11 July 2013

The Straw That Stirs The Drink


by Brian Thornton

Don't let the title fool you, I'm not talking about Reggie Jackson (which is who I lifted this line from). Rather, today I'm going to talk about the prime mover in most any work of fiction- the antagonist.

In other words, let's talk "villains."

In my own work over the years I've had to do a fair amount of wrestling with the notion of what constitutes a "villain," and of course I've read the thoughts of others on this. The list of sources I've got on this subject includes but is no way restricted to: Christopher Vogler, Alexandra Sokoloff, James Scott Bell, James N. Frey, Donald Maas, and Stephen King, just to name a few. So going forward, my thoughts as expressed herein are my own, but any credit for originality of thought on this subject likely goes to one of the folks listed above, and anything that stirs up violent disagreement amongst any and all who read this should fall squarely at my own doorstep.

Point the First: The Importance Of The Villain.

Not THIS kind of villain.
Without question the villain is the second-most important character in a good story, nearly as
important as the hero/protagonist. Some of the folks I've credited above even maintain that the entire creative process behind a good story must begin with the creation of the villain. Either way, to be truly effective the villain must be fully-realized, well-drawn, and pretty much the mirror-image of the hero.

That last part is important. If you can work it so it seems that your hero and your villain are two sides of the same coin in some ways, Thesis and Antithesis, Yin/Yang, you've got the beginnings of a truly compelling story.

And just like it's crucial to have a protagonist your readers can relate to (whether or not they like him, are sympathetic to his situation, etc.), it's equally important that your villain/antagonist and his goals/reasons for doing what he's doing are believable. Even if it's a crack-pot idea to build a Dr. Evil-type of doomsday weapon and extort money from the governments of the world, it doesn't have to be plausible that the scheme would work, so long as it's plausible that this villain would believe that such a scheme would work. So it's pretty much a rule of thumb: the more improbable the villain's plans, the harder you as the writer must work to make it clear that your villain absolutely believes that he can and will prevail in the end. If you can establish that, you're on your way.

Next all you have to do is write the hell out of your story such that your villain very nearly succeeds. So again, the more improbable the villain's plans, the harder you have to work to make all of this come together.

What happens if you don't?

Simple.

Nor THESE two, either.
You could very well wind up with a villain who falls into one of two particular types. Either a cartoon villain or what I call an ubervillain.

Cartoon villains are exactly what the name implies: one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs of characters with no real feelings, no depth, no self-doubt, nothing but palm-rubbing elation at the thought of doing evil somewhere, anywhere, to anyone, but most especially to (insert name of your protagonist here). And you just know they're planning to victory dance all the way home afterward, rubbing their palms and cackling, waylaying widows and orphans for rent and lunch money along the way.

BORING.

If this type of character appeals to you, I suggest you devote yourself to more time spent with the Cartoon Network.

As for the ubervillain, you know the type: the guy who is so good at what he does, such a chess
player, so meticulous and brilliant, that for a good 245 pages of your 250 page novel, he's out-thinking your protagonist every. step. of. the. way.

I'm sure others will disagree with me here, but I find ubervillains even more tedious than the one-dimensional cartoon variety. Not least because they're even more improbable to find in real life.

Look, because of my day gig, I know a ton of really smart people. And among those smart people are a fair number of folks who are flat out, impressively, couldn't hide it if they wanted to brilliant. We're talking full-on genuises, here, including some chess champions.

And every one of them is a deeply flawed human with weaknesses, blind spots, vanity, prejudices, etc., that cloud their ability to do everything all the time exactly perfectly. No human being can have that fool-proof a run of luck. Not. One.

PLUS....

 (Wait for it....)

They're BORING!

And what's the one cardinal sin we as authors must never commit? Like Oscar Wilde in his prime, we must never be boring. But don't just take my word for it. Let me give you a couple of excellent examples from two different yet thematically similar televisions series that have revamped a beloved fictional detective and updated his story for the modern day.

I'm talking, of course, about Sherlock Holmes.

And for the purposes of this discussion, also about his arch-nemesis: Professor James Moriarty.
The only mis-step by the producers of the BBC's excellent Sherlock.

The otherwise excellent BBC update, Sherlock, completely drops the ball when it comes to updating Moriarty's character. The modern day Moriarty is an ubervillain to trump all ubervillains. Not only does he out-think Holmes at any number of junctures, he has him in his sights (literally) from the first time they officially meet. He even (SPOILER ALERT!) fakes his own murder, committing suicide and perfectly framing Holmes for the crime.


Feh.

Both Adler and Moriarty! Both floor wax and a dessert topping!

Balance that against NBC's surprisingly superb Elementary, and there's no basis for comparison. In Elementary, with Sherlock Holmes (played to the hilt by Johnny Lee Miller) a recovering heroin addict (sounds cliched, but boy do they make it work) relocated to New York as part of a deal with his wealthy, absent father, working with a female Watson (seriously, I didn't know Lucy Liu had this in her!). This Holmes was driven to heroin by remorse over the murder of the only woman he ever loved: Irene Adler.


And just who was responsible for Irene's murder?

Yep, you guessed it. A shadowy figure, spoken of (if at all) only in hushed tones, known by the name of Moriarty. Holmes is convinced of this. And he's right.

Sort of.

Because as it turns out at the end of season one (SPOILER ALERT REDUX!) Irene is alive! And it appears that she's been taken captive by Moriarty!

Needless to say, the discovery of this plot point turns the carefully recovering Holmes' world upside-down.

But there's more.

Turns out appearances are deceiving.

Irene wasn't kidnapped by Moriarty. She is Moriarty (watch it, seriously. It's brilliant how they layer all of this stuff together). Holmes being Holmes soon uncovers this, and then it's really on. Turns out that Moriarty, intrigued by the possibility that there might be someone out there just as exceptional as herself, created the identity of Irene Adler, at first just to get close to Holmes and study him. But she stays (for a while) because she falls for him. That scares her. She bails, only to turn up later where Holmes can easily (for him) find her in New York.

And when, after a see-saw back-and-forth, this plotline plays out to its inevitable conclusion with a final confrontation between the two of them, Holmes and Moriarty, Thesis and Antithesis, at her moment of apparent triumph, Irene admits what Holmes had already surmised and used against her: that he was her on-going, never-get-past-it, completely captivating weakness.

The writing and acting in this completely sell this plotline. AND it buttresses the earlier assertions about the best villains being grotesques, mirror images of the heroes they face.

More THIS kind of villain
Point the Second: Does Our Villain Actually Know He Is The Villain?

In Paradise Lost the great English poet John Milton famously put the following words into the mouth of the fallen angel Lucifer as he is being cast down into the pit (and equally famously echoed, if indirectly in the "Spaceseed" episode of the original Star Trek by Ricardo Montalban's character Khan Noonien Singh):

"Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven."

This single line provides the reader with such a wonderful insight into the mindset of "God's antagonist," Lucifer. He does not see things God's way (obviously), hence their conflict. In fact it's pretty obvious that from Lucifer's perspective, he's the aggrieved party, not the Almighty, and by association, Mankind.

And since the reader is ostensibly on God's side, the reader sees Lucifer as the author of the troubles between himself and the Almighty. Milton hardly takes Lucifer's side, and he certainly does not excuse the fallen angel's actions.

But what he does do is offer insight into our antagonist's viewpoint. In the antagonist's mind he's not a "bad guy." He's "misunderstood." He's a "rebel." The Good Guy is a "tyrant." "Someone has to stand up to him," and so on and so forth.

This sort of insight can only help make your "antagonist" more well-rounded, more believable, more (forgive the phrase, especially since the example I've used is of an angel-become-devil) "human." And humanizing a villain in the long run both makes the story more interesting and the writer's job more clear. (See "believability" above).

Point the Third: The Villain Is "The Straw That Stirs The Drink" In Any Good Story.

Think about it. Who sets the tone in a great story? The Bad Guy. I'm not talking about those stories with antiheroes as the protagonist, like Breaking Bad. Nope, I'm talking about the real "Good vs. Evil" stuff. Moby Dick? Either Ahab or the whale (personifying Nature, in which Nature is seen as the embodiment of Hobbes' dictum that life is "nasty, brutish and short"), take your pick. These twin antagonists drive the action, as Ahab's quest helps both define and doom his crew. Take Pride and Prejudice. The charming, smooth-talking Wickham is the real villain of the piece, and as such it's his execution of his own agenda that throws the Bennett household into such turmoil. And doesn't Mr. Darcy come off so much the better when finally compared with the sly, deceitful Wickham?

And then there's The Lord of the Rings: Sauron's return to power sets off alarm bells among elves, dwarves and men, and our intrepid heroes set about marshaling their forces in response to him. In the Harry Potter novels Voldemort has the good guys so cowed that they fear even speaking his name, and this is even early on in the story, when they think Voldemort (Which is French for "Deathwish") is dead after his confrontation with Harry's mother in front of Harry's crib!

The role of the hero in any good story is, by nature, a reactive one. S/He rises to the occasion and saves the day. BUT there has to be an "occasion" to which to rise. Absent Grendel, no Beowulf. Without the Alien, no Ripley. 

I've heard it said that our choice of heroes helps to define us. In the best stories, those who oppose/challenge our heroes help to define them.


10 July 2013

Legends


by David Edgerley Gates

In the spy world, a 'legend' is a false biography. Not a cover story, which is often temporary and mission-specific, but an entire history, all the blanks filled in.

A good example is LeCarre's SMILEY'S PEOPLE. One of the characters tells Smiley, "Karla is looking for a legend for a girl," and this is in fact the engine of the story. The old Russian emigre lady whose daughter she believes lost to her is persuaded to apply for her daughter's release, or expulsion, from the Soviet Union on what she's told are humanitarian grounds. Why she thinks such a thing would be granted without strings attached is another question, and she's nowhere near as naive as her clumsy handlers imagine. The point, of course, is that the one girl's background story can be substituted for another's, as a convenient fiction, and how this plays out, and why, is the plot of the novel, which I won't try to unravel here.

Edward Jay Epstein, some years ago, actually wrote a book titled LEGEND, which suggests that Lee Harvey Oswald's years in Russia were a carefully constructed KGB fabrication. You can buy into this or not, but it's a fascinating premise. Norman Mailer and Lawrence Schiller later plowed this same ground, with better resources, and came to the exhausted and disappointing conclusion that Lee was no more than an unhappy loser, without any depths to plumb, and the Russian security services had written him off as an embarrassment. There are always going to be unanswered questions about Oswald, but it's probably safe to say he was never a target for KGB recruitment.

A far more sinister spin on this is Richard Condon's THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, which was published, if you can believe it, in 1959! (The movie was released in '62.) The story itself is about brainwashing and the Red Scare---an oxymoron, perhaps?---but for our purposes, the significance isn't political. Raymond, the sleeper assassin, has been programmed, as is everybody in his platoon from Korea. He's been supplied, in effect, with a legend. In this case, a set of implanted memories, but the end result is the same. A false narrative, an assembled history, becomes received wisdom, and accepted as authentic.

It's just as plausible to erase our own past, or sanitize it. Think of all those happy darkies, beating out barefoot rhythms, in the plantation South. Or our comfortable ignorance of the Japanese internments during WWII. Or simply the fiction that we've outpaced or outgrown ethnic hatreds and religious intolerance. What makes this century any different from, say, the 14th? The eradication of disease, perhaps, and the Black Death no longer the hand of God, punishment for our sins. Then again, contemporary weapons of war are that much more effective than the mace and the longbow. For sheer barbarism, can the Middle Ages– the massacre of St. Bartholomew, the Mongol horde, the pope giving his blessing to holy war---bear comparison with the past hundred years, in economies of scale? It seems more than a difference of degree. But for this, too, our collective memory supplies a less complicated substitute, a sense of moral superiority, of avoidance, or denial.

What if it were possible to reinvent yourself, to escape your personal history, to slough it off like a chrysalis, to create an entirely new identity, to become a different character, cast in an altogether different drama? A sort of Witness Protection Program, where you hide in plain sight. What imaginary model would you choose, what secret self? The problem being that the world around you wouldn't change. You might be thinner, or bolder, or have better hair, but individual actions won't roll away the stone, or turn back the sea. Putting on the clothes of concealment isn't safety. Seen back to front, there is no new-found freedom. The legend is a trap, an illusion of choice. The fault lies in our stars.

If this seems too deterministic, or cynical, consider that reinvention, or camouflage, is a means to an end, not in and of itself the end purpose. Disguise serves as part of a larger deception, and to be effective, we don't simply act the character, we inhabit the part. We become what we pretend, and fade into the background noise. The danger is that when we shed our old skin, and grow a new one, older habits of mind have to be discarded as well. We are no longer who we were. Living a lie, we trust it to protect us. As the Russian proverb has it: "If you play the sheep, you'll meet a wolf nearby."

09 July 2013

Tether's End


by Terence Faherty

In a review of J.K. Rowling's recent book, The Casual Vacancy, I came across the following haunting quote by Flannery O'Connor, the Southern novelist, short story writer, and essayist.

Flannery O'Connor
"The writer can chose what he writes about, but not what he can bring to life."

The book reviewer (whose name I forgot to note when I was recording the O'Connor quote in my journal) was making the point that Rowling had breathed life into a series of books about an improbable boy wizard but had fallen short with a realistic novel about a contemporary English town.  I have no idea whether this was a valid criticism of The Casual Vacancy, but it got me thinking about some favorite mystery writers and about writing in general.

The first writer who came to mind was the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wanted badly to be Sir Walter Scott, creator of Ivanhoe.  Doyle chose to spend a great deal of his time not writing about Sherlock Holmes--even famously killing him off and one point--or any other detective and he certainly wrote many successful non-mystery tales.  But Holmes and Watson remained the characters Doyle truly brought to life, along with their fogbound, gas-lit world.

Another example is Dorothy L. Sayers.  She drew herself back from the brink of failure and poverty by creating a fantastically wealthy sleuth who never failed, Lord Peter Wimsey.  She wrote a series of increasingly literary novels about Wimsey before finally breaking out of the Wimsey chrysalis--as she saw it--to write religious plays and translate Dante's Inferno.   But neither of these efforts cast the long shadow of Lord Peter, as improbable a character as Harry Potter and yet just as lively.

Then there are other favorites of mine like Margery Allingham, who lent me a title for these musings, and Raymond Chandler.  They established successful realms in crime fiction and never strayed far from them.  Were they less adventurous than Doyle and Sayers, more certain of the value of their work, or more conscious of that invisible tether of which O'Connor hinted?

Naturally, I also thought of my own writing, of the years I spent writing in the voice of Owen Keane, my failed seminarian and mystery addict, and the years I spent trying to find other voices.  Also about my faithfulness to mystery writing in general.  Does that fidelity reflect a conscious choice or an unseen tether?  And if it's a tether, who's holding the other end?

I find something else O'Connor said about writing more hopeful:  "The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet.  His job is to find that location."

The implication, unstated, is that every successful fiction writer will find a different crossroads, due to the variables of time and space.  The hope, also unstated, is that the writer will recognize that crossroads when he or she finds it, like an Allingham or a Chandler.  The historical record suggests that this isn't always the case, but also that it might not matter, that a Doyle or a Sayers might be writing for the ages whether or not he or she suspects it.

Good luck finding your own crossroads.  When you do, write your heart out.     

08 July 2013

Computer in a Box


Jan Grape by Jan Grape

Do you over research things? I do. Especially when I'm going to spend some money. I've been trying to decide on what computer to buy for over two months. Okay, I haven't spent everyday on it, but every few days and at least twice a week. Do you have any idea how many different laptops there are? Seems every company in the electronic businesss makes a laptop. Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Panasonic, Lovoto, Lenovo, Toshiba, Samsung, and of course Apple's MacBooks and their iMac. I'm sure I've left out a half dozen more. There are laptops and notebooks and Idea Books and something called Twist and Shout, I kid you not.

So my idea was to find a lightweight machine with a bit of fast power, a fair amount of HD memory and a price I could handle. I determined a reasonable amount that I could afford and my top figure was five hundred dollars. I knew when I added tax and product insurance protection and perhaps some tech support insurance, that $500 would quickly run up to seven, eight hundred. And I'd still have to get software programs. Most don't come with software installed anymore, except perhaps anti-virus.

Now there're things like i3, i5 and i7 Intel processors. There's 5 GB this and 740 GB that and touch and no-touch and other things with strings of letters and numbers for CDs and DVD and ways you can burn those and USB ports galore and gaming whatevers and HD webcams with dual tone microphones. Not to even mention Windows 8 which people say is so hard to use and a few computer which still use Windows 7.

Before long my head was spinning like that girl in The Exorcist. Surely you can understand why I couldn't research every day because it was absolutely confusing, One day this past week, I managed to chat with a Question and Answer person at Dell who after two hours helped me decide which of their laptop would be just exactly what I needed. I then tried to order it and had trouble getting shipping address set up. One of the main reasons I thought I'd go with Dell is I've had 3 Dell laptops and before that a Dell desktop. I've had excellent luck with all of them and the tech support has been wonderful. But after another hour online and I couldn't get a laptop ordered I got tired of the whole thing and gave up for that session.

Then a funny thing happened this morning after a late night conversation with my Nashville daughter, and she kept bragging about her Toshiba laptop, I got an e-mail from one of those big box stores, telling about a sale they were having. As luck would a very nice Toshiba laptop that fit all my criteria was on sale within my price range. Even better we have one of those stores in our town of Marble Falls which made their geek guys readily available. I drove over there about 5 pm and about an hour later I drove back home with a computer in a fairly small box.

I'm excited although I know the learning curve will take me twice as long since I'm computer challenged. Yet soon I will be ankle deep in Windows 8 alligators trying to understand exactly what to do.

To make this all more or less on topic of writing, I'll have you know that I've got the third in my Zoe Barrow policewoman series about half-way through its first draft and I came up with an idea for a short story this week and was just waiting for the new laptop to get involved with either project.

It's probably okay to research like crazy if you're planning to spend a chunk of money, but when you're researching for your book or story, don't get too carried away. If you fall in love with your research you'll have a hard time going cold turkey. And if you use too much of your research in your story you can get bogged down. Just do the necessary research and then use it sparingly.

Now off to open this new computer in a box.

07 July 2013

Pam, Prism, and Poindexter


by Leigh Lundin

A week and a half ago, David Edgerley Gates wrote a column, Through a Glass, Darkly, discussing PRISM, TIA, NSA, and Edward Snowden. As I tapped out a comment in response, it grew and grew until I realized I had an article based on the premise governments worry more what their citizens think than what their enemies know. Historically, governments prefer a blind citizenry, a practice anathema to our founding fathers (and presumably mothers).
NSA

Snow Job

I harbor mixed feelings about Snowden, and while I seldom agree with Fox News about anything, I’m slow to tar the man. After all, what is his crime?

He revealed the NSA spies on us.

What? You’re surprised? And revealing a crime’s a crime?

Thanks to the Orwellian USA PATRIOT Acts, it may well be. All hell rained down with thus far spurious claims that Snowden will defect to China or Russia or Venezuela or Narnia. Apparently Moscow and Caracas made offers, but he turned Venezuela down and hasn’t responded to Putin. Yesterday, CBS News reported the Venezuelan offer remains open but Russia wishes to close the door on the issue. Ecuador and Bolivia remain possibilities.

I would prefer Snowden return to the US where he runs the risk of becoming either a political pariah or a cult hero. But, given the twisting of US law to declare even Americans enemy combatants, to imprison people without trial, and the sins of rendition, I’m not surprised he chose otherwise.

Despite the outcry, at this juncture there’s no evidence he’s divulged information (other than the US spies on its friends and citizens) to any outside country. I’d like to think he wouldn’t, but time will tell.

The Spies Among Us

Let us not focus on Snowden but his revelation: We’re spied upon. Here is where rubber meets the road, where liberal and conservative break with left and right. Our readers know this but, those who think 'left' and 'liberal' or 'conservative' and 'right' are synonymous haven’t been paying attention. True liberals and conservatives recognize a nation spied upon is preyed upon and in danger of losing its freedom.

We’re like wussy parents whose daughters spend all night out wearing less clothing than a cartoon duck, and then express shock when the girls turn up pregnant. Who do people blame when they turn a blind eye? Are we angry to learn our government has gone all-Animal Farm or are we furious another Daniel Ellsberg peeled the scales from our eyes?

Most of us in the software industry knew (or suspected) spying all along. Ten years ago our government supposedly banned the Information Awareness Office (IAO) and by extension the NSA from spying on us, yet the outsourcing contracts quietly continued. Private firms continued development. Now ask yourself this question: Does a business continue a program that has only one potential customer unless they expect to turn a profit?
TIA

Sheep Herding

Shaping a citizenry has gone by various names such as dynamic social engineering, societal actualization, and in darker moments, ‘sheep-herding’. Three guesses who the sheep are.

Total Information Awareness was the dystopian brainchild of John Poindexter, the Dr. Strangelove of an all-seeing Information Awareness Office. For years, politicians and citizens chose to overlook his more outrageous programs such as rewards for spying against your neighbors and reporting upon your friends. Poindexter became an embarrassment to the Bush/Cheney administration, even through they encapsulated his proposals in such Machiavellian legislation as the misnamed USA PATRIOT Acts I and II.

By 2003, Poindexter’s liability grew to such political proportions, Don Rumsfeld had enough. He asked the admiral to resign over a project called Policy Analysis Market, PAM, part of a larger program called Future Map. Although PAM was conceived long before Poindexter came on board, he was credited– or blamed– and certainly confused with its invention.

The public reacted with gut outrage to PAM. Some bloggers misunderstood PAM asking “Is it outside the box or off the wall?”

Perhaps it was a bit of both, because genius usually is. I like off-the-wall, outside-the-box and those crazy, trite expressions of invention. PAM emerged from a theory of efficient markets and 'dumb agent' discovery, to wit: An international market with possibly millions of participants making thousands of decisions creates a 'price' equilibrium that portends more information than even a collective of experts.  Who knows if the notion would succeed or fail, but the concept was bizarrely brilliant.

Political fallout raged. Some called PAM terrorism futures, a catastrophe casino, a death pool, a stock market of anarchy, and even “a federal betting parlor on atrocities.” But imagine a real life Minority Report where hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of people weigh in on a geopolitical futures market, who might be financially rewarded for participation. What could be more capitalistic than wagering on death and destruction?

Well, yeah, if it helped prevent death and destruction.

Cooking with PAM

PAM began as a $2-million DARPA research project designed to test the ability of speculative markets to forecast overall global trends, not just terror prognostication, but economic, civil, political, and military indicators. Such a market might have predicted Obama’s reelection, an uprising in Libya, or that Egypt's President Morsi could be ousted, not to mention a terror attack in Boston or London.

How might this work?

Last month I wrote about working in New York’s financial district. As I mentioned, one of the first things Wall Street denizens learn is the stock market is emotional. It reacts, even over-reacts to every bit of news.

The US Air Force web site Air University points out that commodity traders regularly analyze events in the Middle East to gauge futures prices. Likewise, events around the world determine market prices of wheat, corn, soybeans, rare earth metals, and cotton. And similarly, national and international news affects arbitrage pricing theory.

PAM proponents reason if buying and selling in Chicago and New York can divine prognostications from world events, why can’t we devise further predictive tools based upon reactions from the free market? Why not foster a program that could foretell regime change in the People’s Democratic Republic of Krasnovia, bankruptcy of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, or assassination of the Marxist President of Freedonia.

Those in the know, those involved in the project like USAF’s Robert Looney and George Mason University’s Robin Hanson, believe intelligence gathered through market sources could be far more accurate and reliable than present methods, including input from experts and analysts (polls and Delphi methodology), espionage, and especially torture. Some point to a recent example of a massive and embarrassing failure of traditional techniques: the invasion of Iraq based upon a political delusion that Iraq must possess weapons of mass destruction. Advocates of PAM not only believe they could have determined the answer, but also predicted the destructive, counter-productive result of toppling Iraq.

So that’s the much-reviled Policy Analysis Market. No spying, no sleep deprivation or torture, no rendition, no violation of human rights. Just smart guessing– or gambling.

06 July 2013

For Your Amusement Only


by John M. Floyd

Just over a year ago, Rob Lopresti's story "Shanks Commences" appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Besides being a delightful whodunit, Rob's story was even more fun for those of us who were once his co-columnists at the Criminal Brief mystery blog. Why? Because we were characters in his story.

If you didn't see that story, let me explain: Rob gave our names to seven of the main characters in his mystery. He probably enjoyed writing it that way, and we darn sure enjoyed reading it. (Thankfully, the guy with my name didn't turn out to be the murderer.)

This was of course not the first time an author has included friends, family, colleagues, or others in his or her fiction. Bestsellers Nelson DeMille and Elmore Leonard have even turned it into a way to raise money for noble causes. DeMille's most recent novels featured characters with the full names of dozens of real people who, in return for the honor of seeing themselves in his books, made generous donations to charity. Leonard's fans have done the same via auctions.

Namedropping

The first time I used a real person's name for a fictional character was in a story in AHMM called "The Bomb Squad," years ago. At the time I was working with a consultant named Dan Wellborn on a project at a local bank. Dan and I both enjoyed books and movies, and since we had probably spent as much time talking about fictional matters as about work-related matters, I allowed a police chief named Wellborn to head up the city's PD in that story. I got a chuckle out of it, Dan liked it, and I suspect that no one else noticed or cared. It was just an easy way to surprise (and amuse, I hope) a fellow mystery reader.

A few months ago, I needed a name for a fictional island in a story which is featured in the current issue of The Strand Magazine. (Or at least it's supposed to be; I haven't seen the issue yet.) My fellow writer Larry Chavis came to mind, so the boat on which my two main characters meet became the Chavis Island Ferry. I went on to mention the name several more times in the story, even though--once again--I doubt anyone noticed. But I had a good time with it, mostly because it was just fun to insert something real into something imaginary. And to those who might know Larry and know about our friendship, I hope it served as sort of a private joke, a signal that fiction is not, after all, something to be taken too seriously. Like Hitchcock and his cameos.

Even more recently, I included in a Woman's World story an English teacher named Teresa Garver, who is a real person and a good friend although she lives a thousand miles away. Teresa is not really an English teacher but she is an avid fan of WW mysteries--she e-mailed me afterward to say that discovering her part in the story delighted her. (I think she told everyone she knew to go out and buy a copy of the magazine.) The fact that it pleased her made it worth the effort.

For friends' eyes only

Have any of you been the subject of this approach to naming characters or places? Do you approve of it? Have any of you writers used the names of relatives or acquaintances in this way? If so, what were the reactions of the real-life people who experienced the "identity theft"? 

There are probably writers and readers who feel that doing this is silly at best and unprofessional at worst. Their argument would be that it might "suspend disbelief" a bit too much, and distract the reader from the story. That is indeed a risk--but I don't think it's a big one. It's especially harmless if the name you use isn't well known, and/or if the author using it (like me) isn't well known, and/or if the reference is not too obvious, and/or if the story's mood is lighthearted anyway.

On a larger scale . . .

As I'm sure you know, movies and TV shows do this kind of thing all the time, usually as an in-joke. Examples:

- In the recent film Jack Reacher, the cop who gives Reacher back his personal belongings when he gets out of jail is his creator: author Lee Child.

- The seaplane that rescues Indiana Jones from the headhunters in Raiders of the Lost Ark (three years after Star Wars) has the letters OB-CPO printed on its side.


- Sean Connery delivers the very same reply ("But of course you are") in three different movies: Diamonds Are ForeverRising Sun, and The Rock.

- A small replica of R2D2 can be seen welded to the back of the mothership in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

- The teddy bear that Alec Baldwin is holding near the end of The Hunt for Red October (a film by John McTiernan) is the same one that Bruce Willis is holding at the beginning of Die Hard (the next film by John McTiernan).

- In the Bond movie Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan is seen browsing through a book called Birds of the West Indies, which was written by ornithologist James Bond (and which Ian Fleming said was the source of his secret agent's name).

- In an episode of The Avengers shortly after the release of Goldfinger, John Steed receives a postcard from his former colleague Cathy Gale (played by Honor Blackman, who later played Pussy Galore). The postcard is from Fort Knox.

- When the kid in Home Alone 2 walks into the Plaza Hotel, the person he asks for directions is Donald Trump.

- In His Girl Friday, Cary Grant mentions a guy named Archie Leach, which was Grant's real name.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom begins in a Japanese nightspot called Club Obi-Wan.

- In The Last Stand, when sheriff Arnold Schwarzenegger's group is gathering weapons from an armory to confront the bad guys, one of his deputies holds up the same broad sword that Ahhhnald used in Conan the Barbarian.

- The keypad on the laboratory's door lock in Moonraker plays the five-note theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

- Danny Glover appears for a moment as a bank robber in the movie Maverick, and he and Mel Gibson exchange a surprised look before the film continues.


I can't speak for all moviegoers, but I love it when things like that happen (which is often), and when I'm alert enough to catch them (which is not often). There are of course many such examples, and I'd like to hear from you about others.

Guilty pleasures

As for stories and novels, the fact that I can occasionally use something that's real and outside the bounds of the story in a piece of fiction that I create . . . well, at times the temptation can be hard to resist. At the very least, it's a way that I can fool myself into thinking I'm doing something subtle and playful and clever.

It's also another way to keep this whole writing thing from being boring--to the reader or the writer.

Anybody out there want to be in my next story?

05 July 2013

TRADECRAFT: Surveillance 401


by R.T. Lawton

Regardless how good you are at conducting or eluding surveillance, sooner or later, you will run into at least one problem or more. It's the nature of the business. Your target (or you if it's the other way around) may see the same face or the same vehicle more than once and suddenly ask what's going on. How much is coincidence? And, that's if you are looking for surveillance. For the target who is checking behind himself, a surveillance team can easily get into trouble if they're not careful.

So here's a few tips. Just know that these tips can be taken from either side of the surveillance equation. If you are the one doing the following, these may be hints that your target is checking to see if he has grown a tail. Also, if you are in a situation where you wish to check your back trail or maybe ditch any surveillance on yourself, consider these suggestions on actions to take. Use as is appropriate for yourself or your fictional character. Many of these techniques can also be adapted to vehicle traffic.

From the viewpoint of eluding:
  1) While walking briskly in one direction, suddenly turn around. Which people behind you are caught short? Do they abruptly turn into a doorway? Awkwardly start window shopping? Look directly at you, then avert their gaze in embarrassment? When you move briskly, your surveillance needs to move fast too in order to keep up. When you suddenly turn on them, you catch them in mid-stride. It's awkward for them to recover quickly.

  2) Similar to the above is to completely reverse course and go back the way you came. You get all the benefits of #1, plus you disrupt the surveillance team's pattern. If you remember Surveillance 102, you'll know that any professional team has been trained to deal with this situation. In this case, go one block over to a parallel street and pull the same trick. Recognize any of the same faces from the block before? Naturally, you don't want the other side to know you're onto them (knowledge is power), so try to make your route appear to be normal. Have an apparent reason for all these changes of direction. Of course if you are a high profile target, the opposition may have two or even three teams on you and you may keep seeing new faces. However, in those circumstances where you are worth that much expenditure of their assets, you shouldn't be out in the open anyway.

  3) Pause long enough to tie your loose shoe lace or peruse a map, something which appears to be a normal action. What you're really doing is taking time to look behind you, across the street and around you to take notice of who is there.

  4) You've seen it done in thriller and spy movies, and you too can look in store windows to watch reflections of movements around you.

  5) Change your pace. Move slowly, then fast, then slow again in combination with other techniques mentioned here. This allows you to disrupt their team pattern and then catch them off guard.

  6) Enter a building or turn the corner of a building, stop and put your back to the wall. Who followed you into the building or around the corner? How did they react when they saw you standing there, waiting?

  7) Enter a building and immediately leave by another exit. Same faces? People running around the corner to watch the side door?

  8) Get on an elevator. Then get off on the same floor or anther floor. Walk up or down a flight of stairs and take a different elevator. They can't follow you without being obvious. In the end, they have to wait for you to leave the building. Does the building have a basement with a parking garage exit?

  9) Start to leave a building, then suddenly stop just outside the exit. You already know what you're looking for now.

 10) Assuming the opposition is merely following you, but not trying to kill or kidnap you, go down an alley. They either expose themselves by following else have to run around the block to catch you coming out the other end. But, what if you go halfway and then backtrack? Most of their assets will end up in the wrong place.

 11) Go around the same block several times to see who is still with you before suddenly heading off in a different direction. I recommended this one to a friend of the family who was in the middle of a divorce from a child-abusing husband. She used it to detect and record the license plate of a car following her and then reported the license plate to the Air Police when she went back on base. Turned out to be a PI hired by the abusive husband hoping to find some dirt on her in order to contest the divorce. She got the divorce without problems. He went to Leavenworth.

 12) While temporarily out of sight, change clothes, appearance, vehicles or method of transportation. The opposition may not recognize you with the change.

 13) See a policeman on a corner? Ask him for directions to a business you passed about half a block back. When he points behind you, you then turn and point in the same direction. Anyone following you will assume you fingered them to the cops. When you continue on your way, they will be reluctant to follow you past the cop. Our instructors in Basic Agent Training loved to use this one on trainees, only in this case they had the cop stop us to hear our explanation of what was going on.

 14) Use an associate for counter-surveillance. The pros do it and so can you. Let other sets of eyes watch your back trail for you. This technique is difficult for the opposition to detect and therefore is very effective. Unless of course, the opposition also knows who your people are. During the Cold War and even today, both sides of opposing governments keep files on their opponents, which keeps the game a little tighter.

So now are you ready to go out and try your luck? Follow someone or see if you're being followed? Hey, stay a little paranoid. It's good for you. You never know who's out there, or why.

04 July 2013

Up, Over, and Through Walls and Fences


by Eve Fisher

In honor of the Fourth of July:

I've been investigating the "hard-core" conservative proposals for immigration reform.  I have no problem with some of proposed requirements, such as ending birthright citizenship - although my next question is, does everyone born in the US - including those born to American citizens - then have to pass the test for citizenship currently given to immigrants?  And if not, what makes you a citizen?  But others make me shake my head in disbelief, such as "English will be the official language of America."  Please.  It already is.  My grandparents on my father's side - immigrants from Greece - spoke broken English with a strong Greek accent; my father spoke both English and Greek with a strong American accent; I speak English.  Period.  That's the way it works.  Give it enough time and all immigrant children/grandchildren speak nothing but English. 

File:Wpdms republic of texas.svg
But the one that made me almost fall out of my chair laughing,  was "100% sealed border."
There is, for one, the fact of costs (suddenly we have the billions of dollars to build a fence with barbed wire, machine gun turrets and all the manpower needed to patrol it?).
There is the question of what border?  Most of the Southwest was once Mexico.  The Hispanics were there first.
And there is the simple fact of history:  There is no such thing as a 100% sealed border.  Never has been.  Never will. 

We'll start out easy, with animal control, which leads, naturally, to

Australia and the Rabbit-Proof Fence - which wasn't.  Built in 1901-07 at a then-whopping half a million dollars, stretching over 2,000 miles, the fence was designed to keep rabbits out of farmland.  Although it was very well built, it didn't entirely keep the pests out - border riders had to patrol and kill rabbits that made it through, and it wasn't until myxomatosis was intentionally introduced that the rabbit population fell like a stone.  (Of course they rebounded, since the genetically immune survived, and yet another virus was introduced in the 1990's.  I'm waiting for the next virus to be sprayed upon the bunnies.  Peter Rabbit is tough, folks.)  The unintended consequences? Well, the aboriginal peoples didn't appreciate it, since it disrupted their wanderings, as well as disrupting migration patterns of emu, kangaroos, etc.   

On to the obvious:

The Berlin Wall.  Now THAT was a wall:  it had thick concrete walls, barbed wire, anti-vehicle trenches, and - most importantly - guards stationed in towers with machine guns.  Although the number of deaths is disputed - Wikipedia lists by name 136 people, confirmed to have been killed, of whom 97 were shot; Checkpoint Charlie Museum lists 245 deaths, including suicides, the Cold War equivalent of DBC (death by cop) - the plain fact is that the East German guards had orders to shoot to kill and carried those orders out.  Not only that, but if you were only wounded, the guards would leave you to bleed to death and shoot anyone who tried to help you.  The number of Good Samaritans quickly became nil.  This was a tough wall.

BUTFile:2010-03-20-mauer-berlin-by-RalfR-09.jpg: despite the fact that you could and would get shot if you got caught crossing the wall - up, over, around or through - at least 5,000 people did.  From Wikipedia:  "East Germans successfully defected by a variety of methods: digging long tunnels under the wall, waiting for favorable winds and taking a hot air balloon, sliding along aerial wires, flying ultralights, and in one instance, simply driving a sports car at full speed through the basic, initial fortifications. When a metal beam was placed at checkpoints to prevent this kind of defection, up to four people (two in the front seats and possibly two in the boot) drove under the bar in a sports car that had been modified to allow the roof and windscreen to come away when it made contact with the beam. They lay flat and kept driving forward. The East Germans then built zig-zagging roads at checkpoints. The sewer system predated the wall, and some people escaped through the sewers."

When people are determined enough, they're gonna get through.  And there's something about walls that bring out that determination.

Think about Jerusalem.  In 1948, a barbed-wire and concrete fence ran down the center, dividing it - half of it, including the Old City [with Wailing Wall] under Jordanian control, and the rest under Israeli control.  It stayed that way until the Six-Day War of 1967, when - after Jordan joined forces with Egypt despite Israeli pleas for them to stay out of the war - Jerusalem was reunified under Israeli control.  But if you think the fence was 100% sealed during those 19 years...  let me assure you it wasn't.

And of course, today, there's an "Israeli West Bank Barrier" which, when completed, will run about 430 miles.  Most of it is steel fencing with trenches; some of it is a 26 foot high concrete wall.  The Israelis say it is a security measure, built to keep out Palestinian terrorists, suicide bombers, etc., and I believe them.  The Palestinians say it is a way to keep them in poverty and to redraw the map of Israel, and I believe them, especially if you redefine "poverty" as "under control". Does it work 100% to keep Palestinians on their side of the fence?  I sincerely doubt it.  The unintended consequences?  See below:
File:Israel-Palestinian Wall Ich Bin Eine Berliner.jpg
Israeli-Palestinian Wall on the road to Bethlehem

The simple fact is that any wall or fence that keeps people apart is seen, sooner or later, as a bad thing.  The sympathy level for the Palestinians - despite their avowed dedication to the destruction of Israel, suicide bombers, etc. - is steadily growing, thanks to the Israeli West Bank Barrier.

People don't like fences.  Or walls.  There is no such thing as a 100% sealed border, even if you are willing to shoot to kill to keep people (or animals) out, which I doubt the United States will do.  For one thing, even if we do have armed guards with orders to shoot to kill, what happens after the first child is shot?  I feel certain that, if we do build a 700 mile fence/wall with guards and guns, while it will cut down on the sheer numbers who cross the border, there will be ever-more inventive ways to breach that fence/wall.  Great story ideas are coming, folks.  Let's just hope that, whatever they are on the page, in real life they're more humorous than tragic.

Disclaimer:  I am an immigrant myself, as you know - brought over when I was 2½ as an adoptee, and naturalized by my adopted parents, who were both American citizens.  That's one path to citizenship I hope is never eliminated. 

03 July 2013

Nine lives of the catalog


by Robert Lopresti


I seldom write here about being a librarian because I hate to brag, but  I recently attended a lecture that seems relevant to us as readers and writers.  Lori Robare of the University of Oregon spoke on "RDA for Non-Catalogers."

RDA is Resource Description and Analysis, a new set of rules for cataloging library material.  (And here I should hasten to say I was at that meeting because I am not a cataloger, so I may be about to get a lot wrong.  Don't blame Lori!)  Until RDA arrived in 2010 library books were cataloged under Anglo-American Catalog Rules (AACR2), which was (were?) created in the 1970s.

Now, think about what libraries were like back then.  The purpose of AACR2 was to cram as much relevant information about a book as possible onto a small card which would go into a cabinet and probably never be seen by anyone outside that library.

How many of the words in that last sentence are still true today?  "Relevant information" is probably about it.  You don't have to cram information into a card because today's catalogs consist of computer records which can be as long as necessary.  So RDA says forget about using abbreviations.  (And while we're at it, throw out Latin.  Few users understood it back in the seventies.)

And why assume you are cataloging a book?  Maybe you are trying to catalog a DVD, a software program, a website, or realia, which in my library could be a jigsaw puzzle, a figurine, or lord knows what else.

Of course, the fact that the catalog is on a computer means that readers -- and librarians -- all over the world can see it, as opposed to that hermetically sealed wooden case that existed in each individual library back in the seventies, so consistency suddenly becomes much more important.

It was in response to changes like this that catalogers decided not to keep revising AACR2, but to try a whole different approach: RDA, which uses a system called FRBR--

Okay, don't sweat it.  I'll make this easy.  Let's say you want to find a book: Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  In FRBR that would be called the work.

So I hand you a copy of the work.  It is titled Män som hatar kvinnor, Men Who Hate Women.  Oh, you didn't want it in the original Swedish?  You would prefer English?  No problem!  But which translation do you prefer:  the English English or the American English?  In FRBR each of these versions is called an expression.  For another example of expressions, think of different recordings of the same song.

You've decided on the popular American translation.  Great!  Hardcover or paperback?  Maybe large-print?  By now you know FRBR has a name for this: it's the manifestation.

Good news!  The library has two copies of the version you want.  And in FRBR each of these is an item.

And somehow  the cataloger has to indicate in the catalog record the work, expression, manifestation and item under discussion.

Easy peasy, no?  What about the movie version of Larsson's book? Is that an expression or a different work?  How about an illustrated edition?  A graphic novel version?

And this brings me to the main reason I am inflicting all this on you.  Lori showed us a diagram made by Barbara Tillett who was, at that time, at the Library of Congress.  She attempted to capture on one page everything that can happen to one little piece of writing.  See if it doesn't blow your mind.


I suppose the only works that have most, much less all of the above, are a small number of  literary classics.  Something we can aspire to, anyway.

02 July 2013

Counterclockwise?


by Dale C. Andrews
“That’s what made it easy,” I said.  “You were circling Margrave.  Not too close, not too far.  And counterclockwise.  Give people a free choice, they always go counterclockwise.  It’s a universal truth . . . .”  
                                        Jack Reacher in Killing Floor
                                        Lee Child
        A year or so ago I was reading an interview with one of my favorite authors, Tana French, and was astounded by something Ms. French said. According to her, while she was writing her second murder mystery, The Likeness, she did not know how the book would end.  She did not know, in fact, who committed the murder.  The Likeness is a favorite of mine and while it is not a classic “golden age” mystery, in which all of the clues are present and can, through deduction, lead the reader to the culprit, it is nonetheless a great murder mystery and a great read.  But the interview floored me:  How can you create such a tight mystery without knowing how it will end?
        I know there has been a lot of discussion on SleuthSayers about writing with or without outlines, but on the base principle of structuring a  “whodunit” I sort of thought we were always guided by the maxim underlying an observation Francis (Mike) Nevins made back in 2005 in his speech during the Ellery Queen Centennial Symposium in New York.  Mike mentioned that people over the years have asked him how he worked out the deductive process in his stories.  Mike rolled his eyes incredulously at his audience and said “of course we know how the deduction works -- we know who did it and how they did it before we ever start writing the story!”
      The incredible bravura performance of Ms. French aside, one of the most difficult aspects of fashioning a detective story is figuring out the ending and the string of clues that will tie everything satisfactorily together, ultimately pointing the reader to one, and only one, solution.  Once you have that well in hand, the rest (as Mike Nevins observed) is simply back-filling the details of the story that will lead up to your conclusion.
      And generally we mystery writers are held to a very high standard.  Those deductions, the foundation on which we premise our story, better hold up to pretty strict scrutiny.  Those who read mysteries tend to be an unforgiving lot that delights in trying to pick holes in an author’s deductive process.  As a personal example, before Janet Hutchings accepted my latest story, Literally Dead (appearing in the December issue of EQMM -- plug, plug, plug), she questioned whether my solution to the “locked room” aspect of the mystery would actually work in real life.  In order to convince her I filmed the solution (I got to play Ellery, my elder son Devon drew the Sergeant Velie straw) and emailed the filmed solution to her as a download.  (Sorry.  Can’t attach a link here.  It would be too much of a spoiler!)  Only after Janet reviewed the film did she accept my story for publication.
      All of which, at long last, brings me back to that quote at the beginning of this post.  
      Up until this winter I had never read any of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels.  I decided to remedy this since so many people around me were devouring this popular series.  I now have three under the belt, and I started with the first book in the series, Killing Floor.  I was happily enjoying the roller coaster ride until I came to the above-quoted language, approximately ¾ of the way through the book.  At that point I screeched to a halt.  
      When it comes to deduction I am a strict constructionist -- like other mystery readers alluded to above, I have to be convinced that the deduction works.  There seemed to me to be a number of things wrong with Jack Reacher’s deduction that this particular character would predictably begin circling the town in question in a series of bus trips at all.  But what bothered me most was Reacher’s (and Child’s) conclusion that he would begin this by going counter-clockwise and that there is a universal tendency for people to head counter-clockwise whenever they have a choice. So I set aside the book and started to research.
     As it turns out, I was initially surprised.  There is, indeed, a counter-clockwise bias in many of our movements.  In sports, for example, all races are run counter-clockwise, and baseball is also a counter-clockwise sport.  Moreover, studies have documented that virtually all joggers, if given a free choice, will settle on a circular route that runs counter-clockwise.  After a little digging I found that Professor Watanbe Hitoshi of SOKA University in California has devoted a great deal of time studying clockwise versus counterclockwise choices.  
[Professor Hiroshi] reached a point in his research where he had to decide if it was better to design stairs that you have to go down clockwise or counterclockwise. Experiments had been carried out previously and it was known that there is tendency to turn counterclockwise, for example, if you cover your eyes and try to walk straight almost always you will end up walking a little bit to the left. But Mr. Watanabe wanted to investigate more: 
  • Most . . . human beings are right handed.
  • Most . . . left-handed people are right-footed, while most of the right-       handed people are also right-footed.
  • Most . . . human beings have slightly longer right leg than left leg.
These three factors make our right leg . . . dominant over the left leg, which causes a tendency to turn to the left, and to be able to run faster and more comfortable in a counterclockwise direction. He also found out that:  Humans walk instinctively protecting the left part of their body (for example by putting their left part of the body nearer to walls) because our heart is in the center-left part of our chest.  Drifting to the left is basically human nature, and running in a counterclockwise direction practically an instinct.
        So.  All good so far, Mr. Child.  
      
     But consider this:  Executing a counter-clockwise circular route requires a series of left-hand turns.  Indeed, Jack Reacher’s deduction concerning where he would find that missing character was premised on a supposition that the first turn the character made would be to the left.  All of that counter-clockwise research notwithstanding, an equally large body of behavioral research indicates that, given an uninhibited choice, most people at an intersection will naturally turn not to the left, but to the right.  Professor Stephen Bitgood of the University of Alabama, in his article collecting and distilling prior studies on pedestrian movement noted the following:
The tendency to walk on the right side of a path is a common finding (at least in the United States). The sociologist William Whyte (1980, 1988) has studied people’s behavior in city plazas and on city streets. Whyte (1988), in his chapter on the “skilled pedestrian,” summarized the pattern of walking on the right of city sidewalks:
Pedestrians usually walk on the right. (Deranged people and oddballs are more likely to go left, against the flow.) 
        Summarizing earlier studies, Professor Bitgood also concludes that “[o]ne of the most frequently reported findings is a tendency for people to turn right at a choice point or intersection.”  Evidence of this is all around us.  Professor Bitgood notes that the right hand turn is always the easier and less energy consuming choice.  In recognition of this fact stores tend to be designed, as Bitgood notes, to allow shoppers to steer to the right upon entering.  There is also some evidence from highway studies that in cities circled by beltways the more predominant way to drive around the city is by beginning with a right turn, and then driving the beltway clockwise, not counterclockwise.  (A study by the Washington Post published just last Sunday noted differing commuting times for clockwise and counterclockwise trips on the Washington beltway.)  

     Bitgood also references a number of studies that have focused on museums and zoos, and by and large these have documented a pronounced tendency of visitors to enter and then turn right, although some (but not all) of the studies also indicated that the museums or zoos were then toured in a counterclockwise direction.  It has also been noted that typical grocery store design anticipates that the shopper will enter the store and turn right, usually towards the vegetables, but then circle the store counterclockwise with a series of left turns.  Professor Bitgood conducted his own study of shoppers entering several malls and found a pronounced, but far from universal, tendency of the shoppers to veer right, not left, upon entering the mall.

       But let’s get back to Killing Floor.  I don’t want to end up dishing out a “spoiler” for Mr. Child’s first Jack Reacher mystery, but suffice it to say that the purported “universal” tendency of people in all circumstances to bear left, that is counter-clockwise, is a key element in Jack Reacher’s deduction concerning where he predictably will find a critical (and missing) character.  From this postulate of “universally” predictable behavior Reacher concludes that when booking passage on an inter city bus to a random location one will always pick a bus that turns left, and heads out of town on a counter-clockwise route.  But would this be the case?  Does a person choosing a bus route on a map behave like a jogger or a baseball player, or does he or she behave like a shopper in a store, or a visitor to a museum?  And what about those beltways that have more clockwise than counterclockwise drivers?  Even in Lee Child’s native England (where driving is on the left) the answer is just not that simple nor that predictable.
        So here the deduction is simple for Reacher, but only because Mr. Child (the man behind the curtain), consistent with Mike Nevin’s observation, knows the result in advance.  But the deduction does not objectively and invariably flow from the evidence.  It is, in a word, far-fetched.  It would not, in the real world, support an incontestable conclusion.  

     Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoyed Killing Floor and the other Lee Child books that I have read thus far.  But if I structured a deductive conclusion based on a premise as suspect as Mr. Child’s, I would expect the Janet Hutchings of the world to at the least raise some very legitimate questions -- or more likely just send me one of those damned rejection notes!

01 July 2013

Co-Conspirators


by Fran Rizer

My favorite King photo.  You'll see it anytime
I write about him.
John Mellencamp when
he was
John Cougar Mellencamp
On June 6, 2013, I watched Stephen Colbert when Stephen King, John Mellencamp, and T-Bone Burnett appeared as guests.
Any one of these three being interviewed would interest me.  As we all know, Stephen King is a tremendously successful writer who also happens to be a favorite of mine.

John Mellencamp is a rock star, also a favorite of mine for more than just his best-known "Jack and Diane."  I was a Mellencamp fan back when he was a Cougar and I wasn't.

T-Bone Burnett
  T-Bone Burnett has multiple musical credentials. He's a musician, song writer, and arranger, but his greatest achievements and awards have come from production of such people as Roy Orbison and Elvis Costello and producing  music for many films including O Brother, Where Art Thou?  He's won the Frederick Loewe Award for Film Composing, Golden Globe Awards, and many Grammy Awards.
    
Sorry this current photo of the
threesome is a bit fuzzy.  It
came from a video.
 Since their appearance on The Colbert Report, the three of them have appeared on multiple shows including Morning Joe, NPR's World Cafe, NPR's All Things Considered, SiriusXM's Outlaw Country, The Charlie Rose Show,and The Late Show with David Letterman--all during the month of June!  (Oh, John, don't we wish we had their publicist scheduling our signings!)

WHY ALL THIS?  Here's the answer: 



AEG Live has announced that the southern gothic, supernatural musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County will be touring twenty cities throughout the Midwest and Southeast beginning October 10th in Bloomington, Indiana and ending November 6 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Tickets are on sale at aeglive.com.

Ghost Brothers of Darkland County began when Mellencamp told King about a cabin on his land in Indiana where two brothers had gotten in a fight over a girl resulting in one brother killing the other.  Only a few days later, the surviving brother was killed in a car accident.  The girl was with him and died also.

Mellencamp shared this story over thirteen years ago.  King outlined a play about it.  After that, they were off and on, back and forth, until they developed it into a full-length musical.

On advertising and the book covers, CD, and DVD covers, King, Mellencamp, and Burnett refer to themselves as "co-conspirators."

Joe, Frank and Drake's dad, and brother of Jack and Andy sees his sons headed in a downward spiral similar to their uncles.  He decides it's time to reveal his own terrible secret at the site of the tragedy before it's too late.

Mellencamp wrote the music.  Instead of the songs telling the story, they reflect the feelings of the characters.  The blues 'n roots music covers a wide range of styles, and it's masterly produced by T-Bone Burnett with many famous artists.

Multiple products are available--the musical and recordings and books. You can even win prizes from the Bloody Disgusting Contest.  Check the Internet for merchandise, tour info, and ticket information.  You can find it on any of the three co-conspirators' pages as well as Ghost Brothers of Darkland County's website.

A quote from Stephen King:

"John can make rock & roll records and I can write books for the rest of our lives, but that's the safe way to do it, and that's no way to live if you want to stay creative.  We were willing to be educated, and at our age, that's an accomplishment."

I looked them up.  Stephen King was born 9/21/47; T-Bone Burnett, 1/14/48; and John Mellencamp, 10/07/51.  They're all in their sixties, and I am, too.

I think it's time to stray from the safe way.  I just sent the Christmas Callie to the publisher yesterday.  Tomorrow, I'm beginning a paranormal.