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

02 September 2020

Who is Guarding Your Threshold?


Years ago I explained that the creative process requires two parts of your brain: the Miner (who digs up ideas), and the Jeweler (who turns them into something pretty, or at least sellable).

For the last few days the Miner has been screaming in my ear.  I'm not sure what he wants but it does not pay to ignore him.  (He gets lazy if he thinks you are ungrateful.)  So I am going to use this space to  talk about the subject that seems to be fascinating him at the moment. 

It began when I had the privilege of speaking to Malice in Memphis, a writer's group in New Hampshire.   (Okay, it's in Tennessee.)  You can watch it on Facebook The subject was short stories.

Our own Michael Bracken was kind enough to attend and during the Q&A he mentioned Blake Snyder's Save the Cat Beat Sheet, a template for plot structure.  I had never heard of it but I have since looked it up and it is quite interesting.  I recommend it.

Not surprisingly, Snyder's template reminded me of another plot outline with which I am more familiar: the Hero's Journey, as explained in Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces, which I also recommend.  (And when you finish it you will want to buy The Hero With an African Face, by my friend Clyde Ford.  It fills in a part of the canvas Campbell left mostly blank.)

Campbell uses mythology from around the world to synthesize the key elements of the hero myth.  It is important to realize that virtually no story will have all the elements; the variations are part of what makes them so interesting.  All the stations of the journey are worth pondering, especially for a writer, but  the part that the Miner has been obsessing over since Saturday is the Threshold Guardian.

So what the hell is that, you may ask.

Well, it's like this.  The hero (and it could be male or female.  I'm going to go male throughout because most of the examples that popped into my head are boys) is summoned to adventure (by a client knocking on the office door, scavengers selling droids, a white rabbit with a pocket watch...).  But in some stories before his journey can truly begin there is an obstacle in his way, guarding the threshold he must pass.  This may be a person, an object, or even an emotion (like self-doubt) but until he defeats it, the hero is stuck.

To get metaphysical, the threshold guardian is the champion of the unchanging world which the hero is destined to change.  The guardian's mission is to stop the quest before it even begins.

In Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, think of Vernon Dursley trying to keep Harry from reading an invitation to attend Hogwart's School of Magic (what Campbell would label the Call to Adventure).

 



My novel Greenfellas is about a Mafiosi who decides he needs to save the environment.  The first obstacle he faces is his boss, the capo dei capi,  who forbids his getting involved in such a ca
use.  "We aren't the good guys," he insists.  Before my hero can proceed he needs to find a way to work around the head man.

By the way, if the hero defeats the Guardian he may turn into a strong ally.  Think of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride.

I am currently working on a short story which begins with my hero (literally) stumbling over a corpse.  I think the threshold guardians are the police detectives who don't want him screwing up their investigation.  But maybe things will turn out differently.

Is that story what the Miner is trying to talk to me about?  Dunno.  Sometimes he provides the answers years before I find the question.  But the important thing is to keep listening.

 

28 March 2020

Why Writing a Cozy Murder May Kill Me


For most of my author life, I have written mob capers. (Okay, there was that trilogy of ribald sexy fantasy that started my career, but surely that’s in my past. At least, that’s what I tell the priest.)

There have been seven of them. (Mob capers. Not priests.) An eighth will be coming, but in the meantime, my publisher wants me to write a cozy mystery. “You’re already writing comedy,” she said. “This is merely a different sub-genre. And cozies have a HUGE audience in the States.”

More than capers, she not so subtly pointed out.

I know about cozies. Some of my best friends write them. These are authors who can somehow do without sex, violence and profanity in their writing lives. My protagonists are not that sort of people, at least by choice, but I digress.

Thing is, if I was going to write cozies, I was going to have to clean up my language. It may come as a surprise, but mob caper characters don’t actually say, “Golly” and “Goodness me” when they get hit with a chunk of lead.

So as I embarked upon project clean-up, I pulled from my past, aka my dad’s side, which is firmly British. (As opposed to my mother’s side, which had bases in Sicily and The Hammer. ‘Nuf said.)
Most cursing in our house was Brit. I grew up on a steady diet of colourful West Country language.

However, this was a cozy, so I played it light. Even that didn’t work with my publisher.

The first word to go was Pits. “Pits!” Penelope yelled.

Publisher: “What is Pits? Nobody in the States will know what you mean. Use Rats.”

“Rats,” Penelope yelled, while closing the car bonnet.

That didn’t work. I tried again. It got worse.

Soon, ‘bloody’ and ‘bugger’ were off the table.

Me: “Really?”

Me (throwing arms in the air): “I’m Canadian.”

“But they don’t know that,” she said, as if that were some sort of naughty secret we had to keep.

I retreated to Rats and Holy Cannoli.

But problems resurfaced quickly. “You’re a cow!” said Peter.

Publisher: “You can’t use cow. It sounds…”

Me: “Too trashy?”

Publisher: “Bestial. And with respect to the current scandals in Hollywood and DC…“

Me: “Gotcha. Not suitable for a cozy.”

It didn’t end there. Other phrases came under the knife. My whole vocabulary was at stake. Thing is, every non-naughty British expression seems to be…well…so much more expressive than the American equivalent.

“You filthy swine!” is much cooler than “You dirty pig!”

“Damn and blast!” really rocks it over “Darn and boom!”

It’s taken a long time and a lot of soul searching, but I may have come up with a solution to this whole cozy language problem. Something my publisher should be happy with, that isn’t a four letter word, and that shouldn’t offend the clergy. Not only that, it pretty well tells the tale.

“Curses!” said Penelope.



Melodie Campbell does her cursing south of Toronto. She was hardly ever a mob goddaughter, at least not recently. You can buy The Goddaughter and the rest of the series on Amazon.com and all the usual suspects.

Melodie Campbell
Winner of the Derringer and Arthur Ellis Awards
"Impossible not to laugh." Library Journal review of THE GODDAUGHTER

23 December 2017

Writing Comic Crime, and the Rule of WORST THING


by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Leading up to New Year’s, here’s a short list of THINGS I HAVE LEARNED IN LIFE:
  1. Men called Raoul are to be avoided. Especially when you are married.
  2. Coffee can solve a lot of problems, but it doesn’t help you sleep.
  3. It is a really bad idea to make financial decisions after finishing an entire bottle of cheap wine. (Okay, even expensive wine.)
  4. If it sounds like a stupid idea, it probably is.
  5. Never EVER go easy on your protagonist. In fact, invoke the rule of WORST THING.
My name is Melodie Campbell and I write comedies. I came by this honestly, in an attempt to avoid being serious. Most of my life, I have tried to avoid being serious. (Which is why I was a dismal failure as a bank manager. That’s another blog – yup, a comedy. But I digress…)

So far, it’s worked. THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE is one of thirteen non-serious books by this author.

But here’s a secret: writing non-serious is serious hard work.

HOW DO WE DO IT?

Comedy writers take a situation, and ask themselves ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen now?’ And then, ‘what’s the funniest?’

In THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE, Gina discovers that her weasel cousin Carmine has switched real gems for fakes while he was babysitting her jewelry store. The lousy rat! Now, some of her best clients are walking around with fake rings on their fingers. Her rep is seriously on the line if anyone finds out. What’s a girl to do?

Mastermind a bunch of burglaries to steal back the fakes, of course. She is the reluctant Goddaughter of the local mob boss, after all.

So let’s invoke the rule of Worst Thing. What’s the worst thing that could happen to Gina when she breaks into houses? She could get caught by the cops. Or shot as an intruder. But that would end the story pretty quick, and we don’t want that.

Also, I don’t want ‘worst thing’ all the time. This is a comedy. We need a balance of pathos and bathos. So what’s the funniest thing that could happen?

All the burglaries could go wrong. That’s our worst thing. And the WAY they go wrong is the comedy.

Houses aren’t empty when they should be. Her accomplice is a manic critic of interior design. Everyone in Steeltown is following the antics of “their very own Pink Panthers” in the local newspaper. The more Gina tries to be invisible, the more they become a sensation!

Worse and worse. Funnier, and hopefully, funnier. And that’s my rule of ‘best thing.’

Hope your 2018 is the best year ever.

Melodie Campbell has been called "the Carol Burnett of Crime" by industry reviewers who obviously are slightly demented themselves. You can get her books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and pretty well anywhere.

05 October 2017

Born a Rebel


by Brian Thornton

"She picked me up in the mornin'
And she paid all my tickets.
And she screamed in the car,
And left me out in the thicket.
Well, I never would have dreamed
That her heart was so wicked.
Well, I'm goin' back tonight,
'Cuz it's so hard to kick it."

                        –Tom Petty, "Rebels"

"It was nearly summer,
We sat on your roof.
Yeah, we smoked cigarettes,
And we stared at the moon.
And I showed you stars
You never could see.
It couldn't have been that easy
To forget about me."

        -Tom Petty, "Even The Losers"

Someone a whole lot more articulate than I once said, in effect, that art was simply stepping into the spotlight and telling the truth. By that definition, rock icon Tom Petty, who died Monday at age 66, defined "art."

Petty probably wouldn't have cared for that description. Not a pretty face, uninterested in cultivating either connections or an artist's image, Tom Petty died counting the likes of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, Jackson Browne, Roy Orbison (until his death), George Harrison (ditto), and many, many others as friends and collaborators. It was an irony worthy of a Tom Petty song.

And it was a long, long road from his origins in Gainesville, Florida as the son of an alcoholic and abusive father who beat him mercilessly throughout his childhood. A brush with fame in the person of a meeting with Elvis Presley (who was in town to shoot a movie) during his early teens is supposed to have provided the spark that lit the fuse on Petty's towering ambition. Petty scoffed at the notion in later interviews.

"You Don't Know How It Feels"
This is not to say that Tom Petty was not ambitious. On the contrary, bandmates in the late-60s blues-rock outfit Mudcrutch marveled years later about how Petty had more ambition than native musical talent. Petty himself was known to joke about how as a lead guitarist he was actually a pretty good rhythm guitarist. He didn't play a solo on any of his albums until he laid down the lead track on "You Don't Know How It Feels" for his 1994 album  Wildflowers.

None of that mattered, though. Tom Petty's art was in the songs he wrote, and in the crystal clarity of how he envisioned them sounding in the final cut. In service of that vision he surrounded himself with musicians possessed of a particular set of chops. Two key players in Petty's long-time band The Heartbreakers were guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench.

Left-to-Right: Keyboardist Benmont Tench, Petty, & Guitarist Mike Campbell–core of the Heartbreakers' sound for decades
It's Tench whose swirling organ kicks off the iconic "Refugee" on 1979's Damn the Torpedoes, considered by many to be Petty's breakthrough album. Campbell's searing guitar leads provide the counterpoint of a call-and-response with Tench's keyboards, and hovering over it all is Petty, whose trademark wail both sells and punctuates the lines:

"Baby, we ain't the first.
I'm sure a lot of other lovers been burned.
Right now this all seems real to you, but it's
One of those things you've got to feel to true."

Petty's music contained on-going homages to the likes of country-rock stalwarts such as the Byrds (whose lead-singer Roger McGuinn, tapped Petty to collaborate with him on his 1991 "comeback" album, Back From Rio.), the Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan (another frequent collaborator, and not just with The Traveling Wilburys), Del Shannon (Ditto), and yet still managed to be strikingly original. And his lyrics dealt with universal themes usually having to do with the personal consequences springing from one's life choices.

"Refugee," his most recognizable song, is about not being a victim. Petty the child abuse survivor was many things, but never that. Other songs such as "You Got Lucky," "Change of Heart," and the above-referenced "Even the Losers" are often bitter ruminations on the cost of relationships. Still others, like "The Waiting," and "Deliver Me" are the exact opposite: hopeful, even optimistic:

"Oh baby don't it feel like Heaven right now
Don't it feel like somethin' from a dream                            
Yeah I've never known nothin' quite like this
Don't it feel like tonight might never be again
Baby we know better than to try and pretend
Honey no one could have ever told me 'bout this"

                                  –Tom Petty, "The Waiting"

"Sometimes I wonder if this is worth the trouble.
Sometimes I wonder if this is worth the fight.
I never have made my mind up about it.
I've just decided to let it all ride."

                                     –Tom Petty, "Deliver Me"


And Petty knew about fights. After suing his first record company over the disastrous deal he'd made with them (he won), he went on to immediately piss off his next one by nearly naming his latest album The $8.98 Record Album in order to keep the record company from jacking the price of his records to $9.98 in the wake of the success of Damn the Torpedoes. The record company caved, and the album (which contained "The Waiting") was eventually released as Hard Promises.

And his fans loved him for it.

When he died on Monday, Tom Petty was fresh off a 40th anniversary tour with The Heartbreakers. At 66, he had survived abuse as a child, exploitation by rapacious record companies, the destruction by fire of his large Southern California home, and the disastrous spiral of his first marriage downward into serious drug addiction for both himself and his ex-wife.

He had always come back with an answer to these big life challenges: leaving his parents' home at seventeen and decamping for California while "Runnin' Down a Dream," Damn the Torpedoes for his first record company. Rebuilding his burned-out house. And finding sobriety and love with the second wife who now survives him.

And when he was found in full cardiac arrest late Sunday, it even seemed as if he might pull back from the brink yet again, as reports of his death were initially hotly contested when they broke on Monday.

Not this time.

The refrain from the last song on Petty's 1982 album Long After Dark runs like this: "Don't have a wasted life." Looking back on his impressive body of work, it's pretty damned clear that Tom Petty took his own advice.

24 December 2016

My Christmas Wish: Literacy for All


Melodie’ll be right with ya. Christmas Eve and there I am at the shop and whadya know. In drops Santa. Seems in Brooklyn, somebody stole the hubcaps off his sleigh, knowhatimean? So just happened to have a set in stock, came in fresh this afternoon, a perfect match, indistinguishable from the originals, if you get my drift. Vinnie slapped them on while Solly helped cinch down the loot, er, gifts in the back. Solly didn’t do so good ’cause when Santa lifted off, whadya know… there’s a few items what fell off the back of the sleigh.

We was real heartbroken about that, especially when Gina and Velma walked in and gave us hell. Don’t mess with Velma. My coglioni still hurts from last year when I told her, “Baby, I got yer yule log right here.”

Gina was a little mollified when Santa sorta dropped his December issue of Ellery Queen and there was a Steve Steinbock report all about her. Well, not exactly her, but her mouthpiece. Ya got to add the word ‘mouth’ to that or she gets all unaccountably insulted. Anyways, this is what the review gotta say:
Melodie Campbell, The Goddaughter Caper, Raven Books, $9.95. Gina Gallo tries to steer clear of her family's questionable business dealings. But when she discovers the body of a local Peeping Tom in the alley behind her shop, fate forces her hand. She and various cousins find themselves in a topsy-turvy mess of missing bodies, a surplus of coffins, and geriatric misbehavior. Campbell's writing is always funny. The Goddaughter series, of which this slender novella is the fourth volume, is part of Orca Books' Rapid Reads imprint, making it a fast, fun read.
That put her in a lot better mood and she didn’t dislocate no more body parts. She thinks you might enjoy it too, maybe find one in your stocking, capisci?

— Pietro ‘the Limp’ Peyronie (as dictated to Velma)

My Christmas Wish: Literacy for All

by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl… only not so bad today)

Last year, I had the honour of being guest speaker at the Hamilton Literacy Council AGM.  This wonderful organization provides one on one tutoring to adults in Hamilton who don't know how to read.  The teachers are marvelous.  They are mostly volunteers.

The theme for the AGM was all about wishes.  Dream Big.  That sort of thing.  And so the staff came up with a brilliant idea for centrepieces for the AGM.  Each table had a crystal globe in the centre of it, like a snow globe.  Each globe had a different note inserted into the middle.  And on the note was the dream of one of the students from the literacy council.

I picked up the globe on my table. The note inside it read:

"I want to work in a store someday."

I felt my throat constrict.  My eyes started to tear.

Many of us work in stores when we are in high school or college.  It is our 'starter job' - the one we can't wait to leave after graduation from school to get the better job for which we trained.  I remember working at a mega grocery store.  Eight hours on my feet, unrelenting noise, and lots of lifting.  I was so grateful to leave it.

I thought about our student who wrote that note.  What she wanted most in the world was to become literate so she could work in a store.

Because she couldn't work there now.  She couldn't read labels.  She couldn't read sales slips.  Most stores have computers.  She couldn't read the text on the computer screen.

She couldn't even fill in the application form to work there.

Literacy has always been a cause dear to my heart.  I write a series of crime books for adult literacy students who are reaching the advanced certificate stage.  I donate all the proceeds from my book launches to the literacy council.  But at the AGM, this student opened my eyes and reached my heart.

In our society, we expect everyone to be able to read.  Jobs today require it.

All my life, I have imagined how sad it would be to be unable to read a book.  Imagine how it would feel to be unable to fill out a job application.

My fervent wish this Christmas is the gift of literacy for everyone.  May everyone in my town, Hamilton, and my country, Canada, be able to read.  May everyone in the world have the chance to learn, and may teachers and tutors everywhere continue to make it happen.

Merry Christmas to all.

12 August 2016

Requiem for a Fedora


By Dixon Hill

A good friend of mine made what will probably be its final passing from my life last week.

It was brown, beaten, dented and scuffed, frayed and holed.  It used to have a small spray of feathers sticking up from the bow round it's band, at the base of its crown.

But, now it lies in state atop a bookshelf, with our two hallowed flags, never to be worn again.

The Presidio of Monterey.


I've owned several hats in my lifetime, but only two fedoras.  One was black with a wide brim, but cheaply made.  The other was brown.

I bought the black one while in high school, and took it with me when I joined the army, wearing it all around Monterey, CA while stationed at the Presidio studying Arabic, then around Texas and Massachusetts while studying for my job in Military Intelligence, and finally around Clarksville TN, the gate town outside Fort Campbell, KY, where I met my wife when we were both part of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)

As some of you know, when I left Ft. Campbell, I had only a couple of days to clear post in order to reach the SF Qualification Course on time. I had to take a plane, in Class A uniform, from Campbell to Ft. Bragg, so my black fedora made the trip to Smoke Bomb Hill crushed in the top of my duffel bag.   And there it stayed, until I finished Phase One out at Camp McKall four weeks later.

To celebrate passing Phase I, I checked into a hotel for the weekend, and bought an expensive fedora at the only shopping mall in Fayetteville, Ft. Bragg's gate town.

That was the brown one.  I liked that hat, but always felt the brim was just a touch too narrow.  However, it was of much higher quality than my cheap black one and better constructed,  It had a silk liner, a leather headband around the interior, a stitched edge around the rim of the brim, and its felt body was thicker and better formed, less brittle-feeling.  Its ribbon was thicker, too, taller that is, than the thin ribbon around the crown of my wide-brimmed black fedora.

I wore both those fedoras for many years.  Nearly every time I donned civilian clothes, while in the army.  They accompanied me on deployments to foreign countries (crushed, once more, into my duffel or ruck), and sometimes on field problems if I thought I could get away with wearing them in place of my patrol cap or boonie hat.

You could get away with a lot if you were in Special Forces back then.  And, if you had developed the requisite SF set of "eyes in the back of your head" when it came to gauging when the brass was about to come visiting.  My buddies were used to seeing me run the demolitions range while wearing a leather jacket under my BDU uniform smock, my fedora perched on my head, on cold nights.

These days, from what I've seen and heard, Special Operations Command has pretty much programmed that sort of "unmilitary behavior" right out of SF soldiers.  Which is a real shame for us all, in my opinion. Pulling off the successful Unconventional Warfare mission usually seems to require not only tactical and technical proficiency, but also more than just a modicum of brazen insanity, tempered by a surprising touch of optimism and whimsy.  If asked why this is so, I'd be at a loss to give you scientific reason, but would probably say, "It's like adding that 'Little Dab'll Do Ya' when working with explosives.  You calculate how many pounds of explosive you need, and where to place your charges, but then you always add that 'Little Dab'll Do Ya' or that bridge you're trying to blow will probably still be staring you in the eye after your charges go off.  Add that little dab, however, and down she comes.  I have no idea why this works; I only know that this is why working with explosives in an ART, not a SCIENCE."  And it's the same with UW operations.

But, enough of that diatribe.  We're here to remember a hat.  A fedora to be exact.  A good hat, if not a great one.  But, hey! who here is perfect?  That hat kept my head warm on cold nights, and shaded on hot days, in more geographic locations than I can properly remember.  My brown and black fedoras went everywhere I did, along with my leather jacket, for as long as I served.

After I popped smoke on the army, they came back home to Arizona with me, down to the blazing desert.  There, I wore them a bit less, but still they served me well.

The black fedora was too cheap to last long in the desert air, literally coming unglued while my oldest son played Indiana Jones one day.  But, the brown one stood the test of time.  In fact, I wore it quite a bit around the conference at Left Coast Crime in Phoenix earlier this year.

It served me as clothing and decor, as well as acting as costume and plaything for all three of my kids (a fedora makes a pretty mean Frisbee when needed).  Thus, I heard a catch in my daughter's voice, last week, when she called, "Patta!" from the laundry room adjoining the patio on our new house.

I found her standing there, before the washing machine, holding what looked like a soggy, thick paper towel spindle in both her petite hands.

It was my brown fedora, crushed into a tube shape. Soaking.  Crumpled.  Shrunken.

Somehow, it had gotten mixed in with the dirty clothes, and my wife had accidentally tossed it into the wash.

I'd seen the hat in bad shape before, so I punched the crown back up, pulled the hat back into shape, and pushed an approximation of the right dent into the top.

But, when I parked it on my head ... felt like I was wearing a yarmulke!

My hat had shrunk beyond recoverability.

And, thus, this post: Requiem for a Fedora.  (Or, drink a beer and call it a wake!)


See you in two weeks!
--Dixon




06 November 2014

What Were They Thinking?


by Eve Fisher

As you all know, I do some volunteer work in the local penitentiary with the Alternatives to Violence Project (I promote that wherever I can!). Anyway, over the course of the last few years, I have learned that there are very few Moriaritys, Zecks, Penguins, or Lex Luthors in the criminal world. (There ARE lots of jokers, just not with a capital "J".) But of course, you will argue, they are the ones that got caught. True. And how did they get caught? So often, sheer stupidity.

The convicted felon on parole who posted a picture of himself on Facebook holding a gun and a beer: apparently it never occurred to him that his parole officer might keep track of social media.

University of Pittsburgh Professor Robert Ferrante is currently under arrest for poisoning his wife by giving her creatine (supposedly in hopes of stimulating egg production) that was either laced with or was really cyanide. Okay, clever, in a creepy sort of way: but he ordered the cyanide on-line, asking for overnight delivery, using his own credit card. I can hardly wait for the first Apple wallet poisoner… Hint to future poisoners - cash only.

Speaking of things you should never do - never try to sell drugs over the phone to total strangers. A Florida teenager tried this in 2007, when he got a wrong number and still offered to sell the person drugs: trouble was, he'd called the home number of a Florida cop. You can guess the rest.

I've always loved the Loomis Fargo Brinks robbers - David Scott Ghantt, Kelly Campbell and Steve Chambers - who from the get-go were out to get each other. Chambers always intended for Ghantt to take the fall, and, using Campbell as the intermediary, Chambers assumed that the FBI would never connect him to Ghantt or to the robbery. Ghantt was, indeed, the obvious suspect from the beginning. But what gave Chambers away was a massive spending spree that began with moving from his mobile home to a luxury house, and went on to include a BMW and a velvet Elvis painting. (As Jeff Foxworthy says, "You can't give red-necks money.") Campbell was also brilliant, going to the local bank and asking, "How much can I deposit before you have to report it to the feds? Don't worry, it isn't drug money." Hint: don't ever ask this at a bank. Look it up on-line. On someone else's computer.

Also, keep track of your stuff. In 2011 a man named Trevor Jones decided to rob a house in Atlanta. Let us make a list of the things he did wrong:
  1. He parked his car in the driveway.
  2. He left the front door wide open.
  3. He left his keys and wallet in his car.
So when the homeowner returned and saw all that, she took the wallet and keys and called the cops. But Trevor Jones continued to do stupid stuff. When he realized that his keys and wallet were gone, he went running into a nearby pond. (No, I have no idea why.) On the other side of the pond, he broke into another house where he used their computer (bad password, I'm assuming) to log into Facebook and post various stuff. He also left behind puddles wherever he went… And, when he left that house, he forgot to log out of Facebook…

And so, full circle, I leave you, pondering on velvet Elvis, credit cards, and Facebook.

File:Velvet Elvis Presley painting.jpg

25 April 2020

How Mary Stewart rocked the Literary World and the Lives of Women like Me


When I say rocked, I don't mean 'rock on'!  Nope, I mean rocked to the core.

Since mid-March, we've been in close to lockdown here in the True North.  That has given me time to revisit old favourties and be utterly shocked by the revelations therein.

When I was a young girl in the seventies, I graduated from Nancy Drew, to Agatha Christie, and then to the masters of romantic suspense, Victoria Holt, Daphne DuMaurier and my particular favourite, Mary Stewart.

Of course I did.  The hormones were running high, and the choice of males in my classroom left a lot to be desired.  I yearned for big romance.  But I wasn't happy with romance genre books and found them boring.  This gal wanted high adventure rather than sweet attraction.  So suspense, it was.

At that young age, I didn't even know what type of man I would want in my life.  Surely not Heathcliff.  Not Mr. Darcy.  Those heroes did not reach me.  Far too brooding and sulky.

Then I read My Brother Michael.  Holy Heartbeat, Batman!  There, I found the man of my dreams and the heroine I wished to become.

Most men of my age know Mary Stewart from her brilliant King Arthur and Merlin novels, The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills.  Wonderful books.  But I'm speaking of her romantic suspense novels in this column today.

Simply put, they were revolutionary.

Readers, did you know this?  A quiet revolution was happening in fiction, and Mary Stewart was at the epicentre of it.

In the 70s, I couldn't have put my finger on it.  Now, with decades and experience later, it's absolutely clear to me why she was my favourite.

Why?  Her heroines.  These women were educated and had careers.  They were veterinarians, Latin teachers, Shakespearean actors.  They traveled solo to foreign places!

But with adventure comes mishap.  For years, I had read books and seen movies where women waited to be rescued.  Even The Princess Bride, a movie loved by so many, had a princess who relied on others to rescue her.

I wanted a princess who would pick up the sword herself.  (Even more, ditch the princess.  I wanted her to be Queen.)

Mary Stewart's protagonists had courage and resourcefulness.  They fought back when threatened.  They risked their lives rescuing large animals (This Rough Magic) and even men (The Moonspinners.)  This was not only unusual for the time - it was absolutely groundbreaking.

Second reason I fell in love with the stories of Mary Stewart:  her heroes.

These were the men I wanted in my life.  Some may find this hard to believe (stop laughing) but I have been told I am a strong woman.  I was the sort of gal who was told by profs at university that I "didn't know my place."

In Stewart's books, I found the ideal man for a strong woman.  Her heroes were my kinda guys.  Well-educated, but when things go bad, they don't walk away from a fight.  There was a primitive edge there, a peel back of civilization when the chips are down.

In Airs Above the Ground, the male lead forces the hand of the villain down on a red hot stove burner while saying, "It was this hand, I believe?"  (The hand that had previously hit the hero's wife.)

I cannot begin to tell you how sexy that is.

In My Brother Michael, the heroine is fighting hard but losing.  Her lover arrives just in time to kill a
powerful Greek criminal with his own hands in a to-the-death fight; he breaks the fiend's neck.  Of course, said male lead also happens to be a classics scholar...but hey, in the UK, classics scholars can have commando training.  An unbeatable combination of brains and brawn.


Stewart was magic for a young miss trying to be more than society expected her to.  She was magic to an aspiring writer yearning for adventures.  But more than that, she was revolutionary.

My good friend Jeannette Harrison said it best:

"I think all female crime-fighters of today owe a huge debt to Stewart.  She was one of the first writers of popular fiction to portray women who were not helpless and hysterical in a crisis."

Think about that, you superhero and comic book heroines who kick butt!  All you female private investigators in fiction today!  And give a bow to Mary Stewart, who bravely gave us those role models over fifty years ago.

Vos saluto.

How about you?  Any other authors you would also salute?

Melodie Campbell was hardly ever a mob goddaughter, at least not recently, but she writes about one.  THE GODDAUGHTER DOES VEGAS has been shortlisted for the 2020 Arthur Ellis Award 

for Excellence in Crime Writing (Crime Writers of Canada.)  You can find The Goddaughter series at all the usual suspects.

Melodie Campbell
Winner of the Derringer and Arthur Ellis Awards
"Impossible not to laugh." Library Journal review of THE GODDAUGHTER


29 August 2020

Once Again in the Bargain Bin


Since I've been in pandemic mode like everyone else, I'm doing a lot of reading, writing, and movie watching. (As if I wouldn't be doing that in non-pandemic mode.) So, in preparing for today's post, I thought it'd be fun to list a few movies that might've flown underneath your radar. We all know there are plenty of good movies that are well known (and should be) and plenty of bad movies that aren't (and shouldn't be)--but in my experience there aren't many good movies that almost no one has heard of.

I did a SleuthSayers column on this subject several years ago, based on my fondness for browsing those big four-foot-wide tubs in Walmart that contain bargain DVDs. I haven't been rummaging around in there for a while--WallyWorld isn't one of the essentials on my COVID list--but I do remember finding some real jewels in those bins in the past, and have mentioned some at this blog. Consider this an update.


A note of caution. These recommendations are my opinion only. A lot of folks, including my wife, don't agree with me about what's worth watching and what's not, in the cinematic universe.

Another note. These are not just obscure movies that I watched and enjoyed. They're obscure movies that I watched believing I wouldn't enjoy them. So they were all pleasant surprises. I'm hoping they might be to you too.


So . . . here are some outstanding lesser-known movies, with a quick note about each:



Wind River (2017) -- A local tracker joins a female FBI agent to investigate a murder on a Native American reservation. Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene.

- From Noon to Three (1976) -- A delightful and unusual western about a bank robber and a mysterious widow. Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland.

- Idiocracy (2006) -- An average guy gets beamed into a dumbed-down future and discovers that he's now the smartest person on Earth. The more I watch the news, the more I'm convinced this could really happen. Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Terry Crews.

- Suburbicon (2017) -- A George-Clooney-directed tale of regular folks involved in quirky crime. Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac.

- Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007) -- A simple jewelry-store heist takes a wrong turn. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney.

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) -- Murder and mayhem at a motel on the California/Nevada border. Jeff Bridges, John Hamm, Dakota Johnson.

The Gypsy Moths (1969) -- A skydiving team puts on a show in a midwestern town. Burt Lancaster, Gene Hackman, Deborah Kerr, Scott Wilson.

- The Spanish Prisoner (1997) -- A mystery with Steve Martin in a serious role. And it works. Campbell Scott, Rebecca Pidgeon, Steve Martin, Ben Gazzara.

- An Unfinished Life (2005) -- Love and drama in present-day Wyoming. Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Lopez, Josh Lucas.

A History of Violence (2005) -- An entertaining (and yes, violent) look at current and retired/relocated gangsters. Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt.

- Lockout (2012) -- One of only a few science-fiction movies in this list. Sort of an Escape from New York in outer space. Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Peter Stormare.

- Magic (1978) -- A chilling adaptation of the William Goldman novel. I bet I've watched this a dozen times. Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margret, Burgess Meredith, Ed Lauter.

- Motherless Brooklyn (2019) -- A complicated police drama featuring a detective with Tourette's syndrome. Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe.

- Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) -- Not only is Elvis alive, he's a resident of a haunted nursing home. Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis.

In Bruges (2008) -- One of the quirkiest movies ever made, involving disillusioned Irish hitmen. Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes.

No Escape (2015) -- An American family is caught in the middle of a third-world coup. Pierce Brosnan, Lake Bell, and (in a dramatic role) Owen Wilson.

The Last Sunset (1961) -- An old western with a lot of heart, and several good plot twists. Rock Hudson, Kirk Douglas, Carol Lynley, Joseph Cotten.

- A Family Thing (1996) -- A southern bigot discovers that he has an African American brother. Robert Duvall, James Earl Jones.

- Leap of Faith (1992) -- The adventures of a traveling evangelist in Kansas during a drought. Steve Martin, Debra Winger, Liam Neeson.




And my absolute favorites:

- The Dish (2000) -- An Australian satellite-tracking station takes center stage during the Apollo 11 mission. Sam Neill, Patrick Warburton, Roy Billing.

- Galaxy Quest (1999) -- A science-fiction comedy that is (trust me) endlessly re-watchable. Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Sam Rockwell, Alan Rickman.

- Rustler's Rhapsody (1985) -- The updated adventures of a 1940s TV-western hero and his sidekick. Tom Courtenay, G.W. Bailey, Andy Griffith, Sela Ward.

Medicine Man (1992) -- A doctor searches for a cancer cure in the Amazonian rainforest. Sean Connery and a pre-Sopranos Lorraine Bracco.




Again, your mileage will vary--but if you find yourself desperate for something to stream or put in your Netflix queue, consider giving one of these a try.

Do you have any barely-known, hiding-in-plain-sight favorites? Let me know what you think.



I'll be back next Saturday with a post about (of all things) writing.

11 January 2018

The Anthology: An Announcement


Over my previous three turns in the Sleuthsayers rotation I have discussed my experiences with anthologies. You can find those entries here (the story of how submitting to an anthology which never published kick-started my professional writing career), here (my first experience collecting and editing an anthology: a non-fiction gig that I did for hire), and here (my second, and much better, experience collecting and editing an anthology- crime fiction this time!).

This week's entry will be the final one in this series, and kicks off with an anthology-related announcement. Here it is:

Just last month I signed on with Eric Campbell of Florida's own Down & Out Books to collect and edit an anthology of crime fiction inspired by the music of Steely Dan!

I am over the moon about this project. More on it below.

First, here's a little bit about how it came about, and the role that Sleuthsayers played in it. As with so many good things, this anthology had its roots in tragedy. In other words, this all started with a death.

Back in September, guitarist, bassist, songwriter and arranger Walter Becker, died at his home in Maui, after a long illness. He was 68. Becker was one half of Steely Dan.

Walter Becker (left) on-stage with his Steely Dan partner, keyboardist and vocalist Donald Fagen

I wrote about his death here at Sleuthsayers (you can read this entry here).  I went on at some length about Becker's output with Steely Dan, and how the themes they explored in their music (and in their lyrics) were so frequently outright noirish. And I closed with this observation:

"I've often said that the music of Steely Dan would lend itself to a themed anthology of the type recently collected by Joe Clifford and centered around the music of Johnny Cash. I've even worked up my own short story based on 'Show Biz Kids,' from their Katy Lied album.

"I'm positive I'm not the only one so influenced by these masters of the bleak, jazz-tinged pop hook.

"What say you all? Anyone else written something Steely Dan-inspired?

"And lastly, adios, Walter. And vaya con dios."

I thought that would be the end of it.

And then my wife, who is my first reader and perennial wisest counsel, asked me, "Why don't you do it?" Turns out she soon had company.  Several friends asked the same thing after reading that piece.

So I took a while to think about it, all the while moving on with a couple of other things I've been working on. Included along these on-going projects was the expansion of a short story I sold to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine a decade ago into a novella-length piece of crime fiction.

Turns out there is a bit of a Sleuthsayers connection to this one as well. Friend and fellow crime fictioneer S.W. Lauden, no stranger to fiction influenced by edgy music (he's a refugee from SoCal's punk/hardcore scene), who agreed to be interviewed about his Anthony nomination and resurgence of the novella (you can read his interview here) had graciously introduced me to his publisher, Eric Campbell (who also agreed to be interviewed regarding the resurgence of the novella, and whose interview can be read here).

When I mentioned my nearly-completed novella to Eric, he asked to see it, and then offered to publish it (so I guess this is a double announcement! More on the novella in a future blog post, I promise.). It was while we were talking about the novella that my idea for a Steely Dan-influenced crime fiction anthology came up. Eric expressed interest in that as well, so I went looking for contributors.

I confess I was nervous about this part of the process. After all, I have a lot of friends in the writing community, many of them music aficionados. But it's one thing to like a certain type of music and another to write something inspired by it.

I needn't have worried. The idea sold itself.

So let me wrap this entry by announcing our proposed line-up of heavy-hitters. This anthology, entitled The Hangman Isn't Hangin': Stories Inspired by the Music of Steely Dan, to be released in mid-2019, will feature the writing of David Corbett, Simon Wood, Cornelia Read, Bill Fitzhugh, Sean Chercover, Steve Brewer, Reed Farrel Coleman, Aaron Erickson, Stacy Robinson, R Narvaez, Sam Wiebe, Nick Feldman, Pearce Hansen, R.T. Lawton, Michael Jacobs, Peter Spiegelman, Jim Thomsen, and Yours Truly.

I could not be more pleased and proud to be associated with this project, to be working with this fantastic group of writers. It is going to be so much fun!


28 October 2017

Uses for a Kindle (from a book addict) (Okay, Bad Girl)


by Melodie Campbell

Kath: Have you got a Kindle?

Me: Of course I have a Kindle!

Kath: Do you like it?

Me: It’s very pretty. It has a pink cover. And it makes a great paperweight.

Kath: But do you actually use it?

Me: I used it once as a flashlight during a power outage. Everyone should have one.

Kath: Why not get a flashlight for that?

Me: Flashlights make lousy paperweights. They roll off the table.

I am a Dinosaurette. In spite of that, I have a Kindle. It wasn’t my idea. People keep foisting them on me at Christmas. It’s the 21st century version of fruitcake.

Not only that, they multiply. The first died within months, probably from neglect (I didn’t kill it – honest.) The second was a prize from my publisher for top sales. I also have a Kobo. It was a Christmas present. It’s around here somewhere.

As you can see, I am not addicted to my Kindle. In fact, it is my opinion you have to be barking to be emotionally attached to a slab of machinery that displays words. That would be like being addicted to a printing press.

But Lord Thunderin’ Jesus, how I am addicted to books! Real books, that is. I see a pile of books on my bedside table, and I get excited. (Men, take note.)

Oh, the delight of holding a real book in your hand. The tactile feel of the paper, the visual lure of the cover… And the smell of the glue that binds each little paper together…(minty is best)

Bliss.

The trouble with an eReader is that every story you are reading on it looks and feels exactly the same. And that changes the experience for me.

I realize that a lot of people love to read on Kindles. I might even like some of them (people. Not Kindles.) But I highly suspect they are the same sort of people who actually like salad.

Thankfully, there are alternate uses for eReaders. (If you like salad, stop reading NOW.)

BAD GIRL’S USES FOR A KINDLE:
  1. Kindling. (okay, not really, despite the similar sounding name. Probably not the best way to start a fire. A Samsung phone is much better.)
  2. Murder weapon. (Whack the cheating bastard over the head with it. Continue whacking and alternately reading from 50 Shades. That should do it.)
  3. Frisbee. (see Murder weapon above.)
  4. Hockey puck (I live in Canada, eh.)
  5. Dog Toy (leatherette covers works best for this.)
  6. Fly-swatter (editor’s note: works great on spiders)
  7. Plus all the obvious uses: flashlight, paperweight, hot pad, furniture shim, bookmark, ruler, rolling pin, cutting board, door stop.
Finally, I would like to point out that you can’t decorate with Kindles. “Oh look at that beautiful bookcase of Kindles, Gladys!” said no one, ever.

Melodie Campbell got her start writing standup. People usually sit down to read her funny books. Sometimes they fall down. The latest:

27 July 2017

Anthony-Nominee S.W. Lauden Weighs In On The Novella


by Brian Thornton

As my faithful readers (BOTH of them) on this blog well know, I spent the first part of 2017 expanding a short story I sold to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine into a novella. The process of expanding an existing work inspired me to ruminate on recent revival of the novella as a viable art form. All this ruminating has been great fodder for my recent blog posts. I've talked about my own fumbling toward something resembling a process when writing a novella-length piece, even interviewed Down & Out Books' executive editor Eric Campbell about the viability of the novella (That post can be found here).

Last go-round I posted the first round of my interviews with two Black Orchid winning novella writers, fellow Sleuthsayers Rob Lopresti and Steve Liskow, on their own experiences with writing the novella (Read that one here). I intend to dig deeper with both Rob and Steve, but before doing so I wanted to add an old friend and recent Anthony nominee (for, what else? A novella!), Steve Lauden, to the mix.


S. W. Lauden
So, here's a bit about Steve, and then on to the interview:

S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series including Bad Citizen Corporation and Grizzly Season (Rare Bird Books). His Tommy & Shayna Crime Capers include the Anthony Award-nominated novella, Crosswise, and its sequel, Crossed Bones (Down & Out Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in Los Angeles.

First off, congratulations on that Anthony nomination!

Thank you! Happy to be back at SleuthSayers, Brian. I dug your last post about novellas.

Which begs the question: why a novella?

Like many crime and mystery readers, I appreciate a fast-paced page turner. A lot of things demand my attention daily, so when I carve out time to read I like stories that grab me by the throat and don’t let go.

As a writer, I enjoy the challenge of trying to write those kinds of stories for my readers. I also think the shorter form gives writers a chance to spread their wings a little. At least it did in my case.

Did you initially set to write a novella full-on, or did you decide to expand a short?

My first novella, Crosswise, started out as a short story I wrote while on vacation in Florida. Something about the white sand beaches and crystal clear water screamed out for a series of murders. The bones of the novella were all there—the crossword puzzle theme, the star-crossed love affair between Tommy and Shayna, and the retirement home full of wisecracking New Yorkers—but not fully formed. Expanding to novella length allowed me to do that and more.

So what was it about the short story you eventually expanded into a novella that made you think: “This needs to be longer”?

Crosswise was a complete 5,000-word story when I got home from vacation, but the few people I showed it to encouraged me to keep going. I took their advice and got to about 30,000 words before deciding it was done. My editor, Elaine Ash, eventually recommended it to Eric Campbell at Down & Out Books who published it about a year later.

In retrospect, which do you think is more work: starting a novella from scratch, or expanding a shorter piece into novella length? 

I was convinced that Crosswise was a short story, so it was pretty exciting to realize I might have something bigger. That said, expanding a piece that already had a compact and well-defined story arc was daunting. It can be tricky to maintain a consistent voice and rhythm while expanding the plot. Those challenges contributed to the quirky tone and characters in “Crosswise,” so I’m actually pretty happy about it in the end.

The sequel, Crossed Bones, came out in May. For that one, I sketched an outline and sat down to write a 30,000-word novella from the start. I also knew the main characters a lot better by then. So, in my my personal experience, writing a novella from scratch is probably easier.

*           *          *           *          *

Check back in two weeks when I conduct a group interview of these three terrific authors to wrap up my series of novella-related posts. See you in two weeks!

29 June 2017

Down & Out Books Founder/Executive Editor Eric Campbell Waxes Rhapsodic About The Future Of The Novella



by Brian Thornton


Anthony Nom #1
Founded in 2011, Florida indie publisher Down & Out Books has cut a wide swath through the publishing world over the subsequent six years. 2017 has seen Down & Out garner SIX Anthony nominations, including three for Best Novella.

In keeping with my ongoing exploration of the reemergence of the novella as a commercially as well as artistically viable literary form, I recently conducted the following interview with Down & Out's founder and executive editor Eric Campbell. He is an unabashed fan of the novella, and it shows.

Read on....

First off, congratulations on those Anthony nominations. That’s some great work you guys are publishing, for sure!

Thanks a million, Brian. I'm still in shock that Down & Out Books earned six nominations. It's great to know that readers are connecting with the wonderful Down & Out authors. The stories are compelling, fun, adventuresome and excellent examples of how difficult the human condition is and can be. 

It’s been conventional wisdom for decades that one of the first casualties of the advent of television was the novella format. For decades publishers have avoided it as if it were radioactive. Obviously that’s not exactly the case anymore. What’s changed?

What's changed is that our society expects fast resolutions. They don't have the time for a 100K word novel; there's too much distraction from email, the internet, Facebook, etc. I find the novella to be a
Anthony Nom #2
perfect answer. It provides the reader with a long enough read to feel it's worth their time and hard-earned money and it gives the writer the opportunity to see if they can tell their tale in less than 40K words. Do we sell a million copies? Not yet. But I continue to see sales increasing and more folks are giving them a try…and really enjoying them. One of the good things with a small press like Down & Out is that I don't have move 100K units in order to make a profit and for the author to make some good money.

What was it that attracted you personally to the novella format?

You know that comment I made about distractions? That's me. That's you. That's everybody. While I would enjoy reading the 100K word book, I just don't have time to do so. I can sit down with a novella and knock it out on a plane trip, one or two nights before bed. I am a fan of pulp novels and they really aren't long works. You don't have to overthink the story and they move quickly. If you like series then you can pick up the next book and follow the continued exploits of your favorite guy or gal. A number of writers began submitting some really wonderful novellas and I saw them as a way to reach a different audience. So I dived right in.

What kinds of advantages does the novella have over full-length novels where storytelling is concerned?
Anthony Nom #3

The single biggest advantage is that the novella has to be tight and doesn't allow for a lot of "downtime." It fits what people are watching on TV. A story can be told in a single novella but it can have a longer endgame in mind. Think Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, etc. With the novella, the writer can tell the full story but instead of the reader waiting 12 months between shows, maybe you only wait 5 or 6 months. Or hell, maybe you only wait 30 days depending on the approach taken by the writer and publisher. At the end of the day, I think it boils down to great characters. If you've got a great character, then you've got someone people want to read about. 

What do you see in the future for novellas? Is its current resurgence a fad, or something more substantial?

I'm betting that the novella can and will continue to expand. I've got several projects in the pipeline that I think people will dig. 

*          *          *

Check back in two weeks when I'll catch up with several authors (including two winners of the Wolfe Pack's prestigious Black Orchid award for best novella and Anthony nominee S.W. Lauden) about their creative process when working on this hardest to quantify of literary art forms.

See you in two weeks!