Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Jewish noir. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Jewish noir. Sort by date Show all posts

07 October 2015

In the book, from the Book



by Robert Lopresti

I have a ridiculous three stories coming out in anthologies this fall.  I wrote about one of them here and here is number two.

Last year at Bouchercon in Long Beach there was a panel entitled "Jewish Noir."  I couldn't attend but my wife did and it turned out to be about an anthology that was being planned.  Afterwards Terri talked to the editor, Kenneth Wishnia.  She asked two questions: were there any openings left?  And did the authors have to be Jewish?  Ken replied: yes and no, in that order.

Now as it happens, I am not Jewish but my wife and daughter are, so I have some familiarity with the culture.  Could I come up with something appropriate in a hurry?

I remembered one of my favorite Jewish tales, a Midrash, meaning a story the Rabbis invented to explain something odd in the Bible.   It tells of Nachshon, a Hebrew slave in Egypt who saved the day at the parting of the Red Sea.  When I first heard the tale I loved it so much I wrote a song about it.  Now I saw how I could use it as the kernel of a story for the Jewish Noir anthology.

I checked it with my two favorite experts on Judaism, Steve Steinbock and Terri.  They offered useful suggestions.  (By the way, here is Steve discussing, among other things, my song on the subject.)

I wrote fast and what do you know?  Ken Wishnia bought it.  So I am happy that "Nakhshon" (all the stories had to use the same alliteration system) found a place beside stories by Marge Piercy, Harlan Ellison,  SJ Rozan, and many others.


Here's a video of that song, by the way:


*    *   *   *

Changing the subject!  Last week I gave you 25 movie quotations.  Here are the titles of the movies, and who said each line.

Oh, remember  I said there were two movies in a row based on books by the same author, with the same character?  Parker and Payback, based on novels about Parker, by Richard Stark.

Enjoy.

1. Your mother mates out of season. - Sam "George" Francisco (Mandy Patinkin) Alien Nation

2. Get off my lawn! -Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) Gran Torino

3. You can tell, you can really tell. You must be physic!  -  Lew Harper (Paul Newman)  Harper

4. Forget it Nick... it's Sandford. - Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) in Hot Fuzz.

5. -There's no sacrifice too great for a chance at immortality.
-Yes sir. -Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart)/ Waiter (George Davis) In A Lonely Place

6. -I got a hot date.
-Yeah?  Who is she and what did you arrest her for?   - Dick Stensland (Graham Beckel) / Bud White (Russell Crowe) L.A. Confidential

7. My name? If you knew that, you'd be as clever as me. -? (Daniel Craig) Layer Cake
8. -We makin' trouble for someone?
-Yep.
Which kind?
-The forever kind.   -Uncle John (Joe Dallesandro)/ Stacy (Nicky Katt  )  in The Limey

9. You're nobody till somebody shoots you.  - Earl (Laurence Mason) in The Lincoln Lawyer
 
10. Yeah, it's always heartwarming to see a prejudice defeated by a deeper prejudice.  -Cliff (Stephen Mendillo) Lone Star

11.  My old man used to say to me, probably the only thing we ever really agreed on, was that whoever has the money has the power. You might wanna jot that down in your book. It's something you're gonna need to remember.- Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode)  The Lookout.

12. I'm the girl they rush home from.  - Simone  (Cathy Tyson) Mona Lisa

13. I think all those stories about you being dead are true. You're just too thick-headed to admit it.  - Rosie (Maria Bello) Payback

14. -How do you sleep at night?
-I don't drink coffee after seven.   - Leslie Rodgers (Jennifer Lopez)/ Parker (Jason Statham) Parker

15. -I want to see my daughter.
-I don't think that would be a good idea.
-Why wouldn't that be a good idea?
-Because we hardly dared to look ourselves. - Duane Larsen (Michael O'Keefe)/ Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson), The Pledge

16. Do I ice her?  Do I marry her?  -Charley Partanna (Jack Nicholson) Prizzi's Honor

17. I'll catch up with you guys.  I forgot my bullets.  - Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon)  Premium Rush

18. No, I do not want that in the house. That is my car gun. My house gun is already in the house. Now, put that back in the glove compartment, and don't let me catch you fooling with my guns again.  - Wynn Quantrill (William Daniels) The President's Analyst.
19. -Is life always this hard, or is it just when you're a kid?
-Always like this.  Mathilde (Natalie Portman ), Leon (Jean Reno)  The Professional

20.  Well, if the woman up there is Mrs. Bates... who's that woman buried out in Greenlawn Cemetery? - Sheriff Chambers (John McIntyre) Psycho

21. You'll never see one dollar of this money, because no ransom will ever be paid for my son. Not one dime, not one penny. Instead, I'm offering this money as a reward on your head. Dead or alive, it doesn't matter. - Tom Mullen (Mel Gibson) Ransom

22. Go ahead. Jump. He never loved you, so why go on living? Jump and it will all be over...  -Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson) Rebecca

23. Natural law. Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers. - John Rooney (Paul Newman) The Road to Perdition

24. - You ever kill anybody?
 - I hurt somebody's feelings once.  -Spence (Sean Bean) / Sam (Robert DeNiro) Ronin

25. -Where you going?
-To the Lincoln Memorial.
-It's closed.  It won't be open for another hour.
-I don't understand.
-He's an old man.  He needs his sleep.  -Luther Burton (Milton Berle)/ Girl Scout Leader (unidentified) Who's Minding The Mint?


28 February 2019

Why There Always Has to be a Virgin


by Eve Fisher

A quick rundown by yours truly of the oldest characters in storydom comes up with the following:

  • The Hero
  • The Villain/Villainess
  • The Virgin

You've got those three, you've got a story.  Oh, sure there are variations out the wazoo, and there are always extra characters:  The Hero can always use a Sidekick (from Dr. Watson to Mary Lou) or a Wise Counselor (Gandalf to Jimminy Crickets), and Villains generally have to helpers (from Orcs to gang members).  Virgins - well, somebody has to give birth to them, but that's all.  In fairy tales the mothers usually die off pretty quick.  Snow White, Cinderella, almost every Gothic Romance heroine - they're all orphans.  And even if Daddy survived, he gets hitched up to the Evil Witch, and there you go, Cindy might as well be an orphan.

So you really, really, really need a virgin.  And a virgin is always female.


“[N]o language has ever had a word for a virgin man.” 
― Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage


(1) How else are you going to get a unicorn?  They're only attracted to virgins.

DomenichinounicornPalFarnese.jpg
Wikipedia fresco
by Domenichino, c. 1604–05 (Palazzo Farnese, Rome)
(2a) The marriageable hero has to have someone to rescue, and in olden days this was always someone young, beautiful, pure and (when in serious trouble) often naked (it's okay because she's a virgin).  (See Perseus and Andromeda)

(2b) The older hero has to have someone to rescue, with whom it's no struggle to stay paternal and platonic.  Think Rooster Cogburn and Mattie Ross; Ripley and Newt (Aliens); also almost every Shirley Temple movie ever made.

(3a) The villain has to have someone to threaten, someone pure and (when in serious trouble) damn near naked (again, it's okay because she's pure).  (King Kong and Fay Wray, and every single horror movie made until today, and beyond, which leads to:

(3b) The Horror Movie - only the virgin survives.  Read the excellent Death by Sex article on how the best way for a girl to get killed in a horror movie is to have sex.)  So when you hear weird things in the night, make sure you're a virgin, and everything (might) be okay.

Kong33promo.jpg
Wikipedia;  (WP:NFCC#4)
(4) The hero has to have someone to marry, and he certainly can't marry any of the stepsisters, etc.  Indeed, sometimes the hero gets two virgins to choose from, like in Ivanhoe, where Rebecca and Rowena waited, breathlessly, for him to make his choice, but you know from the get-go it's going to be Rowena, because, well Rebecca was dark-haired and Jewish, while Rowena was blonde Anglo-Saxon, and that's the way things rolled in Sir Walter Scott's shire.
NOTE:  I remember the only fairy tale where the hero didn't choose little Miss Goldilocks was The Twelve Dancing Princesses:  instead, when they asked him which princess he wanted to marry he said, "I am no longer young; give me the eldest."  
(5) The hero has to have someone to moon over - and with that, we get to noir.


“I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.” 
― Mae West


(6) NOIR.  One thing that runs through all noir is the theme that "Love Hurts".  I mean, that's pretty much what makes noir.

There's the noir hero, who's always getting punched, kicked, shot, tortured, and generally mutilated in the course the novel/film.  But he gets back up, and after some cold water and whiskey (the noir all-purpose medication and disinfectant), he's back for the next brutality in his search for truth, justice, and his client.

All that's missing is the virgin...
Women often fare worse.  From the memorable scene in the beginning of one of Mickey Spillane's novels (I just can't remember which one it is) where Mike Hammer punches the girl and then has sex with her to the "Rip it!" scene in The Postman Always Rings Twice, it's tough being a woman in a noir novel.  Even if the guy's nuts about you, willing to kill for you, chances are you're going to get slapped, punched, raped, shot and you've got a damn good chance of getting killed or going to jail.  But at least you do get to have sex.  Often with the hero.


"Every Harlot was a Virgin once."
-- WILLIAM BLAKE, For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise


The virgins don't.  In noir, virgins are the muse of our (more or less) alcoholic detective - the victim's daughter (Lola Dietrichson, in Double Indemnity), the hero's secretary (Effie Perrine in The Maltese Falcon), the kid next door, all of whom the hero wants to keep pure, even from himself.  (I think the longest running obsession with unsullied virginity was Mike Hammer's with his secretary Velda, who had to wait a few decades for them to get together.)  They're the contrast to the slutty Gloria Grahames who give a guy what he wants when he wants it.  Just like in horror movies, one of the best ways for a noir woman to get jailed or killed is to have sex, especially with the hero.

Virgins are for marriage - or used to be.  Perseus and Andromeda had seven sons and two daughters, thereby founding the royal house of Mycenae, and (eventually) Persia.  Nick and Nora Charles.  Inspector and Mrs. Maigret.  Tommy and Tuppence Beresford.  Roderick Alleyn and Agatha Troy.  Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane (who might as well have been a virgin - by all accounts her one lover was lousy at it.)  Fruitful, happy marriages that didn't interfere in any way with the investigation of crime.

But, things are different on TV.  From soap operas to westerns, to detectives to cops, the basic theory is that marriage is boring, and while you can have a wedding it's got to end so that the hero can get on with rescuing more virgins.  Or mooning over more noir women.  (I can't help but wonder if this theory is part of the reason why Elizabeth George killed off Inspector Lynley's wife.)

This goes back a long way:   how many times did one of the Cartwrights on Bonanza get married, and she died almost immediately?  Pa Cartwright alone went through at least 3 wives, because there's the boys, and not a mother among them.   Getting engaged on that show - and many others - was the absolute kiss of death. 


“Good girls go to heaven and bad girls go everywhere” 
― Helen Gurley Brown


(7)  Climate change.  You've got to have a virgin because, as the climate changes, and there are more disasters, you're going to have to have someone to sacrifice, and the last I heard volcanoes didn't accept old politicians or middle-aged billionaires.  (Otherwise, do I have a list for them...)  Virgins it has been, virgins it shall be.





22 September 2015

Envy and Writing: Real-Life Noir


by Melissa Yi


On September 10th, Sleuthsayer Eve Fisher described her story “Presumed Guilty,” published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Detective that I am, I deduced that it was the cover story.

I thought, Hmm. Not only have I never cracked the pages of AHMM, I’ve only received one slightly personalized rejection to date. Usually it’s just a straight bounce.

I could’ve gotten envious of Eve. Seethed about Eve. In fact, years ago, I might have done exactly that.

At my book club last month, we did a round table and each picked which deadly sin personified us. I chose both anger and envy. I’m also an enormous glutton—people are always astonished how much I eat and ask where I pack it away—but I don’t feel guilty about loving food. I have, however, blown up at people and swallowed a lot of bile and worked hard to change both these traits.

First, dictionary time.
  • Envy means you want what someone else has, whether it’s a fat bank account or the perfect family.
  • Jealousy means you’re afraid of losing what you’ve got, so you monitor your pretty young mistress to make sure she doesn’t take up with her dashing co-worker.

I bring this up for two reasons. I think writers are particularly susceptible to envy because there’s no clear path, so it feels like everyone else is always getting ahead.
“[A] woman with three poems in [Poetry Magazine] had been born two years after me, which was enough to ruin my day—and I didn’t even desire to write poetry. The notion of people my age or younger having written books, some of them quite good books, was more than upsetting. I did not precisely want them to die, but, wondering why they hadn’t the simple courtesy to allow my achievements to be recognized first, I wanted them, somehow, stopped. The moral of this little story, I believe, is that it is difficult to be ambitious without also being envious.”—Joseph Epstin, Envy

Edgar-nominated writer Kris Rusch/Nelscott told me, "In writing, there is no hierarchy, which is really strange.  It's the only profession I know where we don't compete against each other. We compete against ourselves--trying to outdo ourselves.  That's because each writers' career is different.  No one career is the same as another.  So we're always comparing apples and broccoli."

Still, when Kris asked for suggestions about topics for her Freelancer’s Survival Guide, I asked her to write about jealousy. She initially said no. But eventually she did write about it, and it was so popular that it became a two-part article.

“First, let me be clear about the reasons I initially declined to cover this topic.  I think jealousy is one of the most destructive emotions in the world.  I think you can attribute more horrible things to jealousy than you can to most other emotions, including anger. I see nothing positive about jealousy. I’ve watched it ruin friendships, marriages, and professional relationships. I’ve watched it destroy careers.  I know of cases where jealousy has led to actual physical harm, including murder.” http://kriswrites.com/2010/01/14/freelancers-survival-guide-professional-jealousy/

To my surprise, the follow-up article was called “Surviving Other People’s Jealousy.” 
I don’t think I ever harmed anyone, just gnashed my teeth a bit. And no one had envied me, as far as I knew, since I was such a newbie.

I needed more advice. Luckily, bestselling author Jennifer Crusie had me in mind for this: http://jennycrusie.com/for-writers/essays/green-is-not-your-color-professional-jealousy-and-the-professional-writer/

You’re human…Wallow in it...For five minutes. That’s all you get, five minutes to be seethingly, teeth-achingly bitter.
Then think about what the person did to get what she got….
Then take that analysis of what she did and see if you can apply it to your career. Whatever it was that she did, it obviously worked. 

I noticed a common recipe for success: hard work. I could do that.

Jennifer Crusie again:
Bette Midler said, “The hardest thing about being successful is finding somebody to be happy for you.” The one thing that I have noticed about all the successful people I know is that their circle of friends gets smaller and smaller…..

Well, that’s no good.
While I threw myself into writing, mostly toiling in isolation but occasionally selling a story, I slowly, slowly relinquished my grip on envy and admired my writing friends.

Here’s one Cinderella ending. My name appears in the latest AHMM. No, I didn’t get to write the cover story. But Ken Wishnia’s Trace Evidence guest editorial appears on the cover, and the entire third paragraph describes my appearance in Jewish Noir

And thanks to our generous “You don’t have to be Jewish to write Jewish Noir” policy, I also got to collaborate with writers like Canadian author Melissa Yi, who was a joy to work with. She sent me two stories for consideration, and I ended up replying with a carefully worded email explaining that I liked the first half of the first story and the second half of the second story, and asked if she would be willing to combine the two stories along these lines to create a totally new story. That’s asking a lot, but not only was she willing to do it, after revising the two stories into one, she ended up adding a new section that gave her story “Blood Diamonds” a crack-of-the-whip sting of an ending that will linger in your mind for long after you’ve read it.

May we all live and write happily ever after.


13 May 2016

Anthony Award Finalists: Best Anthology or Collection


By Art Taylor

Last week, Bouchercon announced this year’s finalists for the Anthony Awards, and I was pleased to get two mentions on that slate: one for my own writing, with On The Road With Del & Louise (Henery Press) earning a nomination for Best First Novel (just on the heels of winning the Agatha in that category the week prior), and another on behalf of the contributors to Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015 (Down & Out Books), which earned attention in the Best Anthology or Collection category. I’m honored, needless to say, with the attention! And congratulations as well to fellow SleuthSayer B.K. Stevens, whose Agatha-nominated novel Fighting Chance earned another honor as a finalist for this year's Anthony for Best Young Adult Novel—great news all around!

Soon after the Anthony news came out, I reached out about hosting here a quick chat with the other finalists for Best Anthology or Collection:

I have a couple of these anthologies already on the shelf, and I’ll be picking up the others soon, and just wanted to offer a chance for all of us to share some information about our respective collections and the writers who contributed.

Two questions each below, and everyone’s stepping to the podium (so to speak) in alphabetical order. Join me in welcoming them to SleuthSayers today!

First, while the titles of our respective collections already might give some sense of what readers will find on the pages within, how would you describe your own editorial principles/guidelines in selecting stories for and shaping your particular anthology—or in Chris’s case, for sorting through and considering your own stories?

Christopher Irvin: Witnessing the collection come together, story by story, was one of the most rewarding aspects of publishing the book. I'd kept an assortment of lists in notebooks over the past few years of potential line-ups for a collection, but it wasn't until late 2014 (when I was seriously thinking of pitching a collection) that I began to recognize themes of family, melancholia, regret, etc., that were present in nearly all of my work. It was a revelation that has since made me step back and reflect more on my work and the decisions (conscious, or more likely unconscious) that I make in my writing. Long story, short, the selection fell in along the above mentioned themes, trending a tad more 'literary' toward the end, especially with the four new stories in the collection. It's been fun to see how my work and interests have evolved over the past few years. It's one of the reasons I  really enjoy reading other author's collections as well.


Thomas Pluck: When you're putting together an anthology to fight child abuse, it inspires all sorts of anger in the contributors. It's a subject that we don't want to think about, and when we do, it quite rightfully ticks us off. The strong abusing the weak. So the natural instinct is for writers to tackle the subject head-on, and write about it. The first Protectors anthology has many more stories about children in danger, and while it was a great success, it made for a tough read. For the second book, I specifically asked for other kinds of stories. The book is called Heroes for two reasons: it's a loose theme, and the Protect H.E.R.O. Corps is who the book benefits. That stands for Human Exploitation Rescue Operative; the HERO Corps is a joint effort between USSOCOM and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to train and hire wounded veterans as computer forensic technicians, to assist law enforcement in locating and rescuing the child victims of predators. It's a very tough job, one that combat veterans are suited for, because they have experience with the toll such a job takes. With such a heavy subject, I wanted lighter stories. And while we do have a few tales where children are rescued, the stories run the gamut from traditional crime and mystery, whimsical fantasy, historical mystery, revenge tales, horror, and tales of everyday heroism. The order was the tough part. It's a huge book of 55 stories. What I did was label each story with a colored sticky note, yellow for sunny or happy, red for rough or bloody, and blue for in between, and I arranged them like a palette. I played around until I could start strong with an uplifting tale or two, then dip to a few hard hitting ones, give readers a break, then hit them again, make them elated, then ease to a strong ending. Like a story.


Todd Robinson: I've always had the idea to do a Christmas-themed anthology. There are a couple out there, but none that feature the kind of lunatic writers that oil my gears, the writers who we published in Thuglit magazine.

I didn't do open submissions on it. I reached out to writers that I'd worked with at least two or three times each—writers who I knew would bring their own distinct styles to whatever they sent my way, and they truly outdid themselves. Considering the narrow theme of Christmas, I'm still amazed at how different each story is from the next. My guys and gals KILLED it.


Art Taylor: Murder Under the Oaks was produced in conjunction with last year’s Bouchercon in Raleigh, NC—which is nicknamed the City of Oaks and hence the collection’s title. In addition to featuring invited stories by some of the featured authors from the 2015 Bouchercon—including Margaret Maron, Tom Franklin, Sarah Shaber, Lori Armstrong, Sean Doolittle, and ZoĆ« Sharp—we hosted a contest that garnered more than 170 submissions, which first readers trimmed to 27 that were sent my way. My goal in making the final selections was two-fold: first, I wanted to include the best stories I could, obviously (which wasn’t hard, since so many of the entries in that final batch were terrific in many ways), but second—in keeping with the missions of Bouchercon itself—I wanted to represent as wide a spectrum as possible of the types of stories that fall under that larger genre of “mystery.” Many readers are disappointed is a mystery anthology doesn’t include detective fiction, so I was careful to represent that segment of the genre with both amateur and professional detectives (a police procedural in the mix, in fact). But there are lots of other types of stories beyond that: from the cozy end of the spectrum to some really dark noir, from historical fiction to contemporary tales, a bit of raucous humor here, a more poignant story there, something close to flash fiction alongside a novella, and right on down the line. Balancing that mix was important to me, and I hope attention to that helped to provide something for all readers.


Kenneth Wishnia: First of all, we adopted a generous “You don’t have to be Jewish to write Jewish noir” policy, which turned out to be prophetic (and how Jewish is that?), because the collection includes stories by a diverse group of authors, including Asian-Canadian author Melissa Yi, Los Angeles’s own Gary Phillips, luminaries as Marge Piercy and Harlan Ellison, and self-professed survivors of Bible Belt redneck culture, Jedidiah Ayres and Travis Richardson—both of whom have been honored for their contributions: Jed’s story “Twisted Shikse” was selected for a forthcoming “best crime story of the year” anthology and Travis’s story “Quack and Dwight” has been nominated for the Derringer and the Anthony Awards. Mazl tov!

I also stressed that submissions did not have to be textbook “Noir with a capital N,” and so we ended up with stories depicting the Holocaust, cynical Jewish humor, the passing of generations, the Golden Ghetto phenomenon, child sexual abuse in the insular Orthodox communities of Brooklyn, anti-Semitism in the mid- and late-20th century United States, and the broader contradictions of ethnic identity and assimilation into American society.

Sounds pretty noir to me—even without the obligatory doomed detective and femme fatale slinking around dark alleys.


Second: There’s a whole range of different ways to tell a story, of course—but are there certain elements that consistently stand out to you as the hallmarks of a great story?

Christopher Irvin: Make me care, right? That's the bottom line that every editor wants. I need to empathize with characters—good, bad, ugly—no matter how long or short the work, I need to want to come along for the ride. My time spent editing for Shotgun Honey had a major impact on my writing to this end. Much of my writing, especially in Safe Inside the Violence, involves indirect violence or characters on the periphery of violence. Perhaps the run up to a seemingly normal encounter in their everyday lives.

There is a 700 word limit at Shotgun Honey. Authors need to bring it from the first sentence if they want to succeed. Often this results in an immediate violent encounter to up the stakes and keep the story moving. While this can be (and has been) done very well, reading these stories, learning from these stories, pushed me to go in a different direction. 


Thomas Pluck: My own writing, I write what interests me, what terrifies me, what angers me. I go for extremes, life-changing experiences, the things I would never want to discuss in public. It forces me to put my heart into it, and that resonates. While editing anthologies, I have to tone down my relentless inner critic, and just try to enjoy them. If I do, they go in the "good" pile and I think what could make them better, if anything. I have some legendary authors in here like David Morrell, Joyce Carol Oates, Harlan Ellison, Andrew Vachss. I didn't edit those stories, obviously. If there were typos in the manuscript, we corrected them together. There are a few authors who have their first publication here, who needed a little editorial help for clarity. That's my mantra: clarity, economy, then art.

What makes a great story? For me, I lose myself in them. The characters, the world, the story itself, they can't be ignored. Harlan Ellison's "Croatoan" is one. It begins with a scene so real, then descends into a nightmarish dream world, like the character is spelunking in his own subconscious. "Placebo" by Vachss is another, so spare, like a folktale. Not a word wasted. Some writers have that gift, a voice that draws you into their world. You either have it or you don't, the best we can do is trust the voice we have and let it do the work.


Todd Robinson: For me, it always starts with a great character voice and their arc within. If I don't care about the characters, why in sweet fuck-all would I care about their story?


Art Taylor: In the fiction workshops I teach at George Mason, I often quote John Updike on what he looks for in a short story: “I want stories to startle and engage me within the first few sentences, and in their middle to widen or deepen or sharpen my knowledge of human activity, and to end by giving me a sensation of completed statement.” That may sound kind of broad, but it strikes me as solid criteria—and solid advice for writers too in crafting their own stories. A couple of words I come back to time and again are compression and balance. In terms of compression, I look for stories that start as close to central action as possible (the conflict hinted at right there in the first paragraph or first line) and then rely on sharp and suggestive details rather than lengthy explanations—glimpses of larger lives and bigger stories beyond the edges of the page. Balance can refer to many things: between character and plot, for example (each informed by the other), or between beginnings and endings—especially in terms of endings that seem both surprising and inevitable in some way, as if every line, every word, has been building inexorably toward where the story ends up. When a writer can manage compression and balance—and then entertain all along the way… well, that story is a keeper, for sure.


Kenneth Wishnia: I was looking for the same elements that I look for in a great novel: vivid, compelling writing (Reed Farrel Coleman’s “Feeding the Crocodile,” which is up for an ITW Thriller Award for Best Short Story), a suspenseful set-up that engages the reader right away (Charles Ardai’s “Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die”) or a non-traditional story that makes me laugh at life’s absurdities (Rabbi Adam Fisher’s “Her Daughter’s Bat Mitzvah”). Some authors hit the trifecta (David Liss’s “Jewish Easter”), but I would have accepted any combination of two out of three, or even just one if the author really nailed it.


A quick final word from Art: Do check out all these anthologies yourself—and look forward to seeing everyone in New Orleans later this year!




21 October 2015

Bouchercon: Good golly, I miss Raleigh


by Robert Lopresti

So, I spent a week in beautiful Raleigh, North Carolina.  We tacked on a few days before Bouchercon to attend the launch party for Diane Chamberlain's new book.  As I have mentioned here before my sister is a terrific novelist who happens to live near Raleigh.  This was her first Bcon, and I am happy to say she enjoyed it.

It was at least my sixth (New York, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Long Beach...I think that's it) but I enjoyed it too.  Among the highlights were meeting two SleuthSayers for the first time: John Floyd and B.K. Stevens, and saying hello again to three more: Art Taylor (see proof on the right) , R.T. Lawton, and Barb Goffman.

Last year I reported that one of the highlights was the Author Speed Dating Breakfast, which I attended as a reader.  This year I was back as an author.  I was paired with Craig Faustus Buck, a fine short story artist whose first novel has just come out. (He's the guy brandishing the book in the foreground.) At every table we each had three minutes to explain to the breakfasters why they would absolutely love our books.  Then a bell would ring and we would jump up and charge off to the next table.


What struck me as most interesting about this was the way Craig and I each changed our patter as we went.  Both of us saw what got a good reaction and what got blank stares and by the end of the two hours we had our pitches down perfectly.  At one of the last tables I suggested that for variety we should each do the other's speech, since we had heard them so often.  Cooler heads prevailed.

Every author attending the Speed Dating Breakfast was required to bring "swag," defined here as something for the attendees to take away.  This ranged from candy to magnets to band-aids printed with the book covers to pouches of lavender to book marks.  Congratulations go to Cate Holahan for the cleverest booty of all: a folder to carry the rest home in!

Kenneth Wishnia, Washisname, and Jason Starr, as photographed by Peter Rozovsky
Another highlight was the panel celebrating the anthology Jewish Noir.  Editor Ken Wishnia led us in a discussion of such subjects as the connection between angry prophets of the Hebrew Bible with  hardboiled private eyes (they all rail against corrupt society, for one thing), and the link between Jewish outsiderness and the noir sensibility.  Ken also discussed the importance of not including every Jewish food you know in every meal in your story.  Not get for your cholesterol or credibility.

I was proud to be one of the contributors to Murder Under The Oaks, the second Bouchercon anthology.  The eighteen or so authors who were present formed an assembly line, signing copies for hundreds of people who apparently failed to get the publishing industry's email explaining no one reads short stories anymore.

I even attended some panels I was not on.  (You may think that's a joke.  The biggest problem at Bouchercon is Buyer's Regret.  Whatever you choose to do, and no matter how much fun it is, you will wonder if you should have been doing something else... so I skipped a panel on short stories to have tea with SJ Rozan, one of my oldest writing buddies, for instance.  Can't clone myself yet.)

There was a panel on pairing your protagonist with the right antagonist.  Most of the participants denied that their books had typical antagonists at all.  Someone asked whether the writers had ever met anyone they considered truly evil.  The two who immediately replied that they had were Mark Pryor (a prosecuting attorney) and Diane Chamberlain (a former psychotherapist).  I guess they would know, huh?

There was a wonderful panel in which masters were asked which classics of the genre influenced them.   They all digressed into the non-classics they loved as well.  Bill Crider said: "I love the old sleazy paperbacks where the titles all ended in exclamation points."  Lawrence Block replied that he had always wanted to sell that company a novel titled One Dull Night!

Other highlights included meeting some of my favorite mystery writers for the first time: Margaret Maron, Chris Muessig (look to the right), Sarah  Shaber, Reed Farrell Coleman, Richard Helms, Bill Crider, and Jack Bludis, to name too few. 

I had another favorite moment but I can't tell you about it, because, heh heh, I will put it into a short story in the near future.  So you will have to wait until I get it written, edited and published.  Three, five years max.

Okay, this is getting too long.  Next time I will give you my inevitable collection of quotations from the festival, and I will offer one complaint about my favorite book convention.

27 August 2018

Crime in Translation


Introducing special guest Ken Wishnia…
Part of the Bcon panel:
Wishnia, Lopresti, and Jason Starr,
photographed by Peter Rozovsky
We have a special guest today. I first met Ken Wishnia at a Prohibition-themed nightclub in Chicago named Tommy Gunn's. It was Bouchercon weekend and the Private Eye Writers of America was having its annual Shamus banquet. Years later Ken edited Jewish Noir for PM Press and found a place in it for one of my stories. This led to me being on a panel about the book, one of my favorite Bouchercon experiences.

His novels include 23 Shades of Black, an Edgar Allan Poe Award and Anthony Award finalist; Soft Money, a Library Journal Best Mystery of the Year; Red House, a Washington Post Book World “Rave” Book of the Year; and The Fifth Servant, an Indy Notable selection, winner of a Premio Letterario ADEI-WIZO, and a finalist for the Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery Award.

His short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, Queens Noir, and elsewhere. He teaches writing, literature and other deviant forms of thought at Suffolk Community College on Long Island. He appeared briefly at SleuthSayers once before, but this is his first guest star appearance.

— Robert Lopresti

CRIME IN TRANSLATION
by Kenneth Wishnia

I was thrilled when my publisher announced their plan to bring out Blood Lake, the last novel in my series featuring Ecuadorian-American female investigator, Filomena Buscarsela, in Spanish translation. Latin American readers would finally get to read this novel based on my experiences living in Ecuador for three years, during which time so much crazy crap happened to me that I couldn’t even fit it all into one book. And I would actually get to work closely with the translator.

Good thing, too. Aside from some simple misreadings--a “flaming sword” somehow became a “famous sword,” and a beat-up old car described as a “rattletrap” was translated as un ratonero, a “mousetrap,” which is definitely not the same thing--you might never realize just how many culturally-bound idioms you use in a story, much less a full-length novel, and just how hard they might be for a native of another culture to understand. Let’s just say that most native Ecuadorians have no idea what “Super Bowl Sunday” is. We also had quite a bit of trouble finding the Spanish equivalent of “thick-bladed front-opening lock-back stilettos with good balance and throw weight.”

Can’t imagine why.

I learned some fun stuff, too, like the fact that a police APB (All Points Bulletin) is called a “descubrir y aprehender” in Spanish. Remember that: Someday it may save your life.

I learned the Spanish for “freaking” is freaking.

And you’ll be happy to learn that the Spanish title of the classic 1950s sci-fi movie, It Conquered the World is El conquistador del espacio. You’re welcome.

I also had fun working in some of my own experiences with language during the writing of this novel. For several months, I was a civilian employee teaching English to members of the Ecuadorian Army, and at one point during classroom conversation, I used the word “fear,” and they gave me nothing but blank looks. When I pressed them on it, none of them knew what the word meant. I praised them for their bravery, citing this as proof that “The Ecuadorian army does not know the meaning of the word ‘fear.’”

But it wasn’t all fun and games, alas. Ecuador is a beautiful country continually wracked by natural and man-made disasters—landslides, floods, food shortages, protests, crackdowns—and one corrupt government after another. Although these circumstances are not as life-threatening as the dangerous and destabilizing conditions that have led to so much migration by Central American refugees to the United States, such distinctions don’t matter much when these desperate people reach Long Island, where I live and work.

Several years ago, Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero was murdered by some “nice” kids from stable, middle-class suburban homes who hopped into an SUV one night and drove to the town of Patchogue looking for a “Mexican” to jump. Another Ecuadorian immigrant in the news recently is Pablo Villavicencio, an immigrant who came to the US illegally in 2008, but who never committed a crime, who is married to a US citizen, has two children who are US citizens, and who applied for a green card in February: he’s the guy who was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and held for deportation after delivering a pizza to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn.

That’s one of the things that attracts me to crime literature in the first place: it puts us in someone else’s shoes, so we can experience the shared humanity of the “strangers” among us. It poses basic questions about crime and punishment, about justice and injustice, about who gets caught and who gets away with murder. Studies have shown that reading any kind of well-written fiction, no matter what genre, increases the reader’s empathy toward others.

And we all need a little empathy now and then, don’t we?

08 March 2016

Interview with Medical Thriller Author John Burley


by Melissa Yi

Scene: book signing at Left Coast Crime 2016. Melissa Yi and Kenneth Wishnia are fighting off hordes of Jewish Noir fans. Suddenly, a six-foot-one man eases his way to the front of the line.

John Burley: I’d like to introduce myself. My name is John Burley. I’m an emergency doctor and a writer.

Melissa Yi: Are you serious? So am I. You’re the first one I’ve ever met. I’ve met other doctor-writers, but not emergency doctor-writers.

JB: Likewise.

John and Melissa size each other up and shake hands.

Kenneth Wishnia: I want to know about that thing where you take a pen and stab someone in the neck so that they can breathe.

MY: The cricothyroidotomy.

KW: Where do you do it?

MY: Between the thyroid and cricoid cartilage.

JB: Just below the Adam’s apple. You feel it?

KW nods.

MY, to JB: You ever done one?

JB: I’ve done five.

MY: Are you serious?

JB: Yes. The last one was the most challenging, because of congenital malformations and previous tracheal surgery.

MY: Holy crap. That’s crazy. [To Ken] We talk more about crics than we actually do them. So, John, tell me about your latest book. 

JB: My latest novel is titled The Forgetting Place. It's a dark psychological suspense thriller that's told from the perspective of a female psychiatrist who works at a correctional hospital for patients who've committed heinous crimes but have been deemed not guilty by reason of insanity. But there's more to this place than she suspects. At Menaker State Hospital, no one is safe for long. 

MY: And why do you feel the need to write? Isn’t it enough, to be an emergency doctor?

JB: I write for the same reason that most of us do: there's something inside of us that we have to get out. Being an emergency doctor creates more grist for the mill. There's a physical and emotional intensity to the job that shouldn't be bottled up for too long.

MY: I’ll ask you the question everyone asks me: how do you find the time?

JB: It's like anything that you love, I guess -- like any obsession you can't live without. You make time for it, make sacrifices along the way. Everything has its price. 
MY: And would you ever quit medicine, if the writing took off?

JB: I don't think so. Not completely, anyway. Being a writer is an isolated and often lonely profession. Medically speaking, emergency medicine is the antidote. I look forward to my shifts in the ER. It's a chance to help people, to use a different skill set. Also, it gets me out of my own head for a while. For the sake of maintaining one's sanity, I think that's pretty important. 
MY: Did you do any other work before emergency medicine?

JB: Yes. I was a firefighter and a paramedic. Being a firefighter was the best job I ever had. It was like something every little boy dreams about. Hanging out with my friends, racing with lights and sirens to the scene of an emergency, crawling around in burning buildings, using hydraulic tools to free people who are trapped in the wreckage of a crumpled car. Swooping in and saving the day. In terms of job satisfaction, it doesn't get any better than that.  
MY: Okay, you’re officially a superhero. Wait, some fans want to ask you some questions.

Fan #1: Are you ever going to write a series?

JB: When I finish a book, I feel like I’m kind of done with that world for a while. It’s possible, but I like doing new things with every novel.

Fan #2: Are you ever going to set a book entirely in the emergency room?

JB: It’s hard to set a 400-page book in the emergency department. I've set scenes in the ER before, but not a whole book. Besides, I spend enough time there already.

MY: Any final words you want to share with your present and future readers?

JB: Thanks for your love of books, for lending us your imaginations and joining us in the worlds we've created. You make it all worthwhile, and we love hearing from you. Without readers, it would all fall apart. Nothing else in this business would matter.

MY: There you have it, folks. The fans are craving more series, more emergency room carnage, and more John Burley. Can’t exactly blame them. If you’re super lucky, maybe you can go to a conference and have sushi with him. (In Phoenix, I recommend Harumi Sushi.) In the meantime, you can check out his books and the latest happenings at www.john-burley.com.

11 July 2017

Criminal success: Success and/or Challenges You've Faced in Writing Crime



Kris Nelscott: I’m amazed at how easy it is to find information that I shouldn't be able to find. In my Smokey Dalton series, the books are set in the late 1960s. One book, The War At Home, deals with bomb-making. I found, in a memoir by a former member of the Weathermen, the recipe for their bombs. I used a part of it, but left out several ingredients on purpose. My NY copy editor added them back in. No, nope. No. I'm not going to give anyone a roadmap into bomb-making. Or other crimes, for that matter.

Rebecca Cantrell: I love meeting readers, although I once had a reader come up to me and say: "Your mystery is so good! I bet you could even write a real book!"

Annie Reed: The challenges for me pretty much all stem from having to step inside the head of a truly bad person in order to write from their point of view. Basically putting myself inside the head of a psychopath to write from that person's perspective.  Oogy stuff. The successes come from writing something that forces me to write outside my normal comfort zone.

O’Neil de Noux: The greatest challenge was learning my craft. No one can teach you how to write. You can learn the basics, the ‘how to’, but you have to do it yourself to get it done.
Successes are few. Sales have never been big. A little recognition in the media at the start of my career was nice. The awards are certainly nice. Being recognized by my peers. My writing has been awarded a SHAMUS Award, a DERRINGER Award, the UNITED KINGDOM SHORT STORY PRIZE. Two of my mystery stories have appeared in the BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES and my novel JOHN RAVEN BEAU was named Police Book of the Year by police-writers.com.

Dean Wesley Smith: I suppose that at first I thought it would be too complex for me to figure out. Turns out, for me and how my mind works with puzzles, they are the easiest books to write.

Melissa YiMy definition of success keeps changing.

First, I desperately wanted a professional publication, because it meant that I was a “real writer” in my mind. I was good enough that someone wanted to pay me for my words.

Then I was anxious to sell repeatedly, for more money, in more magazines. 

My next skill leap was jumping from short stories to novels. I had to talk myself into it by saying, “Look, novels are just connected short stories … “

So then the next rung was selling my novels and making some money.

In 2010, my collection of light-hearted medical essays, The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World and Other True Tales From the Emergency Room, hit the Amazon bestseller lists. For the first time in my life, I was reaching lots of readers, and money hit so quickly that I ended up with a bunch of cheques in British pounds that I didn’t even have a bank account to accommodate.

Now I was ringing the money bell, certainly not to the tune of six figures a month, the way some writers seemed to, but way beyond anything I’d accomplished before or since. But it didn’t make me as happy as I thought it would. My fiction wasn’t getting the same audience, and I got a lot of blowback in the form of hate mail and vigorous one-star reviews. So I made up a new definition of success: Writing connects me with people, places, and things that excite me.

You can see my evolving definition of success here, which is sort of a writing bucket list. When I look back at it, I realize that in 2010, writing was giving me money, but no fun. Once the critics came out with their knives, I froze up a bit at writing non-fiction. 

Since then, I’ve made a point of having fun. Or at least trying new things. Probably the most bizarre thing I did was a two-day Ido Portal handstand workshop when I’ve got minimal upper body strength and rarely hang out upside down. But I also went to Los Angeles twice as a finalist for the Roswell Award, and I headed down to New York and Boston for the Jewish Noir book tour. All awesome.

However, now that I’ve had some fun and can no longer crack Amazon’s algorithms, I’d like to make a living with my writing. Or, as I put it on my bucket list, I want to be able to say, I could quit my day job and write full-time, whether or not I choose to do this.

 Click here if you want a link to all platforms.And for success, I’m thrilled to report that Canada’s national book show, CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter, chose Human Remains as one of the great summer must-reads of 2017!

(If you’d like to join the Human Remains party, the e-book's only $3.99 on all platforms. You can download it for free on Kobo with the code HRemains. This code only works on Kobo, not Amazon, and will only last until July 31st.)

Looking at my fellow writers' opinions, I see that a lot of my writing goals and dreams are very external. I don’t have a lot of control over which editors publish my work, how much money flows to me every year, or how my books are reviewed. 

I should set some writing goals that I can control, like how many words I write per week, or how many stories I submit to magazines, or craft goals, like improving my setting.

What about you? How do you define writing success and/or challenges?