14 August 2014

Bluegrass Mafia


by Eve Fisher

Well, Leigh, you opened up a can of worms last week, and I guess it's Mafia week at SleuthSayers.  I have three stories, two of which are legendary in my family.

My grandparents emigrated from Greece back in at the beginning of the 1900's, and of course they lived in New York, and ended up - double of course - in Astoria. For those of you who don't know, Astoria has long been the Greek neighborhood of NYC.  To this day, when we go visit some (Italian) friends who live there, they send me out to get the breakfast bagels, because I always come back with freebies, beginning with extra bagels.  I guess that the bakery owner assumes that I'm Aunt Eudoxia's niece or something...

File:New York City - Upper West Side Brownstone.jpg
(Disclaimer:  Not my
grandparents'
brownstone)
Anyway, my grandfather had been a teacher back in Athens, or so I'm told, but in New York, he was a truck driver.  By the time I got to know him, it was the 1950's, and my parents and I would go up to visit them in their brownstone.  Yes, you read that right.  A nice big corner brownstone in Astoria, Queens, which they'd bought in the 1930s.  After they died, I found the address (they moved from there in the 1960's, making, I'm sure, a tidy profit) and my husband and I went by and saw it.  Very nice.  An Egyptian family lives there now, I believe.

I asked my father, when I got old enough to understand how expensive a brownstone is, how on earth was my grandfather able to afford to buy one back in the 1930s?  He said, "Well, he did a favor for someone with money.  Got him a nice little truck route, and the brownstone."  Who was the someone with money?  Someone named Gambino.  I asked my father, "What kind of favor did he do?"  "No idea.  We didn't ask questions."

Second story, not mine, which I mentioned in the comments section on Leigh's column:  The Mafia has made some very interesting investments.  Developments in Florida and elsewhere.  Casinos everywhere.  And also utility companies, in parts of the southeast.  There was a man from the Midwest who worked for one of the power companies and went down to the southeast in what he thought would be a career move to manage a local utility company.  He was back in six months, thankful to be out of there... unharmed.

Third story.  There's a town in Kentucky, with a population of not quite 7,000 people, which has one of the best authentic Italian restaurants you can find anywhere.  My husband and I took my father there for dinner one time - we were on a road trip, long story - and the food was excellent.  Or at least my husband's and mine was.  My father occasionally liked to throw his weight around in restaurants and other establishments, and he began to complain, loudly, about his dish.  And asked to see the manager.

File:Lasagne - stonesoup.jpgThe manager came over.  He was obviously Italian; he was obviously not a cook; he was obviously completely indifferent about what customers - or at least us - thought of him.  He listened to my father, looked at his plate, and said, "I don't have time for this shit.  Get out of here."

Tone of voice is everything, because my father got up and went.

Out in the car, my father started fretting and fuming about how he was treated.  "Why didn't we do something?  Why didn't we argue back?"

"Because," I told him, "he was Mafia."
"He was?" my father asked.
I nodded.  "Yes, he was."
And he was quiet the whole rest of the trip. At least about that.

13 August 2014

A Life of Crime


by David Edgerley Gates


A gal I know, here in Santa Fe, put up a post on Facebook about something she witnessed in the check-out line at Whole Foods, a customer humiliating one of the cashiers, and reducing her to tears. You have to wonder about people who are so self-important that their sense of entitlement makes them think they can get away with crap like that, and it prompted the following train of thought.

Anybody who's worked in law enforcement or corrections, a description that covers a few of the contributors to this blogsite, are familiar with what we'll call the criminal mindset - one size doesn't fit all, by any means, but let's use this turn of phrase for convenience.

By way of illustration, a story. Years ago, when I was seventeen going on eighteen, I was hitchhiking in California, headed for San Francisco. This guy picked me up outside of Sacramento. He was in his middle to late twenties, white dude, an Okie. The car was a beater, but it ran okay, and he was going to make the distance, if I'd go in on the gas. He just had to make one stop on the way.

About halfway between Sacramento and San Francisco on I-80, you hit Vacaville. Some of you, who know the territory, physical or otherwise, might have already guessed the punchline. Vacaville is home to a state prison. The guy I caught the ride with was a recent release. He's going into the visitor's pen to see a pal who's still inside. All this he explained to me, no embarrassment. Wait in the car, I'll be out in forty-five minutes. You cool?

I'm not, but let's review the bidding. Hot, empty parking lot. He leaves the windows open, but it's not like he leaves the keys. I can read the situation, dumb as I might be. I think about getting out of the car and crossing the highway and sticking my thumb out again - hello? Who in their right mind is going to pick up a hitchhiker outside a California correctional facility? And truth be told, I don't see the guy meaning me any harm. He's thrown me a curve, sure, and I'm feeling unprotected, tarred with his brush. Is a guard going to come out and ask me what I'm doing there? I wait it out. Guy comes back, gets in the car, we drive off. He ain't making much conversation. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Hour or so later, we're crossing the Bay Bridge. The car's laboring up the incline, feeling it's age. We're in the slow lane. Big boat blows by us on the left, Caddy or an Olds. My guy starts to vent. "That old fart. He's got that nice ride, and I'm driving this piece of shit?" Well you might ask, and I almost tell him, you know, that old fart probably worked thirty years as a dentist, and the car's his reward for good behavior. He didn't start out sticking up liquor stores. Which is what I'm thinking. I don't say it out loud. I'm also thinking, it's time to get out of his car. He drops me on Powell.

Moral? I don't think the guy was a real hardcase, by any means, but it was the first time I bumped up against that habit of mind. I don't know quite what to call it. Narcissism? The notion that I deserve better. A lack of empathy, I guess. Criminals are sociopathic, almost by definition, in the sense that they don't subscribe to what we define as the social compact. That dentist in the Caddy paid his dues. Which makes him, effect, a sucker. He broke his ass, but I shouldn't have to. Most of us agree to stop at red lights, or not pass a school bus when kids are getting off it. Some of us, on the other hand, don't. We don't think the rules apply to us. We're in a hurry, our time is more valuable than yours and your life, not to put too fine a point on it, has less value than mine.

What does this have to do with the self-important blowhard in the check-out at Whole Foods? Pretty much everything. There isn't much difference between an ex-con who thinks he deserves the dentist's car, and some entitled buttwipe who thinks they can humiliate a cashier with a low-end job, and you've got the power of the purse. I got news for you. You're the one at the low end of the gene pool. You're a moral retard, and a sociopath. There but for the grace of God. You have no honest reason to condescend to me. I have the forlorn hope you'll recognize yourself. Fat chance. Odds are you're a bad tipper, too.

http://www.davidedgerleygates.com/

12 August 2014

Why Won't Anyone Talk To Me?


by David Dean
  • You have the right to remain silent when questioned.
  • Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law. 
  • You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning, if you wish.
  • If you decide to answer any questions now, without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.
  • Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?
Well...are ya, punk?
Not Miranda, but Lorre looking like he needs some "coaxing."

Every writer of crime fiction runs into the Miranda Warning sooner or later.  How many TV episodes have ended with, "You have the right to remain silent..."?  There's just no getting away from those famous words arising from a 1966 Supreme Court decision regarding the Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights of one Mr. Miranda.  It was decided that his admissions during police questioning  leading to his conviction for rape and kidnapping were inadmissible, as he did not fully understand his right against self-incrimination, or the right to have an attorney present during questioning.  Out of that decision arose the warning that all U.S. police must give prior to custodial interrogation of a suspect.

A lot of young officers come out of the academy wringing their hands and mumbling the Miranda Warning over and over in their anxiety.  It's a mantra they don't feel comfortable going a day without saying for fear of running afoul of someone's civil rights.

Citizen: "Officer, can you help me find Fluffy, my cat?  I'm so afraid something's happened to her." 
Police Officer: "Of course, ma'am, I'd be happy to, but did you know that you have the right to remain...."

Not everybody needs to be delivered their Miranda rights.  It's okay for the police to talk with citizens, and even interview them without the Miranda litany occurring on every occasion.  It's a fairly simple formula that results in the mandatory warning: Interrogation + custody=Miranda.  And therein lies that grey area the police find themselves in so often.  What exactly is "interrogation" and "custody"?  Are interviews the same as interrogation?  If a person is in the police building, is he/she in custody?  We damn sure know what the Warning is, but the application can get fuzzy.  Maybe it's best just to sing it out from time to time in case someone's thinking of confessing.

Police interviews can be described (by me, at least) as the questioning of potential witnesses, complainants, victims, and even those temporarily detained at the scene of a crime or accident.  The object of such interviews is to determine exactly what has occurred and who may be involved or have witnessed the incident.  I know what you're thinking--if someone's been detained, don't you have to Mirandize them?  The short answer is no.  Not always and not if the officer is yet to determine that a crime, in fact, has been committed, and that the person he is speaking with is a suspect.  Once a person becomes an active suspect the relationship changes; especially if he has been detained.  The officer would be wise to read him his Miranda Warning at that point, if he's going to continue questioning him.  Now it's now longer an interview, with the overarching goal of determining the circumstances and players, but an effort to determine the amount of involvement by the suspect.  In other words, he has become the object of the questioning, and that's interrogation.

But what if this happy individual is a suspect, and you the police officer are interrogating him, but he's not in custody?  Example: You're sitting across from him in his own living room firing questions, while he answers them with a patient, but weary, air.  Does he get the Miranda or no?  Again, the short answer is no.  Even though he's being interrogated, he's not in custody.  He's in his own home, no cuffs or restraints are involved, and you don't have half a dozen uniformed officers surrounding him (hopefully).  That being said, it would probably be wise to do so, because if he does make any admissions, his attorney is going to do his very best to have them thrown out.  The absence of a Miranda Warning will form the centerpiece of this effort, and he will cite his client's trusting nature and ignorance of his right to have an attorney present as reasons to do so.  Attorneys have argued in the past that the mere presence of a police officer creates a custodial environment.  My own children would have agreed; fortunately the courts haven't yet gone that far, but you can see how skittish these things can make the police.

Even the suspect that voluntarily comes into the police department in order to be questioned is not necessarily considered to be in "custody."  So long as he understands that he is free to  leave the situation doesn't rise to the level of "custodial interrogation."  But the officer has to be very careful here.

Do suspects voluntarily confess?  Yes, yes they do.  And it even happens without the torture techniques for which the police are so well known.  There's several reasons for this in my experience.  One is that they just can't contain their guilt.  I know that seems a very antiquated notion these days, guilt, but there are some poor souls genuinely afflicted with conscience.  Fortunately for defense attorneys their number seems to be decreasing.

Another reason is to cut a deal.  I would say that this is the most common reason--self interest and preservation.  They're the practical ones--they know their butt (or some other appendage) is in a wringer and they want to cut their losses.  These kind of arrangements require the blessings of the prosecutor, as the police are not generally allowed these powers without him/her granting them.  The defendant's attorney is, no doubt, going to be part of these negotiations.

Inadvertent.  This category actually falls more into the "admission" category than the genuine confession.  Suspect is much smarter than the police and enjoys letting them know it.  This usually ends with the suspect stopping in mid-sentence with an expression of growing horror on his face as it dawns on him what he has just let slip.  Sorry, after the Miranda Warning, there's no take-backs.

In closing, it's worth mentioning the Miranda Waiver.  Most states issue the police cards with both the Miranda Warning and a Waiver printed on them.  If the suspect wishes to cooperate, the waiver is signed, along with a block acknowledging that they have been read their rights and understand them.  Here in New Jersey we also have a requirement to videotape interrogations that occur within the police department.  As nearly everyone is convinced that confession=torture/coercion, the reason for this is obvious.

Now, is there anything you want to confess?  I'm all ears.

11 August 2014

G-Mama and the Mafia


by Fran Rizer


My post for today has been ready for weeks, so I felt pretty good when I arose yesterday and, coffee cup in hand, went to the computer to see what Leigh had to say.  I confess I wasn't expecting to read about one of his exes being formerly a mob moll.  This was especially amusing since last week, my grandson told me, "Dad says you used to date someone who was in the Mafia."

Dilemma: Is that a story I really want to share with SSers?
  
Answer:  Yep, I think I will.  Note that my author photo today is from the time in my life that this occurred.  

It happened like this:

My older son was sixteen; the younger, eleven. They'd been taking karate lessons across town, so when a dojo opened near our townhouse, we visited.  The tall, good-looking sensei/proprietor was very convincing, and I moved the boys' lessons to his studio. Unlike Leigh, I'm not using real names, so I'll just call him John.


A few weeks later, John began joining me on the bleachers after my sons' lessons. He spoke glowingly of their progress and we discussed life as single parents. We also talked about how to build his business through a promotional campaign for the karate lessons and the aerobics classes upstairs.  

Next came an invitation to dinner, which I thought was a business meeting to discuss the PR plan. During the evening, I wasn't quite sure what to think. He acted more like we were having a date than a business meeting, but the conversation kept going back to plans for the dojo. At the end of the night, when he went for the inevitable goodnight kiss, I was still confused.

John was handsome. He was charming.  He took up a lot of time with my sons. In June, he confessed to me that he was having a hard time with the dojo rent, but that he would be receiving a substantial financial settlement from an accident in just a few weeks.

Can you believe that I was dumb enough to lend him a thousand dollars? The only reason I had a thousand to spare was that I drew three months' pay as a lump sum at the beginning of the summer.

Weeks rolled by and I saw more and more things about John that I disliked. For one, he had my sixteen-year-old son teaching younger students. It began with his just doing warm-up exercises with them. Soon he was teaching the entire class time. John told the kids' parents that my son was a black belt, which he was not. I've never liked liars.  

Every time I asked about his "settlement," John told me he would be getting it soon. Now, I've never liked liars, but I didn't say I'd never lied. After all, I was essentially in training to become a fiction writer later in life.

On a Monday afternoon in August, I told John that he had to return my money by Friday because I'd borrowed it from someone who was becoming very impatient causing me to be frightened. I never said it, but I implied that I'd gotten the thousand from a loan shark. Tuesday afternoon, John told me that he didn't think he'd be able to pay me anytime soon.  He didn't seem overly concerned. He acted like it was my problem, and I'd have to deal with it.

Wednesday afternoon, the owner of a deli that I did bookkeeping for called John. He was a big Greek man from somewhere up North, had the lowest voice of anyone I ever knew, and said the following, word for word: 

I have a problem, John. I loaned some money to a young woman who can't pay it back  It turns out she got that money for you. I'll be taking care of this matter this weekend unless she puts that money in my hand Friday at lunchtime. You need to understand that I'm not going after her. I'll be settling up with you. I don't like men who take advantage of women.

Those are the exact words that were spoken. I know because my Greek friend read them exactly as I'd written them on an index card for him. John spluttered around trying to negotiate, but the phone line went dead. The big, bad karate master dang near wet his gi.

Rain was pouring mid-morning Friday, but John came running out to my car when I pulled up in front of the dojo. He couldn't put the money in my hand fast enough. I even asked him if he'd like to ride with me, but he was adamant that he had too much to do. I killed a few hours at the library and then stopped at a florist before heading back to the dojo.

My drama skills were in full play when I returned.  I motioned for John to join me in the office.  

Closing the door behind us frantically, John asked, "Is it okay? He's not coming here, is he?"

I handed John a single red rose and said, "He said to give you this, and you'd better be damn glad it's red and not white."

That's the end of the story if I rewrite and try to sell it, but since we're friends, I'll tell you the rest.

My sons returned to lessons at their original karate location. Neither objected. They even said, "We were learning more there."

John called a few times, and I always made some excuse not to see him.  Three months later, his business closed. Six months later, I ran into the former aerobics instructor from John's studio at the mall. She told me that he'd disappeared while owing her husband several thousand dollars including their last loan to him when he swore the Mafia was after him. 

End of story?  Not yet.

A few years later, I'm in the kitchen preparing dinner when my younger son calls, "Hey, Mom, come here. John's on the news."

He'd been arrested for conning several women out of money by setting up a photography studio and advertising for models, who were then giving him their student loan money to advance their careers. I think there was probably more to the story than that, but I changed the channel.

Now, how does this relate to writing fiction? I hadn't thought about that crazy summer for years until my grandson said his dad told him I dated someone in the Mafia.

I questioned my son about it and he said that John had told him, "Your mom has a boyfriend in the Mafia."
My grandson and his dad, my older son


When I told them the entire story, both my son and grandson had a big laugh over G-Mama conning a con man. Leigh's column yesterday inspired me to begin writing this tale as a short story.  Of course, I always "embroider" real events, so the protagonist might become the aerobics teacher (change aerobics to zumba to update it) and the older Greek man could be her grandfather.   

What about you?  Are some of your stories semi-autobiographical?

Until we meet again, take care of … you.

10 August 2014

Disorganized Crime


mafia
History Channel: The Mafia in the US
by Leigh Lundin

RT’s article reminded me of an acquaintance who opened to me the shadowy world of organized crime. She had been ‘Married to the Mob,’ which, she said, was the most accurate movie portraying the mafia. She insisted upon seeing Goodfellas and the Godfather franchise, although she said The Godfather represented the 1%. The reality of the remaining 99% was a banality that only boys who never grew up could buy into.

Carlotta had been intimate with the Youngstown Mafia and knew the players. She was smart, educated, talented, and charming beyond belief. Following her decision to leave Youngstown and its dark side, she went to a great deal of trouble to quietly distance herself from her former life.

When she registered her car in Florida, the sweet lady behind the counter said, “Oh my, Ohio made a mistake recording your VIN on the title, dear. Honey, just fill out this affidavit…” She rolled her eyes at me as if to say, “You can leave that world but it still follows you.” She had bought the car at a deep discount from a connected dealer named Baglier. His body was later found in the trunk of one of his own vehicles towed from a swamp.

She talked about the protocols. No self-respecting 'made guy' would drive a foreign car, only a Caddy, Lincoln, maybe a Buick or a Corvette if he wanted sporty. Mafioso banked at Bank of America, because BoA was the original mafia banker (and still is, according to some). And in a city where citizens simply disappeared from the offices, their cars, and their dinner tables, the mafia first sent their victims a white rose.

Carlotta refused to shop at a couple of major Orlando malls that she contended were mafia laundry machines. I later bumped into a young woman who owned a shop in one of the malls where she often worked late. She mentioned seeing cash register drawers and a safe carted out in the middle of the night. Once as she was leaving her shop, she startled a handful of suited men who directed her away. “Girly, why don’t you go back to your shop for ten minutes.” (You no doubt noticed I’ve not mentioned the developer’s well-known name because to my knowledge he was often accused but never indicted for any crime.)

Carlotta went to school with the mall developer's son and with Mickey Monus, the CFO of Phar-mor, noted for the largest US embezzlement on record. She was acquainted with James Traficant, the flamboyant Ohio congressman and former corrupt sheriff who ran for office from his prison cell. All connected.

mafia
Even Kosovo feels the heat of the Mafia.
Those were the bigger guys.

Carlotta described the mafia as a corporate pyramid. While the so-called ‘foot soldiers’ were low on the totem pole, below them were the teeming worker-bees and wanna-bees, less than pawns in most cases. Picture the hoods in high school who drove around all night talking big, catcalling girls, vandalizing, committing petty larceny and break-ins, initiating a burglary or a spur-of-the-moment home invasion. Now picture those same guys ten, twenty, thirty years later doing the same thing, riding around, talking trash, doing trashy crap. That’s the vast majority of the mafia base: furnishings that fell off a truck, a little grift and graft here, a spot of muscle there, say ten ‘Hail Mary’s and lie to your wife. The boys retell the same stories– the knife fight they almost won a dozen years ago or that time when their dad was being chased by cops and he slipped the smoking gun to their nonna who sat on it, knitting as police conducted a fruitless search.

Night after night, year after year, same-ol’, same-ol’.

Many Italians are offended by the mafia. At New York University, I dated a vivacious student from Brooklyn. Cecilia Mongiardo lived down the street from a mafia headquarters in a warehouse. She said, “Italy is steeped in great history. It’s known for magnificent art, music, and cuisine. We invented modern architecture. We’re noted for design. Yet when people think Italians, they think mafia: Joe Bananas, Masseria and Maranzano, Genovese and Gambino, Gagliano and Lucchese. People think Vegas and Frank Sinatra and the assassination of JFK. It’s embarrassing.”

It’s a shadowy world most of us are unaware of. When writers like R.T. Lawton and David Dean bring us stories of their battles against crime, only then do we get a peek behind that dark curtain.

09 August 2014

Submission Accomplished




by John M. Floyd


As most of you have heard by now, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine recently introduced a new submission process. Authors can now send their short stories in to AHMM the same way they've been doing it at EQMM, via the shared web site themysteryplace.com. Just navigate to the Hitchcock site, click on "Writers' Guidelines," and then choose "online submission system."

This is of course good news for those of us who regularly send stories in to AH for consideration. No more printouts, no more envelopes (self-addressed or otherwise), no more labels, no more stamps, no more trips to the post office. Easier, quicker, less expensive. A byproduct of the new system is an online tracking program that allows the writer to keep up with the current status of his/her manuscript. What's not to like?

Look, Mom--no hands

I was intrigued to see, at a couple of the Internet forums (fora? fori?) that not everyone seems to be pleased by the discontinuation of AHMM's old-school "manual" submission system. Although I don't agree, I think I do understand the reasons that some are less than happy about the move. It's been said that any publication that begins accepting online submissions, whether it's via e-mail or via a website "submission box," also begins receiving far more manuscripts than before. Why? Because it's now easier, quicker, and less expensive. The one thing that seems to make everything simpler can conceivably also make it harder because of increased competition and an increased workload for those who read the submissions.

Simply stated, it might now be so easy to submit that everyone will want to submit everything, maybe even those who shouldn't be writing and submitting anything. One school of thought maintains that if you're willing to take the time and trouble to print your story, print a cover letter, include an SASE, clip it all together, stuff it into an envelope, print and attach address labels, and drive to the P.O. and stand in line and pay the postage to mail it--well, that means you're possibly more serious about your writing. The more labor-intensive the job is, the fewer lazy workers will participate.

What are your views on the subject? Would you now be more likely to send a manuscript to AHMM? Do you think the pluses outweigh the minuses? I find it interesting that of the four mystery markets I submit to the most, two of them (Woman's World and The Strand Magazine) require snailmailed submissions. Maybe WW and The Strand will switch over as well, one day.

Again, I can see both sides of the argument. But I must admit, as someone who has already taken advantage of the new system (I e-sent AH a new story a few days ago), that I like it. A lot. Nothing can reduce the work it takes to produce a quality story, but anything that reduces the work it takes to get it submitted is--in my opinion--a good thing. I'm also wondering if the new process might allow AHMM to respond more quickly than it has in the past. (That might be overly optimistic, since--as I mentioned--there will probably now be even more manuscripts in the chute.)

Preaching to the choir?

Please be aware, I am not one of those writers who have been reluctant to submit stories to AHMM because of its hardcopy-only submission procedures. I've faithfully read AH since I was in college, editor Linda Landrigan has been extremely kind to me, and I would probably continue to submit stories to her magazine even if I had to send them via mule train. I suspect that most of my SleuthSayers colleagues feel the same way. But this should make the process a lot more pleasant.


Speaking of pleasant things, AHMM recently accepted another of my stories--this one submitted months ago, via snailmail--and as always, that feeling made it well worth the wait. I hope more acceptances, from AH and from others, are coming up for all of us.

No matter how we send the stories in.



08 August 2014

More Black Market


by R.T. Lawton           (continued from 18/Jul/14)

In the low end of the Vietnam Black Market, almost everyone had a hand in the trade. It was politely called the barter system and was for small immediate gain. What could it hurt?

See, every soldier in-country had a ration card which allowed him to buy two cartons of cigarettes, two cases of beer, two bottles of wine and/or two fifths of hard liquor per month. But, not every soldier smoked and not every soldier drank booze, which then created a market for those extra goods. The rationed amounts mentioned above generally sufficed for the needs of most G.I.'s, however there were outsiders who had no access to the PX (cigarettes) or the Class Six Store (booze).

Simple solution, trade those extra goods which you bought from the non-smoking, non-drinking soldiers who otherwise didn't use their ration cards. Want some cases of steaks or lobster to supplement your C-rations or scant mess hall chow? Trade some of those extra purchased goods to a civilian contractor or merchant seaman who had connections to his company's kitchen. Need a freezer to keep those extra steaks cold as they're hidden behind a false wall in your company area? Once again, trade some of that booze or cartons to a civilian for that freezer. You say a real ice cream factory went into operation down in the ville and they don't make their product out of reconstituted milk like the military does? Now you're trading PX items to Vietnamese workers who smuggle out gallons of whichever flavor of real ice cream you desire. This may be bartering, but it's still operating in the Black Market, only on a much lower scale.

Today's World

But then you don't need a time of war to have a Black Market in existence. I once entered a mob joint in downtown Kansas City and sat at the corner of the bar where I could watch everything going on. When I ordered my second drink, I gave the bartender some extra money and asked her to get me a pack of Winstons. My second drink came fast, then she wandered around for a while before disappearing into a back room. A few minutes later, she came out and wandered around again before finally depositing the cigarettes in front of me on the bar. I had paid full price for the pack, but it didn't have a federal tax stamp on it. She never went near the vending machine in plain sight against the wall. These smokes were contraband, smuggled out the back door of an East Coast factory or else high-jacked from a semi trailer before the government got paid and put a tax stamp on them.

Operators in this market may only make nickels, dimes or quarters on every small sale, but they are in it for the volume. In the end, all those nickels, dimes and quarters add up to very big dollars, and those are untaxed dollars not subject to state and federal sales or income taxes. Free money, so to speak.

All this merely goes to show that any economic system with man-imposed restrictions or regulations allows for the creation of a Black Market for desired goods. The schemers will find a way to operate in this environment.

There's also the underground market created between thieves and those loose-moral people who are not adverse to buying on the "midnight discount" or "three-finger discount" plan. The first refers to goods stolen by burglars and the second to goods stolen by pickpockets and shoplifters.

You've all read news articles or seen TV shows where law enforcement has run a sting operation. This usually consists of a rented storefront or warehouse where law enforcement installs concealed cameras to record all transactions, plus law enforcement personnel in an undercover capacity, or an informant, work the front counter to purchase stolen goods from criminals. After a period of time, the crooks get arrested. But, cop sponsored stings are only a small portion of the real fencing of stolen goods operations we never hear about.

And then there are those who make and sell counterfeit t-shirts, computer chips, fake brand-name handbags, etc. Don't forget DVD's of pirated movies or pirated songs from the music industry. All trade mark and copyright violations done on the sly to be sold on the Black Market.

Bottom line, criminals and schemers will keep looking for ways to work the system. Like the line says in that song, Smuggler's Blues: "… it's the lure of easy money."



To read about the black market with the U.S. Army in Cold War Germany, get Black Traffic, an e-novel by our very own David Edgerley Gates. (kindle, nook) It's a good one.

07 August 2014

The Modern Slaves


By Jim Winter

Modern society has two images of prostitutes. On the one hand, it's a sleazy profession generally undertaken by women trying to support a drug habit. Eliminate the habit, and the woman can reenter society. The other image comes from movies such as Pretty Woman, the hooker with a heart of gold in charge of whom she services. Perhaps a darker version of this comes from Lawrence Block's Scudder series, where Elaine uses prostitution to build up her savings.

In either case, we're looking at women who choose the profession. Many cases mirror these two images, perhaps without the romanticism of the latter. More commonly, however, is a much more disturbing scenario - that of the woman coerced into prostitution.

It's become a frequent story on the local news. A young girl is lured into a prostitution ring and either coerced into servicing clients or outright kidnapped. It may seem hard to believe, but this is a modern form of slavery happening right here in the United States today.

The most frequent situation involves immigrants, legal or illegal. Because these people often don't know the language very well and don't know the local laws, there are those who can use the threat of deportation or jail, never mind torture or death, to force them to work.

India is a hotbed for this sort of slavery. One local church in Cincinnati has partnered with an organization in Mumbai to rescue teenage girls from human traffickers. The girls are spirited out of the brothels (which are a far cry from the legal brothels in Nevada, Holland, and Germany), taken to a halfway house where they learn to readjust to society, and assisted in reintegrating into society. The rescue plan has had the added effect of attracting police attention to the brothels. Because someone is actively extracting young women from this form of slavery, the police in Mumbai now see an opportunity to directly intervene and bring down the traffickers.

It's a little more difficult in Western nations, where slavery as an institution is looked at as a relic of earlier centuries. The signs are usually a combination of missing persons reports and web sites offering "personal services." If the women are local, the police might pick up on it. If the women are immigrants, particular illegals, there is very little documentation to serve as a clue.

A manager I worked with at my last company is married to a Cincinnati cop who occasionally finds himself volunteered for this duty. I've seen him a couple of times on Cops and Police Women of Cincinnati. To his wife's horror, the latter show featured him as a decoy in a prostitution sting. So yes, all of Cincinnati has seen Amy's husband in his boxers. (For his part, he prefers to talk about his episode of Cops, which featured him on patrol and in uniform.) Such stings are often some girls' only chance of getting out of bondage. Frequently, however, the best defense is to go after the johns. They might think that it's a victimless crime, since they believe they are paying for consensual sex. The reality is just as often the exact opposite.

06 August 2014

Happy 125th Anniversary!


by Robert Lopresti


Brian's column in June about connections reminded me that I wanted to point out that this year we must commemorate the 125th anniversary of the publication of a book which holds a major place in the history of mystery fiction.  It is a novel by Arthur Conan Doyle.

I refer, of course, to Micah Clarke.

You may now be thinking: Wait a minute.  Is that a classic mystery by Conan Doyle I somehow missed?

Well, no.  It was a historical novel about the English Civil War.  So why do I say it holds an important place in the history of our field?  Grab a cup of coffee and I will explain.

In 1886 Conan Doyle finished A Study In Scarlet, which I am certain you know introduced Sherlock Holmes to the world.  He hoped it would be published in the  Cornhill Magazine, but James Payn (seen on the left), in the move that gave him an eternal place in the Editor's Hall of Fame, rejected it.   The book finally found a place in  Beeton's Christmas Annual, published at the end of 1887.   The company  liked it enough to also put it out as a hardcover, and in America Lippincott's Magazine  ran it.

And then-- well, pretty much nothing happened.  It didn't rock the world even a tiny bit off its axis. 


So Conan Doyle wrote Micah Clarke, a historical novel of--  I already told you that.   And that book was a huge success when it came out early in 1889.


It so happened that Joseph Stoddart, editor of Lippincott's Magazine, visited England that year and noticed the success of the book.  He remembered that he had previously published the author's A Study In Scarlet.  So, 125 years ago this very month, he invited Doyle to dinner at the Langham Hotel (a location which subsequently appeared favorably in several of Doyle's works).  Stoddart suggested that Doyle write another book about Sherlock Holmes, and  the good doctor promptly wrote The Sign of Four.  And, as we all know, as soon as that book arrived on the newsstands the public --

Well, did nothing much.  It wasn't much any more successful than the first book.  But Doyle had the Holmes habit now and he soon wrote "A Scandal In Bohemia," which appeared in The Strand Magazine.  That was the first of  the string of short stories that truly established Holmes as an immortal character.

And they would have never come along if Stoddart hadn't been impressed by the success of Micah Clarke.  Connections, right? 

Speaking of which, Stoddart invited another author to that dinner, one who declared himself an admirer of Micah Clarke, thereby beginning a friendship with Doyle.  He also wrote something for Lippincott's at Stoddart's request.  And that book worked out pretty well too.




05 August 2014

The Unsung Editor


   Our followers will remember author Angela Zeman who graced the pages of Criminal Brief. She and I appeared together in the Mystery Writers of America anthology, The Prosecution Rests.
   Angela is not only a wonderful writer, but she married the amazing Barry Zeman who, in a leather jacket, is my idea of what Mickey Spillane should look like. Can you imagine inspiration in your life like that?
   But she has editors on her mind and I’ll let her tell you about that.

        — Leigh Lundin

Angela Zeman
The Unsung Editor

by Angela Zeman

Hello! It’s been forever since I’ve checked in on SleuthSayers, thanks, Leigh for the invitation. When browsing your blogs, I detected that nobody here has been idle. (Elementary, heh heh.)  Most of you know that for several years, back and disc issues have disrupted my writing and my life. But tah-dah, it’s over. Well, I’ve had to stop leaping tall buildings. But I’m content with short hops. So, friends, to all directly concerned with my production (you know who you are) whatever I promised you… it’s going to arrive late. But I’m on it, no worries.

I’ve managed in these last few years to publish short stories. I’m especially proud of the Roxanne story that made the cover of Alfred Hitchcock two years ago. (I owe Linda more Roxanne stories, which are next on my agenda after Mary Higgins Clark’s Wall Street story.) Linda Landrigan, known by many, is as shrewd as she is skilled, and a lovely person to work with. I thanked the late Cathleen Jordan after she published my first Mrs. Risk story in AHMM. Her editing smoothed out tiny rough spots and I was delighted with the results. And so unfair. I got all the credit.

Do editors receive awards from their writers? I don’t know. They should. They work away from the spotlight and are so under-appreciated. Before I began to sell my work, I’d heard only campfire tales of destructive, ignorant, to-be-dreaded EDITORS. What editors were those?

Alfred Hitchcock’s Linda Landrigan would’ve won for most patient of all editors (in my experience) had not Kate White come into my life. She was in the process of editing the next MWA cookbook, to which I had agreed pre-surgery to contribute. Poor woman, I told her (post-surgery), “No, I’m sorry, I can’t write, I may never write again. I can barely think.” She cajoled, charmed, nudged, and finally threatened me, via a series of phone calls, to get going! She declared with impressive intensity (she might’ve been gritting her teeth) she’d write my cookbook entry herself if she had to! Kate White went further and worked harder (on me, I don’t know about any of the other contributors) than any editor should have to. She virtually kicked me back into my chair. And here I sit, thrilled to be here, thanks to Ms. White.

I don’t want to forget the Tekno books guys. Marty, Jon, all of them. One time I went ballistic and they listened. And fixed the problem. They treated me with respect and a writer could talk to them. I miss Tekno and Marty.

MWA The Prosecution Rests
About five years ago, I wrote a story titled “Bang” for the Linda Fairstein The Prosecution Rests anthology Leigh mentioned in my introduction. The bad guy shot at my heroine. I wrote “bang!” He missed my girl, which was good, but the bullet was the only solid proof among circumstantial evidence of his guilt. We really needed that bullet. A little note scribbled in the margin asked: “You fired the gun, shouldn’t the bullet land somewhere?” Michael Connolly’s editor. I never met her, but I’ll never forget! She saved me from shriveling embarrassment. One small comment from a shrewd editor saved the story. I’ll bet several authors here have similar editors to whom they owe kudos and thanks.

So here’s to the world’s heroic editors: may they prosper and increase, and may they earn the praise and pay they truly deserve for snatching their writers from the dark and stormy night!

04 August 2014

Outside the Box… umm… the Store


Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

When it comes time to set up a signing for your new book, your first book or your latest book. Why not try some creative thinking?

There's no set rule that you MUST do a signing in a bookstore.  Of course, I'm not saying to leave your favorite mystery bookstore or even your favorite big box bookstore. Just wanting you to think a little outside the box for extras.

When we owned Mysteries & More, I had several signings there for my anthologies and for my non-fiction edited books, The Art of Murder and Deadly Women. I enjoyed signing at my own store and I also signed in Houston at Murder by the Book. I signed at mystery bookstores in Dallas, San Diego, Kansas City, Scottsdale, Bethesda, St. Louis,  and New York City. I was determined to help my fellow writers and my fellow independent bookstore owners sell a few books even if I didn't have a novel published. I'd set up signings with other anthology authors, authors who did have a novel out, and my co-editors. Usually we did panels talking about writing. By having three or four authors, the crowd will grow larger because of each person's fan following.

I tried to come up with promotional items to give to customers and bookstore owners for myself and others. When we operated the store we got many, many promo items. There were writing pens and pencils, key chains, postcards, bookmarks, caps, t-shirts, coozies, little pins to wear that had the book covers on it.  I wrote a few weeks ago about the little rubber jar opener promoting Deadly Women that I came up with and it was a hit. Eileen Dreyer gave away a ball point pen that looked like an actual hypodermic syringe filled with medicine, which was the blue ink. Promotions are good ideas to give away but how about where you hold a signing?

My first book came out and I decided to have a launch party at the bowling center where I'd bowled in leagues for years. They had a party room and we sent out invitations and an awesome crowd showed up… about sixty people, I think.

The beauty salon where I had my hair done wanted to host a book signing party for me. I said, sure, why not? Three years later when my second book came out, we had moved into our RV full time and traveled in the summer, but came back to the Hill Country in the fall and winter. Once again, I did a signing at a bowling center where we now bowled.

When we still owned the bookstore, a writer friend, the late Nancy Bell, was the house mother of a sorority house at the University of Texas for ten years. When her first book came out, we had her launch party for her first book at the sorority house.

Another creative place I had a signing was at the SPA Yoga center where I go. I once also signed on the patio of a restaurant and inside the same restaurant when the next book came out.

I've signed four years at a music festival that a singer/songwriter hosted several years and always invited book writers along with the musicians he invited.

Guess you get the idea that you can do book signings almost anywhere. All you need is a willing host,  a rather busy location and someone to sell the books for you. If you don't have a local indie bookstore who will order books for you, last resort order them from your publisher yourself. But you usually don't get credit for books sold if you, the author buys from the publisher. Just think outside the box… uh store and sell those books.

Groaner of the day: How many mystery writers does it take to change a light bulb?
Two, —  one to screw it almost all the way and the other to give it a surprising twist at the end.

03 August 2014

Debtors' Prison


Little Dorrit
by Leigh Lundin

Mal du siècle

Ever read Charles DickensLittle Dorrit? It's not a light read but please do. Written from the heart, Dickens’ own father was incarcerated when he couldn’t pay his family’s debts. A century and a half after his novel revolutionized society’s notions about debtors’ prison, it’s become relevant again.

To refresh, imprisonment for debts is the novel’s central theme. Edward Dorrit had been a gentleman of means and manner before a business reversal sent him to the Marshalsea debtors’ prison. As his daughter Amy (Little Dorrit) works toward paying the two-decade-old debt, an investigation by Arthur Clennam brings to light that Dorrit is an heir to a sizable fortune. Against a background of banking and brokerage schemes and financial collapse, Clennam, through his own honesty, finds himself in prison after the loss of his own fortune.

The Magic of Economics and Politics

The rise of debtors’ prisons is again plaguing our society with ever new and clever machinations. Chances are your legislature, like mine, brags how much money it saves in taxes. Oddly, they haven't cut back spending, certainly not legislators’ salaries, but they claim to have cut taxes. Now closely watch the handkerchief in this hand…

Consider a typical example in Florida. Perhaps you get sick and you lose your job. You can’t pay your automobile insurance. Because you’re a good citizen but naïve about the statutes, you don’t drive your car but, hoping for a little money any day now, you don’t turn in your car’s license plate (called a ‘tag’ in Florida). Even if you never drive during that period, the state of Florida will charge you $150 up to $500 for ‘financial irresponsibility’ and revoke your driver’s license. That’s right: You couldn’t afford insurance but as you’re trying to recover financially, you’re forced to fork over as much as $500 in escalating fines plus fees. It’s difficult to argue this isn’t punishing the poor for being poor.

Machinations

States constantly authorize new categories of fines and fees while criminalizing once civil violations to supplement their shrinking tax base. These are called LFOs, ‘legal financial obligations.’ For example, some states are shifting minor infractions such as parking violations to criminal jurisprudence. Truancy is now a crime but the opposite is also a crime– schooling your child in a district you don’t live in.

And guess who the fines are aimed at? Certainly not those wealthy enough to lobby against paying taxes. That’s not me saying that… it’s the conclusion of a fifteen-state study by my alma mater’s law school, New York University. It’s also the conclusion of an Ohio study that found up to 20% of county jail bookings were the results of inabilities to pay and, to the surprise of some, more women were jailed than men, mainly minority and especially Hispanic women.

Manipulation

Under Pennsylvania law, truancy is now a parental crime. A father or mother can be jailed five days for each truancy violation by their children and on top of that be charged for unpaid fines and fees. As Eve Fisher mentioned, Eileen DiNino, a mother in jail for truancy debts, died recently after being denied medical care after complaining about pain and inability to breathe. In a county where 1600 parents have been locked up, a mother needlessly died after being jailed for unpaid fines.

The Ohio Supreme Court has instructed judges to stop sending the indigent to jail, yet Ohio has authorized non-judicial ‘mayor’s courts’ that aren’t courts in any recognizable sense. Running a sort of collection agency, the magistrate doesn’t have to have a law degree and the so-called ‘courts’ have little or no public accountability or oversight.

Maltreatment

At the same time government has cut back services for the poorest among us, a rash of laws have taken aim at the less fortunate. Thus we’ve defunded child care and cut back food programs. On the verge of the banking debacle, President Bush signed the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005, increasing bank profits while making bankruptcy more difficult and costly for consumers and impossible for student loans. The theory was that even if a citizen was dead broke, when sufficiently threatened, he or she could somehow come up with money to pay, even if they had to forego food and shelter.

The war against poverty has become a war against the poor. Among the services cut back has been mental health. Our prisons now hold ten times the number of mentally ill than do our state hospitals. If you’re homeless, some places make it illegal to sleep or even lie down to rest. Other places ban sleeping in cars. The city of Orlando will attempt to arrest you if you publicly feed the homeless– it’s not good for that touristy promotional image.

Individual managers at Walt Disney World, quiet heroes who know less fortunate cast members are sleeping in cars and vans, do what they can to help them with showers and food.
WalMarts often turn a blind eye to families who virtually camp in the distant corners of their parking lots. Such practices certainly aren't official company policies, but they deserve mention.

Personal Profit Centers


Since imprisoning the poor because of debts is technically illegal in most states, prosecutors and bond holders rely on legal subterfuges to jail the indigent, and often the accused are not apprised of their rights. For example, a respondent doesn’t have the money to pay a $10 debt that grows to $100 in interest, fees, and fines. A DA or bond-holder files a motion of contempt and argues failure to pay the fine is contempt of court. Judges don’t like contempt of court and may well agree. They can move a civil case into the criminal realm. Most states reserve the right to charge citizens for their own prosecution.

Thereafter, of course, the fees and interest continue to climb. A $30 or $40 debt can easily reach three figures or more made worse by state-authorized collection agencies. If you’re arrested, expect to pay double or more for commissary cigarettes and candy, and be charged ten times the going rate for phone calls. Don’t be surprised to be billed for the recording of visits with your family.

States of Despair

In part of Washington state where average felony fines and fees of $2500 increase at 12% interest, inmates can be charged for laboring on the county work crew. An Alabama private probation firm charged $2100 in fees and extra fines for a $200 misdemeanor. An Illinois woman was sent to jail for a $280 medical bill she didn't owe. An indigent Michigan father caught a bass out of season that started a cascade of fines, fees, jail, and a huge bill for room and board while incarcerated. Also in Michigan, a man forged a pain medication prescription and was billed a thousand dollars in court cost… part of which included the cost of the county employees' fitness center.

Complicit judges have contended that in American society, there’s no excuse for poverty, that the poor simply don’t want to work: “They’re poor because they want to be,” goes the thinking. And yet nearly two thirds of inmates in jail have never been charged with anything; they’re there because they can’t afford bail or even a bond.

Out-of-touch judiciary have expressed incredulity that the impoverished don’t have credit cards. According to one judge, the poor could pick up cans beside the road to pay fines and fees. This same judge went on to sentence a man who’d just started work and was due his first paycheck to three weeks in jail, knowing his employer might terminate him– and then made employment a condition for the man’s parole. A Colorado man lost his employment because of a work injury, then, the day before he was to start a new job, an indifferent judge jailed him for failure to pay a traffic ticket for an illegal turn.

Profit in the Poor

The situation has worsened with privatized prisons and private probation companies. These businesses argue they have a right to be paid for room, board, and supervision, even if the “guest’s” stay is involuntary and even if he’s innocent. It’s in the interest of these profit-driven companies to seek the most lucrative penalties possible and their contracts with states mandate quotas to keep for-profit prisons full. Corrections Corporation of America told its shareholders “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by … leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices.” Indeed, private companies have argued and won the right to extend the original sentence term if a parolee cannot complete his payments. You read that right: A non-judicial, for-profit business can supersede and extend a court’s sentencing.
Miranda Warning
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.

But that’s not all. Say you’re tried for a crime you didn’t commit but you can’t afford to hire an attorney. The federal government says one must be provided for you. But counties in Florida (led by the head of a public defender’s office who campaigned on cutting services to those who needed legal representation) and 42 other states now bill the accused. In at least one state, a defendant can be billed for a jury trial.

What if you’re innocent? You can be adjudged not guilty and yet be sent to jail: Even though you are constitutionally entitled to an attorney, you face the possibility of imprisonment if you can’t afford to pay one.

The Garden State

One state thinks these harsh judges and judgments are wrong and counterproductive. New Jersey believes people want to do the right thing. Last year’s Safe Surrender brought more than 4500 financial fugitives in to settle fines and fees at a significant reduction.

NPR highlighted a war veteran living in his car who lost his driver’s license and was hit with vehicle fines, fees, and interest topping $10,000. Without a license he couldn’t take advantage of assistance programs or take a job that required driving. The Safe Surrender program reduced the $10k to a more reasonable $200… and in a bout of irony, the once homeless vet now works for the local government handing out parking tickets.

I haven’t seen the published results, but while other states find that jailing and billing the impoverished costs more than it brings in, New Jersey may be showing us that compassion can cost less.

Deep Pockets

The world is watching. These issues have arisen on NPR, in the New York Times, and even the pages of London’s highly regarded magazine, The Economist.

If counties and states are clearly violating the civil liberties of the poor, why hasn’t the Supreme Court weighed in? Issues take a while to make their way through the lower courts and fighting them takes money, which by definition the poor don’t have. It also takes awareness and the poor are often beneath the consciousness of the rest of us. But in fact, the Supreme Court ruled forty and again thirty years ago that it wasn’t lawful to jail those who can’t pay. But… the Supreme Court also hasn’t objected to counties forcing indigent defendants to pay for public defenders where application fees alone can amount to $400. States have exploded in arrests of the indigent.

Then there’s the flip side. Staying out of jail may depend upon the amount you owe. If it’s millions or billions, if you’re a major banker or Wall Street broker, a scheming insurer or flim-flam mortgagee, America forgives you. Officially, that is, our government. Me, not so much.

02 August 2014

Why Book Tours are Expensive (More Comedy on the Road)


by Melodie Campbell 

I’ve recently been on a book tour for my latest crime comedy, The Goddaughter’s Revenge (winner of the 2014 Derringer and Arthur Ellis Awards for Best Novella. There. I got it in.  My publisher can relax now.)

Book tours are expensive.  You travel around to independent book stores and you sell some books and sign them. 

It’s fun.  You meet a lot of great people.  But it’s expensive.  And I’m not talking about the hotel bill and the bar tab.

I should have just stayed in the bar.  It was leaving the bar that become expensive.

Nice night.  We decided to go for a walk.  It was dark, but I had on my brand new expensive progressive eye-glasses, so not a problem, right?

One second I was walking and talking.  The next, I was flying through the air.

Someone screamed. 

WHOMP.  (That was me, doing a face plant.)

“OHMYGOD! Are you okay?”  said my colleague.

I was clearly not okay.  In fact, I was splat on the sidewalk and could not move. 

“Fine!” I yelled into the flagstone.  “I’m Fine!”

I tried to lift my head.  Ouch.

“That must have hurt,” said someone helpfully.

I write about a mob Goddaughter. So I know a bit about mob take-outs.  It may come in handy.

A crowd had gathered.  Not the sort of crowd that gently lifts you off the ground.  More the sort of crowd that gawks.

“Couldn’t figure out why you were running ahead of us.” My colleague shook his head.

I wasn’t running.  I was tripping and falling.

“That sidewalk is uneven.  Your foot must have caught on it.”

No shit, Sherlock.

By now I had tested various body parts.  Knees were numb.  Hands, scraped.  Chin, a little sore. 

But here’s the thing.  I hit in this order: knees, tummy, boobs, palms.  My tummy and boobs cushioned the fall and saved my face. 

Yes, this was going through my mind as I pushed back with my tender palms to balance on my bloody knees.

“Ouch!”  I said.  No, that’s a lie.  I said something else.

I stood up.  Surveyed the damage.  My knees were a bloody mess, but the dress survived without a scratch.  It was made in China, of course.  Of plastic.

The crowd was dispersing.  But the pain wasn’t over.

Next day, I hobbled to the clinic.  The doctor, who probably isn’t old enough to drive a car, shook his head.

“Progressive glasses are the number one reason seniors fall.  They are looking through the reading part of their glasses when they walk, and can’t see the ground properly.”

Seniors?  I’ve still got my baby fat.

“Get some distance-only glasses,” he advised.

So I did.  Another 350 bucks later, I have a third pair of glasses to carry around in my purse.
Which means my purse isn’t big enough.

So I need to buy a new purse.

And that’s why book tours are so expensive.

Melodie Campbell is an infant Sleuthsayer, and this is her third column.  She writes comedies (No shit, Sherlock.)  You can find them at www.melodiecampbell.com and all the usual book places.

01 August 2014

What I'm Working on Now


by Steven Steinbock

After a very long absence from the Blogosphere, it's good to be back among friends especially on a Friday, my original day on Criminal Brief.

There's been a game of tag circulating among author blogs. Variously titled: “What I'm Working On” or “My Writing Process,” a blogger answers four questions about current projects and writing process, and then “tags” another author to answer the same questions.

I recently was tagged by Melissa Yuan-Innes, an Ontario-based ER physician with a growing list of novels, short stories, and essay collections. (Her stuff ranges from science fiction and paranormal to romance to crime and medicine).

If that isn't enough, she teaches Yoga and has two small kids. Her latest novel is Terminally Ill, and she's finishing up The Goa Yoga School Murders. Her story 'Om' is slated to appear in an upcoming issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. You can read her blog here.

Melissa was tagged by Rob Brunet (pictured with me at left), whose first novel Stinking Rich is being published in September by Down & Out Books. Rob is  being touted as Canada’s answer to Carl Hiassen. I befriended Rob two years ago at Bloody Words and talked him into coming to Bouchercon 2013 in Albany. Rob’s story, “The Hunt,” will be appearing soon in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. You can read his blog here.

When Melissa tagged me, I thought, “How fun!” Then I thought, “But I don't have a blog! And I don't write fiction. My old blog, The Vorpal Blade, began collecting cobwebs in 2007 when we launched Criminal Brief. In 2011, I began my regular column in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Then a few months later Criminal Brief disbanded and I saw it as a chance to take a break from blogtivity.

I'm grateful to my old blog-mates Leigh, John, Rob, and Janice (and Velma, of course) for allowing me to guest-post on SleuthSayers. I hope to be back here again soon.

And speaking of Sleuthsayers, I hereby tag my friend and the newest member of the Sleuthsayers team, Melodie Campbell, to pick up with her own answers.

On to the questions…

What Am I Working On?

Like I said a few paragraphs up, I'm not a fiction writer. My last published fiction was a story in EQMM about five years ago. But right now I have a lot of different irons in the fire. My column in EQMM has me reviewing around ten books a month. I teach Jewish studies courses, and I'm a contributing editor at AudioFile Magazine, for which I also write reviews, interviews, and occasional feature stories.

Earlier this month McFarland Books published a volume of essays about detective fiction in honor of Douglas Greene's 70th birthday, for which I wrote the foreword and one of the chapters. (For those who don't know him, Doug is a retired English history professor, the owner/creator of Crippen and Landru Publishers, and an authority on John Dickson Carr, locked-room mysteries, and everything else in classical detective fiction). I've also put together a collection of Edward D. Hoch's non-mystery short stories (mostly horror, science fiction, and alternative history) which will be published by Wildside Press.

Two years ago, I finished a novel featuring a young New England rabbi and his bad-ass outlaw side-kick/guardian. I plan to do some more editing on it, as well as playing around with follow-up story lines for a sequel. I also have some ideas floating around for a series of short stories featuring a First Century BCE Pharisaic sleuth.

How Does My Work Differ From Others In The Same Genre?

The Judaic content. In the 1960s Harry Kemelman wrote a popular series featuring a rural New England rabbi as his sleuth. They''re good books, but few people read them today. I think it's in part because the hero, Rabbi Small, isn't all that endearing to modern sensibilities. With my hero, “Rabbi Jake Lurie,” I've tried to create a fully three-dimensional character. He's self-conscious and idealistic. He wrestles with religion, morality, and politics. He falls in love every time he turns around. His best friend and self-appointed guardian is a gruff, bad-ass outlaw. Lou Santelli is to Jake what Hawk is to Spenser, what Pike is to Elvis Cole, and what Falstaff is to Prince Hal. He's bawdy, vengeful, and dangerous. And he's taken the young rabbi under his wings.

Why Do I Write What I Do?

It comes down to those two tired adages: write what you know, and write what you like to read. I used to be a Jewish educator. No matter how hard I've tried to leave it for a life a crime, I still am. I know the ins and outs, the good, the bad, and the ugly of synagogue life. I enjoy good plots and interesting, believable and complex characters. That's why I write what I do.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

I have a process? I'm not self-disciplined and I have a non-linear brain. In order for me to get anything done, I have to have a loose plot and a deadline.

I use a ton of note cards, whether I'm planning a story, a non-fiction article, or even a classroom lesson. I put a stack of blank cards in front of me and I write down ideas, one per card. These can include characters, themes and motifs, scenes or images, problems the characters may face, locations, whatever. Once there are a couple dozen of these cards, I can toss them in the air and see where they land. I can pick two at random and come up with a scene that combines them. I can spread them out like Tarot cards.

The more I look at them and play around with them, the story takes hold and details start taking shape. In the end, I end up with something like directions and landmarks on a road trip. I don't have to follow the directions, but whenever I'm writing and am stuck with what to do next, looking at this map helps.

Not long ago I had a group of characters and a setting, but no story. I enlisted my characters for help. I began writing a scene in which my two main characters were sitting in a café having a conversation about me and the story I was trying to write. These two guys who I thought I'd invented are tossing around story ideas, debating the merits of each. They came up with things I wouldn't have thought of. Did it help my story? No. Not directly. But it got me writing and kept my characters alive.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.