06 March 2014

Elagabalus and His Big Stone God

by Brian Thornton

(This week's entry continues delving into the long form articles I did while researching and writing The Book of Ancient Bastards (Adams Media, 2011). A shorter version of this bit about one of Rome's more "original" rulers (and the pack of relatives who descended on Rome along with him) appeared in that book.)

I will not describe the barbaric chants which [Elagabalus], together with his mother and grandmother, chanted to [Elagabal], or the secret sacrifices that he offered to him, slaying boys and using charms, in fact actually shutting up alive in the god’s temple a lion, a monkey and a snake, and throwing in among them human genitals, and practicing other unholy rites.

— Dio Cassius

If you’re going to catalogue historical bastardry throughout the ages, you’d better plan to touch on that colorful period in the historical record known as “Imperial Rome.”  As with the Papacy, the sheer number of men who wore the emperor’s purple robes over the empire’s five-plus centuries lends itself to the likelihood that the throne would occasionally be occupied by someone so “eccentric” that he stood out in a crowded field of “personalities” like Michael Jordan playing basketball with a bunch of kindergarteners.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Varius Avitus Bassianus, a young, Syrian-born aristocrat who ruled the empire under the very Roman-sounding name of “Marcus Aurelius Antoninus” from 218 to 222 A.D., but was better known by the nick-name “Elagabalus.”

What "El Gabal" probably looked like pre-deification
Elagabalus was so much more than an emperor.  He was also the hereditary high priest of a Syrian sun god cult that worshipped a craggy, two-ton phallic-shaped meteorite as the actual physical incarnation of his god (“Elagabal,” or “El-Gabal,” from which he derived his nick-name).  He was also a transsexual cross-dresser who wore more make-up than most strippers, and allegedly worked as a hooker out of his rooms in the imperial palace.

Funny, he looks so....normal... here....

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg (or, if you prefer, the meteorite).

Elagabalus was a shirt-tail relation of the great (and ruthless) emperor Septimius Severus.  His grandmother was Severus’ sister-in-law.  When Severus’ direct line died out (and the story of how that all played out is grist for a future blog post), Elagabalus’ grandmother (Julia Maesa) and mother (Julia Soaemias) schemed along with a eunuch named Gannys to put the boy forward as a plausible claimant to the imperial throne.

An ancient "Mommie Dearest," Julia Soeamias
The kid was all of fourteen.  But, a couple of battles, an army proclamation declaring him emperor and an execution of the unpopular if effective Gannys later, and Elagabalus (along with his mother and grandmother) was on his way to Rome.
When he got there he made quite a splash, not least because he brought his god with him.


This massive “sky stone” was ensconced in a new temple complex built expressly for it, right next to the old Flavian Amphitheatre (what we know today as the “Colosseum”) on Rome’s Palatine Hill, and named the “Elagaballium.”

During Rome’s annual Midsummer Day festival, the ancient writer Herodian reports:

[Elagabalus] placed the sun god in a chariot adorned with gold and jewels and brought him out from the city to the suburbs.  A six-horse chariot carried the divinity, the horses huge and flawlessly white, with expensive gold fittings and rich ornaments.  No one held the reins, and no one rode with the chariot; the vehicle was escorted as if the god himself were the charioteer.  Elagabalus ran backward in front of the chariot, facing the god and holding the horses’ reins.  He made the whole journey in this reverse fashion, looking up into the face of his god.

As if that weren’t shaking things up enough for his new subjects, Elagabalus promptly swept aside the old Roman pantheon of gods, and “married” his god Elagabal to the Roman goddess Minerva.  As a mortal “echo” of this Heavenly union Elagabalus then did the truly unthinkable: he took one of Rome’s Vestal Virgins as his wife.  Dedicated to the Roman mother goddess Vesta, whose service obliged these priestesses to remain virgins during their twenty years of service.  If one of them didn’t, the punishment was for her to be buried alive.  And Elagabalus took one of them, a woman named Aquilia Severa as his wife not once, but twice!

In the four years he was emperor Elagabalus took at least three different women as his wife.  These marriages were likely arranged by his grandmother and mother (“the Julias”) in order to help preserve the fiction that “Imperator Marcus Aurelius Antoninus” was a solid, dependable Roman citizen and emperor, rather than the capricious Syrian drag-queen high-priest of a bloody-thirsty sun-worshipping cult.  It was hoped that keeping up this appearance would help cement support for his reign.  In fact, these two formidable women proved themselves to be particularly shrewd and capable administrators.

Put simply, things ran so smoothly in Rome and throughout the empire that for a while people didn’t seem to mind how much of a “free spirit” their emperor appeared to be.

And a “free spirit” he definitely was.  Although Romans had tolerated the tendency among some of their previous emperors to take male lovers, homosexuality in ancient Rome was by and large frowned upon.  Elagabalus flouted this attitude by taking as his “husband” a big, burly slave from Caria; a charioteer of some skill named Hierocles.  One of his favorite roles to play was that of the “cheating wife,” allowing himself to be “caught” in bed with another man by Hierocles, who then beat the emperor (who apparently enjoyed “rough trade”), at times so badly that ‘he had black eyes’ for days afterward.

Probably transsexual, Elagabalus seemed obsessed with becoming more like a woman, not with just taking men to bed. The Historia Augusta reports that the emperor “had the whole of his body depilated,” and according to the disapproving contemporary historian and senator Dio Cassius, Elagabalus “had planned, indeed, to cut off his genitals altogether,” but settled for having himself circumcised as “a part of the priestly requirements” of his cult.

By the time Elagabalus turned seventeen his continual nose-thumbing at Rome’s religious, social and sexual norms began to take a toll on his public image.  In 221 two different legions mutinied and just barely missed proclaiming their respective generals “augustus” (“emperor”) in his stead.

This unrest did not escape the attention of Elagabalus’ grandmother, the Augusta Julia Maesa.  Her hold on the levers of power depended on her grandson staying in the good graces of both the people and army, and his increasingly erratic behavior and eroding popularity with his subjects made the dowager empress very nervous.

She opted to advance Bassianus Alexianus, another of her grandsons, as Elagabalus’ co-ruler and
Severus Alexander
“heir” (he was only four years younger than Elagabalus) with the ruling name “Severus Alexander.”  He too had a strong-willed mother named “Julia” (Julia Mamea), who “guided his actions.”

At first Elagabalus and his mother went along with the move.  Within weeks, however, the senior emperor had changed his mind and tried to have his younger cousin killed.  A power struggled ensued.  The modest, retiring Alexander was popular with the people, and especially with the army.
Julia Mamea

It all finally came to a head in March of 222, when Elagabalus flew into a rage during a meeting with the commanders of his personal bodyguard (the Praetorian Guard, which also acted as the city of Rome’s police force).  Having been reminded again and again of the “virtues” of his younger cousin, Elagabalus once more called for Alexander’s arrest and execution, bitterly denouncing the Praetorians for preferring his cousin to himself.

It was not a smart thing to do this while still standing in the middle of their camp.

Praetorian in full armor
The emperor, only just eighteen years old, was chased down by his own bodyguard and killed in one of the camp latrines.  Supposedly his last words were, “Leave my mother alone!”  If those actually were his final wishes, they were ignored.  His mother was killed right alongside him.  Their bodies were beheaded, and dragged through the streets of Rome.  The corpse of Elagabalus wound up in the Tiber River: the sort of burial that contemporary Roman law reserved for criminals.

Later historians (especially Christians) whipped up improbable tales of human sacrifice conducted by this teenaged demagogue, and speculated wildly about the various depravities in which he might have indulged.  This speculation included the unlikely story of how “Heliogabalus” (sic) invited several very important people to a dinner party only to have them smothered to death under the weight of several hundred pounds of flowers.  This painting trades upon that myth.

A 19th century artist's conception of Elagablus' supposed use of flowers to smother party guests
The truth as we can divine it about Elagabalus is far more interesting.  After all, what gender-confused, hormonally addled teenager wouldn’t go off the rails if handed the literal “keys to the kingdom”?  It sure makes for one fascinating bastard.

05 March 2014

A Good Day For Bad Days

After I wrote this piece the Short Mystery Fiction Society announced the finalists for this year's Derringer Awards.  I am delighted to say that one of them is my "The Present," which appeared in The Strand Magazine.  If you are interested I wrote about the story here.

I am pleased to report that the May issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, on newsstands now, features my twenty-third story for that august journal.  I am even happier to report that number twenty-four was purchased in February.  So I may have a three-Hitchcock year twice in a row.

(And  I am delighted to see that two fellow SleuthSayers are on the cover.  Congrats John and Janice!)

But let's talk about where the idea for lucky twenty-three came from. Typically a story idea for me comes like a bolt from the blue, or it accumulates a piece at a time.  In this case, oddly enough, it did both.

You see, I had an idea for quite some time, but I lacked a place to put it.  I needed a setting where a group of strangers would be in close proximity and I couldn't find the right one.  Then, one day, I happened to be waiting in line for an estate sale  - the very one I described here  -- and I realized that that was the perfect setting.   I grabbed my notebook and started scribbling down all the possible ways I could use an estate sale in my story.

Then I needed a character, specifically a police officer who would be attending the sale as a customer.  And for my story to work he needed to be a specific kind of policeman.  Not to put too fine a point on it, I needed a cop who was not very good at his job.

Then I realized that I already had one.  A long time ago I had written a story called "A Bad Day for Pink and Yellow Shirts."  It described three men getting involved in a disastrous mess and having only a few minutes to come up with an explanation that made all of them come out looking good.  One of the characters was Officer Kite, a patrolman who had spent almost as much of his career suspended for various screw-ups as he had on the beat.  

Just the man for the job.  I quickly enlisted him and realized that I had the title for my story: "A Bad Day For Bargain Hunters."  Like the first tale, this one is also told from multiple viewpoints.

And here is another odd relationship between the stories.  "Shirts" appeared in Hitchcock's in May 2004.  "Hunters" is showing up ten years later to the month.  Odder still is that my last publication  is a sequel to a different tale that appeared in Hitchcock's almost exactly ten years earlier.  I seem to have a new habit: a decadal series.  Decadent?  Decimated? 

I hope you enjoy the story, anyway.

04 March 2014

Colin Wilson

Colin Wilson at work at his home in England
[T]he basic impulse behind existentialism is optimistic, very much like the impulse behind all science. Existentialism is romanticism, and romanticism is the feeling that man is not the mere he has always taken himself for. Romanticism began as a tremendous surge of optimism about the stature of man. its aim — like that of science — was to raise man above the muddled feelings and impulses of his everyday humanity, and to make him a god-like observer of human existence.
                  Colin Wilson 
                  Introduction to the New                                         Existentialism (1966)
Man’s capacity to doubt is his greatest dignity.
                  Colin Wilson 
                  Necessary Doubt (1964)
Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.
                   Paul Tillich, Theologian 
                   Systematic Theology (Vol. 2, 1957)

       On December 5, 2013 author Colin Wilson died in his native England. 

       Collin Wilson was an enigma -- one of the most prolific and yet least-known authors of our time. Wilson burst into literary prominence in 1956 with his book The Outsider, the introduction to his “new existentialism,” written in longhand by Wilson at a table in the British Museum at a time when he was living in a sleeping bag on the streets of London. The book was heralded by critics as a seminal work and the author, a mere 24, was famous. Over 100 books later, at the age of 82, Wilson died in what some would view as literary obscurity. His death went almost completely unnoticed in the United States. I am unaware of a single obituary that ran this side of the Atlantic. 

       Wilson wrote his 100-odd books during a career that spanned nearly 60 years. And it is hard to imagine an author who mastered and wrote in more genres than Wilson. His works include a multi-volume series on his “new existentialism” that followed publication of The Outsider. But his work also encompasses science fiction novels, including the 1967 cult classic The Mind Parasites, biographies of historical figures as disparate as George Bernard Shaw and Abraham Maslow, and in-depth analyses of murder, sexuality, the Lost City of Atlantis, mysticism, and the occult, to mention but a few. While the genres of Wilson’s works defy any general characterization, there is a shared theme. Whether Colin Wilson was writing non-fiction or fiction his works uniformly provided a vehicle for Wilson to share his views on humanity and the power of human intellect to pull each of us up by our own bootstraps. Each of his books had a message; the take-away for the reader was the growing understanding of Wilson’s life view. 

       Colin Wilson also wrote mysteries, which I devoured. But that is not where I first encountered his works. That story reaches back 45 years. 

       1969 was a strange year for many reasons. It was not so much a watershed year -- that was 1968 -- but it had the crazy momentum of the first year that followed the 1968 watershed. During 1969 I was a student at George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C.  Ground zero in the anti-war movement. 1969 was a year that inexorably pushed everyone toward extremes:  love it or leave it; change it or lose it. I remember participating in anti-war marches in front of the Nixon White House when members of my fraternity, who were also members of the National Guard, were lined up along the sidewalks with rifles, not trained on me, but still ready, as I marched past them. It was a time to draw lines. Either; or. 

       1969 was also a strange year on a much more personal level. In the Spring my roommate David Schlachter began experiencing increasingly bad headaches. For weeks he brushed these off. We were young at a time when youth had never seemed younger or more powerful. But eventually ignoring was no longer possible. David began to see double. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor, given (“given,” what a strange word) scant months to live. 

       I was away for a long weekend when David was diagnosed. Another friend, Frank DeMarco, had access to his uncle’s beach house in Avalon, New Jersey. And that’s where we were. We received the news about David upon our return.

     About the same time Frank stumbled onto The Mind Parasites by Colin Wilson. He knew nothing about Wilson but, for whatever reason, was tempted by the book’s cover when he saw it for sale in a drug store. Frank was transfixed by the book, which is a clever (Wilson was always clever) science fiction send-up (and pastiche) that walks an amazingly thin line between parodying and worshiping the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Like all of Wilson's works, the book is also more than just "that science fiction story."  It is a story told in the trappings of Wilson’s philosophy of life, a philosophy of human enlightenment, of the powers of the mind over the failings of the body. 

       What more opportune time to discover Wilson than at this juncture -- when Frank and I were each starkly confronting the perils facing our friend? 

       Frank recommended the book to me and I read and liked it. But for Frank the book’s message was, I think, more. It was transformational. At a time when we were grappling with the imminent death of a mutual friend a story that offered up a philosophy of transcendence, a path to spiritual powers that were not bound by the mortal limits of flesh and bone, was seductive. 

       I began visiting the library and checking out other Colin Wilson’s books. And while The Mind Parasites did not grab me as tenaciously as it had Frank, the Colin Wilson book that did was Necessary Doubt

     No surprise, Necessary Doubt is a mystery. But, like The Mind Parasites, it is also more. The protagonist (and detective) is a theologian, Zweig, who is modeled after the real-life theologian Paul Tillich. This appealed to me. I was minoring in religious studies and already admired Tillich, a theologian who stood somewhat “existentially” aside from his church -- somewhat of an outsider, looking in. One of Tillich’s (and Zweig’s) philosophical tenets was that to truly believe something one must first doubt it and then explore the factors that underlie that doubt. In effect, Tillich (and Zweig) argue, belief can be found only at the top of a step ladder of doubt. Zweig approaches the mystery in Necessary Doubt as would Tillich -- doubting each step, each conclusion, doubting always until convinced. 

       David, a senior when he was diagnosed, managed to graduate from George Washington University and returned to his parents’ home in Clarinda, Iowa. Months later, back in Washington, D.C., in February of 1970, we received a late night call telling us that David was hospitalized and not likely to survive the night. With little thought (and even less money) Frank and I walked out of our fraternity house shortly after hanging up the phone, got into Frank’s car and headed west. We were convinced (and we were right) that David would wait for us before taking his leave. 

       What followed was a surreal 20 hour drive from Washington, D.C. to Clarinda, Iowa. Like all surreal experiences it is hard to remember precisely what went on in that car but a lot of it involved Colin Wilson and searching the AM bandwidth for Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Waters

       In The Mind Parasites the protagonist discovers, and then embraces, a life view that the mind is capable of nearly everything, and that life never really ends, in other words the belief
that the mind is beyond the accidents of the body, that it is somehow eternal and free; that the body may be trivial and particular, but the mind is universal and general. This attitude makes the mind an eternal spectator, beyond fear.
       Frank and I were with David when he died early on March 2, 1970. The days that we were together on that awful winter journey Frank and I pondered -- perhaps the better word is debated -- life. The sacred and the profane. Do we each carry the spark of sacred immortality, the ability to transcend flesh and bone, or are we simply profane electric mud? And these discussions, at base, involved a mutual examination of Colin Wilson’s views, as expressed in his fiction as well as his non-fiction. We were pretty much Colin Wilson neophytes at that stage, and I pretty much remained so. But not Frank. Frank went on to seek out, and then meet Wilson, and the two knew each other, and were friends, for the rest of Wilson’s life. 

       Frank has recounted his discovery of Colin Wilson and has written about that trip of ours to and from Iowa in his book Muddy Tracks: Exploring an Unsuspected Reality. I occasionally pop up in the book, but you will have to watch carefully -- I’m an unnamed character. Traveling incognito. Here is Frank, in chapter one, describing, in the third person, his 1970 Colin Wilson epiphany:
Colin Wilson's books gave him an opening he could believe in: the development of mental powers! The achievement of supernatural abilities, paranormal skills! He didn't know whether he could believe in them or not, but here was a writer who was investigating reports of such things, and doing so from a point of view quite similar to his own: open and inquiring, yet skeptical and wanting to make sense of it all, rather than merely accepting someone's word for it.
       In a world of full circles, the foreword to Frank’s book was written by none other than Colin Wilson. Here is part of what Wilson himself said about Frank’s transformative experiences that winter 44 years ago:
My own work had played a part in [Frank DeMarco’s] development (as [he] described in the first chapter), which is how I come to be writing this introduction. It helped to crystallize his own feeling that there is something oddly wrong with “this life,” and that there has to be some alternative, some other way.
        Frank may chime in on his own here. He's an in internet presence, has his own blog, and has continued to write extensively there about Colin Wilson. As for me, I often reflect on that February trip, 44 years ago. The philosophical perspectives of Colin Wilson obviously spoke deeply to Frank in a life changing way, and from the works of Wilson and the experience of our friend’s death, 44 years ago last Sunday, Frank, I think, found his life view. 

       That trip was also a watershed point in Frank and my friendship. We remain friends to this day, but we were never again to be the really close friends that we were when we piled into Frank's car and headed west that February night to be with David. And the reason for this, too, can be found in Colin Wilson’s writings. Frank made the jump intuitively to Colin Wilson. 

       My embrace was more limited. I am Zweig. I am still climbing that ladder of Necessary Doubt

03 March 2014

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Some of the fiction writers I know claim that we are "licensed to lie."  Today I'm giving you the opportunity to tell when I'm fibbing and when I'm not.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to read the following accounts of four events that happened at my book signings and choose the one that did not happen.  Three of them are true.  The first person to correctly identify the false event will receive a copy of Callie's latest: A Corpse Under the Christmas Tree.


At a book signing for Callie's Christmas book last November, I looked up and saw the retired secretary from a school where I taught over twenty-five years ago.  I immediately jumped up and hugged her before I saw that her son stood behind her with a garment bag.  I had lent the mink coat my mother-in-law gave me to the secretary.  I transferred schools and the years passed.  The secretary (now retired) said she saw an interview with me in Free Times that gave info about the signing so she wanted to buy the new book, have her copies of the others autographed, and return my coat. The owner of the book store said that's the first time ever that a fan brought an author a mink coat to a signing in that store.  The only problem is that I'm afraid if I wear it anywhere, the PETA people will get me!


I decided to share this with you after reading Rob's column on February 19th about carrying the same characters into a new work. Recently, a Callie fan approached me at a signing and wanted to know why that same Free Times interview mentioned above said that I was working on something very different and would not be writing another Callie anytime soon, if ever.  This writer wanted to know if I would be okay with his writing a Callie following the Christmas story, using the same characters, setting, and hopefully voice.  I would, of course, have the option of Callicizing the voice where necessary and nixing anything that went against the established personalities and habits of the characters. Feeling a little like James Patterson (a very little), I said, "Yes."  


Same book signing:  My orthopedic surgeon's nurse showed up with a beautiful little girl.  Linda introduced the child as her ten-year-old grand-daughter Abigail who was visiting her and wanted to come with her to meet "a real author."  Abigail loves to read and likes to write stories.  To make a long story short, Linda bought Abigail a Callie book with the stipulation that they give it to Abigail's mother to determine when she will be allowed to read it.  The next time I saw Linda at the doctor's office, she told me that Abigail took a picture of her with me to "Show and Tell." The youngest readers before Abigail have been thirteen-year-olds. 


A red-haired woman approached me at a book-signing a year ago.  I expected her to ask me to autograph a Callie book.  Instead, she asked me to write a book for her.  I went into my usual spiel that she would do a better job of putting her story on paper than I would, but we agreed to meet in the coffee shop after the signing.  Writers are frequently approached to write or co-write someone else's story.  Most of the time, we decline politely, but there was something about this woman that made me hesitate to dismiss her so quickly

Upon a Midnight is Julie Bates's story, and it's like nothing I've written before.  Julie and I wound up together many days as I made notes and recordings, and since then I've spent countless nights alone with my computer, scaring myself as I wrote Julie's story from her point of view.  It's scheduled for release in about twelve months. 

Okay, dear readers, cast your vote for the false anecdote in the comments section.  I'll notify the winner how to send me a mailing address for your prize.

Until we meet again, take care of… you!

02 March 2014

Women in Mystery History

women of mystery
by Leigh Lundin

As part of Women’s History Month, this is also Women in Literature Month, and of particular interest to our genre, Women in Mystery Month as well. Today, you’ll find a bit of history and mystery.

Who’s Counting?

I was surprised when I initially joined Sisters-in-Crime to hear women were largely underrepresented in the mystery genre. I say surprised because I read more women authors than men with a strong liking for British women writers. I grew up with Agatha Christie and loved Dorothy Sayers. In my Criminal Brief and SleuthSayers articles, I often refer to Lindsey Davis, who writes the Falco series. I read all of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael books and although Elizabeth Peters isn’t English, I very much enjoy her Ramses series.

Here at home, I’ve read something by each of our Criminal Brief and SleuthSayers women authors and enjoyed them all. I’m so pleased we have such talent in house! We could not have done better! Moreover, it may not be obvious to the outside world, but to my knowledge, all of us male SleuthSayers are fans of Liz, Jan, Fran, Eve, and Janice.

My teacher friend Deborah is a major consumer of romance thrillers and she argued S-in-C was wrong. According to the RWA, if one includes crossover romances or romance novels ‘with mystery elements’, then female crime writers considerably outnumber male authors!

Mystery Elements

The definition of the difference is that in ‘pure’ mysteries, the central focus of the novel is a crime and its solution. In romance with mystery elements, a crime is a plot device to move the central relationship.

I sampled a few of the top authors in this latter genre and one thing drove me crazy. You’ll often hear arguments about ‘women in peril’. Such gnashing of teeth is futile because guys like being heroic and women like heroic guys. (It’s a case of being simultaneously correct and politically incorrect.) But in romance thrillers, the heroine more often than not places herself in deadly peril. Yaaargh.

In one such case, a hired killer stalks a female photographer. A guy ('the romantic interest') is hired to keep her safe, but she finds inventive ways to throw herself into the path of danger. In an effort to flee her protector, she magically ‘hot wires’ their only transportation and abruptly drives the vehicle into a ditch. At that moment, I was hoping the killer would succeed.

In another series, the hybristophiliac heroine starts out in pursuit of another hit man but, convinced he’s a sensitive, misunderstood soul who just happens to kill people, she falls in love and cultivates a 'relationship'. (In case of nausea, air-sickness bags are located in the seat pocket in front of you.) Some of you begin to understand why I prefer pure mystery and crime.

American Mystery History

Almost everyone is aware of that mistress of suspense, Mary Roberts Rinehart, who published her first mystery in 1908, more than a dozen years before Agatha Christie. You can’t be a fan of classic crime or classic movies without encountering that great lady. But I draw your attention to two far earlier mystery novelists.

Metta Victoria Fuller Victor
Metta Victoria Fuller Victor (1831-1885), along with her sister Frances, began writing at a tender age in the 1840s. She is credited with writing the first American crime novel in 1866, The Dead Letter, which blazed the way for paranormal mysteries. Writing under her nom de plume of Seeley Regester, she followed with another occult mystery in 1869, The Figure Eight.

Although she wrote poetry and edited a cultural periodical, The Cosmopolitan Art Journal, she became best known for 'dime novels' in the sense of modern day paperbacks, including moralistic dramas and westerns. Her 1862 abolitionist 'romance' novel, Maum Guinea and Her Plantation 'Children' or Holiday-Week on a Louisiana Plantation: a Slave Romance, became her best known, even drawing the attention of President Lincoln. Her supportive husband, author and publisher Orville James Victor, brought her works to the American public.

Anna Katharine Green
Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935) is slightly better known and I occasionally find myself reading one or another of her stories, thanks to Louis Willis. She also was blest with a supportive husband, Charles Rohlfs, who brought some of her stories to the stage, including her 1878 The Leavenworth Case, which is considered one of her best.

She’s known for a number of firsts, such as the first series detective, the first spinster detective, the first girl detective, and I suggest another first. She created the prototype for that terribly popular (and popularly terrible) television show, Charlie’s Angels.

The detective in this case is Miss Violet Strange, a society deb, who not only has intricate access to haut monde, but is brainy as well. Her agency ‘employer’ appreciates that about her and sends her on tasks where she’s usually over-appreciated and underestimated. Those oh-so-thin seventies 'jiggle' television plots could have learned much from her.

So guys, if one weekend you find yourself without a woman, then grab a woman author. Enjoy one of those bits of history, but especially consider Eve, Fran, Jan, Liz, and Janice. You’ll be glad you did.

01 March 2014

Giving Credit to the Editors

by John M. Floyd

I once heard a fellow writer say she had an "epic editor." Assuming she didn't mean "the editor of an epic," I like the term. I could probably use epic, as in "heroic" or "grand," to describe some of the magazine and anthology editors I've worked with in the past twenty years. (Well, heroic might be a stretch, but you get my drift. Worked with is also debatable; in many cases they were merely kind enough to publish what I wrote.)

Twenty years, though, is accurate. The first short story I ever submitted was accepted in January 1994, and appeared in Mystery Time magazine. Editor Linda Hutton is retired now, but she did me a huge favor: she taught me that selling short crime/suspense stories was at least possible. She enclosed a five-dollar bill in the envelope with the acceptance letter, and I remember staring at it as if I'd been handed the Hope Diamond. I went on to publish something in every issue of Mystery Time for the next eight years.

Editor indebtedness

Linda was the first of a number of editors I've come in contact with, and they've taught me a lot. Some of them I never knew well, but others became advisors and even friends. And I can honestly say most were professional and fair in their dealings with writers. Here are some editors, in no particular order, who were or have been extremely kind to me:

Margo Power, Murderous Intent
Andrew McAleer, Crimestalker Casebook
Linda Landrigan, AHMM
Marcia Preston, Byline Magazine
Babs Lakey, Futures
John Hart, Amazon Shorts
Andrew Gulli, The Strand Magazine
Darlene Poier, Pages of Stories
Tony Burton, Wolfmont Press anthologies
Ginger Johnson, Detective Mystery Stories
Janet Hutchings, EQMM
Sherri Armel, Red Herring Mystery Magazine
Johnene Granger, Woman's World
B. J. Bourg, Mouth Full of Bullets
Charity Bishop, Prairie Times
Philip Levin, Gulf Coast anthologies
Patrick Perry, The Saturday Evening Post
Donna Bowman, Short Stuff for Grown-ups
Sandra Ruttan, Spinetingler Magazine
Joseph DeMarco, Mysterical-E
Andrew Perkins, Grit
Jay Hartman, Untreed Reads
Richard Heagy, Orchard Press Mysteries
Cheri Jung, Over My Dead Body
Marvin Kaye, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine

At least half a dozen of those publications are no longer around, but I'm thinking Rob, Janice, Eve, Herschel, and others might remember them.

Letters from the editors

I was asked not long ago if I'd had any interesting experiences in dealing with magazine editors. I could think of only a few, because I try hard not to annoy editors, and when they tell me to do something I just salute and do it. Here are some unusual things that I do recall:

- A few months after I sold Andy McAleer a story for Crimestalker, he suggested that we collaborate on a mystery short. He wrote the first half and I wrote the second, and he immediately submitted it to AHMM under both our names. It was rejected even more immediately.

- Johnene Granger published two of my mysteries in Woman's World with someone else's byline. In fact, it was the same name both times: Elizabeth Hawn. In both instances Johnene phoned me afterward to apologize for the error, but since I'd been paid for the stories I didn't mind. I only hope Ms. Hawn, whoever she is, liked them.

- Loren Logsdon, then editor of Eureka Literary Magazine, wrote in an acceptance letter that the ending to the story I'd sent them was "the best she and her staff had seen in years." After publishing it, they rejected everything else I ever sent them.

- Linda Hutton of Mystery Time once asked me to change the expression "he cut his eyes at her" in one of my submissions to her magazine. She said she'd never heard that phrase before and figured readers hadn't either. I just cut my eyes at my wife, changed the sentence to "he gave her a sneaky look," and all was well.

- Andrew Gulli of The Strand once phoned me to ask where I'd gotten the name of the poison I'd used to kill the villain in a story I'd submitted to him (actually, the first story I ever sold to them). I told him I'd made it up. He paused for what I thought was a frighteningly long time, then said, "Okay."

- The late Cathleen Jordan, the editor of AHMM before Linda Landrigan, once published three of my stories in a period of four months (the March, May, and June 1999 issues). After celebrating--and telling myself that maybe I'd found the goose that laid the golden egg--I received at least a dozen AH rejections in a row.

- Last year I received a contract by mistake from Janet Hutchings at EQMM for something someone else had written. Unlike many of my SleuthSayers colleagues, I usually receive only rejections from EQ, so it was especially hard to make myself confess to her that I was not the lucky (and deserving) party.

For the writers among us, what are some of your experiences with editors, agents, publishers, etc.? Have you found most of them to be pleasant? Knowledgable? Accessible? Demanding? Who are/were some of your favorites?

Your wish is my command . . .

Anytime I get into a discussion like this, I'm reminded of the old saying, "Most editors are failed writers--but then again, so are most writers." I love that quote. I think it's also a reminder that editors and other head freds in the publishing world, revered though they might be, are just regular people like you and me. They have their own preferences, faults, and pet peeves.

And as long as they guard the gates that I'm trying to pass through, I will indeed salute, click my heels, and do what they tell me.