Showing posts with label Shanks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shanks. Show all posts

21 November 2018

Meeting Some Old Friends


by Robert Lopresti

I had an odd and  interesting experience today.

I am working on the seventeenth story in my series about mystery writer Leopold Longshanks.  This one will include several characters who have been mentioned before and I realized I needed a scorecard, so to speak. So I skimmed through all the previous stories to see what I have already mentioned about any characters who have, or are likely to, appear more than once.

And am I glad I did.  It turns out that the woman I have been referring to in my draft as Meghan McDonough is really Megan McKenzie.  Oops.

More annoying is the fact that another character I wanted to bring back is Fiona Makem.  It is an absolute grudge of mine about authors who confuse their readers by giving characters similar names.  If you have five people in your story why name them Pete, Pat, Paul, Polly, and Thusnelda?  There are so  many initial letters to choose from!

But in my case Makem and McKenzie had appeared in separate stories so I hadn't noticed the similarity before.  So in my current tale I got them on a first name basis immediately.

Another reason to make careful notes is that Fiona is attempting to write a mystery novel set in each county in Ireland.  I need to remember that she has already covered Death in Donegal, Whacked in Wicklow, and (my favorite) Plugged in Cork.  God only knows how she is going to handle Fermanagh and Laios.

My list of characters also set my fevered brain to work. What if straight-laced Officer Dereske met eccentric philanthropist Dixie Traynor?  That might provide some fun.

I always make character lists before starting a novel (for one reason, to avoid multiple use of the same initial, of course).  But this is the first time I have had to do it with a series of stories.

And I guess that's a good thing.  I like a series with a large supporting cast.  Think of Nero Wolfe or Amelia Peabody.

Now I had better get back to story #17.  Our hero is just about to reveal the solution...

30 March 2016

The Fatal Cup Of Tea


by Robert Lopresti

Arlo Guthrie tells a story about performing in a bar in Chicago in 1971.  After the show a stranger came up and said he wanted to play him a song he wrote.

Well, Arlo had experienced that before and as a result had heard a lot of bad songs.  So he told the stranger, you can buy me a beer, and for as long as it takes me to drink it, you can do whatever you want.

Today he notes, dryly: "It turned out to be one of the finer beers of my life."   The stranger was Steve Goodman and his song was "City of New Orleans."  Arlo's recording of it reached the Billboard Top 20 and made them both a nice chunk of change.

I was reminded of that while pondering a dose of beverage that had a profound effect on my life, albeit not such a lucrative one.  It was tea, not beer, and I drank it in a little cafe in Montclair, NJ, about 30 years ago.

I was with my wife and a friend and while they were chatting I found myself looking out the window at the street and, being a writer of the sort I am, wondering: what if I saw a crime taking place?  And what if there was a reason I couldn't just leap up and do something about it?


Cut ahead two decades and "Shanks At Lunch" appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (February 2003).  I mention all this because the hero of that story, conceived in that Montclair coffee shop, is making his ninth appearance in AHMM  this month (well, the issue date is May 2016, but it is available now).

"Shanks Goes Rogue" was inspired by three different things.  First of all, I wanted to bring back Dixie, a character who had appeared in the story "Shanks Gets Killed."  She is an eccentric woman who runs the charity favored by Shanks' beloved wife, Cora, which gives her plenty of opportunities to annoy my hero, and that's a good thing for my stories.

The second inspiration was this: I had thought of a clue.  Clues are hard for me and I wanted to use this one.  I figured out how Shanks could take advantage of it.

And finally, I had a hole in the book of stories I was putting together.  To be precise: the last story ended on a gloomy note and that would never do for a book of mostly funny stories.  As the saying goes, the first page sells this book and the last page sells the next one.  So "Shanks Goes Rogue" was created to round out my collection of tales.

But then I had an unpleasant encounter with a telephone scammer, which led me to write a quicky story called "Shanks Holds The Line."  I decided as a public service to offer it to Linda Landrigan  for Trace Evidence, the Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine website.  She put it up the next day.  But there was no reason I couldn't use it to round out Shanks On Crime, so I did.

Which left "Shanks Goes Rogue" looking for a home.  Linda adopted it and here we are, happily ensconced in the annual humor issue.  I hope it gives you a chuckle.   Personally, I will celebrate with a nice cup of tea.





15 October 2014

Ghost Story Story



by Robert Lopresti

You will no doubt be thrilled to know that the world is now richer by one more book.  I have just released into the wild Shanks on Crime, a self-published collection of thirteen stories about a curmudgeonly mystery writer named Leopold Longshanks.

It is available on Kobo and Kindle. If you consider buying it, bless your heart, I would recommend Kobo, since you can purchase it through your favorite independent bookstore and throw some much-deserved cash their way.  If you want an autographed paper copy, see me.  I can fix you up.

Most of the stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and I have written about each of them here or at Criminal Brief, So I thought I would  tell you about one of the four brand-new tales, and this being the month of Halloween I decided to introduce "Shanks' Ghost Story."

For the origin we have to go to Ramat Rachel, Israel in the summer of 2009, where my wife and I had volunteered for an archaeological dig.  (The photo above shows me finding a cup handle.)  It was great fun, but exhausting, and yet somehow the writer part of my brain found time to think up a story idea.  Being deep in a semi-tropical summer my thoughts turned to –  winter in Pennsylvania.

Hmm. How'd that happen?  Who knows?  The writer's brain is not particularly interested in logical patterns.

But somehow I got to thinking about one of my favorite gimmicks, the story-within-a-story, in which  a bunch of characters gather to hear one of them tell a tale.   I decided to try the English tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas time.  (And let me urge you to read Jerome K. Jerome's Told After Supper, a hilarious Victorian book that pokes fun at half a dozen versions of the traditional ghost story.  Unlike mine, Jerome's is free.)

I decided that Shanks, my hero, would share my attitude toward the supernatural.  (We differ on many other points, by the way, like music and exercise.)  So, as a skeptic, Shanks attitude toward the ghost stories his friends tell would be polite disbelief.

Ah, but he is far too much the storyteller to let his turn pass.  So he decides to tell a story about being a ghost writer.   Early in his career, it seems, he was hired to produce what would supposedly be the last novel by a recently deceased bestselling crime writer.  

So, no ghost.  But hold on a moment.  Is that bestselling author really dead?  Because Shanks begins to get…

Well, that would be telling.   I hope those of you who are suffering from scorch marks on your clothing where currency has burst into flame will consider reducing your fuel load by picking up the book.  For the rest of you, tell your library to buy it for you. They are public servants, after all.  Command them.

07 May 2014

Busy week


by Robert Lopresti

Been an interesting and busy week at Casa Lopresti.

For instance, on Sunday I looked at My Little Corner, Sandra Seaman's indispensible blog and saw a link to Angie's Desk's listing of anthologies looking for stories.  And I had a tale that would fit one.  The next morning I checked my records and found that that story had been sitting at a magazine for six months, waiting for judgment.  So, obviously I couldn't send it it somewhere else.

Five minutes later I received an email rejection from the magazine.  Okay, I guess fate wanted me to send that story to the anthology.  We will see if the editor agrees.

Last month I had an idea for a piece of flash fiction (under 1000 words).  Problem was, it was about a new scam that is making the rounds and if I sent it to one of the paper magazines it might not appear for a year.  And, darn it, I wanted to make sure people knew about the scam now.

So I got a brain storm.  On Sunday I contacted Linda Landrigan and she agreed.  "Shanks Holds The Line" is now up on the Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine blog, Trace Evidence.  I hope you enjoy it.  (And thanks to our own R.T. Lawton for editorial help along the way.) 


But wait!  There's more!  Crime City Central is part of District of Wonders, a series of free podcasts that include readings of short stories.  (My favorite title is their science fiction entry: Starship Sofa!)

They asked me to contribute a story and so in their current entry you will find "Shanks On The Prowl," which originally appeared in AHMM back in May 2006.  The expert reading is by Rob Smales.  I had a fun time e-chatting with Mr. Smales, who wanted to make sure he got all the pronunciations of the character's names right.  I think he scored one hundred percent.

Okay, I'm sure the next few months will be back to humdrum normal.  I can cope.  Hoping you the same.

And here are last week's movie quotations, with the sources:

1.  -Well, I also feel it's about time someone knocked the Axis back on its heels.
-Excuse me, Baby. What she means it's about time someone knocked those heels back on their axis.  Leda Hamilton  ( Kaaren Verne)/ Gloves Donahue (Humphrey Bogart) All Through The Night


2.  Twelve people go off into a room: twelve different minds, twelve different hearts, from twelve different walks of life; twelve sets of eyes, ears, shapes, and sizes. And these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind - unanimous. It's one of the miracles of Man's disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries.  -Parnell McCarthy (Arthur O'Connell) Anatomy of a Murder

3.  -If we wanted applause, we would have joined the circus. 
-I thought we did.  -Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston)/ Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck)  Argo

4.  Exactly how many laws are we breaking here?
-You don't want to know. - Senator (Victor A. Young)/ Edgar Clenteen (David Morse) Bait

5.  -Your demands are very great under the circumstances.
-Why shouldn't they be?  Fat Gut's my best friend, and I will not betray him cheaply.  -Ahmed (Manuel Serano) / Dannreuther (Humphrey Bogart) Beat The Devil

6.  - I'm a brother shamus!
-Brother Shamus?  Like an Irish monk? -Da Fino (Jon Polito)/ The Dude (Jeff Bridges) The Big Lebowshi

7.  -Why did you have to go on?
-Too many people told me to stop.  -Vivian (Lauren Bacall)/ Marlowe  (Humphrey Bogart)  The Big Sleep

8.  Of course, you won't be able to lie on your back for a while but then you can lie from any position, can't you?  - Reggie Lambert (Audrey Hepburn) , Charade

9.  Saddam? His name's Saddam? Oh, that's real good, Bruce. Yeah, I'm gonna pin a medal on an Iraqi named Saddam. Give yourself a raise, will you? -Rick Cabot (Brendan Fraser) -Crash.

10.  Freedom is overrated.  - John Booth (David Morse).  The Crossing Guard.

11.  -Will two hundred dollars be enough in advance, Mr Reardon?
-Two hundred, I'd shoot my grandmother.
-That won't be neccessary.
-Never can tell. In my last case, I had to throw my own brother out of an airplane.
- Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward)  / RIgby Reardon (Steve Martin) Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid

12.  There's a hundred-thousand streets in this city. You don't need to know the route. You give me a time and a place, I give you a five minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I'm yours. No matter what. Anything happens a minute either side of that and you're on your own. Do you understand? -Driver (Ryan Gosling) Drive

13.  I am Nikita! - Guess Who (Anne Parillaud)  La Femme Nikita

14.  -My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.
-Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don't have men killed.
-Oh. Who's being naive, Kay?  - Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) / Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) The Godfather

15.  When you think of what they have to carry, all those jimmies and torches and skeleton keys, it's a miracle anyone ever gets burgled at all. - Lady Constance (Maggie Smith) Gosford Park

16.  Locked, from the inside. That can only mean one thing. And I don't know what it is. - Sam Diamond (Peter Falk) Murder By Death

17.  You know, this'll be the first time I've ever killed anyone I knew so little and liked so well.  - Helen Grayle (Claire Treveor) Murder, My Sweet

18.  Well, you take a big chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street, or sticking your face in a fan.  - Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) The Naked Gun

19.  -It's a mess, ain't it, sheriff?
-If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here.-Wendell (Garrett Dillahunt) / Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones)  No Country For Old Men

20.  -Is there a way to win?
-There's a way to lose more slowly.  Kathie Moffatt (Jane Greer) / Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) Out Of The Past

21.  At least meet her. Maybe she'd be someone you'd like to kill.  - Owen (Danny DeVito)  Throw Momma Off The Train.

22.   He's a fanatic. And the fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt.  -George Smiley (Gary Oldham) in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

23.  On TV is where we learn about who we really are.  Because what's the point of doing anything worthwhile if no one's watching?  And if people are watching it makes you a better person.  - Suzanne Stone Maretto (Nicole Kitman) To Die For

24.  - I need your help. I can't tell you what it is, you can never ask me about it later, and we're gonna hurt some people.
- Whose car are we gonna' take?  -Doug McRay (Ben Affleck) /  James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner)  The Town

25.  The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. –Verbal Kint  (Kevin Spacey) The Usual Suspects
 

30 January 2013

A story about a story in a story


by Robert Lopresti

'Tis a time for great joy and merry-making, at least around my house, because the April issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine has arrived, bringing with it "Shanks' Ride."  This is my twentieth story in AHMM, and  the eighth published tale about Leopold Longshanks, a curmudgeonly mystery writer who occasionally finds himself reluctantly thrust into the position of crime-solver.

What makes this particular story special to me (although I love all the little darlings equally, of course) is that it belongs to a specific subgenre:  one character relates a story containing a puzzle and another character solves it.  It is the first Shanks story of that type I have gotten published, though not for lack of trying.

Here is the opening scene:


            “I don’t think my alcohol level is over the legal limit,” said Leopold Longshanks.  “I could probably drive home all right.  But I figure there’s no point in taking chances.”

            “I know,” said the taxi driver.    “You’ve told me that three times.”

            “Oh.”  Shanks considered.  “Then maybe I do need a ride.”

            “Hop in.”


You can probably guess that the taxi driver is the one with the story to tell.

The earliest example of this story type of which I am aware is "The Tuesday Night Club," (1927) by Agatha Christie.  It is also the first appearance of one of literature's great detectives, Miss Jane Marple.  In this story a group of friends gather and discuss a genuine crime.  To everyone's surprise the elderly spinster solves the crime.  Christie published a series of stories about this club, published as The Thirteen Problems and The Tuesday Club Murders.

Another great example is (are?) the Black Widower stories of Isaac Asimov.  He acknowledged Christie as his inspiration for them, by  the way.  These short tales featured a group of men whose meetings were enlivened each month by a guest who, inevitably, had a puzzle in need of solving.  After all the clever and sophisticated members had picked the problem to pieces Henry, the waiter, would provide the solution.

You'll notice that both of these series are not only stories-within-stories, but examples of the least-likely-detective syndrome, since Miss Marple and Henry would appear to be the least qualified members of their groups to solve a mystery.

My friend Shanks doesn't qualify for that, of course.  He is a reluctant, but highly logical choice for detective. He is so logical, in fact, that he complains the concept is ridiculous: no one could possibly get enough information from a tale-teller to figure out whodunit.  Alas, I am cooking the books so he has no choice but to succeed.

 And I think I will leave it there.  If you want to know more, you know where to find the rest of the tale.

07 March 2012

Cover Boy


by Robert Lopresti

Well, who says history doesn't repeat itself?  For the second time since the universe was created  one of my stories has shown up on the cover of a magazine, specifically the May issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  I am okay with that, if "okay" means thrilled to tiny bits.

So, let's talk a bit about "Shanks Commences."  It is the seventh published adventure of Leopold Longshanks, a mystery writer who finds himself reluctantly involved in true crime.  In this case, he is invited to his alma mater to give a commencement speech and gets involved in a murder in the campus library.

And speaking of true crime, there is a little bit more of reality in this story than in most of mine.  Not, thank heaven, that I have ever encountered death in the library, but...   You see, I am occasionally asked if I base my stuff on real people/things/events and I usually reply, no, it's easier to make stuff up.  Which is true, but in this case I did borrow a few details from the real world.
For instance, the Great Hall of the library in my story bears a certain resemblance to the Main Reading Room at the library where I work.   Some of the students call it the Harry Potter Room, seeing a resemblace to the Great Hall at Hogwarts School of Wizardry. 

The Special Collections Room where my crime takes place is not entirely unlike the Rare Book Room at the university where I used to work.  And the library director in my story, Calvin Floyd, shares some elements with the director of the library where I went to college, a heck of a nice guy who was both my boss and adviser.  I'm happy he got through the story without being killed or arrested.

You may have noticed that name: Floyd.   That's another way reality muddled with my story.  When I wrote it I was still blogging at Criminal Brief.  I had to think of a whole lot of names for characters and I thought, what the hell.  So most of them are named for my fellow CB bloggers.  I hope they don't mind making a guest appearance.

And as for you, I hope you enjoy the story.