14 September 2014

The Sausage Factory


by Leigh Lundin

Rob Lopresti wrote about the ordering of chronological events that might be revealed in a story, e.g, relating event 2 before telling us about event 1. I find I’m no stranger to unveiling events out of sequence, although I probably lay things out as they happen more often than not.

Like Melodie Campbell, I’m a plotter. I need to know a story complete, how it ends before I start writing, even if characters sometimes push their own agendas.

Part of this comes from my experience as a software architect. I designed very intricate systems software, which John Floyd and Darlene Poier will understand. Fifty- or a hundred-thousand lines of machine code must work perfectly, step-by-step, or disaster strikes. As a manager, one of the most negative signs of talent was a programmer who started writing code the day he received his assignment instead of taking days or even weeks to fully understand and plan the project. Know the ending before beginning was a key to success.

Wurst Notions

Filmmakers often compare making movies to making sausage: you don’t want to know how it’s done. Sometimes I think that’s true of writing fiction.

When I stretch out on the sofa with my eyes closed, I’m working. Don’t be fooled by snoring, I’m still working. Like a video, I run a story through my head, pausing, rewinding, reworking, re-editing to get it right. The movie in my mind has to work before I’m ready to turn it into digital ones and zeros or splatter it on paper.

One advantage to this approach is that just as movie makers often film scenes out of sequence, I occasionally write my scenes out of sequence. Don’t worry– it’s all in my head, but I might choose to jot down particular parts before others.

By the Numbers

In the midst of editing for someone else, a story came to me that I needed to write. As long as I record the essentials, I can do both, much like I used to read more than one book at once. With the plot in mind and, using Rob’s notation, I began writing my scenes in the order of 3, 1, 4, 2.

This particularly story has an unusual feature, a semi-dénouement or false ending (scene 3 designated above). A character reveals how he outfoxed the bad guy, but then the tables turn in a red herring feeding frenzy (scene 4).

I thought I knew where I wanted my reader to begin– as near the end as possible, so goes the good advice. And thus I started with an opening scene that pulled all the characters together at once and went well. But then the real dénouement…

The grand plot was revealed in dialogue as mystery stories have done for the past century and a half. But my characters telling it sounded like blah-blah-blah. It was wooden. I was pretending to show, not tell. What would prevent a character, let alone the reader, from taking a commercial break and heading to the kitchen? The retelling was, well, telling.

Reading in the Dark


I’m the kind of guy who keeps readers in the dark. Why? Because that’s how I like to read, given the chance to use my brain to assemble clues and figure out what’s going on. I can’t simply watch a movie– my brain races ahead, parsing possible plot outcomes. Usually it’s a win either way: I feel satisfaction if I figure it out and, if a screenwriter fairly fools me, then kudos to them. So yeah, I think readers like their intelligence respected and challenged. Dale Andrews and I have discussed this and whether you like to solve the puzzle or if you simply like to relax and read at the end of a long day, we'd love to hear your opinion.

Other than scene setting, almost every sentence in this story attempts one of two contrary things: It either darkens the plot while secretly providing a clue, or a line seemingly enlightens while actually misleading the reader.

But here in the grand dénouement, I hit a dead spot. The script turned grey and lifeless.

To bring immediacy to the writing, I briefly considered a flashback, but I realized scene 4 was a wrapper for an embedded scene 0, which takes place three years before the rest of the tale. A novelist might call it a prologue, but I don’t see it that way. It has action: things exploding, fires burning, tension bubbling, lots of trouble. What better way to open a story?

Surprisingly, after all this sausage grinding, the final product would read in chronological sequence.

Although my story isn’t honed at this hour (scene 2 still needs work), my sequence of laying down pieces has occurred in this order: 3, 1, 4, 2, 0, where the scenes are:
3. pseudo dénouement
1. story opening
4. true dénouement
2. main body
0. precipitating events

That sounds far more convoluted than what the reader will see:
0. precipitating events
1. story opening
2. main body
3. pseudo dénouement
4. true dénouement

The end.

13 September 2014

Tagged and Bagged! This Writer of Mob Comedies Spills the Goods


by Melodie Campbell.

I should have known there would be a price. 

Back in 2012, when Steve Steinbock reviewed The Goddaughter in Ellery Queen’s Jury Box, I was ecstatic.  <So was my publisher.  Ellery Queen ROCKS!>

Steve called my book hilarious. I called Steve my hero. Little did I know, two years and three books later, that he would be tagging me on SleuthSayers.

Oh Steve, thy devilish one.

Many of you remember Steve from the days of ‘Criminal Brief, the blog.’  <There are a hundred ways in which I want to play with the word ‘brief’ right now, but I will refrain.>  Steve and I met years ago at a Bloody Words Mystery conference in Toronto. We discovered that, as teens, we shared a mutual pash <lovely Brit expression there> for Dark Shadows, the original series.

I like and respect Steve.  I also fear him slightly <EQ and all> so hastily accept the tag.

What Am I Working On?

The Goddaughter Caper.  Or A Coffin for the Goddaughter.  Or A Body for the Goddaughter.  Or The Goddaughter’s Coffin Caper.

Somebody help here!  Book 4 of the Goddaughter trilogy <sic> is nearing completion, and I need a title.  I started with the 3rd example in the list above.  I’m leaning toward the first.  Of course, Orca Books may throw all those out and come up with their own, but I’d still like to hear from readers in the comments below.

Gina Gallo and her inept mob family are back in biz.  This time, bodies are showing up in all the wrong places.  The second book in the series, The Goddaughter’s Revenge, won both the 2014 Derringer and Arthur Ellis awards for best crime novella. <author is over the moon>  The third in the series, The Artful Goddaughter, came out last week.

For those new to the series: Gina is a mob goddaughter in the industrial city of Hamilton (The Hammer.) Try as she might, she can’t seem to leave the family business.

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

Library Journal said it well:  “Campbell’s comic caper is just right for Janet Evanovich fans.  Wacky family connections and snappy dialog make it impossible not to laugh.” 

When people ask what I write, I say ‘comedies.’  Then I give the genres (crime capers and time travel fantasy.) My books are comedies first and foremost.  I look for plots that will lend themselves to laughs.   
 
Why Do I Write What I Do?

A Greek Mask

Some people are born beautiful.  But most of us aren’t, and we look for ways to survive the slings and arrows of life.  Sometimes we choose to hide behind a mask.  That Greek Comedy mask was the one I picked way back.

Comedy is Tragedy Barely Averted

My younger brother is autistic.  Our home life was stressful and at times, sorrowful.  When I was a teen, as a means of self-preservation, I looked for the ‘funny.’  More often than not, I made fun of myself.  This was easy to do.  I knew the target well and there was a wealth of material.  And it didn’t hurt anyone else, so people liked it.

When I left school and had a ‘real’ job, I started writing stand-up on the side.  I rarely delivered it – usually I wrote for others. That led to a regular newspaper humour column, and more.
So when it came to writing novels, I fell back into ‘safe mode.’  Write it funny. 

How Does My Writing Process Work?

I teach Crafting a Novel at Sheridan College in Toronto, so I’m pretty immersed in craft.  Not surprisingly, I’m a plotter. I don’t start writing until I know the ending.  But I’m a forgiving plotter.  I don’t plan out every scene.

Sometimes a plot idea will trickle around in my mind for a year.  When the ending clicks in, I sit down to do a basic three-act plot diagram.  I teach this method, and I use my own books as examples.

So… once I have my inciting moment, first, second and third crisis, and finale firmly in my head, I sit down to write.  I start with the opening/inciting moment.  Then I usually skip to the ending, and write the climax and finale.  Then I go back to the beginning and write forward.

For me, it’s important to know that I like the characters and plot enough to stay with that story for the months to come.  That’s why I write the beginning before I spend much time doing outlines.  I need to know that I can live in that world, and enjoy it.

Advice to aspiring writers:

It's not romantic.  But it's the truth.  If you are going to be a writer, you have to love the actual act of writing: by this I mean, hands on keyboard, butt in chair, all by yourself, pounding out stories that the characters in your head are demanding you tell.

Of course, coffee and a wee dram o’ whiskey help.

Melodie Campbell drinks coffee and single malt somewhere south of Toronto.  The Artful Goddaughter is now available in stores and online.

12 September 2014

Use Your Brain, Luke! Your Brain!


Photo courtesy US Army
by Dixon Hill

Recent news articles about people accomplishing amazing things, just by using their brain waves, have my head spinning.

Evidently it's now possible to control prosthetic limbs, or perform other tasks, simply by thinking.

In some cases, a person uses his/her mind to control muscles attached to sensors that control the prosthetic device.  This doesn't strike me as terribly earth-shattering, though, as I recall reading about such a system in at least one of Dick Francis' Sid Halley mysteries.

In more surprising cases, however, brain wave signals are transmitted to the prosthesis via a wireless connection attached to electrodes placed on the brain.  It seems that brain-wave controlled devices are now enabling some spine damaged Gulf War veterans to walk again -- on what appear to resemble robotic legs! -- while other vets are using their brains to control their wheelchairs.

Google Glass wearable computer
(For those unfamiliar with the device)
And, in perhaps the most remarkable story, which I saw on CBS, a London company combined a device that detects brain waves (similar to an electroencephalograph) with a Google Glass.  A female reporter used the device, which looked rather like a misshapen plastic hair band, to trigger the camera on a Google Glass without speaking, or touching it. Essentially, she used her brain to snap a photo; all she had to do was: (1) wear the two devices, and (2) concentrate in a certain manner.


You can visit HERE or HERE for a couple of interesting YouTube videos about this sort of thing. The prosthetic arm in one of them has been nicknamed "Luke" because of it's seeming functional similarity to the artificial arm worn by the character Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars series.

These devices are still in a sort of trial phase, of course.  Nor do they necessarily tap directly into the user's brain, the way Luke Skywalker's fictional appendage might theoretically have done.

Yet, there seems to be no question that we're getting closer to physically tapping the connection between the application of motive force and pure thought.  The tale of the Six Million Dollar Man may become a non-fiction story in the not-too-distant future, as folks begin wearing prostheses controlled by the same brain waves that once controlled the limbs being replaced.  In short, people will be able to move a prosthetic limb just by thinking.

Which set me to thinking.

One day -- not too long from now, perhaps -- folks will almost certainly be able to write, just by thinking about what they want to say.

Their thoughts might be downloaded into their computers, the print showing up on the screen just as if they'd typed or dictated it.

Consider the impact computer usage has had on writing -- increasing the number of people willing to put thoughts into print for money.  How much would this impact be magnified, by the advent of brain-to-computer download writing

People who wouldn't have the patience to type a story on a typewriter, now find it easier to compete with us for scarce magazine space, due to the computer.  But, imagine the competition our writerly progeny will probably have to face . . . when every Tom, Dick and Martha can write a book or short story just by thinking it onto the page!

Of course, things might not really be that bad.

One difference between professional writers and those who simply write, is said to lie in editing. According to this idea, it's not the work of writing a first draft that makes someone a writer, but rather the willingness to follow through: to rewrite subsequent drafts until a writer finally produces something that truly elicits a response on the reader's part -- something truly professional.

Certainly, there are other differences between the professional writer and the writer who isn't truly professional, just as there are probably legions of writers who write a first draft, send it off unedited, and make the sale.  (Sad to say, I'm not among them.)

Somehow, though, I think the craft of writing, is what spells the difference.  Those who take the time to craft their writing -- handcraft it, if you will, the same way a master carpenter does his work -- those folks will continue to come out on top.

No matter how easy thinking words onto paper may become.

I have to admit, however, that I'd like to take this opportunity to craft something else today.  I'd like to find a new name for this technology.  A name that means "thinking the words into your computer." Or, instead, perhaps a word such as the imaginary "cogiscribe," which might be interpreted as "to think-write."

Who knows?  If we hit on the right word or phrase, Sleuth Sayers may earn a special place in our future lexicon.  So, what are your suggestions?

See you in two weeks!

--Dixon

11 September 2014

Holy War


by Eve Fisher

  • "Fear prophets and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them." -Umberto Eco 
  • “The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble. And those who have the least meaning in their lives, the impoverished refugees in Gaza, the disenfranchised North African immigrants in France, even the legions of young who live in the splendid indolence and safety of the industrialized world, are all susceptible to war's appeal.” Chris Hedges, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
There are a few obvious things about people in their teens and early twenties: an excruciating focus on themselves, a low thresh hold for boredom, an even lower tolerance for criticism [while dishing out lots of it to others], a disgust for trivia, gossip, and mass culture [usually while digesting huge amounts of it], a constant pursuit of sheer sensation [which is their definition of knowing that one is alive], and a determination that their lives will in no way ever, ever, ever resemble those of their elders (I know: I remember it clearly).

And God knows there are so many options: drugs, video games, sex, crime (more for its thrills and potential violence than even any financial gains), war, love, learning, religion (ranging from strict to cults), and anything else that can give meaning to a life that... well, in the industrialized world, is pretty safely fenced in from all but self-inflicted dangers. And those self-inflicted dangers are very enticing.  Danger is very enticing.

So we have young men from all over the world, including America, Canada, and Europe, heading off to jihad in the Middle East or wherever else they can find it.  Much fewer women. (Perhaps because women's lives, everywhere, offer a little more danger than men's on a daily basis.)

It's very reminiscent of all the young men who could not WAIT to sign up to go off on the Crusades during the 11th-13th centuries.

Only the first Crusade was successful, if by successful you mean attaining the military objective of "getting Jerusalem out of the hands of the infidel."  Successive crusades were either a waste of time, blood and manpower, OR they were remarkably successful, if your definition of success is "getting a whole lot of loot by sacking Christian cities" like Constantinople.

The Crusades were packaged as a religious war, which would take back the Holy Land (as if it had ever been ruled by Europeans).  But it was also, in a practical sense, a way of dealing with a whole lot of single young men who, lacking video games, were rampaging through Europe fighting and feuding and being generally destructive.  A very modern note is that most of these young men did not have a chance in hell of ever getting married:  medieval Europe had a gender imbalance (more men than women) among the upper classes, thanks to bad medieval medicine, monasteries as birth control, and probably a certain amount of gender-specific infanticide.  And, even if there was an available woman, it took a lot of money to get married, because you had to be able to support the wife, children, and retainers of decent knightly living. And most of these were younger sons:  no money, no land, no marriage.

Believe me, medieval rulers, both church and state, recognized the problem of these young men, and so they tried to "curb socially destructive fighting" with chivalric ideals, with church rules, with tournaments, and you know what?  It was still out of hand.  So they shipped them overseas and let them fight their hearts out.

Massacre of Jerusalem
The guys, of course, went because this was the adventure of a lifetime.  A young man's job was to fight. Reading letters and memoirs (read Villehardouin about the Fourth Crusade; Joinville about, God help us, the Seventh), it's obvious that every one of them expected to fight hard, kill lots of the infidel, and win castles, lands, women, money, everything they need to live well.  And they're going to have a glorious time, because young men know that they will never die in battle.  (In fact, most of them died of dysentery, typhus, and gangrene.)  So off they went, and the First Crusade (1097-1099) did indeed take back Jerusalem, and win the Four Crusader Kingdoms of Outremer: Jerusalem, Edessa (Turkey), Antioch (Syria), and Tripoli (Lebanon). And they massacred their way through all of it:  in Jerusalem, to celebrate and cement their victory, the knights beheaded every Muslim (men, women, and children).  When the Jews fled for safety to the synagogue in Jerusalem, the Crusaders burned it - and the Jews - to the ground.


Keeping Outremer was the problem.  For some reason, the locals wanted their country back, and Saladin's grandfather, Zangi, led a jihad that took back the Kingdom of Edessa.  As soon as word got back to Europe, a Second Crusade (1147-1149)was preached by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, which accomplished very little except get Eleanor of Aquitaine quite a reputation, and St. Francis of Assisi an opportunity to preach to a Sultan, while the English forces got sidetracked with kicking the Moors out of Lisbon.

Forty years later, the Third Crusade pitted Saladin against Richard the Lion-Heart of England (Eleanor of Aquitaine's son by Henry II). The two great medieval warriors got involved in a very chivalric exchange of poetry and gifts before Richard beheaded 2,700 Muslim hostages because they got in his way. On the way home, Richard got captured and held for ransom by Duke Leopold of Austria.  (It's Richard's absence in the Third Crusade that gave the legend of Robin Hood real fire.)


Fourth Crusade (1202-1204).  Where the Crusaders, tempted by the wily Venetians, said the hell with the Holy Land and attacked, looted and sacked, first Zara and then Constantinople, both Christian cities.  The bronze horses, the winged lion, and a lot more "Venetian" treasures were taken in this Crusade.  About 10% of the Crusaders did go on to the Holy Land, but they might as well not have bothered.  In fact, by sacking Constantinople, the "Crusaders" made it easier for the Ottoman Turks to eventually take over not just the Middle East and North Africa, but most of Eastern Europe...  But that's another story.

There were more Crusades, one of which was successful:  In 1228-29, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II went over and - rather than fighting - negotiated a 10 year truce with the Muslims, regaining the City of Jerusalem back for the Crusaders in exchange for religious toleration of Muslims in the Holy Land.  For this, he was excommunicated by the Pope and considered a heretic (and a softy) by everyone in Europe.

And then there were the "crusades" of the common people:  The People's Crusade under Peter the Hermit, in which 20,000 peasants - men, women and children - got slaughtered by either the Hungarian Magyars or the Turks. The Children's Crusade of 1212, where a young French shepherd named Stephen and Nicholas from Cologne both had visions in which they were commanded to raise an army to free the Holy Land.  They got thousands of children to accompany them, all across Europe.  (Which leads to the obvious question:  what the hell were their parents thinking?)  Anyway, the children made it to Marseilles, where two merchants, Hugh the Iron and William the Pig, put them on 7 ships to the Holy Land, where every single one of them was sold into slavery.
Siege of Baghdad

None of the Crusades succeeded in taking out the Muslim Abassid Dynasty.  That job was reserved for the Mongols, who invaded in the 1200s.  In 1258, Hulugu Khan (grandson of Genghis) invaded, sacked, and burned Baghdad to the ground, killing one million Muslims.  In 1291, his successors took the entire Muslim world while other great-grandchildren of Genghis were banging on the gates of Vienna.  Eventually the Mongol Empire -stretching from the Black Sea to the Pacific Ocean - spread Islam all the way to China.

There have always been holy wars, preached by old men, fought by young men - but the results are rarely what either hopes for.  Nobody "won" the Crusades.  Nobody "wins" any holy war; the end usually comes down to the stark realities of wholesale massacre and/or endless blood feud, all in the name of religion.  But holy wars, under any name, are indeed a force that give certain people meaning, and give certain people extreme excitement, what with bloodshed and massacre made legal, even holy.  To quote from Dexter Filkins' "The Death of Steven Sotloff" (New Yorker, 9/2/14), "the political goals [of ISIS]—a civil war, in which Islamist forces would triumph—seem secondary to the promise of terrible destruction... 'If the enemy wins, we will burn everything.'" Which is exactly what the Crusaders, the Muslims, and the Mongols did, to everyone they ran across, time and again.

Filkins continues, "...[to] the guys who signed up for ISIS—including, especially, the masked man with the English accent who wielded the knife—killing is the real point of being there. Last month, when ISIS forces overran a Syrian Army base in the city of Raqqa, they beheaded dozens of soldiers and displayed their trophies on bloody spikes. 'Here are heads that have ripened, that were ready for the plucking,' an ISIS fighter said in narration. Two soldiers were crucified. This sounds less like a battle than like some kind of macabre party." And that is exactly what holy wars are:  a macabre party, in which anything goes, anything is acceptable, anything can be done, no matter how depraved or despicable, because the cause is "right".

It's everyone else who suffers.

10 September 2014

Resurrection Men


by David Edgerley Gates


Ian Rankin published his thirteenth Inspector John Rebus novel, RESURRECTION MEN, in 2002. The story is about a group of cops in a rehab facility - sent down in disgrace because of alcohol or domestic violence issues, or they've fallen afoul of Internal Affairs - but being Rankin, the book is of course about a lot more than that. The title is double-edged, a turn of phrase with a dark history.


In the early 19th century, medical schools relied on the dead bodies of executed criminals for anatomy studies. It was illegal, in that day and age, to leave your body to science. but the supply began to dry up, and it gave rise to a trade in fresh cadavers, and the graves of the newly buried were dug up by body-snatchers, who sold the dead for necropsies. They were known as Resurrection Men. 



Two of these entrepreneurs, Burke and Hare, resident in Edinburgh in late 1827, improved their market share by skipping exhumation and turning to murder. Their victims were the derelict, the sickly, women of the street - people who wouldn't be missed. Over the course of the next year, they killed at least sixteen people, and shopped their corpses to a surgeon named Knox, to use in his anatomical lectures. How much Knox knew, or suspected, is an open question, but certainly he turned a blind eye. After they were caught, Hare turned King's Evidence, in return for immunity, and Burke was hanged. His body, as it happens, was then publicly dissected at the University of Edinburgh. Knox, the doctor, was never prosecuted.


"A wretch who isn't worth a farthing while alive," Sir Walter Scott remarked, "becomes a valuable article when knocked on the head and carried to an anatomist." Scott was being ironic about economies of scale, but as far as I know, he never used this incident as material. Dickens wasn't so shy. One of
his characters in A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Jerry Cruncher, is explicitly a grave-robber. And in 1884, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a story called "The Body-Snatcher," which stops just short of naming Knox as a knowing accomplice. Stevenson's DR.
JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE is a reimagining of the Whitechapel murders, and there's been some conflation, in books and movies, of Burke and Hare's crimes with Jack the Ripper. The serial killer, as a figure of fear, is a mid-Victorian invention, I believe. Not that somebody might not claim many victims, but that he does it for the sick thrill.


Psychopathology wasn't well-understood, in the 1800's - the term didn't even come into general use until the early 20th century. One of the narrative engines of David Morrell's gripping recent novel, MURDER AS A FINE ART, which takes place in 1854 London, is the lack of any practical forensic approach, and the inability to process, let alone inhabit, the mindset of a serial murderer. It's not simply an unknown, but unimaginable, like an empty space on an old map, which simply states: Here Be Monsters. Burke and Hare took up their trade for the easy money, but the seeming
effortlessness of the murders gives you pause. They displayed no remorse. Burke, in fact, before he went to the scaffold, asked whether Dr. Knox would give him the five pounds he was owed for his last victim, so Burke could buy a new suit of clothes to be hanged in. 

"To know my deed, 'twere best not to know myself," Macbeth says. Burke and Hare apparently avoided any kind of self-knowledge. They denied the humanity of the men and women, and at least one child, that they murdered, but did they deny their own? Neither one of them were crazy, so far as we know, although they were probably a few cards short of a full deck. They were paid five to ten pounds for each dead body they delivered. In today's numbers, between six and twelve hundred bucks. Not too shabby, if you're desecrating a grave in the wee hours, but for a capital crime? The odd thing about these guys is that they were very far from the pathology of the Ripper. There was actually nothing out of the ordinary about them. They were simply dumb enough to get caught.

Maybe that's the thing. It isn't that Burke and Hare live on in our imagination because they were criminal deviants who've evaded detection for 125 years - is the Ripper case solved? More, perhaps,
that Burke and Hare touched a popular nerve at the time, and that a writer like Dickens or Stevenson gives them shelf life. (Burke's skeleton is still on display at the Edinburgh Medical School.) No, the dread lies in the open grave. 

http://www.davidedgerleygates.com/

09 September 2014

The Places You've Never Been


by Jim Winter

I will be revising a novel I'd been working on forever soon. Which is going to be fun. It takes place in a city in Ohio called Monticello. Monticello came about as an exercise in world building. I can tell you the history of the place, who all the landmarks are named for, and that, if you own a Passat or a Jetta, it wasn't built there.

If the name sounds familiar beyond the reference to Thomas Jefferson's estate, I admit I lifted it. Once upon a time, when I was much shorter, there was a soap opera called Edge of Night. Like Dark Shadows, Edge was genre-based rather than hospital melodrama like most other soaps. Unlike Dark Shadows, it was a crime show. Set in a city called Monticello, the series existed in a Midwestern state so generic that it's capital was Capital City. The skyline in the opening credits was actually Cincinnati, home of Procter & Gamble which produced the show. (Except for its final two seasons, when LA was used.) But it's not the only fictional city that crime aficionados have adopted.

Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhonne lives in Santa Teresa, which looks suspiciously like Santa Barbara. While Santa Teresa does not exist, Kinsey shares the town with another PI, Lew Archer. That should be no surprise. Archer's creator Ross McDonald also used the name for a fictionalized Santa Barbara. And Grafton did know McDonald in his later years. Santa Teresa is so real, thanks to Grafton, that many people look for it while driving down Highway 101. Read enough of the novels, and you can see downtown and the seedy Hungarian restaurant where Kinsey would be treated to goulash.

Take it a step further. Hill Street Blues, the classic police show from the 1980's, took place in a city even more generic than Edge of Night's fictional state. It had a Major League baseball team, but even the team was never named. Still, the city was quintessentially Midwest without looking like a thinly disguised LA or Chicago (or Toronto, which has doubled for several American cities.) It's amazing how Hill Street made its city look so real without giving any clue as to where it was.

But the mack daddy of fictional towns?

That would be Ed McBain's Isola. Many people assume Isola is the name of McBain's fictitious city, but actually, it's a borough (a word McBain never uses) roughly analogous to Manhattan. The City is and yet is not New York. Indeed, many 87th Precinct movies have been shot in, and sometimes set in, New York. Yet the precinct, even the other boroughs, have distinct characters all their own. One wonders if the City is sandwiched between Metropolis and Gotham City.

What makes a fictional city real to a reader? A sense of place. When neighborhoods and landmarks are described as though the author might have lived there, it makes the setting a character unto itself. Similarly, giving a fictional place a history gives it a life of its own. There's a reason certain names pop up on streets, schools, and landmarks. The reader may never know why, but if the writer does, it creates a sort of randomness that's hard to duplicate otherwise.

So where is your favorite place you've never been?

08 September 2014

Introducing Callie Parrish


by Fran Rizer

Last Monday, Jan Grape wrote about the Meet My Character Blog Tour.  Tagged authors write about their main characters by answering questions on their blogs.  The writers then invite one to five other authors to join. Jan tagged me, so here goes:

1.  What is the name of your character?  Is he or she fictional or a historic person?
At the launch for TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE STAR,
THERE'S A BODY IN THE CAR, these Callie fans showed
up dressed as Callie on the left and Jane on the right. They
definitely matched the way I see these characters as I write
about them although Callie is known to dye her hair 
frequently so is occasionally blond.
The main character of my first six books is fictional Callie Parrish. Her full name is Calamine Lotion Parrish.  When her mother died giving birth to their sixth child, Callie's father got drunk--really drunk. This was his first daughter and the only thing female he could think of was the color pink.  The only pink that came to mind was Calamine Lotion.  Callie frequently thanks heaven that Pa didn't think of Pepto Bismol.  If you don't recognize the particular shade of pink in front of me in the above picture, it's a Victoria's Secret pink bag which contained a gift from Jane.  

2.  When and where is the story set? 

Callie's adventures are set in contemporary times and primarily in the fictional town of St. Mary located near coastal Beaufort, SC. In the series, Callie and her BFF, visually handicapped Jane Baker, have encountered murders in other places such as a bluegrass festival on Surcie Island and a casket manufacturer in North Carolina.

4.  What should we know about him/her?

Callie works as a cosmetician/Girl Friday at Middleton's Mortuary for her twin bosses, Otis and Odell Middleton.  After graduating from St. Mary High School, she left St. Mary to attend the university in Columbia, SC, where she married and worked for several years as a kindergarten teacher. After her husband "did what he did" to make her divorce him, she returned to St. Mary where she spends time with Jane, her daddy, her five brothers, and whoever she's dating. She likes working at the funeral home better than teaching kindergarten because the people she works with at Middleton's lie still instead of jumping around all the time, don't yell or cry, and don't have to tee-tee every five minutes.

Callie's time teaching five-year-olds led her to stop using some of the language she grew up with living in a house with only her father and five older brothers.  Instead, she "kindergarten cusses," which consists of "Dalmation!" when she's irritated and "Shih tzu!" when she's extremely annoyed. She has a Harlequin Great Dane dog who's named Big Boy though he acts more like a girl dog. Callie is a talented banjo player and vocalist, but she's not perfect. She can't cook, and she's flat-chested which led her to wear inflatable bras because she's scared of breast-augmentation surgery.

5.  What is the personal goal of this character?

In the first books, Callie's goals (besides solving murders and her own personal survival as well as Jane's) were to convince Jane to stop shoplifting and to comfort families by providing peaceful memory pictures of their deceased relatives. She also wanted a closer relationship with her redneck father and to meet a romantic interest as unlike her ex-husband as possible.  She achieved these goals except finding the right romantic interest, but she's still looking.

6.  Can we read about this character yet? 


The top three Callies were published by Berkley Prime Crime, and the
first three on the bottom row were published by Bella Rosa Books.  
 Kudzu River is not a Callie Parrish mystery.  In fact, it's as far from cozy
as possible.  Kudzu River is a novel of abuse, murder, and retribution 
that's scheduled for release by Odyssey South Publishing in November.  
The six Callie Parrish mysteries are all available electronically. The first three are out-of-print, but used copies can sometimes be found on Amazon.  Callie books four through six are available in print and electronically from Bella Rosa Books and on Amazon.

7.  Who do you tag?

I've tagged Janice Law, and her Character Blog will appear right here on Monday, September 22, 2014.  A surprise Character Blog is scheduled for my first Monday in November.  If you're interested in participating in the Meet Your Character Blog Tour, let me know. 

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

07 September 2014

Behind the Scenes


Jackie Sherbow
Jackie Sherbow
by Jackie Sherbow

We SleuthSayers are very fond of the ladies at Dell’s mystery magazines. A name that often arises is that of Jackie Sherbow. Jackie works as the Senior Assistant Editor for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. She's been exclusively employed by the magazines since 2011, and her previous jobs at Dell Magazines spanned from customer service to subsidiary rights. She also writes poetry and her work has appeared in Newtown Literary and at Go Places.

Today’s article is aimed more at writers than readers, but readers might find themselves enjoying the insider's view. Please welcome Jackie Sherbow here to provide tips about submissions.
— Leigh Lundin

Behind the Submissions Scenes at AHMM and EQMM

As the senior assistant editor for AHMM and EQMM as well as a writer, I have firsthand experience with both sides of the submissions process. My time working at Dell Magazines predated my first experience with sending work anywhere, so I’ve always tried to remind myself when addressing the unknown editorial staff of various publications that they are—like myself, Janet Hutchings, and Linda Landrigan—human. That doesn’t always assuage the hesitance, anxiety, and general unease (“just click send!”), that can come with submitting your work and waiting for a response, but hopefully my experiences shared here can help demystify the operation behind the scenes, at least at EQMM and AHMM.

I’ll start off by saying that it’s hard to proclaim any hard and fast commandments about what not to submit. Every submission (depending on the targeted magazine) is read either by me, our Editorial Administrative Assistant, Linda, or Janet. So if the plot works and interests us, the characters are intriguing and believable, or (yes, or) the voice is compelling, your piece is likely to get at least a second look.

Here are some words about the types of stories that we see a lot of but are less likely to make it through. Sometimes after a few hours of slush reading I feel like I need to take a hot shower. Why? Well, mysteries and thrillers are bound to have violence. But the violence needs to be purposeful, not gratuitous. Violence for violence’s sake—and violence that outweighs what we know about a character and their motivations—usually doesn’t cut it. A piece that reads only as a twisted, gory revenge fantasy isn’t likely to make it through.

The same idea goes for supernatural, fantastical, and science-fictional elements. Both magazines have published plenty of pieces with these motifs. But the rules of the tale’s world need to make sense and remain consistent, and there still needs to be a crime or mystery. The otherworldly elements need to fit in with and enhance the mysterious, puzzling, or criminal aspects of the story, not overwhelm them.

The types of characters who appear most often in the submissions piles are criminal and/or adulterous spouses. For AHMM, we see a lot of hardboiled private eyes and genius serial killers, and for EQMM, we see a lot of hit men. This doesn’t mean we don’t want to see these folks, and they certainly do appear in the magazines, but they can’t just be a reiteration of what we’ve already seen. Invoking genre conventions can work well in homage or as pastiche, but it can’t be all there is to the narrative.

What we don’t see a lot of, by the way, are classic mysteries. (How’s that for a clue?)

About those cover letters: If you’re comfortable with it, good marketing probably doesn’t hurt you. But if you’re spending a lot of time thinking about that special “thing” that will get you through the door, it’s better that that “thing” be in your work itself than in your cover letter. There are no magic words or pass codes to figure out. A clever or friendly letter is fine, and of course feel free to let us know where you’ve been published and if someone sent you our way. But spend more time polishing your piece’s prose than coming up with a way to woo the editors. That can feel like wining and dining, and in the end, your yarn ends up in the same place as the rest of them.

One among the myriad of evolving norms in the game is the growing popularity of e-submissions. While EQMM was already on-board with electronic submissions when I began as editorial assistant, AHMM is currently making the transition. The e-subs process makes it easier (and less costly) to submit and also makes it easier for us to keep track of submissions. Ultimately, though, the effects are broader.

For one thing, since it’s easier to submit, it’s easier to submit … a lot. That’s fine, and it’s good to try and try again. But if you have dozens of stories stuffed in the pipeline, ready to send in every week or so, your writing might instead benefit from some time spent editing and getting feedback. It’s not unheard of that Janet or Linda might write back with some criticism or suggestions, or offer to look at a revision, but even a form rejection tells you something about the way your writing could (or couldn’t) fit in with a publication. Revisiting your work before continually submitting takes thought, and that thought is fruitful and necessary.

Another change that e-subs systems brought is the visual homogenization of every offering. While small identifiers and quirks of style are discernible with hard-copy manuscripts, submissions seen on a computer screen or an e-reader look basically the same. This could be taken negatively, since brightly colored paper or a fancy paperclip won’t catch our mail-opener’s attention (please refer to above notes about cover letters and marketing!). But it can also be a good thing. Your story is judged by … your story! Bare bones, and your words only.

Speaking of your words: Be aware, in your writing, of your voice. As much as a “hook” of an opening line can make us want to keep reading, so can an authoritative and authentic tone. Plenty of interesting characters and creative plots that crop up in the submissions fall flat when that’s missing. On the other hand, authors whose stories are lacking in plot or character might receive an extra look and perhaps a personal response if the voice is gripping enough.

As some final advice, I’ll iterate something that has proven true for me as both an editor and a writer: The best way to ready yourself to submit to the magazines—or wherever you’d like to submit—is to read them. Better than I could explain, those pages will tell you what sort of work fits in, as well as provide influences that will only help out.

To read more by Jackie on the topic, visit Alfred Hitchcock's Trace Evidence  and Ellery Queen's Something is Going to Happen for Tuesday, the 9th of September.

06 September 2014

Everybody's E-Talkin'





by John M. Floyd


A song that I liked the first time I heard it, back in college, accompanying the opening credits of Midnight Cowboy, started out with "Everybody's talkin' at me, I don't hear a word they're sayin' . . ." Those lyrics are as appropriate now as they were then; only the circumstances are different. These days we seem to do most of our talking via e-mails, smartphones, Facebook notes, Instant Messaging, etc., and although I take part in all that as much as anyone else, I'm not sure it's always a good thing. Sometimes, like Harry Nilsson, I'm not sure I hear a word they're sayin'.

There is, of course, a reason for all those news reports about people wandering in front of cars or falling into manholes while looking down at their phones. And it's not just because folks who do that are as dumb as the trees and walls they're running into. They are simply addicted to being in nonstop touch with other people, or to being constantly entertained by some online program or service. God forbid they should be forced to nod a greeting to those they pass on the street, or to think about something on their own.

Hold the phone

How often have you been in meetings, or at lunch, or even at family gatherings, and realized that some of the people around you have never once made eye contact wth you or anybody else there? Instead they're texting or surfing or staring in slack-jawed catatonia at their phones or tablets. Madonna could climb onto the table wearing nothing but cowboy boots and an Easter bonnet and play "Over the Rainbow" on a ukulele, and they'd never notice.


Even worse--and I realize this is nothing new--is when strangers in crowded restaurants or stores or waiting roooms carry on loud phone converstions as if others aren't within an arm's length and hearing every word. I truly hate that. I was in Kroger last week and watched the lady ahead of me check out a couple hundred bucks' worth of groceries, pay the cashier, and leave the store without once pausing her full-volume conversation or taking her phone from her ear or even looking at anyone. When I moved up to get my own items checked out, the cashier just gave me a tired look and tipped her head in the direction of the departing woman and rolled her eyes. I nodded my agreement. I'm convinced that the main reason cell phones don't have cords is so bystanders can't use them to strangle the callers.

Once again, I am not guiltless here. I try not to be rude, but I do love my gadgets, and I admit that no matter where I am, I can't resist occasionally pulling out my iPhone to check e-mail or the weather radar or the Dow Jones. I do, however, try to maintain at least some level of dignity in my life: I don't pump my arms back and forth like an idiot when I speed-walk in the neighborhood, I don't wear too-short neckties, I don't confuse "it's" with "its," and I don't use my cell phone to discuss my sore back or my crabgrass problem or my cousin's gambling debts while I'm in a crowd of people.

E-friends and neighbors

I confess I have strayed a bit from the topic. Phone calls, unless you're FaceTiming or Skyping or video-conferencing, are not e-talking. But e-mail and Facebook and texting are, and I'm not sure I could live without them. As for Facebook, I don't post a lot there, and I generally ignore others' posts about what they had for breakfast today or what TV show they watched last night (I don't care about that any more than they would care about hearing that from me), but I do use Facebook to announce upcoming classes or booksignings, and I like using it to stay aware of what other writers are doing and to keep in touch with otherwise inaccessible friends and classmates. And e-mail? I love it. As a writer, I think e-submissions and e-correspondence with editors/publishers makes life less difficult in a multitude of ways. I also use e-mail and text messages to stay in touch with our three children, and I fell in love with Skype and FaceTime long ago, for the same reason.

As for e-friends, I have quite a few I've never even met in real life, and some of them I feel I know pretty
well. Many include some of my colleagues at SleuthSayers and at the now-retired Criminal Brief mystery blog. When I have had a chance to eventually meet and visit with people I'd been in e-touch with--Leigh Lundin, Herschel Cozine, Liz Zelvin, Linda Landrigan, Steve Steinbock, Melodie Johnson-Howe, Barb Goffman, James Lincoln Warren, Bill Crider, Andrew Gulli, BJ Bourg, Janet Hutchings, Angela Zeman, Jim Doherty, Jeff Baker, and others--I'm usually surprised (and relieved) to find that in person they are exactly what I had expected. And I'm always amazed at how generous e-friends can be, with advice, critiques, blurbs, recommendations, etc.

OMG--Who R U?

One thing that does bother me (more than it probably should) is that statistics confirm that the average person now has far more e-friends than "actual" friends, and spends far more of his/her time in e-contact than in face-to-face relationships. The problem there is that I find myself wondering whether younger people are learning the interpersonal social skills that they'll need later in life. (Observe the teenagers at your next family reunion; I predict that they'll spend most of that time alone and fiddling with their phones.) But, hell, what do I know? Maybe what they'll do later in life won't require interpersonal social skills.

One thing that doesn't bother me a lot (and it probably should) is the security risk of e-friendships. Unless your new e-acquaintance is Tiffani from Bora Bora and she says it's like totally awesome to meet such an amazing guy, I think you can safely assume that most e-friends are legitimate and are who they say they are. Yes, there's always the chance that 25-year-old schoolteacher Mary Jane Tucker might turn out to be 55-year-old Darth Voldemort, currently serving eight to ten for grand larceny--but the truth is, if you're openly looking for relationships, there'll always be some risks anyway, even if the encounters are face-to-face.

E-questions

What are your thoughts, about all this? Are any of you fellow e-mail devotees? (If you're writers, I suspect that you are, almost by necessity.) Do your e-friends outnumber your real-life friends? How much time do you figure you spend on your smartphone? How much would be too much? Do you share my concerns about the lessening of face-to-face social interaction? Do you check Facebook daily and use it for messaging? Do you use Twitter? (I've not yet taken that plunge.) Have you ever blundered into a tree or a lamppost while you were texting? (I've come close, but no cigar.) And my final question:

Do you always, no matter what, read the SleuthSayers blog?

This e-friend is hoping you do.





05 September 2014

The Capo's Son


by R.T. Lawton


As you may recall in The Godfather, Vito Corleone declined to do business with the Turk Sollozzo because Vito believed that trafficking in drugs was not a good idea. Such involvement in that business would bring heat on the family and then they would lose some of the judges and police who were in their pocket. That was the movie being shown in 1972.

In real life, many heads of mob families did have concerns about the stiff penalties to be had for becoming involved in the narcotics business. They feared that omerta as they knew it would cease to exist when family members started considering long years in prison versus ratting out their fellow traffickers. And, they were right, the first major member to testify against the mafia in America was a made man turned by the old Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

In 1971, when I was working Kansas City, Nick Civella was the local crime boss for that area. He'd been around for a long while, to include the ill-fated Appalachian meeting of mafia bosses. I never personally heard what Nick had to say about his men having any involvement in the drug business, but I soon got a pretty good idea what one of his capos thought.

By 1972, I'd been transferred over to a federal task force consisting of five feds and about twenty state and locals. My partner, Big Jim, was a KCMO vice cop. He had about fifteen or more years of time on the streets. As for me, I was looking at two, if I stretched. One Friday evening when arrest warrants were being handed out to be served, Jim and I ended up with paper for the son of one of the mob capos. Seems the boy had been indiscrete enough to sell several thousand mini-whites (amphetamine) to a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs guy. Jim said he would show me the best way to handle this situation. Fine by me.

We didn't go to the future defendant's residence, which is usually the first place to look for an arrestee. Instead, we drove out to a night club owned by the capo, parked in the lot, walked inside and sat down at a table. When the waitress inquired what we wanted to drink, we placed our order and then asked for the capo by name. She never batted an eye, as if it were an everyday occurrence. The drinks came fast, the capo took about ten minutes. As the capo stood by our table, Jim introduced himself and me, both of us still seated. We discretely showed our badges. Didn't want to spook the patrons or staff.

Jim proceeded to explain in a quiet voice that we had a federal arrest warrant in the capo's son's name for the illegal distribution of a controlled substance. Jim continued by stating that we came directly to him (the capo) rather than going to his house and unnecessarily disturbing his wife and the rest of his family. The capo stared at us in silence for a couple of moments and then stated that his son would be at our office in the federal building at 9 AM on Monday morning. Before he walked away, the capo thanked us for bringing this matter directly to his attention and said the drinks were on him.

I must've had a questioning look on my face because Jim chuckled before letting me know how these types of situations were taken care of. According to his theory, we left an amount of money on the table to cover the price of the drinks plus tip. The capo would not be offended because we had not blatantly rejected his offer, the waitress would be happy because she got a great tip and Big Jim and I, by leaving that much money on the table, could not be accused of accepting inappropriate gratuities. (In Basic Agents Training ethics class, the instructors stressed that it all started with something so simple as a free cup of coffee.) So, our actions sent a subtle message to the capo, plus made us look smart in his eyes because we had found a way around a potential dilemma and yet still got the job done with a minimum of problems.

And yes, the son did show up on time at the federal building. One thing I did notice that morning though was that he sported a fresh black eye. I guess his father was sending him and us his own message.

04 September 2014

I've Got This Great Character in Search of a Story


by Brian Thornton

So I know this guy.

64 years old.

Elementary music teacher for the past two decades.

Married three decades. Father of two.

He is one of the most interesting characters I know.

Really.

Seriously.

He is.

Go back and re-read the thumbnail I just gave you.

Now let me elaborate.

All of the above AND

Thirty years a professional musician (including opening for the Grass Roots at age 15 in 1965!).

So, these guys. And yes, the dude in the far out shades on the far right really is Creed Braxton from "The Office."
So of course I ask him, "What were they like?"

("They" being the aforementioned Grass Roots.)

He smiles and says, "They were dicks."

He doesn't dance. Ever.

When I ask him why not, he says, "I never had to."

"Why not?"

"I'm the drummer. I never needed to dance to get girls."

(Note: the guy's wife is a knockout and they have been happily and faithfully married for the above-referenced THREE DECADES)

He once took a gig in Guam for four weeks that wound up lasting six months.

He knows an uncle of mine who is the black sheep (and then some) of our family. Their paths crossed years before I got to know him, back during his playing days. I'll leave it to your imagination how he knows him.

(And you're RIGHT!)

I once referred to someone we both know as a "hot mess." His response?

"I played in a band called 'Hot Mess'..." followed by reminiscences about same.

(This has happened more than once and is always entertaining.)

He once hid out in Alaska for over a year. This after getting stranded in the Queen Charlotte Islands on the way there. I infer that there was a girl (or several) involved.

I convinced him to go to a Rush concert with me (I'm a HUGE fan). He is the only drummer I've ever known who attended a Rush concert and came away much more interested in what Alex Lifeson (the guitarist) was doing onstage than in what the world's greatest living rock drummer (Neal Peart) was doing behind his drum kit.

He's clean and sober now, and has been for years, if not always continuously.

He is one of the most painfully honest, most loyal and gentlest souls I have ever met.

I have seen him with blood in his eye and murder in his heart over the treatment of our society's most vulnerable members. I am hardly a conservative, and yet he makes me look like William F. Buckley.

And yet he lives on a golf course (It's a long story!) and sports a significant handicap.

All of the above is true.

I started this blog posting intending to wrap it up by saying that I had a great idea for a character based on this friend of mine, but no story in which to insert him. And then a funny thing happened.

I remembered a story he told me once about this woman he met, who turned out to be married, and....

...oh, forget it.

Wouldn't want to give away the ending!

Characters can come to us from the strangest of places and by the most indirect of routes sometimes, can't they?

03 September 2014

Two Plots, No Waiting


by Robert Lopresti

I recently came across a novel and a short story which used the same plot structure, one that I have seen once before.  I am wondering if anyone can point out more examples of this scheme.

The current samples are the novel Parlor Games, by Maryka Biaggio, and the story "Jaguar" by Joesph Wallace, which appeared in the September/October 2014 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.  I recommend them both.  The novel is the life story of a female con artist as she travels the world at the turn of the century.  "Jaguar" tells of a forest guide in Belize who joins up with an American tourist to escape a violent home life.  But a traveling female main character is not the similarity that interests me.

You may have heard Lawrence Block's comment that every story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end -- but not necessarily in that order.  The structure of these two tales is such that they begin and end in the middle.  How does that work?

Well, let's say that a story had six parts.  The traditional way to present them is in chronological order : 1 2 3 4 5 6.  (I have put the second half in bold to make what follows clearer.) 

Now maybe you want to follow Larry Block's suggestion of not beginning at the beginning.  You might rearrange the story: 2 1 3 4 5 6.   That is, you start with the action under way and then go back to "catch up" with what you missed.  After that chronological order takes over. 

But the tales I am discussing use a more radical approach: 4 1 5 2 6 3.  In other words, you start halfway through the story, go back to the beginning, and then alternate.  In effect you have two plots taking turns, one that will end where the other one  begins. 

Am I making any sense?  Let's try another example.  The first time I came across this structure was in The Dispossessed, a great science fiction novel by Ursula K. LeGuin.  LeGuin wanted (I assume) to show us two contrasting societies.  One  is an anarchist organization that was given their planet's inhabitable moon as a way of preventing their revolution from taking over  the  home planet.

The book begins with Shevek, a scientist from the anarchist moon, getting ready to return to the home planet, the first person ever to do so.  The next chapter begins with his childhood.  And so the pieces alternate, showing Shevek's visit in contrast with his upbringing on the moon.  The latter ends with his decision to visit the other world, bringing us back to the beginning of the book.

Parlor Games starts with the con woman on trial.  Then we see her childhood in the Upper Peninsula.  Back to the trial.  On to her early adventures in Chicago... And so on.

"Jaguar" alternates between Ana's first day in America, and her meeting with the tourist who winds up taking her there.  This structure allows the author to cleverly conceal some plot points until he wants you to see them.

I planned to ask you if you knew any more examples of this plot structure when I realized that I had a contributed a modest sample.  My story "Why," (AHMM, May 2011) has the structure  3 1 4 2.  Here is part of  what I said about the story when it was published:

I wrote a story with two endings. In one finale, a character had an ah-ha moment, an epiphany if you will. In the second ending we see him reacting to that realization. Originally I went with chronological order, but I decided to end with the bigger bang, even though it meant losing an exit line I really liked.

At the time I didn't make the connection to LeGuin's novel. 

Can anyone name more examples?


02 September 2014

How To Handle The Naked Suspect


by David Dean

Not Your Typical Naked Suspect
The subject of this blog was suggested by a Facebook posting of our SleuthSayers brother, Rob Lopresti, in which he published a quote regarding the difficulty of arresting a naked woman.  I responded that I could testify to the truth of this statement; various witticisms were exchanged as you might imagine.  However, as a result, I warned Rob that he had planted the germ of an idea in my near-arid brain for an upcoming article.  I can picture his rather distinguished brows rising in alarm when he sees this title; Rob's thinking running along the lines of, "No...he didn't...he's not really going to write about...poor, needy bastard, so desperate for readers that he stoops to this--a literary sidewalk barker for imaginary lap dancers.  Pitiful!"

Sadly, Rob would be correct if these were his thoughts, at least the part about being desperate for readers.  Of course I'm desperate, Rob!  For God's sake I'm a writer!  However, I wish to set everyone's minds to rest about the following content: I have rated it R for mature, though in some sections it is I for the opposite.

There comes into the life of every police officer (sooner or later; rarely or often) the naked suspect.  This is not a subject extensively covered (stop snickering), if at all, in the police academies of our nation.  Mostly, they arrive unannounced and unexpected, much like Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition, "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!"  Well, the police rarely expect the naked suspect.  You may wonder how professional police officers, like myself, know when a naked person is a suspect.  The answer to this is generally straightforward--when they are naked.  Once a naked person is spotted in a public venue, the police go on high alert--this is not normal behavior.  There are many motives, causes, and M.O.'s, ranging from youthful hi-jinks and drunkenness, to drug-induced euphoria and psychosis.  On a much more serious note, sometimes they are not suspects at all, but victims, but I will not be addressing this aspect in what I intend to be more light-hearted blog.     

I can offer several personal examples of encounters with the naked suspect: It would sometimes happen during a busy summer night at the Jersey Shore, that a naked person, like the proverbial deer, would appear suddenly in the headlights of our marked unit.  Sometime a herd of them.  It was equally possible, though much more rare, for it to occur during daylight hours, as well. 

Making a sweep of the beach in the wee hours before dawn might also reveal people who, through a series of events seemingly beyond their control, had also divested themselves of all clothing.  It appears that, for some, the salubrious sea air loosened the shackles of convention, rendering clothing irrelevant.

Typically, our reaction to such phenomenon was not as enthusiastic as one might expect.  Think about it--is there any dignity left to the officer who arrests the naked suspect?  I think you may know the answer to that if you think about it.  You've only to picture yourself tackling a naked dude, or gal, in view of dozens, if not hundreds, of on-lookers.  And then what?  Do you normally carry around a casual-wear wardrobe in the trunk of your car?  Note: We did carry blankets in the trunks of our patrol units, though not specifically for the purpose of clothing the naked.  May I also direct your attention to the question of why, when carefully considered, you would wish to handle a sweaty, naked stranger when you have no idea where he/she has been?  And though Hollywood would have it otherwise, naked folk are not always attractive--at least to others.  They often find themselves quite lovely, hence the paucity of clothing.  In one long-running affair, we had a senior citizen who felt his nakedness on the beach, or while swimming, was something no reasonable person could object to.  He was no Jack Lalane, nor was he destined for a leading role in adult cinema.  Oddly, many beachgoers did object, especially small-minded mothers and fathers with young children.  As I once pointed out to him, "This is not France, buddy."

In another instance, when responding to a complaint of a noisy party in the wee hours, we were confronted with an array of naked suspects.  It appeared that an all-female pool party was in progress, sans swim-wear.  After a lengthy surveillance to ensure that no actual crime was in progress, we revealed our presence and quickly restored order--one of the less painful encounters of the naked sort, that I had so far endured.  Caution rookie officer: this was an exception, not the norm for the naked encounter!  Most will make you cry out, "Oh dear God, no!  My eyes...my eyes!"  At the very least, you can expect to question the wisdom of your last meal.

The aforementioned blanket may, in fact, be your best defense against the naked suspect.  Here is a technique you may wish to remember: Summoned to a domestic, my partner and I were confronted with a fully clothed husband, and a completely naked wife.  She was a very angry naked wife.  She was also very drunk and drugged-out, and using their bed as a trampoline while hurling all available objects at us, screaming, "Don't touch me!"  The EMT's took one look and said, "We'll wait outside with the ambulance."  My partner and I looked at one another and shared a single thought--blanket! 

With panther-like grace, he leapt onto the still-quaking bed, seizing her hand in a reverse-wrist take-down and bringing her face-down onto the mattress.  There we proceeded to quickly roll her into the top cover like a cocktail sausage.  It was not dignified, but it was effective, and resulted in the least amount of handling possible in the circumstances.

Edvard Munch's "The Scream"
Some naked suspects, as you can see from the previous example, want to fight.  As the person is clearly not armed in most cases, the option of deadly force is rendered moot.  Pepper spray is not, however.  A naked guy who feels like his face is on fire should rank highly among things you don't want to experience in this, or any other, lifetime.  Picture Edvard Munch's "The Scream," (helpfully provided) and you have some idea of the result.  Yet, the naked perp has even more to fear from the officer who's aim has been thrown off by his assault.  Should the pepper spray find other exposed areas, the suspect may feel he has been transported to a realm far beyond the understanding of mortal man, a place reserved exclusively for those condemned to the seventh ring of hell; the final stop for the violent.  There, his previous understanding of agony will become transcendental, achieving a kind of satanic ecstasy.  Do not envy him this knowledge.

So there you have it, dear readers--a smattering of knowledge and ideas on handling the naked suspect--ideas and knowledge that I pray you never have to use, or have used on you.  Nakedness is a wonderful thing if you're centerfold material, or still south of three years old, but for the vast majority of us clothing remains the most appropriate option.  Take it from someone who's seen far more than he ever wanted to, a clothed world is a prettier world.  So until next time--keep your pants on and your hands to yourself.  Still good advice in an uncertain world.

01 September 2014

Meet My Character Blog Tour


Jan Grape
by Jan Grape

I've been tagged and invited by my friend, Paul D. Marks, Shamus Award winning author of White Heat, to join the Meet My Character Blog Tour. Each author who is asked writes about their character answering questions on their blog, then tagging one to five other authors to join. Not only do you find out about interesting or intriguing characters you also learn a little about an author. One you might not know anything at all about, you also promote your work and their work on your blog and then they promote it on their blog site. It sounds like fun so I agreed to be tagged. I think it would be best if you contact the person you plan to invite to see if they will agree. Also you can only invite one person if that's what works best, but it's going to be more fun if you at least invite two or more.

Paul recently posted his and you should check it out: www.pauldmarks.blogspot.com
Paul's website is: www.pauldmarks.com

Here goes:

1. What is the name of your character? Is he or she fictional or a historic person?

My Austin Policewoman is named Zoe Barrow. Barrow is my maiden name and I chose it to honor my late father. She is fictional but a little of several female police officers that I met while attending the Austin Citizen's Police Academy. Austin was one of the first cities to have an academy for citizens to learn about the police department and understand  a bit of how they worked and the problems they faced. Most of the people who attended were folks who were going to be watch captains in their Neighborhood Watch Programs and were held back then out at the Police Academy. The classes were held once a week for ten weeks, each program was one and a half long with a break, then another one and a half hour and taught by either the head of the department or the second in charge We had classes in Bunko-fraud, Firearms, Robbery-Homicide, Fingerprints & Ballistics, Sexual Crimes, SWAT, Victim Services, District Attorney, etc. We took a field trip to police headquarters to see all the division offices and to learn about Fingerprints from their AFIS computer, automated fingerprint identification. We saw how weapons and firearms and bombs were handled. We saw how the K-9 unit worked, watching the dogs work, outside on their training grounds. One of the final classes before we got to ride with a patrol car for a full eight hour shift was the Firearms Training Simulator aka FATS. These were "Shoot, Don't Shoot" scenarios, a video of a person plays on the screen and you have a laser gun. The person can be a good guy or a bad guy and when the action starts you must shoot or don't shoot by whatever the action is. I did quit well until my last scenario and I shot a guy in the butt. The patrol ride was especially enlightening as the officer never know when getting as call what can or will happen. We went to an abandoned Winnebago type trailer on a neighborhood street. A dog was tied up outside. The officer I was with made me stay in the patrol car while he checked the place out. No one was in the trailer but there could have been and someone could have come out shooting. My officer had given me instructions on how to operate the vehicle's radio if he got shot and needed help. Many of my readers have asked if I ever was a police officer after reading AUSTIN CITY BLUE the first in the series. I never have been, but besides the Citizen's Academy training, one of my officer friends read and vetted my manuscript.

2. When and where is the story set?

Guess I pretty much answered this in the previous answer. Austin, Texas in the present day.

3. What should we know about him/her?

Zoe is dedicated to her job and to helping people. She works with other officers who are also dedicated and their main object is to keep their city safe. Austin is a great place to live but I have to admit since I first wrote these two books, ACB and DARK BLUE DEATH, Austin had grown by leaps and bounds. The police department has undergone many changes. I hope most of them are to help the citizens and police to work to keep crime and the bad guys out of our city and that we have a safe city that is as safe as possible. I have a huge respect for our law enforcement officers and I do understand a tiny portion of what they deal with every day, every hour.

4. What is the conflict? What messes up his or her life.

At the beginning of the book, Zoe has had to shoot a suspect. She didn't know it at the time but he is the gang-banger who accidentally shot her SWAT officer husband, Byron Barrow, in a drive-by shooting. Byron took the bullet in the head. It didn't kill him but left him in a vegetative state. He resides in a nursing home. She has to try and deal with the Internal Affairs Division who sound as if she knew this suspect and killed him out of revenge. Then she has to deal with the guilt of killing a young man.

Her personal conflict, is in dealing with her husband and the semi-coma state that he is in. How she visits him almost daily, talking to him, but he doesn't answer back. (This relationship was my tip of the hat to my friend Jeremiah Healy, who's private eye character, John Cuddy goes out to the cemetery and talks to his dead wife.) Besides dealing with her work and her husband Zoe meets a man who is a private investigator that she's somewhat attracted to but she still feels married although everyone including the doctors tell her that for all practical purposes her husband Byron is dead.

5. What is the personal goal of this character?

Besides trying to resolve her guilt and deal with her husband.  A friend of her father-in-law asks her help because he thinks his wife is trying to have him killed.  Dealing with the pressures of her job each day she's just trying to survive it all.

6. Can we read about this character yet?

Both of the Zoe books have been published, AUSTIN CITY BLUE and DARK BLUE DEATH are
in hardcover from Five Star/Cengage. They both were published in audio form from Audiobooks. They're available in libraries and in some mystery bookstores. I'm trying to get them formatted to e-books so more people can read them since they are out of print. ACB was also published in paperback and you might find copies in a used book store. I'm hoping one day to finish the third in the series, BROKEN BLUE BADGE. After my husband passed away, I had a number of health problems and am only now getting back to writing again. I'd like to finish that Zoe book and sorta wrap things up for Zoe Barrow, Austin Policewoman.

7. A stand alone mystery that I had published, also from Five Star/Cengage is WHAT DOESN'T KILL YOU. The main character is Cory Purvis.  A sixteen year old girl who lives with her uncle in a very small town in west Texas. (think not far from Big Bend.) She and her friend who is half-white and half Native American find the body of a young woman who had been a classmate of the two. The dead girl is in an old abandoned mansion which is supposedly a haunted house. The dead girl is naked and tied up. Almost immediately Cory discovers her friend, TyTy had a brief sexual with Vickee the dead girl and he is put in jail for the murder. Cory doesn't believe TyTy killed the girl and she goes against her uncle and the county sheriff and tries to find out who did kill Vickee.  Although the heroine is only sixteen, this is an adult book, not for very young people due to explicit language and scenes.

This book may be available in mystery bookstores also.

(A note regarding the FATS system you can look online and find short videos on YouTube showing some of the training the officers get.)


My plan now is to invite Fran Rizer, Bill Crider, Alafair Burke, Jinx Schwartz, Kaye George. I haven't had a chance to get in touch with any of these authors so please excuse me if it doesn't work exactly. But I will include them in my next blog time.