25 November 2012

Is Bigfoot In Tennessee?



I had a different article ready to post but changed my mind when I read in the local newspaper that those mythic hunters from the reality show “Finding Bigfoot” are coming to Knoxville for a week. Our esteem Knox County mayor, apparently a Bigfoot buff, declared Friday, November 16 “Knox County Bigfoot Day.” He and about 1000 citizens welcomed the cast of “Finding Bigfoot” to town. Cast members signed autographs and there was face painting for kids.

Ever the politician, the mayor didn’t say that he absolutely believes in Bigfoot. Like any professional politician, he hedged. He said he didn’t disbelieve, and pointed out that the publicity from the show might bring in a few extra dollars from visitors.

One hunter, an expert and a regular on the show, claimed that there have been 150 recorded sightings and several footprints pointing to the existence of Bigfoot here in East Tennessee. Of course he is withholding the location of the sightings until the show airs in February.

Bigfoot must be some where in the Appalachian Mountains because the most sightings in the entire United States have been recorded by our neighbor to the north, Kentucky, at least that’s what the Kentucky Bigfoot hunters claim on their web site. It’s possible Bigfoot and his family might have strolled down into the Great Smoky Mountains, and maybe even wandered down into the foothills of East Tennessee.

We human beings have seen, studied, and trapped just about every animal on earth and yet Bigfoot, Yeti, Sasquatch, abominable snowman or by whatever name we call it, who has been seen in every state in the Union, every nation, and every continent, has eluded us. How is it we can’t catch this missing link in human evolution? The dude or gal is big, standing some say 8 feet tall, so how can something so large be so elusive? 

I bookmarked another Bigfoot hunting website in case that rascal is found here in East Tennessee, I’ll know almost immediately. If he is located in the mountains or foothills, I plan to join the Bigfoot Hunting Club to collect any reward that might be offered for his capture.

Above average rainfall this year produced lots of nuts and berries that in turn means there’s plenty of game in the mountains, so I know Bigfoot and his family had a good Thanksgiving.

I hope all of you did also.

24 November 2012

The Next Big Thing


by John M. Floyd


A few weeks ago author B.K. Stevens invited me to participate in a "blog chain."  It's called The Next Big Thing, in which writers share information about a future project--or, as one author called it, a current Work in Progress.

Here's the deal.  Each writer posts a blog entry and answers ten questions about his or her upcoming book, story, or whatever, and provides links to similar pieces written by the inviter and the invitees (are those real words?).  For me, participating was an easy decision because I needed to come up with a column for this Saturday anyhow, and since the subject of my post will be a collection of mystery/suspense stories, the "interview" seemed to fit SleuthSayers' crime-writer theme.

Anyhow, here goes . . .


1.  What is the working title of your book (or story)?

Deception.  It's a collection of short fiction--the book's title is also the title of one of the included stories.

2.  Where did the idea come from for the book?

Since this is a collection of different stories, the ideas came from all over.  But most of my ideas begin when I examine ordinary people or ordinary situations and ask myself "What if such-and-such happened?"

3.  What genre does your book fall under?

Mystery.  There are a few other genres mixed in--fantasy, humor, Western, etc.--but almost all the stories include a crime of some kind, and every story involves suspense and deceit.  (In fact I think deceit performs a double duty in a story or novel: when the characters are deceived, the reader is often deceived also--and if it's done well and done fairly, that's something I enjoy, as a reader.)

4.  Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

That's something all writers like to think about and very few get to do, right?  As for me and this project, it would take a hotel full of actors to play all the characters in thirty stories, so that question's hard to answer.  But the title story features a resourceful and catburglary guy who's fairly young, so if I had my druthers I'd choose someone like Jude Law, Leo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, etc.  

5.  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Thirty stories of mystery, intrigue, and deception.  (Make that a one-sentence-fragment synopsis.)

6.  Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Neither.  I have an agent who represents my novels, but not my short stories or collections.  The book will be released in hardcover by a small, traditional publisher called Dogwood Press.  DP also published my first three story collections.

7.  How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Again, this will be an unconventional answer to a conventional question.  Since this is a group of stories, putting the book manuscript together didn't take a long time.  Mostly, it involved arranging individual stories into a lineup that properly mixes settings, genres, types of crimes, longer stories vs. shorter, lighthearted stories vs. gritty, and so on.  Each story's first draft probably took anything from several hours to several days to finish, and rewriting took from several days to several weeks.

8.  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

If I weren't the modest fellow I am, I would compare it to similar collections by authors like Jeffery Deaver, Jack Ritchie, John D. MacDonald, Stephen King, Bill Pronzini, etc.  Too bad I can't come right out and say that.

9.  Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My publisher is the one who first suggested that I group some of my previously published stories into a collection, the first of which was called Rainbow's End (2006).  After that book sold well, he encouraged me to follow it with other collections:  Midnight (2008), Clockwork (2010), and now Deception.  Authors who have inspired my fiction and my writing style are Steve Hamilton, Carl Hiaasen, Joe R. Lansdale, Harlan Coben, Nevada Barr, Stephen King, Nelson DeMille, Robert B. Parker, and others.

10.  What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

One thing all four of my books have in common is that each includes a handful of lighthearted "series" stories about retired schoolteacher Angela Potts and a former student of hers who is now the sheriff of their small southern town.  Also, most of the 130 stories that are featured in the four books were previously published in places like The Strand MagazineWoman's WorldAlfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, etc.  If you like to read those publications, I think you might enjoy my stories as well.


Now it's time to pay my dues and keep my promise.  Here are links to my host and to my invitees.

B.K. Stevens is a Derringer Award winner and author of stories in AHMMWoman's World, and many other publications.  Her Next Big Thing piece appears at the Untreed Reads blog

Police officer and author Frank Zafiro is probably best known for his River City novel series.  He will discuss his upcoming project at his blog.

Jan Christensen's fiction has appeared in many different publications and anthologies, as well as two novels. Her post is at her web site.

Please take a look at all those sneak prevews.  BY THE WAY . . .  my friend and SleuthSayers colleague David Dean will also be participating.  Be sure to tune in for his answers to the ten interview questions on November 27, right here at SS.

And then get back to working on your Next Big Thing.

23 November 2012

The Unlikely Expert


Normally, I write a long blog article. Seems that it generally takes a lot of words for me to convey what's on my mind. Today's blog, however, is a short cautionary anecdote about the situation of becoming an unintended expert.
In the process of writing and editing another story in my Armenian series set in 1850's Chechnya along the Terek River, I paused over a Ukrainian word I had used in a couple of previous stories for a strong wine that the Cossacks made in their frontier villages. I intended to add some adjectives or other facts to go along with my wording about this wine, but needed to make sure I was correct in my description. However, rather than wade through several pages of my own background notes on Russians, Cossacks, Chechens and other peoples and their customs of that time period, I decided to take a shortcut and Google the word "chikhir" to see what more the experts had to say, which I could then use in my story.

To my surprise, I was my own expert reference. Some of the very few Google selections for that particular word quoted passages from two of my earlier Armenian stories and gave Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine as the print reference.

Just goes to show the power that writers have, therefore we must always take care to be correct in what we write on a subject, even if it's fiction.We never know when we might be the one quoted in the future.

I laughed so hard upon finding those references that my wife had to come into the study to see what was going on. Ah, well, humor is where you find it. I guess experts are too.

22 November 2012

"The Unicorn in the Garden", or God Bless You, Mr. Thurber


I freely admit that Thanksgiving is not my favorite holiday. In my household, there were only the three of us, which meant that I was outnumbered. With neither church nor company, there was little occupation for my parents other than to eat, drink, and fight. In the immortal words of Laura Ingalls Wilder, "It was a queer, blank day," and sometimes more. The turkey was good, and the stuffing superlative, but I got the same at Christmas, and we had more variety in the way of entertainment.
Robert Benchley
But we all have our escape hatches, and mine was books, for which I give grateful and ever-lasting thanks. Especially humor. When I was a child, my grandfather found a copy of "The Thurber Carnival" lying on the street and gave it to me. At the same time, someone else gave me a copy of "The Benchley Roundup" and I was hooked - and warped - for life.

Here are some of my favorite quotes, just to warm us up:

Benchley - "A freelance writer is a man who is paid per word, per piece, or perhaps."

Thurber - “You can fool too many of the people too much of the time.”
James Thurber

Benchley - "Even nowadays a man can't step up and kill a woman without feeling just a bit unchivalrous."

Thurber - “With sixty staring me in the face, I have developed inflammation of the sentence structure and definite hardening of the paragraphs.”

Benchley's work was, 99% of the time, the classic humorous essay. Thurber's work ranged far more widely, from wistful to sardonic to straight-up reporting to literary analysis. (He wrote what I consider the best essay on Henry James' writing ever - "The Wings of Henry James", in the November 7, 1959 issue of the New Yorker.) And then there are his parables. Here, for our Thanksgiving entertainment, is "The Unicorn in the Garden", the obvious predecessor of "The Catbird Seat", and in both cases, one of the neatest ways of getting rid of someone unpleasant I have ever found. Not that any of us would be interested in that...


The Unicorn in the Garden

by James Thurber
reprinted from
Fables For Our Time
Once upon a sunny morning a man who sat in a breakfast nook looked up from his scrambled eggs to see a white unicorn with a golden horn quietly cropping the roses in the garden. The man went up to the bedroom where his wife was still asleep and woke her. "There's a unicorn in the garden," he said. "Eating roses." She opened one unfriendly eye and looked at him.
"The unicorn is a mythical beast," she said, and turned her back on him. The man walked slowly downstairs and out into the garden. The unicorn was still there; now he was browsing among the tulips. "Here, unicorn," said the man, and he pulled up a lily and gave it to him. The unicorn ate it gravely. With a high heart, because there was a unicorn in his garden, the man went upstairs and roused his wife again. "The unicorn," he said,"ate a lily." His wife sat up in bed and looked at him coldly. "You are a booby," she said, "and I am going to have you put in the booby-hatch."
The man, who had never liked the words "booby" and "booby-hatch," and who liked them even less on a shining morning when there was a unicorn in the garden, thought for a moment. "We'll see about that," he said. He walked over to the door. "He has a golden horn in the middle of his forehead," he told her. Then he went back to the garden to watch the unicorn; but the unicorn had gone away. The man sat down among the roses and went to sleep.
As soon as the husband had gone out of the house, the wife got up and dressed as fast as she could. She was very excited and there was a gloat in her eye. She telephoned the police and she telephoned a psychiatrist; she told them to hurry to her house and bring a strait-jacket. When the police and the psychiatrist arrived they sat down in chairs and looked at her, with great interest.
"My husband," she said, "saw a unicorn this morning." The police looked at the psychiatrist and the psychiatrist looked at the police. "He told me it ate a lily," she said. The psychiatrist looked at the police and the police looked at the psychiatrist. "He told me it had a golden horn in the middle of its forehead," she said. At a solemn signal from the psychiatrist, the police leaped from their chairs and seized the wife. They had a hard time subduing her, for she put up a terrific struggle, but they finally subdued her. Just as they got her into the strait-jacket, the husband came back into the house.
"Did you tell your wife you saw a unicorn?" asked the police. "Of course not," said the husband. "The unicorn is a mythical beast." "That's all I wanted to know," said the psychiatrist. "Take her away. I'm sorry, sir, but your wife is as crazy as a jaybird."
So they took her away, cursing and screaming, and shut her up in an institution. The husband lived happily ever after.

Moral: Don't count your boobies until they are hatched.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and may all your unicorns lead to high hearts.

21 November 2012

Sometimes it's Magic


by Robert Lopresti

So, what is it like writing fiction? 

Well, mostly it's hard work, that's all.  You have to sit at a desk and think when it would be so much more fun to see what's happening on Facebook or Youtube.  Turning a blank screen into deathless prose isn't easy.

If you're lucky you have a good idea in your head of what you are trying to create.  Then all you have to do is to convert what you see in your head to words that will make the same picture in other people's skulls.  Sometimes it's frustrating, when you can't make that translation.

And sometimes it is tedious.  That's especially true when you really have no idea where a scene is going, but you know it has to be there so you slog through it.  As my character Shanks puts it in one story, "sometimes you just pile the words together like bricks and hope nothing falls off."

All of that is true.  But sometimes...

Sometimes...

I have been working on a  novel and the novel has five parts.  When I write a book I start with the sections I know best, hoping that writing them will reveal the parts that are less clear to me.  So I have spent the past month on Part Four.  I finished it and began slogging through Part Three, which I knew much less about.

Well.  Part Three ends with my main character taking a bus back home.    The scene needs to be there but there is no real action in it, so I had to keep the reader in my protagonist's head, letting his thoughts and memories become the action.

And what do you know?  Right at the end, in the very last slogging, brick-after-brick paragraph, my character revealed his motive for everything he is about to do in Part Four.  I didn't even know there was a motive that needed to be revealed, but there it was, waiting for me.  I had written the effect, and suddenly, pow, I was looking at the cause.

So, what is it like writing fiction?

Sometimes, just occasionally, it's goddamned magic.

20 November 2012

Thanksgiving Ruminations



    Nora planned Thanksgiving with a sort of desperation --  a woman trying to hold on to her world as it growled and heaved about her.
  There were two of Wiley Gallimard's fanciest toms, and chestnuts to be grated in absurd quantities, and cranberries from Bald Mountain to be mashed, and turnips and pumpkins and goodies galore . . . all requiring preparation, fuss, work, with and without Alberta Manaska's help . . . all requiring concentration.  And while her house filled with savory odors, Nora would brook no assistance from Alberta -- not Pat, not Hermione, not even old Ludie, who went about muttering for days about "these snippy young know-it-all brides."  
    Hermy dabbed at her eyes.  "It's the first Thanksgiving since we were married, John, that I haven't made the family dinner.  Nora baby -- your table's beautiful!"
     "Maybe this time, : chuckled John F., "I won't have indigestion.  Bring on that turkey and stuffing!"
                                                                                               Ellery Queen
                                                                                               Calamity Town, 1942

    T. S. Eliot, in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock reflects on counting out one’s life in coffee spoons.  For me, more and more, I find myself counting out my life in Thanksgivings.  This is probably anchored in the fact that for the past thirty-some years Thanksgiving (by some thank-less tradition) has become my responsibility.  I cook the whole thing.  I used to have a real approach/avoidance conflict as the fateful day approached, but as the years have passed I seem to have fallen into a rhythm.  More often than not everything comes out fine in the end.

   The holiday hasn’t contributed a background to many mystery stories (although an internet search will reveal a fistful of cozies that use the day as backdrop).  A notable exception to this is Calamity Town, Ellery Queen's first Wrightsville mystery, published in 1942.  Calamity Town is the only Ellery Queen selected by H. R. F. Keating in his 100 Best Books of Crime and Mystery, and a poisonous (literally) Thanksgiving gathering figures prominently in the plot.

    As Ellery discovered when he found himself interjected into the midst of the Wrights' family holiday get together in Calamity Town, sometimes one of the less predictable aspects of Thanksgiving is the people who will in fact be in attendance.  One of the reasons Thanksgivings in our household are memorable is that they tend to have a completely different cast of characters each year, often comprised of folks who do not know each other, or who know each other just barely.  Throughout the years Thanksgiving has been a day when we “take in strays.”  We try to find acquaintances who otherwise have no one with whom to celebrate. 

    This year’s list of attendees has its own unique theme.  The usual core group will be present – Pat, me, our elder son Devon and our younger son Colin.  Colin’s significant other will also be dining with us, as usual on the holiday.  I am reflecting on Dixon’s column last week as I type this, particularly his discussion of the gay sheriff in the next county over. 


Kyle and Colin

   Funny how I tend to more easily describe our son’s partner Kyle as a significant other rather than as Colin’s boyfriend.  I think, and hope, that this is a word usage issue and nothing more, like masculine and feminine noun endings in the romance languages.  I say this because we are otherwise completely at home with Colin’s sexuality and with Kyle, who has become another member of the family.  What will be particularly interesting this year is that we will be joined at Thanksgiving by Kyle’s mother and sister, who will be driving in from Michigan, and will be staying with us a day or two on either side of the holiday.  We have met them only once before, so the anxious prospect of getting on with it is understandable.  (Could this have anything to do with the fact that we have just had our living room and dining room painted?)   Rounding out the table will be Deborah -- a friend going all the way back to Pat and my law school days when the three of us met for the first time at registration -- and Deborah’s fourteen year old daughter Bekah.  So who knows what anecdotes will be added to the family lore when this group in fact assembles?

    Anyway, all of the foregoing underscores what an important day Thanksgiving has become.  All of this preparation, all of this travel, all of this anticipation over a meal.  But the day-long preparation, coupled with throwing together people who often do not dine together at all except on that day, is bound to be the stuff of which family legends are made.  We have many.  Sometimes these have focused around mini-disasters, although none that can hold a candle to those experienced by Mr. Queen and the Wright clan in Calamity Town.  Over the years our calamities have been much more prosaic -- a garbage disposal that has not once, but twice, clogged completely on potato peels on Thanksgiving, once with an insidious blockage so far down the line that, unbeknownst to us, the water backed up through a drain in the lower level of our house, leaving us to discover the lower rooms awash with greasy garbage disposal water just about the time we were otherwise ready for pie.  And, again, not once, but twice, our refrigerator has gone out days before Thanksgiving. 

    But all Thanksgiving anecdotes in our family are not mini calamities.  Like all theatre, they seem to break also toward the comedic.  One of my favorite Thanksgiving yarns takes me back precisely 50 years, to 1962, when I was 13.  Other than my younger brother and me, everyone else at that long ago Thanksgiving dinner, served at my maternal grandparents’ home in Creve Coeur, Missouri, is now no longer with us.  But the memory lives.

   Assembled around the table fifty years ago were my father and mother, my mother’s parents, affectionately known as Pop and Grandma Moelling, my father’s mother, known always as Grandmother Andrews, my mother’s sister Eunice and a great aunt, Aunt Ava, from Vandalia Illinois.  My grandmothers, like many in-laws, smiled a lot but in fact grated a bit on each other.  Grandma Moelling was sweet but a bit scattery.  Grandmother Andrews, four foot eight when measured in any direction, had (it must be admitted) airs of pretension.  One would never refer to her as “Grandma,” only as “Grandmother.”  She aspired to matriarch but never could quite pull it off.

   After we had all taken our seats at the thanksgiving table that day in 1962, Grandmother Andrews, as she had every year within my memory, turned to me with the air of a director raising the  baton and said “Dale, say ‘Come Lord Jesus.’” 

   I squirmed in my chair.  As noted above, I was 13 years old on that November day in 1962, and had already begun my long journey into agnosticism.  But I had known what was coming, and I had a plan.  I was going to make my stand that Thanksgiving.  I cleared my throat and said “I don’t want to give the blessing this year.” 

   Grandmother Andrews gasped and stared across the table at me, eyes wide.  Stunned silence otherwise reigned.  Everyone looked at each other, uncertain how to proceed. 

   Finally my father cleared his throat, indicating that he was about to attempt a Deus ex Machina.  “I know what we can do,” he said eying the already unconvinced family members staring back at him.  “When we were at my boss’ house for dinner the other week we did something very special.  We all clasped hands under the table, bowed our heads and quietly to ourselves each of us said grace.” 

   Well we had to do something, so all nine of us clasped hands, bowed our heads, and looked down at our plates. 

   The silence was broken when Grandma Moelling said “Grace.” 

   No one at the table knew what to do except my brother and me.  We burst out laughing.  Grandma Moelling just sat there flustered, trying to work out what she had done wrong.   

   Grandmother Andrews looked up, turned to my father, her son, and said “Wallace, that was nice.”  Then she glared across the table at me and said “Now Dale, say ‘Come Lord Jesus.’”

    Happy Thanksgiving to all. 

19 November 2012

Random Thoughts


Jan Grape
Seems like I've used the "Random Thoughts" as my article title before, but not sure and even if I have it's here again. Mainly, because I had a rather good idea earlier this week on what I was going to write and silly me didn't write it down or make notes and I've forgotten what it was. So all day today, I'm been searching my brain to remember and since I didn't remember you're stuck with my random notes.
I was watching Sixty Minutes a little earlier this evening and one segment was on thorough research being done with babies to see if they are able to show that their little brains are not exactly a blob or sponge. That they actually can think. The researchers had babies three and six months old watch little puppet shows with a Teddy bear in blue shirt and another bear in a yellow shirt. The bear in the blue shirt does a good action and the bear in the yellow shirt does a bad action. The researcher then would let the baby choose which bear they want. Over 84% of the babies chose the bear in the blue shirt. who had done the good deed. Strangely enough the three-month-old baby would look at the bear who did the bad thing for only about five seconds while the baby would look at the bear who did the good thing for 33 seconds. This showed that even the babies who couldn't reach for the bears, in fact, made a choice. In the test with the six-month-old babies, the baby would reach for the bear in the blue shirt...the one who had done the good thing in over 87% of the time.

More of the tests consisted of the babies choosing a bear who liked a certain food offered as the baby was offered. The baby would choose the bear who chose the same as he or she did. This test indicated the baby had some bias by wanting the same thing. Because it wanted the food object that the bear seemed to choose. These researchers in the Baby Lab have published their results so they may be examined and duplicated by other researchers.

I have no idea how this plays out in the future but the researchers did go on to say that babies do go on to learn likes and dislikes from parents, teachers, and religions, all the things making up their environments. I guess it is true that evil and hate can be taught but we are actually born with some prejudices and biases inside us from the beginning. We just learn right from wrong and suppress those wrong things if we become a "good person" and never do suppress them if we're a "bad person."

It was quite interesting and I may not have gotten all of the information exactly right but I imagine you can go to Sixty Minutes online for details. It does, however, seem to be something we might consider when writing our good guy and our bad guy characters. The old good verses evil and nature verses nurture comes into play. Someone being born bad to the bone. And where does empathy come in? Is that something we're born with or without? I also remember reading a while back about names defining a personality. I guess if you name your child Adolph Hitler or Judas or Jezebell you can expect him or her to grow up to be bad. But if you choose a name like Matthew, Mark, Mary or Esther you child will be good.

Yet here's another random thought about babies having some ability to think even when only three months or six months old. Is it possible that the baby is a old soul? A person who lived before? That reincarnation is real? Perhaps in the previous life they were "bad" and have to come back to earth, live again and try to learn to be "good." That you have to keep coming back until you learn the lessons of being "good" until you finally get it right and can evolve or go to heaven?

Like I said, random thoughts. And one final one...and it's a good thing I watched Sixty Minutes tonight so I'd have something to write about. (All because the Dallas Cowboys played an early game...which they won in overtime by the way.) Another segment on the TV show tonight was about ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents) taking down a strong, powerful, rich drug cartel which operated in South America. The leaders made billions of U.S. dollars and yet lived almost like someone without much of anything. That was one reason it was hard for the agents to identify them. Living it up with millions is somewhat of a give-away to agents. When the mastermind was captured, one of the agents asked him why he lived so frugally when he had all these millions of dollars?  His answer..."Power." Remember that in your next story. Money, power and greed. To some people, POWER is what matters most.

I personally have much to be thankful for and I wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving.

18 November 2012

Florida News


Florida postcardFlorida madness continues, not merely in the political arena. It's not the heat, it's the humidity. Read on, MacDuff.



Humans: 352 — Roaches: 1


Man wins roach-eating contest. The rest of the news: won contest, lost life. They said he was the life of the party; and then he wasn't.

Usually kids just carry the ring.

Two weeks before her marriage, 32-year old Destiny Witte had it all… dream wedding planned, three wonderful children, handsome fiancĂ©, sparkling engagement ring, sex with a 14-year-old boy in a public toilet… Oops. (Psst, guys. She's available again.)

Just pay the bill, man!

Orlando police arrested Jeremie Calo not for having sex on a restaurant table but refusing to pay the bill. Meanwhile, off-duty Orlando police drove 115mph to arrive at the scene.

Inspector Javert's kin is alive and well in Sarasota

Sergeant Anthony Frangioni arrested a homeless man for theft of services when the out-of-work man charged his cell phone in a public park. The electrical socket is normally used by picnickers and maintenance. Electricity used? 1¢. Bail? $500. Arresting a homeless man in need? Priceless.

Happens in snowstorms, too.

Dumb and Dumber, two dim-witted teen burglars, got lost, circled back to scene of the crime.

Not cool, man. Didn't you watch Jurassic Park III?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Eric Prokopi, "commercial paleontologist", for smuggling dinosaurs into the US.

Mother-in-Law loses gambit, wins title.

Murderous MiL is back in the news again, winning the web site mom.me's Mother-in-Law from Hell award, although her entire family plotted the kill. These four linked videos indicate if her son-in-law had accepted her invitation to step inside her parlor, he probably wouldn't be alive.

With a twin, you're never alone.

[We’ve been asked by one of the parties to remove her name. Although we quoted police sources, we remind readers that parties are considered innocent until proven otherwise and it is not the intent of SleuthSayers to cause needless distress. For more information, see take-down request.]

Florida Governor Scott's hot phone sex line

You would think a man who committed the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in history would know the difference between meningitis and men in tight places, but not so. Maybe that's where Benjamin Ashauer went wrong. At least he wasn't like the Seattle perv who told police to wait.

Citizens Grand Jury

In Florida, politics is an ugly blood sport. Larry 'Ku Klux' Klayman (that's spelled with a 'y' and not an 'n' and that's an opinion, not his sobriquet) claims to be a former Justice Department prosecutor. He hit the internet with his "citizens grand jury" (a three-way oxymoron), a "true bill", which seeks to indict President Obama in the alternate universe of Ocala, Florida for bat-shit loony stuff like:
  • treason against the US, Israel, and Arizona
  • treason: nurturing the Arab Spring
  • treason: sending foreign aid to Hamas
  • revealing SEAL Team 6 got bin Laden
  • financing the so-called Ground Zero mosque
  • being financed by Iran's Revolutionary Guard
  • falsifying his birth certificate and place of birth
  • treason: a "black Muslim-in-chief" in "devilish whoredom"
He doesn't much like Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts either.

But hey, this is Florida. Come for the sunshine, stay for the madness.

17 November 2012

Big Words and Little Words



by Elizabeth Zelvin

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."
- William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"
- Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

Besides being clever, these two statements express a profound philosophical gulf between two kinds of writing. As a college English major in the early 1960s, I found Hemingway’s language too plain and Faulkner’s so ornamented as to make the stories he was telling incomprehensible.

That is not to say that I reject plain diction. As a poet for thirty years, I was proud that no reader ever said to me, “I didn’t understand your poem.” My second book of poetry, if I remember correctly, contained only seven words of four or more syllables. Nor have I ever been afraid of “big words.” As a kid, I could rattle off “antidisestablishmentarianism” with the best of them.

Since my college days, the English language and its literature has endured what I consider the toxic embrace of Deconstructionism, with its irritatingly opaque invented vocabulary. (Can you explain what “semiotics” means?) Thank goodness that instead of going on for my doctorate, I ran away and joined the Peace Corps—and discovered mysteries and other genre fiction. I’m told that Deconstructionism lasted longer in American academia than anywhere else. And yet it’s Hemingway whose approach to language has triumphed. With my own ears, I’ve heard Stephen King (very much a writer’s writer) declare that his advice to aspiring writers is, “Read, read, read; write, write, write—and lose the adverbs.”

In the past few years, in the process of developing my craft to the point where I realize that the ability to self-critique is a never-ending process, I have come to understand what’s wrong with adverbial writing. Those tough action verbs can serve the writer well. But I still think it’s pretty weird for the arbiters of language to shun an entire part of speech. I have enjoyed reading work in which adverbs are used deliciously and evocatively to enhance the meat and potatoes of nouns and verbs. So it’s a different style. So what? Why not?

Hemingway and Faulkner, like cozies and noir, are too often assumed to be the only alternatives. Let’s hear it for the middle ground. Language can be rich without losing the reader and strong without being stripped stark naked. But what’s really dangerous is allowing any one literary style to be considered the only right way to write. By all means, let expansive writers rein themselves in by deleting adverbs and replacing Latinate words with their Anglo-Saxon-based equivalents. But let’s also invite the hard-boiled heirs of Hemingway to spread themselves a little. Stick in a couple of adverbs on every page, if not every sentence. Go on, try it. You might find it’s fun.

16 November 2012

The Power of Babeu


Well, the elections are behind us… almost.

In Arizona, as I write this, there are still about 100,000 uncounted ballots. These are a mix of Early Ballots and Provisional Ballots – both of which must be counted by hand for some reason. And, because of this, the fate of a house seat in Tucson still remains too close to call. The difference at the moment: less than 300 votes.

And all those uncounted ballots wait, no one knowing how many will effect this particular race.

Interesting, isn’t it?

I have to tell you: I don’t relish the campaign season.

But, I LOVE voting.

I don’t vote early. I don’t vote often (only once in each election! lol). And

I vote at the polls.

In my district, that means I go to a little church on 82nd Street in Scottsdale, less than a half-mile from my home.

As I approach, I see the front lawn is filled with campaign signs for every party: Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, and a few others I can’t even recall. They sprout like strange vegetation, mixed with signs supporting or condemning certain propositions.

The signs grow so thick I can’t see the grass on either side of the drive as I turn my Jeep into the little church entrance. But they stop abruptly at the “75-Foot Limit” sign.

The campaigning goes right on up to that imaginary line demarcated by those signs.  That far, and no farther. On the other side? Campaign respite. The peace of voting one’s conscience.

When I pass the 75-foot limit, I always feel it. An invisible cloak of Americana, the pleasure of voting at the polls, descends upon me once more. And I’m not the only one.

As I pilot my jeep forward, other folks are walking out. They wear little stickers that proclaim: “I Voted.” I smile at them. They smile at me. Big smiles! bursting with more than a simple greeting. Those smiles they wear are filled with joy, temporary abandonment of strife. Recognition of a fellow traveler. They and I may be voting diametrically opposed tickets – opposites in every category. But, in that moment, it doesn’t matter. We’re united by a bond of fraternity that runs much deeper than politics. A fraternity created by the very Americanism of the practice we’re here to participate in on this fateful day. We– from all walks and all parties– are united, celebrating this distinctly American style of practice, inherent from our forbearers. In that moment– the moment just before and after the act of voting– we’re neither Democrat nor Republican, Green nor Libertarian.

We’re American.   And I LOVE IT! 

I see it and feel it, as I pass those who are finished, as I walk from my parked jeep to the voting line. There is an energy here, a silent buzzing of excitement, of greatness grown from the common person. We stand in line, young and old. The youngest rock back and forth from heels to toes, in anticipation.

I’m telling you, I’m not making this up—it happened! It happened this year. Less than a half-mile from my house.  I saw a young guy, maybe 19 or 20, standing in line at the polls.  And I wasn’t sure his clothing could hold him in because he was so filled with swirling energy, bursting excitement. Silent old ladies, they smiled at him and he nodded and smiled back. Somebody made a small quip, and that was all it took. Laughter rang out up and down the line. Laughter—that pressure valve that lets off the excess energy steaming up inside each of us.

I laughed too. You would have, if you’d been there. I’m sure of it. It wasn’t something a person could help. It just… came out. A great peal of laughter. The designer of the Liberty Bell would have given all he had to craft a bell that made such a sound. But, the hands of man are small, while the excitements of voters are huge. And perfect.

Maybe it didn’t work this way in your hometown, or at your polling place. If that’s the case, I’m sorry to hear it. Because, I know what you’re missing. Thankfully, here in Arizona, it’s easy to register to vote. You can even do it online at the Department of Motor Vehicles website. And, for those who speak Spanish and might not have internet access, tons of small businesses thrive throughout The Valley, where Spanish-speaking shop owners provide DMV services – including voter registration – to anyone who comes through the door. At the polls, the Spanish language ballots are stacked right beside the English language ballots. I know; I got one by accident this year, and had to trade it in for an English language ballot.

The voting I described above – that’s the way it went this year at my polling place. And, that’s the way it’s gone every time I’ve voted at the polls. I really missed that feeling when I was in the Army. Living in another state, I had to vote by Absentee Ballot, and that was a lonely, singular disappointment each time.

That’s why I reveled in hitting the ballots that very first time I was back, after getting out of the Army in 1994. It felt, in some strange and inexplicable way, like coming home again. I was struck by a feeling identical to the one I felt when my U-Haul truck topped that last cactus-studded rise before I dropped down into the great Valley of the Sun, as I made my long way home from Fort Bragg for the last time, and saw Phoenix laid out across the panorama before me. The way I felt when I smelled that scent of desiccated desert dust, the smell of home and hearth, of childhood and all I love about the world rising up to swamp my senses. That feeling rose up from the voting booth floor and engulfed me, all over again.

If problems make it so it doesn’t work this way in your hometown, or at your polling place, I wish you Godspeed in getting things changed! Because everyone deserves the chance to vote his/her conscience.

That’s the thing that counts, in my book.

After over thirty years of voting, I've decided:  The people we vote for? I have to tell you, I don’t think it matters much. Politicians don't run the world; they just think they do.  The people who vote – they’re the one’s who count.

Maybe you disagree.  And, if so, that's fine by me.  It's your business; not mine.  After all, you have your beliefs.  And, I fully support your right to believe what you want.  It's no skin off my nose.  And, it's a large part of the reason I spent roughly a decade of my life dragging an M-16 or M-203 around the jungle or through the bush.

Maybe you didn't even vote.  Maybe you've never voted.  Some folks might condemn you for that.  I won't.  It's your business;  not mine.  Nor anyone else's.  Just yours.

As for me, though --

I love to vote!

My 23-year-old son left the house soon after I arrived home from the polls.  He's young, he has tatoos, and he enjoys skateboarding in the sun.  He rode his skateboard the short distance to that church. And, he came home wearing the same “I Voted” sticker I had stuck to my shirt. He didn’t vote for everybody or everything I did. But, let me tell you something.

I DON’T CARE!

My son is a voter. And that’s what counts, to me.  He's part of the fraternity.

Later, my wife returned from work. She wore the same “I Voted” sticker. She voted a different ticket from mine in many respects. But, let me reiterate.

I DON’T CARE!  It’s the voters who count. And, the act of voting.  Who we vote for pales by comparative importance, in my opinion.  I honestly don't believe it matters all that much.  The fraternity of voters -- they're the ones who count.

On the other hand, if my wife had chosen not to vote, I wouldn't have run her over with our car or jeep.  Voting is a personal decision, in my opinion.  A personal choice.  It has to be, or I believe it's meaningless.  If you're chased to the polls, or forced to pull the lever at gun point -- that's not voting.  It's coercion.  Even if the person forcing you into it, isn't trying to make you choose a certain candidate or cause.

That's the way I see it.

Now, I promised to take some of Florida’s heat off of Leigh…

Maricopa County (in red)
So let me tell you that here in my home county– Maricopa County, a body of land larger than the state of New Jersey – Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the man somebody dubbed “The Toughest Sheriff in America” (and I strongly suspect this sobriquet is emblazoned across the Arpaio’s bed head) was reelected by a whoppingly huge margin, once again, this year. Even though Joe is now 80 years old.

Sheriff Joe wearing his standard expression.
So, all you Sheriff Joe haters can now stop griping at Florida, and turn your attention to Arizona. Because, I can assure you, there is no way on Earth that old man is going to stop rounding up Illegal Aliens. He doesn’t care that the Justice Department sued him over it; he’s not going to stop. Believe me, Ol’ Joe cares a lot more about seeing his face in the papers, than he cares about a DoJ lawsuit. That’s the way he’s built. And, the surest way to keep his face on the front page, these days, is to keep rounding up Illegal Aliens. The only way he’d stop, is if we ignored it. Then he’d have to get his deputies started on some other controversial practice, so he could get press coverage again.

But, on to a more interesting Sheriff – rumored to be just as tough as old Arpaio, but running a county just south of here.

This man is Sheriff Paul Babeu (BAB-you), the sheriff of Pinal County– Arizona's third largest county with an area that's nearly the size of Connecticut.

Babeu, originally from Massachusets, has been Pinal's sheriff since 2008 (the first Republican elected Sheriff in Pinal– ever!).  And, when it comes to illegal immigration, he's just as tough as his Maricopa counterpart– perhaps even tougher.

Pinal County (in red)
Perhaps with good cause, as Pinal County is recognized as one of the most heavily traversed counties in the U.S., when it comes to human or drug smuggling.  Cartels reportedly maintain listening and observation posts in the county to facilitate the flow of narcotics and other illegal goods, while Babeu and his 700 deputies try to stop them.

Oh, and one other thing ....

Babeu's bid for congress, earlier this year, was cut short when an ex-boyfriend claimed that Babeu had threatened to have the guy deported if he outed Babeu.  Babeu denies the claim, saying the only factual part of it is that he is gay, and the fellow was a lover at one time.

That's right. Babeu is gay.

Sheriff Paul Babeu
The guy's a hard-core sheriff in a county that's fighting drug and human traffickers on a daily basis, he was a Major in the Arizona Army National Guard who spent a tour in Iraq, he's Republican, and he's as gay as they come, saying he made no secret of his life style and that, "People who knew me, knew I was gay. I didn't hide it."  

What do I think?  I think having a macho, ass-kicking, hard-charging gay sheriff in my state is GREAT!  If I lived in Pinal County, I'd vote for Babeu in a heartbeat.  I liked him before I knew he was gay, but– and I can't explain why– I like him even better now.  Which is strange, because– as my wife can testify– I'm not necessarily known for going around touting gay rights.  In fact, that's one area where our votes often conflicted on past ballots.  But, discovering that Sheriff Babeu is gay has me reconsidering.

Maybe the next time a gay marriage initiative comes up I'll vote "Aye!"

After all, a hard-charging gay sheriff deserves the state's sanctity, when somebody  kisses him hello at home, after a long day of fighting bad guys.

That's my view, and if it's different from yours . . . well, that's what makes the world a fun place to live in.

So, here's to you, and to wishing you:  Many happy votings in the future!

—Dixon

15 November 2012

Distractions



Distractions are everywhere. Sometimes, I just want to sit and read, but other things prod me from doing what I want. As an adult, a parent, an employee, I am forced to be responsible.

Reading has to take a back seat and wait its turn, I remind myself.

As an American, I was responsible in making sure I was aware of the politics in the election year (which began immediately following the last presidential election). That took some time away from frivolous "fun" reading.

Debates to watch and discuss with those whose opinion I admire and deciding who I wanted in the White House for the next four years meant I allowed my to-be-read list to vacation a while longer without me. I voted. The country voted and the electioneering ceased (sort of). Bickering will likely continue until the next presidential election, but that seems to be the way of politics. I, however, can move onto the next important things in my life.

With relief, I head back to the book stack on my nightstand. I think while I was busy with life, it multiplied like rabbits. There seemed to be more, and then I remember dear friends who gifted me with their newest "must-read" they wanted to share. I see the book I had gravitated to following a coffee date with another writer at the book store cafe. Another nonfiction to better my life scrunched next to my water pitcher is now garnering my attention. All are inviting, but which to read first?

While I am pondering, I decide to check my e-mail. I'm awaiting news of a sale to a magazine, but when that particular e-mail isn't in the queue, I let my fingers wander down the list in hopes of something that really interests me, but all I see are claims to make my penis larger (good luck with that one!), send me photos of single people in my area (I'm very married!) and web site sales that I may have purchased from once a long time ago (If I haven't been back, I am probably not interested in your merchandise!)

Still, the Internet has dangled its distraction and before I know it I am headfirst in social media.

When my stomach growls, I glance at the clock and am surprised to see it is past lunch. I have spent too much time finding out where my friends ate lunch and seeing photos of said lunch while I obviously missed mine.Very little good has come from my time "checking in with my pals" only to see what restaurants they preferred today.

Already online, I decide to take a short break and get something to satisfy my cravings and refill my coffee cup. The snack is another diversion as I end up cleaning out the vegetable drawer. While I'm in the vacinity, I shove a load of laundry into the washer.

Back at the computer, I promise myself to stop dawdling and get to work. When I find I am on Google yet again, I tell myself I will find something to ignite an idea to help me write the Sleuthsayer column. Instead, I am distracted away from writing ideas to read a short article about how to better invest my time and energies to uncomplicate my life. This seems like something I should research, but in the end, it is simply the same-old, same-old: make a priority list, stick to it, pat yourself on the back. I wish I had the time back while I was procrastinating in disguise. Guilt creeps over me like syrup on a waffle. Nothing to do but shake it off and vow to do better with time management.

I make a decision to give it a try. I sit down and prioritize everything I need to do for the rest of the day.

I have placed reading at the bottom of the list. It is certainly not really at the bottom of my list, but it seems so selfish to not finish up all the "chores" of life before giving into the relaxation to sit and simply read.

Life is supposed to be full of living and yet, I am filling it with loathing chores and relinquishing true enjoyment to the margins of my existence. Why? Because that's what I am supposed to do? Who says?

I leave the computer, put the washer load into the dryer, turn my cellphone off and refill my coffee cup. Returning to the list of Things to do Today, I grab a red pen and deliberately re-number the list from top to bottom giving priorities a massive shake-up.

Tomorrow I will read first and squeeze in the "have-to's" later. There is always time to finish the laundry. NOT reading is wrong. As Queen of my own kingdom, I decree a new law for myself: I will begin each day with reading something fun or entertaining or instructional. I intend to keep the content varied.

I am not completely throwing caution to the winds; there are a few rules to keep the whole thing more honest. The reading must come from my nightstand stack. I can't allow myself to buy new until I read what I have. And, yes, I do have to do the laundry eventually.

I reach for the mystery magazine. I will read just one story and then I will see what other Sleuthsayers have to share.

After that, I am required to do something on the To Do List that originally took precendence. That seems only fair.

I feel in control and better already. What a wonderful way to start each day.