13 September 2012

From the Bristol Blotter

by Eve Fisher

I get to spend the weekend at the pen - I know, I need to start behaving better - so I am busy getting ready for that.  So, to prove that there are just as many crazies outside as in, (as well as to give myself a little breathing room) I submit the following.  These are all from a friend of mine in Tennessee, who provides me with "The Bristol Blotter" - available on-line and on Facebook.  All true, sadly, hilariously true:

From the "it's so hard to get off their radar" list:
* Someone called from to report “a suspicious black sports car that followed him home from Walmart [and] keeps riding by his residence.”

You have something that I want:
* A guy reported that his “baby’s momma locked him out and took the tags off his car.”

* "his girlfriend threw him out and he needs to get in and get his clothes because he has an interview tomorrow."

One man's exam is another man's...
* A man told police that another guy assaulted him “while attempting to give him medical treatment.”

Buyer's remorse takes various forms:
* Police went to a car lot where an “irate customer,” upset over his recently purchased car, threatened to run over the sales manager. Store employees said the angry customer “circled the parking lot, stopping in front of the sales manager, began revving up the engine causing excessive smoke, and lurched forward stopping short of striking the sales manager.” The manager in question was afraid that the unsatisfied customer would return “because of his explosive demeanor.”

With friends like these:
* A man reported that his “friend” of four years pulled into a nearby alley, got halfway out of the car wielding a knife and said, “I got something for you.” The man, who knew only his friend’s first name, responded: “If you want to fight, come on” and started toward his antagonist. The friend then scurried into his Oldsmobile and left.

From the "if it were only that easy department":
* When a man had his sister’s cell phone turned off “due to payment issues,” the sister got mad and threatened to vandalize his car. The sister, in turn, told officers that the brother “had been leaving threatening letters on the windshield of her vehicle.” Police told them to stop leaving one another messages.

Also known as, "You called us for WHAT?":
* Some kids were “playing baseball in the road.”

* Someone came in to report they’d lost their license plate, but weren’t sure where or when.

* "she advised she'd been drinking all day..."

* A man "found a bird in his yard and it can't fly ... wants to speak to an officer."

* A woman told police she was taking some medicine that she's been taking daily for about a month but she doesn't know why she's taking it.

And my favorite:
*Someone called to report a suspicious squirrel... 
 
Good luck with that one, officer! 

12 September 2012

MANNING COLES: A Toast to Tomorrow



by David Edgerley Gates

The first spy stories I remember reading were the Tommy Hambledon books, written by Manning Coles.  I was probably nine or so.  I took an omnibus edition of three Hambledon novels out of the Hancock Point library one summer, and gobbled them up.  It was like eating Fritos, but the books were more nourishing.  I don’t think Ian Fleming was much on the radar at that point.  CASINO ROYALE came out in 1953, but Fleming didn’t really get legs until Jack Kennedy told an interviewer Fleming was his favorite writer.  DR. NO, the first of the Bond movies, was released in 1962, so that was later.  I might have picked up an E. Phillips Oppenheim sooner than Coles---my grandmother had them by the yard---but Oppenheim was pretty lukewarm stuff even then, effete and unconvincing: imagine Lord Peter Wimsey without the wit, and no Bunter.  And a writer like Eric Ambler would have gone over my head.  A MASK FOR DEMETRIOS, say.  Too sophisticated. Tommy Hambledon was just right.


Manning Coles was a pseudonym.  They were a writing team, Adelaide Manning and Cyril Coles.  Coles the man, vice Coles the pen-name, was a spy in both wars, and Tommy’s adventures were based on real behind-the-lines derring-do.  The first of the books (there would be two dozen) was DRINK TO YESTERDAY, about a secret mission in the first war, and it’s pretty sharp, with a zinger of a finish, but it was their second book, A TOAST TO TOMORROW, about the next war, when they hit one over the fence.

The premise of TOAST TO TOMORROW is immediately arresting.  Hambledon, washed ashore near Ostend at the end of the earlier book, half-dead, has lost his memory.  He has a head wound, and his face is badly scarred.  The nurse at the Belgian naval hospital remarks that after the scars heal, they’ll look “too Heidelberg for words.”  Slowly, he recovers.  Amnesiac, but speaking the language fluently, Tommy is taken for a wounded German officer.  Tommy himself believes this, a terrific hook for the story that follows.  A later shock brings bits and pieces of his memory back, and he realizes he was once a British intelligence covert operative.  By this time, however, having been recruited by German intelligence, who think he’s a war hero, he’s risen to senior command.  Tommy is now positioned to be a British agent-in-place, at the heart of the Wehrmacht.  His cover is near-perfect, but not quite---nobody actually remembers him from Heidelberg, or officers’ school at Potsdam---and his back story begins to unravel as a canny Nazi spycatcher picks up his scent.  The novel turns into a cat-and-mouse game, and a real stem-winder, at that, with Tommy trying to .stay one jump ahead of the hangman. 

Re-reading the book, fifty-odd years later, you could be forgiven for thinking it hadn’t aged that well.  There are a few too many arched eyebrows and afternoon sherries and old Oxbridge dons with gnomic comments, but what stands up is the tradecraft.  Somebody once asked John LeCarré whether the lingo and the secret handshakes, the culture of the clandestine world, in other words, that LeCarré so lovingly mirrors, was in fact authentic.  LeCarré said, It doesn’t have to be authentic; it has to be convincing.  And here’s where A TOAST TO TOMORROW pays off in spades.  The first clue the Brits get, for example, that they might have a highly–placed asset inside the Reich comes in a radio broadcast.  British communications intercept is monitoring German broadcasts of any description.  This is a propaganda piece, a half-hour radio drama about a wireless operator, and it opens and closes with a burst of Morse, simple background noise, to set the stage, dah-dah-dit, but it begins with a callsign, and the brief message that follows is broken into five-letter stutter groups.  The callsign belongs to a British agent long thought blown, since 1918 and the Armistice, and the coded groups, once recognized as such, can be decrypted.  The scriptwriter is of course Tommy Hambledon in Berlin, and this is how he makes himself known to his former masters in Whitehall.

The two biggest Allied secrets of the Second World War were the Manhattan Project and the code-breaking operation at Bletchley Park, ENIGMA.  The atom bomb wasn’t long a secret after the Japanese surrender, but ENIGMA was still closely held thirty years later.  Cryptography has been a part of war as long as spies have, but the concentration of effort that broke the U-boat codes went on with even greater force into the Cold War.  Bletchley Park was a secret that couldn’t be surrendered, its sources and methods deployed against a different target, Soviet Russia.  For a writer in 1940, or perhaps Cyril, the guy on the team with hands-on experience, to make such an educated guess about the use and importance of encrypted communications, is nothing short of astonishing.  Or perhaps it wasn’t exactly a guess, but an interpolation, filling in the obvious gaps.  A TOAST TO TOMORROW, then, becomes more than a simple story of espionage and pursuit.  It borders on the clairvoyant.

11 September 2012

Settings

by Dale C. Andrews

     Fiction, at its best, does more than just tell a story -- it tells a story in a setting.  Good fiction immerses the reader – we are propelled into the narrative and into its setting.  And the setting crafted by the author reflects the world around the author, or the author’s characters, at the time of the story.  The story told in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is part and parcel with the French Revolution.  A Dickens novel is often almost as much about setting as it is about story.  Oliver Twist is dependent on the injustices that were a side effect, and a very real side effect, of the industrial revolution.  And as I noted some months back, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in fact grew out of a non-fiction essay that Dickens wrote addressing the deplorable mid-nineteenth century working conditions in England and the need for child labor reform.

    No surprise, then, that setting is also a major component of great mysteries.  Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes cannot be separated from Victorian England.  I add the proviso of “Doyle’s Sherlock” since, to my mind, the BBC series Sherlock does a sensational job of re-imagining Holmes in modern day London.  But even there, it is modern day London, with its Blackberries and computers, that provides the setting backbone to the stories. 

The Doorbell Rang (NOT the newest Clint Eastwood sequel!)

    In Rex Stout’s 1965 Nero Wolfe novel The Doorbell Rang, which The Nation described as “the best civil liberties mystery of all time” the story is dependent on then-current FBI abuses under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover who, famously, Wolfe leaves standing on the stoop of his brownstone at the end of the book.  Similarly, Ellery Queen’s The Glass Village, and its theme that accusation must never be a substitute for evidence, is dependent on its setting -- the McCarthy era that pervaded the mid-1950s when the novel was written. 

    To read these books is to experience what it was like to live in the eras depicted. It is no surprise that all of this remains true today.  Two recent (and sensational) new mysteries by a pair of gifted writers, Tana French and Gillian Flynn, who are separated by many thousands of miles, tell stories in different  settings, but settings that are still eerily analogous and in each case reflective of our time.  More on that below, but first, some background on each author.

Tana French
Gillian Flynn
    Gillian Flynn grew up in Kansas City Missouri, a state in which her three mystery novels are set.  Before she became a novelist Flynn was was a television critic for Entertainment Weekly. She was educated at the University of Kansas, and received a masters degree from Northwestern.  Her first novel, Sharp Objects, was a 2007 Edgar nominee for best first novel.

    Tana French in fact received the Edgar for best first novel when In the Woods, was published the following year  Although she was born in the United States, Tana French spent most of her early years abroad.  She received a degree in acting from the University of Dublin, and since 1990 has resided in Dublin, where each of her four mystery novels is set. 

    So, other than leaping into the world of mystery fiction within one year of each other there is very little that either of these women share.  Yet each has crafted their most recent novel in settings that, while thousands of miles apart, nevertheless resonate with common themes.

    A teaser on Gillian Flynn’s website describes her new book, Gone Girl, as follows:
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River.
And here is the description of Tana French’s new book, Broken Harbor, as set forth on her website:  
On one of the half-built, half-abandoned “luxury” developments that litter Ireland, Patrick Spain and his two young children are dead. His wife, Jenny, is in intensive care.
    The principal setting of each novel is therefore very different.  What, after all, does a small Missouri town  have in common with the outskirts of Dublin?  But there is an undercurrent in each setting that is the same and that is reflective of the times in which we live.  Each author has taken the pulse of the present and has built a setting for her novel that rings true and, as a result, ensures that each story rings true. 

    Broken Harbor is set in a community of new homes on the coast of Ireland that failed as a result of the economic downturn that has shaped many lives in recent years.  The home that the unfortunate family lives in is surrounded by abandoned or half finished homes, and the couple at the heart of the novel has had to grapple with the horrors of losing a job in an economy where jobs are increasingly hard to find.  From that setting, which is to say from their world, the story springs.

    And that community of “McMansions” that is the setting for Gone Girl?  Well, there are remarkable similarities between Gillian Flynn’s Missouri housing development and that depicted in Tana French’s novel.  The couple at the heart of Gillian Flynn’s novel also find themselves in a development that is a casualty of world-wide economic downturn.  Like the family in Broken Harbor, the couple in Gone Girl is surrounded by homes that are abandoned and in foreclosure, and other homes that stand as half completed derelicts.  As in Broken Harbor neighboring homes are abandoned as a result of foreclosure, or sit half completed.  And in each book there are wandering homeless people living or gathering in the empty homes.  And here, too, the central characters in the mystery have lost their own jobs as a result of economic downturn. 

    I have written before that I hate spoilers.  So you will get no more of the plots of these wonderful newly-published novels from me.  But they are both great reads, and like many mysteries and other well written books over the years, they gain strength from the fact that they are set in a world that we know.  The heart of each story beats to the world’s pulse.  The setting may be a bit bleak in each case, but, after all, that never stopped Dickens. 

10 September 2012

Short Stories or Novels?

by Jan Grape
 

Sometimes people ask me why it took so long for me to write a novel? I was writing and selling short stories. Well, the honest answer is, I was writing novels they just weren't selling. I wrote two or three novels that didn't sell. One came really close about three times to being published but the editor left or the publishing house went out of business or the novel buyer at the publishing house who was supposed to recommend my book got sick and died. Yep, that all happened. All with one novel. I think it's called being snake bit.

But in stead of giving up, I kept plodding along and because I was selling short stories, I found a editor who liked my work. That person was Ed Gorman and at that time he and the late Marty Greenberg were selling anthologies right and left and actually both of them liked my short stories, interviews, articles, reviews, etc. I was writing a regular column for Mystery Scene magazine.

In 1998 one of my short stories, "A Front Row Seat," published in the Vengeance is Hers anthology edited by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins was nominated and won the Anthony Award for Best Short Story.

A project came along that Ed and Marty had working. It was to be a coffee table style book about women mystery writers. There were to be interviews, articles and articles, by, about, and written by women mystery authors. They asked me to co-edit with Ellen Nehr and the book was titled Deadly Women. Unfortunately, Ellen got sick and passed away when we were about half-way into the project. Dean James took over in Ellen's slot and we continued the project. We were fortunate enough to be nominated for an Edgar for Best-Non Fiction and at Bouchercon we won a mccavity Award.

About then is when Ed and Marty formed a company, Tekno, and began working out a package deal with Five Star Mysteries. They would find the book for Five Star to buy, and once Five Star editor read and liked the book, Tekno would get the contract and get it signed, get the book copy-edited, get a cover, the blurbs, jacket copy,and whatever else was needed to get the book ready to be published.

Eventually, I had a chance to send my book, Austin City Blue, featuring my Austin policewoman, Zoe Barrow to Mr. Gorman and he recommended to Five Star they buy it. Five Star liked it and as they say, the rest is history. Soon I also had a contract for Five Star to publish a collection of my short stories, Found Dead In Texas. And soon after a contract for the second novel, Dark Blue Death, in my Zoe Barrow series.

In the meantime, I kept writing short stories and getting those published. Yet shortly after my husband passed away, and I began having health problems. I had a really rough four years. I had one novel I had written earlier which had never been published, I dusted it off, did some rewrite and in 2010 Five Star published, What Doesn't Kill You, a non-series or stand alone as some people call them. I certainly didn't do much other writing. My creative muse was trying to reassert itself I guess.

About four years ago, the American Crime Writers League, of which I was President, decided we needed to help get our name out a bit more and also wanted to earn a little money to go into our treasury. We came up with the idea of an anthology of original stories, all written by our ACWL members. I volunteered to co-edit and my co-editor was R. Barri Flowers. Barri was the one who had suggested the anthology. His agent sold the project to Twilight Times and our title was ACWL Presents: Murder Past, Murder Present. It was published in 2009. I wrote a short story for it, titled, "The Crimes of Miss Abigail Armstrong."

In May of this year, ACWLs second anthology, Murder Here, Murder There was published by Twilight Times. Again the anthology was co-edited by R. Barri Flowers and myself. My short story this time was, "The Confession." The story featured my long-time female Private-Eye characters from several short stories, Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn. It was a lot of fun to visit with the PIs from G & G Investigations once again.

So most of my writing career has been both short stories and novels. In some ways I like short stories better because you can usually write one in a very short time. I've had ideas and written a story in a day and the longest only took about a week. However, because you do only have a short frame work to write in you have to be more precise, more determined to have characters who seem real and you have to be ready to work and rework until the story is finally finished. It helps to have a great or even a twisted, you never saw that coming ending.

With a novel you have more room to develop your plot and sub-plots as well as develop your characters. There are many more characters and more scenes and it definitely takes much more time to write a novel. It takes me a year or so. But it's so satisfying when you get that book complete and polished and you send it out. There are more chances to make better money (at least that's what I've heard.) More chances for people to believe you are a "real" writer if you have a novel published.

I actually enjoy doing both and since my writing career first began with short stories I love doing them. But I also love that feeling you get when you go into a book store and see your novel on the shelf. Your own...the book your wrote.

I guess it's all how you feel about it. I remember an author telling me years ago, that he didn't write short stories because he only had one idea a year and didn't want to waste that idea. He felt he needed to spend his time on a novel. I can understand but I'd hate to give up either one.

How do you feel? Writers? Bloggers?

09 September 2012

Locke and Leather

by Leigh Lundin

Consider this paragraph by Edward Tenner in The Atlantic:
If you were trying to discredit [the] self-publishing model aimed at eliminating conventional publishers as obsolete “gatekeepers,” relying instead on crowd-sourced reviews, what would you do? Here’s a thought: Why not work from within?
The sentiment hints at the deep resentment, distrust, and paranoia 'self-pubbers' harbor against the establishment, traditional publishing, 'gatekeepers' being a pejorative term for editors and publishers who, in the eyes of vanity press proponents, refuse to recognize truly great works of literature. But more than that, the article documents a few authors manipulating the publishing industry.

City of Lies
Some time back, Stephen Kelner and I among others took part in a LinkedIn discussion about self-publishing 'democratization', another code word aimed at wrenching righteous control from the publishing barons. Respected reputable authors thought it scandalous that fly-by-night entrepreneurs offered 'positive reviews' for sale, but self-pubbers, many who put in days, even weeks of labor (oops, my sarcasm is dripping), saw nothing wrong and everything right with buying positive reviews, part of their weaponry in their battle to bring down the giant publishing industry conspiracy. Why risk a tough but possibly honest reviewer like Liz Bourke?

Some paid reviewers advertise blatantly, but other don't. It's not unusual to see 'full service' self-publishing consultants and some of these include positive reviews as part of their services packages.

But wait… there's more. Once mainline publishers understood what the vanity press knew all along– that some people will pay actual money for the privilege of being seen in print– publishers began to cash in. Harlequin was among the first, selling their rejected authors on the pay-to-publish idea. The RWA and MWA forced them to alter their business model– they now outsource that end of their business– but the profit motive is still there. Kirkus and Amazon followed– they sell reviews although they don't guarantee a happy result like Darcie Chan's.

It turns out many of the so-called indie self-pubbers were shocked, shocked I tell you, that vanity presses don't provide the publicity and marketing like the big houses that they worked so hard to bring to their knees. Publishing houses were worse than ever suspected– surely there had to be collusion and conspiracy if some authors were not only published for free, but were actually paid. But eBooks… eBooks could set you free. As Christopher Moore said,
[T]he eBook business was never about books. It hides in the book world; wants to be accepted as a book world that readers and authors can trust.

In Review

Not so long ago, romance author and Highland Press owner Deborah MacGillivray built up a Yahoo group called Ladies in Waiting whose purpose was to promote MacGillivray's novels and trash naysayers. The group used 'clickies' to deride any negative or even tepid Amazon reviews, triggering Amazon's computers to nullify the mildest of critical reviewers and disable their accounts.

Griffin
Romance author Emily Giffin (the one who whines about being only #2 on the New York Times Bestseller List) and her clan reportedly attacked a couple of reviewers– one professional, one not– for daring to besmirch one of her books with 1-star reviews, then demanded the reviewers remove them for their own safety. Legions of fans began harassing reviewers to the point of death threats, yet the hubris of Griffin's response implied the fault lay with the victim– the reviewer.

I was struck by one thing that seems to have escaped the notice of most. Apparently Amazon quietly de-linked those reviews. Was it to protect the reviewers or protect sales of a top-selling author?

More recently, we learn John Locke, the first self-pubber to sell more than a million books on Amazon, wasn't so Indy after all. Similar to those exposed by New York Times' David Streitfeld and spotlighted by our friends Lee Goldberg and Leighton Gage, Steve Mosby, Dan Waddell, Stuart Neville, Jeri Westerson, and spy master Jeremy Duns among others, Locke paid for more than 4500 scintillating fake reviews to pave his way onto the bestsellers list. A former door-to-door salesman, Locke said,
Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful, but it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.
Like Kevin Wignall, my greater concern isn't about Locke buying votes who merely manipulated the system, it's the playground bullying of MacGillivray and Griffin, authors who've come to represent the darkest side of this new world of ePublishing.

Bestseller Switch back to the UK where literary bury-your-critics has become a rampant low art form, symbolized by historian Orlando Figes. Yet another scandal is brewing. Top best-selling author Stephen Leather not only admits to fabricating positive reviews for his own novel, some allege he set up shell reviewers ('socks') to trash competitors while others accuse him of relentlessly bullying those who got in his way. The modus operandi isn't unlike suspicions leveled against Roger J. Ellory and Matt Lynn, the latter a business journalist who should know better.

I don't know the men and I hope the accusations are wrong, but I smell a cesspool when a stench reaches my nostrils. As much as I detest vanity presses that exploit desperate wannabees, at least CreateSpace, AuthorHouse, and PublishAmerica offer a seamless if hollow illusion of being published. Clients who consider themselves ground-breaking 'indies' must comprehend they're preyed upon even as they dream they're striking blows for that illusive 'democratization', in what author David Hewson calls the 'phony revolution'. The successful don't buy one review, they buy thousands, then, if they don't like tepid reviews, they kick the crap out of critics.

Some in the self-pub trenches will be disappointed, but others will say, "Damn! So that's how it's done!" While bad reviews can be disturbing, they don't have to be a death sentence. Jason Boog surveyed bestsellers, some with up to hundreds of 1-star reviews, with surprising results.

Stephen Leather
Stephen Leather
Peculiarly to many of us, Leather and his ilk not only seem unfazed by the revelations, but they appear proud of their accomplishments. To bring out the buying fools, they seed the mines with fool's gold and kneecap challengers. They aren't so much sock-puppets as puppet-masters. As they pointed out, their efforts might be unethical, but they aren't illegal– they're calculated business decisions. All they did was ruthlessly manipulate a willing market to 'create a buzz' and become tax-paying millionaires.

This rough, raw, rapacious law of the land isn't about the books. It's about connivers who, in the words of Christopher Moore, have become 'superior tribe accumulators'. They bought a larger tribe, and the rest of us fail to understand:
[Once] books were read and admired across class, religious and political divides… writers didn’t write down to their audience. And that audience was book orientated, cohesive, and quality minded. In their day, books were an important part of the intellectual domain that educated people were expected to read and expected those in their circle to read. When the content of books were the subject of conversation.

That time has gone.
Perhaps true, but still, I lament…

Fool us once, shame on them. Fool a million, shame on us. Shame.

Note: As with all articles in SleuthSayers, the above are opinions of the author based upon the latest available research and alleged actions of persons involved. Parties are considered innocent until proven otherwise.

08 September 2012

A Taste for Killing


by Elizabeth Zelvin

Books have always provided a way for both readers and writers to live vicariously. They sweep us off into another place and time, invite us inside the heads of people we’re unlikely ever to meet, and make our hearts ache and soar for strangers who exist only on the page. But only mystery writers routinely get to kill. A mostly law-abiding and compassionate bunch in RL, as Internet users call real life, we are not merely permitted but required by our trade to knock off at least one victim in every book. We even get to choose our murderees, so we can seize the occasion to get rid of those who displease us blamelessly and with great satisfaction.

In the first mystery I ever wrote (thirty years ago, unpublished and unpublishable today), I killed off the wife of a young man I knew, in fictional guise, of course. She was not a very nice person, and her existence was the reason that particular friendship never blossomed into romance. In the long run, I can say now with perfect hindsight, it was for the best, since we have remained friends all these years. He’s now married to someone much nicer—and so am I. But man, it felt good to let my murderer kill her. (Hmm, maybe I’m the one who’s not so nice. But mystery readers will surely understand.)

The victim in a mystery is not necessarily an unsympathetic character. Murdering a good person can elicit a strong desire for justice in both reader and protagonist. Or the victim may be deeply flawed but likable, so that the protagonist cares enough about his or her death to be driven to find out what happened.

The first draft of my first book had only one victim. I didn’t start talking with other mystery writers about our craft and how it had changed until after I finished the manuscript. I learned that the leisurely build-up, letting the reader get thoroughly acquainted with the characters before anything happens, is passé. Editors and especially agents nowadays want to be gripped on the first page, preferably by a body. I also learned that many traditional mysteries solve the problem of “sagging middle” in a book-length story by killing off a second character—often the prime suspect, so that his or her death forces the investigation to take a new turn.

The basic premise and circumstances of the plot did not allow me to kill off my original victim any sooner. I brought the death as far forward as I could by eliminating a lot of backstory—another thing I learned from other writers. But to kick-start the action, literally, I had my protagonist stumble over a body at the end of what at that time was Chapter One. I then needed a reason for this new death. That led to other victims. At the same time, I added suspense to the ongoing investigation by killing off some of the suspects along the way. I found that murder was addictive. By the time I was through, my simple one-victim mystery had turned into one of which Edgar-winning author Julie Smith (who kindly gave me a great blurb) said that my characters “maneuver their way through a forest of bodies.”

A forest? How did that spring up? I only spit out a single murder seed! In succeeding books in the series, I’ve kept the body count down to an initial victim with motivation for plenty of suspects and a mid-book body or two to keep reader interest up and confuse the issue. In my whodunit short stories, I’ve rationed myself to one victim and three suspects. Now I’m wondering if I’m getting too predictable. Hmm, maybe it’s time to break a rule or two again.

07 September 2012

A "Feyn" Idea?

by Dixon Hill
Richard Feynman
The great physicist Richard Feynman once said: “If I could explain it to the average person, I wouldn’t have been worth the Nobel Prize.”

This is the way I have seen his interview in People (22 July 1985) quoted, though when I’ve heard the quote, that second “I” seems usually to be pronounced as “it” for some reason. Thus, I’m not sure if he really meant that he was worth the recognition of a Nobel Prize, or if he was saying his idea was prize-worthy. But, either way, the sentence works, I suppose. After all, he’s Richard Feynman; I’m not.

Ayn Rand
Which, is why I find it rather surprising that we (he and I, that is) seem to have so many feelings in common – particularly when I extrapolate his musings in terms of my own quest to generate a synopsis for a novel.

I think it was Ayn Rand who said something akin to: “If I could explain it in 200 words, I wouldn’t have written a 1,200-page novel to explain it in the first place.” And, frankly, this is how I wind up feeling when trying to distill a 300-page book into an 8-page synopsis.

 In a word: Stymied.

For those who don’t understand my problem, let me explain it in terms of this poetic excerpt (the ellipses are his, incidentally) from The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1964):



here it is standing...
atoms with consciousness
...matter with curiosity.

Stands at the sea...
wonders at wondering... I...
a universe of atoms...
an atom in the universe.

Here we see the human body and brain as a collection of atoms buzzing in tight harmony, working together to produce the human mind, the very intellect.

So, too, do I see a novel after I have written it.

Yes. I know a novel is a body of work. (And, to me, that’s a very living, breathing body!) But, when I approach close enough to work with it, I find it’s atomic structure nearly spectral. As if it were a body whose atoms were not held fast together the way yours and mine are. My hands and mind seem to pass through the epidermis; I fall into a molecular word-cloud, the minute parts and pieces buzzing around me like a swarming cloud of thousands of bees.

I cannot see the body, for its atomic structure. And, this causes me great confusion in the distillation of it’s bodily parts—such separation as required for any synopsis to make sense.

But, I’ve kept at it, grabbing words or phrases that made sense, trying to tie them into others that might define the body. The problem is, the atomic parts I grab tend to be organically connected with large clumps of other matter that come along with my selection when I pull it out of the whirling molecular word-cloud.

Perhaps that’s the price I pay for writing without an outline – permitting my stories to grow organically. Maybe organic stories grow naturally in clumps (they seem to come to my mind that way, when I’m working on them, after all), and thus it’s only natural that when I stick my hand in and grab a part it comes away with a cluster far larger than I’d first targeted.

Of late, however, a new modus operandi has come to me. Instead of reaching into the story, what if I work only at its periphery, painting a thin layer on the skin — a sort of topographic construct that follows only the planes and curves along the outer edge of the body itself. But, would not such a thing typically be called an “outline”? Because it would outline the body. And, as such, render the body’s shape.

My concern is that it will be perceived as such, and will prove too hollow, that a prospective agent or editor will peer through this thin topographic layer and find the emptiness behind it disappointing. However, I have another idea that might hopefully fix that problem.

Might I complete this topographic construct, then return later, salting in a few bits and pieces of its intellect? Thus, an in-depth examination might not result in disappointment. That’s the idea I’ve come up with, and so far things seem to be “shaping up” nicely.

And, as I’m sure you can understand, I need to get back to work in the salt mines of my computer. However, I’ll leave you with a few other Feynman quotes, in hopes you’ll enjoy them.

On the infrequent occasions when I have been called upon in a formal place to play the bongo drums, the introducer never seems to find it necessary to mention that I also do theoretical physics.
 --Statement made during Messenger Lectures at Cornell University (1964-65), after the person who introduced him mentioned that Feynman also played the bongos.

One time I was in the men's room of the bar and there was a guy at the urinal. He was kind of drunk, and said to me in a mean-sounding voice, "I don't like your face. I think I'll push it in." 
I was scared green. I replied in an equally mean voice, "Get out of my way, or I'll pee right through ya!" 
 -- From Cornell to Caltech, With A Touch of Brazil

Why would I quote Feynman on a writing blog? Perhaps for this last quote.

Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there.

At first blush (and maybe second and third) the quote doesn’t seem very pro-fiction. However, pondering this quote consistently drives me toward producing something that goes a little beyond the norm. I always like to think good fiction – particularly mystery fiction -- highlights the underlying little truths that lie everywhere out there, even if these particular truths have more to do with love, honesty and courage than with murderers, swindlers and thieves.

06 September 2012

What I did on my Summer Vacation

   by Deborah Elliott-Upton
 
 
The familiar prompt every student has been instructed to use on a September paper has been: What I Did on My Summer Vacation. To that, a writer would have to reply: What is a vacation?
 
 
I don't know a writer who takes a real vacation any more. If they travel, it's often for research for a work-in-progress or in search of a work-in-progress.
 
 
Forget not taking a computer as a way to force yourself into relaxing and not "working" -- it won't work. We'll use the cell phone's notepad, pads supplied by the hotel and napkins in the restaurants to scribble great ideas we won't want to lose.
 
 
One would believe a writer could depend on a good memory since we write vivid descriptions of details others may not notice or recollect as clear, but alas, most of us have indeed lost wonderful ideas that came to us at a time when we were unable to jot down a notation to jog our memory later -- or worse, not be able to read our own writing the next morning or remember what the cryptic message meant.
 
 
A vacation without writing seems impossible, so I thought I had a solution: I enrolled in a couple of college classes I assumed would aid my writing and keep me too busy to work on an actual project. I chose Philosophy and Psychology, figuring both would be a boost to my deciding what my characters might do in certain situations.
 
 
My downfall was having interesting instructors who encouraged discussion.
 
We watched films in Philosophy and discussed how the subject matter worked (or not) in today's society. Philosphy, religion and a director, writer and actors choices determined how the film "moved us" as an audience. So much for not playing my own What if game with those choices. My mind went into overload of ideas.
 
In Psychology, we learned why people may act differently from one another. The instructor brought a hypnotist to class and he gave a demonstration and answered questions. (Guess who not only had more than a few questions, but also volunteered to be one of the subjects just so I'd know how that felt?)
 
Both classes had discussions about those who lived under different circumstances than our own. Talk about wonderful research for characters -- both classes were filled with interesting characters.
 
The Philosphy class contained the usual suspects of college-age students and a mix of varied ages and backgrounds.
 
A biker with a gray beard who argued belief in God turned out to be a Viet Nam veteran who had returned to college on a full scholarship. I'm not completely sure, but from some of his opinions, I think he was a stanch Republican.
 
His counterpart was originally from Oregon and extremely Liberal in his point of view. One day he decided to load up the kids and his van and tour the country, ending up in Texas. He was an avowed atheist. He also professed a love for Bill Clinton, so I'm guessing he was a Democrat.  
 
These men were polar opposites and yet both had lost their wives to death.
 
The Oregon man had left his home following his wife's death.
 
The biker's wife had been murdered behind a convenience store.
 
Two men who had seemingly nothing in common besides choosing to take a summer course in Philosophy, had in reality shared the same pain of losing a spouse.
 
That alone raised my muse from her slumber.
 
The Psychology class was a mixed breed of fellow students. A young racecar driver happened to know my dad (also a racecar driver), ended up the following Sunday in my church which was a surprise to us both. A man who came from Uganda was pursuing a degree to help people coming to America like himself was soft-spoken and extremely polite. One would not guess he had been chased by lions. A young woman had returned to college to become a nurse after working years in a clerical position and being fired when she was late to work because she'd been in an automobile accident. Her change of career was unexpected, but had completely changed the course of her life.
 
Everyone in this class knew someone who had problems with bullies, abuse or self-mutilation. (An interesting fact I was surprised to discover are tattoos and piercings are considered self-mutilation. The reasons people choose to do these things to themselves was interesting and eye-opening.)
 
The Muse was wide awake now and not just whispering in my ear or tickling my mind with ideas, she was shouting: Write something!
 
So, I did.
 
Vacation? I'm not sure I know what that is any more.

05 September 2012

Your Mileage May Vary

by Robert Lopresti

Last week Jan wrote eloquently about writer's block.  I didn't respond in comments because I wanted to ponder for a while, and besides, this way I could fill a Wednesday.  (They keep coming around every week, don't they?)

I'm not sure I can say anything useful about this because I don't think I have ever experienced writer's block the way I have heard other people describe it.  The reason for that may have to do with the way I approach writing, and - who knows - maybe discussing that would be helpful to someone.  So here goes.

I rewrite.  I rewrite a lot.

Recently I wrote that I had started a novel and R.T. gracuiously offered to critique the first few chapters for me.  (We exchange most of our works before sending them into battle.)  I had to tell him that it would be at least ten and probably twenty more drafts before anyone would be allowed to see the book.  I  have to translate it into English from the original Gibberati.

But that's the point.  At any time I have half a dozen stories in my black notebook, going through various phases of rewrite (from "this sentence might be improved if it had a verb.  Also a noun." to "one last adverb hunt and it's ready to roll.").  So if I am not in the mood to write something new I flip open the notebook and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.  It's progress, so I don't feel blocked.

What if I want to write something new and don't have an idea?  Well, I also have a white notebook (there's no significance to those colors; but it makes it easier to tell them apart) full of story ideas.  Never throw anything away!

I believe Jan or one of the commenters talked about Sue Grafton's writing habits and I sympathize.  My memory is that Raymond Chandler said he sat at his writing desk X hours every day.  He didn't have to write during that time but he couldn't do anything else.  That reminds me of Edna St. Vincent Millay who, as I recall, said she wrote poetry for a certain amount of time every day.  The questioner said "don't you need to be inspired to write poetry?"

She replied that that was true "But when the inspiration comes it finds me at my desk!"

While working on my novel I have set myself a minimum of 100 words a day. A piddling amount, you say.  Yes, it is.  But that's the idea.  No matter how uninspired I feel I can crank out that many words.  And it keeps me connected to the work.  Plus, very often no matter how uninspired I am feeling once I get those 100 words out, the next few hundred want to follow.

So that's what I do.  As for you... well, see the title above.

04 September 2012

Jersey Fresh

by David Dean

Not being a native of the place one lives in can sometimes offer a fresh perspective.  And even though I have dwelt in the Garden State for over twenty-five years, I do often find the place fascinating.  First of all, let's face it, Jersey takes an awful beating as a result of Snooki and the Gang, corrupt politicians, and the view from the infamous Turnpike of oil refineries, chemical factories, and rubber plants.  To some, these may look unappealing ( and I include Snooki and friends with this).  But there is a whole other New Jersey out there that is largely hidden away from the tourists on their way to NYC.  It is a place in which I often set my stories, and bears little resemblance to Soprano Land: a place of leafy suburbs and rolling farmland; salt marshes and barrier islands; pineland forests and windswept beaches.

The county I live in is called Cape May, and named after a Dutch explorer by the name of Mey who sailed by sometime in 1623.  He was too busy exploring, apparently, to bother landing on this new cape that he had discovered.  Of course, he had only discovered it for the Europeans who were to follow.  Native Americans had fished and hunted the area for thousands of years before Captain Mey bobbed by in his little ship.  The historical tribe was known in their own tongue as Lenape, an Algonquin peoples.  The Whites would call them the Delaware after the river, which was in turn named after Lord de la Warre, who saw to it that the English, and not the Dutch or Swedish, would dominate this part of New Jersey.  The poor Dutch got stuck with Soprano Land and NYC; the Swedes just went home.

The first European settlers to the area came mostly from New England, Virginia, and Long Island, and they came for the whaling.  In those early days, whales often traveled along the Atlantic coast side of what would become Cape May County, and even into the vast Delaware Bay that washes the western half of the peninsula.  The locals would simply row out to harpoon the great beasts and tow them back to shore.  Even back then, with only a sparse population of whalers, it didn't take long to deplete the animals and virtually kill the industry.  The English turned to farming and fishing, and for the next several centuries this was what they did.
Pirates frequented the region as Jonathan Dickinson wrote in 1717, "We have been perplexed by pirates on our coast and at our Capes, who plundered many of our vessels."  Captain Kidd, that most unfortunate of pirates, spent some time in the area, as did Edward Teach, of "Blackbeard" fame.  Naturally, tales of buried treasure abound.  Most of these are baseless, but try telling that to all the folks with metal detectors walking the beaches… fugedaboutit!  It never made much sense to me that pirates would risk hiding their treasure on land.  After all, sometimes they might be gone for months or even years.  But then it was explained to me that this was mostly done when the boys in pantaloons were planning a visit to a large town, such as New Amsterdam, to replenish their stocks and provisions.  There was always the chance that they might be recognized as pirates and arrested.  The treasure trove on board could be damning.  Hence the lightening of the load prior to docking.

The Jersey Devil legend sprang up in this period as well, and comes out of the haunted pine barrens.  It seems that the dirt-poor and miserable Mrs. Leeds of that neighborhood, upon learning that she was pregnant with her thirteenth child, cursed him; wishing the devil would take him.  Apparently, she had some pull in hell, for her son was born with wings and hooves and flew out the window to begin a reign of terror over that dark and lonely region.  He does so to this day.           

Cape May became a county in 1692, via a charter from the Crown. In those days there was a West and East Jersey--Cape May County being in the west.  There is a cemetery at the county seat, Cape May Court House, that dates to 1766; prior to that people were buried in their back yards, a custom still observed for former business partners in North Jersey.  By the way, nearly everything in the county is named Cape May Something: There is the aforementioned Court House, wherein sits a several hundred year old (you got it) court house, there is also Cape May City, West Cape May, Cape May Point and North Cape May.  There was even once a South Cape May, but the sea claimed it as its own some time ago.  God's judgement, perhaps, on one Cape May too many.  Enough already with the Cape May.

New Jersey became known as the "Cockpit of the Revolution" during the War of Independence because of all the important battles fought on her soil.  Washington slept everywhere, and New Jersey named not one, but several towns, after the father of our nation.  Having a maritime economy, the southern half of the state was affected by the War of 1812.  This region also produced one of our nation's earliest naval heroes in the person of Richard Somers.  This young man was to lead what amounted to a suicide mission against the Barbary pirates in Tripoli.  Sailing directly into their harbor under cover of darkness, he and his crew boarded a captured American vessel and blew it up in spectacular fashion.  Though the resulting explosion and fire damaged and destroyed many of the pirates' ships, it also took the lives of the brave American sailors before they could get away.  Their graves still lie in a small plot in Libya.  His home exists as a museum in Somers Point, the town named for his family.  I have had the privilege of visiting it.

As the northern half of the state embraced the industrial age, the south remained agrarian, not unlike the nation as a whole at that time.  The capitol even boasted the proud motto, "Trenton Makes, The World Takes," in huge letters across a bridge spanning the Delaware River.  It's there to this day.  South Jersey, meanwhile, continued to make the Garden State just that.  Most of the "industries" practiced in the south related to the exploitation of natural resources: cedar mining (the reclamation of prehistoric cedar trees from the fresh water swamps for shingles and ship building), bog iron collection from the streams of the Pine Barrens (this naturally occurring iron tints the water the color of tea), harvesting salt hay from the marshes for both animal feed and lining coffins, the production of glass from the fine sands of the region, etc... Then came the trains.

By the late 1800s, the great population centers of both Philadelphia and New York had discovered what would be forever more known as the Jersey Shore.  Trains made it possible.  The industrial era had given the working man both stable wages and a few days off a year.  He spent both at the shore.  The tourist boom was on and the great shore towns began to spring up--Atlantic City, Asbury Park, Wildwood, Avalon, and yes...Cape May.  Of course, many decided to stay, and the local population took a decidedly Irish and Italian turn.  Catholic parishes began to pop up amongst the Baptist and Methodists.  The small town of Woodbine was founded as a Jewish colony, while the town of Whitesboro became the the county's first predominantly African-American municipality--a by-product of the Underground Railroad, not the one from Philly.

By the mid-1970s tourism was king.  Though farms remained, they had grown smaller and began to adapt to specialized crops in order to survive.  Commercial fishing survived, as well, by both downsizing and growing more efficient.  The waters off New Jersey continue to be one of the greatest producers of scallops and clams along the eastern seaboard and oyster farming is making a comeback in the Delaware Bay.  But the tourist dollar, and vacation real estate, are the mainstays of the current economy--battered by the recession, but still king.  Unemployment here in Cape May County during the off-season (roughly from November to April) can reach 12% or worse.   But you take the good with the bad, and this is the place I happily call home.  My literary characters, Chief Julian Hall and Father Gregory Savartha, both live here, as does a ponderous and troubling little girl named Mariel, who is the subject of my next story in EQMM (Dec. 2012 issue).  The bewildered protagonist of "Tap-Tap", though he meets his fate in Belize, worked for a tourist agency here, while Kieran, the young kleptomaniac of "The Vengeance of Kali," lives just around the corner.  There are many, many more.

So, as you can see, after twenty-five years in a place, you make some friends; form some ties.  And luckily for me, having a fresh perspective, a "Jersey" fresh perspective on my adopted home, made it all possible.

03 September 2012

The Fires of London

by Janice Law

I have a book coming out tomorrow, September 4, from Mysterious Press, the first time I’ve issued a novel in eBook form. The Fires of London is set during the London Blitz and uses the Anglo-Irish painter, Francis Bacon, as the detective.

Leigh asked me to write about constructing The Fires of London and about the research involved, but, though he is too polite to put the question, I think he really wanted to know how a reserved, virtually teetotaling old lady from rural Connecticut, who, incidentally, just celebrated her fiftieth wedding anniversary, came to write about that gay, promiscuous, thoroughly urban, alcoholic genius, Francis Bacon.

Well might he ask! I’ve certainly asked myself the same question, but the Muse has her reasons, and I’ve found it unwise to reject anything she offers. Besides, after a little thought and research, I discovered that FB and I share a good deal more than might be evident on the surface.

But first the Blitz. Among my earliest memories is a great distaste for news broadcasts. Since I was only a toddler I cannot have understood the bulletins but only reacted to the concern and distress of my parents, Scottish immigrants anxious about relatives in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Fife, and points south in England. My other early memory is the big cardboard boxes which were shipped back to the old country during, and for years after, the war, containing coffee, chocolate, various other foodstuffs, wool, clothing, and even garden seeds to replace a blown up allotment garden in Aberdeen.

Later I visited the Imperial War Museum in London and did extensive WW II research for a novel about an SOE agent who was active in France. That background, plus the ever helpful web, with its pictures of barrage balloons and ARP clothing and various sites with memoirs of folk who lived through the Blitz, did the rest.
 
Just the same, what about Francis? Ah, well, I hesitated. But however rackety FB’s life, he was apparently up and in his studio by 6 or 7 a.m. He was a worker; I approve. Art was his lifeline and his earthly salvation. I drew well before I could read and write, and the visual world has been a constant source of interest and delight. In many ways, drawing and painting have always been the way I comprehend the world.

Of course, FB was a genius, and I am not, but even leaving his great abilities aside, he was an odd duck. Maybe too odd for me. Then I learned about Nan, his old nanny, whom he lived with until her death. She loved him unconditionally, entered enthusiastically into all his schemes, and, though half blind, went shoplifting for food when they were on their uppers.

This I understood. My mom had emigrated via Canada as a children’s nanny and my parents worked on a big estate. I was a downstairs child of an upstairs downstairs establishment, and I knew a lot of women – all, I must say, far more respectable than Nan – single women whose men folk, or would have been men folk, had been ground up in the First World War. These nannies, governesses, upstairs and downstairs maids, and cooks often had complicated relationships with their employers and, especially, with their employers’ children.

So was a love of painting and a bird’s eye view of the class system enough? I decided it was. Michael Peppiatt’s fine biography, Francis Bacon, Anatomy of an Enigma, various memoirs of people in Bacon’s circle, a fine exhibition in Buffalo of Bacon’s paintings, and some books on gay London recommended by my late university colleague, Hans Turley, gave me the details of FB’s life and information about the milieu in which he thrived.

For the rest, blame imagination. However remote the characters one creates seem, they are all made out of the same cloth, the writer’s own experience and personality. So Francis in The Fires of London is my version of the man, created by flinging imagination over the facts as I understood them and linking my experience to his very different one.

Though the ease with which I have written some peculiar and undesirable characters has sometimes given me pause, that was not the case with FB, whom I frequently disapproved of but whom I grew to like. He was a bundle of contradictions. One friend described him, I fear I paraphrase, as ‘camp as an army base and tough as old boots,’ an unusual combination, maybe, but no more or less complicated than the next person you meet. Tertullian wrote, “ I am a man and I think nothing human is alien to me.” Include my gender and that’s as good a motto for a writer as I can think of.

02 September 2012

Fires of London

by Leigh Lundin

Wot's a nice, straight all-American dude reading about the London gay scene some seventy years ago? I just finished Fires of London, Janice Law's novel about the mid-1900s English/Irish artist, Francis Bacon (not the Elizabethan logician, philosopher and essayist, nor other historical figures).

cover
Let's get one issue immediately out of the way: Yes, the star of Fires of London is flaming. I confess inquisitiveness, wondering how the author might handle Bacon's homosexuality and penchant for BDSM, especially given the number of exploitative erotic romances written by– and for the titillation of– straight women. I congratulate Janice on making Bacon's sex life integral, immersive, and tasteful, even sensitively done. Androphilia is beyond my ken, but the author makes the window of understanding accessible. Not only has the author handled Bacon's sexuality better than other authors, Janice's research, art background, and careful craftsmanship set this story apart from other historicals.

Fires of London draws upon art, poetry, history, mythology, and the classics. The author is a literary architect. She builds meticulously, syllabically brick by brick, painting the backdrop, sketching the characters, scene by scene, so the reader sees the novelistic theme park, not the girders underpinning it. The reader feels the protagonist's asthma, fear, bravery, and reluctant persistence to learn who's committing murders in the midst of the gay community.
Francis Bacon, 1979
Francis Bacon, London 1979,
The Spectator, photo
© Dmitri Kasterine

The author is not one to flaunt her intelligence and knowledge, giving the story a natural feel. Nor does she belabor drollery. The humor is sly and understated, including makeup advice to Francis to "keep your powder dry." When Francis needs to ditch evidence, his Nan picks his pocket and says "Dear boy, leave everything to me." Francis comments about boys in the rough trade, "I'm not one to leave hard feelings behind."

London town is real, palpable. The description of the Blitz is riveting. What I know about the gay scene you could fit in a teacup, but it feels true. You may think this isn't the kind of world you'd inhabit, but it's impossible not to connect.

In the latter chapters, the emotional roller coaster moves from angst, to spookiness, terror, anger, vindication, sadness for one of the characters who made Francis' life miserable, and finally a feeling of satisfaction.

Who could ask for more?

Defy the heat. Fires of London is available 4 September from Mysterious Press.

01 September 2012

A Bookstore for All Seasons

by Herschel Cozine

NOTE: This week I have again invited my friend and fellow crimewriter Herschel Cozine to stand in as a guest columnist. As you might already know, Herschel's work has appeared in AHMM, EQMM, Woman's World, Orchard Press Mysteries, and many other magazines and anthologies.  His story "A Private Hanging" was a finalist for the Derringer Award, and several of his tales are currently available at Untreed Reads. Herschel lives with his wife in Santa Rosa, California. This piece, by the way, first appeared in Kings River Life Magazine and is reprinted here with their permission. (Herschel, it's good to have you here again. Readers, I'll be back on September 15.) -- John Floyd


There is a bookstore in my hometown, Ojai, California, that is one of the most interesting I have ever been in.  Before I tell you about it, I would like to give a few facts about Ojai (pronounced "Oh Hi") itself.  Situated in the foothills of Southern California, between Santa Barbara and Ventura, it has a short rainy season, and what rain does fall quickly evaporates, with very little runoff.  The residents hardly miss a beat because of rain.  Also, because of its small size and rural atmosphere, there is little need for folks to double lock or even single lock their doors.  All in all, it is small town America at its best.  Both of these factors (rain, locks) make it possible for the bookstore to operate successfully.

The first thing one notices about Bart's Books is the sign by the front door: "When closed, please throw coins in slot in the door."  Lining the outside wall are rows and rows of books.  One is free to read them or purchase one even if the store is closed; the honor system that is sadly disappearing in this country.

When one steps inside, the big surprise is this: There is no roof!  The entire bookstore is open to the atmosphere.  Shaded here and there by a tree, only the bookshelves themselves have a covering.

On the rare occasions when it rains, the books are protected by these coverings.  The water evaporates in hours, leaving the area dry and the books undamaged.

There are thousands of books in every category one can imagine.  Fiction and non-fiction, clearly marked and separated into the various genres.  History, biography, sports, and so on.  There are a few enclosed rooms where cookbooks, art, specialty and rare books are housed.  In these rooms are chairs and couches where one can sit while contemplating whether or not to purchase the book.

The fiction is by far the most abundant.  Classified by author alphabetically within the various genres, it is easy for one to find his favorite author or title.  And if you have difficulty, there are helpful staff members to aid you.  Needless to say, the staff is a happy one.  I overheard a customer ask an employee: "Do you actually get paid for working here?"  Considering the environment, it was a legitimate question.

Once you have found the book you have been looking for, there are tables and chairs available for you to sit in the shade of one of the many trees and read.  There are even snacks and soft drinks available.  It would be easy for one to spend the entire day in the store.  I have been there several times and still have not seen it all.
The store deals primarily in used books.  And, having been asked the question countless times, the management has T-shirts for sale with "What Do You Do When It Rains?" printed on them.

For those of you who love books, and that includes everyone in this group, if you are ever in the vicinity, make the detour to Ojai and visit this amazing store.  You will find it well worth your while.