09 December 2012

The Woo-Woo Farm


by Leigh Lundin

save your life

trim your tree

kangaroo down

get you sober

help leave him

extend vacation
This past week, I've been reading Elizabeth Zelvin's Death Will Save Your Life, one of her Bruce Kohler Death Will… series. Not having read Elizabeth before, I wasn't prepared for the fast, snappy, almost furiously funny story.

Let me put it this way— If you're aware the three main recurring characters– best friends– are either recovering alcoholics or co-dependents and you know the author is a very serious top flight New York psychotherapist, those preconceptions may set you up for, well, sober expectations. And you'd be wrong.

Published by booksBnimble, the feel is witty with an ambience between cosy and chick-lit, at least if the latter allowed male main characters. Originally intended to be a novel, the author slimmed, trimmed, and streamlined the tale to novella length, enhancing its bright and light drollery.

The story takes place in what New Yorkers call 'the country', meaning upstate at a new age retreat named the Aquarius Institute but referred to by the cynical as the Woo-Woo Farm. Yep, I side with the cynical.
Crystal Mary

We interrupt this programming with an aside. An acquaintance, Crystal Mary, would fit in well with the farm. To outsiders, she's a strident psychic feminist lesbian, a Premie, a believer in all things paranormal, and a psychosomatic practitioner of new-age healing. Friends worry when she follows guru Prem Rawat to India and Australia without seeing the sights and that she spends too much on phony gadgets to ward off nasal scoliosis and electrical appliance radiation burns. Privately, she enjoys art, collects beautiful healing crystals, and confesses lesbianism isn't sealed in stone. Mary would fit right in the Woo-Woo Farm.

Underlying the humor, the author's command of dialogue is superb, possibly a listening skill developed in her psychotherapist profession. Zelvin's dialogue is at its best when she does banter. I especially enjoy the patter between the main characters.

And those protagonists are fun. Bruce prays the vegetarians haven't screwed up breakfast and his friends advise him to take the line to the right– the left one is all veggie. Just my kind of people.

Bruce's friend Barbara talks a mile-a-minute while driving, oblivious to the outside world. She seems to glide among other characters like an Indian scout through a forest. She makes us smile when she criticizes another woman for her 'thin shiksa thighs'. Husband Jimmy is her anchor in a positive sense.

The book slips in a wide variety of conversational detours from flowers and foods to subtle references of kinkiness. And for the romance-minded, the story, er, lays a foundation for that too.

The author manages to murder two victims, both with remarkably unpleasant dispositions. This follows the tradition of cosies where we don't much mind liquidating odious characters. If it weren't that good people could be falsely indicted, we might be willing to give the murderer a pass.

The detective on the case, while not a bad guy, isn't exactly a fine fellow either. Of course being a good guy isn't his job, but he gets under the skins of our three intrepid sleuths.

There are a raft of suspects– literally. The baddie– well, can't tell you that except to say you wouldn't want to swim with this perpetrator.

I've offered Elizabeth my own title in the series: Death Will Get You Laid (to Rest) That oughta sell!

Rating: lots of stars. When you're up for a light, fast and funny read, pick up Death Will Save Your Life by Elizabeth Zelvin. It will make your day.

08 December 2012

Old Dogs and New Tricks


As usual, I've been reading almost as much as I've been writing, lately.  What's unusual is that in a few of the crime novels I've read, there are some new techniques--or at least seldom-used techniques--that caught my attention.

A reborn identity

The first "different" approach I'll mention was used by the late Salvatore Lombino--much better known by the pen names Evan Hunter and Ed McBain--in his novel Candyland.  Those who have read him know that the Evan Hunter name appears on his "literary" novels while Ed McBain writes police procedurals, notably those set in the fictional 87th Precinct of the fictional city of Isola.  In fact Lombino legally changed his name to Evan Hunter many years ago, although I would imagine the pseudonym Ed McBain is more familiar to the reading public.  (Genre writers are almost always better known than literary writers.)

Anyhow, the reason Candyland is unusual is that it's two different books in one.  Billed as a collaboration between the two authors, the first half is written by the more sophisticated Hunter and the second half is written by the crime writer McBain.  (It's as if there really were two different authors rather than the same person; both names are even listed on the book cover.)  Also interesting is that the situation introduced by Hunter is then turned into a tale of murder investigation by McBain.  The viewpoint in the first half is that of the killer, and the viewpoint in the second half is that of one of the homicide detectives.  An intriguing approach, and an entertaining novel.

Don't I know you from someplace?

Another (fairly) rare technique is bringing characters from different series together in the same book.  I know it's been done a number of times, but I've encountered it most recently in two novels by two of my favorite writers.

The Panther, a new book by Nelson DeMille, pairs the characters John Corey and Paul Brenner, both of whom were already known to DeMille fans as protagonists in some of his previous novels.  John Corey was the head fred in DeMille's Plum IslandThe Lion's GameNight FallWild FireThe Lion, etc., and Paul Brenner was the hero of the novel Up Country.  Corey and his wife Kate Mayfield are the main players in The Panther, but Brenner is onscreen for most of the book as well.  As with all series characters, it was fun to meet them again, and also to see how they (when thrown together in the same cage) reacted to each other.

Robert B. Parker did the same kind of thing, occasionally teaming up folks from his three series starring Spenser, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall.  In the novel Blue Screen, two of the three series protags even become romantically involved (no, it's not Spenser and Stone), and Parker regularly interchanged minor characters like Rita Fiore, Martin Quirk, and Vinnie Morris.  Again, whenever that happens, and readers discover unexpected but familiar faces, it's fun.  It's like running into old friends while on a faraway vacation.

A Grisham switchum

I'd also like to mention a recent novel by John Grisham, an author I would describe as extremely talented but not extremely innovative. Grisham seems to know what works for him and sticks to it. Except for the occasional lighthearted project (Skipping Christmas) or sports theme (BleachersPlaying for PizzaCalico Joe), the only time I've seen him stray very far afield was with A Painted House, which is a literary, Southern, coming-of-age novel told from the viewpoint of a seven-year-old boy.

But in his latest, The Racketeer, he does some things I haven't seen him do before, stylewise, like mixing present and past tense, and writing some chapters in first person and others in third person.  He even writes the first-person sections in the POV of an imprisoned African-American lawyer.  I can't say it'll be a great story--I only just started it--but it looks pretty good so far.

Hey, Mom, watch this . . .

The kinds of things I've described above are merely different literary approaches, not so-called experimental writing.  Experimental, to me, means something like stream-of-conscienceness, or putting all dialogue in italics, or using second-person plural POV, or omitting all quotation marks, or writing the whole story or novel without using the letter "n."  That kind of writing I don't usually enjoy; I think that's just being different for the sake of being different.  (On the other hand, Cormac McCarthy has been known to employ some pretty wild techniques, and he's an author I like a lot.)

How do you feel about "pushing the envelope" in terms of writing style or other literary devices? Have you done that, in past novels or stories?  Would you consider it, for future projects?  Do you enjoy reading fiction that uses new and different writing techniques and approaches?

Since I don't consider myself particularly innovative or adventurous, I was surprised to find myself enjoying most of these recently-read books I've mentioned.  Who knows, maybe I've learned from them.  Maybe one day I'll try something different myself.

And maybe not.



BREAKING NEWS: The winner of last week's drawing is C.S. Poulsen, who will choose either Death Will Get You Sober (hardcover), the first in Elizabeth Zelvin's mystery series, or her brand new e-novella, Death Will Save Your Life.  Congrats to C.S.!

07 December 2012

Tradecraft: Surveillance 101


At some point in your life, you've probably wished you could follow a person to see where he or she was going, maybe find out more about them. It could have been a loved one you suddenly had reason to mistrust, or it could have been an errant child you feared was running with a bad crowd and about to get into trouble. Or perhaps it was merely a whim on your part concerning a stranger who suddenly piqued your curiosity by something he did. Of course if you're a writer, you can always fall back on the excuse that you were simply conducting research to make your latest story seem more real.

It makes no difference to me what your reasons are. For twenty-five years, I conducted surveillance on bad guys from on foot, in moving vehicles, from airplanes and helicopters, from blinds in the woods and from stationary positions such as adjacent buildings and undercover vans. Each method has its own procedures and its own reasons for use. Just know that this is an adrenaline filled activity, and if you try it, you'll find it's actually fun to do. In fact, I've put on a couple of surveillance workshops for one of the chapters of Mystery Writers of America, a Left Coast Crime Conference and repeat performances for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Amazingly, some civilians can be quite good at foot surveillance after only an hour briefing and then placed directly into a field exercise.

See how many of these celebrity authors ("rabbits") from the Denver Left Coast Crime Conference you recognize.
Roughly, here's some of the knowledge you need to know, a shortened version of what I teach civilians before forming them into teams to follow "rabbits" on foot in a downtown area or large shopping mall.

The first things to learn are what to wear and how to act. Wear only ordinary clothing for the area you'll be working in, nothing flashy or anything that will stand out. You want to become invisible or at least un-noticeable. Think for a minute, when you arrive at a big city hotel, the doorman opens the door for you. That's his job. He's in uniform. You thank him and go in. But, did you really take note of him? Could you pick him out in a lineup of other uniformed doormen? Probably not. You saw what you expected to see and soon dismissed any facial image. He blended in to the surroundings because he belonged there. That's what you want to do when you are following someone. Sometimes, it doesn't hurt to carry a backpack or shopping bag containing a rapid change of outside clothing and hats. Changing appearance helps keep you from becoming noticeable.

As for how to act, you act the way you're dressed. Do not draw attention to yourself, plus have a cover story as to who you are and why you are there just in case you are suddenly confronted by the one you're following or even by someone in the vicinity, such as a storekeeper or a security guard. At this point in the lecture, I usually tell my story about the Safeway Store Shootout in Kansas City. At the time, I was doing good surveillance on the parking lot from inside the store and had told a convincing tale to the store manager as to why I was lingering in the front of his store, right up until the guns came out. But, I've already related that little fun filled event in an earlier blog, so we'd best move on.

The best surveillance operatives are of average size and average looks. I know a six-foot tall lady of extreme intelligence and ivy-league background whom the CIA did not hire because of her height and good looks. They thought she would stand out in a crowd and therefore be too noticeable. Point in case, blend in as much as possible. Disappear, disappear, disappear, or at least become un-noticeable.

So now let's discuss what you want to learn or verify from your surveillance. This may determine how close you have to get to your subject. For instance, if you're looking for information leading to a divorce action, then your object of interest will probably be large, such as a meeting between subjects or a motel room being used. If you're looking for evidence against a stereo thief or shoplifter, then what you're watching for may be of medium size. However, if you're following a spy, then you may need to be on the outlook for small objects transferred in a handoff between two people or something picked up from a dead drop. Distance quickly becomes a factor.

The simplest form of moving surveillance is the One-Person Foot Surveillance, a tough way to operate because you are the only one out there, no team member to assist or rely on. Since one-person foot is usually conducted on the same side of the street and reasonably close to the subject in case he makes a sudden turn into a store or building, if you get burned by the subject or lose The Eyeball, then you are out of business for that day.

However, if your subject has a regular routine, you can usually come back the next day about the same time and pick up where you lost him and start following until you lose the subject again. Then come back on the following day and start from that point. Continue until you find his destination. That's how the Isrealis found out exactly in which town and house that Eichmann lived. This process helped them decide where and how to best take possession of him in order to spirit him out of that country.

The above info should be sufficient for a start on this topic. If it turns out there is enough interest, then I will continue in future blogs to cover the A B C Method of Team Surveillance, vehicle surveillance, other surveillance and the ever popular list of how the other side detects your surveillance. In the meantime, keep looking back over your shoulder. Who knows?

06 December 2012

Subtlety Is a Wrapped Sledgehammer


"In real life people don't bother about being too subtle, Mrs. Oliver," said the superintendent.  "They usually stick to arsenic because it's nice and handy to get hold of."
                                                                            — "Cards on the Table", Agatha Christie

Every once in a while someone asks me if I read up a lot on poisons to come up with new ways of killing people.  No, I don't.  I stick to what's nice and handy to get hold of.  I do this for a number of reasons:

First of all, I believe that most murders are done spontaneously, in the heat of passion, blind rage, or similar emotional storms, which means the killer uses what's at hand:  hands, scarves, blunt instruments, knives, guns, bathtubs, the occasional pond or car or equivalent.

Secondly, I set most of my murders in a small town, so even if murder is premeditated, it's hard to get high-tech stuff to kill people with.  Our local hardware store just doesn't carry the latest in James Bond type equipment.  (On the other hand, our drugstores have needles right out there where anyone can get them any time without any prescription, which still amazes me.)  Thus, antifreeze and ant killer are probably as high-tech as it gets.  Usually, our murderers still just shoot them, pound them, or drown them.

Most killers - no, let me change that - most criminals are not very bright.  They watch a lot of TV, which gives them many interesting ideas, but does not provide them the A to B's of things, and even if it did, they would ask, in the immortal words of Otto in "A Fish Called Wanda", "What was the middle part?"  Plus, they are easily distracted.  If you gave them a high-tech untraceable poison dart that could be administered from a distance via laser technology, there's a good chance they'd drop it on the way home and end up using a sledgehammer because it was handy.  Or they'd trade it for drugs and again use the sledgehammer.  If you told them they really need to be more subtle, they'd figure you meant to wrap the sledgehammer in duct tape or something.

So, in Laskin, South Dakota, people are shot, drowned, stabbed, smothered, strangled, run over, bludgeoned, and frozen to death.  Poison is indeed arsenic or antifreeze, or the occasional overdose of prescription medication.  Just call me an old-fashioned kind of girl.  But don't get me wrong - if I can come up with something new, I will!  :)

Latest news from the pen:  Donald Moeller, a child molester who kidnapped, raped, and murdered a nine year old girl back in 1990, was executed October 30th.  A number of inmates threw a party, and I'm told that the cheering could be heard all the way to the death chamber, where, just before they plunged the needle home, Mr. Moeller supposedly said, "That's my fan club."  He was wrong.  Some people saw this as horrible, horrible, more proof that inmates are basically violent, etc.  Personally, I saw it as totally predictable.  The one group all the inmates can/do look down on is child molesters.  And, if everyone would just be honest, they are encouraged to do so.  "They'll take care of him in the pen," is often said at conviction, knowing (without saying it) that that means beatings and gang rape and even murder.  So what did everyone expect?  Oh, and here's a no-brainer:  who let the inmates throw that party and didn't break it up? 

On the lighter side, my favorite line so far this year:  "It's not my fault I'm in here.  My baby mamma turned me in for dealing drugs because I cheated on her."  I'm not sure whether he's living in the Land of the Unconscious or floating down the Mighty River of Denial, but I do know he's got a lot of company.

05 December 2012

I'm Dreaming of a Black Orchid


Last week I mentioned that the Wolfe Pack was having their annual Black Orchid Banquet on Saturday in New York City.  One of the highlights of that event is always the announcement of the Black Orchid Novella Award.  Last year the winner was James Lincoln Warren and we published his acceptance speech here.

This year the winner happened to be, well, me.  "The Red Envelope" will be published in the July/August 2013 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  My acceptance speech is below.

I grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey, back when the city had a lovely old Carnegie Library.  But there was a problem: by the fifth grade I had used up the children's room, wrung it dry of everything I wanted to read.  And that was a problem because children were not allowed in the adult section.

So I would make guerilla raids down the narrow book-lined hallways that led to the cathedral-ceilinged main reading room, keenly aware that if I were caught the librarians would banish me back into exile with Dr. Seuss and Mary Poppins.


I quickly figured out that the best place to hide was the area directly behind the reference desk, because the librarians there seldom turned around.  That happened to be the mystery section.

And so it happened that among the first adult books I read were The Mother Hunt and Gambit. Of course over the years I read all of the Rex Stout corpus.  And reread it.

The results was that I became a lifelong mystery reader and a mystery writer as well.  Which brings us to tonight.  So I would like to start by thanking Rex Stout, without whom, as they say.

And I  want to thank the library staff in Plainfield, New Jersey.  I don't hold a grudge, you see.  I even became a librarian myself.

I want to thank the Wolfe Pack, and especially the awards committee, which has shown such excellent taste.

And my favorite editor, Linda Landrigan of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Linda, I believe three of my stories are waiting in your slushpile.

Also, the librarians and staff of Western Washington University, where I did my research.  "The Red Envelope" is set in Greenwich Village in 1958, so there was a lot to check up on.

I need to thank my first readers, last year's winner James Lincoln Warren, and R.T. Lawton.  Who knows?   Maybe he will be next year's winner.  Couldn't have done it without you guys.

Finally there's my wife, Terri Weiner, who puts up with my work even though she really prefers science fiction.  Thanks, honey.

And to all the rest of you, please keep reading mysteries.

04 December 2012

Growing the Language


Barney and Clyde, The Washington Post, December 1, 2012
Hear the sledges with the bells -
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells -
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.
                                      The Bells, First Stanza
                                      Edgar Allan Poe

America's present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration.
                                      Warren G. Harding

    So, you are doubtless wondering, what exactly does Edgar Allan Poe have in common with Warren G. Harding?  The italicized words set forth above are the clues – both “tintinnabulation” and “normalcy” basically did not exist until used by Poe and Harding, respectively.  Poe’s made up word, derived from the Latin word for "bell", tintinnabulum, entered the English language largely because it fit Poe’s pentameter.  Harding’s invention, or at the least popularization, of the word “normalcy” is predictably baser, deriving from the existing word “normality” and Harding’s political aspirations, which required a less high-falluting word to garner the support of the voting public. 

    These two words eventually gained entry to most dictionaries, but prior to besting that bar they were “sniglets.”  “Sniglet” is itself a made-up word, and one that, I will admit, I had not encountered until I heard a weatherman in Washington, D.C. use it several weeks ago.  A sniglet is defined (simply) by the Urban Dictionary as a word that should be in the dictionary but isn't.  The “should” part of this may be a bit generous – the word “irregardless,” for example, an illegitimate progeny of “regardless” and “irrespective,” qualifies as a sniglet and is used often.  At least for me it continues to grate.  (With apologies to my Tuesday partner in crime Mr. Dean, my wife and I had a law school professor who used to scratch through "irregardless" whenever it appeared in a paper or exam and write in the margin “this is only a word in New Jersey!”)

    As noted, “sniglet” is itself a "sniglet".  The word was invented by Richard Hall, a comedian and actor in the 1960s.  Hall published several books of sniglets and also, for a time, had a newspaper column devoted to these wannabe words.  While Hall coined the word sniglet, the concept was previously more broadly encompassed by the word “neologism,” which encompasses not only a newly coined word or phrase, but also a newly offered idea or theory.  Some skips and jumps through the internet reveal that neologisms or sniglets often make their assault into accepted speech from the springboard of literature.  Science Fiction, for example, has reportedly given us the then-new words “laser,” (Light Amplification through Stimulated Emissions of Radiation) in 1960, and “robotics” in 1941.  (Thank you, Mr. Asimov).  Other then-new additions to the language that sprang from literature include “nymphet,” from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, “Orwellian,” from the themes set forth in George Orwell’s 1984.  And as descriptive nouns we have a “Scrooge,” a “Pollyanna,” someone who is “Quixotic” as well as those who are “Sadistic,” (derived from the practices of the Marquis de Sade). 

    Commenting on the need for the English language to fluidly grow, Thomas Jefferson stated the following in an 1831 letter: 
I am no friend, therefore, to what is called Purism, but a   zealous one to the Neology . . . .    The new circumstance under which we are placed, call for new words, new phrases, and for the transfer of old words to new objects. An American dialect will therefore be formed; so will a West-Indian and Asiatic, as a Scotch and an Irish are already formed.

So, it is often we, the writers, who are either responsible for all of this or, at the very least, carry the ball by repeating, in dialog, that which we hear around us.  Print adds legitimacy.

    As we approach 2013 it is interesting to look at previously aspiring words and phrases that “passed their finals” and gained admittance  into the Merriam Webster Dictionary in 2012.  Newly legitimized words for 2012 include:
  • Man-cave
  • Sexting (Alexander Graham Bell must be rolling in his grave)
  • Earworm (denoting a song you can’t get out of your head)
  • Bucket List
  • Energy Drink
  • Aha Moment
  • Game Changer
  • F-Bomb (as in “Dropping the F-Bomb”)
  • Gastropub
  • Mash-up (Something created by combining items from two or more sources).
    Although writers can nudge the language in new directions, as the foregoing discussion and examples illustrate, there are some places that the language simply will not allow itself to go.  Thus, while Lewis Carroll is discussed prominently as a contributor of sniglets or neologisms, more often than not Carroll’s imagination proved too great for the more conservative tastes of evolving language.  No greater example of this exists than his poem Jabberwocky from Through the Looking Glass, composed almost completely of substantive words that are still aspiring to existence but never made it.
Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
  The frumious Bandersnatch!"
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
  Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
  And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
  The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
  And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! And through and through
  The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
  He went galumphing back.
"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
  Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
  He chortled in his joy.
`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

03 December 2012

Cure the Common Cold??


Jan Grape
Okay, I guess I really can't complain, I haven't had a cold in ages. Don't even remember the last time. I've made up for it by having a doozy. On Thanksgiving Day I went to the University of Texas football game where there were thousands and thousands of people. However, my interacting with people was limited to the people in the UT Club, courtesy of my sister and brother-in-law who are members. Then it was even more limited to the people who were partaking of the fabulous buffet. But there were still a large number of people any number of whom could have been sharing their cold germs. By last Saturday night, less than 48 hours later my throat was getting sore. Just a little mind you but by Sunday night the throat was raw and the head was stopped up. I had a couple of degrees of fever and felt what could only be described as yucky.
I doctored myself with all my home remedies, Airborne drinks, salt water gargle, sinus medicine, extra vitamin C and by Wednesday the fever was gone and the throat was better and I was on the recovery road. I didn't go out of the house for anything or anyone. Just rested and took care of me. On Thursday evening I needed to go help decorate for a charity event that I'd been involved in since last July. The event was scheduled for Friday, Nov. 30th and was to raise money for the Andy Roddick Foundation. Yes, that super tennis player who lives in Austin. His foundation is building tennis centers for school children and one of the locations is in a small town a few miles down the road from me, but it includes all the small towns and elementary schools in the Hill Country area. Our committee was decorating for a Casino Night Gala to be held in the Lakeside Pavilion in Marble Falls only five miles from my house.

We all worked Thursday evening and knew we need to be back at the pavilion by noon on Friday. On Thursday night late, I realized my cold had moved down to my chest. I wasn't coughing much but just enough to know I probably was losing ground. I ignored it all, could NOT not go help finish the decorations...this was a huge project. And we only had a small number of worker bees. On Friday afternoon I worked as late as I could then rushed home to rest for 15 minutes, then hopped up and dressed in my thirties gun moll best and head over to the gala. It looked fabulous.

We had hired a company who brings roulette, poker and blackjack tables, slot machines and a craps table with all the equipment and dealers and pit bosses needed. We had a silent auction going on with some wonderful items donated for people to bid on and door prizes and donated food and drinks including alcohol. One of our major features besides the gambling was the wonderful musician/singer/songwriter john Arthur martinez and his fantastic Tex-Americana-Mexican-Bluegrass Band. john came in second at the Nashville Star TV show a few years ago. Miranda Lambert, a big country star married recently to another big star, Blake Shelton, came in third. So that lets you know what good company he was in. The winner was a guy named Buddy Jewel.

I helped at the sign-in table taking tickets, greeting the close to two hundred people who attended the $100 per ticket crowd. The tickets included a gaming chip worth $10,000 (only at this event not at any place else.) Then the chips you won you traded in at the end of the evening for tickets which  then were drawn for prizes. The ticket also included all the food and drink, you could also dance or listen to the music, visit with people and bid on the silent auction items, all of which were great items. I made two lovely baskets with copies of my books, 2 small bottles of wine, a package of hot chocolate, a sack of chocolate gold coins and a purple Christmas ornament and donated those for the auction. I also did something this group had never heard of, but authors do it a mystery conventions all the time. I auctioned the right to be named a character in my work in progress. It was a hit and we got a nice price for it.

By the end of the night however I was exhausted and my cold was dragging me down. Still no fever or cough so am hoping I didn't share. I stayed afterwards, helping clean up for as long as I could, and happy because our event was a success and everyone had a good time. Got home and went to bed and stayed there for twelve hours. Didn't sleep solid that  time but slept as much as I could and got some needed rest.

Yet my cold is still with me, I tried not to share it with anyone all week so am still hoping I'll get better soon. I got some new medicine and a refill of another one today. BUT why oh why can't someone come up with a cure for the common cold? Maybe some company needs to offer a ten million dollar prize to the person who cures the cold. If I were rich I'd offer it. If I were a scientist I'd go for it. Until then, try to stay away from germs...they are unhealthy.



ONE FINAL BIG NOTE: Congratulations to our own Robert Lopresti for winning the 2012 Black Orchid's Novella award. Way to go, Rob!!

02 December 2012

Crime History– Archibald McCafferty


Losing a child affects parents in a myriad of terrible ways, some damaged worse than others. This is a story about one of them.
The birth of a son was one of the few gentle things in the life of Archibald Beattie McCafferty, a 24-year-old Scottish-born Australian with an extensive criminal sheet. McCafferty's marriage to Janice Redington lasted a scant six weeks, just long enough for her to fall pregnant. One evening, she fell asleep nursing her infant and awoke to the horror she'd accidentally smothered her own child.

Then things turned worse, far worse.

In and out of mental and correctional institutions, Archie McCafferty wasn't firmly seated to begin with, but the death of his baby unhinged his teetering mental balance. More than ever, he embraced drugs and drink. Combined with grief, they may explain his 'vision' seeing his son hovering above the child's grave. In his hallucination, his son told him he could be brought back to life if McCafferty killed seven victims.
first murder scene
first murder scene

Se7en Incarnate

McCafferty had forged a Fagin-like bond with a 26-year-old woman and four teens, a relationship that involved alcohol, dope, and thievery. He described his son's visitation to them and demanded their assistance in carrying out his gruesome intentions. They acted immediately.

The first victim they choked, beat and stabbed in a bar's back alley before they came up with a better plan. Posing as hitchhikers in the rain, the teens rounded up and shot two more victims, wrongly described as tramps. The car they seized from the third victim ran out of gasoline, forcing the gang to postpone the final kills until the following night. That delay saved lives.

One of the teens didn't trust McCafferty and he sensed McCafferty didn't trust him. Rightly fearing he'd become one of the seven victims, Rick Webster nervously returned to work at the Sydney Morning Herald. Glancing out a window, he spotted his fellow gang members waiting in a van. He correctly guessed they intended to kill him as soon as he stepped into the street.
arrest
arrest

Certain he couldn't leave the building alive, Webster phoned police and asked for an investigator to come to the newspaper office. When detectives grasped what Webster was telling them, they called in a team that swooped in and arrested the entire gang. Without question, Webster's call saved McCafferty's wife and her family.

In court, the news media compared the case to the Charles Manson gang. Throughout, McCafferty had to be drugged with a quadruple dose of tranquilizers. Candidly telling the court he'd kill until he reached seven victims, he was sentenced to three life terms.

Prison

Only 26-year-old Carol Howes escaped a guilty verdict. The four teens were sentenced to prison. Gang member Julie Todd hanged herself days after her 17th birthday.

in court
in court
McCafferty proved to be the hardest criminal in Australia's penal system. He was convicted of murdering another prisoner and, as part of an internal 'murder squad', may have been involved with three other deaths. Interestingly, he denied killing the inmate, but a disbelieving judge sentenced him to an additional fourteen years.

Over time, his rage seemed to abate. McCafferty gave testimony about corrupt prison officials and other criminals. Eventually, wardens moved him from a maximum security prison to a minimum security farm. He was admitted to a work release program and allowed him to spend weekends with his brother's family. A judge agreed to consider him for parole.

Meanwhile, parole officials discovered a legal wrinkle. When McCafferty's parents brought young Archie to Australia as a child, the proper paperwork for citizenship hadn't been taken care of. Technically, McCafferty was still a British subject, meaning the state could make him someone else's problem.

Escape the Past

McCafferty today
McCafferty today
Upon parole, authorities put him on a plane bound for Scotland along with his jailhouse bride, Mandy Queen. McCafferty changed his name to James Lok, whereupon he found work as a painter and then a toymaker. Against all odds, the marriage lasted– he'd become a family man. As far as Australia was concerned, the case was closed. And so it seemed for more than two decades.

Twenty-five years after he landed in Scotland, he again fell under the influence of alcohol. After a drinking and driving binge, he threatened his wife and police. That was peaceably resolved.

On a trip to New Zealand, authorities arrested and deported him for failing to declare his criminal past. But, when all is said and done, McCafferty, one of the more feared of killers, kept up his end of the parole bargain better than expected.

That Manson Label

Manson's motivations embody pure evil, self-serving to the extreme. His followers long repented and, harmless if not toothless, should be released. But Manson– I can't imagine him other than the self-created monster of malevolence, incapable of interacting with society in a rĂ´le other than predator.

McCafferty isn't anything close. Although branded as Australia's Charles Manson, the label doesn't fit. We can at least understand the sorrow and pain that drove the man. And, McCafferty made great efforts to turn his life around. Life's imperfect, but he, his wife Mandy, and the court system deserve high marks.

01 December 2012

Authors Who Blow My Mind: Michael Gruber


by Elizabeth Zelvin

SleuthSayers Monthly Giveaway: It's my turn to play elf and conduct a drawing for a copy of Death Will Get You Sober, first in my series of mysteries featuring recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler and his friends OR a copy of my brand new e-novella, DEATH WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE. To enter: leave a comment on today's post any time this week and check back next Saturday (above John Floyd's post) to see if you're the winner.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about readers in my years in the mystery community, it’s that every individual’s taste is different. You may hate the books I love, and vice versa. My own husband and I are yin and yang in this regard. Even within the narrow range of books that we may both pick up—a certain kind of high-quality historical or fantasy fiction—I get bored if the battles go on too long, while he gets bored if the relationships and feelings go on too long. (Same with movies, but that’s another story.) This is the first of what may turn into several posts about authors on my personal list.

Michael Gruber is usually referred to as a thriller writer, but he isn’t highly visible in the crime fiction world, although his last book, The Good Son, was short-listed for the 2011 CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award in the UK. His best work has in abundance what I consider the three essential elements of great novel writing: storytelling, writing, and characterization. My favorite is The Book of Air and Shadows (2007). I’d call it literary crime fiction in the best way. There’s an element of caper, and it’s certainly a whodunit.

The McGuffin is a completely unknown Shakespeare manuscript, a play about Mary Queen of Scots. The plot is twisty and clever, and the tension never lets up. The writing is superb, and the characters are vivid, complicated, and memorable. Then there’s voice, that mysterious element of the writer’s craft that distinguishes a master. The voice is delectable; it puts a big grin on my face page after page. He treats the reader to a literate sentence filled with educated vocabulary and felicitous turns of phrase—and then pop in a zinger, some colloquial term or trendy reference, to remind us that we’re in the real world and not some ivory tower. Or sometimes he’ll drop an apposite apple reference into a grove of oranges at just the right moment.

Here’s an example. Jake, one of the protagonists, is talking about a literary forger who almost got away with faking a new bad quarto (don’t ask) of Hamlet.

“And it might have become part of the critical canon had not L.H. Pascoe delighted in delicious young fellows with smoky eyes and pouting lips, and having such a taste, not promised one of these a trip to Cap d’Antibes, and a new wardrobe with it, and having so promised, not reneged, causing the young fellow, naturally enough, to drop a dime on his patron.”

The whole passage is delicious, but it’s that “drop a dime” that makes it sublime.

Here’s another, as Jake describes what started as an ordinary day in the practice of intellectual property law.

“Quiet meetings, billable hours, the marshaling of expertise, and the delicate suggestion that lawsuits in this business are largely a waste of time, for Chinese piracy of rock album cover images is an unavoidable cost of doing business in our fallen world.”

The zinger in this sentence is “fallen world,” a reference, if I’m not mistaken, from born-again Christianity.

I’m not a big fan of explicit sex scenes, but I don’t mind Gruber’s, because his descriptions are so perfect. Here’s the end of one such passage.

“In the end she made a sharp single cry, like a small dog hit by traffic. Then she rolled over without a word and seemed to go to sleep, in the manner of a guy married for years.”

Believe me, those monkeys with the typewriters could not come up with lines like these, not in a million years. And while he’s writing up a storm and entertaining the reader with this fantastic voice, he’s unrolling the twisty, twisty plot, keeping that feather in the air by blowing it steadily and gently.

This Gruber is a very, very smart guy. I don’t know anybody who does multiple points of view with such panache. In The Book of Air and Shadows, his fictional 17th-century character (the protagonist of the manuscript within a manuscript) describes the unknown play in such a way that you can tell it could have been written by Shakespeare at the height of his powers. The playwright’s commission is to make Mary Queen of Scots a sympathetic character and make Queen Elizabeth look bad. Instead, he shows the nuances and ambiguities of both women’s characters. The character telling us about it thinks this is a bad thing, while the author knows that the 21st century reader will think it’s a good thing. In short, it’s the sneakiness of a master storyteller.

I could go on. This is the kind of read that makes me want to say, “Listen to this!” But instead, I’ll say, “Read the book.” And read the rest of Gruber’s work, especially The Good Son, which engages our sympathies with a terrorist, no mean feat, and the Jimmy Paz trilogy, hardboiled detective stories with a little magic, and all in that gorgeous and hilarious prose.

30 November 2012

Ghost and the Machine



A fairly recent post by Dale Andrews, concerning ghost stories, set me to thinking about the differences between ghost stories and mysteries.

In that post, Dale mentioned:

. . . British ghost story writer M.R. James identified five key features of the classical English ghost story:
1. The pretense of truth
2. “A pleasing terror”
3. No gratuitous bloodshed or sex
4. No ‘explanation of the machinery’
5. Setting: “those of the writer’s (and reader’s) own day”

(Dale listed these features by bullet point, but I’ve numbered them for ease of reference in further discussion.)

Looking at that list, it seems to me it very nearly fits most Agatha Christie novels I’ve read.

The Great Agatha Christie
 True, her stories no longer seem set in our present day, but I think they were, for the most part, set in the time frame of her own day. Probably, the biggest difference between a Christie novel and this list of ghost story features, lies in Feature Number 4: No ‘explanation of the machinery.’

 Explaining the machinery – letting the reader know not only who dunnit, but sometimes also how the murder or mayhem was performed, along with an explanation concerning any special steps of intentional misdirection – is, to me, an inherent part of a mystery story.

 Christie’s plots certainly reveled in this, it seems to me.

Rather Nicely, Too.

 Sometimes, solving the crime meant figuring out, and potentially reconstructing, some Rube-Goldberg Machine the murderer had set up, in order to carry out the crime (or to make it seem as if the crime had been committed) in a way, or at a time, which would rule-out the murderer as a suspect. Ferreting out the contraption’s construction, from the few clues left lying around, was central to determining how and why the victim was killed – as well as the murderer’s identity.

 When I was a kid, my father was a great lover of Agatha Christie stories. I think that, being an engineer, he loved the intricate detail of her plots, and all the little pieces of them. Each piece ticking-over machine-like – moving on its own, yet interconnected, its function interdependent on the movement of all the others, to produce the desired outcome. All those little whirring components formed a symphony of complex simplicity, seemingly tailor-made for an engineer’s pleasure.

The "Doctor" who made the Christie statement.
Some of Dr. Who's faces.



Perhaps this is also why Dr. Who (the title character in the BBC Sci-Fi series Dr. Who), in one episode, reveals that Agatha Christie is inarguably considered the greatest writer of all time -- throughout the entire universe!


An ‘explanation of the machinery’, however, does not seem limited to cozies.

 Bloodshed and sex may abound in hard-boiled mystery or suspense stories. And, the clues are different, many of them far less tangible than those in the average cozy. In fact, the protagonist sometimes seems to be more psychologist than detective, by the time s/he’s tumbled to the truth – often through a sudden and intuitive leap of understanding. Yet, a final explanation of the evil mechanism afoot still seems to be needed if I’m to walk away satisfied in the end.

 A ghost story can plausibly leave the ghost fully clothed and unexamined. A mystery, however, (for me, at least) seems to require some final revelation of the machinery behind the ghost.

 I hadn’t consciously realized this until I read Dale’s post, though my subconscious evidently knew it all along.

 Questions About Some Stories 

 A while ago, I read an anthology of noir mystery stories, but found myself unhappy with the collection. Many of them didn’t seem properly finished. The clues were all there, and I was quite sure I’d figured out what had happened in each story, but then they stopped.

 Each of those particular stories stopped short, as if they’d been writing assignments for a literary class that stressed the importance of letting the reader decide the outcome of the piece. I often appreciate such endings in literary stories, and many of these stories felt quite literary in nature. By and large, they were well written and engaging, yet I found myself left with a sense of disappointment after turning the last page. And I wasn’t quite sure why.

 I knew I was disappointed that the endings weren’t traditionally “wrapped up.” But, was this lack of “wrap up” a real problem, or just a problem of my perception. Was my disappointment rooted in lack of the familiar, or was an important ingredient missing from these stories?

 I considered the problem for a few days, on and off, then – as I’m wont to do when I encounter a relatively unimportant, yet protracted, problem – I set it aside, to let my mind work on it in my absence, in the hopes I’d eventually bump into something that would jar loose a solution.

 And, Dale’s post proved to be just the jarring “something” I needed.

 When I hit the list reproduced above, the parallels to Christie seemed to jump out at me. My mind instantly leapt to those Christie stories, I'd read, in which explaining who dunnit actually did require an explanation of the machinery used to do the deed. And, I realized:  The reason I’d been disappointed by the stories that didn’t include the “wrap-up” was because the game I traditionally enjoy, when it comes to reading mysteries – that of matching wits with the writer, and discovering whether or not I’d come up with his/her intended scenario – was denied me.

 Looking Through Another’s Eyes 

 Since my mom fell ill about two years ago, I stumbled across the joy of working the daily crosswords in the Arizona Republic newspaper. I enjoy these crosswords because they provide me the chance to consider how others see words. (Interestingly, the flip-side of this, is the same reason why I hated crosswords when I was younger.)

 The definitions, or clues often are not ones I would choose, if I’d written the puzzle. I don’t think of these words the way the crossword writers do. In this past Tuesday’s United King Feature Syndicate Crossword puzzle, for instance, the clue “Sudden Silence” was meant to provoke the answer “Hush”. But, if my 9-year-old asked me if “hush” meant “sudden silence,” I would have to tell him: “No. Not necessarily. A hush isn’t always the cessation of noise; sometimes it’s the long absence of noise, a deep quite like the one you might encounter out in the middle of the empty desert on a Summer day.”

 In the same puzzle, the word “Benchmark” was meant to evoke the answer “Norm.” I have a background in Engineering from my days in the army, however, so to me, a “Benchmark” is a small concrete square with a steel cap in it, which has a cross-hatch I can place a transit over, and “shoot from” in order to conduct surveying from a “known point” on the earth.

 On the other hand, when I saw the clue “Benchmark” I also noticed that the answer could only be four letters long and ended in an “M”, (since I’d already written a word that crossed through the last box of the answer space). Rethinking my mental list of definitions for “Benchmark” I considered the word “Standard,” which of course did not fit .

My choice of "Standard" over "Norm" was based on my personal experience with those two words.  A benchmark, in my experience, is a standard that is set for others to achieve, if they are to be considered “good” at something, while the “Norm” is the level of success most people achieve at a given task (hence it’s the “NORMal score” on a test for example). I’m not saying “norm” is an invalid definition for “benchmark”. I’m saying it’s not how I think of the word.

 And, That’s The Point. 

 Dale’s post led me to conclude that the joy I derive from working crosswords is similar to the joy I get out of reading a mystery.

 In both cases, I find myself “matching wits” with the person who constructed the thing. In the case of the crossword, I enjoy trying to figuratively climb inside another person’s mind, and consider the clues through his/her eyes. Reading a mystery, I’m trying to figure out “who dunnit” before the writer tells me. In an action-adventure piece, I’m trying to figure the protagonist’s way out of the maze s/he finds him/herself caught in. And, I’ll admit it, I sometimes decide my solution to the mystery or maze in a story is better than the writer’s.

But, here’s the thing In all three cases, my satisfaction is dependent on being able to match my solution against that of the creator of the work in question. If, at the end of the story, the writer or creator fails to let me know what s/he sees as the “book solution,” then I’m left feeling unfulfilled.

 I get this same feeling if I miss picking up a paper, and checking the crossword solution on the following day. Because, I’m being deprived of the chance to compare solutions. Was I right or wrong in my estimation of what this creator was thinking? How did this other person see the clues and answers? I think my answers were the right ones, but I can’t know unless s/he lets me know.

 And, that’s the problem I had with those stories. When the authors decided to cut them off before concretely explaining the machinery behind the chicanery, I was left without an answer key. This didn’t keep me from coming up with a solution (and sometimes more than one), but it did leave me feeling somewhat cheated.

 I felt like a kid who completes the PSAT, then realizes he’s sitting in the auditorium all alone. He’s got the test done. He thinks he’s done a pretty good job of answering the questions correctly. But, there’s no one there to confirm this. He can’t really know if he got those answers right or not. And, it’s the Practice SAT, so his answers don’t really matter to anyone else. But, he’d sure like to know. Instead, however, he’s left in an empty room calling, “Hello . . . ? Hellooo . . . ? Hey, is anybody out there???”

 That’s a lonely feeling, indeed.

 And the person who takes a PSAT that never gets graded is very apt to feel just as disappointed as I felt when I finished those stories that denied me a glimpse of the writer’s-viewpoint solution.

 Ghost Story Redux 

 All this, coupled with the Halloween timeframe of Dale’s post, reminds me of a friend of my dad's. This guy happened to be a Hydrostatic Engineer, a person who spent his time studying the dynamics of fluid flow, an important subject if you’re designing something that you’d rather was not swept away by the runoff of a heavy downpour. So, he was often posted to construction areas around his state for several weeks at a time.

One night, this guy was driving down a narrow lane cut through a dense forest. Locals claimed the area was "haunted,” and refused to walk this particular stretch of road at night. He’d driven the road at night several times, while in the area, but never when it was so windy. Gusts blew the tree limbs around, and he had just decided to leave his lane and drive more closely to the crown of the otherwise empty road, to avoid them, when a spectral image -- grayish-white but transparent -- slipped from the woods and flitted across the road in front of his car.

The wraith floated above the pavement, writhing as it slipped past, through his headlights, arms and legs seeming to protrude then recede back into it’s body -- amoeba-like -- as if it were in pain, or searching. And, all along, he could see the lane markers of the road on the other side of the thing.

 The guy was shaken, but absolutely sure ghosts didn't exist, so he stopped. backed up until he reached the spot he thought the wraith had come from, then parked and walked into the woods to find out what was going on. About twenty feet in, he ran across a place where a small brook dropped several feet into a narrow area. The frothing water built a layer of foam on top of itself, because of the force.

 As I said, it was a breezy night, and when the next breeze came along, it blew a clump of foam off the top and out to the road. The guy chased it, but couldn't move as fast as the blowing foam. When it crossed the road, he was still in the edge of the woods. An approaching car squealed and swerved to miss it, then someone inside yelled, "I told you this road was haunted!"

 Is this a ghost story? Perhaps for those people in the car.  But for us?  My opinion: No. It’s a mystery story. The machinery behind the ghost was explained. Case closed.

 One last thought.

 If leaving the ghost unexplained results in a ghost story. And explaining the machinery behind the ghost makes it a mystery story. What’s a story that reveals the ghost inside the machine? Science Fiction? Horror? What do you think?

Or, for that matter, do you think that all this talk of matching wits is really pretty witless?

 See you in two weeks!
—Dixon

29 November 2012

True Treasures


by Deborah Elliott-Upton

By the time you are reading this, we will know if someone won the whopping 550 million dollar Power Ball lottery. If it is me, you can be sure I am doing the same thing you would be doing: trying to believe it happened while deciding what to spend that much money on.

Think about it. Pretty much after we paid all our bills, bought new vehicles and a mansion, took care of family members we'd like to help, there's still way too much money for any one person to spend.

At least that is what I think. I've not had that much in my bank account to really know.

My husband said I could buy my own library although he already believes I have too many books as it is. (As if that could be possible!)


We had a discussion recently about our sliding into a hoarder lifestyle. After being married for so many years, we have accumulated more than we need. Trying to part with most of it isn't easy. I do identify with those people on "Hoarders" who have true attachments to their "collections." I hope my stash isn't looked on by others with disdain as the ones participating on the television show, but one man's trash is another's treasure.

My husband sat at his computer in our shared office when I popped in and said, "We have got to get a handle on our clutter. We need to get rid of ten things a day in this house if only it's ten pieces of paper."

He spun around in his chair to face me and glancing around the room, said, "We can't live that long."

I sighed dramatically. "I didn't mean my papers!" 

Both of us knew that was a losing prospect. Writers seem to always have papers they feel they must keep.

I'm a hard-copy kind of writer. I think that comes from losing so many files on computers long ago. I realize the chances of losing them now are not as much a problem and to be honest, I know more about how a computer works these days so I'm not as apt to hit the delete button by mistake. I also have found a computer guru who tells me nothing is truly deleted on a computer. He found deleted-by-mistake photos my daughter and her husband took on their honeymoon– photos that couldn't be duplicated. Having the correct software, it seems, makes all the difference.

Which may be one more reason we must be careful if we're writing things on a computer we wish we hadn'tlike perhaps things Casey Anthony had on hers.  Mystery authors take note: crimes are often solved by what an expert can find on a computer that was supposedly "washed" of evidence a criminal thought he'd erased. One more case of dirty laundry telling all when its discovered.

My treasures are my papers...the ones containing my written work, of course, but also the ones of snipets of ideas for future story ideas or characters...the honest-to-God letters someone wrote to me (especially from those who have passed on from this world) and the photos that I can hold in my hand. Those are my true treasures.

My husband once told me he'd won the lottery when he convinced me to marry him. I guess I'll keep him, too.

That doesn't mean I'm not going to buy a lottery ticket though. The idea of that library he promised appeals to me.

28 November 2012

Meet Nero Wolfe


by Robert Lopresti

You may read mysteries for the plot, but if you RE-read them it is for something else, like language or characters.  Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novels had wonderful language, but I don't know any mystery series with a larger assortment of reappearing characters than Stout's.  Watching them show up is like meeting old friends -- or enemies.

So, in honor of the Wolfe Pack's annual Black Orchid Banquet, which will be held this Saturday in New York, and celebrates the Rex Stout corpus...


Meet Nero Wolfe.  Say how do you do.
He's gonna introduce you to the whole darn crew. 

There's Cramer and Cather, Parker and Panzer,
Bonner and Brenner, and big Bill Gore, 
Archie and Johnny, Purley and Mimi,
Sally and Bascom and Theodore.

Doctor Vollmer and Lily Rowan,
Fred and Felix and old Lon Cohen,

Tim Evarts the Churchill dick
Hitchcock in London, and Marko Vukcic,

Up in Westchester you'll find Ben Dykes,
And Lieutenant Con Noonan, whom nobody likes,

There's Hombert, Skinner, and Arnold Zeck,
And even old Rowcliffe, what the heck.

And Mandlebaum.

27 November 2012

The Next Big Thing– Dean Version


As John Floyd has so ably explained in his post of the 24th, "The Next Big Thing" is a sort of promotional tag game being played by writers across the country, perhaps the world for all I know.  I guess it can be described as a "grass roots" publicity gambit to which you, dear reader, are now being subjected.  I didn't want to do this to you, but the alternative was breaking the "chain", and I'm sure you all have some idea what can happen when you do that.  You know the urban legends, it's not pretty according to the films– the best you can hope for is to just painlessly disappear; the worst… well, it doesn't bear thinking about.   

However, in order to make a clean getaway I've had to snare others into the scheme.  Again, I didn't want to, but what choice did I have– to be the last in the chain?  No, thank you.  So I lured the redoubtable and deeply talented, Janice Law, as well as the rising literary star, Tara Laskowski, into my web, where they are now stuck fast, desperately trying to line up someone, anyone, to "tag" and be next in the chain.  Sorry, ladies, but surely you can understand the predicament I found myself in.  Blame Barb Goffman if you must; she snared me!  In order to take the sting out I've included links to all of these writing dynamos at the conclusion of my own shameless self-promotion.  Please do go to their sites on the appointed days and read their thoughts on their work.  It will, undoubtedly, be both entertaining and illuminating, as I hope the following on my own is.

First, let me set the scene.  Picture, if you will, a room full of clamoring reporters, and perhaps a scattering of ardent, young literature students, all attempting to gain my attention and ask the following, burning questions:

What is the working title of your new book, Mr. Dean?  "Oh please, just call me David, we're all friends here (there's relieved chuckling; they didn't expect me to be so personable, so accessible).  Well, the working title has come and gone, I'm afraid, as the book, "The Thirteenth Child" was released over a month ago.  The publisher and I are expecting a sale any day now.  The original title was more of a short story– "A Child Twixt Dusk And Dawning", it was called.  My editor questioned the pithiness of my choice and suggested (strongly) I go with his recommendation, which I did in the end.  We are no longer speaking, however."

Where did the idea for the book come from?  "That's an excellent question, young lady, and one which I am anxious to answer.  I was thinking of old legends, and ghost stories, concerning travelers meeting spirits and demons at lonely crossroads, then disappearing, dying, or having misfortune follow them from that moment on.  These tales appear in a number of cultures (European, African,etc...), and sometimes concern the taking of children by these same fairies, trolls, or other supernatural beings.  So, I took it one step further, I thought, what if this creature that waits on lonely paths was not supernatural at all, but very real, and no longer haunting forest and fields, but suburban streets and yards; forced out of its comfort zone by the steady encroachment of civilization?  That was the beginning."

What genre does your book fall under?  "Unquestionably horror, though it has an underpinning of police procedural and even a touch of romance." 

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?  "I'll leave that to the experts, like Mr. Spielberg.  He's done wonderfully well at that sort of thing.  Undoubtedly, when hell freezes over and he decides to do a film version of my book, he'll make the right choices in casting."

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  (I chuckle tolerantly at this) "Obviously, my boy, you have not read my book.  A book, such as mine, containing the depth of character and breadth of thought that it does, cannot be contained in a single sentence.  However, since you've asked, I'll do my best to reduce it down so that everyone can understand it: When children begin to go missing from Wessex Township, disgraced professor, and now town drunk, Preston Howard, encounters something he wishes he hadn't, and soon faces a terrible decision--save the children...or his only daughter.  How's that?"

Is your book self-published, or represented by an agency?  "Neither, old man.  I've somehow managed to get my book published by Genius Book Publishing of Encino, California without representation or payment of a fee."

How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?  "It took about six months for the first draft...and probably another three months in rewrites and edits, followed by several years of anxiety." 

What other books would you compare this to in your genre?  "Phantoms by Dean Koontz, Dracula by Bram Stoker, and the short story, Gabriel Earnest by H.H. Munro.  How's that for reaching for the stars?"

Who or what inspired you to write this book?  "I haven't usually written horror, but the idea behind "The Thirteenth Child" struck me as so original that I felt compelled to give it a go."

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?  "It contains a good deal of history and myth from southern  New Jersey, including some Native American lore from the Lenape peoples of the region."

"Well, that's all the time I have now.  I appreciate you press guys and gals turning out like you did; especially when you could have been covering something actually newsworthy."  (This gets a big laugh, and a lot of shaking of heads– they had no idea how humble I am.)  "Thanks so much for your time.  But, before you go, I just want to throw a little something your way… in fact, I'm gonna give you guys the inside track on the next big thing times three!"  (The scramble for the door ceases and a sudden quiet descends on the room, the pens and pads come back out in the expectant silence.)  "Jot this down, boys and girls, and follow it up--you won't be sorry, let me tell ya; cause the three gals at the end of these links are hot and gettin' hotter in the writing field!  Let me make the introductions:

"First there's my sponsor, Barb Goffman, who writes about her newest story, "Murder a la Mode" on the Women of Mystery blog.

"Next up is Janice Law, whose book, "The Fires Of London" is already garnering some rave reviews and a growing public.  Read about the workings of her formidable talent on Dec. 3rd.

"And last, but never least, and brimming with originality, is Tara Laskowski, who will post about her newest collection of short stories, "Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons" on Dec. 5th.  Don't you love that title?  Well, read her post and, amongst other things, you'll find out how it got conjured up.

"Well that's the scoop– follow my lead on these stories you mugs, and maybe a few of you will be pulling down some Pulitzers.  No… no… no more questions, I'm bushed.  Besides, I've got to get to work.  These books don't just write themselves you know!"  (Big laugh on this one– who woulda thought the ol' man had such a great sense of humor?)