Showing posts with label crime. Show all posts
Showing posts with label crime. Show all posts

20 July 2016

A Wee Stroll in Auld Reekie

Me in Stromness, Orkney. I have no photographic evidence I was in Edinburgh.
by Robert Lopresti

Last time I talked a bit about our recent trip to Scotland.  Well, actually I ranted about a mobile phone company I encountered there.  But I didn't spend all my time in Britain whining - or as they would say, whinging.

We visited one of my favorite cities; one that has plenty of crime and crime fiction in its history.  Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland (and, considering how the Scots felt about Brexit, it may be the capital of an independent country soon).

I visited the Writer's Museum, a 500 year old house now dedicated to exhibits on three writers with strong connections to Auld Reekie, as the city is known: Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson,  and Robert Burns.  (I had no idea so many photographs of Stevenson existed, and he died a young man, too, long before the selfie stick.)

Outside the museum an enterprising Scot named Allan Foster had set up the starting point for a Book Lover's Tour.  I didn't have time to take it but it promised to show you sites connected to the three gentlemen above as well as Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Rankin,  Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin, J.M. Barrie, and J.K. Rowling.  (Rowling dreamed up Harry Potter in Portugal, by the way, although several Edinburgh cafes might like to claim credit.)

We managed to have a drink in Deacon Brodie's Tavern, whose walls are decorated with scenes from the life of  the city's most famous civil servant. William Brodie was a distinguished tradesman and member of the city council, right up until 1788 when he was revealed to be leading a gang of burglars.  He hung for his crimes, but the story doesn't end there.  Some of the furniture he built resided in the house where Robert Louis Stevenson grew up, which led to a fascination that inspired him to write Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

But Brodie was probably not the city's most famous crook.  That honor belongs to  two Irishmen, William Burke and William Hare.  They are often remembered as grave-robbers, but that is a serious injustice.  It is true they provided the local medical school with cadavers for autopsy, but these entrepreneurs never sullied their hands in a graveyard.

Instead, they killed the potential corpses themselves, guaranteeing fresh product, which brought a better price.  Burke, who did the actual smothering, was hanged in 1829.  Hare gave state's evidence and got away uh, Scot free, as did Dr. Knox who apparently never noticed how fresh his subjects were.  (Oh, Burke was dissected.  Poetic justice.)

That same medical school featured, somewhat later, a professor named Dr. Joseph Bell, who taught diagnosis.  His uncanny ability to size a patient up at a glance made a big impression on one of his students, Arthur Conan Doyle, who transferred it to the world's first consulting detective. 

And while it isn't technically about a crime, I can't imagine any mystery writer who wouldn't be interested in Real Mary King's Close.  This is a seventeenth century street that was covered over, more or less intact, during the plague, and  which you can now tour.  Educational and chilling.

Fun fact: the city of Edinburgh hired so-called "plague doctors" who were actually just men paid to take out the corpses.  The wise old city council offered very good salaries, since they expected most of the "doctors"to croak before they could collect.  However, the bizarre and bulky outfits the men wore to keep out the "bad air" they thought caused the plague were actually extremely efficient for keeping out the fleas that actually did.  So most of them lived till payday, much to their employers' consternation.  Proving, I suppose that management-labor relations have not changed much.

Not Holyrood Palace.  Just a nice picture.
One more Edinburgh crime.   The city's Old Town rides on the spine of an extinct volcano.  At one end is the Castle, at the other is Holyrood Palace, the Queen's official residence in Scotland.  And it was there that we visited the very room where David Rizzio, the secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots, was murdered by her husband, Lord Darnley, and his followers.  A few months later Darnley left this world of trouble when the house he was sleeping in, also in Edinburgh, blew up.   Some say he was dead before the boom.  Some say his wife had a hand in it.

But we will have to give Mary the famous Scottish court verdict, Not Proven, which is said to mean "Not guilty, and don't do it again."

Those are some criminous highlights of Auld Reekie .Visiting it is something I do want to do again.

17 March 2016

Punching Down

by Eve Fisher

Back on March 3, 2016, Fred Clark posted  "Some People Punch Down When They're Scared" on his blog site, Slacktivist, citing an article on the rise of American authoritarianism.  Mr. Clark's quick summation:
"1. Some people punch down when they are frightened.
"2. The kind of people who punch down when they are frightened are also more likely to be frightened more often.
"In short, they are afraid... The problem with authoritarianism is not that 'fear leads to anger,' but that — for authoritarians — fear leads to misdirected anger. When such people fear being crushed from above, they respond by punching down — lashing out at others who have nothing to do with the causes of their fear."  
Dog is yanked into the air by owner
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/
article-1321461/
Help-catch-dog-baiting-thug.html
My personal experience is that it's not just authoritarians, but people, as a whole, who almost always punch down when scared. That's why we have the proverbial "kicking the dog", or "hitting the kid", or "punching the wife", not to mention "deporting the immigrants", or "lynching the black guy", or "rounding up the Jews". Because it's so much easier to punch down, and/or blame everyone around you, and below you, for your troubles, than to actually work up the guts to deal with the people who are screwing you senseless. Because they might do more than screw you senseless.  They might do worse.  Infinitely worse.  Whereas those who are below you will whimper and whine and slink away and cry... but probably won't hit back, because they're like you, and when the time comes, they'll punch DOWN.

File:A large monkey dressed in rags is about to beat a smaller mo Wellcome V0023060.jpg
http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/67/fd/b76d22ccd12fab39914fed05e264.jpg

Now to me, that last paragraph is the essence of "original sin". The fact that we will hurt someone weaker than ourselves rather than risk challenging the fat bastard above us. That we allow fear - which is a natural, normal emotion / reaction to the apparently endless screwed up things that go on on this planet - to turn into cowardice, rather than courage, and we stay silent, rigid, waiting for it all to go away.  (I know:  I spent a lot of time as a child and even as a teenager silent, rigid, waiting for it all to go away.  And I can tell you that it doesn't.)

And, when we can't stand it any more, too many of us punch down:

Domestic abuse?  Check.

Bullying?  Check.

Rape?  Check.  (For those of you who don't know, rape is never about actually being desirous of making love to someone; it's about fear and power and rage.)

Assault?  Probably more than we think.  Back in May of 2012, in my fourth post for SleuthSayers, I wrote about something that happened to me:  a guy got in a fight with his wife, stormed out, and nearly rammed me, head-on, with his car. When he was arrested (yes, I turned it in), he said he was pissed off at his wife and just wanted to scare me.  He was punching down.

http://www.ksfy.com/home/headlines/
Police-investigating-attempted-
casino-robbery-in-Sioux-Falls-301524151.html
Theft?  Maybe.  At least sometimes.  Because while Robin Hood stole from the rich, most petty criminals steal from the poor:  the corner casino (which is barely one step up from a dive bar, with a cowering night-manager who needs that job to help pay the bills), or the local magic mart (see the cowering night-manager again), or the local whatever. There may indeed be jewel thieves on the level of the Pink Panther out there, but most thefts reported on the TV (like this casino robbery) are poor people holding up other poor people, and that's punching down.

Murder?  Fairly often.  I'd bet that most murderers kill someone less powerful than they are.  Even when they are truly angry at their boss, it's usually someone else who gets killed:  their spouse, their children, co-workers, a delivery guy, etc.  Serial killers always go for the weak and vulnerable.  And mass shooters shoot whoever's there:  schoolmates, students, the occasional teacher, people sitting in theaters, in restaurants, and anyone else in the line of fire.
(Really interesting FBI Chart here:  Homicides by Relationship.  All I can say is that there's a whole lot of arguing going on.  And a lot for which no reason is known.)
(Old Richard Pryor joke:  he did he a gig at the pen, and had lunch with the guys. Asked one guy what he was in for:  "I killed nine people."  "Why did you do that?"  "Because they was home.")
BTW, this, I believe, is the reason why murder mysteries are universally popular: as Dorothy Sayers once said, "they put before the public a world the way it ought to be, and kept alive a dream of justice."  (p. 90, A Presumption of Death by Jill Paton Walsh and Dorothy L. Sayers.)

Anyway, back to reality.  "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things."  Not hardly.  The almost immediate childish response to "Did you do this?" is to blame the dog, the cat, the invisible friend, and, of course, any siblings.  (Punching down.)  It takes a long, long time to learn how to take the consequences of your actions, and some people never do.  There are those who do everything they can to avoid all consequences until their dying day:  blame, lie, deny, hide, run, forget, ignore, and generally wail about the unfairness of the universe, life, and everyone around them.  And that's not just in the pen or in politics, in both of which blame gets passed around like bombs.  The thing is, it changes nothing:  they're still afraid, they're still running away from the truth, and (chances are) they have more enemies (real and imagined) than ever, including themselves.  And they're still punching down, even when all they're hitting is themselves.

But you can also punch up.

Punching up doesn't mean you have to go out and become Batman, or Nelson Mandela, or Dorothy Day.  It doesn't mean you have to take on every fight for the downtrodden (but God bless you if you do).  But there are other ways to punch up:  Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, Beethoven, Pat Conroy, and many others, throughout history, have taken amazing levels of abuse, of all kinds and transformed it and themselves into something enriching, for themselves and others.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.png    Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820    

Here's a little secret:  Fear is normal.  The only people who are never afraid are Vulcans.  Fear is an emotion, and the non-Vulcans among us will experience it regularly until we die, and perhaps beyond that.  It's what we do with fear - and it is our choice - that counts.  What we do with fear becomes the action of cowardice or courage.  Our choice.  That's one of the things we try to teach in Alternatives to Violence Project - because once you know that you can choose how to react, you're free.  That still doesn't mean people will always do the right thing:  that's another choice.  But at least they have it. And maybe, they can start punching up.






PS - Some people have been kind enough to ask about our South Dakota corruption scandals, EB-5 and Gear Up.  Believe me, when I get some news, I'll update everyone.





28 November 2015

I’m Not My Protagonist! Oh, wait a minute…

by Melodie Campbell

My college Crafting a Novel students often hear me say, “You can’t make every character sound like yourself.” And it’s true. Most beginning novelists (at least the ones in my class) write themselves into their books. The star of the book – the protagonist - sounds and looks an awful lot like the writer himself. Has the same likes, dislikes, and insecurities. But is of course, more heroic.

In fact, we come slamming up against the famous saying, “Write what you know.”

And some know themselves pretty well. (Others, not at all, but I digress…)

A protagonist who is a barely veiled, idealist version of yourself? We’ll allow you that for your first book. But if an author persists in writing the same protagonist over and over again, in every book and series they write, things get pretty stale.

So that prompted me to look at my own series to see what I had done. Ten books in now, I held my breath.

The Character I wish I was

I started the Land’s End Fantasy Trilogy when I was dearly in need of escape. My mother was dying. I remember looking at her hospital bedroom wall, and thinking, ‘if I could walk through that wall into another world right now, I would.’ That’s how the first of the series, Rowena Through the Wall, came about. I started writing it in the hospital.

Rowena isn’t me. She is the ‘me I wish I was,’ at least at that difficult time. I wrote the character I wanted to be. She’s prettier than me, more generous than I am, and in the end, more courageous. I was dealing with the issue of courage at that time. Courage to face what was coming and what was inevitable. I wonder how many readers of that series would nod their heads, hearing me say that now?

The ‘Me’ my Mother Wanted Me to Be

Next I grabbed A Purse to Die For off my shelves, a book I co-wrote with Cynthia St-Pierre. This book is in a different genre – it’s amateur detective, or classic mystery. The second book in the series, A Killer Necklace, has just come out.

The protagonist is a fashion diva – a television personality from the Weather Network. She’s drop-dead pretty, and always put together.

I am not. Spending more than ten minutes on my long hair is an impossible chore for me. You won’t find high heels in my closet. I like clothes, but am not a slave to fashion.

But my mother was. My mother was a fashion diva until the day she died. We’re pretty sure she was the longest subscriber to Vogue magazine, ever. Mom dressed me in designer clothes all my childhood. She was delighted when I did a little modeling as a young woman.

I never quite came up to her standard of fashionista though. “Put on some lipstick,” she would say.
“You look like a ghost!”

Looking at the series now, I can see that the main character is the ‘me my mother wanted me to be.’ It was, in a way, my tribute to her. Wish she could have been here when the first book was published.

The Closest I get to Me

So where am I in all my books? That’s easy.


I’m The Goddaughter. Sort of. In this wacky crime caper series, the protagonist is a mob goddaughter, who doesn’t want to be one.

I’m half Sicilian. I had a Sicilian godfather. I had to wait until certain people died in the family before I wrote this series.

In Gina Gallo, the ambivalence is there. ‘You’re supposed to love and support your family. But what if your family is this one?” Gina says this in every book of the series. Those words came directly from my mouth.

This book is meant to be laugh out loud funny. I let loose with my own wit, and shook off the inhibitions. Not that I’m very inhibited normally. But in The Goddaughter series, you get the real me peeking out. Not idealized. Not always upstanding. Sometimes just looking for a way out of a real mess, possibly of my own creation. But kind of fun to be with, I think.

So that brings us back to the beginning. One of the delightful things about being an author is allowing yourself to ‘become’ a character other than yourself, as you write. Fitting yourself into their skin, so to speak. As you write more, this becomes more fun, and more of a goal. I LOVE putting myself into the mind of a killer in a short story, if only for a little while. It’s a kick to ‘pretend’ to be someone else, by writing their story.

Let’s be honest: who needs drugs, if you’re an author? THIS is the ultimate escape.

Do you relish creating characters and living their lives through your fiction?

On Amazon

11 April 2015

Go Away, Space Angel! I'm Trying to Write Crime

by Melodie Campbell

A funny thing happened on the way to the crime book: it became a comic sci-fi spy novella.

That’s the frustrating thing about being a fiction writer.  Sometimes you don’t pick your characters – they pick you.

I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business, when…no, that’s not how it happened.

It was far worse.

“Write a spy novel!” said the notable crime reviewer (one of that rare breed who still has a newspaper column.) We were yapping over a few drinks last spring.  “A funny one. Modesty Blaise meets Maxwell Smart, only in modern day, of course.”

“Sure!” I said, slurping Pinot by the $16 glass.  After all, crime is my thing.  I was weaned on Agatha Christie.  I had 40 crime short stories and 5 crime books published to date.  This sounded like the perfect 'next series' to write.

And I intended to.  Truly I did.  I tried all summer. I even met with a former CSIS operative to get the scoop on the spy biz (think CIA, but Canada – yes, he was polite.)    

Wrote for two months solid.  The result was…kinda flat.  (I blame the Pinot.  Never take up a book-writing dare with a 9 oz. glass of Pinot in your hand. Ditto good single malt.  THAT resulted in a piece of erotica that shall forever be known under a different name…  But I digress.)

Back to the crime book.  I started to hate it.  

Then, in the middle of the night (WHY does this always happens in the middle of the night?) a few characters started popping up.  Colourful, fun characters, from another time. They took my mind by siege.  “GO AWAY,” I told them. “I’m trying to write a crime book!”

They didn’t.  It was a criminal sit-in.  They wouldn’t leave until I agreed to write their tale.
So the modern day spy novel became a futuristic spy novel.  Modesty Blaise runs a bar on a space-station, so to speak.  Crime in Space, with the kind of comedy you might expect from a descendent of The Goddaughter.

Two more months spent in feverish writing.  Another two in rewrites.  Then another, to convince my publisher that the project had legs.

CODE NAME: GYPSY MOTH is the result.  Yet another crossing the genres escapade.

Written by me, and a motley crew of night visitors.

Now hopefully they will keep it down in there so I can sleep.

CODE NAME: GYPSY MOTH
“Comedy and Space Opera – a blast to read” (former editor Distant Suns magazine)
“a worthy tribute to Douglas Adams”  (Cathy Astolfo, award-winning author)

It isn't easy being a female barkeep in the final frontier...especially when you’re also a spy!

Nell Romana loves two things: the Blue Angel Bar, and Dalamar, a notorious modern-day knight for hire.  Too bad he doesn't know she is actually an undercover agent.  When Dalamar is called away on a routine job, Nell uncovers a rebel plot to overthrow the Federation. She has to act fast and alone. 

Then the worst happens.  Her cover is blown…

Buy link AMAZON
Buy link SMASHWORDS

The Toronto Sun called her Canada’s “Queen of Comedy.”  Library Journal compared her to Janet Evanovich.  Melodie Campbell got her start writing standup.  She has over 200 publications and nine awards for fiction.  Code Name: Gypsy Moth (Imajin Books) is her eighth book.

28 February 2015

Books and the Art of Theft

by Melodie Campbell

Puzzled by the title?  It’s simple.

In high school, I had to read Lord of the Flies, The Chrysalids, On the Beach, To Kill a Mocking Bird, and a whack of Shakespeare.

Yuck.  Way to kill the love of reading.  All sorts of preaching and moral crap in the first four.  (Which, as you will see by the end of this post, doesn’t suit me well.)

Torture, it was, having to read those dreary books, at a time when I was craving excitement.  Already, I had a slight rep for recklessness. (It was the admittedly questionable incident of burying the French class attendance sheet in the woods on Grouse Mountain, but I digress…)

And then we got to pick a ‘classic’ to read.  Groan.  Some savvy librarian took pity on me, and put a book in my hand. 

Ivanhoe.

Magic

A writer was born that day.

This is what books could be like!  Swashbuckling adventure with swords and horses, and imminent danger to yourself and virtue, from which – sometimes – you could not escape (poor Rebecca.) 

I was hooked, man.  And this book was written how long ago?  1820?

Occasionally, people will ask if a teacher had a special influence on me as a writer.  I say, sadly, no to that.

But a librarian did.  To this day, I won’t forget her, and that book, and what it caused me to do.

1.    Write the swashbuckling medieval time travel Land’s End series, starting with the Top 100 bestseller Rowena Through the Wall. 

2.    Steal a book.  Yes, this humble reader, unable to part with that beloved Ivanhoe, claimed to lose the book, and paid the fine.  Damn the guilt.  The book was mine.

3.    Write The Goddaughter series, which has nothing to do with swashbuckling medieval adventure, and everything to do with theft.  Which, of course, I had personally experienced due to a book called Ivanhoe.

The lust for something you just have to have.  The willingness to take all sorts of risks way out of
proportion, to possess that one thing.

A book like my own Rowena and the Viking Warlord made me a thief at the age of sixteen.  And the experience of being a thief enticed me to write The Goddaughter’s Revenge, over thirty years later.

My entire writing career (200 publications, 9 awards) is because of Sir Walter Scott and one sympathetic librarian.

Thanks to you both, wherever you are. 

Just wondering...did a single book get you started on a life of crime...er...writing?  Tell us below in the comments.

Melodie Campbell writes funny books. You can buy them at  Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.  She lurks at www.melodiecampbell.com

10 February 2015

Everything That Rises

by David Dean

Flannery O'Connor once wrote a story titled, "Everything That Rises Must Converge".  Like most of her work it's brilliant.  The title alone I found remarkable and has always stuck in my mind.  There was something about those words.  The truth be told, even after reading the story, I still didn't understand the phrase; the choice of the title.  Generally happy in my ignorance, I was content to coast along for many, many years with only the occasional thought about it.  But still it bothered me--those words kept returning.

Georgia has been fortunate to have produced a number of notable writers, many of whom, most I would say, having been female.  First there's Margaret Mitchell of course, there's no getting around her.  You are not allowed to graduate high school in Georgia without at least knowing who wrote "Gone With The Wind".  That question is also included in college entry exams as per state law.  Carson McCullers, the most notable writer my hometown ever produced wrote "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter", "Ballad Of The Sad Café", "Member Of The Wedding", and a number of other great novels.  Of the male persuasion there is Erskine Caldwell, who penned "Tobacco Road" and "God's Little Acre" amongst others.  And of more recent note, James Dickey, of "Deliverance" fame.  All of them formidable talents. 

Then there's Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964).


Flannery made her reputation during the 1950's and 60's predominantly with short stories.  She is one of the reasons that I learned to love them.  Afflicted by lupus, she lived a brief life, succumbing to the disease at 39 and after spending many of those years on a small farm near Milledgeville--notable for being the home of the state's largest psychiatric institution.  She never married, and beyond the occasional lecture at a nearby women's college, lived quietly and obscurely.  Though she certainly achieved a great deal of critical recognition during her lifetime, neither of her two novels became best-sellers.  I like to think she wouldn't have cared.

Like Margaret Mitchell's fictional heroine, Scarlett O'Hara, Ms. O'Connor was a Catholic and of Irish descent.  The more astute of you may have intuited this last from her name.  Also like Scarlett, she was born in the beautiful city of Savannah.  I have stood outside her family's townhouse, but was unable to go inside as it was not open to the public.  Which was a shame.  Beyond these things, Scarlett and Flannery could hardly have been more different.  I doubt Flannery would ever have said, "Fiddle-de-dee!"  I could be wrong.

If you've never read Ms. O'Connor's works, you may be in for a surprise.  This quiet, unpretentious, and devout woman will shock you with the violence, both interiorly, and often, exteriorly, of her characters.  Her stories are often driven by grotesque people, and seemingly depraved behavior.  No one is immune from the mortal upheaval of life, no matter their station, their opinion of themselves, their personal ambitions; their gifts, or their handicaps.  In "Revelation" a woman is devastated by a vision that reveals she may have to share paradise with those she considers undeserving.  A grandmother learns she is willing to trade the lives of her family in order to continue living in "A Good Man Is Hard To Find".  Then there's "Everything That Rises Must Converge", the tale of a mother/son bus ride to the YMCA that ends badly, but may result in wisdom, however unwelcome.  If a single theme could be said to run throughout her writings, it is that all are eligible for redemption: black and white, male and female, saint and criminal, and that everyone, however imperfectly, and sometimes violently, is searching desperately for it. 

Which brings me back to the beginning--what about that title?  Well, when you consider the body of O'Connor's work as the sum total of who she was, the answer may not be so surprising.  It refers to a work by the French priest, philosopher, and scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin titled "Omega Point".  Here is the pertinent quote: "Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love!  At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent.  For everything that rises must converge."  Remarkable words from a remarkable (and controversial) man, and embodied in a truly gifted writer. 

Father de Chardin (1881-1955) probably did not know that his theological and philosophical works were influencing a writer in rural Georgia.  On the other hand, most people at that time could not have told you who Fr. de Chardin was (As a side note: Fr. de Chardin was the model for Wm. Peter Blatty's Fr. Merrin in "The Exorcist").   Yet, he was one of those rare and luminous souls whose insight and brilliance have influenced millions of people, while the man himself has largely been forgotten.  Though a priest, he was also a scientist, and participated in the discovery and study of Peking Man.  And it was through his study of science, that he offered an alternative theory to the biblical origins of man--a theory that was controversial at the time and remains so.  *He posited that the  theory of evolution was entirely compatible with the Church's long-held belief that God created man; that, in fact, there was no conflict when one considered that God provided the essential spark to creation itself.  The actual mechanics leading to man's advent should not trouble us, as they were guided by our Creator.  Though many of Fr. de Chardin's teachings do remain unendorsed by the Church, and are suspect in many ways, it is worth noting that Pope Pius XII agreed that the theory of evolution was not incompatible with the Church's teachings, so long as it encompassed man as possessing a soul granted by God Himself, a view  repeated recently by Pope Francis.   

Less known, perhaps, was Fr. de Chardin's more subtle contribution in his capacity as theologian.  **Taking on a long-held belief that only the work of the religious (read priest, nuns, monks, etc...) contributed to the glorification of God, he held that all peoples, in their everyday endeavors, had it within their power to contribute to the sanctification of the world (Opus Dei--the boogeyman of "The Da Vinci Code" holds to this belief, as well--after all, Jesus was a carpenter).  In other words, he contended that by offering up their labors to God, anyone could serve in His glorification. In essence, that we should all be striving to move up, to rise up together..."For everything that rises must converge." 

It seems that Flannery O'Connor and Fr. de Chardin, each in their own way, did exactly that.

*Please note that this interpretation of Fr. de Chardin's theory is my own, and probably poorly represents his intentions.

**Again, I take full responsibility for whatever damage I do here. 

          









             
     


03 January 2015

Mess with me, Darlin'? Watch me Kill You with Words

(In which we attempt to address a serious subject in a light-hearted way)

by Melodie Campbell

Here’s some news for all you sociopaths out there, and just plain nasties: Don’t mess with a crime writer.  We know at least twenty ways to kill you and not get caught.

On paper, of course <insert nervous laughter>. We’re talking about fictional kills here.

Or are we?

My name is Melodie Campbell, and I write comic mob capers for a living. And for the loving. So I know a bit about the mob. Like espresso and cannoli, you might say they come with my Sicilian background.

This should make people nervous. (Hell, it makes ME nervous.)

But I digress. To recap:  the question offered here was:

Do you ever take out real life rage on fictional murder victims? Are any of your victims based on people who pissed you off in real life?

Oh sweetie, don’t I ever.

One of the joys of being a writer is playing out scenarios in your fiction that you dream about at night.  One of these is murder.  (The other is sex, but that would be my other series, the Rowena Through the Wall fantasy one.)

Back to grievous bodily harm. Like in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, I have my little list.

To the covert colleague who made out to be friends and then bad-mouthed me to the board at a previous job. 

Yes, you got caught red-handed. I called your bluff.  But better than that, I made your mealy-mouthed sorry hide a star of THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE.  Goodbye, Carmine the rat.  You live forever in fictional history.

He never will be missed.

To the sociopathic boss who undermined an entire department and got a kick out of making my sweet younger colleague cry: may you age like a hag and end up alone.  Oh wait – you did. And not just in A PURSE TO DIE FOR.

She never will be missed.

Oh, the joy of creating bad guys and gals from real-life creeps!  The crafty thing is, when you design a villain based on people you have met in person and experienced in technicolor, they sound real. Colourful.  Their motivations are believable, because they actually exist. No cardboard characters here! 

Of course, I may fudge a few details to keep out of jail. Names and professions change. Males can morph into females.

But fictional murder can be very satisfying. (Definitely more satisfying than fictional sex. Oops.) 

Revenge is sweet, when coupled with royalties. 

You can ignore that crack about 'fictional kills only.' Of course we’re only talking books; in my case, light-hearted murder mysteries, and mob crime capers.

That’s right: mob capers. Like I said: never mess with a Sicilian Goddaughter.

Melodie Campbell achieved a personal best when Library Journal compared her to Janet Evanovich.  Her fifth novel, THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE, won the Derringer and the Arthur Ellis.  www.melodiecampbell.com

05 July 2014

Murder at the Crime Writing Awards

by Melodie Campbell

Okay, I haven’t done it yet.  But I may soon.

I’m a crime author. But I'm also the Executive Director of a well-known crime writing association.  This means I am responsible for the Arthur Ellis Awards, Canada’s annual crime writing awards night, and the resulting gala banquet.

I’ve planned hundreds of special events in my career as a marketing professional.  I’ve managed conferences with 1000 people attending, scarfing down three meals a day.  Usually, we offer a few choices, and people choose what they want.  They’re pretty good about that.  People sit where they want.  Simple.

Granted, most of my events have been with lab techs, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. 

It is not the same with authors.  Nothing is simple with authors. 

THE SEATING ARRANGEMENT

A can’t sit with B, because A is in competition with B for Best Novel.  C can’t sit with D because C is currently outselling D.  E can’t sit with F because they had an affair (which nobody knows about.  Except they do.  At least, the seven people who contacted me to warn me about this knew.) G can’t sit with H because G’s former agent is at that table and they might kill each other.  And everyone wants to sit with J.

THE MENU

The damned meal is chicken.  This is because we are allowed two choices and we have to provide for the vegetarians.  We can’t have the specialty of the house, lamb, because not everyone eats lamb.  We can’t have salmon as the vegetarian choice, because some vegetarians won’t eat fish.

So we’re stuck with bloody chicken again.

P writes that her daughter is lactose intolerant.  Can she have a different dessert?

K writes that she is vegetarian, but can’t eat peppers.  Every damned vegetarian choice has green or red pepper in it.

L writes that she wants the chicken, but is allergic to onion and garlic.  Can we make hers without?

M writes that her daughter is a vegan, so no egg or cheese, thanks.  Not a single vegetarian choice comes that way.

I am quickly moving to the “you’re getting chicken if I have to shove it down your freaking throat” phase.

Chef is currently threatening the catering manager with a butcher’s knife.  I am already slugging back the cooking wine.  And by the time people get here, this may be a Murder Mystery dinner.

Postscript:
Nobody got murdered, but a few got hammered. 

John, Rob and Leigh are saying I have to introduce myself.  Here goes:

Billed as Canada’s “Queen of Comedy" by the Toronto Sun (Jan. 5, 2014,) some folks would say I’ve had a decidedly checkered past.  Don’t dig too deep.  You might find cement shoes.

My crime series, The Goddaughter, is about a wacky mob family in industrial Hamilton aka The Hammer.  This has no resemblance whatsoever to the wacky Sicilian family I grew up in.  Okay, that’s a lie.  I had to wait for certain members of the family to die before writing The Goddaughter.

My other series is racy rollicking time travel, totally scandalous, hardly mentionable in mixed company.  But I’ll mention it anyway.  Rowena Through the Wall.  Hold on to your knickers.  Or don’t, and have more fun.

The Goddaughter’s Revenge won the 2014 Derringer (US) and the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award (Canada) for Best Crime Novella.  There are seven other short story awards kicking around here somewhere.  I got my start writing comedy and seem to be firmly glued there, after 200 publications and seven novels.  But others know me as the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada.

www.melodiecampbell.com
The ARTHUR,
Canada's quirky and much-loved
award for Crime Writing

05 February 2014

Call of the Wicked




by Robert Lopresti

I have a friend who has a mother, a wonderful lady we will call Kate.  She is a smart woman who, at a time when many people were retired,  was still doing biomedical research.  That  kind of smart.

But time has passed and she is retired now, and living in a senoir home, what is known as an independent living center.  And one day not too long ago she got a phone call from someone who said he was calling from Windows.  He explained that they had found that her computer was about to crash but he could fix it if she gave him control.

Well, you know what happened next.  She had to call someone from the office to yank the plug out of the wall to turn the computer off, and then she had to buy a new computer.  (According to the guy who looked at her machine, if you suffer this type of hack, the trick is to get someone to fix it before you log on again.  After that, its too late.)

I won't go through the misery that followed: closing bank accounts, changing passwords, destroying credit cards.  Because that is all minor inconvenience, as tedious and infuriating as it is.

The real damage was done inside Kate's head.  Falling for that trick damaged her self-confidence and self-image, because she knew she would not have done so a few years before.  And that is the true, soul-destroying evil accomplished by these morally-bankrupt thugs who deliberately aim their scams at seniors.

For some reason, this makes me think of Dick Francis.  One of the things I like best about his work is that his characters never lost their shock over bad guys doing bad things.  While the heroes of Chandler get cynical and  see the glass as not only mostly empty but slightly moldy, Francis's men stay outraged and furious.  That doesn't belong to you.  Put it back!

From time to time scholars have pondered why so many people are fascinated by crime fiction.  Part of the answer, I think, is that we all deal with villains and the mysteries give us a pain-free way to reflect on them.  And, in fiction, at least, we can sometimes defeat them.

Until next time, watch out for the bad guys.

13 October 2013

Florida News: Rich in Irony

by Leigh Lundin

I haven't been writing about Florida in recent months, not because weird stuff stopped happening here, but because the news had grown morbid and lost its humor. There's nothing funny about a grown man who ran over a young girl who'd refused him or the poor Tampa girl bullied into suicide.

But remember, this is the home of irony, where our governor, Rick Scott, who originally opposed Obamacare, still refuses to allow Affordable Care 'Navigators' into the state. The irony? Rick Scott engineered the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in our nation's history. His fines alone were $1.7-BILLION. But with the billions left over, he purchased a governorship, always for sale in Florida.

Following are a few tidbits from the Sunshine State.

Attack of the Giant Snails

For centuries, ships have brought invasive– and terribly destructive– foreign species to Florida. I personally feud with fire ants, vicious Formicidae that don't simply bite, they use acid to burn holes through the skin and kill a human when attacking en force.

Some of the most destructive plants and animals have come from hobbyists' aquariums– hydrilla, walking catfish, Asian carp, and now, straight out of 1950s scary movies… voracious snails the size of a large man's fist. Miami-Dade decided it was time to call in the dogs.

Bang-Bang, You're Suspended

The very funny Irish comedian, Dave Allen, had his index finger missing since childhood. When he was a child and played cops and robbers with his mates, chasing each other and shouting "Bang, bang!" Some of the boys challenged his stubby index finger, telling him he couldn't shoot with that. "Sure, I can," he said. "Ever hear of a snub-nose .38?"

Now comes the story of an eight-year-old Harmony boy who was playing bang-bang-shoot-em-up with his fully-loaded pretend finger pistol in this great state with the deadly Shoot First / Stand Your Ground proudly on its books.

His Osceola County school suspended him for playing bang-bang with his brother and friends, but threatening no one. As his mother pointed out, he was actually empty-handed.

Bang-bang, You're Arrested

As discussed in this column, Florida has an insane collection of gun laws ranging from the infamous Shoot First / Stand Your Ground to mandatory sentencing. More than one critic have observed that the laws were written by whites for whites and seldom work in favor of black folks.

Take the admittedly murky case of a Jacksonville mother of three, Marissa Alexander, who fired a warning shot to keep clear of her ex-husband. If she'd killed him, she might have defended herself with the Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law, at least if she'd been white. But since she didn't kill him, the state's mandatory sentencing kicked in, subjecting her to a twenty-year prison term, which even non-supporters feel is excessive.

Now, an appeals court has sent the case back for a retrial on a technicality. Let's hope a jury finds a way to make this right. And just in case you think Florida has left its racist roots behind with all the Northerners who've immigrated, let me remind you Florida still honors the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Civil War criminal, brilliant cavalryman and possibly racially rehabilitated Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Sing-Sing-Singultus

Remember Jennifer Mee, the Florida teenager who appeared on talk shows because she couldn't stop hiccupping? She hit a little hiccup of her own.  She's been sentenced to life imprisonment for masterminding a robbery and murder

iOpening: What the…?

Some people will do anything to get the latest Apple gadget. In this case, a woman walked into the Boca Raton Apple store with a strap-on device… nobody knows quite what it was. My guess it probably violated Apple's warranty, not to mention a possible law or two.

In the meantime, welcome to Florida, folks. No irony deficiency here.

03 June 2012

Florida (mostly) Crime News

by Leigh Lundin

Sometimes articles are contributed or suggested by readers. We owe most of today's articles to ABA, Yoshinori 'Josh' Todo, and the ever-popular anonymous. There's a lot here; let's get started, but first…

Chowchilla bus The Chowchilla Children

Livermore, Ca.  The word Chowchilla tugs at the memory, a word touching on one of the most bizarre crimes in North American history. On 15 July 1976, twenty-six children from the small town of Chowchilla, California and their schoolbus vanished off the face of the earth.

Fortunately, the good guys won and all the children and the driver survived. The driver organized the escape and was celebrated as an unassuming hero. This past week the driver, Ed Ray, died in his home town.

The event reminded readers of a Hugh Pentecost story published in the 1969 fiction anthology Alfred Hitchcock's Daring Detectives, "The Day the Children Vanished". The crime was dramatized in the 1993 ABC TV movie They've Taken Our Children: The Chowchilla Kidnapping.

Chowchilla van

Dirty Cop

AVALON, Pa.  From anon, just to prove not all the crazies live in Florida, a citizen thought his utility bills were unusually high. It turns out his neighbor, a Pittsburgh policeman, was breaking into his home to use his washing machine. I'm not sure soft-soaping the court will work in this case.

Hot Cop


Scottburgh, SA  From ABA, we have the tale of the lady cop who had the urgent need to conduct an 'in-depth investigation'… with a prisoner in a holding cell. I'd say 'under cover' investigation except there were no covers, only oral testimony. Stark naked in flagrante delicto, they were caught by fellow officers.

Donut Do-Not

Orlando, FL.  From Yoshinori Todo comes a couple of cons (in Florida, naturally) that seemed clever on the surface but fell short. First is the fellow who successfully convinced an Orlando Dunkin' Donuts that the corporate office had sent him to perform a surprise audit. They pulled the cash drawer so he could take it into a back room… so far, so good… I mean bad. Then he got into a bit of a rush, grabbed the cash and tried to take off, but customers foiled him before he got too far. My guess is he'll be spending time in the hole.

Debit Debut

Sarasota, FL.  If you or I were to steal a credit or debit card, we'd be screwed when the clerks realized the card was blocked. However, a party of five figured out a way around it. The 'customer' with the card pretended to phone the 'credit card center', which 'gave permission' for the clerk to complete the transaction 'off-line'.

Except this clerk remembered hearing of a similar scheme. She contacted police while stalling the customer. The cops picked up three scammers in the store and arrested two more in the parking lot, one who'd pretended to be the credit card 'call center'.

The $1 Crime

Naples, FL.  Normally if you commit a crime, even petty theft, you'd be wise to make haste outta there. But a Collier County man, somewhat inebriated, helped himself to free drink at a McDonald's soda machine. Employees called him on it, but instead of leaving when asked, he stuck around giving police time to arrive and arrest him. Word has it he's been arrested a second time. Still, he's not as crazy as the men who tried to steal an entire coke machine.

The $1,000,000,000 Crime

Fort Myers, FL.  Florida has long been notorious for its scammers, but a Lee County woman took matters to new depths. She claimed to have a billion dollar inheritance arriving any day now… she just needed a little help. Hey, I vote for sending her to Nigeria.

Time on His Hands

Panama City, FL.  Cops arrested two men in possession of a stolen shopping cart and what police believed was stolen camping equipment. While in police custody, one of the men stole a clock off the wall and tried to hide it in his back pack. I'll bet he'll be serving time.

Capital T Right Here in River City

Weston, FL.  Town fathers, sickened by all the rampant crime of soda-stealing and doughnut dipping figured out the solution of crime: They banned skating rinks, dinner-dance clubs, and just plain fun. They go a long way to proving Puritanism is alive and well in America, unlike the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser who sends porn to his Director of HR. But hey, this is the state where a Christian pirate radio station once interrupted air traffic control towers trying to blast music into Havana.

In Your Face

Miami, FL.  Some crimes are almost too awful to contemplate. It was bad enough when a high-school cross-country runner was partially blinded by an egg thrown by teens from a car at 50mph, leaving him with a fractured eye socket, a concussion, and fragments that punctured his pupil. But, our own mad Hannibal Lector wannabe took matters farther. A Miami Herald camera captured an 18-minute video of a naked Rudy Eugene who attacked Ronald Poppo, chewing off the victim's face until police arrived and shot the perpetrator. Before the week was out, HistoryMiami museum's Mystery, Mayhem, and Vice announced they're including this Zombie Attack venue in their crime tour.

Baltimore, Md.  Lest we conclude Florida is unique in cannibal attacks, a Maryland Morgan State University student apparently murdered his roommate and dined on his brain and heart.

Murderous Porn Queen

New Port Richey, FL. 
And finally, tattoo parlor owner Dennis "Scooter" Abrahamsen hired porn actress Amanda Kaye Logue for a sex party. Unfortunately Logue, described as "an evil being" who "planned and schemed" texted her boyfriend, Jason Andrews, she wanted to have sex with Andrews "after we kill" their victim in their premeditated scheme. The court sentenced Andrews to life and gave a tearful Miss Logue a reduced sentence of forty years. With luck, she'll serve every day of it.

A Nod to Josh

Yoshinori Todo might shy away from being labelled an 'expert', but he's the closest thing I know to an Agatha Christie authority. With this in mind, ABA sent the following to share with Josh.

Greenway House, Devon Coast, UK  Mathew Prichard, "the only child of the only child of the prolific author known as the queen of crime" talks about his famous grandmother while revealing letters from her ten month world travel with her first husband, Archie Christie. Read on!

30 November 2011

Digging Up Old Crimes

by Robert Lopresti

We just got back from San Francisco, which felt like deja vu all over again, since we were there last fall for Bouchercon.   Even stayed at the same hotel.  But this time we were attending a very different conference: the fourteenth annual Biblical Archaeology Fest.

I discussed this event the last time my wife and I attended it.  I won't repeat myself except to explain that this is not a religious event, but a chance for archaeology buffs and wannabees to learn from the experts (who are actually meeting together across town).

And I heard a lot of wonderful lectures on subjects ranging from the horned altar of Gath to misconceptions about second Temple-era Judaism, but I will stick to two lectures that I can reasonably tie to crime.

Dr. Robert R. Cargill's talk was titled "No, No, You Didn't Find That."  He is an archaeologist and since he is willing to face cameras and was for several years working in Los Angeles, he became a go-to person when someone made an outrageous claim about archaeology.  This happens with depressing regularity.  (Does anyone keep track of how many times Noah's Ark has been discovered in the last century?  Or the Ark of the Covenant?)

A pseudoarchaeological claim is generally made by an amateur (who will often argue that the elitists - e.g. those with training - are conspiring against him).  There are a lot of possible motives: money, fame, religious or other ideology.  Cargill offered his "magic formula" for success in pseudoarchaeology:  start with a media blitz (as opposed to attempting publication in a scholarly journal or conference), misinformation dump (forcing critics to go through piles of irrelevant stuff, disproving it all), and attacking the critics.

One fun example: Glenn Beck claiming that the Dead Sea Scrolls were texts being hidden from Emperor Constantine.  What's a difference of three centuries between friends?

Law and Order: Ancient Canaan
Rami Arav has had an interesting career.  With his fresh doctorate in hand he moved back to Israel and began searching for a place to excavate in his native Galigee.  Aware that no on e had determined the site of  Bethsaida (the third most mentioned place in the Gospels).he set out to find it, and in ten days he did.


He duly reported this at a conference in front of an audience of about ten people (the air conditioning had broken down).  One of them happened to be a reporter who wrote that the site of  the miracle of loaves and fishes had been discovered.  Two days later everyone in the world wanted to interview Rami Arav.  The result is 25 years later he is still digging at Bethesda - or more accurately at Geshur, the huge ancient city whose ruins Bethesda was built on.  Arav estmates he has dug up about 4% of the site's 25 acres.

Amazing story, but what does this have to do with crime?  Well, Arav explains that archaeologicists "are like C.S.I.  First we take thousands of pictures.  Then we bring in experts.  Geologists, biologists,  chemists, computer experts, paleozoologists," and so on. (Quotation is approximate.)   He says archaeologists only deal with mute witnesses (texts get passed on to other scholars, but ruins can nonetheless provide remarkable evidence.

For example, one issue about the Geshur era (say, 3.000 years ago) is the question of law and order: was there a reliable system of justice, or something more like anarchy?  Is there anyway to find out without written texts?

Well, one of the things Arav's workers found was a four-meter wide paved road outside the city.  Nobody builds a paved road that wide for pedestrians or people on horseback.  That road was for wheeled wagons.  Now, think about that.  The merchant wouldn't bring a wagon pulled by animals to the city if he wasn't fairly comfortable that it would be there the next time he looked for it, and that someone would take an interest if it disappeared.  So there was law and order in Geshur.  Cool, huh?

I have 19 pages of notes from the conference, but I'll be merciful.  Meanwhile, keep digging.