07 July 2012

Home Alone

by John M. Floyd


A few weeks ago our family--my wife and I, our three children, and their spouses and children--spent a week in the mountains of east Tennessee.  Thirteen of us, five of whom are under the age of seven, lived together for six days in a four-story, six-bedroom cabin, and somehow managed to do it without any major arguments or threats to life and limb.  I can't say we were roughing it, because the place included a pool table, hot tub, Wi-Fi, and seven TV sets--but, to our credit, none of the TVs even got switched on, except for the night our oldest son plugged his camera into one of them to show us a movie he'd made of a kindergarten music-program featuring one of his kids.

Anyhow, we had a great time; the weather was cool and clear and totally unsummerlike for the whole trip.  Every day after breakfast, the Floyd clan hiked up and down mountains until two of us (guess who) were wheezing and had our tongues hanging out.  Lunch was always a picnic somewhere along the trail, and by five o'clock or so we were usually back at the cabin, where we had a group supper and got all the kiddos calmed down and in bed.  The eight grownups then sat around on the deck and snacked and propped up our sore feet and visited until the wee hours.

You guys go ahead--don't worry about me . . .

But my column today, believe it or not, isn't about road trips or backpacking or family reunions.  It's about writing.  Because on the first of those six days in the wild, I was recovering but still suffering from a head cold and chose to stay behind while the rest of the family packed up and trudged off into the black forest.  From eight o'clock until around four-thirty that day, I sat around by myself, taking it easy and occasionally taking in the view.  And writing.

I wrote for most of the day, and while I wish I could tell you I was writing a SleuthSayer column, I wasn't.  I was writing a short story--what used to be called a mini-mystery and is now called a "solve-it-yourself" mystery--for a magazine called Woman's World.

I was surprised at how smoothly it went.  Part of it was the quiet and the solitude, I guess, and the knowledge that there really wasn't anything else to do while the rest of my crew were off someplace having a good time.  Whatever the reason, the ideas and the words seemed to appear in my stuffy head without much effort at all.  It did, however, take some effort to make them appear in tangible form, since I was using an ink pen and a yellow legal pad I had thrown into my briefcase for the trip.  (My iPad worked well for e-mail and websurfing but I had not yet--and still have not--installed a word-processing program on it.)  I do actually remember how to write words by hand, though, and within half an hour I had jotted down a rough draft on the first four sheets of my lined pad.

The cutting-room floor

The rewriting was the only thing that was hard.  I do a lot of rewriting, and always have, but I'm a bit spoiled; after all, editing my own work on a computer screen is easy.  On paper it's not.  I did a few markouts and additions and other corrections on the sheets I'd already written, but most of my revisions were accomplished by starting over and writing a complete second draft, and then a third.  And since these WW submissions must have a short and very specific wordcount, I even wound up (don't laugh) counting the words each time, right down to every "a" and "the."  Which can be a tiresome job, and a reminder of how things "used to be."

When I was done I had filled a dozen pages, the first eight of which, of course, were now worthless.  The last four pages contained the almost-final draft of my handwritten story.

By then it was past lunchtime, so I gobbled down whatever food I could find in our Ponderosa-sized kitchen, caught a nap, and then took my better-(I hoped)-but-not-yet-completed story out onto the third-floor deck to read it over. I have always--even during my college and Air Force days--been able to do some of my best thinking when my feet are elevated to at least the level of my head, and one of the adjustable lounge chairs was just right for this phase of my creative process.  By the time my weary and sweaty kinfolks had returned from their day's adventures, I had made all my final edits and had a story in hand that now was . . . well, I won't say perfect--but was as perfect as I thought that particular story could be.  I had a product that was ready to be taken home, typed, and submitted to the WW fiction editor.

Post-production notes

Every day after that, I hiked through hill and dale with the rest of the family; my cold was better and my story was finished and safely packed away.  When we wrapped up the week and had driven the five hundred miles back to our house in Mississippi I did indeed send that story off into the world to try to make something of itself.  I haven't yet heard anything back about it, so I don't know if it'll prove to be a winner or a loser, but at least I'm satisfied with it.

I've completed several more stories since then, but all of those have been written right here in this chair in my home office, using my trusty iMac.  My future plans include installing the Apple version of MS Word on my iPad, but until then, on any trip I take, I plan to again pack plenty of paper and a few Foray rollerball pens.  Just in case I find myself grounded for a while.

Call it a wilderness survival kit.

06 July 2012

Blue Light Special

by R.T. Lawton

Along about the Summer of 1980, I got orders for a special down in Miami. These "specials" came up from time to time whenever the agency temporarily needed extra manpower to help out in a certain region. For this one, the Miami group which normally worked with Customs and Coast Guard was headed down into the Caribbean for their own special operation in some of the islands, so the agency brought in other agents from all over the U.S. to replace them. That's when my name came up in the rotation and I got drafted to Miami.

In those days, Castro had already emptied many of his prison cells and put the inmates on boats headed for Florida. You've probably seen Al Pachino in Scarface. Well, those were some of the Marielitos that ended up in Liberty City under the Interstate overpass. Liberty City as a holding center was winding down by the time we got there, which meant many of its inhabitants were now residents of Miami. This was also the era of the Cocaine Cowboys, low-flying planes dropping clandestine loads in the Everglades, go-fast boats running in from the Bahama Banks and mother ships coming up from Colombia. Miami was flush with drug money and vibrated with adrenaline.

Most nights, our group hooked up with Customs agents a few hours before dark. They'd take us to a Cuban restaurant for supper and then it was down to the docks for a briefing. One or two of our guys always got assigned to the Customs tug that had radar on it. The rest got singled out to go-fast boats previously seized from smugglers and paired up with Customs agents.
Out on the water, sometimes in sight of the city lights and sometimes sitting off some dark part of the Florida coast, the tug would take up a position in the middle of our long, thin line, while the go-fasts spread way out to either side. We hunted in wolf packs, waiting for a radio call from the tug that their radar had picked up a fast moving blip coming in from Jamaica, the Bahama Banks or elsewhere. Smugglers trying to make a midnight run with offload crews waiting at a secret rendezvous.

The Customs agent in my go-fast would slap a blue Kojak light on the prow, kick the engine to life and away we'd go. Nobody had uniforms to identify ourselves, except the Captain and the First Mate on the tug. The rest of us in those days wore plain clothes. All we had were our badges, side arms and that blue revolving light.

When smugglers saw that flashing blue light, they'd try to turn to one side, but if we had done it right, then we'd soon have other flashing blue lights converging on both sides. Most times, if they could, the smugglers would keep on going, run their boat up on the nearest beach and disappear into the night landscape. They'd merely abandon their vessel and its contraband load. Better than a stretch in federal prison.

What we found out later was that most smugglers wouldn't even think of stopping because of other actions happening further south in the Keys. Seems there were some good ol' boys in some of the back waters who had their own go-fast boats, but didn't have enough front money to get involved in the drug trade, so they went out and bought their own blue lights. They'd motor out into the southern Florida waters and pull over boats they thought were smuggling. If they caught a load, they'd steal it, shoot up the other boat and maybe its occupants. This made smugglers a little antsy about pulling over for any blue light. Can't say I blame them, but it made our job harder.

On quiet nights, if the Customs agent got bored, he was likely to slide our go-fast up next to a private fishing boat in the dark, slap the blue light on, knock on the hull with his knuckles and announce his authority. When a head appeared over the rail, he'd tell them we were coming aboard to check records and maybe search the guy's boat. Some smugglers relied on hidden compartments and the appearance of normalcy to bring in their loads. Thus, we ended up searching for fresh seams or paint in the cabin and after deck. Anything that looked newly reworked or out of place.

Of course, the trick for us landlubbers gone to sea for the first time was learning how to board from one dead-in-the-water boat to another dead-in-the water boat while both platforms were bobbing up and down in ocean swells out of synch. One mis-timed leap and you could either land on the far side of the other deck with a lot of momentum headed for the outside rail and a quick bath, or one could find himself suddenly pressed flat against the other hull and sliding down....towards a quick bath.

Like most surveillance, the majority of nights were quiet and boring. But then, came those nights filled with adrenaline, excitement and the BLUE LIGHT SPECIALS. We're not talking K-Mart here.

05 July 2012

A Cautionary Tale

By Eve Fisher

Ah, the High Plains.  Where the living is easy, there's more freedom, less government intrusion, and you can do any damn thing you want to do.  Sorry, but there’s no such place.  Sure, you get enough  acres, you can do just about any thing you want out in the middle of it.  But you’re still going to have to behave yourself once you come out of there:  for one thing, there are such things as OTHER PEOPLE.  Even in South Dakota.  We don't have a huge population up here, but that only increases everyone's dependence on everyone else, no matter what they think of that concept.  And, as always, it helps if you treat people decently, and don't quarrel with them, or else you could end up like a man I will call Gus Olson.  (All names, and some details, have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.) 

Gus lived in an old house on a corner lot in a town much smaller than Madison.  The trouble all started with his old cars.  First he had two, then he had five, then he six, then he had eight, next thing you know a dozen, and they were all junkers, piled up on top of each other and rusting away.  Well, there were complaints, and the city council gave him warnings, all of which he ignored.  Except for some choice language.  He quit repairing or painting his house.  Trash started piling up.  So did the citations.  Eventually he put up a ten foot high board fence running all the way around his property, which cost him a lot more than moving the cars and hauling away the garbage would have.  

Now Gus had decided he was being persecuted back when people complained about the junkers.  So he started warning people to stay the hell off of his property.  Nobody took him real seriously until he started standing on his front steps with a shotgun.  Didn't shoot, didn't threaten, just stood there.  Technically, it was legal, but it was sure unfriendly.  Basically, Gus made it plain that nobody – NOBODY – was to set foot on his property.  He met the postman down at the sidewalk, and he stood right next to the meter reader as she read his dials.  A couple of people tried to talk to him, but he chased them all off.  He put up signs all along his property:  
"ABSOLUTELY NO TRESPASSING!
THIS MEANS YOU!"
He quit talking to just about everybody in town, except to snarl at them.  He showed up at city council meetings and school board meetings and county commission meetings to rant about how persecuted he was, and how he’d have anybody’s hide that touched one thing on his property.  That a man’s home was his castle, and the rights of private property were absolute.  There was no doubt he meant every word of it.  And legally - we have "castle doctrine" big time in SD - he was absolutely right.

So, when Gus’ garage caught fire one night, the fire department – did I mention that up here small town fire departments are all volunteer? – showed up and did nothing but wet down the tall fence, and even doing that, they felt they were risking their lives.  After all, Gus had personally threatened to shoot each and every one of them if they ever set foot on his property.  So they stood there and watched as Gus’ garage burned to the ground, and half his house went with it. 

For some reason, he was pissed off about that.  He wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper saying, and I quote, "I don't understand how they could stand there and do nothing.  I know I said I'd shoot them all, but still, they should have tried to put out the fire." 

So, what do you think the fire department should have done?   As for Gus, he's still around, but he's not nearly as mouthy as he used to be.

04 July 2012

Five Red Herrings, the Second School

by Robert Lopresti

1.  Missed connection
On this blog and its predecessor I often write about my Work In Progress, whatever that happens to be.  On the rare and wonderful occasions when one of them turns into a Work In Print I usually mention the previous column, but this time I forgot.  My story "Shanks Commences" was published this spring, but I wrote about the process of writing it back in 2009  and I even quote a draft of it here. 

2.  Quite Interesting

This has nothing to with crime or writing, but I know a lot of us like puzzles.  Go to Youtube some time and search for QI Fry.  QI (Quite Interesting) is the most intellectually challenging quiz show you are likely to run across.  The questions are so deliberately obscure or tricky that the panelists are not expected to answer any of them correctly.  Therefore they get points for coming up with interesting wrong answers.  However, they are penalized for boring wrong answers (boring defined as any answer the show's writers predicted).    The panelists are usually comedians which keeps it entertaining. 

If one of our American networks every wants to bring their own version I know one of our citizens with the brains and wit to replace Stephen Fry as host: Ken Jennings.

3.  The Horror...The Horror
If you haven't had your recommended daily allotment of schadenfreude, let me commend you to this piece.  Mandy DeGeit writes horror fiction and she recently had her first story accepted for an anthology published by Undead Press.  She bought boxes of the book for friends and relatives and then made the mistake of opening one of them.  The title of her story appeared as:

“She Make’s Me Smile”

Okay.  So an apostrophe had wandered in where God never intended one to be.  Not so tragic if everything else is okay.  At least the editor didn't, for example, add a couple of paragraphs describing animal abuse that were not in the original piece.

Oh, wait.  The editor did that?

And more, as it turned out.  DeGeit wrote to the editor to discuss this and for her trouble she received a reply complaining about "unstable" and "ungrateful" writers.  And you thought you were having a bad day.


4.  Parks on the Road to Hell


I just discovered Richard Parks blog  courtesy of Sandra Seamans' invaluable blog My Little Corner. This is one of the best pieces about the importance of first lines I have come across.  Quite a different view than you usually hear.


5.  Dr. Doyle, call your office.

I have been reading the Mystery Writers of America Annual, which is provided to everyone who attends the Edgars Banquet, and then sent to other members.   One of the many essays is by Leslie S. Klinger, the editor of the New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.  He mentions that after giving a presentation at a library he was thanked by an enthusiastic member of the audience.

"I'm so glad I came today," she said.  "I'm a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, and I didn't know there were books!"

Hoping life holds some pleasant surprises for you as well.

03 July 2012

Brief Versus Short

 by Dale C. Andrews

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
    Last week I received an eagerly awaited piece of mail – a check.  The amount of the check, paid in compensation for a 26 page document I wrote this year, may not have been huge, but neither was it all that modest.  It was, for comparisons sake, more than  my annual salary  back in 1972 when I was still programming computers.  It was also about 8 times more than I have received in total for the short stories I have sold over the past few years.  Unlike those stories, this novella length document wasn’t fiction at all.  The check was payment for a legal brief that I agreed to write in a case involving a challenge to new consumer regulations published by the United States Department of Transportation. 

    I know, I know.  I make a point here and elsewhere of being a “recovering” attorney.  But this case tempted me back into the legal arena since I was asked to defend regulations that are pro-consumer, and with which I personally agree.  Also the payment would be, well, generous. 

    The last 20 years that I practiced law I was the Deputy Assistant General Counsel in the Department of Transportation’s litigation office.  For a host of reasons I enjoyed that position much more than I had my previous 15 years of practice in the private sector.  At DOT almost everything that I did revolved around the written word.  I specialized in appellate and Supreme Court litigation, so there was no interviewing of witnesses or trial work for me.  Rather, I spent my years writing and editing the writing of others.  When I was in private practice it bugged me no end to think that every hour I spent on a project needed to be billed to someone.  Time and money were stapled together at the ankles.  Separating hours worked from compensation received is one of the greatest joys in working for the government.   While work still stacks up, there is nevertheless the opportunity to give each task the amount of time it requires rather than the amount of time that can justifiably be multiplied by an applicable hourly rate.  Nonetheless, I am human, and I like money as well as the next guy.  So I admit that it was the prospect of those billable hours that enticed me to write that brief this year.

    By contrast, each of us here at SleuthSayers, I will bet, is marching to a different drummer.  You basically can’t make anything close to a living writing short stories.  The last mystery writer who may have been able to eke out that sort of living was Ed Hoch, and I would be very surprised if there are any more of his ilk out on the horizon. 

    This was not always the case.  O. Henry wrote virtually only short stories, and apparently lived well.  Shirley Jackson left a handful of novels, but was principally known for her incredible short stories.  Faulkner, Hemmingway and Steinbeck each cut their teeth on short stories, as did Stephen King. 

    It is interesting to speculate as to what has changed since the heyday of magazine fiction.  John Floyd, in a column last week, set forth a list of outlets that currently pay for new short stories.  That list is paltry compared to the publications that were readily available at neighborhood news counters in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.  And why is this the case?  Economics teaches us that the magazines that are no more ceased to exist only because readers stopped purchasing them.  It’s pretty simple – when readers go away the market contracts.  Since the demise of many of those short story outlets coincided with the rise of television it is tempting to link the two.  Did readers leave because of the advent of television?  If so, why was that the case?  Mystery stories were a hallmark of radio programming before televisions entered our living rooms and yet the market for printed short stories thrived alongside radio dramas. 

  Thinking about this I was reminded of an episode on the Twilight Zone – actually, the 1985 re-boot of the show on CBS.  The episode, part of the 1985 Christmas show, was titled “But Can She Type?” and centered on a much-abused secretary who was transported into a parallel universe where secretarial skills were revered.  The scenario of that episode is not unlike the situation that short story authors find themselves in – we seem to be stuck in a universe that no longer fully appreciates our contributions.

    It is possible, with the advent of epublications and stories and books that are obtainable over the internet without ever being published in hardcover, that the pendulum may now be swinging back to a more amenable position.  But I still am a bit of a skeptic.  After all, the demise of all of those mystery magazines that we bought as kids was not a fluke – they left the shelves because the public stopped buying them.  Does the ability to download a book or a story heighten the public’s interest in acquiring the story?  Of course from an economics standpoint it could be that the readership market, while still narrow, is also deep, and that on-line availability of mystery fiction will appeal to those still interested in the genre who, for whatever reason, are not frequent purchasers of hardcopy books and magazines. 

    Regardless of whether these new outlets are harbingers of better things to come, at least, as John pointed out last week, there are markets that are out there right now.  But there are also strange disparities.  I spend roughly the same amount of time on a short story that I spent on that brief to the D.C. Court of Appeals.  My writing style changes somewhat when I shift from fiction to persuasive rhetoric, but it doesn’t really change all that much.  I still end up using the same words, the same organizational approach, and pretty much the same cadence.  But one of those efforts, if successful, brings monetary rewards that are probably at best only about five percent of the potential of the other. 

    In any event, no matter how the economics sort out, those of us committed to spinning yarns are in this for non-monetary gratification.  We are also in it for the long run!

02 July 2012

What’s Up With a Bunch of Grapes?


by Jan Grape


As I write this on Friday night I’m trying to finalize some housekeeping chores and getting everything ready to pack  because I’m flying to New Jersey for our Tri-annual Grape Family Reunion. Yep, a whole bunch of Grape get together every three years to see what’s going on in the lives of the seven offspring of the family I married into forty-four years ago.  In 1975, Mom Grape, who lived in Loma Linda CA, passed away and my late husband, Elmer went out for the funeral.  His oldest sister, Ina was in the hospital in VA having just undergone mastectomy surgery and was unable to attend.  Elmer thought it was just too cruel to only get to see his brothers and sisters in the time of tragedy but half lived on the west coast and half on the east coast and he’d settled in Texas.  He was next to the youngest but always seemed to be listened to because of the three boys he was the most outspoken and so his idea was to have a family reunion the next summer, 1976, and have it at our house in Memphis TN where we’d lived since ‘72.

When he got back home and told me, I readily agreed.  I had met all of his brothers and sisters already and knew there was a good chance we’d have a darn good time.  And we did, despite the fact that the last two weeks of August turned out to be one of the worst summers for Memphis because of unusually high humidity.  We’d lived in Houston previously but you never get used to high humidity. All of the brothers and sisters came with spouses except one sister recently widowed and one sis who have never married.  A number of nieces and nephews came, I don’t recall exact number of each but we had 48 people who came during that two week time-frame. We had a small house, (1350 sq. ft. 3 bedroom,1-1/2 bath) but we had a camper and a friend loaned us a trailer and a next-door neighbor who was out of town loaned her house for bathroom privileges.  A couple of people came in a camper of their own and everyone else fought for a space on the floor for a sleeping bag. We had snagged 3-4 army cots for a females only dormitory in the living room. We claimed all step-children and adopted children without any problems and still do. Everyone took turns cooking and everyone helped with clean-up. We took a riverboat ride on the Mississippi, visited the new shopping mall that Elmer had built. He was a superintendent in commercial construction and this was the first two-level mall within a five hundred mile radius. 

It was decided that we’d have these reunions every three years because everyone lived so far away and that long time in between would give folks a chance to save up vacation time and extra money to make the trip to the next location.  In 1979 we went to Fairfax, VA,  to Ina’s house. And our sweet  never married Esther  had just married at age 57. She came but her new hubby couldn’t make it, then in 1982 we went to Cory, PA to Roger’s who is the youngest boy.  In 1985 Elmer & I had moved back to Houston and once again hosted. Oh horrors, heat and humidity once again but we survived. We also had a wedding that year, Easter & Mom Grape had raised & adopted Jeanie and she and Alan had a lovely formal wedding with the reception at our house.  Our house was a little larger, we did have 2 bathrooms yet somehow we managed although we had suitcases lining the hallway and sleeping bags once again littered our floors.

In 1988 we had moved to Austin and our niece Dona lived directly behind us, so guess who agreed to have the reunion.  She had 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and so did we. We had a gate in the back yard fence so people could walk back and forth easily. Plus we also had a Motel 6 just across I-35 which worked out nicely. But that year I said it was time for the younger set, the nieces and nephews, to take over the hosting job. In 1991 we went to Hyde Park, NY, in 1994 Council Bluffs, IA, in 1997 Bergen, NY and in 2000, our daughter Karla hosted the reunion in Nashville, TN.  In 2003, our niece Dona hosted us at her lovely home on Inks Lake, TX (75 miles west of Austin.)  In  2006, Kissimmee FL, I missed  our reunion for my first time. Elmer had passed away only 5 months before and I just wasn’t up to going. In 2009 we went to Sacramento, CA. We had a fantastic time and as usual did a lot of sight-seeing.

This year, a nephew who lives in Little Falls, NJ, which is only 20 min. from NYC is hosting and I’m so excited to be going. I’m leaving from Austin Airport about noon on Sunday, July 1st and will stay until the 7th or 8th.  I’m really looking forward to getting together with everyone.  We try not to dwell on the ones we’ve lost because there are new little ones and new spouses every time you turn around.  As usual we’ll enjoy each other’s company and see some wonderful new sights.  I have no idea who will volunteer to host this awesome family reunion in 2015, but you can bet I’ll be going and having a “GRAPE” time.

Sorry, I didn’t talk about writing this time, but I’ve been recovering from a ear and sinus infection and with this upcoming super family reunion constantly on my mind, it just naturally was the only thing I could think of to write about.  In case anyone is wondering, Knut Grape,  the patriarch of this family (1871-1953) was 100% Swede. In Sweden they have an umlaut over the E but since we don’t use those marks in the USA we’re happy to just say our name is Grape. Elmer and I made two trips to Sweden and met a number of distant cousins. We now have some who come to our reunions and that is way cool.

Next time…I will be back on script.


  

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.

30 June 2012

The Thinker Crowd

by Elizabeth Zelvin

Somebody once said that writers are people who haven’t forgotten their childhood. I’ve never been quite sure what that meant or if it was necessarily true. Certainly, many fine writers have evoked the sense of wonder and the magical thinking associated with childhood, as well as its pain and powerlessness. I’ve read many books that portray kids—and groups of kids—as living in a world of their own that adults don’t even know exists, much less influence. For example, Lord of the Flies succeeded because the archetypal view of kids as pack animals in whom cruelty and the desire to scapegoat lie just beneath the surface must have struck a chord in many. In adolescence too, we have certain archetypes.A friend recently explained the popularity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and by extension, a host of bubble gum movie comedies with a misfit protagonist) by saying the show’s simple premise was, “High school is hell.”

My problem with this is that high school wasn’t hell for me. Nor did my experience there focus on clothes or dates or popularity or stuff. I did have a “crowd”, a group of friends. But I’ve never seen anything like “the Thinker crowd” in a book or movie about teens. There were about 200 of us in a large high school in one of the outer boroughs of New York City. We were the intellectuals and radicals, the kids who ran the school newspaper and literary magazine, the kids who signed petitions and wouldn’t say “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. The boys wore black turtlenecks and blue denim work shirts, and I paid so little attention to fashion that I can’t even remember what the girls wore. We didn’t drink at our parties, and the only dancing we did was Israeli folk dancing. More often, we sat on the floor and sang folk songs. We brought our guitars to parties as a matter of course. Manhattan was our Mecca: we spent Saturday afternoons at the Museum of Modern Art (then gloriously free) and our Sunday afternoons hanging out in Washington Square Park. The musicians we came to hear played for the sheer love of it. They didn’t even pass a hat.

The “Thinker” that gave us our name was an illicit little journal we put out on topics of general interest, like nuclear weapons, the Chinese communes and Israeli kibbutzim, and the works of Aldous Huxley. The red diaper babies among us, kids whose fathers had fought romantically in the Spanish Civil War, gave it its tone. Looking back, I’m not convinced I understood half of what we said. But I had a great time thinking I did. We also had “Thinker parties” at which a topic would be chosen and hotly debated. This was the Fifties. We didn’t even do drugs. We called ourselves beatniks—the term “hippie” hadn’t been invented yet. And we lived in New York City, where the driving age was 18 and most graduated high school at 16 or 17. We knew a lot about politics and culture and nothing about sex and cars.

We had a Thinker party along with the formal 30th reunion of my class’s graduation. (The official reunion was fun too, since the “other crowd,” the conventional ones who ran for student government and joined fraternities and sororities, had turned into perfectly nice people.) About three dozen of us from the Thinker crowd showed up. We still had plenty to say to each other. We all agreed that the good time we’d had in high school was remarkable. Like me, many remembered the quality of friendships within the group and the relative absence of sexual rivalry, competitiveness, and malice. Now it’s more than fifty years since graduation, and every year I hear of one or more who have died. Even if I hadn’t seen them for decades, I remember them vividly. I won’t forget any of us.

29 June 2012

Rebirth in a Smartphone

by Dixon Hill
 
SleuthSayers is about Reading and Writing and Mystery. 

At least, that’s how I understand it.

So, this week’s blog is about all three: Reading, Writing, and a very special type of technical Mystery my dad and I experienced this past week.

An odd thing happened to me on Tuesday. 

I became the new owner of a Smartphone with an unlimited data package.

This strikes me as odd, because — up until Tuesday — the only cell phone I had access to was a Virgin Mobile prepaid flip phone that didn’t even text very well. (Not that I have a lot of “texting” friends, at 49 years old.)

Even more striking, perhaps: the computer I use to make my posts on this blog is hooked to the internet via aol dial-up! Which means that I can now access this blog site faster on my phone, than on the computer I use in my office.

I don’t know about you, but I find that fact a bit odd.

( I know: Some of you are still thinking, “DIAL-UP?!? What — has he got a club in the corner that he hunts dinner with, too???” To those folks I would simply say: “It’s not a club; it’s a shillelagh. And it hangs in the sacred spot beside the empty slot where my Kukri (or Khukuri) used to hang. Because – as of last weekend -- my Kukri now hangs on the wall in my 4th-Grade son’s room!” And NO I did not trade my Kukri to my son for a smart phone. He asked if he could hang my copy of the famed Gurkha knife on his wall.)

Nonetheless, I find the fact that my phone can access this website much faster than my work computer a bit of a shock.

It shouldn’t really surprise me, of course. As the son of a guy who taught computer programming at the local university, my childhood was steeped in the belief that we would all be walking around with computers on our wrists by 2050 or so — which now sits just under two-score years away.

I personally thought we’d also all beat the morning rush hour by wearing personal jetpacks, by this time. Evidently, I was wrong about the jetpack thing. And, my smart phone probably wouldn’t fit too comfortably on my wrist, unless I were one of those guys who like to wear gladiator cuff-bracelets that extend half-way to the elbow. On the other hand, I can do things with this new phone that Dick Tracy never even dreamed about — even if he did have a two-way wrist radio!

Not only can I access the internet with my new phone, it’s also easier to read this blog on my phone, than it is on my computer. I mean: I can see the words better. That’s not a huge thing to me, when the person in question is myself. But, it had an entirely different meaning — a HUGE new meaning! — when it came to my 85-year-old father.

You see: my dad got a Smartphone the same day I did; we got them together. 

He’d been out, the day before, with a woman who sometimes comes over to lend a hand. She drove him to an appointment, but made a wrong turn along the way. They got a bit lost. That’s when the woman pulled out her smartphone and brought up Google. She entered the address they were looking for, and her phone (as dad put it) “told her how to get there.”

Dad REALLY wanted that application! I think I know why he wants it, and it makes sense to me. In fact, it’s the whole reason we wound up getting new phones.

And, a magical thing happened at the phone store.

 My dad’s sight was restored.

 I don’t mean that his vision problems were miraculously cured. What I mean is: My dad was able to see something he hadn’t been able to see in over a year-and-a-half

His EMAIL!

To explain: Dad lost all vision in one eye over a year ago, after undergoing his 13th eye operation. And, the vision in his other eye has been deteriorating badly. All this, while my mom was in the hospital, then brought home in Hospice care, and during the next eleven months or so as dad became her primary care-giver (at his insistence), until she passed away six months ago. Since then, he’s had 40/200 vision in his good eye, with only glasses on, and improved (though far from perfect) vision when wearing both glasses and a contact lens. As one doctor put it to me: “It’s sort of like your father has about one-half of a good eye.”

Even wearing both contact lens and glasses, dad hasn’t really been able to see his email messages — or very much else on his computer screen. In truth, he can’t see much on the printed page, either; not unless it’s blown up to about a font size of 75. Instead — in print, or on-screen — he had to puzzle out the blurry shapes he was seeing, piece each letter together in his mind, then mentally assemble the words from those letters, and try to reason out the meaning. And, he did this while under extreme stress (as his wife lay dying), then extreme exhaustion (because he’d worked himself half to death taking care of her). Yet, he insisted on personally handling his finances and other daily business, as he’d always done, as well as sending out letters and emails informing distant friends of my mother’s death. I suspect you can understand the constant tension of working under such circumstances.

 Here’s a bit of mystery about smartphones, however:

Evidently, the magnification system available on the smart phone is quite different from that on a computer. The phone (from what I’ve noticed on mine, at least) is designed so that when you magnify a website, it magnifies portions so that they fit the screen size. Leigh could probably tell us that this has more to do with the way a smart phone interacts with the internet, possibly even that the phone actually interacts with a different part of the net than the computer does. I don’t know: I don’t understand these things, nor do I let that fact keep me up at night.

To me, the important thing is that -- when the phone store guy got dad up on the new smart phone, and dad got to his email account -- I heard him gasp, “I can SEE it! I can REALLY SEE IT!

For the first time since that last eye operation, over a year-and-a-half ago, my dad could actually see his email — because of the particular way his smart phone displayed it.

And, looking at him, hearing the excitement in his voice — seeing that excitement light-up his face! — I realized: I had just witnessed my father having his sight restored.

That dad’s sight was restored through technology is not just incidental.

 He taught computer programming at Arizona State, when the field was so new that he had to invent his own curriculum. That technology provides the only “dad-friendly” reading venue we’ve been able to find, to date, seems somehow fitting. And let there be no doubt: this phone is like a key for my father, unlocking his ability to read and write, once more. I thought he’d eschew typing with the on-screen keyboard, and just opt for the microphone aspect his phone provides, when it comes to writing things into his phone. But, over this week, he’s become pretty adept at using that keyboard too. And he's talking about finding other ways to exploit the new-found doorway back to the world of the written word. 

I find myself constantly reminded of what he told me in the car, as we drove home from the phone store: “Son, I can’t explain . . . . It’s like I’m coming ALIVE again!” 

My father was a voracious reader all his life. But, for the past 18 months, he hasn’t been able to really read at all.

Now, he can read again. It’s had a huge impact on his life. And, when he realizes that his phone can access books, that impact will grow even more. If he can find a way to exploit the phone the way he wants to — Well, even I, a fiction writer, can’t imagine where this will all end.

At the far end of all the thinking I’ve done this week, however, I’ve come to an incontrovertible conclusion: The writer who ignores a technology that’s capable of having such a tremendous impact on the reader, does so at his/her own peril.  I know other writers on SS have covered this topic before.  But, I thought a slightly different "insight" might not be a bad thing.

 See you in two weeks!
 --Dix

28 June 2012

Justice Left to the Fates?




by Deborah Elliott-Upton


It is easy to question whether justice has or is being done. It seems (from a public standpoint anyway) people get away with murder, while others are being imprisoned for lesser charges.

Personally, I believe most law enforcement, judges and juries are doing the best they can. That being said, the media reports the extremes and sometimes, I am left scratching my head as to the fairness of it all.

One of the talk shows recently discussed Dr. Conrad Murray's four-year jail term after a jury found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson.

Dr. Murray's girlfriend who testified in the trial said he was reading voraciously and transporting himself to other locales through that reading instead of spending his time in a dreary prison. She also said he was quite popular with the inmates.

Anyone see something wrong with this picture?

Would I enjoy spending more time reading? Of course, I would. Think about it: no responsibilities beyond probably keeping his cell area neat and personal grooming. I'm not sure if he has any sort of manual labor to do within the prison system, but the girlfriend did not mention that in the segment.

I'm not going to commit a crime in order to allow myself more time to read or study, but it all seems unfair.


To many, Fate seems to be the ruler we dare not tempt. I'm not one of those. I am a slight risk taker. I've mentioned before, if I were on Jeopardy! (and much to my husband's chagrin) I would most likely place a large wager on my answer to Alex Trebek's Final Jeopardy question.

That doesn't mean I would tempt the Fates by committing a robbery or plotting a murder, except on paper. I am perfectly willing to do that as often as possible. My schedule is a bit more harried than Dr. Murray's, but I'm thinking, this is probably an excellent time for him to pen his own bit of fiction.
His name recognition alone would probably make it a best-seller, which also isn't fair, but it happens.

Are we the Captains of our Fate or are we ruled by the Fates? Interesting question that keep philosophers in business.

"What would you do if you absolutely wouldn't get caught?" I was asked by a fellow writer.

"That depends on my conscience, I suppose," I answered.

The thought of the cloak of invisibility conceived by J. K. Rowling in the Harry Potter series comes to mind. What would any of us do if we were concealed from everyone else? Is the answer to that a matter of our personal ethics, a rendering to a higher power or a code of justice in our society?

If you wouldn't get caught.

Would you:

* pull off a Big Heist robbery that wasn't picked up on security cameras?

* Care to be a fly on the wall (so to speak) to hear what others discuss when you aren't there?

*Paint some grafitti on a wall to show off your secret talent?

*Take a risk you wouldn't ordinarily attempt?  


For me, just being invisible to the world while someone reads one of my stories is enticing. And if I'm being honest, to see the facial expressions when an editor is deciding on my current publishing fate.

Is life unfair? Sometimes. Are we in charge of our own free will or do the Fates allow us what they believe we should have in life?

They are questions which we may never truly have the answers to until we face the final mystery of our own death and what comes next.

Until then, I may just tempt the Fates a little and carve out some personal time every day to read just one short story. I don't think that is too risky, but I know I will benefit from the experience.

That personal victory of filling our time with more reading is like taking Fate is in our own hands. If only for a few minutes a day.

That sounds fair to me.

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.

26 June 2012

Funeral March

by David Dean

In my last post, which was about weddings, I mentioned that I had just returned from one.  I also said that as I had grown older, sadly, I attended more funerals than weddings.  What I didn't say was that I had attended a funeral on that same day.  To be accurate, I had attended a sea burial--the funeral Masses for my wife's parents having been celebrated long before.  It had been their wish to be cremated and then to have their ashes scattered together at sea.  And that is what we did on a beautiful morning off the coast of Cape May.  My wife led her siblings and our collective children in a prayer known as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  This had been an especial devotion of both Bob and Jackie whose day it was, and so we honored them in this way. 

It's a fairly recent development that Catholics are allowed to be cremated.  It was not always thus.  For many, many centuries this practice was forbidden by the Church as a heathen rite.  In the very early days of Christianity many pagans practiced cremation; sometimes in spectacular fashion, e.g. the Viking's long-boat funeral pyres!  Quite the send-off!  Of course, a different view might have been taken by valued servants of the deceased as they were sometimes left on-board for the proceedings.  But, as the Christians believed in the resurrection of both soul and body on the final day, it was deemed inadvisable to burn the remains.  Since those dark times a consensus has been arrived at; that as we believe in a God that created life and promises resurrection, perhaps he can do so with whatever material we leave behind.  Oddly, there is still some controversy over the scattering of ashes.

Unlike weddings, funerals crop up quite frequently in mystery stories.  Not usually as the setting for the crime itself, but often as the end result thereof.  Often there is graveside plotting while the minister/priest/rabbi/imam drones on about the deceased.  Not infrequently we are introduced to the players at graveside.  Sometimes the attendees are carefully scrutinized for signs of guilt.  It was once a custom to expose the accused to the corpse of the murder victim to see if his wounds bled afresh at their presence--a sure sign of guilt!  It is not recorded how efficacious this method was.  As I understand it, at a certain point during decomposition wounds may seep once more. I  suspect timing was of the essence with this method--bad timing in the case of the innocent.  There was also a theory that the victim's retina retained an image of the last thing it witnessed...quite possibly his slayer!  Again, this practice appears to have fallen by the wayside for unexplained reasons.  

Like weddings, funerals are part of every culture and faith.  Even if one has no faith in the hereafter, the dead must be dealt with and that generally entails a funeral of some sort.  I've attended funerals that celebrated the life of the deceased--most often when the person has lived a long, productive life.  On these occasions, there tends to be a good deal of joking and laughter along the sidelines as people share good memories with one another.  But I've also been present at the opposite: funerals that result from accidents and murder, suicides and death at too young an age.  It's hard to celebrate a life that's been cut short, however many good memories they have left behind.  There's always that, "What if...?" left hanging in the air; never to be answered.

Different customs apply, as well, not to mention the last wishes of the deceased.  It was my Grandmother Dean's wish that her six sons dig her grave with shovels and lower her coffin into it themselves.  She did not want a backhoe, or other machinery involved, and her wishes were complied with to the letter.  It seemed very appropriate, that as she had labored to bring each of them into the world, that they should labor to carry her out of it.  There were no complaints amongst them.

We don't do wakes much any more.  It was once a widespread custom that has fallen into disuse.  I think we've grown too fastidious for such things as sitting up all night with the dead.  In Ireland, the local pub sometimes offered their services for such occasions.  The deceased was laid out in a room off the public area and there friends and relatives would come to pay their last respects.  Those waiting could refresh themselves as needed in the saloon.  The term "wake" derives from just what it sounds like...staying awake.  It used to be believed amongst many peoples, that during the short period between death and burial, the soul continued to reside within the corpse.  During this brief span it was vulnerable to dark spirits who might attempt to snare it and carry it away to hell.  Thus the family's duty was to keep watch the night before the burial Mass in order to protect their loved one's soul.  It was important to stay awake or the forces of hell might succeed.  Staying awake was certainly aided by visiting friends and neighbors telling stories and gossiping.  How the whiskey and ale helped remains unclear other than to attract said friends and neighbors.  Perhaps I could enjoy funerals more if, like wedding receptions, there was an open bar.

Ah well, believe it or not, I have another funeral to attend this week--a dear woman who was our court clerk for my entire police career.  She actually worked into her nineties (this after an earlier career in Jersey City) and was only recently considering retirement.  Hers will be one of the 'good' funerals--a celebration of a life well-lived and a woman most loved.  My former department will offer an honor guard and I expect to hear (and tell) some good stories… and even laugh a little.                               

25 June 2012

AKA

by Fran Rizer
Mary Anne Evans
AKA George Eliot
What do Silas Marner, Jane Eyre, and Heathcliff, have in common?  They each had his/her story told by a female writer whose books were first published under a male pen name because it was not thought appropriate for women to be writers during the Victorian period..

Silas Marner was written by George Eliot whose real name was Mary Anne Evans.  High school and college students still study her works including Adam Bede.

Emily Brone
AKA Eric Bell




Heathcliff and Jane Eyre live on in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Novelist sisters Charlotte, Emily, and AnneBronte all wrote under pseudonyms when they were first published.  They chose to present themselves as brothers.  Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre as Currer Bell; Emily Bronte  wrote Wuthering Heights as Ellis Bell; and Anne Bronte's first works were published under the name Anton Bell. The sisters' first effort was a book of poetry with works by Ellis, Currer, and Anton.  It was self-published and sold only two copies!

Surely times have changed enough that women freely publish their works as females, but the prejudice hasn't been fully erased. Jeanne Rowling's chronicles of Harry Potter were published under the name J.K. Rowling because her publisher believed the stories would be better accepted by young male readers if they didn't know Harry's world was created by a woman.

Joanne Rowling
AKA J. K. Rowling
Charles Lutwidge Dodson chose his pen name by translating his first two names into Latin (Carolus Lodovicus) and then anglicizing them to Lewis Carroll.

Eric Blair proposed four pen names to his editor.  Three of them were rejected, including Kenneth Miles and P. S. Burton.  The editor chose George Orwell. which Eric had selected because of the River Orwell in Suffolk, England.

Some readers assume that the Richard Bachman novels were written by Stephen King before he became successful and switched to his own name.  Actually, King was already recognized and was churning out more than one book a year.  His editor advised that the public wouldn't accept more than one book a year from him.  King decided to publish Rage under his maternal grandfather's name--Gus Pillsbury.  The pseudonym was leaked, and King changed the pen name to Richard Bachman.  The name came from King looking around and seeing a Richard Stark book on his desk while listening to "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" by Bachman Turner Overdrive on his stereo.

Gore Vidal
AKA Edgar Box, Cameron Kay
and Katherine Everard
Gore Vidal's early books outraged critics and led to his facing a blacklist.  Vidal turned to murder mysteries under the name Edgar Box.  These books were Death in the Fifth Position, Death Before Bedtime, and Death Likes It Hot.  Vidal also wrote an international intrigue entitled Thieves Fall Out under the name Cameron Kay and a Hollywood melodrama called A Star's Progress using the byline Katherine Everard.  The "Everard" came from a gay bathhouse in New York City. 
Ray Bradbury AKA Ron Reynolds, Anthony
Corvais, Guy Amory, Doug Rogers,
William Elliott and probably others.

The late Ray Bradbury was prolific in both his work and his use of pen names.  At age nineteen, he and some friends started a fanzine.  In the first issue, Bradbury  published his work under his own name and as Ron Reynolds.  In the seccond issue, he used three pseudonyms: Anthony Corvais, Guy Amory, and Doug Rogers.  His first breakthrough was in 1945 when he had three stories accepted almost simultaneously by Mademoiselle, Charm and Collier's.  He'd submitted them under the name William Elliott and had to call editors to have checks cut in his real name.


Probably the best known pseudonym is Samuel Langhorne Clemens's use of Mark Twain.  Closer to
many of us is Jolie McLarren Swann.  The Black Orchid Novella Award published in the August. 2012, issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine is "Inner Fire" by Jolie McLarren Swann. 
Rearrange the letters in Swann's name to discover the author's true name.

Join me in two weeks for continuation of this blog about pen names. I'll share with you some I use and introduce you to my friend/mentor who was a successful mystery/thriller writer who changed her pen name and has made it to the New York Times Bestseller List.

Until we meet again, take care of ...YOU!

24 June 2012

Absurdity Trumps Common Sense

by Louis Willis

In my March post, “The 13th Juror,” I discussed how a judge addicted to pain pills was removed from the bench because of his criminal activities in obtaining the pills. A special judge was appointed to decide if defendants in a 2007 carjacking-torture-murder case should get new trials. After the three male defendants were convicted, two of them were given life sentences. The ring leader received a death sentence. At the time the original judge was removed from the case, the female defendant had been found guilty of facilitation but had not been sentenced. The original judge I called P. The special Judge, whom I called G, without holding hearings, granted all four defendants new trials.

I’ve been following the latest developments in the case through the Knoxville News Sentinel because my daughter could still be on the witness list.

In his decision, Judge G concluded that Judge P’s addiction and criminal activities deprived the defendants of “constitutionally sound trials”. He also decided that he could not act as the 13th juror because of credibility issues with Judge P and the witnesses. The prosecutor appealed the decision to grant new trials to the three male defendants, but did not appeal the decision on the female because of Judge P’s erratic behavior during her trial.

The Tennessee Supreme Court concluded that Judge G was wrong in granting new trials and directed him to address the issue of whether the credibility of the witnesses was crucial in the state’s case. The Court stated that if Judge G concluded the witnesses’ credibility was key and could not evaluate their candor from the transcript alone, he must grant new trials. The Court further ruled that the defense must show proof of error before new trials may be granted. Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, Judge G again ordered new trials for the three male defendants without holding hearings.

The prosecutor filed a motion with Judge G requesting that he recuse himself. Judge G refused to recuse (On my, I’m channeling Johnny Cochran!). He even threaten the DA with contempt of court, and told the DA’s special counsel he should report himself to the state board that polices lawyers.

Failure to follow the Supreme Court’s directive is bad enough but what is most disturbing is Judge G’s off the record actions in an attempt to prevent public scrutiny. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, he removed documents from the court records and ordered prosecutors not to refer to them in public. He corresponded with prosecutors through emails instead of issuing orders that would become part of the court record. He held meetings with lawyers in chambers instead of holding hearings. In his motion asking Judge G to recuse himself, the prosecutor cited emails in which the judge said little birdies were putting thoughts in his head.

Anyone should know, but especially a judge, that trying to keep judicial proceedings secret from the press in a high profile case is like trying to hide meat from a hungry pack of dogs. The press will smell something wrong in a New York minute (by the way, what is a New York minute?). Judge G allowed absurdity to trump common sense.

On Thursday, June 21, 2012, Judge G scheduled a hearing on the prosecution’s recusal motion for October 8, which will allow the DA to put his objections into the official record. Maybe, just maybe, common sense will begin to trump absurdity in this case.

The Blue Bird of Common Sense