29 April 2012

My Two Cents Worth

by Louis A. Willis
Types of Literature

I thought for this post I’d throw in my two cents on the controversy of literary versus genre fiction. We read stories to vicariously satisfy our desire for pleasure and to sometimes explain reality. So why the separation? To satisfy our need to categorize to avoid confusion, to clarify in our minds how the world works. Enough philosophizing. On to my meditation on the subject.

The argument boils down to this: genre fiction is plot driven and literary fiction is character or theme driven. Literary fiction appeals to our intellect and emotions while genre appeals only to our emotions.

Although readers may get more out of fiction than entertainment, stories above all should entertain. But no matter whether it is genre or literary fiction, both require craftsmanship, for it is in the craft that effects on the reader are achieved. I admit in some genre stories the line between good and evil are sharp and clear and may not be so clear in literary fiction, but isn’t it possible that the clarity can make you as a reader think seriously about the human condition? And isn’t it possible that literary stories may be read for sheer enjoyment without any deep thinking about the human condition?

In an attempt to clarify the situation in my mind, I analyzed two crime stories, one literary and the other genre, by two  great writers.

In Hemingway’s story “The Killers,” two hoods, Max and Al, enter a diner and tells the counter man, George, the black cook Sam, and Nick Adams that they are there to kill Ole Andreson. The killers leave without hurting anyone because Ole, a former boxer, failed to come to the diner that day. When Nick later tells Ole about the two men, he says there is nothing he can do. He is resigned to his fate. The story certainly is not plot driven for what little plot there is suggests more than shows what is happening in Ole’s mind. The story is literary fiction.

Hammett’s “The Man Who Killed Dan Odams” is a plot-driven story about  how a woman outwits the man who killed her husband. The man who killed Dan Odams escapes from jail and takes refuge in a house with a woman and her 12 year-old son, not knowing she is Dan Odams’s widow. She recognizes him and tricks him into believing she sent her son outside to watch for his pursuers. The son in fact runs to a neighbor’s place for help. As he is dying, realizing the woman is Dan Odams’s widow, the fugitive expresses admiration for her avenging her husband’s murder. No question the story is plot driven.

Neither story enticed me to think very seriously about fatalism or revenge. I simply enjoyed reading them.

I also analyzed and enjoyed a story by a not so well known writer that made me think. In “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, John Wright is murdered in his bed. His wife Minnie is suspected since she was the only other person in the house, but the men, Mr. Hale, who found the body, the sheriff, and the county attorney, don’t find any convincing evidence in the bedroom  crime scene that would convict her. The two women, Mrs. Hale, and Mrs. Peters, the sheriff’s wife, inspecting Minnie’s things in the kitchen, find an empty bird cage. The dead bird they find in the sewing  basket suggests Minnie had taken as much abuse from John as she could and his killing her bird was the proverbial last straw. This story made me think about the perennial theme of how women and men see things differently.

Literary or genre fiction, does it really matter so long as you enjoy the story. Like Daniel Abrahams on the SFsignal website in his essay “A Private Letter from Genre to Literature,” I too plead, “Please, please, darling let us stop this.This artificial separation between us is painful, it is undignified, and it fools no one.” 

Except maybe a few literary critics. 

I'm So Confused

28 April 2012

Deja Vu All Over Again

by John M. Floyd

Driving home from the post office the other day, I heard a newsman on National Public Radio say someone "shared this in common" with someone else.  That bothered me.  (Not enough to make me switch to a rap or gospel music station, but it did bother me.)  I've forgotten exactly who he said was sharing something in common with whom, but--to use an example based on a Grisham book I'm currently reading--if you and your father are both baseball fans, you either share a love of baseball with your father or you and your father have that in common.  You don't share it in common, and if you say you do you've created a redundancy.

This kind of error can probably be forgiven more easily in speech than in writing.  We writers are supposed to know better, and to pay attention to things like that.  (So are NPR newscasters, actually.)  Not that I am guiltless.  Right here in this blog, I recently used the term added bonus.  That's a bit silly.  If it's a bonus, it is by definition added, and to use both words is redundant.  And in real life I'm always talking about something happening the exact same way it happened earlier.  Other phrases I use a lot are final outcomeplan ahead, and free gift.  Imagine how much time I would save and how much smarter I would sound if I cut out the words exactfinalahead, and free.  (There is of course a lesson here, one my wife learned years ago: don't listen too closely to me when I talk.)

Alternative choices

I know what you're thinking.  Sometimes phrases containing redundancies are used intentionally, to add emphasis.  Examples might be completely surroundedtruly sincereeach and everydefinite decisioncease and desistdirect confrontationforever and ever, etc.  Redundancies also come into play when using certain abbreviations, like UPC codeHIV virusplease RSVPDOS operating system, and AC current.  My favorite is PIN number.  But I still use the term.  The technically correct PI number just wouldn't roll off the tongue well, unless maybe you're referring to how many peach cobblers your aunt Bertha made last year.

A working awareness of this kind of thing can be handy to writers, because cutting out redundancies provides us with yet another way to "write tight."  An argument can even be made that such common and inoffensive phrases as sit downstand upnod your head, or shrug your shoulders are literary overkill as well, and do nothing except add extra words.  Why not just say (or write) sit, stand, nod, and shrug?  Where else would you stand but up?  What else would you shrug except your shoulders?

Unintentional Mistakes

Even if you're not a writer, here are a few more redundancies that come to mind:

twelve noon
sum total
commute back and forth
mental telepathy
advance reservations
drowned to death
merge together
observe by watching
armed gunman
visible to the eye
for all intents and purposes
hot-water heater
false pretense
hollow tube
disappear from sight
myself personally
a prediction about the future
safe haven
during the course of
regular routine
a variety of different items
filled to capacity
a pair of twins
unexpected surprise*
the reason is because
originally created
red in color
few in number
poisonous venom

could also mean a pair of twins

Do you ever find yourself using these (or similar) phrases when you speak?  More importantly, do you embarrass yourself by using them when you write?  I try to watch for--and correct--them in my own manuscripts, but I'm sure some of them manage to make it through intact.  Can you think of others that I neglected to mention?  Are there any that you find particularly irritating?

The End Result

Time for a confession, here: I will probably (and happily) continue to use many of these redundancies in everyday conversation, and even in writing if they're a part of dialogue.  Sometimes they just "sound right."  But I wouldn't want to use them in a column like this one.

In point of fact, lest any of you protest against forward progress, past history reveals an unconfirmed rumor that a knowledge of repetitious redundancy is an absolute essential and that the issue might possibly grow in size to be a difficult dilemma. If there are any questions about the basic fundamentals, I'll be glad to revert back and spell it out in detail. And even repeat it again.

Or maybe postpone it until later.

27 April 2012

No, Thank You

by R.T. Lawton

Louis once asked in the Comments' Section how undercover operatives avoid using drugs. That's a common question, especially if you've watched some movies, such as The Professional, about bent law enforcement characters, such as Gary Oldham playing the part of an unhinged drug agent. The unspoken part of the above question is, or do you? Hey, even relatives have inquired, so I think nothing about being asked. In any case, Louis, this one's for you.

In the movies, characters, events, and actions are exaggerated for effect. This increases the High Stakes for the protagonist and thus tension for the audience. Almost anything goes, whether it's true to reality or not.

In real life, when it becomes known on the "blue telegraph" that a certain officer is using drugs, then his fellow officers will quit working with him because he risks being a dangerous liability to himself and to them. Depending upon the drug of choice, he may become hyper aggressive and uncontrollable (like Gary Oldman's character left photo). Neither the public nor that officer's supervisors will put up with that kind of activity for long. On the opposite end of the drug scale, his reflexes and judgment may slow down or become otherwise impaired, in which case no officer wants him as partner during arrests, raids or even common day incidents. Also, if during a court case, a defense attorney brings up the officer's use of illegal drugs, the judge will be outraged and the jury may decide that the defendant isn't much worse than the officer.

In later years, my agency came up with a cute trick. Realizing that ANYONE using drugs can become addicted, they created a special program. Any agent with a drug problem was encouraged to come forward and receive counseling and rehab for that addiction. The program was free, didn't cost the agent a single cent. Of course once an agent entered the program, he no longer had a job. Sure, the program would rehab him, but he was looking at a definite career change, and rightly so. There's a strong conflict of interest in using drugs and working the streets. Too many wrong possibilities in that scenario.

Okay, we've pretty much established that law enforcement and drug use don't go together, so how does an undercover avoid their use? That answer depends upon the circumstances. Here's a few personal anecdotes.

In the early years when I'd go into a head house to make a buy, I'd take a bottle of Boone's Farm along because more than likely there would be six or eight people sitting in a circle passing joints.
OPTION 1: I'm playing the part of a juicer, in which case I'd take a healthy swig and pass the bottle. The potential defendants were just happy I brought something to the party.
OPTION 2: I quickly found that when the joint came round to me, they were mainly looking to see if I readily took it or tried to come up with a lame excuse. In that case, once I took it in hand, they usually relaxed. I'd hold the joint in my right hand while I negotiated for whatever they were selling, quietly transfer the joint to my left hand for a while, and then pass it to the next guy who was waiting for his turn. They never seemed to notice I didn't use the stuff.
OPTION 3: If I happened to find one eagle-eyed guy keeping track of my actions, I could always cup my hand around the joint and go through the Cheech-and-Chong motions of holding my breath for a couple of minutes and making a fake show of exhaling with my head down. The appropriate statements for those occasions was, "That's good stuff." Conjuring & Distraction 101

Most dealers just assumed you were going to use their purchased product later, but there were other times when you got put to the test. Now, you had to get creative.

I was buying quantities of cocaine from an AWOL Marine who had every reason to be paranoid. He set it up for the deal to go down at his dining room table, and fronted off his girlfriend to make the actual first transfer of drugs for money. He sat on a couch in the living room where he faced me from a distance and observed. Probably had a pistol concealed in the seat cushions. I say this because one hand stayed out of sight.

Negotiations were pretty well finished. Then the girlfriend laid out a line on the table top and said, "You'd better try it first." That's one of those "Oh Crap!" moments.

Conveniently, the phone on the wall by the dining room table rang. She turned to answer it. I quickly leaned forward, scooped the powder line off the table with one hand and made loud snorting sounds. She heard the snorting noise and saw later that the powder was gone, which was good enough for her. As a plus, her movement ended up blocking the AWOL Marine's view of what I was doing. People often assume things based upon their expectations. Naturally, when those two stern looking grunts in full uniform from the Corps showed up to get their hands on their once missing associate, he quickly assumed a bleak expectation for his immediate future. Had to be a long ride to Leavenworth for that boy.

And of course, there was my informant who acquired a sudden case of reluctance during a case. "The dealer says if you're a federal agent, he'll be able to smell you out, and then he'll shoot us both."

"Well then, we'd best go see how good his nose is."

Having a slight sinus condition anyway, I tended to sniff from time to time, so now I deliberatly started sniffing loudly as soon as the door opened. Shortly after the introduction, and no longer trusting the informant to hold himself together, I cut the informant out and sent him packing. He was happy to go. The dealer and I proceeded to negotiate for several ounces of meth which was to progress to multi-pounds at a later date. All was agreed. Then the dealer laid out two lines of "crank." Since I had continued my sniffing act throughout our conversation, I now laid a story on him. "I'd like to join you, man, but the doc is doing a nose job on my nasal lining pretty soon. It's completely eaten through (a common occurrence for heavy snorters) and I can't snort anything for a while."
"I know what you mean," he said. "Do you mind if I snort your line then?"
"Help yourself."
After all, the stuff is still his until I buy it.

And, that's some of the ways of avoiding usage. but mainly, it's whatever you can come up with under the circumstances.

The most difficult times are when buying from heroin dealers. Every so often you'll get one of those cagey guys that wants you, as a first time buyer from him, to spike up a hit of his "smack" before he'll make a larger sale to you. Now, it's gun time. There are incidents of agents even going out third story windows to avoid being injected.

One more aspect to consider. There is no quality control in illegal drugs. Unethical dealers have been known to adulterate their product with arsenic, lead and other lethal chemicals. Users die every day from "hot shots." And, even if the product is "good," then all those movie detectives who are shown dipping their finger in the powder, tasting it and then pronouncing it as high grade should now all be rehab or other institutions.

Last story. I always wondered what happened to the Tribal Policeman who stopped a car of hippies decades ago on the Pine Ridge Reservation and found an open box of sugar cubes in their vehicle. "I know the sugar cubes didn't have any LSD dropped on them," he told me proudly, 'because I ate one and nothing happened." Now that's one heck of a field test, otherwise he could have ended up wandering the prairie philosophizing with buffalo, instead of reciting his car stop adventure to me at a law enforcement conference. Seemed to be a severe lack of judgment and training there.

Hope this answers the question. Nope, professional law enforcement and undercover agents don't do Dope.

Thanks, Louis. Anybody got any more good questions you'd like answered?

26 April 2012

Serial Killers

by Eve Fisher

I was looking through some old stuff and I found a copy of a letter I sent to a friend of mine many, many years ago, in which I mentioned that we were getting ready for a serial killer murder trial, which would eat up most of my time for a while.  Which it did. 

A couple of things:  Our serial killer was convicted of killing two women, with three other probable - but probably unproveable - female victims.  He was a nasty piece of work.  He kidnapped his victims, tied them up to eye-bolts in his van, raped them, tortured them, and then, finally, killed them.  He looked average: short and soft and overweight and really unremarkable.  The only thing that stood out about him was that in court he couldn't keep a smirk off his face, which made everyone want to slap him silly. 

Secondly,  after talking to the Court Services Officer who interviewed our serial killer, at length, I wrote the following:  

The Conversation
Sitting on a cold, hard steel chair
while the endless story went on and on
like a drive-in triple feature,
murder, mayhem, knives in the dark,
only no buttered popcorn, no nudging bodies,
no smothered giggles or sudden gasps,
and the whole time his eyes were cold as ice.
Not even an eyebrow raised.
So at the end, with the tape recorder off,
all locked in for later listening,
the killer leaned over and asked,
“You gonna take it home?  Listen to it late at night?
Dream a little dream of me? 
I know, you're not shocked.
You’ve heard it all before, right? 
Bet you’ve thought it all, too. 
You pick up a roll of duct tape,
gonna do a little home repair, and then it comes,
sliding into your mind,
what else you can do with a roll of duct tape.
All it takes is a little imagination,
a little change of plan.  Trying it out.
Or have you tried it out already?
Come on, you can tell me.  Who’s gonna know?
We’re not that different, you know.
Not a lick between us.”
A blink like a lizard in a hot sun.
“Maybe not," he replied, “But I’m going home
and you’re staying here.”
“All that proves is you haven’t got caught yet.
Some night the dark side
will come right over you and drown you.
Does it to everyone.  Even smart guys like you.
Cause we all want to drown, don’t we?”
The cold eyes bored into the killer. 
“Don’t kid yourself,” he replied:   
“A blind man doesn’t know what night is.
It’s just more of the same.
And that’s all you know; just more of the same.”  
    (c) Eve Fisher, 1998

Which brings me to the point that most criminals see themselves as different only in that they're the real deal:  they've persuaded themselves that they're what we all want to be.  They're smart, they're tough, they're brilliant, they're...  wow!  Never mind that they happen to be in custody, in jail, in prison, on death row.  Everyone else is the idiot.  Everyone else is the con.

In "East of Eden," John Steinbeck (talking about the villainess Cathy) writes that he believes that just as there are people who are born physically damaged, there are those who are born morally damaged - moral monsters.  Or, as my husband and I put it, "everybody's got a piece missing."  And the trouble is that very few people know what piece they have missing, because it's damn hard to tell from the inside.  For example, if you're color blind, you could easily come to believe that all those people raving about that beautiful rich red are nuts.  Or lying.  Especially if there are a lot of other color blind people around you agreeing that you're right.  Same with morality.  Depending on the crowd you run with, it's real easy to believe that all that right/wrong/morality stuff is just another con.  Because what they know is what they know, and it's always more of the same. 

25 April 2012

Let's Get Physical

by Robert Lopresti

Dixon's recent charmer about kittens reminded of a subject I wanted to bring up  A few weeks ago I was struggling with a stubborn plot point.  It was part of a long, complicated novelette and I couldn't figure out how to make all the flashbacks work.  Very frustrating.

Then one day when I was not thinking about the story at all I went downstairs to clean the cat litter.  This is not the most entertaining part of owning cats, but it needs to be done.  So I was doing what needed to be done and - boom.  I had the solution to my plot problem.  Oddly enough, the solution did not involve cats.

I've noticed this before.  Sometimes the best ideas come when you set the problem aside.and just engage in some physical activity that lets your mind wander.  I owe a lot of my ideas to bike rides or lawn mowing.

I vividly remember working out the plot for "Shanks Gets Killed" while strolling through the Arboretum near the campus where I work.  I've gone back there a few times but haven't found any more plots hiding among the pines.

What about you?  Do you ever find the solution to your mental problem in some mindless task?

24 April 2012


by Dale C. Andrews
    A hallowed device in the mystery writer’s lexicon is the twist ending – an unexpected event that throws all that has preceded it into a different light.  As kids we all loved the Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and our adult lives have often been spent grumbling over the fact that so many of the great twist endings were used while we were still in grade school. (Dammit, I could have written that story about the frozen leg of lamb!)  The twist ending is not relegated solely to novels or short stories; it also exists in more minimalistic surrounds as the paraprosdokian.

    I knew the device long before I knew the device’s name.  "Paraprosdokian" comes from Greek "παρά", meaning "against" and "προσδοκία", meaning "expectation."  A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech used to describe an observation, framed in a phrase or a sentence or sentences, in which the ending is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader to reframe or reinterpret the observation as a whole.  A classic example is:  “I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather; not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.”  Another is:  “The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on the list.”

    Sometimes the basis for a paraprosdokian relies on a word that can have two meanings.  Generally these can be completed with the phrase “you can say that again.” 
  • Prime Minister:  “Your highness, the peasants are revolting.”  King:  “You can say that again.”
  • Wife:  “You have to admit that my parents are trying.”  Husband:  “You can say that again.”
Will Rogers
     Paraprosdokia are particularly popular among satirists. Tom Lehrer (who turned 84 last week), introduced a song with reference to his college roommate who he described as having“majored in animal husbandry . . . until they caught him at it.”  And Mort Sahl (who turns 85 next month) once observed “my right is your left, which is increasingly becoming the problem in this country.”  Will Rogers also used the device – “I belong to no organized political party.  I am a Democrat.”  Rogers also said that “Ohio claims they are due a president as they haven't had one since Taft.  Look at the United States, they have not had one since Lincoln.”  (That quote apparently pre-dates the election of Warren Harding, which shows that Ohio should be careful what it wishes for.)

   Among politicians, Winston Churchill was probably best known for relying on paraprosdokia to make a point.  Among his classic observations are:

  • There but for the grace of God -- goes God.
  • A modest man, who has much to be modest about.  
  • If you are going through hell, keep going.
  •  It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.
  • You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.
    Probably the consummate expert in Paraprosdokia was Groucho Marx.  At one time or another Groucho uttered all of the following:  
  • I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it.
  • Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.  (This one gets my "best in show" award!)
  • Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
  • When you're in jail, a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you saying, 'Damn, that was fun.’
  • From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend on reading it.
  • The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made.
  •  I have nothing but respect for you -- and not much of that.
  • She got her looks from her father. He's a plastic surgeon.
    Groucho advanced the art form even further, at times combining paraprosdokia with outrageous puns.  Examples include:
  • For that act alone the defendant should get ten years in Levenworth, or eleven years in twelveworth, or five and ten in the Woolworth.
  • Get out of my life.  You can leave in a taxi and if you can’t find a taxi you can leave in a huff.  And if you need more time, make it a minute and a huff.
  • When love comes in the door, money flies out the innuendo.
    A spin through the internet uncovers many other unattributed examples of this engaging figure of speech. (Some of these examples stray a bit from the paraprosdokian formula, but what the hey -- they are funny!)
  • I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.
  • Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.
  • Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
  • Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
  • If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.
  • War does not determine who is right - only who is left.
  • Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • Evening news is where they begin with 'Good evening' and then proceed to demonstrate why it isn't.
  • How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?
  • Why is it wrong to use a handicapped parking space but all right to use a handicapped bathroom stall?
  • I didn't say it was your fault; I said I was blaming you.
  • Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for president and 50 for Miss America?
  • In totalitarian countries there is complete freedom of speech – you can say anything that you want to.  Once.
  • When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.
  • When tempted to “split the baby,” remember that this was precisely what Solomon avoided doing.
  • To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.
  • Life isn’t what it used to be.  And it never was.
  • Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
    Having spun all of this into an article, I suppose the best way to close is with one last paraprosdokian that sums up the writing process for this piece:

                To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

(Be sure to click the link for a rousing send-off!)

23 April 2012

Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite

       by Jan Grape

Jan Grape

I saw this on Facebook this morning and thought wow, this is so true. If you have trouble reading as it's not 100% clear:
"The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon." Robert Cormier. (I hope I read that name correctly.) But seeing this, naturally clicked on several things in my old brain pan and I decided it was going to be the topic of my blog today.

Several years ago I was attending a mystery convention somewhere and was complaining about rewriting. At that time I was still a baby writer and it seems like rewriting was such a dull and boring thing to have to do. And a good friend, Max Allan Collins, (I think it was) said "you have to tell yourself the story first." Fortunately, I listened and learned. Let the creative brain flow and don't stop the flow. Keep working on it all the way to the end.

You may realize as you go along that you need to research a fact, but you can make a note, right there in your draft and maybe put a couple of ** or ( ) or something to catch your attention and find later. You might want to double check a character's name when you get to Chapter 18 and you haven't thought about or mentioned her since Chapter 5. A writer friend of mine says she puts Post It notes all over the place to remind her she needs to check a fact or make something clearer.
Once you've done that by completing the first draft, you then go to work and tell everyone else your story in writing not outloud. That first draft is important but it really is just the first draft. After you finish that draft then you really ought to set it aside for a little time, several days if possible. I like to begin revising on a hard copy, seems like I can pick up on mistakes much easier that way. When you pick it up again you need to begin reading with your editor's eye. Just do a complete read through and make notes if you need and now that it's easy to cut and paste with our computers we often can do a quick change right then and there.

However, if you find a scene that might need to be clarified or strengthened, make a note and do it after you do a read-through. Often I can eliminate or add to my characters or to the setting or to the
weather or to the dialogue. I know when I first began to be published I had to go over my manuscript four, five times and now I often go over it more than that. I know how easy it is to help make my story stronger and what I can usually do to fix it.
I've discovered with dialogue that I usually have to read it out loud to be sure it sounds natural. If I have a much younger character and I'm not too sure about how things are said in today's world, I have a daughter who has raised two young men and she's up on their lingo. If I'm writing my policewoman's character I have a female homicide detective who will read my scene and tell me if it's feasible or realistic. I've had male friends read a scene with a male character and tell me that guy doesn't know what he's talking about. And no offense guys, but I find that female writers are much better at writing male characters than male writers who writing about female characters. Not all but in a lot of books I've read.

I've also discovered through the years that I really enjoy rewriting now. To edit and polish my story or book and make it the best I possibly can is pretty cool. It can be time consuming but the end result is way worth the effort. I want to story or book to sell to a publisher. I definitely want the book or story to sell to readers. It's so much fun to have a reader tell you how much they enjoyed the story. It's worth all the time and effort you put in to hear that.

So it is true that we are able to make mistakes and write crazy sometimes. We don't have to be in the operating room and hear "Oops," and worry about anything bad because we have the opportunity to fix our mistakes during rewrite.

And speaking of rewrites, I've just finished proof-reading my latest short story, "The Confession," which will be out the end of May. It's in the ACWL Presents: MURDER HERE, MURDER THERE, anthology that I'm co-editing with R. Barri Flowers. Fortunately, I didn't have to do any rewriting, it works like it is, but I did spend time even now going over it making sure it was as good as I could make it.

22 April 2012

Puzzles, Part 1

by Leigh Lundin

The past few weeks I received eMails and suggestions from a reader or two who remembered I like puzzles and word play. First up is a puzzle brought to us by an educational organization, the British Council. Try to ignore the creepy gopher critter as you play:
Wonder how it works? You saw this trick (and full solution) before on Criminal Brief. When playing it, look carefully at multiples of 9 because one multiple will be your result. Multiples of 9 are:
09, 18, 27, 36, 45, 54, 63, 72, 81

Magic Gopher

You'll notice multiples of 9 all have the same associated symbol. The magician doesn't have to know your original number, only that your result will be a multiple of 9, which is how the trick is done.

NFL Draught

One of the stories wasn't about puzzles at all, but about football and the Wonderlic Intelligence Test. It seems LSU cornerback and candidate for the NFL draft Morris Claiborne scored 4 on the Wonderlic.

Okay, okay. Many blogs and sports news tittered about it, slyly mocking or deriding. Listen, football isn't my game: It wasn't part of the sports programs at my small schools and play is so slow, watching it wreaks havoc with my ADD. Watching after-game highlights are fine, but in-game lowlights are as painful as watching golf or cricket before they made it look like baseball.

It's wise to remember an adage: Everyone is my superior in some way. Morris Claiborne can take hits I can't and he'll probably make more money in a year than I will in ten. Moreover, he may be the kindest person or wholly honest or have admirable traits not factored into a test.

But, from my criminally suspicious mind comes a serious question: If a score of 4 is considered six points less than literate, if the multiple choice should have randomly scored ranging 20-33%, how has Mr. Claiborne managed to pass his LSU courses? Have they done Claiborne any favors graduating a man who can't read and pass a simple exam?

Wondering about Wonderlic

Wait… Is the test really that simple? Several sample questions are available on the web and I found a full set of fifty on Man Cave Sports, which drew from ESPN. Clearly not written by professional tech writers, the wording of several are awkward but parsable. A friend and I took the test separately. We each got them all, although not in the allotted 12 minutes, a task easier in high school, but not so easy now.

Looking at the sample test, an error leaped out. If you want to see for yourself, it's near the end of the test, in fact, the very end. Not only is the wording faulty, the answer is incorrect. If this is an actual question and answer (which ESPN purports the test to be), then shouldn't we turn a critical eye on the exam itself? Who's testing the testers?

If you want to take the test, after the break, I point out the error.

Wonderlic Error
50) Divide 30 by half. Add 10. Multiply by 3. Add 6. What is does this equal?
The given answer is 81. That is wrong. The correct answer is 216.

Whoever wrote the test question either meant take half of 30 or they didn't understand dividing by one-half is the same as multiplying by two. Try it yourself on your calculator, recalling .5 is the same as ½:

(30 ÷ ½ +10) x 3

Now my question is: how can we craft this as a murder clue?

21 April 2012

Outrageous Older Woman: Getting the Music Out There

by Elizabeth Zelvin

As some of you know, I’ve recently released an album of original songs, Outrageous Older Woman. While I’m an experienced writer who knows as much as any author can claim to about today’s rapidly changing book publishing marketplace, this is my first foray into the recording industry.
I’m not looking for a record deal or an American Idol career. At my age, and at my modest level of musicianship, I’m happy to have my songs out there in the world and accessible to those who might enjoy them. And I did get a double handful of terrific musicians and harmony singers to play and sing along.

I’ve met a fair number of independent singer-songwriters over the years, so I was not surprised when my co-producer on the album, who actually makes a living from his music, confirmed that the best place to go for distribution of indie music is a website called CD Baby. For a small fee—which in fact was paid by the company that made and packaged my CDs—they offered a user-friendly way for listeners to preview excerpts of the songs and buy either the CD or mp3 downloads of the whole album or individual songs. This can be done on either my CD Baby page or a click-through embedded in my own music website. And for no extra charge, CD Baby handles digital distribution to iTunes, Amazon, and numerous other music vendors on the Internet.

All I had to do was sign up with CD Baby by completing their online registration and send them five copies of my CD. So far, so good. I was pleased they asked for information I thought it was important for music lovers to know, such as a description of each song. I had already done some thinking about what musical genres to check off in order to attract folks who would actually enjoy my music: urban folk, country-folk, acoustic singer-songwriter, and (coached by my co-producer, who’s an old hand at this) “roots” and “Americana”—designations for music that isn’t slick and formulaic enough, not Nashville enough, to be played on commercial country stations.

I even managed to come up with the requested “three names of famous artists whose music yours is like.” I’ve always had trouble with this stuff with my fiction, since I don’t think my work is quite like anybody else’s. (“If you crossed Matt Scudder with Stephanie Plum, you might get my recovering alcoholic protagonist Bruce Kohler’s third cousin.”) So I hope no one is too disappointed when they hear my music after reading that I’m like Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and the Dixie Chicks. At least we’re in the same ballpark.

But one phase of the registration process knocked me for a loop. For every one of the sixteen songs on the album, I had to check off whether it was “clean” or “explicit.” Now, I’m a word person, and I know that “explicit” does not mean “dirty.” If you ask me to be explicit about my origins, I can tell you that I’m a nice Jewish girl from Queens, the daughter of immigrants from Hungary and Russia. To be explicit about my favorite meal, I can describe the cut of meat and its degree of doneness and exactly how I like my potatoes prepared. But I’m no dummy, and I know they meant “explicitly obscene” or “explicitly profane”—in other words, is each song suitable for young children to hear, or is it dirty?

As I found out later, ie after checking off “clean,” as it happens, for all my songs, the source of the hoopla about this is “the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC)...an American committee formed in 1985 with the stated goal of increasing parental control over the access of children to music deemed to be violent, have drug use or be sexual” (Wikipedia), spearheaded by Tipper Gore. This raised a furor on the issue of censorship in the arts. Apparently the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) decided to have its members put a voluntary parental advisory (the Tipper sticker) on works that were considered “explicit.” Wikipedia says, “It is uncertain whether the ‘Tipper sticker’ is effective in preventing children from being exposed to explicit content. Some suggest that the sticker actually increases record sales.”

Independent labels that are not RIAA members are not required to use the sticker. A 2007 message board post on the subject that popped up when I googled “CD Baby + RIAA” said, “I suspect that over 99% of the users of...CD Baby...are NOT RIAA members.” (gearslutz.com) But CD Baby itself does comply with the advisory. Once I knew what to look for, it was easily found in the contract I signed in order to use CD Baby’s services.

Parental Advisory Labeling. You will be responsible for complying with the Recording Industry Association of America’s (“RIAA”) Parental Advisory Logo (“PAL”) Standards, as applicable, for so long as you use the Services.

So I guess I’m not gonna try to boost my record sales by adding “explicit” language to my lyrics. Click below to listen to the previews, and see if you like ‘em.

Liz Zelvin: Outrageous Older Woman

20 April 2012

Kitten Cosies

by Dixon Hill

We’ve been a little under the weather, lately, here at the Hill homestead. And, it seems to me some of my fellow SleuthSayers are feeling a bit down too.

So, this week, I’m skipping explosives, and starting the weekend off on a happier note:


My daughter’s cat, Frisky, recently had kittens. So . . . here are a few pictures . . . presented in hopes you can start your weekend with a bit of a smile!

Kittens in a basket, going for a ride.

I have no idea who the kitten in the middle is surrendering to. Perhaps it's my son.

My 9-year-old son, learning why it's not smart to let kittens ride around on your head.

Milk is good. Kittens are messy.On the left is my daughter's cat, Frisky -- the mother cat. She's wearing a hat my daughter likes (which my wife made). I'll let you be the arbiter of what Frisky thinks of the hat.

“What have kittens got to do with sleuthing?”
Well, I’m glad you asked (even if you didn’t). Because, kittens grow up to be adult cats — such as Koko and Yum Yum, the two Siamese cats of the late Lilian Jackson Braun’s wonderful 29-book series: “The Cat Who …” mysteries.

The series is a soft, character-driven, almost cozy — in which the protagonist, Jim Qwilleran, solves mysteries (often murders) with the aid of his trusty male Siamese “Koko” (more formally named: Kao K'o-Kung). And many little life lessons for writers are contained within the method employed by Lilian Jackson Braun, when she wrote the series.

For instance:

After writing the third book in the series, she quit.
That’s right; she quit. Her editor insisted she add graphic violence and sex to her books, or they just wouldn’t sell – because sex and violence is what the public wants! — and unless those changes were made, he wouldn’t publish any more “Cat Who …” books. Since Ms. Braun didn’t feel such changes would result in books she wanted to write, she quit writing them. For eighteen years!

At the end of that time, she retired from her position at the Detroit Free Press, and her husband encouraged her to try the series again. The result? A collection of 29 mystery novels and two short story collections.

The lesson: Trust yourself enough to know what you can and can’t (or don’t want to) write.

Braun spent much of her time in South Carolina. And, frankly, having spent time in the Carolinas — during the years when I lived at the whim of my uncle, and home was wherever I hung my barracks bag — I’ve come to the conclusion that many of her more colorful or zany characters were based on folks she knew down there. Braun, however, placed her stories in the far northern reaches of the lower 48, somewhere around the Great Lakes region. This setting provided plenty of woods and sea shore-like beaches, for bootlegging and smuggling stories, which probably had their roots in rumors she’d heard around the inland waterway. In this manner, she could lift the Carolina coast and put it down somewhere far from its actual location, while still maintaining its natural habitat.

The lesson? Feel free to use local color and characters, but give real people the protection of what, in Special Forces, we would have called, “Good cover for status and action.”

But . . .

What’s a guy who’s supposed to be all hard-boiled doing writing about the Cat Who … series? Well, I first ran across one of them after a taxing deployment. I felt wrung out, used up and exhausted. Upon my return, I discovered that the utilities in my Fayetteville apartment had all been turned off during my absence of several months. This wasn’t unusual, since it’s rather hard to get your electric bill when you’re running around in the jungle somewhere. And, it was often difficult to make prior arrangements; I’d get a call to come into the Team Room, where we’d be promptly locked into “Isolation” for planning our new mission — no contact with the outside world permitted until our return. Thankfully, my apartment complex manager understood my situation. So, my apartment was always left alone, and I simply paid my back rent when everything was over.

But, none of that helps much on a Friday night when your lights and phone don’t work. So, as was my custom, I hit a hotel near the local shopping mall. The women at the front desk knew me, and welcomed me back, understanding that I’d be there until I could get my utilities turned back on the following Monday.

On that particular Friday night, the woman on the desk had just finished reading one of the Cat Who … books. She looked at me as I stood there in filthy BDU’s that probably smelled as if I’d worn them for a week (A day or two in the jungle is all it takes to make a uniform smell like that!) and the como I hadn’t managed to completely wash off my face and hands. “Here,” she said, handing me the book. “You look like you could use this.”

And she was right. I finished it the next morning. And bought a couple more at the bookstore in the mall, then spent the rest of the day reading them as I smoked cigars and drank beer while sitting in a hot bath.

The lesson?? Even steely-eyed snake eatin’ killers, who run around in Girl Scout hats, sometimes need a break from the daily grind.

Hope this post gave you a bit of a break, too!


19 April 2012

Reality in Mysteries

by Deborah Elliott-Upton

I have a gut feeling that more crimes have been solved based on a hunch than not. The intuitive feeling that nags at a detective or even an amateur sleuth has probably laid out many a trail to find the criminal responsible for a crime and certainly spurred the hunt.

Isn't this one of the reasons we choose to read mysteries? To read along ravenously and put together the clues the author doles out to us like breadcrumbs to starving ducks along a pond, we beg for more in order to follow them and deduce the true villain before the author makes his Big Reveal. Nothing induces a page turner like clues sprinkled along the way to whet our appetite.

Reading a good mystery is like winding our way through a maze. With a starting point and the supposition we will find our way through to the end quickly, we struggle past the red herrings leading to a blocked wall, barring our path. We retreat a few steps and as the GPS is always saying, we "recalculate," probably with more fervor than before. The journey is almost always the true joy and not the destination. I find myself dreading to find only a few more pages left of a really great read. I want to keep the momentum going of the exhilaration I feel as I get closer and closer to being sure of who the culprit is in the mystery. I admit: I am quite the greedy reader.

In real life, the offender is either someone everyone thought would turn out to be prison material or so unsuspecting the neighbors can't believe the stories they hear on the six o'clock news about the nice man down the block.

In mystery stories, this isn't always the case and makes the bad guy more fun to hunt down. Finding who the antagonist is and why he does the things he does is part of the mystery that most excites me as a reader. It's also safer being an armchair detective than one out on the streets actually dealing with people capable of committing such crimes as to be facing arrest, a trial and possible jail time.

I was one who never missed an episode of either "The Shield" or "Homicide" when they were on prime time television. I know some police officers who told me those portrayals were "on the money" as to how it was "on the streets." I know probably just as many who objected that it was completely unreliable. I remember one deputy who said, "In the first episode of 'The Shield' when that one cop killed another point blank, we dismissed the whole series as unbelievable." Another told me, "I can see how that could easily happen."

There is probably a bit of truth in both opinions. Both "The Shield" and "Homicide" showed a dirtier side of law enforcement than most Americans expected to show up on their television screens, but it is probably closer to the truth than not. If we've learned anything from reality TV programs, it's that people aren't always as nice as they were in Mayberry and their language isn't either.

Why would we expect someone being handcuffed and hauled into the back seat of a patrol car to be "nice" anyway? Even on "Cops," where the officers seem to never raise their voices, lose their tempers or let loose a swear word or two, it seems a bit forced. Maybe it's easier to watch your language when you know you're wearing a microphone and television cameras are nearby.

Many people objected to the blue language choices and the darkness of those involved both in law enforcement and on the other side of the law in "The Shield" and "Homicide." I don't condone bad language, but it seems appropriate in some instances in fiction, and certainly in true crime stories.

If every bad guy in a novel talked like a bad guy, the reader would easily guess he's the villain by the end of the first chapter. No need to keep reading that book. The good writer lets part of the maze surrounding the bad guy shield him from our view at least for a while. When we can't see or hear his true self, the character hides in plain sight and makes it more of a delicious undertaking to discover him later.

I have a hunch we will be finding another character hiding in that maze of mystery ready to confuse us with his designs of disguise. In mystery, that's reality.

18 April 2012

Pull the Other One

by Robert Lopresti

I have to warn you. I am a Gloomy Gus today.  Not the usual jolly soul you have come to love and admire over the years.  My milk of human kindness is long past pull-date and my sense of human warmth is approaching absolute zero.

“What is the cause of this uncharacteristic gloom?” you may well ask.  “How have you been cast down to this wretched state, Rob, dear friend?  What, to coin a phrase, is harshing your mellow?”

I shall elucidate.  Yesterday I pulled a muscle in my leg.  It was my own fault, I admit it.  I engaged in a dangerous and reckless activity.  Exercise.

(Let this be a warning to all the impressionable youth out there.  Don’t be led astray by peer pressure!   Sure, it may look tempting when the “cool kids” are out there jogging and lifting weights, but don’t fall into the trap.   Do you really want to end up a muscle-bound  health freak, surviving way past the deaths of most of your friends, not to mention the Social Security system?)

Where was I?  Oh yes.  My leg hurts.  But that’s not all.  My injury is playing holy havoc with my lunch schedule.

At the advice of yet another health nut I recently started spending half of each lunch hour walking while devouring my finger food lunch.  At first, I resented the idea, because I normally spent this interval reading, and reading, as I am sure most of you out there in writer-blog land will understand, is very important to me.

I did find a solution: audio books.  I went to a department store and tried to find something as low tech as a portable CD player hidden among the grains of rice that can hold Bach’s complete works, and the cell phones that guess your weight to the last kilogram.

I did find the the CD players,, hanging out rather sheepishly next to a single, sad, cassette tape player.  Remember them?

Anyway, thus equipped, I went to the library in search of a suitable audio book to read (e-read? Hear? Listen to?).  I settled on Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile, which I highly recommend.   In fact, if the publisher happens to read this, you have my permission to use the following as a blurb.

Moonlight Mile is my favorite book to read while I am walking and eating.  –Robert Lopresti, author of stuff

So, my gimpy leg has shot that half of my lunch hour to hell.  The second half of this festive event is normally spent writing, either a file I brought from home on a flash drive, or editing a story I have already printed out.

Alas, this morning, in my rush to transfer all my worldly goods from my bike panier to my backpack, preparatory to catching a bus to work, I managed to leave both my paper file and flashdrive at home, where they are no doubt entertaining the cats no end.  So I can neither walk nor write.

This reminds me, as so much does, of Jerome K. Jerome, a great Victorian humorist.  As I recall  he once lamented that if he dared to leave on a trip without bringing all the pages and tools he needed to write he was overcome with a desperate urge to write.  On the other hand, if he brought them a long he was never tempted to pull them out for as much as a glance.  Jerome (out of respect, I am calling him by his last name.  I know it is hard to tell) was a great student of human nature.

Have I mentioned that my leg hurts?  If you have never heard one of your own muscles tearing, let me assure you that it is a memorable experience.

This may explain why, lacking the ability to write something useful, I  chose instead to impose this rant on you. Fortunately it is now over.

And remember, if you must exercise, please take the elementary precaution of first removing your legs.

17 April 2012

Evil Under The Sun--Part Two

by David Dean

The following account was largely drawn from the Nassau Guardian and Freeport News of the Bahamas.  Some of the background research was done by myself and any factual errors are my own and unintentional.  I think it serves to illustrate how an insidious crime can infect and corrode an entire nation.  This is the second and concluding half.  

When three boys went missing from Freeport in May of 2003, the entire Commonwealth of the Bahamas experienced a sense of unease, concern, and a shared bafflement as to their fates.  An almost forgotten case of twenty-two years before was resurrected--another instance of three young boys gone missing and never to be seen again; also in the month of May.  Satanic sacrifices and witchcraft began to be discussed and the people's unease soon became suspicion and fear.  The police were unable to shed any light on the circumstances even with the help of a team of FBI profilers.  Then...Junior Reme disappeared from his Freeport home one morning in July.  Fear graduated into terror and xenophobia.  A mysterious grey van was reported to be trolling the back streets of Freeport for little boys; its occupants always in shadow.

With a fourth boy now added to the list American television was enlisted in the search, and Adam Walsh of 'America's Most Wanted' offered his services.  An episode featuring photos of all the boys was duly filmed and aired--all to no avail.  Still there were no witnesses, no new clues...only silence.  Rallies were held in support of the suffering families with massive turn-outs, but still nothing broke in the case.  Two months after Junior Reme's disappearance, September 28th, a fourteen year old boy did not return home.  Desmond Rolle became the fifth name to be added to the list.  The devil was at his play in the Bahamas.

The Nassau Guardian appealed to the mothers of the Bahamas to search their hearts when it came to their own sons...could they know something...could they be somehow involved?  The public, in their turn, castigated the police on their lack of progress, and accused them of being concerned only with the tourists and wealthy; not the poor and working people that appeared to be the target of this plague of disappearances.  The rifts that had begun in May grew wider and uglier.  Haitian immigrants, long a source of heated debate within the Bahamas, came under an ever closer scrutiny.  Their ways were not the ways of Bahamians: Whereas the Bahamians spoke English, the Haitians spoke Creole French; the natives were by and large Protestants, the immigrants were Catholic, the Bahamians prized good behavior and obedience to the law, the foreigners had come from a lawless, violent country.  Perhaps more importantly was the Haitians legendary Voodoo practices--were these not Satanic in nature?  Though some Bahamians practiced a similar alternate religion call Obediah, it was not generally accepted.

October was to change everything--On the third of the month Assistant Commissioner Ellison Greenslade announced that more than three persons had been taken into custody as a result of "substantial" tips received by the police.  He added that the police still had reason to believe that the missing boys were alive.  He also made clear that Desmond Rolle, the latest victim, had been a packer at the local Winn Dixie grocery store just as the others had been and that they now knew all the boys had frequented the same downtown video game store.  He refused any information on the suspects in custody.

Immediately following the press conference, a team of policemen descended upon the Winn Dixie, as a large crowd gathered in the parking lot and rumors began to swirl of refrigerated body parts.  The police denied the rumors: "Absolute Hogwash," said Greenslade.  There were still no boys.

The following day, when pressed by reporters, the police stated that they had nothing major to report.  When the liaison officer was questioned as to rumors that the boys may have become victims of 'organ harvesters' for the medical black market, he responded that there was no evidence to substantiate such a thing.  The police continued to be tight-lipped on the suspects in custody.  Meanwhile CNN aired a story on the disappearances world-wide and a cruise ship cancelled its trip to Freeport.

By October 8th it was learned that several mothers and their juvenile sons were being held by the police.  The story was broken when one of the mothers complained to the media after her release that she wanted her boy back, and that she was contemplating suicide as a result of their treatment.  It became understood that three; possibly more, juveniles, some as young as eleven, were being detained.  The police had 96 hours in which to hold them without charges.  Citizens reported extensive police searches going on in a wooded area to the rear of the Tivoli Gardens apartment complex.

On another front, Member of Parliament, Lindy Russell, decried the intrusive and disruptive nature of the media's handling of the entire crises, and accused them of hurting the families and hampering the investigation.  He further castigated his fellow MP's over their lack of action in the matter, and said the government must move swiftly to assist families in socially depressed areas that can become catalysts for sexual exploitation of children and adults.

On October 10th, the police released a bombshell when they announced that four boys were being charged with the manslaughter of Jake Grant, the first of the children to go missing.  The youngsters, ranging in age from 11 to 13 were indicted at the Grand Bahama Island courthouse late on a Friday morning.  It was the first substantial break in a case that was now five months old and with as many missing children.  Three of the arrested boys were Haitian nationals.  During the arraignment a large crowd had to be held back on the courthouse lawn by a combination of police and Defense Force officers clad in army fatigues.  The crowd and media was reminded over and over to stand back as they continued to inch forward.  After just an hour the boys were escorted from the courthouse to a waiting bus and the horde of on-lookers surged forth.  Screams of "my boy" and "they little boys" were heard and reported by the press.  An ambulance was summoned to treat a woman who had collapsed.  As the police bus sped away with the boys to the airport, from where they would be flown to the Simpson Penn Juvenile Detention Center in Nassau, people wept and clung to one another.  Some family members became angry and began shouting at the police, but a heavy rain shower intervened, dispersing the irate, sobbing crowd to their various homes. The remainder of the missing boy cases were being treated separately according to a statement from the police.  The public remained anxious and confused.

Rumors spread quickly on October 26th that two bodies had been discovered at Freeport's Barbary Beach and that a man was being held in custody.  The police denied the rumors.  Three days later, Cordell Darrell Farrington, 35, a warehouse worker for Kelly's Freeport Limited, was charged with five counts of murder--that of the four remaining boys and an adult who had been missing since 2002.  He had turned himself into the police. It was also revealed that the police had recovered five skeletal remains in a remote pine forest on the eastern part of the island.  Police said that Farrington, a Bahamian national, met the boys informally and was able to gain their confidence before murdering them.  It appeared that, at last, the six-month reign of terror was over.

Cordell Farrington pled guilty to manslaughter in the deaths of Mackinson Colas, Deangelo McKenzie, Junior Reme, and Desmond Rolle.  He was later convicted of murder in the case of the adult, Jamal Robins, 22, who had allegedly been his lover.  This conviction was changed to one of manslaughter in 2008 due to the court accepting proof that he suffered from a severe personality disorder.  He was the eldest of five children.

Jake Grant's body was never discovered.  It was alleged by the police that he had been drowned in a swimming pool by the boys charged in his death.  Several years later the charges were dismissed. Jake's mother still holds on to the hope that he will be found.

Farrington's mother, who was also a victim in all of this, stated that, "We will never be known by our name anymore."

The boys funerals were not held for over a year pending forensic testing on their remains. 

The Funeral of Deangelo McKenzie, Mackinson Colas, Junior Deme, and Desmond Rolle

16 April 2012

Another World

By Fran Rizer
I lost my mom this week. No, she's not yet dead as I write this, but she's essentially comatose. I sit beside her for two reasons. First, if she should hear anything through her condition, I want her to hear my voice and my words of love. Second, I'm here because I want to be with her, whether she knows it or not.
Brutally, I actually lost her last week when she regressed to her childhood, crying because she couldn't find her shoes to be ready for school. She began seeing and talking to my deceased dad as well as her mother, grandparents, brothers and sisters, but only the ones who are dead. Throughout her illness and decline she's wanted me there with her. Last week, she refused to believe I'm her daughter...because, "My daughter is a beautiful baby with curly red hair." She's been in another world since then.
As I sit here in a recliner beside the hospital bed, laptop balanced on my knees, I think how every location of this journey--hospital, rehab center, intensive care units and now Hospice-assisted skilled nursing care unit were unknown worlds to us. My heart aches for the patients who've had no visitors before or after a few relatives who came in Easter afternoon carrying potted lillies. Since November, whatever facility we were in, Mama has had visitors daily in addition to me, my sons, and my grandson, who've been there every day.
I thought I might later write a short story that takes place in one of these other worlds that I've visited the past five months, but I don't really believe I'll write anything with a medical setting. Then I thought of the world my mom was in yesterday, the world of her childhood and later young motherhood when I was a "beautiful baby with curly red hair." Perhaps one day I'll write a story set in the world Mom's been in recently--nineteen thirties and forties.
When we write fiction, we create another world. Even if the setting is a real place, the effects of our characters' actions color that authentic place converting it to the fictional world of our plot. When I wrote the Callie Parrish series, I "created" a town near Beaufort, SC. My St. Mary, SC, is a small town with a few stores, a mortuary and only one pizza place, but fortunately it's a Domino's and delivers. When the first Callie was published, I'd checked that there is no St, Mary, SC, but I later learned that there is a St. Mary's in Georgia. I thought perhaps that explained the readers who enthusiastically told me, "I've been to St. Mary."
In the second Callie mystery, Callie and Jane go to a bluegrass festival on Surcie Island. There is NO Surcie Island off the coast of the United States! Surcie is an old Southern colloquilism for surprise, as in, "Were you good while Mommy went shopping? I'm glad because I brought you a surcie." The surcie was generally a piece of candy, and the sitter was delighted that she also received a surcie. As a child, I wanted to live on an island I created in my mind and named Surcie Island, an island version of Willie Wonka's chocolate factory, so I named Callie's island for one of my childhood imaginary worlds. In reality, the Surcie Island of the Callie books is a cross between Daufuskie of Robert Conrad fame, and South Carolina's Edisto Island thirty-five years ago before it was commercially developed. Yet. . .readers also tell me enthusiastically that they've been to Surcie Island.
My readers feel they've been to worlds I've created. As I sit here, I wish that I were able to be with my mother in the other worlds she's in these days. I wish I knew more about her childhood and more about when I was a baby, though I do know that as the first child as the first of nine children, I was pampered and spoiled by my parents, grandparents and lots of aunts and uncles. I also know from the relatives who've traveled far distances repeatedly to visit my mother, their sister, sister-in-law and aunt that my mom, the matriarch of the family is loved by many.
I've already used my emergency column and haven't had time to replace it, so today I'm sharing with you another world I never imagined, my mother's world as she seeks to move on to yet another world. I could have written about mothers today, perhaps even introduced you to my mother personally, but my heart can't do that right now. Instead, I'll close with a quotation from Sharon Doubiago:
My mother is a poem
I'll never be able to write;
though everything I write
is a poem to my mother.
Until we meet again. . . take care of YOU.

15 April 2012

Florida News (Desperados Edition)

by Leigh Lundin

Fingering a Suspect

St. Cloud, FL.  St. Cloud is a pretty little town south of Orlando that hasn't quite lost its rustic flavor. I enjoy staying with friends here, but I worry the drive for growth may damage what makes it worthwhile. But I digress.

fingered Thursday, 5 April saw a shooting during a Kissimmee raid. St. Cloud police officer John Nettles 'perceived a threat' and shot off the middle finger of fellow officer Scott Wetherhold.


The Orlando Sentinel reports an investigation is under way, but I think it went something like this: "Damn it, John. For the last time I'm telling you not to point that in my direction…" Blam! "Owwww!"

This is not related to the Oregon cretin who fought in court for the right to give cops the finger. Sheesh, Bubba, pick your battles.

Courthouse Caper

Fort Lauderdale, FL.  Follow this: A Coral Springs dude went to court for his parole hearing. While there, he stole the judge's nameplate off the Broward County courtroom door. He then posted photographic evidence of his misdemeanor on Facebook, whereupon deputies arrested him.

Stealing the sign violated terms of his parole.

Rubbing Out a Child

Miami, FL. 
A couple of parents didn't sign consent forms (and local news reported they didn't pay) for an elementary school group photograph. Following the orders of the PTA, the cameraman used Photoshop to erase one of the children. As for the other child, well, see for yourself.

Cheesy Proposition

Manatee, FL.  Man, those Manatee County women are hungry! A woman offered sex in exchange for two double cheeseburgers, according to a deputy. Meanwhile, a woman under arrest in the county jail bit an officer so hard, she lost her two front teeth.

That bites.

♬♩ All I Want for Christmas… ♪♫

But Officer, These Are my IDs

Vero Beach, FL.  When asked for identification, a Vero Beach Vixen bared her breasts, where she had tattooed "Poem of Dead Tree". Will Greenlee reports close inspection couldn't determine whether the poem was "a haiku, sonnet, ode, couplet, ballad, epic or limerick or whether iambic pentameter is involved" or even if the poem was self published.

Susan StickleHidden Where?

Bradenton, FL.  After a stop for a broken muffler, police not only found drugs in the car, but also found the driver hid hydromorphone in her dentures. However, this next story…

Niceville, FL. 
Officer Mary-Kathleen Devine stopped two women driving a car suspected in a crime. One of the woman had a treasury of concealed items in her pants or, as the Sunshine Slate delicately put it, stashed in her lady locker.

Dump Site

Fort Pierce, FL.  This story is about a stolen vehicle and, well, you'd better read the article for yourself. Yep, this is Florida.


Dania Beach, FL.  Oneal Morris, the transgender woman (M➠F) arrested in Miami last year for 'enhancing' the butts of others with such Big Lots materials as construction caulking compound, cement, and Fix-a-Flat for the bargain price of $700,  is back in the news again for doing the same thing in Broward County.

It's not clear 'patients' noticed the perpetrator's own backside.

Trayvon Martin

Sanford, FL.  As most of you know, George Zimmerman has been arrested and charged with second degree murder in the Trayvon Martin case. Most people are satisfied, the Martin family urges this to be about justice and not vengeance, and the governor is assembling a task force to review our crazy Stand Your Ground law that precipitated so many unpunished murders here.

Rev. Al Sharpton gave a surprisingly temperate speech saying no one should gloat, while Zimmerman supporter and legal expert Sean Hannity claimed his conversation with Zimmerman was 'privileged', whatever that means. So, with a bit of luck and cooler heads, we might actually reach a point where we perhaps dismantle one of the more ill-conceived laws of recent years and attain a judgment that doesn't ruin a second life.

In the meantime, Florida continues its ongoing craziness. We don't want you to miss out, do we?