of a quiet house or neighborhood? By the breathing darkness or that strange emptiness?  By the sudden creak or that high whistle in the depths?  Any of these will leave you wondering what's really going on next door, when you'll be able to turn the lights off again, and what is that sound in the closet or over head or under the floor...

File:Conan doyle.jpgArthur Conan Doyle.  Let us never forget that 90% of the Memoirs of Dr. John H. Watson about his inimitable companion, Sherlock Holmes, are short stories. We all have our favorites.  (Sadly, the relentless reinterpretations of Holmes and Adler have reduced my pleasure in "A Scandal in Bohemia".)  Among mine are "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches", "The Speckled Band", "The Greek Interpreter", "The Devil's Foot", and "The Norwood Builder".  I have spent many a rainy afternoon curled up in a couch with a hot cup of tea and my father's one-volume "Complete Works", reading, reading, reading, time travelling to Victorian/Edwardian London, as Sherlock Holmes - the world's only private consulting detective - solves case after case after case...  Ah...  Excuse me, I have some reading to do...

NOTE:  These are, of course, only a few of the many tremendous short-story writers I've read.  Flannery O'Connor, Guy de Maupassant, Rudyard Kipling, Roald Dahl, Daphne du Maurier ("The Birds", yes - but never forget "The Little Photographer"), Nikolai Gogol  and Anton Chekhov, Ursula LeGuin and Isaac Asimov, and so many of my esteemed colleagues...  I really do have some reading to do!

25 June 2012

AKA


Mary Anne Evans
AKA George Eliot
What do Silas Marner, Jane Eyre, and Heathcliff, have in common?  They each had his/her story told by a female writer whose books were first published under a male pen name because it was not thought appropriate for women to be writers during the Victorian period..

Silas Marner was written by George Eliot whose real name was Mary Anne Evans.  High school and college students still study her works including Adam Bede.

Emily Brone
AKA Eric Bell




Heathcliff and Jane Eyre live on in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Novelist sisters Charlotte, Emily, and AnneBronte all wrote under pseudonyms when they were first published.  They chose to present themselves as brothers.  Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre as Currer Bell; Emily Bronte  wrote Wuthering Heights as Ellis Bell; and Anne Bronte's first works were published under the name Anton Bell. The sisters' first effort was a book of poetry with works by Ellis, Currer, and Anton.  It was self-published and sold only two copies!

Surely times have changed enough that women freely publish their works as females, but the prejudice hasn't been fully erased. Jeanne Rowling's chronicles of Harry Potter were published under the name J.K. Rowling because her publisher believed the stories would be better accepted by young male readers if they didn't know Harry's world was created by a woman.

Joanne Rowling
AKA J. K. Rowling
Charles Lutwidge Dodson chose his pen name by translating his first two names into Latin (Carolus Lodovicus) and then anglicizing them to Lewis Carroll.

Eric Blair proposed four pen names to his editor.  Three of them were rejected, including Kenneth Miles and P. S. Burton.  The editor chose George Orwell. which Eric had selected because of the River Orwell in Suffolk, England.

Some readers assume that the Richard Bachman novels were written by Stephen King before he became successful and switched to his own name.  Actually, King was already recognized and was churning out more than one book a year.  His editor advised that the public wouldn't accept more than one book a year from him.  King decided to publish Rage under his maternal grandfather's name--Gus Pillsbury.  The pseudonym was leaked, and King changed the pen name to Richard Bachman.  The name came from King looking around and seeing a Richard Stark book on his desk while listening to "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" by Bachman Turner Overdrive on his stereo.

Gore Vidal
AKA Edgar Box, Cameron Kay
and Katherine Everard
Gore Vidal's early books outraged critics and led to his facing a blacklist.  Vidal turned to murder mysteries under the name Edgar Box.  These books were Death in the Fifth Position, Death Before Bedtime, and Death Likes It Hot.  Vidal also wrote an international intrigue entitled Thieves Fall Out under the name Cameron Kay and a Hollywood melodrama called A Star's Progress using the byline Katherine Everard.  The "Everard" came from a gay bathhouse in New York City. 
Ray Bradbury AKA Ron Reynolds, Anthony
Corvais, Guy Amory, Doug Rogers,
William Elliott and probably others.

The late Ray Bradbury was prolific in both his work and his use of pen names.  At age nineteen, he and some friends started a fanzine.  In the first issue, Bradbury  published his work under his own name and as Ron Reynolds.  In the seccond issue, he used three pseudonyms: Anthony Corvais, Guy Amory, and Doug Rogers.  His first breakthrough was in 1945 when he had three stories accepted almost simultaneously by Mademoiselle, Charm and Collier's.  He'd submitted them under the name William Elliott and had to call editors to have checks cut in his real name.


Probably the best known pseudonym is Samuel Langhorne Clemens's use of Mark Twain.  Closer to
many of us is Jolie McLarren Swann.  The Black Orchid Novella Award published in the August. 2012, issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine is "Inner Fire" by Jolie McLarren Swann. 
Rearrange the letters in Swann's name to discover the author's true name.

Join me in two weeks for continuation of this blog about pen names. I'll share with you some I use and introduce you to my friend/mentor who was a successful mystery/thriller writer who changed her pen name and has made it to the New York Times Bestseller List.

Until we meet again, take care of ...YOU!

13 June 2012

ABC


It's been a funny old few weeks. 'Funny' in the Emo Phillips sense of strange or bizarre. We've been pulling down the house, was the first thing, or at least a false wall that the previous owner had built to encase the monumental fireplace and chimney that graces our living room. We expected to find human remains, but all there was was a spider evidently dead of boredom. During this demolition, surrounded by stepladders and tools of all persuasions, I had a clever idea which finally turned out as usual to be a suicidal manoevre. At the end of this clever idea I fell flat on my cervical vertebrae. I suppose I was lucky: two people I know of who did the same sort of thing are now quadriplegic. But the results are still with me. For one thing, I can now only walk with the aid of a stiff drink.
But that was long ago. Last week turned out to be the most bizarre of all.
First there was the Queen Spree in London which I watched from afar, while wiping away  a fugitive tear and a fugitive spill of scotch.
The rest of the week is a sort of ABC. That's all I can think of to characterise it - sorry I put an 's' there instead of a 'z'. I'll try to do better.

A  is for Auden (W.H. of that ilk).

Tomorrow, Mimi is off to London to visit her son. Rather now than in a month, since he lives within the epicentre of the Olympic Games. She is going by Eurostar, and therefore is going under the Channel. This has her white-lipped and trembling. I have tried to reassure her that the tunnel is in a part of the planet,: "They didn't tunnel though the water, dear, but through the rock."  That does no good. For Mimi the Channel Tunnel is a wobbly sort of tube resting on the seabed.
But anyway, I shall be waving her off at the Gare du Nord which pleases me no end. I love railway stations. I love them to death. I would prefer a lot of vapour and a steam-whistle, but those days are gone, Marjorie. I'll make do with what there is. I love just looking at it all - the crossroads. And what does all this have to do with anything? Well, for a month or so, I've been reading a lot of poetry. I read poetry when the writing isn't going too well or just isn't going, when it seems to have a cleansing effect, rather like that stuff you use to unblock drains. Auden has been one of my favourite poets since I was a teenager. I don't know why. Perhaps it's the imagination coupled with a talent for the common touch.
In 1938 Auden spent some time in Brussels where he wrote some of his best shorter poems. 'The Musée des Beaux Arts' is one that I'll bang on about some other time. My all-star favourite is 'The Gare du Midi' which has always fascinated me, because it is a short mystery story, or at the very least the start of one. Everyone probably knows it by heart, but I like writing it out.
Gare du Midi


A nondescript express in from the south.
Crowds around the barrier, a face
To welcome which the mayor has not contrived
Bugles or braid: something about the mouth
Distracts the stray look with alarm and pity.
Snow is falling. Clutching a little case
He walks out briskly to infect a city
Whose terrible future may have just arrived.

You just know that on a certain day in 1938, Auden sat in a station cafe and saw something - a person - that disturbed him and stayed with him. Since I first read it, I've been trying - and we're talking decades here - to write the story that Auden began . And there must be other poems like this somewhere. Does anyone have another?

B is for Bradbury.

By a sad coincidence, on the morning of the 5th, I pulled out a copy of Fantasy and Science Fiction - October 2000. I often pull out this particular magazine to read a Ray Bradbury story called 'Quid Pro Quo'. It's a story that involves time travel but it's not about time travel, if you get me. But  I don't read it just for the story, but for the author notes, which accompany it.
In the notes, Gordon Van Gelder, ( for I take it to be he) writes this:
"One of the things Ray Bradbury takes seriously is the matter of using one's talents. When asked years ago what the Eleventh Commandment mmight be, Mr Bradbury repeated Polonius's advice to Laertes: " This above all: to thine own self be true." 
"To neglect God's gifts to you," says the great Mr B., " is one of the greater sins."


Furthermore, the manuscript bore this gentle warning from its author: "Reader, beware. If I ever meet you and ask you what you have done with your genetic talent and you give the wrong answer, I may throw you down the stairs." 

This little passage has always made me very very uneasy. And never more so than when the writing gets too difficult and I seek other easier tasks. I have been negligent in the past. Less so now. But whenever I am tempted to persuade myself that rolling and smoking a cigarette to smoke under the Big Parasol and listen to the sparrows holding a rowdy class reunion in the forsythia is a worthwhile  activity, comparable to sitting down and doing the writing, I feel the cold breath of these words on the back of my neck. The words of one of the greatest teachers of  Writing and Reading we have ever had.

C is for Christie.

Last week, I decided to try again. Agatha is not my favourite. We do not get along. We rub each other up the wrong way. So last week, I had another try to see whether, with advancing age, I could see my way to finding some good in there. And I can already feel the shudders of revulsion and loathing. ("Someone doesn't like Agatha Christie!  What sort of a world are we living in? Isn't there some sort of therapy for these people?")
I didn't read 'The ABC Murders'; that would have been way too neat. I read 'Mrs McGinty's Dead'. And I have to say, it didn't take. I simply don't like her. That's all.
But I didn't come out empty-handed. Because I realised that I had a quiz question. I know it is more Rob Lopresti's  or John  Floyd's flower-bed than mine. But I have no shame.

Neil Schofield's Big Quiz Question:

Can you find the connection between Agatha Christie and Ray Bradbury?
Clue: Think North of the Border.

Either pathetically easy or fiendishly difficult. You pays your money…
No prizes for a correct answer. Except the knowledge of a job well done.

10 June 2012

Professional Tips– Ray Bradbury


by Leigh Lundin

A Sound of Thunder

Ray Bradbury died.

The science fiction guy.

I'll tell you why crime readers should care. I'll tell you why writers should care.

To reiterate a previous article: Like westerns aren't about shootouts but about morality, the best science fiction– true science fiction– isn't about monsters or wookies or light sabres. it's about us– it's about society. It's about imagination.

Beyond that, there's a bond between American science fiction and mysteries, not the least being the authors who cross over from one to the other. If you doubt me, consider Bouchercon, named for Anthony Boucher. If you wonder about Bradbury's importance to writing in general, look no farther than Farenheit 451, the first and final word about the freedom of writing. He's particularly revered for not inventing Scientology.

Ray Bradbury was an amazing short story writer. The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man aren't so much novels as they are collections of short stories.
Playboy
Social Butterfly Effect

My mother bought Playboy subscriptions for my Dad's birthday. Thanks to that fortuitous event, I used to sneak in and 'read' my father's magazines. Although I was too young to actually read (and therefore couldn't cover my crime by getting the dates in the right order), I discovered I liked women and all their components… a lot. I'm very grateful not to have grown up in the hysteria of today's world.

By the time I could parse words, I found Playboy published some of the finest science fiction including Bradbury. One of those stories in June 1956 was the chilling 'A Sound of Thunder' by Ray Bradbury. The term 'butterfly effect' grew out of the story long before scientists used the word. The movie A Sound of Thunder is 'okay' but uses the original story only as a starting point. Read the story and discover why Bradbury is a genius.

The Sound of Bradbury

What can a master teach us? Here are a few words of Bradbury's wisdom.
  1. We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.
  2. Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.
  3. Do what you love and love what you do.
  4. I don't need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.
  5. Do you know why teachers use me? Because I speak in tongues. I write metaphors. Every one of my stories is a metaphor you can remember.
  6. If you dream the proper dreams, and share the myths with people, they will want to grow up to be like you.
  7. If you enjoy living, it is not difficult to keep the sense of wonder.
  8. Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it.
  9. Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.
  10. I don't believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don't have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn't go to college, so I educated myself in the public library three days a week for 10 years, and it's better than college. People should educate themselves - you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I'd written a thousand stories.
  11. You must live life at the top of your voice! At the top of your lungs shout and listen to the echoes.
  12. Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down. Jump, and you will find out how to unfold your wings as you fall.
  13. I sometimes get up at night when I can't sleep and walk down into my library and open one of my books and read a paragraph and say, "My God, did I write that?"
  14. I don't believe in being serious about anything. I think life is too serious to be taken seriously.
  15. I've often been accused of being too emotional and sentimental, but I believe in honest sentiment, and the need to purge ourselves at certain times, which is ancient. Men would live at least five or six more years and not have ulcers if they could cry better.
  16. The women in my life have all been librarians, English teachers, or booksellers. If they couldn't speak pidgin Tolstoy, articulate Henry James, or give me directions to Usher and Ox, it was no go. I have always longed for education, and pillow talk's the best.
  17. Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.
  18. Some people turn sad awfully young. No special reason, it seems, but they seem almost to be born that way. They bruise easier, tire faster, cry quicker, remember longer and, as I say, get sadder younger than anyone else in the world. I know, for I'm one of them.
  19. I'm not afraid of machines. I don't think the robots are taking over. I think the men who play with toys have taken over. And if we don't take the toys out of their hands, we're fools.
  20. I don't try to describe the future. I try to prevent it.
  21. We must move into the universe. Mankind must save itself. We must escape the danger of war and politics. We must become astronauts and go out into the universe and discover the God in ourselves.
  22. Don't ask for guarantees. And don't look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were heading for shore.
  23. So few want to be rebels anymore. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily.
  24. I know you've heard it a thousand times before. But it's true - hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practise, practise, practise. If you don't love something, then don't do it.
  25. You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.
  26. There is no future for eBooks, because they are not books. E-books smell like burned fuel.
  27. Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land? I loved to smell them when I was a boy. Lord, there were a lot of lovely books once, before we let them go.
  28. You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.
  29. There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.
  30. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.
  31. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.
  32. Don't talk about it; write.
And finally…
  • If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.

A sound of thunder…