17 November 2014

Moderating a Special Panel


Jan Grape
Moderating A Special Panel

by Jan Grape

Recently, I was contacted by Linda Aronovsky Cox who had been customer at my bookstore, Mysteries & More. Linda wondered if I would be willing to moderate a panel with Jonathan and Faye Kellerman and their son, Jesse for the Jewish Book Fair.

Wow, of course, I agreed while doing a happy dance. And was dancing even more once I knew it was to be an evening event, 7:00pm on Thursday, October 30, at the Jewish Community Center, in Austin. I'm a more coherent person in the afternoon and evening.

I had read several books by both Jonathan and Faye and met them around twenty years ago at a West Coast Bouchercon, but I didn't know their son, Jesse is also pursuing a writing career. The current situation is that Jonathan and Jesse have collaborated on their first book, A Golem In Hollywood, released in September. Jesse's books prior to this including Potboiler, an Edgar nomination for Best Novel. Faye's current mystery titled, Murder 101, released also in September.

Jonathan Kellerman - Golem in Hollywood
Jesse Kellerman - PotBoiler
Fay Kellerman - Murder 101

The big problem to lift it's head was the fact the event was nine days away and I had not read their books. and I live 60 miles one way from Linda and the closest Barnes and Noble is 30 miles one way. Linda and I chatted back and forth and decided even if she mailed the books to me, I might not get them in time to read. We decided I should order from Amazon and the book fair would reimburse me.

I got the books on Friday afternoon late and started reading Golem. This book is character and plot rich and complicated and five hundred fifty pages long. Needless to say, I knew I couldn't do a good job if I had not read this book. I mostly did nothing starting Friday evening thru shortly after midnight on Sunday except read. And I finished it. Good thing because it's not something like any previous book you might have read.

On Monday evening I began reading Murder 101 by Faye Kellerman. An advantage here is that I've read her before and this is again with her series characters, Rina Decker and Peter Lazarus. The new premise of this one is the couple have moved to Upstate New York, to a small college town. Peter has had a career of homicide detective for the Los Angeles Police Department, but now is working for the small town of Greenbury. There has been a break in at a Mausoleum that had windows made by Tiffany.

The captain in charge of GPD asked Peter Lazarus to assist in the investigation because he had more experience than anyone else on the small force. The GPD mainly handled traffic violations and domestic cases and college students drinking problems. Peter accepted reluctantly because he was paired with Tyler McAdams, a brash, rich, totally self-absorbed and obnoxious young man who had no idea how to talk to anyone or even to handle a gun.

Of course major mayhem occurred including murder and very involved art theft and taking Peter, Tyler and even Rina to New York, where she was able to visit with children and grandchildren, but also to accompany her husband and Tyler to art galleries since she had some knowledge in that field. Tyler did prove useful with his computer skills. I wasn't able to finish this book before the event, but knew enough that I could ask a couple of pertinent questions.

How to prepare for an panel with the famous authors in attendance? I'm mostly a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants moderator. Maybe it's my childhood upbringing where my creativity wasn't stifled along with the fact that I've probably moderated twenty-five or more panels and been a guest author on another twenty or so. The main focus for the moderator is to highlight the authors on the panel. They want to talk about their book or books. They are hoping they will tell the audience enough, intrigue them enough that people will rush to buy their book. There were over two hundred people in the audience and a lot of books were sold.

My friend Linda Cox introduced me and I in turn introduced the authors one by one calling them up to the stage as I did. The three Kellermans sat at a table, each had microphones and I had requested water for each. No one had thought to do that, but it's very important because with a lot of talking and a little bit of nerves your mouth and throat turns cottony rather quickly.

Once the guests were seated, I stood at a podium with a microphone. I briefly mentioned the Golem book and said as a previous bookseller I would classify it as a mystery/suspense/fantasy/thriller and Jonathan said and slash Romance. I did have to get a chair bought up to the stage as standing began to aggravate my back. Fortunately, my microphone was one that I could take off the mike stand. I also stood up when indicating another person had the floor to ask a question.

I also like to start things off with a laugh if possible so I said to Jonathan and Jesse, "What kind of whacky-tobacky were you two smoking when you wrote this?" It got the required laugh and we were off. Naturally they denied they had smoked anything and Jonathan began telling how the idea and the book came into being.

He had visited Prague a while back and had been intrigued by the Golem myth. Seems like everywhere he went he saw something about the Golem, even seeing a sign for Golem burgers. He researched a little more and got more intrigued but he had a couple of Alex Delaware (his series character) books in progress and didn't have time to work on anything new.

One evening he and Jesse were discussing the idea and Jon's enthusiasm was contagious. Jesse said you really ought to write this and Jonathan said, how would you like to write it with me. Jesse is a best selling author of five thrillers and is a renown playwright and Dad knew the son could handle it.

They both live in California but Jesse lives three hundred miles away with his own wife and son. So the father and son wrote back and forth using e-mails. The book contains a present day mystery and a jump back to the time of Cain and Abel from the Bible. The parts are sectioned off in the book so that you understand what time period you are reading about. I asked if Jonathan wrote the present day and Jesse the historical and they said "No." We both wrote it all together and tried to make it one voice and I assured them they had done an excellent job with that.

This book is quite different. The present day and the historical fantasy come together in the end. And Jonathan and Jesse are already working on a sequel titled A Golem In Paris.

I then talked with Faye about her book, Murder 101 and she explained how the Tyler character was really a pain in Peter's behind but she'd had so much fun writing that character. She wanted to breathe new life into the Lazarus's lives and make them fresh again.

After twenty minutes of just the Kellermans, I turned the floor over to the audience and we had about twenty minutes of "How do you and Faye write together?" They previously collaborated on two books. They have a big house and one works in one wing and one works in the other wing. They also used the email method of working together and it worked well. They just didn't do face to face reading or editing.

Someone wanted to know if they thought the writing gene could be hereditary? And all agreed there might be something to that. Jonathan said his father wrote stories and Jesse says his young son has a good imagination and tells a good story which the father has written down.

All in all this was a wonderful evening. All three Kellermans were entertaining, witty, knowledgeable, and fun to listen to. I really didn't have much to do, just sort of point them to how, when, why and they jumped right in and left the audience wanting to hear the "rest of the story" by purchasing their books.

I highly recommend both books and, from everything I've heard, I think the attendees really enjoyed the evening.

Kellermans: Jonathan, Jesse, Jan Grape, Faye
Kellermans: Jonathan, Jesse, Jan Grape, Faye

16 November 2014

Return of the Native

by Leigh Lundin

Last Tuesday, Janice Law broadcast her take on writing as a reality television event, (which the French l’Oulipo actually does). As I was starting to comment, I recalled Monty Python ran a radio skit of Thomas Hardy writing as a spectator sport.

You can listen to Monty Python's sketch 'Novel Writing' and follow along with the transcript.

(Eric Idle) And now it’s time for novel-writing, which today comes from the West Country from Dorset.

(Michael Palin) Hello, and welcome to Dorchester, where a very good crowd has turned out to watch local boy Thomas Hardy write his new novel The Return of the Native on this very pleasant July morning. This will be his eleventh novel and the fifth of the very popular Wessex novels; and here he comes, here comes Hardy walking out toward his desk. He looks confident, he looks relaxed, very much the man in form as he acknowledges this very good-natured bank holiday crowd. And the crowd goes quiet now as Hardy settles himself down at his desk, body straight, shoulders relaxed, pen held lightly but firmly in the right hand. He dips the pen in the ink and he’s off! It’s the first word, but it’s not a word. Oh no, it’s a doodle way up on the left-hand margin. It’s a piece of meaningless scribble and he’s signed his name underneath. Oh dear, what a disappointing start! But he’s off again and here he goes, the first word of Thomas Hardy’s first novel at 10.35 on this very lovely morning. It’s three letters, it’s the definite article and it’s “the”, Dennis.

(Graham Chapman) Well, this is true to form, no surprises there. He’s started five of his eleven novels to date with the definite article. We’ve had two of them with “it”, there’s been one “but”, two “at”s, one “and”, and a “Dolores”. Oh, that, of course, was never published.

(Michael Palin) I’m sorry to interrupt you there, Dennis, but he’s crossed it out! Thomas Hardy here on the first day of his new novel has crossed out the only word he’s written so far, and he’s gazing off into space. Oh dear, he’s signed his name again.

(Graham Chapman) It looks like Tess of the D’Urbervilles all over again.

(Michael Palin) But he’s, no he’s down again and writing, Dennis. He’s written “the” again and he’s written “a” and there’s a second word coming up and it’s “sat”. “A sat …”, doesn’t make sense, “a satur …”, “a Saturday”, it’s “a Saturday”, and the crowd are loving it. They are really enjoying this novel. And “this afternoon”, “this Saturday afternoon in … in … in know … knowvember”, November is spelled wrong, but he’s not going back. It looks as if he’s going for a sentence and it’s the first verb coming up, the first verb of the novel and it’s “was”, and the crowd are going wild. “A Saturday afternoon in November was” – and a long word here – “appro … appro …” Is it “approval”? No, it’s “approaching, approaching…” “A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching,” and he’s done the definite article “the” again, and he’s writing fluently, easily with flowing strokes of the pen as he comes up to the middle of this first sentence. And with his eleventh novel well under way and the prospects of a good day’s writing ahead, back to the studio.

(Eric Idle) Wasp Club, introduced as usual by Ronny Thompson.

(Terry Jones) Hello, and welcome to Wasp Club where we…

(Eric Idle) We interrupt the sketch to take you straight back to novel-writing from Dorchester and the latest news about that opening sentence.

(Michael Palin) Well, the noise you can hear is because Hardy has just completed his first sentence and it’s a real cracker, just listen to this: “A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment,” and that after only three hours of writing. What a Hardyesque cracker.

15 November 2014

Incognito

by John M. Floyd

A few weeks ago I did something a bit different. I went to a weekend conference that had nothing to do with writing. But then, after I got there, it did.

First, a little background. While I was at Mississippi State University in the late 1960s, I was a member of a national engineering fraternity called Theta Tau. I pledged the local chapter (Kappa Beta) in the fall of my sophomore year, I somehow got accepted into their ranks, and for the next three years I went to the meetings, worked on community service projects, attended the banquets and dances and outings and recognition events, and made lifelong friends. I even hand-carved, as all pledges were required to do, a hammer out of a block of wood; it now hangs on the wall of my home office, above my computer.

In an unusual turn of fate, our two sons Michael and David wound up being engineering majors as well, and when they attended Mississippi State in the 1990s they also became members of Theta Tau. (Not that it matters, but I graduated in electrical engineering, Michael in chemical engineering, David in biological engineering. Michael's now a chem. e. with DuPont in West Virginia, and David--who went on to medical school afterward--is a physician at a hospital here in Mississippi.) So my sons are also my brothers, in the fraternity's record book, and when the MSU chapter of Theta Tau hosted a celebration of its 50th anniversary last month, all three of us attended the event (the reunion, actually), and spent the whole weekend on campus.

NOTE 1: It was a particularly good time to return to our alma mater. Thanks to the unpredictable blessings of the college football gods, Mississippi State's team has been ranked #1 in the nation for more than a month now. That lofty rating might come crashing down this weekend, when they play Alabama, so if you're reading these words on Saturday, November 15 . . . well, I hope you read them before the 2:30 kickoff.

NOTE 2: Our daughter Karen also graduated from Mississippi State, but she majored in music. A good choice, for two reasons: (1) she loves it, and has taught music in a local elementary school for the past ten years now, and (2) three out of five should be enough engineers for any one family.

Getting back to my story, Michael flew in from the Far North early that weekend, and the three of us Floyd boys piled into my car and drove the 120 miles to the little college town of Starkville. We met a lot of old (in my case, really old) classmates from Days Past, we ate a ton of barbecue at a cookout and bonfire that night, and we were given tours of the fraternity house, the engineering buildings, and the campus in general. I managed to learn a few things (example: the Simrall Electrical Engineering Building is the site of the largest high-voltage laboratory in North America), I unearthed some pleasant memories (most of which were related to dorm life and the campus pool hall), I ignored some unpleasant memories (most of which were related to classrooms and all-night study sessions), and I had a great time exploring and sightseeing.

So how does all this relate, even vaguely, to writing? I'll tell you. A lot of these old engineering buddies I ran into that weekend had become--you guessed it--writers. Some had begun writing long ago and others were fairly new to the task. Admittedly, many turned out to be authors of technical material: instruction manuals, articles for trade journals, hi-tech how-to books, etc. (Even I wrote a check-processing software guide, during my career with IBM; that literary endeavor is not one of my pleasant memories.) But lo and behold, some of these longlost friends were writers of fiction. Several had published or were working on novels, and a few--bless their little scientific hearts--had written short stories. Some had even read my short stories, or were kind enough to say they had.

Which begs the question: Could a background in engineering, math, technology, etc., naturally point someone toward a second career in writing? Since overachievers in any field can be a bit self-important at times, could ego play a part, here? Could such people feel more of a need to "enlighten" the world with their written words? Maybe--but I doubt it. Many of the engineers I went through school with were brilliant, but some were almost reclusive and a few, very honestly, didn't seem to have enough common sense to come in out of the rain. In my view, the answer is simple: In almost any large group of people these days, if and when they feel comfortable enough to chat for a while among themselves, you will discover a surprising number of folks who have decided to try their hand at writing. They might be aspiring or professional, secretive or open, traditionally-published or self-, literary or genre, fiction or non-, talented or pathetic, but there are a great many writers walking around out there in the world. As the little girl in Poltergeist said, "They're heeeee-ere." They're just hard to identify, in the wild.

I have yet another theory. I think writers who are less than well-known sort of enjoy eventually revealing the fact that they're writers, especially if they're revealing it to a gathering of colleagues or peers. Nobody brags (although they probably should) about being an engineer, but almost everyone who writes is proud of being an author. There's a certain fascination about it. "Whoa," says the wide-eyed nonwriter--"I've always wondered what that would be like."

I am no exception. I enjoy being a writer. A few months ago, having been asked many times at booksignings and writers' conferences, "Do you have a business card?"--and having replied many times that I did not, except for my old IBM cards--I finally gave in and ordered several hundred preprinted cards from an outfit online. The information on my newly-acquired business cards is short and to the point: my name, the word WRITER, my e-mail address, and my website name. And even though I seldom find a need to actually use them, I did hand a few cards to my old classmates and fraternity brothers during our little reunion last month. In the middle of all the discussions about robotics and thermodynamics and research grants and aeronautical design, I was able to grin and say, "I'm a writer now."

It felt good.

14 November 2014

Uncle Sam

by R.T. Lawton

Rainbow Division shoulder patch
Three days ago was November 11th, Veteran's Day, our national holiday to celebrate the end of World War I. The way the peace treaty was set up. at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, all the guns in Europe went silent. The War to End All Wars, which had started one hundred years ago from this year, was then over. More than 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians had perished. In those days, new technology for death and destruction, plus the stalemate of trench warfare had caused the increased casualty rate.

My Family

All this got me to thinking. When I was a kid, I remember times when my Uncle Sam Pritchard came to visit. He was always a quiet man, never said much, but was good to all his nieces and nephews and seemed to enjoy our company with fishing, camping and archery. Us kids though got reminders not to ask our uncle about the war he was in or even to mention that war to him at all. At our young age, we merely agreed and didn't think much about it. Although, I know my dad and Sam must have discussed the subject a few times because my dad would sometimes tell me stories about Sam and The Great War.

German soldiers on way to the front
As I was told, my Uncle Sam had been a mechanic in the Rainbow Division, an American army division which fought in France. At the front, their meals of cooked beans were loaded into large metal cans at the field kitchens and carried to the troops in the trenches on the backs of pack mules. Life at the front was short. Sam was sick when he came home after the war. Seems a slight whiff of Mustard Gas had burned his lungs during one of the German attacks, but he survived and made it back alive.

French reserves headed to Verdun
I always liked the old guy and had some good times with him. On a whim recently, I plugged his name into a Google search. Didn't really expect to find much, so I was surprised to locate a roster of the Rainbow Division for that time period. About two thirds of the way through the roster, I found his name under the 168th Regiment (3rd Iowa) Infantry: Samuel A. Pritchard, Mechanic, Van Meter, Iowa. All the other names had a rank behind the name, so evidently in those days Mechanic was a specialty rank. I had known Sam to be good with his hands, always making something out of wood or metal, inventing machines, tinkering and repairing stuff. It's easy to believe he was listed as a Mechanic.

British gas casualties
Unit History

The Rainbow Division (42nd Infantry Division) was activated in August 1917 and was made up of various regiments from 26 states and Washington, D.C. Their shoulder patch is a quarter arc of bands of red, yellow and blue on an army green border. Arriving in France in November 1917, the Division took part in four major operations: the Champagne-Marne, the Aisne-Marne, the Battle of Saint-Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. In 1919, the Division was deactivated until being placed back into service for WWII.

Russian troops awaiting German attack
Choosing Sides:

The main players in this 1900's world drama were:

     Central Powers ~ Germany, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bosnia, Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria
     Allied Powers ~ America, British Empire, France and colonies, Belgium, Serbia, Russia, Italy

Aftermath

The aggressor was defeated and rightly so, but the aftermath of The War to End All Wars only set the stage for the next global conflict and some of the smaller conflicts which followed after that one. Treaties had been written by the politicians to punish the losing countries who then resented their poor economic conditions and stored away old grudges to be brought out later. Territories were distributed as the winners saw fit which caused future unrest among peoples and governments. The desire by various countries for valuable resources decided where the control for some lands went. The fire was being lit for World War II, it merely smoldered under the surface for a time. Tribes and cultures in Africa and the Middle East were set on collision courses still being reaped in today's world.

Canadian tanks & troops
Austrians executing Serbs, 1917
Politicians wrote the various treaties for their own purposes both before the war to choose sides and after the war to set the terms of surrender, but it was the soldiers who fought the war and suffered in the process. My Uncle Sam served in our army from a sense of patriotic duty to his country, as many soldiers do, however I seriously doubt that many, if any, of those politicians involved in the decisions before and after ever served at the front during that time of death, destruction and madness.

13 November 2014

My Worst Case Of Writers Block

by Jim Winter

About four years ago, I got laid off from the job I held for fourteen years. I had severance, so this actually turned out to be good. After about four months, though, I'd started to lose interest in everything. Especially writing.

It had been a few years since my original publisher imploded, and my then agent failed to sell Road Rules, the Leonardesque road trip caper I'd written on a dare. I had no clue what to do next, and I didn't really care. I fired my agent and decided to just give up writing.

Fast forward about six months. New job doing what I'd trained for instead of being stuck doing only what my old employer wanted me to do. I started to get an interest in writing again, but what to write. A new Nick Kepler novel? A follow-up to Road Rules? A pre-9/11 thriller I'd been toying with? None of these really captured my interest. But I wanted to write.

Finally, I just sat down and wrote the autobiography of a rock musician character a friend and I used to kick around when we were in our late teens. The beginning was interesting, reminding me of one of those Stephen King novels that flash back to the characters' childhood days. The real challenge was writing the character in the late fifties and early sixties as a kid and giving him time in Vietnam. And then one weekend, with nothing scheduled or planned, I sat down to write about his adventures in late sixties London.

When I stopped on Sunday evening that weekend, I'd written 17,000 words. Not 17,000 words total in the manuscript. 17,000 words from Friday evening all the way to Sunday.

Very rarely does anyone write that much, and I wouldn't submit these pages for any publication. Besides, I borrow liberally several historical figures, some of whom are still alive.

Since that time, the book or mock autobiography or whatever you want to call it has served to give me time writing original work when I'm between projects. It also had an interesting side benefit. I soon was rereading the next novel I wanted to submit for publication (for which I now owe an agent revisions). I started writing almost constantly.

I've always heard that one should write through writers block. That's actually the easy part. The hard part is finding what to write.

12 November 2014

The School of Night

by David Edgerley Gates

The first of Anthony Burgess' novels I read, or at least finished, was NOTHING LIKE THE SUN, a re-imagining of Shakespeare's life. (I'd tried tackling A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, but found it too difficult.) Many years later, he wrote an extraordinary book called EARTHLY POWERS - which deserves a column of its own - but one of the last books he published in his lifetime was A DEAD MAN IN DEPTFORD. It revisits the Elizabethan age, one of Burgess' great passions, and looks into the mystery surrounding the murder of Christopher Marlowe. 
  
'Mystery' is an inexact word, because we know who killed him. Stabbed him above the eye, during a drinking quarrel. The question is whether it was arranged beforehand.


Marlowe
Kit Marlowe was a poet first, and then a hugely successful playwright. He and Shakespeare were born the same year, 1564, but Marlowe was a marquee name much earlier. DOCTOR FAUSTUS is probably the most famous of his plays, and the most quoted. "Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it." "Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?" "I'll burn my books." FAUSTUS also attached to Marlowe the reputation of being an atheist or a heretic, a damaging accusal.

He was also a spy. This has been disputed, but he was probably in the pay of either Lord Burghley, the queen's treasurer, or Sir Francis Walsingham, her principal secretary. Walsingham, a member of the Privy Council, was Elizabeth's spymaster, a secret and dangerous man. The dates don't always work, but Marlowe was often absent abroad, and his chief mission was apparently to penetrate supposed Catholic plots threatening the queen. More to the point, various criminal charges brought against Marlowe were dismissed or nol prossed, which meant he had powerful protectors. Finally, though, a warrant was issued on the charge of sedition, involving inflammatory anti-Protestant literature. Given the climate
Walsingham
of the time, however, this could have been a deception - a provocation, in present-day vocabulary, bait to draw out suspected conspirators.


In the event, Marlowe was ordered to appear before the Privy Council. He presented himself on May 20th, 1593, but the council didn't meet. He was told to keep himself available, until such time as they did. He was murdered on the 30th, ten days later, without ever testifying.

Four men spent the day drinking at a pelting house in Deptford. Kit Marlowe, Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres, and Robert Poley. Frizer, Skeres, and Poley were dubious characters, loan sharks, confidence men, and all three of them had served in some capacity or another for the Walsinghams, either the late Sir Francis or his first cousin, Thomas, a one-time agent provocateur in the intelligence trade, now turned gentleman, and a member of the queen's court. At some point late in the afternoon, according to the inquest, Frizer and Marlowe got in a fight over the bill. Marlowe attacked Frizer, Frizer stuck him in the head with a knife and killed him. It was ruled self-defense. Kit Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave. Frizer was pardoned inside of a month.

This much is known. The rest is speculation.


Raleigh
Sir Walter Raleigh's name surfaces. Although a favorite of Elizabeth's, he had many enemies, and his star rose and fell. There was plenty of malicious gossip being passed around. One story goes that Raleigh, thought to be no respecter or religion, hosted a coven of unbelievers, known as The School of Night. Marlowe was said to attend, as were Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, and the astronomer Thomas Harriot. Nothing supports this, or even that the men knew each other, but it certainly thickens the plot, if plot there was. Supposedly, should Marlowe have been tortured, he might have incriminated Raleigh. This fabrication could have been circulated by Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, another of Elizabeth's favorites and a rival of Raleigh's. Essex went to the block in 1601, Raleigh himself was executed some years later, both men attainted by treason to the crown. No evidence suggests either of them had a hand in Marlowe's death. The circumstances have remained unexplained.

Shakespeare has the last word, in AS YOU LIKE IT. "When a man's verses cannot be understood, nor a man's good with seconded with the forward child, understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room." The 'reckoning' refers to an unpaid bill, the 'little room' to a shabby kennel in Deptford.



http://www.davidedgerleygates.com/

11 November 2014

Real Writers, Real Time

by Janice Law

Recently I read about a new Italian reality show featuring, are you ready for this, writers, a sort of Project Runway or American Idol for the scribbling trade. No way, I thought, and then I stumbled on one of the Iron Chef programs, and I began to rethink my opposition.

Lest you be unfamiliar with the Iron Chef format, let me sketch for you an entertainment set in a crowded industrial kitchen with a bevy of chefs and sous chefs all frantically preparing elaborate meals under time pressure– rather like a newsroom on deadline. But the creators, not content to have us watch other folks sweat while they work, have added a commentator.

With the breathless enthusiasm of a horse race announcer or a basketball color man, the Iron Chef announcer “calls” the dinners. “That’s Bobby taking out the salmon– looking good. Martha is busy prepping the vegetables. Is Dave having trouble with that cream sauce?” You get the picture.

Translate this now, if you will, to the realm of pen and ink, or more likely, the computer keyboard. I don’t know how the Italians did it, but I envision a semicircular set with laboring scribes arranged around the table and a big video screen mounted in the center under the control of our announcer–and please make him or her frenetic– who can bring up the content of any of the writers for our delectation.

Our master of ceremonies will need to be fleet of foot to keep track of the writers’ progress and quick to switch away from a tedious ‘get the character from here to there’ paragraph and onto a steamy romantic scene or an attack of the zombies. Since audiences love to see people called on their errors, our literary maitre de ought to be a good grammarian with a keen nose for cliches and unintentional double entendres.

To ensure success, I’d also advise a careful selection of genre-bending writers: mysteries mashed up with science fiction; Chick-Lit keeping company with slashers and romance flirting with techno-thrillers.

With a little care, we might be entertained somewhat along these lines:
“Welcome again to Real Writers. Remember we always feature Real Writers with Real Plots. I see Charlene is busy with her flirtatious copywriter, Suzanne, who’s opening the door– to Brad, who we learned last week has a homicide habit. Bad move, Suzanne! Is that a gun in his pocket? We’ll know in a minute.
“How’s Martin doing? Oh, very nice! The terrorist cell has planted a bomb in a cement mixer. And our hero is stuck in traffic on the Deegan. Good touch, but maybe too much tech in the fifth paragraph, Martin, and watch that dangling modifier.
“Claude, my man! Locked room mystery. Love it! And here comes our forensic specialist. Is she still wearing that coat from chapter one? We all remember the spaghetti sauce on the collar. Give her a little sex appeal. Talk to Charlene about wardrobe.
“Luella. Still on the opening? Dear, dear. The seashore setting is wonderful–“the immortal crashing breakers of grief”– a literary classic, but plot, action. Oh, a seagull. Listen, unless it talks, that’s not going to fill the bill.
“How’s Suzanne doing? Brad’s in her apartment, is he? She’s offering him a drink. Another bad move! Oh, what’s she dropping into his Margarita? Can she suspect? What do you think back home? Time will tell!
“Martin! Still on the Deegan. This is no time for excess realism. Oh, right. The ticking time bomb plot. I know you’re on the case. And where’s the cement mixer? A block from the ambassador’s residence? Guys, is this suspense or not?
“Yes, Claude? Cliche as old as Hitchcock? Let’s not be catty. Oldies can be goodies.
“What’s Charlene typing? “Talk about cliche– the locked room mystery! A classic format, Charlene.”
“Woman in jeopardy isn’t exactly new-minted, either.”
“No, you’re right about that, Martin, but we’re all supportive here. Writers working together, that’s our format.
“Luella, that last line’s got to be bleeped! And no, no, Martin, careful with that cup. Sorry about that folks, bit of coffee on the lens. Charlene, Claude, watch the equipment! We have limited liability, remember.
“Well, folks, nothing like a full and frank exchange of literary opinions, but that’s all for today for Real Writers. Remember, Real Writers, Real Plots, Real Excitement!”

10 November 2014

Shameless

by Fran Rizer

Part One:


Santa isn't checking his list--not even once, certainly not twice.  He doesn't care who's naughty or nice until he finds out what happens to Callie Parrish in Fran Rizer's A Corpse Under the Christmas Tree, available now from Bella Rosa Books and Amazon in print and ebook.

Part Two:


Don't worry about the difference between Lowcountry, Beaufort, and Frogmore Stew.  As Callie Parrish's gorgeous Gullah friend Rizzie Profit explains, "They're all the same thing."

Here's Rizzie's recipe:

Ingredients

Water to fill great big pot half full
3 cans of your favorite beer
1 bag Old Bay Seafood Seasoning or 1/4 cup other commercial seafood boil seasoning
4-5 pounds small red potatoes or quartered larger potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into 2-inch pieces
(use Andouille if you love Cajun spice)
6 ears fresh corn cut into halves
4 pounds medium or large shrimp with heads removed, but not peeled
Optional:
4 pounds whole crabs, cleaned and broken into quarters
(soft shell crabs are fantastic when in season)
Rizzie's Directions

Just like many things (I won't embarrass myself or you by naming them), timing is everything.  Bring water to low boil.  Add beer and seafood seasoning.  Add potatoes and cook 10 minutes.  Add sausage and cook 5 more minutes.  Add corn and crab.  Cook another 5 minutes.  Remove one potato and one piece each of sausage, corn, and crab.  Check for doneness.  Return to pot.  Add shrimp and leave everything together for 3 more minutes.  Drain the water and discard it or scoop ingredients out with a slotted spoon.

In summertime, dump drained food in center of paper-covered picnic table for guests to serve themselves.  In cooler weather, serve in large restaurant style pans.  Most folks like cocktail sauce and lots of beer or sweet iced tea with this dish.

Callie's Brother Frankie's Comments

Rizzie's stew is different from lots of others because she uses beer in the water and she likes to add crab to the original recipe.  In the Lowcountry (coastal South Carolina), some people use shrimp with the heads on while others prefer cleaned, deveined shrimp. Rizzie removes the heads because she thinks some tourists might object to them, but she prefers to cook the shrimp in shell because she says it preserves the texture of the meat. This recipe is how Rizzie makes the stew at Gastric Gullah Grill, but at home, she sometimes adds whole crawfish.  She also claims that the next time someone insists on calling it "Frogmore Stew," she will add frog legs to the pot.

This is only one of Rizzie's Gullah and Pa's southern recipes found in Fran Rizer's A Corpse Under the Christmas Tree, a Callie Parrish holiday whodunit now available from Bella Rosa Books and Amazon in print and ebook.

Part Three:

Why did I title this with a Garth Brooks song title?  Because I'm shameless about my subject today. Garth sang about shameless love.  I'm referring to shameless self-promotion.  An old adage tells us that any publicity is good publicity, and I'm beginning to believe it.  I'm also having a great amount of fun coming up with methods and places to post self-promotion for my books.

Now, we'll switch from Garth's song reference to one from James Brown (yes, the same one who sings from Callie's bra when she tucks her cell phone in there to keep from losing it).

"Please, Please, Please," check out my newest self-promotion effort:



What about you? If you're a writer, how much do you self-promote your writings and how do you do it?  If you're primarily a reader, give suggestions and tell us what you think is most effective. Please share your ideas as well as what you think of my very first book trailer.  I can hardly wait to show you what's coming in January, 2015.

Until we meet again, take care of . . . you!

09 November 2014

The Not-So-Noble Bachelor

by Leigh Lundin

For a brief, shining moment in time, PBS Mystery brought us gems of classic mysteries, perfect, definitive portrayals of Miss Marple by Joan Hickson, Hercule Poirot by David Suchet, and Sherlock Holmes by Jeremy Brett.

Usually the bad guys were well-cast, too. In ‘The Greek Interpreter’  from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (season 2, episode 2, 01 Sep 1985), actor George Costigan channels a chilling Peter Lorre as Wilson Kemp, the mad mastermind behind terrible crimes. This version's ending deviates from the original, which I usually frown upon, but this interpretation disposes of the other bad guy, Harold Latimer, with a satisfying demise in a train car.



But it’s seldom wise to stray too far from the Master’s Canon.

A Little Less Cocaine, Please

I hadn’t seen ‘The Eligible Bachelor’ on PBS Mystery from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (season 3, episode 2, 10 Feb 1994), when I stumbled upon this ponderous piece, an adaptation of Doyle’s ‘The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor’. Although Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke again star, this one-hour 44-minute made-for-TV-movie doesn’t carry the usual introduction other than the words ‘A Granada film’.

I deduce a little too-much cocaine was involved and not merely Sherlock’s. The director could have lopped off 20% from the running time. Those flash-forwards and flashbacks and flash-sideways dragged the pace into the mud. Here, Sherlock seemed bloated and, if not exactly dissipated and dissolute, disgusted with the whole matter. Still, it’s worth watching if only for Edward Hardwicke’s portrayal.

[Note: I wrote this article some months back and just discovered this episode now blocks North American viewers from watching it, perhaps anticipating my review and doing readers a favor. In lieu thereof, I include this brief clip of a few of its lowlights.]



One commenter, ‘OrchestrationOnline’, writes:
A regrettable adaptation of what was originally a simple story about a nobleman marrying a rich American heiress for her money and getting left at the altar. The producers have abandoned any pretense of faithfulness to the author by the wayside- which missed the original point of this series. When you lose faithfulness, then these stories just become penny-dreadfuls, which is certainly true here.
Odd as it seems, sometimes Sherlock Holmes needs defending.

08 November 2014

Comedy Writer Falls Right Over Cliff - Worst Typos EVER

By Melodie Campbell

Ever make a really bad typo?  I mean really bad.

My worst ever professional mistake was in an Annual Report for a one-hundred-million dollar corporation, when I was the director of marketing and communications.  Unfortunately, an innocent little ‘t’ went missing from the word ‘assets.’  The board was not amused by “This year, we experienced an increase in corporate asses.”

Recently, I found out what one little vowel can do to Rowena and the Dark Lord, book 2 in the Land’s End series.

Okay, REALLY uncool when you misspell the name of your own book on a guest blog.

Rowena and the Dark LARD is probably not the best way to get sales for a ‘Game of Thrones Lite’ fantasy series.

However, as I do write comedy, I'm thinking about a parody.
Is it okay to write a parody of your own book?

Draft one: Rowena and the Dark Lard

Synopsis 1: Rowena moves back to Land’s End and opens up a bakery.

Synopsis 2: Cedric’s use of dark magic goes totally out of control, and so does his appetite.

Synopsis 3: Thane and Rowena return to Land’s End and become pig farmers.

Synopsis 4: Rowena messes up another spell that causes all who look at her to turn into donuts.

Synopsis 5: Rowena kills off Nigella Lawson in a battle with pastry rollers, and assumes the role
of Prime Time Network Food Goddess <sic>.

Synopsis 6: Someone takes a totally justified whack at the author. End of series.

Postscript: Recently was quoted by someone as the author of ROWENA AND THE DORK LORD.  Trial for murder is pending.

Post postscript (where is a Latin scholar when you need one?):  Another contract out for the professional book tour company hired by my publisher last month, who, in all their advertising, inadvertently switched book 3 Rowena and the Viking Warlord to…wait for it…Viking Landlord.  Yup.  Obviously there will be hell to pay if you forget the rent. 

Have you some spectacular typos in your past?  Share them here!  I'll feel better.

07 November 2014

Frankenstein and Guildenstern Are Dead: Some post-Halloween musings that may prove humorous

By Dixon Hill

Well, Halloween has come and gone, which means the heat has broken here in the Valley of the Sun. The snow birds are flocking in to crowd the restaurants and jam the roads; lawns burned brown by the summer are now greening up nicely; and my apartment balcony/patio has become much more habitable during daylight hours.

This means I can drag my laptop computer outside and write much more often, without worrying that the heat might fry its innards.  True, I'll shortly need to begin wearing a sweatshirt -- and, not much later, a hat and coat -- in order to join my laptop outside.

But I can handle that better than my laptop can handle the summer heat here in the desert.  And, as I write this, shorts, flip-flops and a thin cotton shirt are fine.

So is my cigar.

With Halloween behind, Thanksgiving looming up fast, and Christmas just around the December corner, this is a time I often find myself asking deep, introspective questions such as:

What's the best way to fit everybody into our new apartment (much smaller than our house) for Thanksgiving, and how shall I address turkey and or ham burning . . . er, uh . . . COOKING, in this slightly smaller, yet hotter oven?

Where are we going to put the Christmas tree?  (Thankfully, my wife's degree is in Interior Design, so that's her department -- which doesn't keep me from wondering.)

Should I splurge on 50%-off items at the local Spirit Halloween store, before they close, so we'll have plenty of liquid latex lying around when my son changes his mind and decides to enter the CosPlay contest at next year's Comicon?

And:  How and why, DEAR GOD!, do we have four cats?  My daughter recently moved out: why didn't she take one?  At least one!

I suspect I'm not the only one with important and lingering questions, this time of year.  Here's a question my wife asked me while I was driving her to work, this morning:

Why did Tattoo always have to tell Mr. Roarke, "Ze plane, boss!  Ze plane!" on the TV show Fantasy Island?  Couldn't Mr. Roarke see the plane?  I mean, did being short give Tattoo a better vantage point for seeing a plane up in the sky?  What -- was Mr. Roarke like: "Sorry, I'm so tall, I had my head in the clouds and they obscured my vision of the aircraft.  Thank you, Tattoo,"?

How could I answer her?  I had no idea.  For all I know, the FAA recruits no one taller than 4-foot-7 as Air Traffic Controllers because shorter people see planes sooner than taller folks.  And, with this blog being posted on the internet, undoubtedly we'll soon see a television news program reporting my suggestion as factual data -- in a 15-second human interest story, used to segue into upcoming advertisements.

My wife also said I should tell you more about Heli-casting, in which folks jump out the back of perfectly good helicopters flying about 20 feet above the water and moving forward at up to 20 or 25 knots air speed.

This is a pretty good picture of a heli-casting op, but I have no idea why that fellow is wearing a helmet. We never wore helmets when heli-casting; just kept boonie hats in our pockets (jumping bareheaded because otherwise the wind and water would have knocked our hats off and we would have lost them.

In this person's right hand, s/he is holding his/her rucksack (which looks a bit too small to be useful, frankly), while that collection of elements in his/her left hand are fins and mask (and possibly snorkel).  Which leads me to another important question:   Where is this person going to put that helmet, once s/he has that mask on?

The rucksack in the heli-caster's right hand should be attached to the jumper with a tow line about 20 to 25 feet long, and made of lightweight rope or 1-inch nylon tubing with snap links at either end, so it can be snapped on and off of the ruck and the caster's equipment harness.  As s/he jumps, s/he should throw the ruck to his/her right, while trying to throw his/her body left.  This, hopefully, keeps the heli-caster from landing on the ruck, which might be painful.

Meanwhile, those folks in the water who seem either to be waving, or to be in the final throes of drowning, are actually doing neither.  They are signalling the helicopter's loadmaster that they have arrived in the water without killing themselves in the fall, and are well enough to be left behind to continue the mission.

And, speaking of Fantasy Island (honest, I really did mention it before; if you don't believe me just scroll up several lines), I remember reading what may be an apocryphal tale, about the show's origins.
Supposedly, Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg were trying to sell some TV series ideas to an ABC executive, who shot down every suggestion they made.  Finally, in frustration, Spelling blurted out: "What the heck do you want?  An island that people can go to, to have all their sexual fantasies realized?"  (or words to that effect)  The executive (I know you'll be shocked by this -- SHOCKED!) loved the idea and gave them the green light to develop the project.  (And we thought we had it rough, as writers...)

And now, having been awake working all night prior to writing this, I'll post it and go to bed.  So that I might arise refreshed and head back to the salt mines.



Ricardo Montalban:

"I seldom dance.  But, when I do dance: I dance ballet . . . in cowboy musicals."

This false quote posted in tribute to anon's comment.
See you in two weeks!
--Dixon







06 November 2014

What Were They Thinking?

by Eve Fisher

As you all know, I do some volunteer work in the local penitentiary with the Alternatives to Violence Project (I promote that wherever I can!). Anyway, over the course of the last few years, I have learned that there are very few Moriaritys, Zecks, Penguins, or Lex Luthors in the criminal world. (There ARE lots of jokers, just not with a capital "J".) But of course, you will argue, they are the ones that got caught. True. And how did they get caught? So often, sheer stupidity.

The convicted felon on parole who posted a picture of himself on Facebook holding a gun and a beer: apparently it never occurred to him that his parole officer might keep track of social media.

University of Pittsburgh Professor Robert Ferrante is currently under arrest for poisoning his wife by giving her creatine (supposedly in hopes of stimulating egg production) that was either laced with or was really cyanide. Okay, clever, in a creepy sort of way: but he ordered the cyanide on-line, asking for overnight delivery, using his own credit card. I can hardly wait for the first Apple wallet poisoner… Hint to future poisoners - cash only.

Speaking of things you should never do - never try to sell drugs over the phone to total strangers. A Florida teenager tried this in 2007, when he got a wrong number and still offered to sell the person drugs: trouble was, he'd called the home number of a Florida cop. You can guess the rest.

I've always loved the Loomis Fargo Brinks robbers - David Scott Ghantt, Kelly Campbell and Steve Chambers - who from the get-go were out to get each other. Chambers always intended for Ghantt to take the fall, and, using Campbell as the intermediary, Chambers assumed that the FBI would never connect him to Ghantt or to the robbery. Ghantt was, indeed, the obvious suspect from the beginning. But what gave Chambers away was a massive spending spree that began with moving from his mobile home to a luxury house, and went on to include a BMW and a velvet Elvis painting. (As Jeff Foxworthy says, "You can't give red-necks money.") Campbell was also brilliant, going to the local bank and asking, "How much can I deposit before you have to report it to the feds? Don't worry, it isn't drug money." Hint: don't ever ask this at a bank. Look it up on-line. On someone else's computer.

Also, keep track of your stuff. In 2011 a man named Trevor Jones decided to rob a house in Atlanta. Let us make a list of the things he did wrong:
  1. He parked his car in the driveway.
  2. He left the front door wide open.
  3. He left his keys and wallet in his car.
So when the homeowner returned and saw all that, she took the wallet and keys and called the cops. But Trevor Jones continued to do stupid stuff. When he realized that his keys and wallet were gone, he went running into a nearby pond. (No, I have no idea why.) On the other side of the pond, he broke into another house where he used their computer (bad password, I'm assuming) to log into Facebook and post various stuff. He also left behind puddles wherever he went… And, when he left that house, he forgot to log out of Facebook…

And so, full circle, I leave you, pondering on velvet Elvis, credit cards, and Facebook.

File:Velvet Elvis Presley painting.jpg

05 November 2014

Sinking in the Amazon

by Robert Lopresti

About a bad habit (one of many) new authors can get into.  For a tune: think sea chantey.

I'm so proud I can hardly speak
My new novel came out last week
At the web I took a peek
To see how the sales went on
    They were low but began to rise
    I thought I was in for a sweet surprise
    All of a sudden, right before my eyes
    I was sinking in the Amazon
  
Sinking in the Amazon!
Sinking in the Amazon!
Where have all my readers gone?
I was sinking in the Amazon

My friends swore they would buy my book
Critics said it was worth a look
These sales figures have got me shook
This duckling should be a swan
    Some bad novels are doing well
    But my little masterpiece does not sell
    And while it drops toward the pits of hell
    I am sinking in the Amazon

Sinking in the Amazon!
Sinking in the Amazon!
Fiction should outsell non-
I am sinking in the Amazon

I stared so hard I began to squint
I wished these numbers would take a hint
I act like the sales race is a sprint
When I know it's a marathon
    Buy my book and the numbers lift
    Pass me by and the patterns drift
    Maybe my Uncle Ed needs a gift!
    I'm sinking in the Amazon

Sinking in the Amazon!
Sinking in the Amazon!
Is my career a con?
I am sinking in the Amazon

I know that I should be writing more
But now I really can't tell what for
If my books just squat in the big e-store
When they ought to fly hither and yon
    How can I make  my brain gears mesh?
    The spirit's weak and so's the flesh
    I slip to that site and I hit refresh
    And I'm sinking in the Amazon

Sinking in the Amazon!
Sinking in the Amazon!
Deader than Babylon
Sinking in the Amazon