30 April 2012

A Renaissance Man?

A Renaissance Man may be defined as a person skilled in many areas.  Allow me to introduce David Lee Jones, a Renaissance Man.


Twenty years ago, I was divorced, rearing two sons as a single mother and supplementing my school teacher's pay by selling magazine articles and promoting local performers as well as a couple of nationally known country/bluegrass artists.
One of the local singers I worked with was a very talented vocalist whom we shall call Michelle, though that isn't her name. An A&R representative from an LA record label was visiting a friend in Columbia and planned to scout at a local club Friday night. Michelle and I made sure she was booked to perform and outfitted to stage perfection. I'd impressed upon her what a break this could be to her career, but I also tried to calm her nervousness.

Before Michelle went onstage, I pitched her talent to the A&R rep. He seemed responsive, but he stressed professionalism. Michelle's set was dynamite, but I noticed she was sipping from a glass instead of her usual water bottle throughout her performance. I held my breath as she took a bow to great applause. . . then proceeded to fall off the stage in an totally snockered fashion. The school teacher in me wanted to scold her; the mother in me gave her a hug and told her boyfriend to take her home. As we summed it up later, Michelle had her break, but she broke it.

I stayed for the remainder of the show (my sons' weekend at Dad's), but I moved from the AR rep's table to the end of the bar where I spent some time talking with David Lee Jones, the young bartender son of the club's owner. He showed me his sketchbook, and I was impressed with his talent. I encouraged him to enter some artwork in the SC State Fair Art Exhibit. He did, and he placed.


As time passed, I heard that David Lee was married. I ran into his father at the car wash with two beautiful grandchildren he said were David's. David Lee's father and I crossed paths in line at the bank years later. David was now divorced. After a talk about my kids and his kids, David's dad asked, "Didn't I hear you've had some books published?"

I told him all about Callie Parrish and the mystery series, and he proudly told me David Lee had a collection of stories published in England--Darkside of the Planet, which I purchased and found full of great mystery, horror, and science fiction tales. We have become good friends.


David and I recently had a joint book signing to celebrate publication of Jones's first novel Moria Varatu. This first in a sci fi trilogy is fast-paced and enthralling, and though I'm not a regular sci fi fan, I've read it twice, and Moria Varatu is a fascinating story.

Geologist Dr. Brandon Jordan flees to Mars to escape the tormenting loss of his young son and wife to a rampant global blood virus on Earth. Upon starting his life on the Red Planet, he stumbles onto an ancient secret that distracts him from the oppressive depression and sends his life hurtling into an adventure that not only solves eon's old mysteries on Mars, but connects to unsolved history back on Earth. In the end, he is forced to become an unlikely hero in a war that, unbeknown to humankind as a whole, has spanned across two worlds and unfathomable time altering the course of humanity.


David Lee Jones was born and reared in Columbia, SC. After his parents' divorce, he moved to upstate New York and attended West Genessee Senior High School where his writing career began as a reporter for the school newspaper.

After graduation, Jones returned to South Carolina and attended Midlands Technical College where he earned an Associate's Degree in Commercial Graphics Technology. He uses that training in designing book covers.

Jones has a long career as a mixologist, having bartended for his father during college years. (That's when I first met him). He currently tends bar and offers advice and entertainment at Wings and Ale of Lexington in Lexington, SC. Years behind the bar have given him great insight into human behavior and psychology which shows in his dynamic writings. I believe he also has a long career awaiting him in writing.

He's also an excellent performer with a great voice.

Singer, ink & pencil artist, graphic artist and talented writer--my friend David Lee Jones, a Renaissance Man!

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

29 April 2012

My Two Cents Worth

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

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

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


    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

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?