10 October 2013

Rewriting History

There is nothing quite like the lure of rewriting history, whether personal, national, or the world at large.  Back in my teaching days, one of the projects students were given was to choose from a list of pivotal points, write what really happened (so that I could know that they knew something about what they were about to mess with) and then what would have happened if...

Charles Martel lost the Battle of Poitiers in 732 CE against the Islamic Umayyad Dynasty, which was trying to move up from (current-day) Spain into the rest of Europe.

William the Conqueror had been slain by a stray arrow in the invasion of 1066.  Or pneumonia.  I wasn't picky. 

The Athenians had won the Peloponnesian Wars of 431-404 BCE.  (HINT:  for one thing, Socrates might not have been tried and executed.)

WWI - What if the French soldiers' mutiny of December, 1916 had succeeded?

WWI - What if Russia had stayed in the war under Lenin?

WWI - What if the United States had maintained its isolationist stance and never gotten involved in WWI at all?

WWII - What if Japan had not attacked Pearl Harbor?

WWII - What if Germany had never declared war on the United States?

WWII - What if Mexico had signed a treaty with Germany and declared war on the US?  (Germany actually pursued this.)

WWII - What if Hitler had not invaded Russia, but stuck with hammering England instead?

I had a lot more of these, and the students loved them.  I got some great papers out of them.  People are fascinated by what might have been.

And they're also fascinated with what might have been on the personal level.  We all know people who are trapped in the "what might have beens", longing, looking, wishing that somehow they could change the past.  This desire to change history is one of the reasons, I think, so many people find it so hard to forgive, and I'm not just talking about the big stuff - because what they really want is not an apology, but for whatever it is NEVER TO HAVE HAPPENED.  And that's impossible, unless the alternate universe theory is true, and even if it is, fat lot of good it does us in this universe.

And, let's face facts, we've all played the game (I believe) on the personal level.  What are the five things that you wish you could change about your past?  If five are too many, try three.  Or one.  What would that change about who you are today?  Would it be worth it?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I wish I had never started smoking (I'm proud to say that, as of this writing, I have been 3 years cigarette-free, which is still amazing to me).  I wish I had moved to that place, or stayed there, and a few other things I'm not going into here...  But then again (other than the cigarette thing), maybe not.

The truth is, I kind of like being my cranky, eccentric, bookaholic, mystery-writing, perambulating, muttering, sharp-tongued self.  I don't know that I'd trade it in on an alternate Eve.  But it's an interesting thing to think about.

PS - Which of the above historical "what ifs" would you have picked? 

09 October 2013

Dirty Words

by David Edgerley Gates

Back in August, Leigh Lundin posted a piece about PINs and passwords that I found very instructive. Birthdates, for example, are too commonly used, and easily penetrated. In fact, I just got a phishing e-mail, purportedly from my cousin G, stranded and broke in the Philippines, urgently in need of money, which is almost certainly the result of a password compromise.

But that's not the point I want to take up here. Leigh also mentioned that people often choose catchphrases, for example F**KU2. Leigh didn't used asterisks. It's not in my nature to censor myself, either, but I'm doing it this time so as not to scare the children, and because one of Leigh's readers took offense, and told him he should clean the column up, and bleep out the foul language. My first reaction was, sheesh, what an uptight prude, but on further reflection, I realized the guy had a point.

Language is extraordinarily powerful, and poisonous. If you use derogatory slang, for instance, to describe gay men, or black people, or Jews, to name a few obvious ones, you perpetuate stereotypes. You can argue, of course, that this is how people talk, which is true enough, and political correctness leads to a kind of homogenization, or Socialist Realism, but I'm a straight white guy, raised as an Episcopalian, so I can't claim to have a dog in the fight. I had a running argument for years with Cathleen Jordan, my editor at HITCHCOCK, who held the line resolutely against graphic violence and colorful profanity. I'd say it was realistic. She'd say, not on my watch. I once heard a cop use a phrase to describe lowered physical requirements for police recruits, the result of Affirmative Action, to bring in more women and minorities, that the applicant pool was all "runts and c**nts." I knew I'd never slip that one past Cathleen, and it took me days, literally, to come up with something. (I finally settled on "midgets and Gidgets," which doesn't have quite the same flavor, or shock value, but any woman will tell you they deeply resent being characterized, or dismissed, as no more than a fold of flesh.)

There's a fascinating conversation in Mary Renault's THE MASK OF APOLLO—fascinating to me, anyway—that takes place between the first-person narrator, an actor, and another dinner guest, who turns out to be the philosopher Plato. (The story takes place in classical Greece, the 3rd century B.C.) They're talking about theater, naturally enough. Nico, the narrator, has just performed Aeschylus' THE MYRMIDONS. After a while, they get around to Euripides, and it turns out Plato doesn't approve of him. He thinks Euripides mocks the Gods. Nico answers, he's the first to show men and women as they really are. Plato say, why not show them what they can be? Nico can only think to tell him, "But it's such marvelous theater." This produces, of course, a deafening silence.

You can see where both of them are coming from. Nico is, after all, a working actor, who goes where his trade takes him, and wants a good play. Plato believes men are base, but can be taught to turn from evil. He sees in his mind's eye a city, a body politic, that rises above itself, and aspires to the ideal (for which there's his REPUBLIC). The dialogue, in effect, turns on the purpose of art, drama in particular, because it's a popular, accessible form, but Renault's novel itself becomes a sort of meta-fiction, both an illustration of seeking the ideal, and also marvelous theater. There is, perhaps, a balance. The audience delivered from outer darkness by sleight of hand.

Where does this leave us? I have to say I lean toward the theatrical, not to say sensational. Those dirty words, and ugly epithets, are part of my vocabulary, and I'll keep them in my toolbox, along with fear, and violence, betrayal and despair. They describe the human condition. Not that we shouldn't seek the ideal, or honor, or heroics---or that we can't rise above ourselves. The trick is in the doing.

08 October 2013

Our Common Language

The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.

     George Bernard Shaw

We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.                                                             
                                                                                                                                                              Oscar Wilde
                                                                                  The Canterville Ghost

       For whatever reason, the language of Shakespeare seems to invite inconsistencies.  Writer H. Beam Piper has attributed this to the very foundation of the language:  "English is the result of Norman men-at-arms attempting to pick up Saxon barmaids and is no more legitimate than any of the other results."   While that might be a bit over the edge, we are still left with a perplexing language.  Bill Bryson, taking a more scholarly approach, has observed that "English grammar is so complex and confusing for the very simple reason that its rules and terminology are based on Latin, a language with which it has precious little in common."  It is relatively easy to find examples of the resulting inconsistencies.  "Debt," a word we likely adopted from the French, nonetheless carries a non-French silent "b," which tracks its lineage back to the Latin word "debitum."  And look at our simple rule that putting the prefix "in" in front of a word turns the word into its opposite -- inhumane, inconsistent, inflexible are examples.  So what about invaluable?  Such internal quirks in the language only intensify when those speaking it are geographically separated.

       Years ago, when I was in private practice, an attorney with whom I worked traveled to Japan to make a presentation before the board of directors of one of our major clients. The attorney was accompanied by a representative of the client, a Japanese man who had lived most of his life in the U.S. and, as a result, was well positioned to straddle the differences between the two cultures. After the attorney’s presentation the chairman of the board stood, offered his hand, and as they shook said “Thank you for the presentation. Our views are completely parallel.” After leaving the board room the attorney turned to the company representative and said “I thought that went really well.” The representative’s eyes widened. “How can you say that? It was a disaster.” “But,” the attorney responded, “the chairman said their views were completely parallel.” “That means,” the representative said, shaking his head, “that they never intersect.” 

       This anecdote is a bit afield from the Shaw and Wilde quotes set forth above, since the countries involved were the United States and Japan, but it still illustrates the point. Just as species of animals and plants evolve differently on different continents, so, too, words, each of which is a work in progress. 

       In the new novel Lexicon (which premises a world in which words are used for their magical powers by a group of wordsmiths referred to as “poets”) author Max Barry notes, for example, that the word “cause” is in the process of changing from meaning strict causation to denoting the causation of something bad. (He was the cause of the problem). And, as noted by Shaw and Wilde, the evolution of words can proceed differently in different regions, even those purporting to speak the same language. This can be true regionally within a country, and can become even more pronounced in different countries, geographically separated, that start off with a common language.

Barney and Clyde, Weingarten & Clark, Copyright 2013,
The Washington Post
       In the United States, for instance, the word “moot” is used to denote a settled situation, one that is no longer open for discussion. By contrast, in England an issue that is “moot” is one open for discussion. Similarly, when we “table” an issue in the United States the issue becomes off limits for discussion, whereas “tabling” that same issue in the U.K. indicates that it is next up for discussion. 

        Reflective of all of this, a short guide for the English speaker (both U.K. and American) has been circulating on the internet the past couple months that further defines the separation between the two English speaking countries. First reported in an article by Alice Philipson of The Telegraph, the chart might as well make a stop here at SleuthSayers as well. 

            SAY                                          MEAN                                UNDERSTAND

 I hear what you say                   I disagree and do not want to            He accepts my point of 
                                                 discuss it further                               view

With the greatest respect            You are an idiot                               He is listening to me 

That's not bad                            That's good                                     That's poor 

That is a very brave proposal      You are insane                                 He thinks I have courage

Quite good                                 A bit disappointing                            Quite good 

I would suggest                          Do it or be prepared to                     Think about the idea, but
                                                 justify yourself                                  do what you like

Oh, incidentally/ by the way        The primary purpose of                     That is not very important
                                                 our discussion is

I was a bit disappointed that        I am annoyed that                           It doesn't really matter

Very interesting                          That is clearly nonsense                   They are impressed

I'll bear it in mind                         I've forgotten it already                    They will probably do it

I'm sure it's my fault                    It's your fault                                   Why do they think it                                                                                                                          was their fault?

You must come for dinner            It's not an invitation, I'm just             I will get an invitation soon
                                                  being polite

I almost agree                             I don't agree at all                            He's not far from agreement

I only have a few minor                Please rewrite completely                 He has found a few typos

Could we consider some              I don't like your idea                         They have not yet decided
other options

       This helpful little guide can doubtless get you a long way in conversing on either side of the pond, but even it does not cover all contingencies. As an example, if you ask the clerk at the front desk of your hotel “to knock you up” just before breakfast the result is likely to be decidedly different depending upon which side of the Atlantic your hotel is located!

       All of the foregoing examples focus on words that have evolved different meanings in different regions.  But that is not the only problem.  Even when words retain a common meaning pronunciation differences can render them unintelligible to those in different regions.  One of the best detective series that has been broadcast in the last year has been Broadchurch, which aired on BBC America.  Half way through the series, having been unable to understand some critical exchanges, I found that the best way to watch this English language series was with sub-captioning turned on.  And one can encounter similar dialectic challenges without crossing the Atlantic.  Last year I went into a liquor store in Gulf Shores, Alabama to purchase some scotch.  I handed the clerk my Mastercard and she looked at me and asked "Daybit?"  I was perplexed, but only for a moment, before replying "No.  Credit."

      Having led off with Shaw on the difficulty of maintaining a common English language, we might as well let him have the last word as well. With a little help from Lerner and Lowe, that is . . . .

07 October 2013

100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century

A little over 10 years… to be exact, it was in 2000 which was 13 years ago, The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association selected and published their list of 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century. The book was edited by the President of IMBA, Jim Huang.

 My husband, Elmer and I had owned Mysteries and More bookstore in Austin for nine years. We had just decided to retire and had just liquidated the store after trying for months to sell it. We knew that we could continue as online booksellers as long as we wished. We were charter members of IMBA. And we definitely wanted to be part of this project.

This list is from the accumulated wisdom of the most knowledgeable booksellers in the business of selling mysteries.  Not the books we considered best sellers, but the books that we've most enjoyed through the years, hand sold to our customers and books that we read over and over ourselves. The project was began in late 1999, our tribute to the new upcoming new century. Our membership at that time consisted of 39 members, most with traditional stores, the remainder with online or internet and or mail-order stores. Some members did all three at once.

Each member was to list 100 titles. When the first list came in, around 700 different titles were listed. (All members didn't participate.)  After much discussion and back and forth calls and e-mail we came up a couple of unofficial rules...for authors with a series, we'd list only the first in their series. Several prolific authors had more than one series, but we were able to rally for only one title from those authors. This wasn't a rule and on occasion there was more than one title for an author. This second round had around 85 titles with fairly strong support from several stores. And a large number of titles that seemed worthy of consideration.

The lists were all going into our President and editor, Jim Huang.  He eventually had to appoint owners of The Raven Bookstore and The Black Bird Mysteries to a committee to help narrow down the list. The surprising thing was with all the diversity of the stores how much agreement there was. Keep in mind however this list is NOT the best or bestselling but FAVORITE. It's not favorite authors either. For whatever reason it's the bookstore members chosen favorites (this included employees of the store and/or co-owners.)

After publication, one criticism was that we were influenced by sales. None of us felt this to be true.
It's possible that we have selected titles that we recommended more to our customers because we enjoyed them more.

The second criticism was we tended to list more recent titles. That's probably true because more recent titles are richer in characterization. Authors write more about what's going on in the real world because that's what readers want. Real life situations, but high quality writing. And don't forget, bookseller's are readers too.

All of the above comes from the introduction by Jim Huang, but using my words and some of his,

Part 1

The Hounds of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (1902)
The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1908)

The Thirty-nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926)

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1930)
The Sands of Windee by Arthur Upfield (1931)
Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers (1933)
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (1934)
The Three Coffins by John Dickson Carr (1935)
Hamlet, Revenge by Michael Innes (1937)
The Beast Must Die by Nichols Blake (1938)
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout (1938)
A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (1939)
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chlandler (1939)

Death of a Peer by Ngaio Marsh (1940)
The Wrong Murder by Craig Rice (1940)
Green For Danger by Christianna Brand (1944)
The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin (1946)
The Fabulous Clipjoint by Fredric Brown (1947)
I Married a Dead Man by Cornell Woolrich (1948)
Cat of Many Tails by Ellery Queen (1949)
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert (1950)
An English Murder by Cyril Hare (1951)
The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham  (1952)
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith  (1955)
A Dram of Poison by Charlotte Armstrong  (1956)
The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin  (1958)
The List of Adrain Messenger by Phillip MacDonald (1959)

And that is where I have to stop, class. How many of these have you read?

06 October 2013

Honey Laundering

by Leigh Lundin

Today's article comes about from a serendipitous collaboration by three of our readers, all related to the one food that can be preserved almost indefinitely –honey– the edible kind, or so we once thought.

After 2000, our federal government underwent massive across-the-board deregulation in banking, brokerage, insurance, pharmaceuticals, importation, and our food chain. America's paid the price since with dangerous chemicals, lead, and antibiotics showing up in our food supply from contaminated milk and eggs to vegetables, chicken and fish. But that's not all. Once we simply worried about Africanized bees, but the situation's grown worse.

Now honey's at the root of international skullduggery and criminal prosecution.

All that glistens…

First, our writer and reviewer friend, Vicki Kennedy, sent me an article about honey fraud– honey so processed it's not only lost the characteristics that make it honey, but its sources cannot be identified. Such honey is often polluted with toxic metals, banned adulterating chemicals, and dangerous antibiotics such as chloramphenicol (CAP) known for causing incurable aplastic anemia, bone marrow toxicity, and an increased risk of leukemia.

The fraudulent honey is so ubiquitous and pervasive, that ¾ of products tested from store shelves couldn't legally be classified as honey. Worse, NONE of the 'honey' found in top national drugstores or McDonald's or KFC could be considered the real thing. Unlike our hobbled FDA and U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and Homeland Security, the European Union acted quickly to ban the bogus honey.

The Sting

Surprise! Potentially laced with chemicals and lead, much fraudulent honey is Chinese, notorious for tasting like– and stinking like– sauerkraut. To offset the taste, Asian producers often add banned artificial sweeteners.

The Sioux Honey Co-op, the largest in America, has avoided publicly commenting on the scandal despite obvious involvement. One of the nation's largest distributors is Honey Holdings in Baytown, Texas, a company with a reputation for buying any junk honey, tainted or not. It sold contaminated honey to Sara Lee and Smuckers, which in turn sold to the Ritz-Carlton Hotels, potentially passed on to a million or more consumers.

Pollen carries the identifying DNA that allows scientists to pin down where honey originated. Ernie Groeb, the president and CEO of the world’s largest packer of honey, Groeb Farms, claimed he made no particular enquiry about the pollen content of the 85 million pounds of honey his company buys. You might think that a bit ingenuous, so remember these names, Groeb Farms and Honey Holdings.

The Honey Pot Thickens

This was interesting, but I opened another eMail from editor and our friend Cate Dowse. Lo and behold, it was also about honey, this time about a German foods company that became one of the world's largest market manipulators and their American subsidiary, responsible for infiltrating millions of liters of illegal Chinese honey into North America and Europe.

Relying upon the gutting of American inspections, they routed garbage honey from China to other countries around the world, filtered out identifying pollen, and shipped it on to the US, where their subsidiary sold it to other companies, some unsuspecting, others like Honey Holdings and Groeb Farms fully aware of what they were getting. When the government didn't take action, fellow bee growers did and brought suit. Groeb filed for bankruptcy protection. Honey Holdings barely escaped the same fate in a deferred prosecution plea deal.

With an impotent Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration, states have begun to set standards led by (gasp) Florida. In fact, Nancy Gentry, owner of the small Cross Creek Honey Company in Interlachen, has become the spokesman and driving force behind the legislation. The good news is the US Government if finally bothering to prosecute, although the German company and China are unlikely to face repercussions.

But wait, there's more.

A Sweet and Colorful Ending

My young friend, Dylan Plucinik, asked what Sunday's article was about and I answered adulterated honey. "Did you know about blue honey?" he asked. "And green? From French M&Ms?"

In fact, I had not. I googled and turned up exactly what he said. It turns out French bees discovered sugary barrels at an Alsace company that processed scraps from the Mars candy company. It makes perfect sense from a bee viewpoint: Why track down nectar when you can harvest M&Ms?


05 October 2013

Opening Lines

by Elizabeth Zelvin

Number One on the late, great Elmore Leonard’s ten rules of writing is “Never open a book with weather.” The proverbial worst first line in all of literature is Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s “It was a dark and stormy night.” Every novelist hopes to begin his or her book with a memorable first line. Mystery writers trying to break into print today are encouraged to provide a hook for agents and editors by starting with some kind of zinger. I’ve heard endless discussions of the pros and cons of prologues, one of the cons being that a prologue postpones the voice that’s going to sell the book (both to publishers and to readers).

My first impulse was to take a look at the openings of my ten all-time favorite mysteries, but they weren’t all at hand, so I offer some famous openings from general fiction and a semi-random selection of mysteries from the Golden Age to the present, with comments.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Everybody knows this one, which sets up both the theme and the ironic tone of Jane Austen’s masterpiece.

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
This first line draws the reader in with a sentiment that everyone can relate to and gives us a lot of information about the protagonist. Without Alcott, would we know that in the 1860s a fifteen-year-old girl might lie on the rug and grumble? Part of Alcott’s genius is the freshness and immediacy of her language and characters, which continue to transcend their time 150 years later.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

This is a wonderful aphorism and a very famous line. As a 21st century psychotherapist who works with dysfunctional families, I disagree with the statement. In many years of practice, I’ve found that the similarities among unhappy families become the foundation for understanding, change, and healing. On the other hand, the details—the uniqueness of the unhappiness of an individual family—form the basis for literature.

I grabbed a couple of classic mysteries, both first published in 1936, to see if their openings socked the reader in the eye.

Harriet Vane sat at her writing-table and stared out into Mecklenburg Square.
Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night
No clue here that we’re about to read one of the greatest mysteries of all time, in which the characters and feminist issues are so well done that the reader doesn’t mind that there’s no murder in the book. The only reader excited by the first line is one who has read all the preceding Lord Peter Wimsey books and is already attached to Harriet Vane.

The story of the little man, sometimes a stockbroker, sometimes a tea merchant, but always something in the City, who walked out of his suburban house one sunny morning and vanished like a puff of grey smoke in a cloudless sky, can be recalled by nearly everyone who lived in Greater London in the first years of the century.
Margery Allingham, Flowers for the Judge
This once-upon-a-time opening presents a puzzle and sets up the expectation of a story in a distinctive voice—but not a voice that would appeal to most present-day readers. The cultural references—“little man,” “suburban”—are rooted in the London of their time.

And here are some mysteries from more recent times, all of which I’d characterize without hesitation as first-class reads.

Lock-Ober’s Restaurant is on Winter Place, which is an alley off Winter Street just down from the Common.
Robert B. Parker, Looking for Rachel Wallace (1980)
It’s Spenser, but doesn’t even hint at the toughness, tenderness, and humor of Spenser’s voice.

When the girl came rushing up the steps, I decided she was wearing far too many clothes.
Lindsey Davis, Silver Pigs (1986)
Finally, a tale that starts with action (first in the Falco series). The paragraph that follows sets the scene in ancient Rome, but that first sentence has already introduced Falco’s irreverent voice.

Miller was wakened from his doze by a puff of hot air, redolent of freshly cut grass and newly disturbed dogshit.
Stuart Woods, Palindrome (1991)
One of Woods’s best books, from before he started writing down to the reader with his Stone Barrington series. By now, it’s okay to engage the reader with a shock-value image.

If she’d had a foot fetish Anna would have been an extremely happy woman.
Nevada Barr, Firestorm (1996)
At last! A first sentence that I think has it all. We’ve got voice, character, humor, and a set-up intriguing enough to pull the reader in. No action, which would be bad in a thriller but is fine in a character-driven mystery. Its language breaks the no-adverbs rule, but I think that rule needs to be broken now and then.

And let’s end with the first line of my own first published novel, which I wrote so long ago I can’t remember doing it, and which remained unchanged through many revisions all the way to the printed book and past my edit of the recent new e-edition. I’m still a little nervous about the shock-value element, which might alienate some gentle readers. But my protagonist Bruce enters speaking in his own authentic voice, and if I’ve got anything of value to offer the reader, it’s character and voice.

I woke up in detox with the taste of stale puke in my mouth.
Elizabeth Zelvin, Death Will Get You Sober (2008)

What’s your favorite first line?

04 October 2013

Rangers in the Night

I ran an army story as one of my SS posts, some time back, and got a pretty positive response. So, I thought I’d give it a second shot. And, in the interests of challenging Leigh for the longest post to date (and praying it’s more satisfying than a mystery written by an ancient Russian!), I hereby present the following:

In Phase I of the Special Forces Qualification Course, I learned a new version of an old song. Sung to the tune of "Strangers in the Night," it went:

Rangers in the Night, 
                   Exchanging Azimuths. 
     Land navigational fr-ight, 
                                 They lost their a#* sure enough. 

It went on for several verses, which I no longer recall, but I’m sure you get the idea. And, NO, it wasn’t written by anyone who was any good at song writing.

During the Q-Course (sometimes called S.F.Q.C.) the Land Navigation Exam was probably the single greatest factor in student attrition. It knocked out about half the guys we lost in Phase I—all by itself.

Uwharrie National Forest Location
The Land Nav section of Phase I lasted a week, during which we bivouacked in poncho hooches, in North Carolina’s Uwharrie National Forest, packing up our stuff every morning so we could run practice land navigation courses. We ran two each day—morning and afternoon—and one each night. Some guys, such as myself, tried to run each course. Others hiked over the first low ridge line, dropped their rucksacks and got some sleep.

A fellow I won’t name, who became a good buddy of mine during the course, (unbeknownst to me during Phase I) used some of these opportunities to hike out to a specific intersection of dirt roads, where—at prearranged times—he’d meet a friend of his, who was scheduled to go through the next iteration of Phase I. That friend would bring him pizza and beer, a cheeseburger and shake or something similar, each time they met.

It just kills me that I never came up with fun ideas like that!

The Land Nav test would take place at the end of the week, then we would go back to Camp MacKall for Survival Training, followed by the Patrolling section—which culminated in a several-day patrol through the woods, coupled with raids and ambushes.

Camp MacKall during WWII.
When I was there, only the area just above the T-intersection
 of the paved roads still existed.  We lived in tar-paper shacks.
We lost a lot of guys before Land Nav week, of course, because the Q-Course wasn’t designed to test only a man’s physical strength and endurance, it also pushed him to his psychological limits. Guys went down to heat injuries, sprains or simple exhaustion, as you might expect.

The Airfield at Camp MacKall.
We parachuted in and out of Phase I.
But, we also lost a lot of students who just quit. They decided they didn’t want to be there anymore, or that they could no longer take wondering which night our scant sleep (usually from about midnight to 4:30 am) would be interrupted by bright lights, loud music and everyone being called out to perform a couple hours of calisthenics, on the road, in our underwear. (This happened fairly often.)

And—surprising me at the time—some guys quit because they got mad. During those midnight calisthenics, for instance, the cadre would rotate out between exercises, which meant we students would be near exhaustion when a fresh instructor jumped in and started leading a new exercise, barking at us and calling us names if we had a hard time keeping up.

There was a lot of complaint, particularly among guys who’d been through Ranger School, that this was unfair, that our instructors should match us exercise-for-exercise, or else they were cheating. Some of the complainers quit over things like this.

In truth, this and other aspects of the course were designed to eliminate people who couldn’t handle emotional stress, which is often a critical factor in SF operations. It’s easy to conduct an operation in which everything goes right. But, when the rubber meets the road, things usually go wrong—often dangerously wrong. If a guy can’t handle the emotional stress of knowing how bad things are—can’t deal with how unfair his current situation feels—then the operation probably won’t succeed. You simply can’t get mad and throw in the towel, when you’re operating in a denied area—not only the mission, but also the life of every team member would be jeopardized.

So we dealt with a lot of physical and emotional stress. But, some sections of the Q-Course, such as the Land Navigation Exam, also added a third component of difficulty: Mental Pressure.

What our feet looked like BEFORE the test.
Running resection or declination calculations, maintaining a pace count over long distance and constantly maintaining a comparison of the terrain around you to the map in your hand—all while working against the clock, fighting fatigue and the knowledge that you’re all alone in the middle of a vast, dark forest—can be a bit mentally taxing. Particularly when you were already pretty wiped out before starting the thing.

The exam worked like this:

The class was divided into groups of around 20, and each group was driven—in closed trucks so we couldn’t see where we were being taken—to some place in the Uwharrie National Forest. When the truck stopped, on a dirt road, we climbed out and followed an instructor back into the forest, where he had a small campsite set up. We dropped rucks and ate some dinner, then tried to sleep. Around 1:30 am, the instructor set off a grenade simulator to wake us. We packed our gear and gathered around him. He then read off the grid coordinates of the point we occupied. Each student plotted it on his map, then showed his map to the instructor.

If the student got it wrong, the instructor didn’t tell him. Instead, his job was to note where the student thought he was, so finding him later might be a little easier. Additionally, the instructor would give each student the grid coordinate for the next point he had to find. Each student had a different grid coordinate, because the test is run alone.

After plotting the new grid coordinate on his map, the student had to show it to the instructor—who would remain silent, of course; he just wanted to know where we thought we were going, so they’d have an easier time finding us if we got lost.

After that, we were allowed to fill our canteens completely. Then, as we sat around waiting for the test to begin, the instructor read over the rules to us. We’d already heard the rules a dozen times, but regulations required that we hear them again, just before starting the test.

A partial list of these rules includes: 
  • The course begins at 2:00 am. 
  •  No clear-lens light may be used at any time. Only a red-lens flashlight may be used. Anyone caught using a light source, with anything other than a red lens, is out! 
  • A red lens flashlight may ONLY be used when COMPLETELY STOPPED, to conduct a map check. It must be shut off before moving on. Anyone caught walking with a light on, is out! 
  • Each student must forge his own path through the terrain. No using roads, trails, bridges, or any other improved surface. Anyone caught using a road, trail, or bridge is out! 
  • Roads may be crossed at a 90-DEGREE ANGLE. OR, if a student can prove he was on azimuth, he may cross diagonally for up to a thirty-foot length of roadway. Anyone caught crossing a road diagonally, who cannot PROVE he was on azimuth, or who walks more than a thirty-foot length of roadway while crossing at a diagonal—for any reason—is out! 
  • A bridge may NEVER be used, for any reason. If the bridge crosses a water obstacle, such as a stream, lake, pond, river or swamp, you must enter the water obstacle from one bank, swim or wade with your equipment to the far bank and exit there. Anyone caught setting foot on a bridge is out!
  • The courses run between 20 kms and 25 kms, therefore some students will have a longer course than others. You will not know how long your course is, until you have finished it. 
  • In order to complete the course, some students must find three points, while others must find four points. You will not know how many points you must find, until you reach your third point. The instructor at that point will give you your fourth point’s grid coordinates if you have one. BE ADVISED: The number of points has little to do with the distance covered while on the course. 
  • A student will only be given the grid coordinates of his very next point. When he arrives at that next point, he will then be given the grid coordinates of the following point, and so on. 
  • No speaking to anyone. A student may speak with an instructor, at the instructor’s point, ONLY TO VERIFY he has correctly copied the grid coordinates that the instructor has given him for his next point. Other than that—anyone caught speaking is out! 
  • Each student must carry a 35 lbs. pack, plus weapon and Load Bearing Equipment. Packs will be weighed before and after the course is run, to ensure compliance. 
  • To pass the exam, the student must complete his course by 10:00 am, in the prescribed manner, while carrying the prescribed load. 
Less than two minutes after the instructor was done reading, it hit two o’clock. As we set out from the starting point, each of us heading in a different direction, every man carried two quarters and a slip of paper with a phone number on it. We had instructions that, if completely lost, and we somehow stumbled across a payphone (they existed back then), we should call that number and the first words out of our mouths had to be, “Help. I am a lost Land Nav student.” We were also each issued one aerial flare, to signal for help in the event we became badly injured. Buoyed by these safety comforts, I set out through the pitch dark forest. 

There was no moon that night, which wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because the sky was overcast, cutting off any starlight. So, I walked forward with my head bent over my compass, which pulled the bill of my head gear (cap) down to protect my eyes. But, quickly tiring of bumping my head on tree branches I couldn’t see—even when looking directly at them!—I started to carry my free hand out a little ahead of me, as a sort of warning rod.

Reaching a small dirt road, I stopped and took a knee, using my red-lens Mini-Mag to check my map. As I did so, a dark body lumbered across the road toward me, hissing to get my attention. He stopped inside the wood line, a couple meters away. Pitching his voice low, he asked, “Hey, do know where we are?” When I ignored him, he whispered a bit louder, “Hey! Hey, can you show me where we are?”

I’ve always been the sort of guy who likes to help people. Heck, I was a Boy Scout; I promised to be “Helpful.” So, it wasn’t easy to ignore this guy, but I told myself I wasn’t here to help anyone, right now. I was here to earn a Green Beret, and I had to obey the exam rules to do that.

I picked up and crossed the road, but I hadn’t gone more than a few feet into the woods on the far side, when I again heard him asking for help. This time, a guy who’d just passed me in the opposite direction, answered, whispering, “Look at my map. We’re right here.”

In a completely different voice, and very loud, I heard the first man bark: “I’m an instructor! Give me your score card. You’re out!” Now that he wasn't whispering, I recognized his voice and realized the man who’d been asking me for help, had been the company commander.

Throughout the night, I occasionally heard screams, yells and accelerating vehicles as instructors gave chase to “Road Runners”—men who tried to make time by using the roads at night. And, the instructors weren’t dumb; they kept watch on known chokepoints in the area, using Night Vision Goggles to observe from the tree line, other instructors waiting nearby in hidden vehicles.

The funny thing is, they told us, in advance, that they were going to do this. Still, the Road Runners tried. And they were caught by the boatload. I’ve spoken to a lot of guys who told me they got caught, but only a very few who told me they managed to get away. And, those few admitted: They didn’t even THINK of using a road for the rest of the test.

I also saw a lot of flares climb into the night sky and burst overhead. We’d been told to ignore them, and let the instructors assist anyone in trouble. So, that’s what I did, but one of them was probably fired by my friend, Heise (pronounced like the fruit punch Hi-C, but with the inflection on the first syllable).

Heise had walked into a tree branch in the dark. A twig on that branch had run up between his eye socket and eye ball. In immense pain, Heise couldn’t move. He was stuck, standing there in the middle of nowhere, impaled on a tree. Digging out his flare, he fired it, then waited interminably until he finally heard voices shouting in the woods. He shouted back, the instructors arrived, and they cut the twig from the tree, bandaged him up and ran him into the infirmary at Camp McKall. He was back, later that day, wearing an eye patch taped over his face. He passed the Land Nav retest, a week later, using only one eye.

Another guy—whose name I can’t recall—completely disappeared until late that night. He got lost and wound up walking miles, finally coming across a small backwoods town, where he found a payphone, put in his money and got ready to say, “Help. I am a lost Land Nav student.” He told me he never got the chance, however. The instructor who picked up the phone immediately demanded, “Is this (the guy’s name)?” When the guy said yes, the instructor barked, “Where the hell are you?!”

I don’t recall that guy’s name, because he didn’t pass the retest, so he was gone a week later. I remember the story, because I remember the look on the guy’s face, that night, when he told me: “I couldn’t believe it. I call up, as a lost Land Nav student, and HE asks ME where I am! How the hell am I supposed to know? I was f—ing lost!”

As for me, it took me all night to reach my first point. A desert native, I’d tried to follow a streambed up to the point—which does not work in the “wait-a-minute-vine” terrain of North Carolina. I made good time to my second point, reaching my third with about 45 minutes left in the test. The instructor gave me the grid coordinates for my fourth point (Yes, I was a four-pointer!), and I set out.

But, I never found it.

I went right to it; I'm quite sure. But, it wasn’t there, I’d missed it somehow. I boxed and circled the area until time ran out. Then, I headed back to Land Nav Control, the little trailer the instructors used as an office, which sat beside our bivouac site.

When I got there, I saw a group of about twenty angry men standing to one side. I turned in my card, telling the sergeant I hadn’t found my last point. He looked at my card, then told me to stand over with that group of angry men.

When I got to them, they asked what point I couldn’t find. I gave them my grid coordinates and said I hadn’t been able to find my last point. “That’s because it wasn’t there!” shouted one of the guys.

Come to find out, there are so many points that have to be manned during the exam, the Special Warfare Center and School (which runs the Q-Course) has to borrow soldiers to staff them all. One of the guys they borrowed, had been in charge of my last point. I never met him—at least, not to my knowledge—but the story I heard later, was that he got too hot, where he was sitting, and so he moved his point over a hundred meters away, where it was shadier! LOL

The problem for those of us who had that point, that day, was that the instructors couldn’t give us a passing grade, because none of us had completed the course. As they put it: “How do we know you’d have found the point, if it was there? We don’t even know if you wound up anywhere near where you were supposed to be.”

We’d have to go back to MacKall for Survival Training, then retest at the end of the week—running the whole thing over again. Most of those twenty guys quit, right then. The instructor asked us each, in turn, if we were staying or going. And, when he got to me, he looked like he hoped I would quit.

I wish I could say I was surprised, but I wasn’t. Most of the guys going through the Q-Course had come from Infantry or Ranger units. They were field hardened and almost all muscle. I’d come from the cushy world of Military Intelligence, and my body showed it. Looking at the quitters, most of whom looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bigger brother, I just shook my head and told him, “Sergeant, I didn’t come here to quit.”

Don't get the idea there was any pride in my voice when I said that. I was just stating a fact. It had been very difficult to wrangle my way over from Military Intelligence to Special Forces; I finally had to reenlist to do it. I wasn't about to jeopardize all that work, just because some bonehead had done something that was beyond my control.

I was thinking: Why would I pack-up almost everything I own and put it in storage, leave my '65 Mustang at Ft. Campbell, KY, hop a plane for Fayetteville, NC with only a five-dollar bill in my pocket, then finagle a ride to Smoke Bomb Hill from a Special Warfare Lieutenant  who just happened to be at the Fayetteville airport to pick up a visiting African officer (Thank God the Lt. wore his uniform, so I could recognize him, or I'd have had a long hike!)—if I were just going to quit over a stupid thing like this?

An SF sergeant I knew, when I was studying Arabic at DLI, once told me: "EVERYTHING in the Q-Course is a test.  Whether it intentionally  is one, or not—EVERYTHING you meet out there is a TEST!"  In my view, this was just one more example of that guy having been right.

A week later, I passed the retest. Though, it was kind of a close thing … meaning ... I remember running hell for leather toward my last point, and watching the instructor standing with spread  legs, holding up one arm, while staring at his watch on the other, as he called out the count-down to ten o’clock. When I slid past him, like a runner sliding home, he waved his arms like an umpire and called, “SAFE!—with seven seconds left on the clock.” (Or, something close to that; I can’t remember how many seconds it was—but it wasn’t many!)

About a month later, having passed Phase I and returned to Smoke Bomb Hill in Fort Bragg, I saw those guys who’d quit over the Land Nav screw-up in Phase I. I was in the Engineer portion of my training (Phase II) at the time.  They were cleaning out an empty barracks, things like that. As I walked past, they looked up and I looked back. There they were: guys who looked like a recruiting poster dream. And here I came, having passed—the guy the instructor had hoped would quit. Every one of them looked as if he was sorry he’d thrown in the towel.

As things turned out, however, I had to run that test one more time before they gave me my beret.

In Phase III, the last part of the Q-Course, in which students are formed into Student A-Teams and parachute into a field problem where they have to train and lead inexperienced soldiers, to conduct a successful guerrilla campaign, I had this crazy instructor (Literally; they were in the process of putting him out, a few months later, on what used to be called a “Section 8,” when he died in an automobile accident.) He claimed I’d gotten lost, at one point, during the Phase III field problem. On the other hand, he only passed two men on my 14-man Student A-Team, so the powers that be weren’t so sure his claim was valid.

They couldn’t be sure it wasn’t valid, however, so … back I went for that Land Nav Test!

This time, when the instructor handed me my score card at the beginning, he said, “We’ve got a special course laid-on—just for you, buddy! Enjoy…” The evil grin on his face was later explained, when I learned that I’d been given a course they never used anymore, because it was considered too difficult. But—though I had to swim Bones Fork Creek (which is actually a very deep swamp) TWICE!—I reached my third point with an hour and a half left on the clock.

When the instructor there said, “Prepare to copy!” I bent my head, pencil poised to write the grid coordinates for my fourth point. He continued: “Your last point is this one ...”

I waited. I knew the fourth point would be my last; they didn’t have courses with more than four points—at least, I hoped to GOD they didn’t! After a while, I looked up at him.

He shook his head. “Your last point is this one.” He pointed at the ground. “THIS ONE, knuckle-head! You’re done. Have a seat. Relax.”

Back at Land Nav Control, the instructor with the reputation for being the meanest guy, and who was always busting everybody’s body parts, looked at my score card and smiled at me. “So, you finished the ‘special course’ with an hour and a half left over. You were never lost! I always knew Sergeant —— was crazy!”

What does this have to do with writing? Two things:

Don’t quit when things look bleak. 
Resubmitting after rejection is almost never easy, but it’s the mark of a successful writer.


Sometimes it takes a while to find your way. 
I’m no longer taking care of my dad; we’ve left that up to his hired helpers now. I’ve been finding my way through this change in my life at the same time that I’ve finally had the opportunity to find my way through writing the synopsis for my novel—which I completed about two years ago, just before my mother went into the hospital.

I’ve got the first draft completed, and am working to make it sing. Today, I told you how I negotiated the Land Navigation Test. In two weeks, I’ll tell you how I’ve negotiated the previously unfamiliar terrain of synopsis writing. And, I’ll probably be asking for your own tips on the subject. 

See you then, buddy!

03 October 2013

Let's Talk About Death...

by Brian Thornton

 I write about death.

Don't get me wrong, I write about a lot of things: love, greed, laughter, longing, joy, avarice, pretty much the entire landscape of the human heart.

But because I write crime fiction, I also write a fair bit about death.

And lately, I'm pretty conflicted about it.

Crime writers tend to run the gamut between the two extremes of those who treat their writing like they're transcribing a particularly violent videogame, with resultant high body counts and appropriately gruesome descriptions of the violence being done within, and those on the other end who need a conveniently dead body with a minimum of blood and no one to really mourn them. The axiom seems to be something like this: "No dead body, the stakes aren't high enough, and no compelling mystery."

I suppose that I, like most crime writers, fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.

I've been doing this for a while, and I've had hundreds of conversations about "the craft," and one of the things that tends to come up when a bunch of working writers is sitting around talking "shop" is that someone invariably says that in order to get the reader invested, you've got do something bold nearly out of the gate, to, you know, "raise the stakes."

This invariably leads to someone saying, "How do you do it? Kill more characters."

With all due respect, I think it ought to be harder than that. It should be difficult to kill off a character. Even (especially?) the villain(s) of the piece.


Let me put it this way:

Last summer, my uncle died after a long fight (and I do mean FIGHT) with cancer. He was 63. That's young. (And for those of you out there thinking it isn't, wait till you celebrate, oh, I don't know, your fortieth birthday, and then come talk to me). When my wife and I went to say "goodbye" as he lay in his deathbed, I thought of all the lives my uncle had touched during his time with us. A football coach for decades at one of the local high schools, he was a beloved figure in the community. When he leaned up in his deathbed to hug us both, I could see, and not for the first time, how his illness had hollowed him out piecemeal, and the terrible toll his fight had taken.

My uncle's passing was a brave, terrible moment, wrenching as hell for him, his family and all those who loved him.

A dear friend (also a writer) was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She'll be lucky if she lives out the week.

Nearly 80. Widowed. Always ready with a smile to light people's day. Possessed of some of the strongest and most evident and most shining and most beautiful faith I've ever seen. A formidable intellect and keen insight wedded to the kindest of hearts. Irreplaceable.

We would meet for lunch and laugh and talk, and interspersed with all that joy she would matter-of-factly drop stories from her life: tales of the sorts of tribulations that would cause me to gasp in wonder at how she weathered them. And when I would say something along those lines, she would laugh and shrug, and wave a hand, and say, "I'm a tough old gal, ain't I?" And that would be the end of it.

I got to say goodbye to her earlier this week. She was her typical cheerful self, asking about my wife and about our baby, and telling me how much my friendship had meant to her over the years. I unburdened my heart to her then, agreed about our friendship, assured her of how I treasured it, and did my best to put into words how much that friendship means to me.

And afterwards I hugged my wife and son.

My point is that death in real life is hard. It seems to me that it ought to be difficult to write about, as well.

After all, art imitates life. And in life, Death's wide swath tends to leave a welter of chaos in its wake.

So many writers don't give death its due. It, like love and hate and all the furies loosed on humankind when Pandora opened the box, ought to be arresting, affecting. It ought to hit the reader the way the happy resolution to a romantic subplot does.

Because that's real life.

And that's real death.

02 October 2013

Trouble with Girls, Crows, and Hurricanes

by Robert Lopresti

I am happy to announce that I have a story in the first issue of Malfeasance Occasional, a new ebook series from the folks at Criminal Element.  The idea is that each issue will have a theme and this issue is "Girl Trouble."  It is available now.  Follow the links and get your hands, uh, hard drive, on it.

Oh, I should mention that I learned about this opportunity through Sandra Seaman's webpage My Little Corner, which is indispensable to anyone who wants to publish short genre fiction.  I have already told her I owe her a coffee.

Having said all that, I don't know whether this will really turn out to be a series or a one-off.  When they announced it in August 2012 they intended to move at a breakneck pace, with the first issue appearing in December of that year.   Obviously with one thing and another (one big thing being Hurricane Sandy, which blew through their offices like a, well, superstorm) the deadline has slipped a tad.  I suppose M.O. will turn out to be a series if the first book sells enough.  So. follow the links and get your-- did I already say that?

I know I haven't talked about my contribution, so let's go there.  "Crow's Lesson" is my first story in many years about Marty Crow, a private eye in New Jersey.  Marty was my first series character, and he was a reaction to my native state's decision to allow casinos in Atlantic City.  I'm not a huge fan of them.  (One of the reasons Jerry Izenberg was my favorite sports columnist in the Garden State was that he kept hammering on how much the state received on gambling (millions) and how much they spent on people with gambling addictions (zero).)

So I invented Marty Crow, a native of A.C. and a private eye.  He is a pretty sharp guy with one huge blind spot: he refuses to admit that he has a gambling problem.  And that winds up twisting things up for him as surely as if he insisted on walking with a fake limp.

Marty's first three appearances were in P.I. Magazine, which is still around, but stopped publishing fiction decades ago.  (S.J. Rozan's Bill Smith made his first showing in one of the same issues, oddly enough).  Since then Marty has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and anthologies. One of those tales earned me my only Anthony Award nomination. 

And you can even hear (for free) dramatic performances of two Crow stories, thanks to the Midnight Mystery Players, who carry on the great old tradition of radio drama. 

This particular story was inspired by a story I read in the New York Times many moons ago.  Some boards of education were so concerned about the possibility of children from other districts sneaking in to use their (presumably better) schools, that they hired private eyes to trail kids back to their homes.

Hmm, I thought.  Sounds like a case for Marty Crow.  As it happens, the young lady he follows leads him into a very bad situation.  (The other inspiration for the story was Dashiell Hammett's classic Continental Op story, "The House In Turk Street."  For some of you, that's a big hint as to what happens to Marty.)

So let me wish the best to my fellow M.O. authors (Brendan DuBois, Eric Cline,  Hilary Davidson, Chuck Wendig, Patricia Abbott, Jeff Soloway, Charles Drees, Sam Wiebe, Cathi Stoler,  Milo James Fowler, Caroline J. Orvis, Ken Leonard, Travis Richardson), and to all  those who choose to get in trouble with us.

01 October 2013

Eastward in Eden

by Terence Faherty

In a recent post I mentioned that the first new novel in my Owen Keane series to appear in fourteen years, Eastward in Eden, will be out this fall.  A last-minute delay at the printing plant kept the book from making it to the Albany Bouchercon (where I served on a panel with some eminent Sherlockians and met SleuthSayers guest columnist Herschel Cozine), but barring a reversal of Earth's magnetic field, the book should arrive this week.

Owen Keane was the protagonist of my first novel, Deadstick, which was published in 1991.  But he and I have been together even longer than that.  I created Keane for a short story I wrote for a night-school writing class in 1979.  He falls into the category of amateur sleuth, but he's an odd bird even in that very diverse group.  Keane is a seminary dropout who compulsively investigates little human mysteries hoping to find clues to the larger spiritual mysteries that haunt him.

In Eastward in Eden, those little human mysteries are less little than usual.  Keane is in Kenya in 1997, trying to solve the murder of a man who claimed to be the reincarnation of a famous warrior chief.  If that weren't enough, the remote valley where the murder occurred is under attack from a group of paramilitary land raiders.  Quite the spot for a non-violent ex-seminarian (who never once fired a gun in the series' previous seven titles) to find himself.

If you're wondering why I decided to return to the character of Keane after a break of fourteen years, you may not be a regular reader of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.  He's appeared in the magazine seven times since the last Keane novel, Orion Rising, came out in 1999.  (Some of those stories were collected in 2005's The Confessions of Owen Keane.)

I can't even claim that Eden is a return to the Keane character in long form.  It's the novel I was working on in 2001 when St. Martin's Press decided to drop the series.  I stubbornly continued to write the book after I'd gotten the bad news, in part because 9/11 happened and having something to work on was a break from that.  Inevitably, the terrorist attack reshaped the book.  Two of its major themes became tribalism and the related tactic of dividing people into warring groups in order to manipulate them.

So Eden isn't an attempt to revive the series.  It's the book I intended as the next title back when the series was a going proposition.  When I finished the manuscript, I put it away and wrote other things (including two Keane novellas for Worldwide).  Then Jim Huang of the Mystery Company, a good friend to all mystery writers and especially this one, began to bring out e-book and print-on-demand editions of the earlier Keane novels, a process I touched on briefly in a post last May.  Jim read the Eden manuscript and decided to publish it. 

I have no idea whether Eastward in Eden will be the last Owen Keane novel or whether removing that plug from the pipeline will result in a gush of new book ideas, though the smart money has to be on the first horse.  Either way, I'm very grateful to Jim Huang for guiding it into print at long last.