15 January 2014

Crossing Over

I am reading Moon Shot, a pretty good collection of science fiction mystery stories and it got me thinking about crossing genres.  It's one of those things that sounds like a good idea - commercially.  "Hey, if we write a story with elves and cowboys we'll get both the western fans and the fantasy fans!"
For those of you who remember Venn diagrams... you start with this:

 And you hope that your audience will look like this:

But most of the time the audience that shows up looks more like this:

Which is a small group.  The common wisdom is that mystery fans are reluctant to read science fiction -- more so than vice versa.  Like most common wisdom, that may be true, or false, or maybe it used to be true.

I do know that some authors manage to cross borders successfully.  Like mysteries about sports.

Or mystery-westerns.

                                                          Or mysteries set in a fantasy world.

Or yes, mystery-science fiction.

How about you?  How do you feel about reading books that skip across the genre lines?

14 January 2014

What are the Odds?

by Terence Faherty

In The Dark Knight Rises, the third film in the latest Batman cycle, Commissioner Gordon, played by Gary Ohlman, tells a young policeman played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "You're a detective now, son.  You're not allowed to believe in coincidence."

The same admonition might be made to every writer who undertakes a mystery story or book.  In fact, I've heard it paraphrased on Boucheron panels (the highest possible authority) and read it in how-to books.  Eliminate coincidence. 

The goal is understandable.  It's unsatisfying for the reader to plow through a mystery novel in the wake of the fearless detective only to have that detective solve the mystery because he happens to see a billboard that makes him think of something or bumps into a character who holds the vital clue.  A related and equally irritating device was a favorite of B-movie writers in old Hollywood and still pops up in the B movies direct descendant, television.  When all seems foggiest, the hero's sidekick will make an extraneous remark that gives the hero a much needed kick in the old mental pants.  You know this has happened when the hero says, "Say that again!"  The sidekick will then repeat the wrong part of what he or she just said to further prolong the "suspense."

But while the goal of eliminating coincidence is understandable, overemphasizing that goal  weakens the mystery's chances of being mistaken for serious literature.  Coincidences occur in real life, so eliminating them makes a mystery story less like real life and more like a puzzle. 

I collect real-life coincidences, which I find fascinating.  One of my favorites was passed on to me a few years ago by my wife, Jan.  She was attending a football game at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, with old friends from her sorority pledge class none of whom had seen the others in twenty years.  During the first half, the woman on Jan's left (I'll call her
Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium
Lois) remarked that she was hoping to visit someone while she was in town, the pharmacist who had given her a part-time job when she was an undergraduate.  Later, the woman on Jan's right (I'll call her Mary) said that her son, a Purdue student, was attending the game and would stop by at halftime to be introduced.  Sure enough, at halftime Mary's son showed up.  He mentioned in passing that he had scored a great seat for the game, right next to an interesting old guy who had run a pharmacy in West Lafayette years before.  Right.   He was none other than Lois's old employer.  In a stadium that holds well over 60,000 souls, Mary's son just happened to be seated next to him.

History is, of course, full of coincidences.  Just last week, I ran into a beauty.  Or rather, a whole string of beauties.  The U.S.S. Ward, a destroyer, is generally credited with being the
The U.S.S. Ward
first American ship to engage the enemy in World War II.  Under the command of Lieutenant Commander William Outerbridge, the Ward attacked and sank a Japanese submarine attempting to enter Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941, shortly before the Japanese carrier planes arrived.  Destroyers are named after naval heroes.  So who was the original Ward?  He was James Warren Ward, the first naval officer killed in the Civil War.  That's right.  The first ship to engage the enemy in one long, bloody war was named after the first naval officer to die in another long, bloody war.  Not coincidental enough?  How's this? After serving under different commanders in different Pacific actions, the Ward met her fate off the Philippines when she was struck by a Japanese kamikaze.  That occurred on December 7, 1944, three years to the day after the Ward fired the starting gun for the whole Pacific campaign.  But wait, as the hucksters say
The last fight of the Ward
on television, there's more.  The kamikaze started uncontrollable fires on the ship, and the crew abandoned her.  Another destroyer, the U.S.S. O'Brien was called up to finish off the wreck.  The O'Brien was named for Jeremiah O'Brien, an American commander at the Battle of Machias, the first naval action of the American Revolution.  So the first ship to fire on the enemy in World War II, which was named for the first officer to die in the Civil War, was sunk by a ship named for the man who won the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War.  Holy synchronicity, Batman!  (The fact that I just paraphrased Burt Ward in a paragraph about the U.S.S. Ward is purely coincidental.)  Can I top that?  As a matter of fact, I can.  On December 7, 1944, the O'Brien was commanded by William Outerbridge, the same man who had commanded the Ward at Pearl Harbor three years earlier.  What are the odds?

Let's get back to mystery writing.  If coincidences are a part of life and eliminating them slavishly makes a book less real to life but using them to resolve a mystery plot is unsatisfying, what's the answer?  It is to use coincidence, if you've a mind to, at the beginning of the story, as the thing that sets the plot in motion.  It could be a chance remark that answers a long-unanswered question and so leads to murder.  Agatha Christie used that one.  It could be a scrap of old, foreign newspaper that happens to contain a story of vital interest to the person who happens to find it.  Dorothy Sayers used that one.  It could be the accidental coming together of old friends or enemies or comrades in arms in an unlikely place.  Los Angeles, say.  Raymond Chandler used that one.  All three of those writers had long and happy careers.  Not coincidentally.  

13 January 2014

Who is a Character?

Jan Grape Characters are the people who populate your book. From the protagonist to the horrible bad guy to the cute little girl next door who listens to the neighbors and learns exactly who is sleeping with whom. I've known many writers who say that all of their characters are actually them. And that likely is true to a great extent. However, I have never killed anyone in reality. Only in fiction. I try very hard to make that character unlikable enough that someone wants to kill him or her. You don't have to write much about the dead character if you'd rather not. But you might want to let the reader see who that person is through the eyes of the other people in your book. Especially the characters who might have the best reason to kill that person. And you hope there is one person who has the best reason. And the means and opportunity.

Your good guy or protagonist should be someone you like and you like to spend time with because you might even write more than one story or book with that character. Most of us think the main character is based on our self in some way. But as Sue Grafton says about Kinsey, she's smarter, younger, prettier, slimmer that I am. I'd want my main female character to be that and more fascinating, funnier, and taller than I am. I'd want my main male character to be witty, sexy, good-looking, stronger, smarter and have a better body than my significant other.

If at all possible, you will people your story with other or even minor characters that at least make their presence known to you and to the reader. Somehow it helps if you can get help from your secondary characters to guide your protagonist. Certainly applies to a sidekick character. That person needs listen when necessary, argue with the protagonist if needed or cheer when something makes sense to both of you.

How do you come up with such characters? Beats me. I think everyone does it differently. The main thing with me as far as a protagonist is character that talks to me. The conversation usually involves another character. A sidekick or friend but sometimes even the bad guy. These conversations usually lead to a story or a novel. The characters reveal themselves as I write and listen to the conversations.

Many writers list their character and write extensive biographies for them. Early on I cut out magazine pictures of people that looked somewhat like my characters. I tried to list likes and dislikes. Everyone has a special way to create people for their stories and books. Whatever works best for you is the best way for you.

I love what I do and I love that I can admit to listening to the voices in my head and not feel that the little men in white coats will come after me and take me screaming off to the funny farm. Like Larry Block said and titled one of his books, Telling Lies for and Profit. That's my favorite line.

12 January 2014

Florida News– Officialdum

Florida postcard
Not Just California

Last month, I wrote about a California kid who, after killing four people in a drunk driving accident, was deemed too rich for prison. A reader brought to my attention that something very similar happened not so long ago here in Florida.

Jewelry scion Ryan LeVin killed two British visitors with his Porsche 911, then fled the scene and later attempted to blame a friend for the deaths. Apparently, LeVin paid off the widows and, instead of a thirty-year term, a judge sentenced him to two years home confinement in his parents’ ocean-side homes. (That’s homes, plural.) As The Pulp reported at the time, "He got grounded."

Get-Out-of-Jail Card

You may have read about convicted murderers Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins who used law library-forged release papers to walk out of prison. To further the deception, they actually registered as ex-felons at the Orange County Jail.

This was not the first time it's happened in Florida. In fact, the mastermind behind the escape, Nydeed Nashaddai, engineered his own short-lived escape five years earlier.

Icy Day in Hell / Hellish Day in ICE

With multiple airports and seaports, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) expend a lot of resources in Florida. Unfortunately, some agents are open for business.


I nearly missed a re-election footnote and plan to write more about this later. One out of every 14,600 citizens of Duval County is on death row, the highest of any county in America. Like other counties around the nation with staggering death penalty prosecutions, this court district also has high incidence of prosecutorial misconduct.

You may not have heard that Florida elects public defenders, yet Matt Shirk ran for (and won) re-election with three planks in his platforms: (a) pledging not to take a confrontational stance with law enforcement, (b) cutting public funding for the defender’s office in a district in a state with one of the highest number of capital cases, and (c) billing defendants who are acquitted for legal services. In other words, the state prosecutes an innocent person and then sends that person a bill if they’re not guilty. And if a defense attorney isn’t supposed to challenge authorities, who is?

But Matthew Shirk did one thing more. One of his first acts in office was to fire attorneys who’d exposed public corruption. I might express dismay, but it’s a bit overshadowed by our dear governor.

From the Governor’s Office

It’s ironic the man who committed the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in history worries about welfare fraud. No one wants to give hand-outs to drug addicts, but the Florida governor and legislature decided it would be a fine idea to skip probable cause and make pay-in-advance drug-testing mandatory for welfare recipients. Politicians intimated they would weed out at least 20% and possibly more than 50% of recipients. If you’re indigent, you might not have a spare $25-45 to pay for the test, even though the governor promised to reimburse those found drug free, which turned out to be a much greater amount than insinuated.

When opponents weren’t able to defeat the bill, they moved to make drug-testing of candidates for state office mandatory. Politicians and drugs? Oddly enough, lawmakers and the governor decided testing politicians was not a fine idea. One legislator said requiring him to pee in a cup like everyone else would violate his constitutional rights.

The much ballyhooed double digits figure of drug-infested welfare queens turned out to be less than 2%, far below the average population (8.9%) and 18-to-25-year-olds (21.5%).. A U.S. District Court has now ruled the law unconstitutional. Naturally, the governor will waste more money in appeals.

11 January 2014

Bingeing on TV Series

by Elizabeth Zelvin

Thanks to the October-November 2013 issue of the AARP magazine, I've learned that there's a name for something I've been doing for the past year or so, since I got an iPad and a flat-screen computer and joined Netflix and Hulu Plus: binge watching. According to AARP, it's even age-appropriate. I'm taking advantage of my access to old as well as current TV series to watch consecutive episodes of series that I loved and some that I missed, not to mention catching up with series that are still running that I've heard about but haven't had a chance to try.

The author of the AARP article cites a media psychology expert, saying "she sees binge watching as empowering: It allows viewers to watch TV the way they might read a book." As it happens, I am an expert on addictions and compulsive behavioral disorders myself, and I try not to cross the line with any pleasurable activity. Not being perfect, I occasionally risk a headache to watch one more episode instead of quitting while I'm ahead--the equivalent to staying up till 3 AM to finish a suspenseful novel. But by and large, it is like reading a book: once I'm drawn into the story, I want to keep going, and I stop noticing how much time is passing.

As with books, my tastes are idiosyncratic. A certain percentage of my favorite shows are British crime series, some based on novels that I read and loved, some not. Some are American--fewer crime series, as I don't like the graphic gore in many shows, but there are some wonderful legal and political dramas. I like well-acted, well-written period pieces. And I'm always curious about shows that speak to my other particular interests, such as recovery and country music. I'm less likely to watch a show whose protagonist is an active alcoholic or drug addict with no recovery in sight (bor-ing!). I prefer the commercial-free Netflix streaming or DVDs, or those on HBO and PBS (both have free apps), to Hulu, which has commercials, but I'll put up with them for the sake of a series (or past seasons) I can't get otherwise. I do draw the line at laugh tracks, which bump me right out of the story.

Here are some of the crime shows that I've watched so far:

Inspector Morse: Oxford beautifully photographed, murders intelligently solved. Morse is my exception to the rule about active alcoholics. The byplay between Morse and Sergeant Lewis is delicious.
Inspector Lewis: Even better! For a while, I alternated episodes of Morse and Lewis for the fun of seeing Kevin Whately age and become young again every evening.
Prime Suspect: Nice to see Helen Mirren at the beginning of her ongoing prime, and I'd never seen the later episodes.

Midsomer Murders: Based on Caroline Graham's Inspector Barnaby books. The twenty-two seasons featuring John Nettles as Barnaby ring endlessly inventive changes on the British village mystery: Drop-dead charming villages, stately homes, gorgeous gardens, and a seething mass of malice and all the deadly sins beneath the surface.
I recently learned there's a new DVD of Season 23, when Barnaby's retired and his cousin John takes over. I'm hoping it will soon appear on Netflix.

Dalziel & Pascoe: Based on the late Reginald Hill's brilliant books. After the first few seasons, the show went off in its own direction, divorcing Pascoe's feminist wife Ellie and making up its own mysteries instead of using the exceedingly brainy later books or delving more deeply into Sergeant Wield's love life. Netflix has it on DVD only, and Seasons 7 and 8 are not yet available.

Monk: Tony Shalhoub is brilliant as the obsessive compulsive detective, and San Francisco has never looked better. I had seen the first few seasons with Sharona but not the later ones with Natalie as Monk's assistant. I spot a lot of the clues much too early, but that's happening to me with novels too--the down side of being a mystery writer myself.

Sherlock: The present-day version with Benedict Cumberbatch as a Holmes who manages to be appealing in spite of having a lot more brain than heart and Martin Freeman, looking just a little like a hobbit, as a blogging Watson who has recently returned from, yep, Afghanistan. The first two seasons had only three episodes each, but they were doozies. Season 3 starts this month, and I can hardly wait.

To be continued in a future post.

10 January 2014

Interesting Rejections

OR: If at first you don’t succeed…

 Well, the holidays are over and we’re rapidly approaching that time when writers can, once again, open their mailboxes hoping to find responses from agents and editors.

 We all hope for acceptances. But, we all know there will undoubtedly also be rejections.

 John Floyd’s excellent post about rejections, on January 4th, evoked so many thoughts in my mind, I suffered a mental log-jam. I finally realized I’d be better off posting some of them as an article, instead of as a comment.

 Over time, I realized this article may probably be better suited to newer writers, because my thoughts are not really about how to handle the standard multi-xeroxed rejection letter a writer usually receives, but rather how to handle rejection letters that name names (or wish to!) and get specific. The more experienced writer, however, may wish to continue reading to get a kick out of foolish things I’ve done. (It won’t hurt my feelings.) And, though I’m usually long-winded, today I’ll include only three examples.

I love the last clause on this sign.  It just seems so appropriate.

Example 1 

 The first rejection I ever received was for my very first fiction submission, which I wrote on an electric typewriter while still in the army. I got a very nice hand-written letter from the fiction editor at Omni magazine, saying the piece wasn't right for their publication. She then went on to praise my writing, adding that she hoped I’d send more stories in the future.

 The editor was correct; the story wasn't right for Omni — it narrated the death of a young boy murdered by a satanic elevator in a post-nuclear-holocaust world. I should have sent it somewhere else, which is what that editor suggested. I, however, knew nothing about fiction markets and had no idea where else I might send it.

 My biggest mistake, of course, is that I thought the editor was “just being nice.” So, I tore up the manuscript and her letter (after reading her praise several times), then burned them in my fireplace, thinking I just wasn’t cut out to be a writer. Nearly a decade passed before I submitted another fiction story.

 (While the experienced writers go dispose of the clumps of hair they just pulled from their scalps, I’d like to take a moment to address newer writers, then we’ll move on to the next two examples.)

 Newer writers should be advised: Editors don’t send hand-written letters praising your work just to be nice. They’re far too busy. If you ever get a rejection like this:

1.   Do NOT destroy your manuscript! The editor actually liked it. A lot! Somebody else will almost surely buy it; you just have to find the right publication.

2.   Visit the website of the magazine that rejected you so kindly, and read their Writer Guidelines, then write a story that falls within those guidelines. There’s a very good chance they’ll buy it! After all, the fiction editor likes the way you write.

Example 2 

 I once submitted a speculative fiction piece and received a short note on my form rejection letter, which read: “Next time PLEASE GIVE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER A NAME!”

 A friend who saw this was very taken aback. She said, “Wow! That’s harsh!”

 I told her, “Hey, at least I know what they didn’t like about it. Some magazines don’t mind printing stories with unnamed protagonists. Now, however, I know this one doesn’t like it.”

 I consider such information to be quite valuable.

Example 3 

 I once wrote a story that concerned me quite a bit.

 The thing that bothered me was: men who read it tended to like it, but almost every woman who read it hated the thing. I had a pretty good idea why this was, but didn't feel I could do anything about it, because it was a central aspect of the story: remove the problem-causing aspect, and the story disappeared.

 Finally, deciding “Nothing ventured, nothing gained!” I shipped it off.

 The rejection was very useful. The editor said she was sure I’d be able to find a venue which would publish the story. I can’t remember the precise words of the letter, but she then added something pretty close to:

 “Please never send us anything written in this voice ever again.” 

Strong words.

But, honest.

And, very useful. I’d been worried that women didn’t like the story. The editor’s response convinced me: This may be a powerful story — it certainly provoked powerful reactions from more than just the editor — but

 As a writer who’s still trying to build his name, I have no desire to alienate female readers who might confuse the protagonist’s voice (the story was first person) with mine.  Consequently, instead of trying to sell this piece elsewhere, I keep it in my computer’s memory bank.

 Perhaps, one day, if I ever gain a large following, I can afford to let it see the light of day. But, for now, I think I’ll sit on it and try not to alienate one of the only two genders on the planet.

 See you in two weeks!

09 January 2014


Keats' death mask, not mine. I think mine got lost in the mail.
By Brian Thornton

The past few months have given me a renewed appreciation for the great English poet John Keats ("Endymion," "Ode on a Grecian Urn," etc.).

For those of you not familiar with the gentleman in question, he wrote a ton of poetry and published a significant amount of that before his untimely death from tuberculosis at the ripe old age of 25 in 1821.


Not as much.

And I'm nearly twice his age.

Keats' accomplishments are rendered all the more remarkable in my mind by the knowledge that he did most of his best work while dying of tuberculosis. Tuberculosis cut a wide swath through his family, taking his mother and a brother he himself nursed while afflicted with the disease.


I've been fighting a non-lethal, yet chronic  lung ailment since mid-September.

My writing output during that time has been pretty much nil.

Now, as I said, I don't have tuberculosis. What I've got isn't fatal. It's nagging and drags me down and wears me out, as few things (aside from fatherhood or standing underway watches in the navy) have, but it's not killing me. That said, it sure did destroy my momentum on my latest writing project.

And that makes me wonder just how the hell Keats did it.

Granted, he didn't have a marriage and a toddler and a career (he never used the medical degree he earned). But based upon my own limited and humbling experience with this sort of thing, I can't conceive how anyone chronically ill and distracted by poor health could clear the headspace to create the sort of art that Keats did.

I have been losing that battle for months and it's only recently that I've begun to be able to wrap my head around the plot problems in my current novel that need addressing before I can move on out of my months-long stall.

So how the hell did Keats do it?

(Let's not limit it to Keats. He's just one example. There are many others in the world of arts and letters)

I ask because I'm taking advantage of the cyclical artificial "beginning" offered by the new calendar year to both recommit to this project, and ask: what are your goals this year, writing-wise?

Mine? Finish my stalled novel, finish three short stories in varying stages of drafting, and start on my next full writing project.

And all before my kid turns three!

What so you all?


Thoughts on pushing through distraction and knuckling down in true Keatsian fashion?

08 January 2014


I wrapped the rough draft of a thriller called EXIT WOUNDS yesterday. The start date was 07-13-13, so about six months to write. It clocks in at 60K words, which is quick and dirty compared to the two previous books, both of which ran to 100K, and took longer. The more curious thing is that although it gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction, I'm feeling somewhat bereft, or adrift.

My general habit is that after I finish a book, I'll buckle down to some short stories, and I try to hit a deadline of a week to ten days for each story. David Morrell is fond of quoting Carrie Fisher, "The problem with instant gratification is that it isn't quick enough." The difference between a story and a novel isn't simply word count, but stamina. A short story is like sudden, fugitive sex. A novel is a relationship.

Writing a book, you're waking up with the same person every morning, and some days they're happier to see you than others. You're familiar with their contours, even if you sometimes wonder what possibly prompted you to fall in love with them in the first place.

I don't know about you, but I need to have a project of some kind going all the time. I like doing stories, because you do get that quick, energizing, empowering hit, and you know right away whether you got it right. Still, a book, where you're in it for the long haul, has a rhythm, and a kind of tidal pull, because you're navigating deeper waters, and uncharted shoals, often without a compass, what might be called dead reckoning.

A short story may come to you fully-fleshed, and all of a piece. A novel doesn't, in my experience. You may try on every piece of clothing in your wardrobe, until you find the one that fits. And there's a lot of second-guessing. Did you start down a blind alley, with no exit strategy? Or is such-and-such a scene proving impossible to write, simply because it's in the wrong book? On the other hand, the most intractable issue can suddenly resolve itself, when you hold it up to the light. You never know. The struggle is part of the gain. This, of course, is exactly why I'm feeling this let-down. The process is consuming, and exhausting, and at the same time, exhilarating, and then you run out of road.

The other part, obviously, is that it may not turn out to be the book you meant to write. There's the observation Auden or Berryman or one of those guys made, that a novel is a prose work of a certain length that has something wrong with it. This is maybe more true of a literary novel than a genre one, but it still applies. We see the soft spots, inconsistency or structural weakness, the easy choices and cheap effects. I have a friend who says he won't go back and read his older stuff, he's afraid it will make him cringe.

We set the bar higher with every book or story. We're less willing to settle for watered wine. We all have a bag of tricks, whether it's wisecracking dialogue or evocative physical description or heart-stopping violence, but as we mature (I mean in the sense of sharpened skills), it's no longer as simple as having a guy come through the door with a gun. Not that some devices aren't tried-and-true, but we're not as likely to use them reflexively. We rehearse the play longer, we take greater care to hit our marks, and we hope opening night sells out to standing room only.

With that said, on to the next sordid affair.

07 January 2014

"S." -- The Triumph of Marginal Characters

SAN ANTONIO — Texas has seen the future of the public library, and it looks a lot like an Apple Store: Rows of glossy iMacs beckon. iPads mounted on a tangerine-colored bar invite readers. And hundreds of other tablets stand ready for checkout to anyone with a borrowing card.
                                                Associated Press, January 3, 2014
                                                Describing San Antonio’s new “bookless” library

       There is no debating the fact that the movement, of late, has been away from the hardcover books that were the staple of the golden age of mysteries. Today much reading (mine included) is on tablets, and our personal libraries (and San Antonio's public library) are composed of texts that are stored in the cloud. But whenever something is gained in technology we run the risk of leaving something valuable behind. We will get to that, but first a little backstory.

       Back in September I posted an article titled Herewith, the Clueswhich discussed the development of “fair play” mysteries, the hallmark of the “golden age” of detective stories. In that article I summarized the birth of the fair play mystery as follows:
An organized approach to writing fair play mysteries dates at least from the 1930s when a number of famous (or soon to be famous) British mystery writers, including Christy, Sayers and Chesterton, to name but three, established the Detection Club with the intention of establishing standards for “fair play” detective stories. Each of the members of the club took the following oath, reportedly still administered today:
Do your promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?
The members of the Detection Club went on to establish rules of fair play that, by and large, have governed the writing of fair play detective stories ever since. The most important of those rules is that every clue necessary to solve the mystery must be revealed, in advance, to the reader.
       There have been different experiments over the years focusing on how best to lay out all of those clues before the reader, and my prior article went on to discuss various mysteries that have taken the fair play approach to some intriguing extremes. In that vein, the early “Criminal Dossier” works of Dennis Yates Wheatley and James Gluckstein Links, and the recent best-selling Night Film by Marisha Pessl, were singled out as examples of mysteries that literally served up the clues to the readers -- physical evidence, newspaper articles, written reports, all bound within or otherwise contained in the original volume.

       Turns out I wrote that article too soon. I hadn't anticipated the recent publication of “S.” , co-authored by movie and television visionary J.J. Abrams and professor, Penn/Hemmingway nominee and three time Jeopardy champion Doug Dorst. To paraphrase Mr. Abrams' re-boot of the Star Trek series, "S." boldy goes where no fair play mystery has gone before. And make no mistake -- "S." is unapologetically a book in every sense of the word.

       To date "S." is available only in hardcover, and if you order it from Amazon or Barnes and Noble you are likely to encounter a “temporarily out of stock” notice. (It took about a week for my volume to arrive from Amazon.  "S." is currently listed as out of stock without a delivery estimate at Amazon; Barnes and Noble is projecting shipment no earlier than mid-March). When you do finally get your hands on your own copy of this mystery you will begin to understand why, despite strong interest and positive reviews, sales have out-stripped production by the publisher.

       If you order the volume and then wait patiently for delivery, here is what you will eventually hold in your hands -- a handsome cardboard book sleeve containing a hardcover volume, battered and worn, titled Ship of Theseus, purportedly by an author named V.M. Straka. The cardboard box is sealed, and cannot be opened until the paper seal -- the only portion of the book containing the title “S.” -- is broken. Once unsealed, the book presents as a very used library book -- a publication date of 1949, stains on the inside front cover, a “Book for Loan” stamp, a list of check-out stamps on the back inside cover.  There is a library index number affixed by sticker on the spine, and the spine itself appears “broken” from frequent opening.  When you open the book yourself, it immediately becomes evicent where we, as readers, are headed.

       Ship of Theseus is a 453 page novel, complete unto itself. The novel is a good read even standing on its own. But the magic here is that it does not stand on its own. Scribbled throughout all of the pages are notes and annotations by two readers -- Eric, a graduate student who is obsessed with the mysterious Straka, and Jen, a college senior, who has just discovered the author. The premise is that each of them has taken the book from a library shelf, read it, and then returned it to the shelf for the other to re-claim. Eric has initially annotated certain portions in the margin, and Jen responds with her own annotations. Thus begins a dialog that becomes a separate story, sprawling through the pages of Ship of Theseus. In the margins the annotators meet, flirt, and then get down to the task of uncovering the mysteries surrounding Straka and Ship of Theseus, which purportedly was the last of 18 Straka novels (the others are dutifully listed at the front of the book). As if all of this were not enough, as the two annotators discover additional clues or bits of information surrounding the mysterious author, or his equally mysterious translator F. X. Caldeira, they place these snippets of information, or their hand-written summations of what they have uncovered, in the book, at relevant pages, where the reader can extract the clues and follow the evidence at his or her leisure.

       And make no mistake -- “leisure” is the right word here. This is a book to be savored, not rushed. In fact, you probably could not rush this book if you wanted to.  The reader is called upon to keep track of the underlying Straka novel while, at the same time, following the separate dialog in the margins speculating on the book and the many mysteries surrounding its author. In this respect the book shares some commonality with the underlying theme of Marisha Pessl’s Night Film, discussed at some length in that previous article. The mysterious Stanislas Cordova, who is largely un-seen but occupies the heart of Pessl’s mystery, is eerily similar to the equally-unseen V. M. Straka, who is at the heart of "S.". But back to the point, be prepared to take your time with this book -- you will be rewarded with a near total immersion into the story, a new reading experience that can easily become mesmerizing.

       Transforming the concept of the book into a market reality has been a supreme technological challenge, as explained by Abrams in interviews in The New York Times and on CBS. And the problems of the approach continue -- librarians (Rob might like to weigh in here) are perplexed with the challenge of including the book, with all of its loose-leaf clues, on lending shelves, characterizing the task as “a processing nightmare.”

       While an ebook version of "S." has been hinted at, it is hard to imagine how this could work. The book, after all, is a throwback -- it is an homage to the published word. In ways it resembles an art book as much as it does a mystery.  Could it also be a vanguard?  The New York Times had this to say:
Charles Miers, the veteran publisher of the art-book house Rizzoli NY, sees “S.” as part of a larger trend toward such elaborate books, now that digital technology and inexpensive Asian labor have made production newly affordable. “There’s a real interest in the book as an object of permanence, as a direct counterpoint to the digital world, that I haven’t seen before,” he said.
        The original inspiration for "S." is traceable to the earlier "Mystery Dossiers" of Wheatley and Links, specifically their Who Killed Robert Prentice?, also discussed above and at length in that previous article.  In a Los Angeles Times interview Abrams fondly recalled reading that volume:  “It had a torn-up photograph in these little wax paper envelopes. As a child, I remember seeing those. That always stayed with me, that idea of getting a book, a packet, that was not just like any other book.” Abrams also acknowledges another catalyst for "S.", a book lending trend that has as well been the subject of some discussion here. According to The New York Times:
Mr. Abrams stumbled upon the idea for “S.” more than a decade ago, when he found a worn Robert Ludlum paperback at Los Angeles International Airport. “Inside, someone had written, ‘To whomever finds this: Please read it, take it, read it and leave it for someone else.’ ” Mr. Abrams said he began thinking about the way his college books had been riddled with marginalia. “What if, instead of putting it back for someone else to read it, the person who received the book saw those notes and felt compelled to continue the conversation?”
       But perhaps the most remarkable thing about "S." is the way it stubbornly defies modern trends in publishing. This is a book that cannot hope to work well as an e-book. It would never work as a narrated mystery on Audible. It’s hard to imagine that the authors are looking down the road to a paperback edition. What "S." is is an homage to published books -- big, hard cover books, intended to be read and then placed affectionately on a shelf to be retrieved and re-examined in the future. It is about the love affair that can grow between the reader and the volume. There is as much art in the concept as there is in the story -- and this is not meant to denigrate the story, but rather to elevate the concept. Again, according to Abrams:
This is a story about how a book is used as a means of communication and sort of a catalyst for a great investigation that is also a love affair. It is sort of a celebration of ‘the book,’ that physical, analog thing.
       There may be no room for "S." in that new bookless San Antonio library. That is their loss, but it need not be yours.  

06 January 2014

A Little Heat and a Lot of Sweet

My younger son Adam has written something I'm very proud of. (Remember my last blog was about prepositions.  I'm ending that sentence with "of" on purpose.)  This piece of writing could net him a substantial financial prize of  $5,000 which is a little more than most of us made from our first authorific efforts.
Adam has written a recipe, not for a cozy, but for a competition.  It's one of the eight finalists in the Wild Wing Cafe Battle of the Bones contest.  Wild Wings Cafes are located in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.  

You can help him win even if you don't live in one of those states. I'll share how you can assist wherever you are after you take a look at the contest info.   


First, let me clarify that the "online" voting mentioned above confused me, and since I once wanted to be an investigative reporter, I called their corporate office and checked.  Online voting refers to stating your opinion by email but will not be included in the tally to determine the winner.

Votes which count are only those made in a Wild Wing Cafe. Anyone who orders the ten-piece wings of their choice will be given a sample of the two competitors for that week and a ballot on which they can vote their preference. If your server doesn't offer the ballot, ask for it.

What if you don't live in a town with a Wild Wing Cafe?  The other way you can help Adam win this is to post it on your Facebook (preferably every day January 6 -12, 2014).  Chances are that some of your friends are in one of the Wild Wings states and will either try Adam's Bulgogi Wings or pass the information on to more and more people through their Facebook listings.

Whether Adam wins or not, I'm proud that his recipe is one of the eight finalists out of over two hundred and fifty entries.

For more info, go to www.wildwingcafe.com

Until we meet again… eat wings and take care of you!

05 January 2014

What's in a Name?

by Leigh Lundin

Many common names today have their roots in long ago medieval trades. This is true of non-English names including French, Germanic, and Jewish names. They’re called occupational names and English examples include:



Many years ago, a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel published what he called ‘aptonyms’, unintentional and usually ironic names that matched (more or less) their occupations, such as Butcher’s Mortuary in Knightstown, Indiana, or Brownie’s Septic Service here in Orlando. In googling today, I see this term has been picked up by others. In fact, there was a Canadian Aptonym Centre. Remember, these few examples are real people and real occupations.

Alex Woodhouse
Brian Coates
Chad Hacker, Jr
Cherish Hart
Chris Fotos
Dan Langstaff
Darin Speed
David Bird
Debi Humann
Dr. Knapp
Dr. Robert Scarr
Ellen Fair
Helen Painter
Janet Moo
Jardin Wood
Jeff Kitchen
Jennifer English
Jessi Bloom
Jim Lawless
Jim Playfair
Joanie Hemm
Joe Puetz
architectural designer
paint company manager
IT professional
American Heart Association
owner of portrait studio
district court bailiff
vintage Mustangs collector
human resources director
internal medicine physician
county superior court judge
stockyard packer accountant
arborist for tree care
chef and caterer
H.S. English teacher
landscaping company owner
assistant police chief
hockey coach
leader of sewing program
golf pro

Karl Bench
Kestrel Skyhawk
Kevin Sill
Linda Savage
Lorraine Read
Marvin Lawless
Matt Drumm
Michael Laws
Mike Blackbird
Mike Inks
Nita House
Norm Mannhalter
Penny Coyne
Randall Sinn
Raymond Strike
Robert Marshall
Roch Player
Sandi Cash
Scott Constable
Sonia Shears
Travis Hots
Tyce Tallman
county judge
wildlife center educator
window shop owner
etiquette specialist
bookstore owner
professional percussionist
Audubon Society officer
graphic designer
real estate agent
security supervisor
United Way
pastor for Lutheran church
union leader
fire marshal
geotechnical engineer
fire department chief
basketball player


I pay a lot of attention to the names of my characters, origin, ethnicity, sound, and especially meaning. James Lincoln Warren took note of this in my short story ‘English’. I even developed tools to harvest name information from the web and built a database to help pick names.

At one time, I considered writing a childish farce with comedic names. This sort of thing has to be done adeptly because it’s too easy to overshadow the story with distraction. Ian Fleming barely got away with some of his names like Pussy Galore, which easily could be mistaken for a porn star. And the porn industry is quite a catchall for such monikers like Seymour Butts.

A couple of names work best together, e.g, Willie Maquette, Betty Woant. Others sound like someone might unwisely use them in real life, i.e, Sam's Peck 'n' Paw pet shop.

Names and occupations I’ve considered are:

Al Dente
Ben Dover
Billy Reuben
Blanche Nutt
Claude Butts
Jean Poole
Jerry Manders
Kerry de le Gaj
has a lot of gall
flapper girl
lion tamer

Lotta Goode
Miss Pickle
Papa Bennett
Patty Cache
Percy Flage
Polly Esther
Ruby Lith
Willie Evalurn
charity worker
spinster poisoner
suffers Peyronie's syndrome
English vaudeville comedian
graphic arts designer
incompetent recidivist

In a similar vein, Cate Dowse suggested a pair of kneecapping mob enforcers might be called the Patella brothers. I should explain the underlying words for a few of the above names are rubylith (masking film), persiflage (mocking banter), and mispickel (the mineral arsenic is obtained from).

Following are more I didn’t originate, but with my own thoughts on occupations:

Andover Hand
Anita Job
Ann Thracks
Arthur Itis
Bill Jerome Home
N. Buddy Holme
Faye Slift
Frances Lovely
Helen Earth
Howard I. Kno
Ima Dubble
Jim Nasium
Kareem O’Wheat
Kurt Repligh
mountain climber
femme fatale
old codger
Jehovah’s Witness
travel agent
untamed shrew
fitness trainer
Irish/Muslim cook
radio host

Leah Tard
Lucy Lastick
Lynn O’Leum
M. T. Wurds
Nora Lender Bee
Ollie Luya
Russell Leeves
Scott Linyard
Sid Downe
Sue Flay
Teresa Green
Tobias A. Pigg
Warren Pease
Wayne Dwops
lingerie model
flooring salesgirl
not a borrower
choir singer
and shuddup
another landscaper
marketing guru

What are your names and occupations?

04 January 2014

Reversals of Fortune

Two weeks ago I posted about story sales in 2013 and tried to address some issues about the number of submissions that we writers make to short fiction markets. What I didn't address was the number of rejections I received for the stories I submitted in 2013. Counting those up is always about as enjoyable as eating a live frog with blue cheese and anchovies, but I did it--and discovered that I was given a thumbs-down 14 times last year. That's a lot.

We always hear and read about the fact that rejections are to be expected and not dreaded, and that writers have to learn not to dwell on them. Well, that advice may be true, but--as with most other pieces of advice--it's easier given than followed. Nobody likes to be rejected, whether the subject is manuscripts or salary increases or dates to the prom.

War stories

Allow me to digress a moment. Years ago, when I hired on with IBM, I went through an eighteen-month training period during which I--like all sales and systems-engineering rookies--shuttled back and forth between my local branch office and classroom courses at various IBM education centers across the country. In my case, I first spent a month at the branch office; then a month in class in San Jose, California; several more months in my home branch; two months in class in downtown Los Angeles; several more months back home; two more months in class in L.A.; several more months at home; and finally a month in class in Endicott, New York, to end my year-and-a-half. The time at the local office was always spent getting field experience and studying for the next trip to a course location, and the courses themselves were a marathon of lectures, case studies, presentations, and eighteen-hour days that made me wish I was back in military boot camp.

My point (there is a point here, believe it or not) is that those ed-center classes served a second purpose: they thinned the herd. On the morning of the first day of every course, we newly-arrived students were given an entrance exam covering the material that we'd studied for the past few months, and those who didn't pass were quietly approached during lunch, kicked out of the class, and flown back home at the expense of their branch. The rumor, and this was never verified, was that anyone who failed one of those exams never continued with the company. I do know that I stayed with IBM for thirty years and I never once saw any of those folks again.

That, my friends, is rejection. To me, it's on a par with being abandoned in your wedding dress at the altar, or turned down for a loan by the last bank in town. And though no one knew it back then, similar fates would await some of those who went through the widespread downsizing of the national workforce twenty years later, when so many large companies "restructured." Those were grim times. We used to joke (miserably) that the motto in Corporate America in the 1990s was "Beheadings will continue until morale improves."

On a lesser scale…

I realize I'm being a little extreme, here. Literary rejection, although certainly unpleasant, doesn't compare to any of that. The rejection of a story or novel manuscript is not only a rite of passage for new writers, it can be a regular occurrence to many fiction authors throughout their careers. Lawrence Block once said that rejection letters are membership cards to the universal fellowship of writers. But they're still no fun.

In a 2012 piece for Glimmer Train, author Katherine Ryan Hyde (who wrote Pay It Forward and many other novels) revealed that she was rejected 122 times before her first story sale, but was able to put it into the correct perspective. I especially liked one of her observations: "I think the most damaging misconception about rejection is that your work has been judged as 'bad.' . . . In reality, you don't know how it was received."

The following are some of her suggested (and paraphrased) reasons that an editor might have for rejecting a short story:

1. I just didn't like it.

2. I liked it but I didn't love it.

3. It was good, but suited to a different type of publication.

4. I short-listed eight stories and had space for only four.

5. I liked it but couldn't sell the other editors on it.

Good reasons. And there are probably many more, including "we ran a story similar to it last month," or "it's a bit too long," or "my back hurts, and I didn't get enough sleep last night." As Ms. Hyde mentioned, there's usually just no way to know the reason a story got rejected, and it does no good to worry about it. One point, though: if you've already sold a lot of stories to a particular editor, he or she will sometimes come right out and tell you why a story didn't make the cut. I know for sure that some of my stories have failed because of reason number 5, above. If the editor-in-chief vetoes it, it doesn't matter how many lesser editors okayed it. Does that knowledge make me feel any better, or make it any easier to make a sale to that market in the future? Not really. But, again, it's important to remember that not all rejected stores were rejected because they were poorly written.

Do you recall how many rejections you received (novel, short story, nonfiction) before the publication of your first work? Did you at any point find yourself discouraged or frustrated? Did you ever come close to quitting? I think all writers suffer some measure of self-doubt, and a long run of rejections is a frequent cause.

To paint all this in an brighter light,

Consider the following:

- Grisham's A Time to Kill was rejected by 16 agents and 12 publishers.

- 12 publishers rejected J. K. Rowling's first Harry Potter novel.

- 20 publishers turned down Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki and William Paul Young's The Shack.

- 21 publishers rejected Richard Hooker's M*A*S*H.

Catch-22 was bought on its (?) 22nd try.

- 23 publishers rejected Frank Herbert's Dune.

- 24 agents turned down The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks). A week after the 25th accepted it, it sold to Time-Warner for a million dollars.

Carrie got 30 rejections.

Gone With the Wind got 38.

The Cat in the Hat got 46.

- Stephen King's early short story "The Glass Floor" received 60 rejections, before selling for $35.

- 60 agents rejected Kathryn Stockett's The Help. The 61st accepted it, and it was sold three weeks later.

And the REALLY big numbers . . .

- The Chicken Soup for the Soul series was rejected 140 times

- Louis L'Amour was rejected 200 times before Bantam published his work.

- It took Alex Haley eight years and 200 rejections to sell Roots.

- F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have received more than 300 rejections before he sold a story, and Jack London received 600.

- John Creasey, the world's most prolific crime writer, wrote his first published novel on the backs of 743 rejection letters.

So the next time you get one of those cold, prissy little notes that says "We regret that your submission does not meet our requirements" (which, for me, will probably be tomorrow), go ahead and say a dirty word. I do. But remember this:

You're in pretty good company.

03 January 2014

Starting Over

What's that, buddy, you say it's a couple of days after New Year's and you're feeling a little disoriented? Your mind is uneasy and your hand hesitates when it comes to putting the current date in that upper right hand corner of your check when it comes to paying bills? You have to stop and think what year you're in?
Well, you're not alone in this, my friend. That's been the way of the world since civilization began. Different people have started their new years on different dates for centuries and some of us still aren't on the same calendar.

Take for instance, the Babylonians some four thousand years ago. Yeah, them guys what invented the original Hanging Garden. Their new year arrived on the first new moon following the vernal equinox--the day in late March which had an equal amount of day and night. This was the day they cut their barley. I assumed they then used it to make bread and beer for the resulting celebration. Happy New Year!!! I wonder if them guys were also the ones who came up with the idea of blowing horns at New Year's parties while sipping beer?

Ancient Egypt, on the other hand, pinned the first day of their new year to the annual flooding of the Nile, which made their fields fertile again for another year. This date also coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. Not sure how they got it to rain enough upriver for the flood to arrive in time for the star to shine, but that was probably enough to make an ancient Egyptian religious.

Then along comes Romulus, the founder of Rome in about the 8th century BC. He gets credit for the early Roman calendar consisting of 10 months, or 304 days in a year. Time was short in them days. His new year also started on the vernal equinox, although many subsequent rulers commenced their new year on whatever date they began their rule. Talk about having trouble planning your New Year's Eve parties in advance. Later, King Numa Pompilius decided to stretch things out, so he added the months of Januarius and Februarius. Gradually, the calendar fell out of synch with the sun, so when Julius Caesar got to be the man in charge, he put together a bunch of astrologers and math guys. With their input, he then invented the Julian calendar, obviously named after some fellow he knew and admired. Caesar declared January 1st as the first day of the new year, in honor of Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings. If I remember right, that Janus guy used to wear a mask. Citizens then attended raucous parties. Probably drank some of that Babylonian brand of beer. However, I think them Romans, to show they were a higher degree of sophisticated civilization than anybody else, were actually partial to the consumption of wine.

In 1066, William the Conqueror defeated Harold at Hastings and therefore declared January 1 to be the start of the year. It was his opinion that his coronation in England should start the year, especially since that date was also supposedly the the date of the circumcision of Christ (the 8th day after his birth on December 25th as they reckoned it). Seems the ruler got to make the rules, and it was good to be the king. This January 1 decree soon slid into disuse as England joined the rest of the Christian world to celebrate the new year on March 25th, which was known as Annunciation Day or Lady Day, the day Mary was allegedly told by Gabriel that she would bear God's son Jesus.

Not to be left out of the ongoing situation, in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII got an educated fellow to reform the Julian calendar with January 1 as the beginning of the new year again. Pope Greg then named it the Gregorian calendar after some guy he thought highly of, much like Julius did to the old Roman one back in his day. Turns out, Julius is the one who gave us Leap Years, but it took Greg's math geek to figure out which Leap Years got skipped so as to put us back on schedule with the sun.

Even though Pope Greg told all the Christians what day New Years fell on, it still took time to get all the different countries in line. France converted in 1564 with the Edict of Roussillion, Scotland in 1600 and Russia in 1700. Britain, Ireland and the British Empire waited until 1752 (Scotland evidently didn't want to be part of the British Empire in those days), while Thailand didn't come around until 1941. In the meantime, what date started your new year depended upon whether you had your date determined by the Easter Style, the Modern (or Circumcision) Style, the Annunciation (or Lady) Day Style or some other method. And, some ethnic groups still stick to their own calendars.

So, Friend, if you find some hesitation in your thinking about the what the date is during this new year, you probably come by it honestly. The first of the year date has long been subject to change in the past. Of course that same hesitation you felt could be due to the amount of Babylonian beer or Roman wine you consumed at somebody's raucous party. As for me, these days the wife and I tend to watch New Year's celebrations on either London or NYC time via television and then call it a night. Been about five years since we even bothered to watch the fireworks set off on top of Pikes Peak at midnight to mark the incoming year.

Hope you had a good one.

It's now January 3rd on my calendar of the year 20...uh...14.

02 January 2014

The Prisoner of the Riviera

First of all, meet Janice Law:

Secondly, meet Francis Bacon:
  File:Pourbus Francis Bacon.jpg  No, not that one, this one:  File:Study for a Self Portrait -Triptych, 1985-86.jpg

Francis Bacon, artist.  Francis Bacon, gambler.  Francis Bacon, bon vivant.  Francis Bacon, gay, asthmatic, Irish, auto-didact, devoted to his Nanny (who lived with him until her death in 1951), and an absolute mess (his studio, by all accounts, was like something out of "Hoarders").  Francis Bacon, who must be howling over the whopping 142 million pounds paid for his portrait of Lucian Freud last year (the most ever paid for any work of art), especially since he never made anything like that sum in his life, despite his taste for high low life.  Let's just say the boy lived above his means, and that's part of what gets him in trouble.

Especially in Janice Law's "The Prisoner of the Riviera", the second of her Francis Bacon series (and if you have not yet read "The Fires of London", go and get it immediately).  Francis is back, in all his dark, louche, sardonic, hungry, artistic, reckless glory.

File:Real Monte Carlo Casino.jpg
Monte Carlo Casino
Did I mention he's a gambler?  Well, in post-WW2 Britain, it's practically the only fun you can have (all right, there is Albert, his lover...), but Francis' luck hasn't been good.  And it doesn't improve when he sees a Frenchman shot in front of him as he and Albert head home.  Francis leaps to help, but the man - Monsieur Renard - dies.  And then Joubert, the owner of the gambling den, makes Francis an offer he can't refuse:  take a package to Madame Renard on the Riviera.  In exchange, all of Francis' gambling debts will be forgiven.  Well, Francis' debts are high, and he and Albert and Nan had already planned to go to Monte Carlo for a vacation ("A solemn promise, dear boy"), so why not.  So off they go, Francis, Albert, and Nan, to eat and drink and gamble and relax in the sun and, eventually, fulfill his commission...

File:Fuchs.margin (MMW10F50 f6r) detail.jpgNow, to those of us who know our French fairytales, the name Renard hints that this is not going to be all pate de foie gras and Chateau Lafite, although Francis does his best to consume as much of the good stuff as he can.  And indeed, when Francis (eventually) goes to fulfill his commission on a hot, lazy, dusty day, things go south remarkably quickly.  The house is sinister, the widow unusual, and two thugs seem to be following him with ill intent.  Two days later, he is the prime suspect in the murder of Madame Renard - after all, everyone knows that a foreigner, especially a British foreigner, would be the obvious suspect in a small resort town - even though the dead woman does not look at all like the Madame Renard to whom he handed that mysterious package...  And the package has disappeared.  And "Renard" used to be the codeword for various operations, some of which had to do with the Resistance...   And everyone wants him to "help" them with their inquiries - licit or illicit. Thankfully, the food is good, the wine is wonderful, and Pierre the bicyclist is delightful...  until all hell breaks loose.  Again.

Francis quickly discovers that he has walked into a world that is just as haunted by World War II as Britain, only differently.  The Riviera spent its war occupied by collaborators and resistance, fascists and communists, counterfeiters and criminals, and far too many of them are still there, still feuding, still fighting, still procuring, masquerading, lying, killing... (the bodies are piling up!)  And far too many of them want Francis dead.

"The Prisoner of the Riviera" is a fast-paced ride that has as many twists and turns as a Riviera mountain road.  And Francis is just the man to tell the story:  witty, sarcastic, honest, an artist whose interest is always in the unusual, a lover who makes no bones about who he is, a man who knows everything about the dark side of life.  Read it now, and then wait, breathlessly, for the next installment of Francis Bacon, channeled through Janice Law!

01 January 2014

Being Resolute

by Robert Lopresti

(The pictures in this column are intended to point out something incredibly cool.  The British Library just placed more than one million illustrations from their books on Flickr.  All public domain, yours to use at will.  Wow!)

Back in 2009 I blogged  a list of New Year's Resolutions.  Last year I did it again, but that time I generously made a list for various fictional characters, hoping to improve their lives.

Well, it appears that my turn in the barrel is New Year's Day so I can't resist the chance to do it again, but this time instead of advising characters I am going to offer some useful suggestions to their creators.  I trust you will add a few in the Comments section.  If you don't I will assume you are too badly hungover to function and send someone to your house to preach temperance.  So be warned.

Horror movie writers hereby resolve not to let their characters split up when they know they are in danger, unless it has already been established that they are idiots.

Chic Lit writers resolve not to their characters use their devious feminine wiles to get something they could have just by asking, unless a point is being made about their personality.

Private eye writers resolve to get their heroes' sociopathic sidekicks some therapy. 

Noir writers resolve to remember that to be noir a work must  include crime, not merely be depressing.

Cozy writers resolve to remember that murderers need motives.

Humourous writers resolve to be funny (I'm lookin' at you, Lopresti).

Police procedural writers resolve to prevent their officers from doing things that would get their cases kicked out of court, unless it is established that they are aware of the danger.

Suspense writers
resolve to admit that not every criminal has a super-intellect and obscenely good luck.

Thriller writers resolve to consider the possibility that ninety percent of all conspiracies consist of one dummy screwing up and a lot of smart people making a mess trying to hide it.

Courtroom drama writers  resolve to  occasionally show a judge who doesn't hate the  hero.

Any other suggestions?