04 April 2013

My Interview With Crime Fiction Author James R. Winter

by Brian Thornton

"Every time I call it a game, you call it a business. And every time I call it a business, you call it a game."

                                                                                                                                  - North Dallas Forty

Writing is a funny business- erm- game.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of this business/game is the networking, and the connections that result from same. One of the first I made when I first ventured out in search writing success was with a funny guy from Cincinnati named Jim Winter. Here are his basics:

Jim Winter was born near Cleveland in 1966. In 1991, he moved to Cincinnati marry the love of his life. He finally met her in 2008 and married her before she could change her mind.  Jim is the author of Road Rules, Northcoast Shakedown, Second Hand Goods, and The Compleat Kepler. He has previously reviewed for Crimespree, January Magazine, and Mystery Scene. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Nita, and stepson, AJ. Visit him at http://www.jamesrwinter.net.

I first met Jim nearly a decade ago through the Short Mystery Fiction Society's email list. We met up in person for the first time a couple of years later at the Toronto Bouchercon. Toronto was also where we both met crime fiction icon Ken Bruen for the first time, camping out for hours in an Irish pub across the street from the downtown convention center, an encounter later immortalized (fictitiously) by our mutual friend Steve Hockensmith in a short story called "Envy," which later made it into one of the annual Mystery Writers of America anthologies (Still waiting for my cut on that one, Steve...)

 Anyway Jim is a real mensch, and if you haven't stopped in at his blog and given it a read (especially his hilarious take on politics and his deep thoughts on music), you're missing out. Many of his novels and short stories feature a smart-ass P.I. based in Cleveland named Nick Kepler, and each of them is worth a look. I was so impressed by his work that I made a point of inviting him to contribute to West Coast Crime Wave, an anthology I collected and edited a couple of years back. The resulting story ("Bad History") is one of my favorites.

 And so for my third outing as a Sleuthsayer, I figured a guy this interesting was worth an interview. It's transcribed below.

Many authors have interesting paths to publication. None less-so than yours. Tell us about it.

Well, I did, in fact, play in someone else’s sandbox through most of the nineties. Probably a bad thing, since it absolved me of having to deal with rejection slips and editing and so on. But it was a good experience to use a prefab world and focus on building plots and characters on my own. By the time I rid myself of that habit, I realized a lot of the characters I’d created would have been better off in something original. Too late. By then, I was creating Nick Kepler’s world and leaving the land of space battles and lumpy-headed aliens behind for the real world, and a version of the real world of my own making.

And yet you wound up writing crime fiction. What is it about crime fiction that motivates you enough that you chose it as the genre in which to express yourself?

I thought it was easier for people to relate to someone’s seemingly normal life disrupted by a man-made catastrophe, like murder or theft or an accident. Also, I didn’t have to spend three paragraphs explaining that this takes place on another planet in low gravity where the trees all have feathers and two moons hang in the sky. Crime sort of demands tighter writing. To me that was a challenge. The first Kepler short I ever wrote went almost 8,000 words. Now I can usually wrap up a story in about 3000-4000 words.

As I stated in my intro to this piece I'm familiar with your work having edited one of your stories for an anthology I worked on. I see a whole lot of the likes of Mark Twain and his spiritual descendants in your work, with more than a dash of Ed McBain and others from the no-frills, straight narrative school in your writing. Do you agree with this assessment? Why do you consider your greatest influences as a writer, and why?

It's funny you should mention McBain because the 87th Precinct was an inspiration for (his latest project) Holland Bay. But yes, there's definitely a little Twain in there. I love how he's able to say something uncomfortable and call everyone out on it for not questioning things around them. He is a master of sarcasm.

Stephen King is probably my earliest influence. I try not to be as long-winded as he's become over the years, but King had a certain talent for making a fictional place as real as anything out there. I love that he blends the real world with fictional places so that you're almost convinced that Castle Rock really is about 40 miles from Portland, Maine.

Getting into crime, I picked up on Robert Parker when he was at his peak. He had this ability to hang a one-word description on a nameless character and give him or her a personality without having to stop and go through half a page of backstory. I also was a student of Chandler early on. He taught me about dialog and made me comfortable with being a smart ass in my narratives.

Your back catalog includes some stuff that really makes your hometown (Cleveland) come alive for the reader, yet the city that's the setting for your latest work (the eponymous "Holland Bay") is at least as fictional as Ross MacDonald's "Santa Teresa" and Raymond Chandler's "Bay City." These fictional cities were thinly disguised doppelgangers for actual one ("Santa Teresa" for Santa Barbara and "Bay City" for Santa Monica). Is "Holland Bay" cut from whole cloth, or is based all or in part, on cities you've experienced over the course of your life?

Well, Monticello as a whole started out as a way to avoid having to go back to Cleveland or bug people in Cleveland about details. It’s a five-hour drive, after all, and the people I know up there have busy lives that don’t allow for running downtown and checking out if a certain restaurant is on still on Fourth Street or who owns what hotel and so on. So it does have its genesis in Cleveland. That’s what some of its culture is based on. Then I hit on the idea that it Monticello might be split up into boroughs, like New York, with each borough similar to its New York counterpart and the southern one that tapers off into suburbs kind of like Long Island. That plays well with Holland Island, which has become, over time, about as un-Staten Island-like as you can get. On top of that, each borough has taken on the flavor of yet another city I’ve been to. For instance, Holland Bay is part of Harbortown, where downtown is located, which looks a lot like Chicago. And yet Harbortown corresponds with Manhattan as well. All built over an analog of Cleveland. So it’s alternate reality Cleveland, which incidentally, exists in this story.

Take us through the process outlined above. How do you balance research and invention?

Well, a fictional city still has to look real, so I do have to look things up and ask questions. At the same time, fiction gives me the option to fudge things, put geographic features wherever I want, and indulge in a bit of history to make the city seem real. Like the city sits in Musgrave County, Ohio, which, of course, is not on any maps. But there’s a whole backstory as to how it got that name and why a bunch of other names and places around the city are what they are.

OK so you can't really expect to say something like: "But there’s a whole backstory as to how it got that name and why a bunch of other names and places around the city are what they are," and not get a follow-up on that. Can you give us an example?  

Well, for the county name, I came up with a founding father of sorts, a British colonel in the Revolutionary War who defected and wound up with a land grant in the area where the city sits now.

On the other hand, when I was writing some back history for the city, I decided I wanted it to have one of those wars between two sides of the river you hear about from the pre-Civil War days. Cleveland had one over bridge tolls around that time. So I had a neighboring city (now part of Monticello) take up arms over where these newfangled railroad thangies would go. Since the war was over "where the choo choo go," I stuck the name "Rock Ridge" on the western side of the city as a joke from Blazing Saddles. Only I never bothered to change it. So now we have a whole borough named for a Mel Brooks comedy.

Any plans to genre hop again? Maybe a detour back into spec-fiction, or some sort of cross-genre project, a la Kat Richardson's work?

I have something in the works, but I’m going to keep it quiet for now.

03 April 2013

The Rising Island Method

by Robert Lopresti

I have chatted here before about the novel I am writing.  I am most of the way through draft 2 with many more in front of me, and I just got to the first sticky point. And to explain my problem it might help to explain how I go about writing a long piece - including the novella I expect to be talking about two weeks from now.

I use what I call the Rising Island Method.  You could call it the Sinking Ocean Method, but that sounds gloomier somehow.

So: picture a long mountain range stretching for many miles, but all of it underwater.  Got it?  Now the mountains start to rise or the ocean starts to sink, as you choose.  A few mountain peaks start breaking the surface, forming a few isolated islands.  As time goes by more islands appear, and they start to link together, until finally, the entire mountain range is visible.

This is what we in the lit biz call a metaphor.  The mountain range is the novel.  The highest peaks are the parts I know the most about.  Rather than starting at one end and writing straight through I start with the high points (ha ha), because they are the parts I know best (and usually the parts that inspired me to write the darned thing in the first place).

I usually know the first and last chapters very well, but I have no idea how many will fit between them so when I write them I label them Chapters 1 and 1000.  That gives me plenty of room to maneuver.  Now I know what happens close to midpoint so I write that up and call it Chapter 500.   But writing that part teaches me that my hero needs to know something before that point, so I scribble down Chapter 400: Sal finds out X.  I'll fill it in later.

And so it goes.  Each chapter I write teaches me about other sections I need to write.  The islands slowly start to show their shapes.

So why do I find myself in trouble now?  Because I have my characters at Point P, and then at Point R, with no explanation of how they got through or around Point Q.

It's not a structural flaw, thank heavens.  Just a few chapters that need to be written, and maybe some rearranging.  You might call it building a bridge between islands.  Or terraforming, if you prefer.

Not to worry.  No one will drown in the process.  Although a few of the characters do suffer tragic -- well, some other time.

02 April 2013

My Non-series Series

I'm going to follow the recent example of my blogging mentor Robert Lopresti and use the publication of a short story as a jumping-off point for a column. The June 2013 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, which, in direct defiance of the calendar, is now available, leads off with my story "The Mayan Rite." It's the latest in my short-story series that isn't a series. That is, it's only a series from my perspective, from the inside looking out.

The Alfred Hitchcock stories, five of which have appeared so far, share no characters or settings. But the stories do have a few things in common besides my credit under the title. Those common features come from the challenge I set myself when I began writing them, which was to try something new.

I'd published short tales before my first Hitchcock appearance, but they were almost all related to my two book series, the Owen Keane metaphysical detective books and the Scott Elliott Hollywood private eye books. It was fun to write about those two characters in a shorter form, but it was also a very comfortable and familiar exercise. For Alfred Hitchcock, I decided to move a baby step or two outside of that comfort zone. So I tried female protagonists and I gave up the first-person point of view. That second change is still such a sacrifice for me that I could use it during Lent. I love first person for the detective story and have ever since discovering Raymond Chandler. There's something about a beaten-up, lone-wolf detective telling me his or her story one-on-one that I find irresistible. Not that the first-person point of view doesn't also have disadvantages, as anyone who has written a first-person whodunit at novel length can tell you. Being limited to one thread of action, the writer has to come up with a pretty convoluted plot to keep the detective and the reader guessing, another Chandler characteristic.

But then, the whodunit structure was another security blanket I opted to set aside for the Hitchcock stories. Instead, I decided to try my hand at suspense, as a nod to the man who had lent his name to the magazine. On the advice of Peter Lovesey, a writer whose advice is well worth taking, I read Patricia Highsmith's Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. That book's title suggests that it's a textbook, a how-to-do-it guide, but it's really a how-I-did-it reminiscence, a fascinating glimpse into one writer's writing decisions. Highsmith defined the suspense story as one "in which the possibility of violent action, even death, is close at all times." A "Sword of Damocles" story, in other words, though in a modern take, the sword may only be a paranoid imagining--in the character's head rather than suspended above it. Going with suspense was another potential Lenten sacrifice for me, as it meant giving up one of the compensations of the whodunit: its underlying theme of order restored. So, for example, in "The Mayan Rite," unease and disorder are created but not resolved. The comforting "all questions answered in the end" quality of the traditional mystery is distinctly lacking. In fact, the question of what really happened is one of the unresolved issues of the story.

I said before that my Hitchcock stories don't have a setting in common. But they do have unusual settings in common. Unusual for me, I mean. Owen Keane is a New Jersey guy, like me, and Scott Elliott works in postwar Hollywood, a place I researched and imagined until I felt comfortable there. For this new series that isn't a series, I decided to use a different setting for each story, some spot my wife and I had visited as tourists. So far, I've used Scotland, Wyoming, Cancun, and two islands: St. Simon, in Georgia, and Mackinaw, in Michigan. Setting stories in each of these places was more than a way of putting my vacation photos to work. It was a new (for me) answer to a dreaded but inevitable question: "Where do you get your ideas?"

Brian Thornton posted a great column in this space last week about setting as character. Setting can also function as muse. I decided to let each setting suggest a story to me--or at least suggest the premise of a story. St. Simon Island, where my wife and I stayed in a creaky old carriage house, suggested that I write a ghost story. Scotland prompted me to use Mary, Queen of Scots, who seems to have been a resident or guest at every old pile of stones we visited. Mackinaw Island boasted of its connection to a crazy, not-quite-old movie called Somewhere in Time, and I can never resist a movie tie-in. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where one of my favorite movies, Shane, was filmed, called for a western--of sorts. I worked in a Colt .45, at least.

I found Cancun, the setting of "The Mayan Rite," to be very evocative, especially our arrival there. Our airliner did a low, leisurely approach over miles and miles of jungle. Then suddenly, right along the water's edge, was a strip of beautiful hotels and their supporting community. It seemed to cry out for a story about how thin the veneer of civilization is, not just in Mexico, of course, but everywhere, and about the danger of straying from a safe, routine life.

01 April 2013

A Hoax of a Ghost Hoax

On March 29, 2013, R. T. gave us a good look at fools and their history, especially on April's Fool's Day, which happens to be today.  He sent me looking on the Internet for famous hoaxes.  One that intrigued me was the Cardiff Giant Petrified Man in the 1860's. Here's what Wikipedia had to say about the Cardiff Giant.

The Cardiff Giant
Creation and discovery

The giant was the creation of a New York tobacconist named George Hull. Hull, an atheist, decided to create the giant after an argument at a Methodist revival meeting about the passage in Genesis 6:4 stating that there were giants who once lived on Earth.

The idea of a petrified man did not originate with Hull, however. In 1858 the newspaper Alta California had published a bogus letter claiming that a prospector had been petrified when he had drunk a liquid within a geode. Some other newspapers also had published stories of supposedly petrified people.

The much publicized the discovery of the Petrified Giant.
Hull hired men to carve out a 10-foot-4.5-inch-long (3.2 m) block of gypsum in Fort Dodge, Iowa, telling them it was intended for a monument to Abraham Lincoln in New York. He shipped the block to Chicago, where he hired Edward Burghardt, a German stonecutter, to carve it into the likeness of a man and swore him to secrecy.

Various stains and acids were used to make the giant appear to be old and weathered, and the giant's surface was beaten with steel knitting needles embedded in a board to simulate pores. In November 1868, Hull transported the giant by rail to the farm of William Newell, his cousin. By then, he had spent US$2,600 on the hoax.

Nearly a year later, Newell hired Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols, ostensibly to dig a well, and on October 16, 1869 they found the giant. One of the men reportedly exclaimed, "I declare, some old Indian has been buried here!"

Exhibition and exposure as fraud

Newell set up a tent over the giant and charged 25¢ for people who wanted to see it. Two days later he increased the price to 50¢. People came by the wagon load.

Archaeological scholars pronounced the giant a fake and some geologists even noticed that there was no good reason to try to dig a well in the exact spot the giant had been found. Yale palaeontologist Othniel C. Marsh called it "a most decided humbug". Some Christian fundamentalists and preachers, however, defended its authenticity.

The Cardiff Giant on display
Eventually, Hull sold his part-interest for $23,000 (equivalent to $423,000 in 2013) to a syndicate of five men headed by David Hannum. They moved it to Syracuse, New York, for exhibition. The giant drew such crowds that showman P. T. Barnum offered $50,000 for the giant. When the syndicate turned him down, he hired a man to model the giant's shape covertly in wax and create a plaster replica. He put his giant on display in New York, claiming that his was the real giant and the Cardiff Giant was a fake.

As the newspapers reported Barnum's version of the story, David Hannum was quoted as saying, "There's a sucker born every minute" in reference to spectators paying to see Barnum's giant. Over time, the quotation has been misattributed to Barnum himself.

Hannum sued Barnum for calling his giant a fake, but the judge told him to get his giant to swear on his own genuineness in court if he wanted a favorable injunction.

On December 10, Hull confessed to the press. On February 2, 1870 both giants were revealed as fakes in court. The judge ruled that Barnum could not be sued for calling a fake giant a fake.

Ten feet "sounds" tall, but seeing the Giant with normal
sized women really illustrates how large it is.
Current resting place

The Cardiff Giant appeared in the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, but did not attract much attention.

An Iowa publisher bought it later to adorn his basement rumpus room as a coffee table and conversation piece. In 1947 he sold it to the Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown, New York, where it is still on display.

Why did this fascinate me?  Mark Twain captured me with Huckleberry Finn the summer between second and third grade, and I still love to read his works.  His short story, "A Ghost Story," was familiar to me, but never having heard of the Cardiff Giant before R.T. sent me seeking famous hoaxes, I'd always assumed the story was ALL fiction.  We frequently discuss origins of story ideas, and many authors suggest their stories spin off from news items. Before you read this story, may I remind you that Mark Twain was born in 1835 and died in 1910.  He would have been thirty-four years old when the Cardiff Giant was "discovered" and thirty-five when the hoax was revealed. Twain wrote this story in 1903.

Since the story is now public domain, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you "A Ghost Story."  Enjoy! 

     I took a large room, far up Broadway, in a huge old building whose upper stories had been wholly unoccupied for years until I came. The place had long been given up to dust and cobwebs, to solitude and silence. I seemed groping among the tombs and invading the privacy of the dead, that first night I climbed up to my quarters. For the first time in my life a superstitious dread came over me; and as I turned a dark angle of the stairway and an invisible cobweb swung its slazy woof in my face and clung there, I shuddered as one who had encountered a phantom.

     I was glad enough when I reached my room and locked out the mold and the darkness. A cheery fire was burning in the grate, and I sat down before it with a comforting sense of relief. For two hours I sat there, thinking of bygone times; recalling old scenes, and summoning half- forgotten faces out of the mists of the past; listening, in fancy, to voices that long ago grew silent for all time, and to once familiar songs that nobody sings now. And as my reverie softened down to a sadder and sadder pathos, the shrieking of the winds outside softened to a wail, the angry beating of the rain against the panes diminished to a tranquil patter, and one by one the noises in the street subsided, until the hurrying footsteps of the last belated straggler died away in the distance and left no sound behind.

     The fire had burned low. A sense of loneliness crept over me. I arose and undressed, moving on tiptoe about the room, doing stealthily what I had to do, as if I were environed by sleeping enemies whose slumbers it would be fatal to break. I covered up in bed, and lay listening to the rain and wind and the faint creaking of distant shutters, till they lulled me to sleep.

     I slept profoundly, but how long I do not know. All at once I found myself awake, and filled with a shuddering expectancy. All was still. All but my own heart--I could hear it beat. Presently the bedclothes began to slip away slowly toward the foot of the bed, as if some one were pulling them! I could not stir; I could not speak. Still the blankets slipped deliberately away, till my breast was uncovered. Then with a great effort I seized them and drew them over my head. I waited, listened, waited. Once more that steady pull began, and once more I lay torpid a century of dragging seconds till my breast was naked again.

     At last I roused my energies and snatched the covers back to their place and held them with a strong grip. I waited. By and by I felt a faint tug, and took a fresh grip. The tug strengthened to a steady strain--it grew stronger and stronger. My hold parted, and for the third time the blankets slid away. I groaned. An answering groan came from the foot of the bed! Beaded drops of sweat stood upon my forehead. I was more dead than alive. Presently I heard a heavy footstep in my room--the step of an elephant, it seemed to me--it was not like anything human. But it was moving from me--there was relief in that. I heard it approach the door-- pass out without moving bolt or lock--and wander away among the dismal corridors, straining the floors and joists till they creaked again as it passed--and then silence reigned once more.

     When my excitement had calmed, I said to myself, "This is a dream--simply a hideous dream." And so I lay thinking it over until I convinced myself that it was a dream, and then a comforting laugh relaxed my lips and I was happy again. I got up and struck a light; and when I found that the locks and bolts were just as I had left them, another soothing laugh welled in my heart and rippled from my lips. I took my pipe and lit it, and was just sitting down before the fire, when-down went the pipe out of my nerveless fingers, the blood forsook my cheeks, and my placid breathing was cut short with a gasp! In the ashes on the hearth, side by side with my own bare footprint, was another, so vast that in comparison mine was but an infant's! Then I had had a visitor, and the elephant tread was explained.

     I put out the light and returned to bed, palsied with fear. I lay a long time, peering into the darkness, and listening.--Then I heard a grating noise overhead, like the dragging of a heavy body across the floor; then the throwing down of the body, and the shaking of my windows in response to the concussion. In distant parts of the building I heard the muffled slamming of doors. I heard, at intervals, stealthy footsteps creeping in and out among the corridors, and up and down the stairs.

     Sometimes these noises approached my door, hesitated, and went away again. I heard the clanking of chains faintly, in remote passages, and listened while the clanking grew nearer--while it wearily climbed the stairways, marking each move by the loose surplus of chain that fell with an accented rattle upon each succeeding step as the goblin that bore it advanced. I heard muttered sentences; half-uttered screams that seemed smothered violently; and the swish of invisible garments, the rush of invisible wings. Then I became conscious that my chamber was invaded--that I was not alone. I heard sighs and breathings about my bed, and mysterious whisperings. Three little spheres of soft phosphorescent light appeared on the ceiling directly over my head, clung and glowed there a moment, and then dropped --two of them upon my face and one upon the pillow. They, spattered, liquidly, and felt warm. Intuition told me they had--turned to gouts of blood as they fell--I needed no light to satisfy myself of that. Then I saw pallid faces, dimly luminous, and white uplifted hands, floating bodiless in the air--floating a moment and then disappearing. The whispering ceased, and the voices and the sounds, anal a solemn stillness followed. I waited and listened. I felt that I must have light or die. I was weak with fear. I slowly raised myself toward a sitting posture, and my face came in contact with a clammy hand! All strength went from me apparently, and I fell back like a stricken invalid. Then I heard the rustle of a garment it seemed to pass to the door and go out.

     When everything was still once more, I crept out of bed, sick and feeble, and lit the gas with a hand that trembled as if it were aged with a hundred years. The light brought some little cheer to my spirits. I sat down and fell into a dreamy contemplation of that great footprint in the ashes. By and by its outlines began to waver and grow dim. I glanced up and the broad gas-flame was slowly wilting away. In the same moment I heard that elephantine tread again. I noted its approach, nearer and nearer, along the musty halls, and dimmer and dimmer the light waned. The tread reached my very door and paused--the light had dwindled to a sickly blue, and all things about me lay in a spectral twilight. The door did not open, and yet I felt a faint gust of air fan my cheek, and presently was conscious of a huge, cloudy presence before me. I watched it with fascinated eyes. A pale glow stole over the Thing; gradually its cloudy folds took shape--an arm appeared, then legs, then a body, and last a great sad face looked out of the vapor. Stripped of its filmy housings, naked, muscular and comely, the majestic Cardiff Giant loomed above me!

     All my misery vanished--for a child might know that no harm could come with that benignant countenance. My cheerful spirits returned at once, and in sympathy with them the gas flamed up brightly again. Never a lonely outcast was so glad to welcome company as I was to greet the friendly giant. I said:

     "Why, is it nobody but you? Do you know, I have been scared to death for the last two or three hours? I am most honestly glad to see you. I wish I had a chair--Here, here, don't try to sit down in that thing--"

     But it was too late. He was in it before I could stop him and down he went--I never saw a chair shivered so in my life.

     "Stop, stop, you'll ruin ev--"

     Too late again. There was another crash, and another chair was resolved into its original elements.

     "Confound it, haven't you got any judgment at' all? Do you want to ruin all the furniture on the place? Here, here, you petrified fool--"

     But it was no use. Before I could arrest him he had sat down on the bed, and it was a melancholy ruin.

     "Now what sort of a way is that to do? First you come lumbering about the place bringing a legion of vagabond goblins along with you to worry me to death, and then when I overlook an indelicacy of costume which would not be tolerated anywhere by cultivated people except in a respectable theater, and not even there if the nudity were of your sex, you repay me by wrecking all the furniture you can find to sit down on. And why will you? You damage yourself as much as you do me. You have broken off the end of your spinal column, and littered up the floor with chips of your hams till the place looks like a marble yard. You ought to be ashamed of yourself--you are big enough to know better."
Mark Twain

     "Well, I will not break any more furniture. But what am I to do? I have not had a chance to sit down for a century." And the tears came into his eyes.

     "Poor devil," I said, "I should not have been so harsh with you. And you are an orphan, too, no doubt. But sit down on the floor here--nothing else can stand your weight--and besides, we cannot be sociable with you away up there above me; I want you down where I can perch on this high counting-house stool and gossip with you face to face." So he sat down on the floor, and lit a pipe which I gave him, threw one of my red blankets over his shoulders, inverted my sitz-bath on his head, helmet fashion, and made himself picturesque and comfortable. Then he crossed his ankles, while I renewed the fire, and exposed the flat, honeycombed bottoms of his prodigious feet to the grateful warmth.

     "What is the matter with the bottom of your feet and the back of your legs, that they are gouged up so?"

     "Infernal chilblains--I caught them clear up to the back of my head, roosting out there under Newell's farm. But I love the place; I love it as one loves his old home. There is no peace for me like the peace I feel when I am there."

     We talked along for half an hour, and then I noticed that he looked tired, and spoke of it.

     "Tired?" he said. "Well, I should think so. And now I will tell you all about it, since you have treated me so well. I am the spirit of the Petrified Man that lies across the street there in the museum. I am the ghost of the Cardiff Giant. I can have no rest, no peace, till they have given that poor body burial again. Now what was the most natural thing for me to do, to make men satisfy this wish? Terrify them into it! haunt the place where the body lay! So I haunted the museum night after night. I even got other spirits to help me. But it did no good, for nobody ever came to the museum at midnight. Then it occurred to me to come over the way and haunt this place a little. I felt that if I ever got a hearing I must succeed, for I had the most efficient company that perdition could furnish. Night after night we have shivered around through these mildewed halls, dragging chains, groaning, whispering, tramping up and down stairs, till, to tell you the truth, I am almost worn out. But when I saw a light in your room to-night I roused my energies again and went at it with a deal of the old freshness. But I am tired out--entirely fagged out. Give me, I beseech you, give me some hope!" I lit off my perch in a burst of excitement, and exclaimed:

     "This transcends everything! everything that ever did occur! Why you poor blundering old fossil, you have had all your trouble for nothing-- you have been haunting a plaster cast of yourself--the real Cardiff Giant is in Albany!--[A fact. The original fraud was ingeniously and fraudfully duplicated, and exhibited in New York as the "only genuine" Cardiff Giant (to the unspeakable disgust of the owners of the real colossus) at the very same time that the latter was drawing crowds at a museum is Albany,]--Confound it, don't you know your own remains?"

Even after the hoax was exposed,
shows at fairs and carnivals advertised
their giants as the Cardiff Giant.
     I never saw such an eloquent look of shame, of pitiable humiliation, overspread a countenance before.

     The Petrified Man rose slowly to his feet, and said:
"Honestly, is that true?"

     "As true as I am sitting here."

     He took the pipe from his mouth and laid it on the mantel, then stood irresolute a moment (unconsciously, from old habit, thrusting his hands where his pantaloons pockets should have been, and meditatively dropping his chin on his breast); and finally said:
"Well-I never felt so absurd before. The Petrified Man has sold everybody else, and now the mean fraud has ended by selling its own ghost! My son, if there is any charity left in your heart for a poor friendless phantom like me, don't let this get out. Think how you would feel if you had made such an ass of yourself."

     I heard his stately tramp die away, step by step down the stairs and out into the deserted street, and felt sorry that he was gone, poor fellow-- and sorrier still that he had carried off my red blanket and my bath-tub.

                                                                         THE END

What about you?  Does the morning coffee and newspaper trigger story ideas?

Until we meet again. take care of you!