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

27 June 2012

Time to get Brutal


by Robert Lopresti

I have said  before that I think the best part of writing – better than seeing your work in print, better than cashing a check, better than attending the opening of the film adapted from you book, surrounded by adoring fans in skimpy—

Sorry.  Where was I?    

Best part.  Right.  The best part is the moment of creation.  There is no idea and then suddenly, miraculously, there is.  Amazing.

Often I can tell you exactly when and where that moment happened.  I was driving down the road and a song came on the radio and – Hey!  That line is meant to be a book title – And I almost drove off the road.

But sometimes it isn’t that easy.  Take “Brutal,” my story currently gracing the September issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.  (On finer newsstands everywhere, and some lousy ones too.)

I can tell you that this story is a mash-up of a Jim Thompson novel and a Neil Simon movie, and that’s true.  But it doesn’t tell you where the idea came from.  I didn’t wake up one day and say: “Thompson and Simon!  Perfect together!”  No, something brought the two tales together in my head, and whatever that was Is lost in the swamps of memory.

So let’s talk about the story itself.  Coyle is a professional assassin, one of those guys, as he says, “who can kill you with one finger.”  He is in a big city going after a high-value target.  Things go well for a while and then, conflict being the heart of fiction, things go not so well. And that’s pretty much all you need to know about the plot.  Go read the thing.

But first, I wanted to tell you one more oddity.  A century ago Robert Benchley wrote an essay called “Mind’s Eye Trouble,” in which he lamented his lack of visual imagination.

I seem to have been endowed at birth by a Bad, Bad Fairy with a paucity of visual imagination which amounts practically to a squint...  This limitation of mine might not be so cramping in its effect if the few visual images which I have were not confined almost exclusively to street scenes in Worcester, Massachusetts, the fortunate city which gave me birth...  (I)t is not the ideal locale for the CHANSON de ROLAND or the adventures of Ivanhoe.

Benchley goes on to say that he pictures the entire history of the Roman Empire taking place in a driveway on the corner of May and Woodland Streets, while all the events in Dickens take place on the second floor of a house on Shepherd Street.

I suffered from that problem when I was a child, but as I saw more of the world I outgrew it.  But here’s the interesting bit…

I recently sold another story to Hitchcock’s, and, like “Brutal,” this one begins in a rundown office building.  I happen to know for a certainly that both stories are in the same building. 

How do I know?  Good question.  Neither the building nor the city are named.  The slim descriptions of the buildings don’t even overlap much.  But I am sure, largely because I based them on the same building I visited a few years ago.  

At this point some writers or writing teachers might try to draw a moral out of that.  Like: both stories sold because they were focused on a real place, real in my imagination and therefore vivid to the reader.
To me, that’s magical thinking.  But obviously I don’t know where my next story idea will come from or set itself (see the beginning of this piece).  So the fictional building manager should probably tighten security.

 Before I fold my tents I want to thank R.T. Lawton for reading "Brutal" in its earlier days and giving me the benefit of his advice.  The check is in the mail, R.T.  Not to you, of course, but you can't have everything.

20 May 2015

Telling Fiction from Fact


by Robert Lopresti 

(The excellent picture on the right is the illustration Tim Foley created for my story in AHMM.  It is used by his permission.  See more of his  work here.)


The Encyclopedia of American Race Riots.
 
The words above are the opening of "Shooting at Firemen," my twenty-fifth appearance in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (July-August 2015, on sale next week).  I suppose when a short story opens with the title of an encyclopedia you can safely guess that the author is a librarian.   

But that book gave me more than my opening line.  It was the inspiration for the story as well.  When I saw it on the shelf of the library where I work I immediately grabbed it up and searched the index for the city where I grew up.  I didn't find it.  And when I realized why Plainfield, New Jersey's troubles had not made the book, I realized I had to write a short story.

What I want to write about  today is how to turn actual events into a piece of fiction, or at least how I did it.


You see, the hero of my story is a grown man who was a twelve-year-old boy in Plainfield when the riots struck in the summer of 1967.  So am I.  Like him, I spent that summer working as an unpaid junior counselor at a day camp for disadvantaged children.   (That picture shows me a year later, by the way.)

There are plenty more connections to reality - for example, the scene which gives the story its title is written down exactly as I remember it.   And I reported the details of the riot as accurately as I could, without overwhelming the plot.

But that's the thing.  Real events are not a plot.  And a riot, no matter how dreadful its crimes were, is not itself the engine for a crime story, at least not the one I wanted to write.  So in the middle of the chaos that occurred - burning buildings, stolen semi-automatic rifles, one brutal murder - I had to invent a  disaster on a small scale, one that my twelve-year-old boy could have an effect on. My inspiration for that was an actual event - an injury that happened to one of our African-American counselors as he tried to sneak past the National Guard, with no more nefarious purpose than trying to get home.  I raised the stakes as much as I could, fictionalizing both the cause and effect of the injury. A few of the characters in the story are based on real people I knew back then.  The villain was inspired by someone I met years later.

I want to mention one important change I made.  Throughout the story my protagonist reports on the events of the riot objectively, as certain of his facts as an omniscient narrator.  But there is one exception.

As I said, there was one brutal murder during the riots, the death of a police officer.  I don't mention his name in the story, but he was John Gleason.  His family doesn't believe the official version of his death -- you can read about the controversy here -- so out of respect for them in the story I reported that event differently.  It begins "[My mother] told me the version she had heard on the radio."  No guarantee that it was true.


Oh, by the way.  The reason Plainfield didn't make it into the Encyclopedia?  There was no room.   There were more than one hundred race riots in America that year.  And 1967 was just one of the so-called Long Hot Summers.

I seem to have a lot to add here.  For example: a few months ago my sister Diane Chamberlain wrote in this space about her new novel The Silent Sister, and how it was sparked by one of my short stories.  This is the one she was talking about.

And one more thing.  Back in those days I used to read a newspaper column by a guy named Sydney J. Harris.  One of his columns stuck in my head - or at least I think it did.  As I recall he gave a graphic description of a horrible riot.  Then he explained that it happened, not in Watts, or Harlem, but in Ireland in the 1920s.  The Protestants were fighting with the Catholics.

"Perhaps," he said (as I recall) "in forty years it will seem as ridiculous that we fought over race as it seems now that people fought about religion."  A good writer, but not a hell of a prophet.

I hope you enjoy the story.

20 November 2019

Bon appetit!


by Robert Lopresti

This is my last column before Thanksgiving so I thought I would offer something food-related.  It's simple enough.  Below you will find ten foods (or something foodish).  Your task is to recall the crime movies in which they play important roles.   Actually two of them are from crime TV shows, but they may be the easiest on the list.

To make your life easier, they are arranged alphabetically by the title of the movie/show.  Answers are below. See you in December.  Don't overeat!

Elderberry wine.

Goldfish.

Cannoli.

A towel full of oranges.

Coffee brewed from yesterday's grounds and filter.

Leg of lamb.

Half a grapefruit.

Big Kahuna Burger.

Liver, fava beans, and a nice chianti.

Cherry pie and a damn fine cup of coffee.

SPOILERS BELOW!

Elderberry wine. Arsenic and Old Lace. 
Aunt Martha (Jean Adair): For a gallon of elderberry wine, I take one teaspoon full of arsenic, then add half a teaspoon full of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide.
Mortimer (Cary Grant): Hmm. Should have quite a kick.

Goldfish. A Fish Called Wanda.
In order to get animal-lover Ken (Michael Palin) to talk, the maniacal Otto (Kevin Kline) eats his goldfish.  By the way, the goldfish in the scene were made of Jello.

Cannoli. The Godfather.
After a brutal murder in a car Clemenza (Richard Castellano) shows his priorities.  "Leave the gun.  Take the cannoli."  Fun fact: whenever oranges or even the color orange show up in a Godfather movie, it spells danger, and probably betrayal.  And speaking of that fruit...

A towel full of oranges. The Grifters.
Mobster Bobo Justus (great name), played by Pat Hingle,  is dissatisfied with the work of his  employee, Lilly (Anjelica Huston). He threatens to beat her with a towel full of oranges, even making her prepare the weapon.   The idea is that the beating leaves no telltale bruises.  (Oh, and speaking of the color orange... not related to food, but to filmmaking; the color red shows up only once in the movie, and it's there for a very specific purpose.)

 Coffee brewed from yesterday's grounds and filter.  Harper.
After William Goldman finished the screenplay, based on Ross Macdonald's novel The Moving Target, he was told to wrote a scene for the opening credits.  Resisting the usual private eye-meets-client opening, he started with a close-up of Paul Newman's famous blue eyes.  Then the P.I. tries to make coffee and finds he has nothing left but yesterday's stuff in the trash.  One writer notes: "This coffee moment follows the character through the entire the film, haunting him. Harper wears a suit and tie, but there are old coffee grounds in his shoes, his socks, his soul..."

Leg of lamb.  "Lamb to the Slaughter."
The wife of a police chief kills hubby with a frozen leg of lamb, then roasts it and serves dinner to the investigating officers.  A classic Road Dahl short story turned into a classic episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It reminds me of Susan Glaspell's classic early feminist short story "A Jury of her Peers," since both turn on the inability of men to think from a woman's point of view.    Hitch was a well-known gourmet, of course, so I was amazed that I had to go to his TV show to find a memorable food scene.  There is even a website that points out food scenes from his movies, but I repeat my claim: no specific food gets a memorable scene.

Half a grapefruit.  Public Enemy.
Gangster Tom Powers gets irritated by his girlfriend during breakfast and smacks her in the face with half a grapefruit.  There is a ton of violence in the flick but this is the scene that became famous.  Supposedly Mae Clarke asked Jimmy Cagney to go easy on her.  He promised to do so, but once the camera was rolling...

Big Kahuna Burger.  Pulp Fiction.
Packaging for the (fictional) Big Kahuna Burger brand appears in several movies by Quentin Tarentino and his friend Robert Rodriguez, but it was in Pulp Fiction.that Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) endorsed the dish: "This is a tasty burger!"  The movie is actually obsessed with food, with characters discussing what the French call a Quarter Pounder (Royale with Cheese), visiting a 1950s-themed restaurant, robbing a diner, and getting shot over a pop tart...

Liver, fava beans, and a nice chianti. Silence of the Lambs.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter: "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."  I've always wondered how fava bean farmers felt about this odd advertisement.  Several webpages  suggest that novelist Thomas Harris gave Dr. Lecter a characteristically subtle and erudite joke.  It seems liver, beans, and wine are forbidden with certain kinds of anti-psychotic drugs. So the doc was explaining that he had been off his meds.

Cherry pie and a damn fine cup of coffee.  Twin Peaks.
During the summer of 1990 the TV-watching public went nuts for David Lynch's bizarre and highly stylized mystery series.  One memorable set was the Double R Diner where FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper would go for pie and, yes, a damn fine cup of coffee.  This could have been a throwaway line but Kyle Maclachlan really sold it, making it seem as if "damn" was the most extreme cuss word his character could imagine.

Did I miss any of your favorites?  Put them in the comments.

 

21 January 2015

All the best from me to you


by Robert Lopresti

Now comes that joyous season again when I reveal the best stories of the year as chosen by me.  This is only a slightly smaller jury than the one that which decides the Golden Globe Awards, by the way.

2014 marks sixth year at the task, and I am sorry to say that for the second year in a row my total of favorites dropped by one, this time to fourteen.  Either you writers are slipping or I am getting increasingly curmudgeonly in my old age.  I suspect the latter.

But let's talk about more cheerful numbers.  Ellery Queen is the bigger winner this time with six stories.  Alfred Hitchcock had three.  No other institution scored more than once, unless you count SleuthSayers: three of the fourteen are by current or former members of our little clan.  That's either blatant nepotism or a sign of our high quality.  Again, I suspect the latter.

Ten authors were male, four female.  One winner is a first story.

Two stories are funny.  Four are historical.  I tried categorizing by main character and gave up; too many of these people are bad guys and victims.

The lucky winners may collect their trophies in the green room.
 
Carr, Dara.  "When I'm Famous,"  in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, June 2014. 

The best first story I have read in some time. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, among the hipsters. Our narrator, Mindy, tells us she is a visual person. She has a "make-believe boyfriend," Marcus, who phones her late at night for "booty calls" and she always goes over.

One might diagnose low self-esteem. Here's another example. When Mindy spots a beautiful woman at a party, a "wallpaper artist," she writes:

...Brooklyn royalty and she knows it, the men twitching like they've been tased, the female viewers emitting a soft electric hum, brains working hard, calculating the age they were when they could have last worn shorts that length in public, let alone to a party; beaches don't count. Age seven would be my answer.

Dean, David.  "Murder Town,"  in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 2014.

My fellow SleuthSayer David Dean makes his thrid appearance on this list, with a fine story in the "Most Dangerous Game" variety.   Terry Holliday is in a Mexican prison for crimes he committed, and some he didn't.  His is not what you would call a model prisoner either.

"'Of course, you realize that should you choose to stay with us here, you will surely die," the commandante offered smoothly.  He didn't appear to be particularly troubled by the possibility.

Holliday is presented with a chance to get away from the guards and fellow prisoners who want him dead.  It seems a group of wealthy philanthropists are running a parole program for certain prisoners.  Ah, but we already know that there is a catch.  The program sends him to Murder Town.


Giolito, Malin Persson.  "Day and Night My Keeper Be,"  in A Darker Shade of Sweden, edited by John-Henri Holmberg, Grove-Atlantic, 2014.  

 After a long December day, single mother Petra is at the end of her rope, so she decides to take her children to the Christmas market.  And - boom - her four-year-old daughter disappears. 

She presses a few buttons, shakes it, but it's pointless.  Her daughter is gone and the phone won't ring and fear has to duck because now terror runs up her back, with sharp talons and pointed teeth.

This story takes unusual twists and ends with a set of plaintive questions. Well worth reading.        
    


Guillebeau, Michael.  "Male Leary Comes Home," in The Anthology of Cozy Noir, edited by Andrew MacRae, Dark House Books, 2014.

I have a story of my own in this anthology.

The Leary guy in the title was baptized Robert T.  His birth certificate calls him Male.  His friends call him Mister. 

Under any name, he was in the Navy during the War and then joined the merchant marine.  When the story opens he's back from sea and learns that his girlfriend's father is having trouble with a gang boss.   Leary and a friendly bar owner get involved and - something violent and nasty happens.


Helms, Richard.  "Busting Red Heads,"  in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,  March/April 2014.

Tommy Crane fought in World War I, joined the Boston Police, and then figured he could make more money by joining a detective agency.  But like a lot of "detectives" in the twenties his job wasn't to solve crimes; it was to bash Bolsheviks, being defined as anyone who wanted to form or join a union.  This is a part of the private dick business I don't remember anyone writing about before.

In Kentucky they get to work beating up strikers but things go bad when they attack the union office.  The wrong people die and there's a mystery to solve.   Good story.

Law, Janice.  "The Raider,"  in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March 2014.

Like David Dean, my fellow SleuthSayer Janice Law is making this list for the third time.

The story is set during the Bleeding Kansas period, a few years before the Civil War, when people were in brutal combat over whether that territory would be a free or slave state.

They were burned out on the spring of '56 in a raid that left nothing but the walls of the soddy and a few chickens that flew down out of the oak trees and pecked through the debris.  His father sat by the ruins of the new barn with his head in his hands and his face the color of ashes....


Page, Anita.  "Their Little Secret," in  Murder New York Style: Family Secrets, edited by Anita Page, Glenmere Press, 2014.

Anita Page is the editor of this book and she sent me a free copy.  It was created by the New York/Tri State Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

This is a story of a fifteen-year-old child in a dysfunctional family. Cassie, expert reader of moods and body language, figured [her parents] were minutes away from the Sunday  night fight.  

What makes this a winner for me is one sentence on the last page.  Not a twist ending, but  a neat sting that gives us a new persective on what has gone on before.

"Splitting Adams," by Percy Spurlark Parker, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July 2014.

Parker is making his second appearance on my best list.

Terry Adams is a very unhappy man.  He's not good with women and he blames it on his big brother Jerry.  Jerry is slick and smooth and always moves in on Terry when he is trying to get started with a new lady. 

It has just happened again and Terry, well, Terry is about to lose it.  A clever piece of flash fiction.

Pronzini, Bill.  "Hooch,"  in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, June 2014.

Thugs smuggling booze in from Canada during Prohibition.  Two of them are hardened criminals; the third one, Bennie, is a bright-eyed youngster who got everything he knows about crime from places like Black Mask Magazine.  In fact, he tells his colleagues cheerfully, he's writing a novel about the rum-running business.  All fictionalized of course..  Nothing for them to worry about...  The ending is perfect.

Rouleau, Bryan Paul.  "The Ice Cream Snatcher," in Thuglit, issue 13, 2014.

Sunrise thinks he's doomed, predestined to crime.  Someone once told him you never recover from bad things that happened to you before you turn three, and really bad stuff happened to him at that age.  That, he figures, is why he keeps ending up in jail.

On this particular occasion he had his friend Pedro steal a Maserati.  They get away clean but don't notice that there's somebody in the back seat.

A three-year-old boy.

What I love about this story is that Sunrise interprets what happens so differently than the reader is likely to.  An existentialist fable, because if there is doom here, it is in his own attitude.

Sareini, Ali. F.  "A Message In The Breath Of Allah," in Prison Noir, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, Akashic Press, 2014.

The author was recently released from prison.  His character, also named Ali,  has been praying to Allah for decades to be released from prison.  A weaker spirit might feel a twinge of doubt after all that time, but Ali concludes that his prayers are simply  the wrong media to get his message across.

He decides he needs to send a messenger directly to Allah.  Fortunately, he is working as a helper in the part of the prison full of elderly and ill inmates. "I reverently called the unit 'the messengers' home.'" So all he has to do is explain clearly the plea he wants delivered and then immediately send the astonished courier off to the afterlife.  Creepy, and much to ponder here.

Schofield, Neil.  "It'll Cost You,"  in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September 2014.
Former SleuthSayer Neil Schofield has provided a  clever story. Georgie Hopcraft cheerfully telling us that he is in prison and his cellmate is "another murderer," which is a little misleading because Georgie has been convicted of a murder he did not commit.

HIs wife framed him and he was convicted.  And yet, Georgie remains cheerful. Apparently he knows something that we and his ex-wife don't...




Tobin, Brian.  "An Open-and Shut Case,"  in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, October 2014.

Sheriff Maloney is looking at the corpse of Curtis Frye, dead in the doorway of his own house.  Frye was bad news, a meth-head who killed a woman for thirty bucks.  He was tried for the crime three times but most of the evidence had been kicked out on a technicality, resulting in three hung juries.

After getting the investigation started, Mahoney gets in his car and makes a phone call: "You owe me, Roy.  This is me calling in my chit.  Tonight, you cannot kill yourself."

 A dazzling story, right down to the last paragraph.

Wallace, Joseph.  "Jaguar,"  in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2014.

Ana is a tour guide in Belize.  She meets a wealthy American tourist who may be able to get her out  of a bad home situation.  But there is more going on than appears at first.  And the very clever structure - alternating between her last day in Central America and her first day in New York - scrambles cause and efffect very nicely and lets Wallace hide some secrets  until he is ready to reveal them.

17 July 2013

Two writers, One set-up


by Robert Lopresti 

The great picture on the right is the illustration by Tim Foley which appears with my story in the October issue  of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  It is used here with his gracious permission.  You can find much more of his work at his website. 

This particular issue of AHMM has stories by two SleuthSayers: David Edgerley Gates and yours truly.  I thought I would write about one of those stories and since I haven't read David's yet, what the heck, I'll discuss mine.

Which brings me to Jack Ritchie.  As I have said before I have probably stolen more from Mr. R. than any other single author.  He was a master of the comic short crime story.

A while back I was pondering one type of story he was fond of.   These stories begin with two men in a room, one of whom is holding a gun on the other.  (Two examples you can find in his Little Boxes of Bewilderment are "Shatter Proof" and  "A Taste For Murder.")

As a set-up this has a lot to recommend it.  Suspense?  Built-in.  Starting in the middle of the action?  Absolutely.  Character motivation?  Well, we can assume one guy is hoping not to get shot.  As for the other guy's motive, that''s how a set-up turns into a plot.

While pondering this concept I came up with what I hoped was an original take on it, and "Two Men, One Gun" was born.  As for motivation, here is how the tale begins:

"Here's the story," said the man whose name was probably not Richard.  "Once upon a time there were three men who hated each other."

That's the gunman's motive.  He wants to tell the other guy a story.  Surely there must be more going on.  Why choose this man as the audience?  Why use a gun to hold his attention.  But I make it clear right at the beginning that this is a story about storytelling.  The act of telling this tale will change lives, Richard's included.

By the way, last year when my short story "Brutal" appeared in Hitchcock's I told you that it was one of two stories that begin in the same seedy office building I visited years ago.  No idea why that run-down place made such an impression on me, but "Two Men" is the other story set there.

One odd thing about this.  Although it was inspired by a great writer of humor, my story isn't particularly funny.  There's some wit, I hope, but it's more about suspense than guffaws.

 And if you don't like it, try David's!

01 July 2012

Loaded Magazines


by Leigh Lundin

As you may have noticed from posting datelines below my recent articles, I'm traveling, which is taking me through South Africa. At the moment, I'm being unforgivably rude by closeting myself in a corner of my friends' beach home as I dash out this article, the result of a sudden decision to take down my intended column for today and slap up a new one… with good reason.

The friends are Tig and Sue and their house in Port Shepstone overlooks the Indian Ocean, where in the distance, whales are breaching as I write. Yesterday, they give us a tour of the Oribi Gorge where the deer and the antelope play… or rather monkeys and impala, the real kind, not those bred by Chevrolet.

This sounds exotic to those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, but what I've found more amazing is how comfortable, how natural South Africa feels, at least this province of KwaZulu-Natal, birthplace of the Zulus.

Family helps of course, and everyone has made me feel like family. There's English, too– North Americans don't have to struggle with phrase books because everyone speaks more English English than most of us do. S.A. politics are as mad as America's and our sense of humor shares the same DNA. Except for occasional vervet monkeys scampering through the back garden, you couldn't possibly find this beautiful land all that different from ours.

So with abject apologies to my gracious and forgiving host and hostess, on with the article.

Loaded Magazines

One of the last things I did before journeying across the seas was to forward subscriptions for Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines. Thus, I was happily able to enjoy RT Lawton's bail bond twins and Janice Law's 'Medium' in the last issue and Rob's story 'Brutal' in the current one. Damn, SleuthSayers has great authors, don't we?

Reading these stories reinforces how good these writers are. If anything, their talents are understated, because I find myself marveling and taking a sort of proprietary pride in knowing them. And before I forget, Janice Law has a historical coming out later this year, which I'll ramble about in an upcoming article.

AHMM Alfred Hitchcock

I've read all but two stories in this, the September issue. I know, I know… the magazine industry dates their periodicals like automobile companies… is the 2013 Dodge Viper out yet?

Rob Lopresti, as usual, received mention on the cover for his wicked story 'Brutal'. It's sly, it's funny, it's a groaner… I can't say more without giving away too much.

The story reminds me of one of John Lutz's parables. There's an author's adage to heap misery on the hero until he can't take any more… and then dump on even more. You might say both writers turned that adage on its head.

Read AHMM to see what I mean. But wait, there's more…

Jolie McLarren Swann, otherwise known as James Lincoln Warren, graced the previous (August) issue with 'Inner Fire', the Black Orchid Novella Award-winning takeoff on Nero Wolfe, which I was previously permitted to critique– actually rave about. You do not want to miss this story.

EQMMEllery Queen

Although Ellery Queen inexplicably omitted SleuthSayers authors in the current August issue (don't ask me to explain why the magazines' dates differ), they do contain articles by two of our friends.

Terrie Moran, our pal at Women of Mystery, has come up with a nuanced tale set in Florida. Terrie is one of those authors who never stamps out the same kind of story twice. Each seems very different from the other. Her latest seeps with research she's put into it. 'Fontaine House' reads like a southern romance… without the romance. With a pinch of love in the air, I could picture an offshoot of this story winning a RWA competition. You'll probably gulp at the end.

Melodie Johnson Howe
, our colleague at Criminal Brief, created the series Hollywood fatale Diana Poole, who appears in a new book, Shooting Hollywood, on sale at disreputable bookstores everywhere. Now I liked Diana Poole, but I love her new story, 'Losing It', a deceptive tale about a stolen shawl. I doubt most readers will come close to guessing this unusual plot; I certainly couldn't. And like I said above, you'll probably gulp at the end.

SSMM Sherlock Holmes

Jeff Baker placed a story in Sherlock Holmes #8, which I haven't seen yet. Herschel Cozine wrote a parody in the queue for December, issue #10. This is my wake-up call to subscribe.

And More Coming Up…

David Dean's scheduled for the December Ellery Queen with "Mariel."  A reprint of "The Vengeance Of Kali" will appear in an Ed Gorman edited anthology, Best Mystery Stories Of 2010.

Jan Grape co-edited an anthology released in May, Murder Here Murder There from Twilight Times Publishing, which includes her short story 'The Confession'.

Elizabeth Zelvin has a CD out. She also currently has out her third novel, Death Will Extend Your Vacation, 'Shifting Is for the Goyim', coming out on Untreed Reads very, very soon, and a story in Ellery Queen that will appear in 2013.

John Floyd has several stories in the queue… Actually John's like the British Empire… The sun never sets on John's stories– they're everywhere. John reports a story in the current Woman's World and another coming up there in August; stories coming up in future issues of Hitchcock and Strand Magazine; stories in issues #8, #9, and #11 of Sherlock Holmes Mystery Mag; one in Prairie Times; several coming up at Mysterical-E; and stories forthcoming in three anthologies. John will also release a fourth collection of short mystery stories, called Deception, scheduled for next spring.

Janice Law wrote a story in Connecticut Muse, one in the most recent Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and an entry in the recent MWA anthology.

Rob Lopresti has another AHMM story about six months from now.

Readers and writers, who have I missed? Let me know and I'll add you in.

You don't have to have your literature shipped to South Africa… find them at bookstores and newsstands now.

23 May 2012

Send me in, Coach!



by Robert Lopresti

I am working like blazes on a piece of fiction I hope to finish before a contest deadline, so don't expect a long, well-thought out masterpiece this week (as opposed to every other week, of course).  But the work did bring a subject to mind.

You see, I have run my piece past two of my fellow writers, and that has been an interesting and useful experience.  R.T. Lawton and I have been swapping stories regularly for a few years, and I know my work has benefited from it.  (I hope he feels that his has too.)   Last year James Lincoln Warren asked me to preview his entry in the Black Orchid Novella competition, and, since he won, I am prepared to take all the credit.   Sorry, I meant to say, that since he asked for my help I felt free to request his. 



Both of them offered helpful insights into my story, including:
* typos (no matter how many times Spellcheck and I have gone over the damned thing)
* unclear sentences (one was so difficult  to clarify I wound up having my narrator address the reader directly: "now, hear me out...")
* flashback confusion (this is the one point I am still struggling with... telling the story chronologically will lead to a dull patch.  But REtelling it is complicated.)
* a great big honking plot hole that needed to be fixed.


If and when this thing gets published I will bore you more detail about this.  But right now I am just interested in the coaching experience.

For more than a decade I have been a member of a songwriting group.  Every month we get together, sing new or at least unfinished songs, and let our fellow members have at them.  We always warn newcomers not to make the classic rookie mistake: "I'll bring my best song and wow them!"  Since we are in critical mode we WILL find something wrong with your song.  Otherwise, we aren't helping, are we?  So, we emphasize the need to bring something unfinished.  And the songs do improve, sometimes remarkably so.

Of course, when I send a story to a coach it is as close to finished as I can make it.  I want them to be brutal.  (Hey, the editors won't by the story because of my charming personality.)  And both James and R.T. have been very helpful and constructive.

(But I do have a question for them: how is it that all three of them missed the fact that my character Andrew changed his name to Anthony twice with no explanation?  And Victor, perhaps out of sympathy, decided to become Richard at one point.  Ah well.)

Unfortunately, my dear friends have carried me as far as they can.  Now, alas, my fate all in my hands.  So, why am I wasting time talking to you guys?

But you have a moment to spare you can tell us about your experience with writing groups or partners.  I will try not to critique you.