Showing posts with label women. Show all posts
Showing posts with label women. Show all posts

24 July 2022

Bed, Bath, and Beyond: The Rooming House, part 2


Tales from the Rooming House

Last week I introduced you to the cast of the guest home were I rented a room rather than stay in a hotel for a six month project. I bring you a little more about my landlady, God love her.

Kitchen Computer

The kitchen held a computer for the landlady and anyone else who needed to use one. One day when the house had emptied, she shyly approached me.

“Will you, um, see uh, I have a prob… er, I shouldn’t ask, but… well, I made a mistake and, uh, no, never mind, I just felt… if you… you work with, um, computers, right? No, it’s not fair… to ask, you know, I’m sorry, see. Forget it.”

“Tell me what the problem is.”

She sniffled into a tissue. “Well, um, I went on a web site… or maybe two sites or so. And uh, I gave them my credit card number, er, and I can’t get it back. They um, keep charging me.”

pseudo-porn
“Okay. No sweat. Let’s sit down and figure it out.”

Poor lady. She flushed fifty shades of red. She’d worked up considerable courage to ask me. Respecting her vulnerability, I strove to be kind, gentle, and non-judgmentally professional.

She trembled too much to type the URL, so she slid over while I drove. I didn’t flick an eyelash when she spelled out the address of an ‘enticing teen boys’ porn site. Miserably, she said, “The other’s a bisexual-lesbian teen site.”

“We’ll do this in two steps,” I said. “First we’ll terminate your account and billing. See, that’s done. We’ll do the same thing on the other site, and bingo, that’s done. But to be safe, let’s tell the credit card company not to accept payments from these guys.”

She didn’t say anything, but dabbed her eyes with a soggy Kleenex. I’ve developed a habit of being deliberately incurious about personal matters. Humans are born naturally inquisitive creatures. No one should be punished for lifting the lid of their own curiosity.

I said, “I can set up a secret folder where you can store personal things, you know, bank information, private letters, and uh, home movies and the like. Only if you want.”

“Oh yes. Could you help me set my profile on a singles site?”

Her bio was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, but she wouldn’t let me change them. “No one will care,” she said. I thought it might restrict her potential dating pool, but kept my opinion to myself.

Other than confirming her credit card charges had ceased, neither of us mentioned those web sites again.

The Bickering Fair Ones

I wasn’t used to breakfasts amid mere acquaintances lounging in underthings, but I like to think I handled it with panache. Then I worried; were they treating me as one of the girls? Whew. Fortunately not.

“Jesus, Jill. Can’t you hook your own damn bra?”
“Yeah, Jill. What did you do before he arrived?”
“Shut up, sluts. You’re just jealous of these.”
“Wait til she asks him to do her front clasp.”
“Oh ♩♫Leeeeigh. Can you stuff these in for me?”
Ƒ you. What about Gail’s flash dances?”
“What? Me?”
“Dashing between rooms with only a tea towel.”
“It’s a bath towel.”
“For a hamster. I have hankies bigger than that.”
“Don’t be so mean. You’re so…”
“Aw shit, Gail. We didn’t mean to make you cry.”

Their sniping revealed a drama I wasn’t aware of. With my nose in technical manuals, I had been studying and oblivious. The landlady explained. Apparently Gail, the youngest of the group, wore less than usual when I was in-house, so to speak.

“They’re teasing her because she wants the attention of the only male in the house. Her heart was just broken and she craves validation.”

“Validation… I don’t understand.”

“She just wants you to notice her. Be a friend, that’s all. Be kind. She’s more fragile than she thinks. Neither of you needs rebound romance. Just buy her a rose one day. That will do nicely.”

I had been clueless sixteen ways from Sunday. I humbly felt as if our local High Priestess of Womanly Wisdom had guided me on a path where otherwise I would have fallen flat on my face. Or put another way, guys can be dumb and she saved me from myself.

bedroom floor plan

Bed, Bath, and Beyond

After my initial months of exemplary behavior, the landlady switched me to a larger room at the end of the hall across from hers. A mirror hung at the end of the corridor between the landlady’s room and mine, convenient for the women to check their makeup before heading out in public. Unlike the rest of us, she usually left her bedroom door open and I paid no attention to the darkened expanse of her doorway.

Because my schedule meant I was the last to rise and depart, the landlady asked if I would let her dog out for a bound around the garden before I left for work. No problem. I agreed.

Now, I sleep nude. Don’t judge me. Just sayin’. I don’t have patience with bedclothes.

Once I felt comfortable that only I remained in the house each day, I clambered out of bed naked, immediately let the dog out, and hit the shower amid its rain forest canopy of panty hose. Bras and knickers obscured the steamy mirror, so after bath, I stepped into the hall. Still starkers, I brushed my hair reflected in the mirror. No issues, I always made certain I was alone.

One morning I let the dog out, shaved, showered, brushed my hair before the hall mirror, dressed, let the dog in, threw on my jacket, dashed out the door, and…

There in the driveway stood my landlady’s car.

But where was the landlady? I’d already locked up and didn’t have time to investigate, but that evening, she looked at me speculatively.

I said, “Did you stay home today?”

“Uh-huh. I called in sick.”

“Er, this morning when I got up, uh, my back and forth to the bathroom, brushing my hair in the hall mirror, um, you saw all that?”

“Yes.” Her cat-licking-cream smile hovered between impish delight and giggly satisfaction.

Bed, Bath, and Beyond logo

“Everything?”

“Oh, yes. Every bit.”

“Your room was dark, I didn’t realize…”

“I know.” Her smile turned gleeful. “I know.”

We never mentioned that again either. She might have shared that little adventure with the other women, but I think not. Maybe she appreciated I’d kept her secret, but really, she was just a good person.

My contract ended not long after, but for a guy without sisters, the ladies educated me in record time.

17 July 2022

Bed, Bath, and Beyond: The Rooming House, part 1


How many landladies does it take to change a light bulb?
None. She bills you for a 25-watt bulb and lets you replace it.
buckeyes
Ohio buckeyes

A conversation with Melodie Campbell brought me back to a landlady in Columbus, Ohio. I’d travelled to America’s heartland for a six-month consulting project. Usually I stayed in hotels or occasionally in a company-owned apartment, but this time I opted to stay in a guest home, the only male in the house, the first time this landlady felt brave enough to accept one. For dialogue and character study, the house made a great observation post.

Roommates

Initially, I was assigned the smallest room, fine with me. It was a place to bathe and sleep, not socialize. As roommates came and went, the landlady upgraded our rooms depending upon seniority.

The house's female population varied fluidly depending upon who was upset at whom, who said the wrong thing, and who was going out with someone else’s man. Hostilities simmered and sometimes erupted. Everyone was very pleasant to me as internecine animosities and alliances came and went.

Snatches of conversations went:

“Who used up the half-n-half?”
“Um, you?”
“Slut.”
“I’m late again. My boss will have a cow.”
“Of course he will, the moment you arrive.”
“I’ll ignore that.”
“Hon,” (speaking to me) “Darling, hook my bra, please.”
“Why bother, Jill. You’ll only beg him to unhook it later.”
“Bitch.”
“Slut.”
“Did you pick up my dry cleaning?”
“Did you find it in the closet?”
“Bitch.”
“Shut up.”

I avoided much soap opera by working late into the night and setting my alarm after others left for the day. Occasionally one or another of the ladies snagged me to pour out her heart, typically a grievance with another of the tenants, usually man-related.

At the center of much angst was naturally a guy, a jerk. He’d gone out with at least three of the women including the landlady. The ass pitted them against one another and made outsized demands to prove they were worthy. They should have buried him in the back yard, but at that time of year the ground was frozen and snowed over. They’d have to wait for spring.

Maluku postage stamp

Bath

I grew up without sisters. Even though I’ve lived with girlfriends, they shared my residence one at a time, not in a group. I wasn’t prepared for a bathroom decorated with a dozen pairs of pantyhose and other bits of underwear strung on the shower rod, the sink, and the mirror.

I can’t deny I haven’t come face to face with micro-bikinis (shut up, Eve!), but in those circumstances I wasn’t paying much attention to those thongy things. In the harsh, florescent light of a bathroom, either a geometry mystery or an engineering marvel emerged. For folks who’ve been distracted by the higher level events in our world, thongs consist of strings and a tiny triangle the size of a Moluccan postage stamp. My inner anatomist turned all geek, calculating an inch and a half per side does not a covering make.

A = ½ W × H

The bathroom was loaded with bottles and aerosol cans of hairsprays, deodorants, creams, powders, and many, many mystery items. I sought space for shampoo and shave cream, finally putting my razor on the highest rack in the shower.

On day two, the shampoo level of my Head & Shoulders startled me. The new bottle was now half full… or half empty. Oh well. I lathered up and then… I was pretty sure I left the cap on the Barbasol, but a white snake of foam across the tub suggested Goldilocks of the Three Bears had helped herself. I slathered on shaving cream, picked up my razor, and…

“¡Ye-ouch! Holy ƒ-ing #¥‡€¢§¶™ Mother of a G.” Someone used my razor to shave the three bears, the house dog, and a sisal door mat.

Some problems I solved by purchasing shampoo and shaving cream with hyper-masculine ingredients like diesel fuel, saddle soap, gun oil and names like Strike Force Command, the man’s manly man products with 20% more testosterone.

Bathroom conversations went:

“Don’t touch my Pantene, ever. It’s mine.”
“Twit.”
“Twat.”
“That’s what I meant.”
“If I find who stole my conditioner…”
“Who used up the Redken?”
“Janet, goddammit. Will you stop leaving hair in the tub?”
“Not me. I didn’t shampoo.”
“I didn’t say you shampooed, I said you left hair in the tub. Shave that thing somewhere else.”
“Bitch.”
“Slut.”

I became aware of two important things.

  1. I was lucky to be accepted by a houseful of women.
  2. If the rôles were reversed, a women in a house of men wouldn’t find it any easier.
Ohio State Buckeyes
More Ohio Buckeyes

Kitchen

The resident’s kitchen featured only a small table and three chairs, plus a community refrigerator. I needed room only for milk and juice. Three days after buying milk, it disappeared. I bought another. Then the orange juice and milk disappeared. Now we had a problem.

Complaints of office mates nabbing bits from the common fridge occasionally happened, but I hadn’t expected food theft where I rent. I approached the landlady.

She said, “It wasn’t one of the girls. I threw it out.”

“What? Why”

“It had been in the fridge three days already.”

“Okay. Why?”

“Because they were three days old. The expiration date was coming up.”

“I’m confused. The milk and juice weren’t sour, they hadn’t come close to the sell-by date, and you tossed them? I don’t get it.”

“Because of the date stamp. I don’t want anyone getting deathly sick.”

“You’re saying the expiration date means you’ll expire?”

“Absolutely.”

“Drink expired juice and you’ll die or something?”

“Certainly. I don’t want responsibility for sending anyone to the hospital. They put those date stamps there for a reason. The nearer you get to it, the more certain you’ll get sick. I don’t want oldness germs infecting other foods. Milk or any crap in there more than two, three days goes.”

My dear landlady was a lovely person, but she lived in fear of best-before dates. She was convinced expiration dates meant personal expiration by black death.

Beyond

And yet, I was oddly honored to be accepted by the house.

Next time: The Naked Truth

31 October 2021

The Women in my Writing World


Kathleen Jordan

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

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

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

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

Linda Landrigan

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

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

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

Pat Dennis

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

Johnene Granger

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

Kerry Carter

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

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

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

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


ADDENDUM:

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


It's a good life.

26 May 2021

Undone



Kristen Lepionka painted on my radar with a column she wrote for CrimeReads, about women protagonists in crime fiction – more to the point, about queer women.  Woman PI’s and cops aren’t the novelty they were forty years back, when Grafton and Sara Paretsky debuted, and the hard-boiled was getting legs with Tami Hoag and Patsy Cornwell, but Lepionka had something bigger in her sights: an increasing presence of women of color, and the fact that a good number of them are no longer straight.

https://crimereads.com/a-brief-history-of-queer-women-detectives-in-crime-fiction/

It’s been a while since Joseph Hansen premiered his Dave Brandstetter books, and back then it seemed like Hansen had staked a claim on barren ground.  At least, not too many other people followed his lead.  Little by little, though, the goalposts have moved.  Something similar happened in the science fiction community.  Ursula Le Guin, James Tiptree, and Anne McCaffrey blew a hole in the prevailing gender mythology, along with Chip Delany, and the whole Doc Savage/Tarzan heroic construct came tumbling down.

This, naturally, led me to start reading Kristen Lepionka’s own mysteries.  The Last Place You Look came out in 2017, What You Want to See a year later, The Stories You Tell the year after that, and Once You Go This Far in 2020.  Cozy, they ain’t.  They’re tough, and tough-minded.  Roxane Weary, a dead cop’s daughter, has a private license and a buttload of attitude.  She’s in fact something of a trainwreck.  Her issues aren’t incidental, either.  The stories are as much about how she navigates the world as they are about the cases she pursues.  The tangles are both personal and professional.  And there’s a lot of sex.

You may think you’ve visited this side of town before, but Roxane makes it unnervingly intimate.  Her anger and her self-awareness are equally claustrophobic.  It’s a burden.  But it gives her an edge.  She don’t know quit; she just keeps coming.  This isn’t your Travis McGee knight in tarnished armor convention, either.  Roxane keeps pushing because she’s basically so pissed off at her own life, and the way things shake out for people, that she won’t take no for an answer.

I’m making her sound unsympathetic, which isn’t true at all.  Her strength is her transparency, and Roxane’s voice invites confidences – even if you’re not sure exactly how confident you are in her, you’re still pulling for her.  The plots are dense, but there’s also a very specific density to Roxane’s approach to the canvas, her family, her unresolved past, the fabric of her community, hanging by a thread.  I might not be giving you the flavor.  The books have a muscular rhythm, and the asides are snappy and acerbic.  There’s an underlying tension between what Roxane hears and observes, and what’s left unspoken.  There are laugh-out-loud moments, and scary ones, too.  I simply find myself enormously charmed.  I really like this girl.

This is, I guess, the key.  That you can take a complicated person, a character that’s not generic, somebody who doesn’t always make the right choices, and who sometimes can’t even get out of her own way, and reveal her as authentic, but still make her the fulcrum of a credible mystery.  Roxane’s a good detective, and she comes by it honestly.  She seems real to me.  She’s not a collection of tics, or a literary device.  That's a departure.

22 February 2020

No More Downer Books! (aka Does anyone else out there hate unreliable narrators?)


I’m tired of downer books. I don’t want to be depressed after reading for three hours. Bear with me: I’ll explain further.

The problem is, most of the downer elements of grim books involve women who are victims. Either victims of crime, or victims of a patriarchal society. Scandinavian Noir is full of the first. In fact, most noir novels include a female who is murdered and often hideously mutilated. That’s so much fun for women to read.

So here goes:

I don’t want to read any more books about women who are abused or downtrodden. I know there are several good books out there right now featuring such women. Some are historical. Some are current day. It’s not that they aren’t good. It’s just that I don’t want to read any more of them. I’ve read enough.

Imagine, men, if most of the books you had read involved men who had been victimized, or relegated to second class status by another gender. One or a few might be interesting to read. But a steady diet of these? Would you not find it depressing? Not to mention, discouraging?

I don’t want to read any more books about neurotic women, or women who can’t get it together.

I dread more ‘unreliable narrators.’ Salient point: did you notice that most (okay, every single one I can think of) unreliable narrators on the bestseller lists recently are women? Does that say something to you about how society views women? It does to me. No more ‘girl’ books.

I don’t want to read any more books this year with female protagonists that are written by men. Yes, that means some of the bestselling crime books out there. They may be very well written. But these rarely sound like women’s stories to me. They aren’t written with the same lens.

What I want: books with intelligent female protagonists written by women. I want more women’s stories. Books that I can be proud to hand on to my daughters, and say, see what is possible? She isn’t a victim! She’s someone like you.

Trouble is, I can’t FIND many books like that. The bestseller lists today are filled with protagonists who are unstable, neurotic women. Let me be clear: a lot of people enjoy these books. They may be very well written. They wouldn’t be on bestseller lists, otherwise.

But I’m tired of them. I want a ripping good story with a female protagonist, written by a woman. I want a strong, admirable protagonist I can relate to and care about. Hell, I want to *be* the protagonist for a few hours.

And not come away feeling downtrodden.




Bad Girl writes loopy comedies to blow away the blues. And she guarantees that the women protagonist and secondaries in her books kick butt.

THE GODDAUGHTER DOES VEGAS - latest in the "Hilarious" (EQMM) mob goddaughter series - no blues allowed! On Amazon

05 June 2019

Five Red Herrings, Volume 11


1. Pictures from a Prosecution. Back in 2017 the Library of Congress held an exhibit of unusual art: drawings by courtroom illustrators. Fascinating stuff including such sinister types as Charles Manson, Bernie Madoff, and (?) J.K. Rowling.

2. Man, that's succubustic. I have mentioned Lowering the Bar before. A wonderful website about all that is ridiculous in the world of law. This entry concerns a California attorney who used (invented, really) the word "succubustic' to describe the behavior of a female judge who refused to grant him the attorney's fees he wanted. (Apparently the lawyer worked very hard on the case, clocking 25 hours in a single day, for instance.) He also referred to the "defendant's pseudohermaphroditic misconduct." Stylish.

3. Write like a girl. Useful for all of us boy author types: Women Share the Biggest Mistakes Male Authors Make with Female Characters. Here's one from jennytrout: "We have never, ever looked in a mirror and silently described our nude bodies to ourselves, especially the size/shape/weight/resemblance to fruit, etc. of our breasts."

4. Write like a cop. From Robin Burcell, Top Ten Stupid Cop Mistakes (in Fiction). "Only some of the bosses are evil or stupid..."

 5. "Dieoramas." Article from Topic Magazine about Abigail Goldman, who  is an investigator for the Public Defender's office in my county. Her hobby is making tiny 3-D "reproductions" of entirely fictional murder scenes. Creepy...

26 January 2019

Not another Freaking Neurotic Narrator (and other books....)


(reaches for the gun in her stocking, and yes that is me and a Derringer)

I'm tired of downer books.  I don't want to be depressed after reading for three hours.  Bear with me: I'll explain.

The problem is, most of the downer elements of grim books involve women who are victims.  Either victims of crime, or victims of a patriarchal society.  Scandinavian Noir is full of the first.  In fact, most noir novels involve a female who is murdered and often hideously mutilated.  That's so much fun for women to read.

So here goes:

I don't want to read any more books about women who are abused or downtrodden.  I know there are several good books out there right now featuring such women.  Some are historical.  Some are current day.  It's not that they aren't good.  It's just that I don't want to read any more of them.  I've read plenty.

Imagine, men, if most of the books you had read involved men who had been victimized or relegated to second class status by another gender.  One or a few might be interesting to read.  But a steady diet of these?  Would you not find it depressing?  Not to mention, discouraging?

I don't want to read any more books about neurotic women, or women who can't get it together.  I dread more 'unreliable narrators.'  Particularly, I don't want to read a book ALL THE WAY THROUGH, and then find out at the very end that the protagonist has been lying to me.  (Are you listening, Kate Atkinson? *throws book across room*)  Who wants to be tricked by the author?  But there's something even worse about it:

Did you notice that most (okay, every single one I can think of) unreliable narrators on the bestseller lists recently are women?  Does that say something to you about how society views women? (reaches for gun in stocking...)  It does to me.  No more 'girl' books. (BLAM!...that felt good.)

I don't want to read any more books this year with female protagonists that are written by men.  Yes, this means some of the bestselling crime novels out there.  They may be very well written.  But these rarely sound like women's stories to me.  They aren't written with the same lens.

What I want:  books with intelligent female protagonists written by women.  I want more women's stories.  Books I can be proud to hand on to my daughters, and say, see what is possible?  She isn't a victim!  She's someone like you.

Trouble is, I can't FIND many books like that.  The bestseller lists today are filled with protagonists who are unstable, neurotic women.  Let me be clear:  a lot of people enjoy these books.  They may be very well written.  They wouldn't be on bestseller lists otherwise.

But I'm tired of them.  I want a ripping good story with a female protagonist, written by a woman.  Hell, I want to *be* the protagonist for a few hours.

And not come away feeling downtrodden.

Speaking of which...if you're looking for a female protagonist with wit and brains, this mob goddaughter rocks the crime scene in a very different way:
The Goddaughter Does Vegas - out this week from Orca Book Publishers!  
Book 6 in the multi-award winning caper series.
 On AMAZON

02 September 2018

Women in Peril


by Leigh Lundin

Janice Law’s article inspired today’s column…

Just the facts, ma’am.

Nancy Drew’s fan base loved women in peril. Encouraged by old man Stratemeyer, Mildred Wirt Benson (aka Carolyn Keene) wrote Nancy as an independent, impulsive, and headstrong 1930s girl. I'm not sure how this factors in, but when Edward Stratemeyer’s daughters took over in the 1960s, Harriet rewrote the first three dozen novels making Nancy less impetuous, less independent, and women-in-peril continued to attract readers. Why?

Evidence suggests we become more engaged and outraged when a pretty girl is killed. Outrage sells movies. It sells books. It stirs our emotions. Could The Virgin Suicides have been written about five brothers?

M-F homicide deaths 7:2
Besides violence toward women tearing at our hearts, we may take extra notice because, despite a plethora of movies and television shows to the contrary, female homicide victims are considerably less common. Of every nine people murdered, seven will be male. [2010] Perhaps it isn't fair to suggest Poe’s and Clark’s women-in-peril stories ramp up violence or actual homicide.

Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Higgins Clark apparently scored emotional bullseyes. They knew how to play upon our fears, male and female. Protectiveness of loved ones is hard-wired in male DNA. So often when one gender feels strongly about something, the opposite sex experiences the mirror image.

What if political, patriarchal, anger-against-women motives don’t drive the industry? Could something deeper be going on?

Our Inner Cave(wo)man

An explanation offered by psychologist Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, offers spellbinding insight. She asserts the innermost mind is anything but politically correct. She articulates it in talks and texts better than I, but she says the secret pleasures that turn us on at night are the same we protest during the day.

Perel’s field centers upon our hidden, primitive, self-subversive psychology. When the lights go out, we change. We revert.

Biological components have been recognized since forever. Danger… fear… jeopardy fuel concupiscence. The underlying theory goes that great risk of life ignites a need to procreate, to ensure survival of the species.

Once in an agony column, a husband wrote in, worried about his wife. Immediately following a car accident, she wanted to rush home and make love– cuts and scrapes be damned. Had the accident damaged her mentally? Of course not. Faced with mortality, her survival instinct kicked into gear, a strong, healthy response.

Wars embody the most frightening fears. They’re irrational, society has gone mad, the rules have shattered. Death could arrive in an instant. Population figures show a leveling of growth when heading into a war, but once existence is somewhat assured, survivors mate— often. The term ‘Baby Boomers’ wasn’t idly selected.

US population growth chart

Movie makers discovered early on a simplistic formula: fear=aphrodisiac. Teens didn’t flock to drive-in horror movies for the production qualities, but reproduction qualities.

My friend Crystal Mary, the staunchest feminist I know, loves slasher films, flicks I, God help me, can barely watch between my fingers. Her eyes brighten, her neck flushes, and she bounces home in an ebullient mood. Never for a second would she approve of violence toward women. What’s happening? Me, a diet of slasher movies would give me nightmares, but Crystal Mary’s able to connect with an uncomplicated, elemental part of her being. The premises of Mary Higgins Clark and Edgar Allan Poe she could understand.

What is your take? Could Clark and Poe have stumbled upon the secret that our fears drive the most rousing plots? Can you stomach blood-n-guts horror films better than Leigh? Are you able to serve as designated driver?

01 August 2018

When 18,000 Librarians Attack


Two weeks ago I wrote about visiting New Orleans.  This time I am going to explain why I was there.  The American Library Association holds its annual conference in late June and this year it was in the Big Easy.

Truth to tell, the main reason I went was that the Government Documents Round Table of ALA was giving me the Lane/Saunders Memorial Research Award for When Women Didn't Count.  But I went to a bunch of professional meetings too.

I am not going to tell you what I learned about the current research on reference work and the shocking changes in Canadian government information trends (email me if you are dying to know), but will stick to things more relevant to SleuthSayers.

Believe it or not, there was a panel of mystery writers, and none of them were librarians.  Here's what I remember about them:

Robert Olen Butler is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer and a collector of old postcards.  The latter is relevant because he wrote a book called Had A Good Time, in which each story was inspired by a postcard, and told in the voice of the person who wrote the message.


The great editor Otto Penzler read the book and promptly offered him a contract for two mysteries about one of those characters, an early twentieth century reporter named Christopher Marlowe Cobb.    

"Being of a literary turn of mind, I believe my exact words were 'Oh boy, you betcha!'"  There are four books in the series so far.

Ellen Byron writes "Cajun country mysteries," complete with recipes.  She
says she is so afraid of writing sex scenes that she won't even read the book on how to write sex scenes.

"I have a scar on my forehead where I walked into a tree because I was reading.  I was 25 at the time."

 
Jude Deveraux  has written dozens of popular romances but her new agent wanted her to try something different.  He proposed vampires or zombies; she countered with mysteries. He asked for outlines for three books; she replied with nine outlines, one of them 20,000 words long.  (That's not an outline; that's a novella.)

"I'm always writing about 23-year-old semi-virgins."

Debra LeBlanc writes horror - see her many books with Witch in the title -  but her Nonie Broussard novels are about an amateur sleuth who gets (annoying) help from the occasional ghost.

"I am to literature what Walmart is to department stores."

Amy Stewart has written several quirky nonfiction books.  While researching The Drunken Botanist, about the blessed plants that give us booze, she stumbled on the true story of the Kopp sisters who, in 1915, got into a feud with a drunken mill owner in Paterson, New Jersey.  The eldest, Constance Kopp, became the first female deputy in the state.  All four novels are based on her actual adventures.  The title of the first, Girl Waits With Gun, was an actual newspaper headline.  I can testify the book is a lot of fun.

"My characters are all six feet underground.  I'm like, 'Could y'all wake up for five minutes?  I've got some questions.'"


But there are more reasons to attend ALA than the panels, wonderful as they are.  Above you see a picture of the exhibitor's room.  There is no way I could capture more than a sliver of this joint, which had roughly 700 vendors in it.  That included everything from an author with a card table hawking a single title, to most of the major American publishers with displays the size of a grocery store aisle, to companies trying to sell computer systems, furniture, etc.

It is stunning and bewildering.

One company brought in an espresso cart and had a professional barista mixing up free lattes for the crowd.  "I like Baker and Taylor a lot more than I did an hour ago," said one happy imbiber.

Oh, one big exhibitor was the Library of Congress.  Besides giving away coffee cups they had had an hour when you could have your picture taken with Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress.  Dr. Hayden is triply unique being 1) the first female, 2) the first African-American, and 3) the first librarian to hold the office.  There was a very long line so I passed up the opportunity for the pic.

Now, I have a crazy suggestion.  If the ALA conference is ever held near you, you might want to attend.  (Midwinter will be held in Seattle this January.  The bigger summer conference will be in Washington, D.C. in June.)


No, I'm not suggesting you shell out hundreds of bucks to attend panels on cataloging and the learning commons.  But for a lot less ($75 in New Orleans) you can get access to the exhibitor's hall.  And the seven book covers you see here?  They are advance reader copies I picked up for free.  They are just the mysteries; we took home at least as many other titles of different types.  The only limits were our interests and what we wanted to ship them home.

Speaking of which, the photo below shows the post office branch in the exhibitor's hall where librarians were packing up swag to mail home.  We shipped home two boxes.  How many  advance copies would you consider worth the entrance fee?

Enough talk.  I have books to read.


08 July 2018

Rapists are Criminals: Why do they live among us?


by Mary Fernando, MD

This is my second interview with the Clinical Forensic Medical Examiner, Dr. Kari Sampsel, the only Canadian physician with a fellowship in Clinical Forensic Sciences. She is a Staff Emergency Physician and the Medical Director of the Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program at The Ottawa Hospital. 

When victims of  sexual violence come into the emergency room, she is in charge of the rape kit, assessments of sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy. She is also responsible for setting up long-term physical and mental health care for these victims.

In the last interview, she stated that one in three women will be assaulted in their lifetime, but less than 20% of victims report the rape immediately. Many suffer with increasing symptoms and then are seen. Some never speak up at all.

There is no other crime that I can think of where the victims are so reluctant to report the crime. Further, a society that believes in the rule of law is poorly served when so many criminals are allowed to commit a serious crime and yet are not held accountable. Imagine, for example, how emboldened car thieves would feel if they knew less than 20% of the thefts would be reported. 

Rape is rarely a crime committed in dark alleyways by strangers. In fact, 85% of rapes are committed by people who know the victim. This suggests that the poor reporting of rape emboldens rapists to assault women they know, largely without fear of any legal consequences. While children are most commonly raped by family members or friends of the family, adult are most often raped by current or past partners, or acquaintances and friends. 

One of the rapes with a great deal of stigma is the rapes by present partners. Many don't see how a present partner can be a rapist. To explain, Dr Sampsel says: “Think of cake. You like cake. But if someone shoves it in your mouth and forces you to keep eating until you feel sick, that would not be OK.” 

The other way to look at this is that rape is assault. If a partner, past or present, or a friend beat a person till they were bloody, breaking their nose and perhaps a few limbs, this would be considered unacceptable in civil society. Assault that is physical, but not sexual, is viewed as unacceptable. Sexual assault should be equally unacceptable. 
When a victim reports a rape, or a series of rapes, the response they encounter can make them walk away and not finish the report. Dr. Sampsel explains that there is often a stereotype of how a rape victim should behave: upset and crying.  

However, the reality is that victims display many behaviours. Some are so upset that they are closed off, unable to make eye contact or articulate what happened. Others, will be angry and in ‘protester’ mode, trying to get justice. Some can even look fairly normal, reporting as factually as they can about the incident or multiple incidents.

Add to this the fact that trauma can make victim forget details, the report itself can appear incoherent and less trustworthy. 

Dr. Sampsel points out that, “People are pretty savvy about when they are not believed. If you give someone the ‘I don't believe you vibe’ then they can be done with the process.”
Which brings us to the process itself. It is long and difficult. Completing the evidence kit takes about 2-4 hours. Every sample must be labeled, dated and gathered in a way that maintains the chain of evidence. Also, many of the samples are gathered from places that we think of as private and, if there are lacerations, this can also be painful.

After the history is taken and the samples are gathered, the victim is often faced with the reality that it isn’t safe to return home. If the rapist was a present partner or past partner with access to the victim’s home, either going to a shelter or staying with family or friends helps. Even if the rapist is a friend or acquaintance, their knowledge of where the victim lives could make it unsafe for them to return home. 

Many cities have a victim service, which provides everything from cell phones to volunteers - who will drive victims to their own home to pick up personal belongings, and help them get to a shelter.

If charges against a rapist are laid, they often get 12-18 months in jail. If a weapon was used or there was an attempt to murder the victim, the jail term could be longer. When the rapist is released from jail, the victim is vulnerable to retaliation from the rapist and may get a restraining order.

Does the punishment for rape fit the crime? Jail is certainly punishment. And the rapist must register as a sex offender and this limits the jobs they can get. Perhaps the biggest part of all this is that the rapist learns that they cannot rape with impunity. Rape is a crime. Punishing criminals is not merely about each individual criminal, it is also about deterring future criminals. If every rapist truly feared jail time, the stigma of being a registered sex offender and limited employment opportunities, perhaps one third of women wouldn't face the ordeal of being raped in the first place. 

21 April 2018

Mean Girls


A few weeks ago I posted a column about female protagonists ("Let's Hear It for Heroines"), and in putting together my list of those I was a little surprised at how few female heroes have been featured in novels and movies. The same thing goes for female villains, but even more so--Hollywood doesn't seem fond of casting a woman as the bad guy. But I'm fond of those in the following list. I've ranked these evil folks backward, by the way, from least creepy (#25) to most creepy (#1). My opinion only.

NOTE: Evil, in this case, doesn't necessarily mean criminal. It means those who scared me the most. How many of these do you remember?


25. Eleanor Shaw (Angela Lansbury) -- The Manchurian Candidate

24. Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) -- Body Heat

23. Bellatrix Lastrange (Helena Bonham Carter) -- Harry Potter

22. Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) -- Snow White and the Huntsman

21. Winifred Sanderson (Bette Midler) -- Hocus Pocus

20. Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) -- Maleficent

19. Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) -- Friday the 13th

18. The White Witch (Tilda Swinton) -- The Chronicles of Narnia

17. Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) -- Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

16. Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek) -- From Dusk to Dawn

15. Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) -- Sunset Boulevard

14. The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) -- The Wizard of Oz

13. Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) -- Gone Girl

12. Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter) -- Play Misty for Me

11. Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) -- Monster

10. Ellie Driver (Darryl Hannah) -- Kill Bill

9.   Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis) -- Natural Born Killers

8.   Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) -- Rebecca

7.   Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone) -- Basic Instinct

6.   Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) -- Mommie Dearest

5.   May Day (Grace Jones) -- A View to a Kill

4.   Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) -- From Russia With Love

3.   Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) -- Fatal Attraction

2.   Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) -- Misery

1.   Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) -- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest


Following up on that, here are ten female antagonists who weren't all that scary to me--but I just didn't like 'em. At all. I've ranked these from the least unlikable (#10) to the most unlikable (#1):


10. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) -- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

9.  The Warden (Sigourney Weaver) -- Holes

8.  Miss Hannigan (Carol Burnett) -- Annie

7.  Mama Fratelli (Anne Ramsey) -- The Goonies

6.  Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) -- The Help

5.  Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) -- The Graduate

4.  Regina George (Rachel McAdams) -- Mean Girls

3.  Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) -- Working Girl

2.  Cinderella's stepmother (Cate Blanchett)--Cinderella

1.  Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) -- The Devil Wears Prada



These lists don't include, of course, bad girls who are likeable--Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway), Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis), Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon), etc. But audiences are expected to like them: they're protagonists, not antagonists.

I also left out good/bad shapeshifters like Regan McNeil (The Exorcist) and Carrie White (Carrie), villains from TV series--Cercei Lannister (Game of Thrones), Sister Mary Eunice (American Horror Story), and a bunch of meanies from Buffy the Vampire Slayer--and animated female villains like Cruella de Vil (101 Dalmatians) and Ursula the Sea Witch (The Little Mermaid). And so on and so on.

As usual, I've included only characters from movies I've actually seen, which leaves out a lot of candidates. Who are some of your favorite female movie villains? Also (he asked, holding up a gender-equality sign), have you featured women as villains in your own writing?

I have. And it's fun.

18 April 2018

Five Red Herrings 9


1. Little gun, big noise.  This weekend saw the announcement of the finalists for the Derringer Awards, presented by the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

Once again, it was a good year for the Notorious SleuthSayers Gang.  In the Flash category Travis Richardson was shortlisted for "Final Testimony," which appeared in Flash Fiction Offensive (ed. Hector Duarte, Jr. and Rob Pierce, July 10, 2017) and Elizabeth Zelvin scored for "Flash Point,"  in A Twist of Noir (ed. Christopher Grant, March 20, 2017).

Paul D. Marks is a finalist for the Novelette zone with "Windward, from Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea  (ed. Andrew McAleer and Paul D. Marks, Down & Out Books, January 2017)

And I made it into the  Short Story category with  "The Cop Who Liked Gilbert and Sullivan"  Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine #23, (ed. Marvin Kaye, Wildside Press, October 2017)

Congrats to all my fellow finalists, SleuthSayers or not!  


2. A Nonfutile, Nonstupid Gesture.  I recently watched the Netflix original movie, A Futile and Stupid Gesture.  Some of you may recognize that title as a line from Animal House.  The movie tells the story of Doug Kenney who (with others) created National Lampoon, Animal House, Caddyshack, and a hilarious little book-length parody called Bored of the Rings.  The flick is narrated by Martin Mull playing an older version of the main character.  ("I'm a narrative device," he explains.)

The reason I bring this flick up is that at one point Mull points out something in the movie that is not true to life and then announces that they are going to provide a list of other inaccuracies.  It rolls up the screen quickly in tiny print but you can go back at the end and read them all.  They range from "Characters A and B met in a party, not in a bar," to: "Everyone was much more racist and sexist."

I loved this.  Whenever I see a movie based on true events I wind up going to the web to see what was real and what wasn't.  (I knew that tube scene in The Darkest Hour  was fake.)  Bravo to the folks who made Gesture, which, by the way, is definitely worth seeing.

3. You call that Justice?  Lowering the Bar is a wonderful blog about the quirks of our legal system.  The most popular piece last year was the true story of a lawyer whose pants literally caught fire while he was summing up the defense of his client, who was accused of arson.  This is the sort of thing that drives fiction writers to despair, because you couldn't put it in fiction.

But I want to tell you about this piece  which has everything for the SleuthSayers audience: a mystery, law, grammar issues, snark, and Sherlock Holmes.  The main topic is this portrait which resides in the Massachusetts Supreme Judiciary Court, but no one knows who it is.  That's the mystery.  The rest comes from the newspaper quoting the Chief Justice urging the public to "put on their Sherlock Holmes’ hats " and try to figure out who is pictured.  Kevin Underhill, who runs the blog, is outraged:

So. “Sherlock Holmes” is not a plural noun—unless you’re talking about several men named “Sherlock Holme.” If such men exist, and they have hats, and you collected the hats of more than one such man, then, my friend, you would have in your possession “the Sherlock Holmes’ hats” (that is, the hats of the men named “Sherlock Holme”). “By Socrates’ beard,” you could say then, “I have here all the Sherlock Holmes’ hats!”

4. Comic Sans and Brimstone.  This is a public service announcement. I just want to warn you do not go to the website Clients From Hell.    It is a hilarious time suck.  Anonymous people (mostly graphic designers)  report on horrifying encounters with horrifying customers. Here are some of the main categories (as judged by me).
The vague: "Make it more modern and traditional."
The clueless: "I can't find the ENTER button on my screen."
The Arrogant: "My friends  at NASA says this is a terrible website design."
The Holy: "We won't pay you but you will be working for God."
The Unholy: "Take out the pictures of Black people.  Our customers are White."
The Crooked: "Just copy it off our competitor's website."
The Greedy: "You're a freelancer.  I thought that meant you worked for free."

Stay away from this page, I beg you.  It will consume many hours of your life.

 5. Stop the Presses!  Do you remember how in newspaper movies they would announce that they had to stop everything and tear out the front page because of breaking news?

I had to throw out the last item I had set up today because it was just announced that my book WHEN WOMEN DIDN'T COUNT has won the Lane/Saunders Memorial Research Award.  That's the big prize for scholarship in government information.  The Government Documents Round Table said a bunch of nice things about the book here.  I would be happy to say some nice things right back.