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


04 November 2014

From The Case Files Of Chief David Dean: The Affair of the Threatened Summer


by David Dean

Occasionally, a case so strange, so baffling, so unusual that it defies easy description, arrives on the police blotter.  The following is such a case:

I found myself one early August morning in 2008 standing on a north-end beach of Avalon, NJ with the mayor.  He was not a happy man, and as a result of this, and the sorry mess I was there to witness, I found my own spirits drooping beneath the mercilessly revealing rays of the rising sun.  We were looking at several acres of medical waste festooning our once pristine beaches...and there were weeks yet remaining of the tourist season--the Labor Day weekend looming as its climax. 

This was a scene we had both witnessed a number of times in the past, being something of a Jersey Shore epidemic in the late eighties.  We both also believed that the source of this plague had been successfully squelched years before.  It had been two decades since we had seen the likes of this.  It didn't bode well for the town.  If you know anything about the economics of beach resorts in the northeast, you know that the season is short.  There are but a few months for the townspeople and its shopkeepers to make a year's worth of money.  Every day counts.  And if you know anything about medical waste dumping at sea, you know it takes several days for everything to wash up; sometimes longer, with the media gleefully documenting every syringe-laden tide.  If it helps, call to mind the scene from the movie "Jaws" where the mayor and Chief are standing in front of the billboard.  Remember the bikini-clad gal splashing along on her raft, while the vandal has added a crude depiction of a huge dorsal fin cutting through the waves toward her.  This was such a moment for us--we had just met our shark and he was eating our beach. 

Unlike the fictional mayor of Amity, however, our mayor had wasted no time in attacking the situation, having gathered volunteer firemen, lifeguards, and borough workers to begin the clean-up.  This was being accomplished under the guidance of our equally able Emergency Management Director and investigators from the NJ Attorney General's Environmental Crimes Bureau.  One of my detectives was documenting the scene.  We were treating it as a crime...which it most certainly was.  But it wasn't the detective, or yours truly, that first noticed that something was different about this particular wash-up--it was the mayor.  "Why's it only in this area?" he asked.  Or words to that effect. 

It took me a moment to grasp what he was getting at--we were looking at a fairly concentrated area covering what would be a few city blocks.  In the past, such spills were sometimes spread over miles.  A beach vehicle was dispatched to drive south along the shore to search for more wash-up.  His report was negative.  Then a boat was sent out to try and determine how far out the slick reached.  It was a few hundred yards at most.


In case you're wondering at the significance of these observations, let me explain.  Our previous dealings with illegal dumping had taught us that mostly it was accomplished far out in the shipping channels, and nowhere near shore.  Usually the deed was done from barges being used in the illegal trade of unauthorized medical waste disposal by companies that were lucrative fronts for organized crime families and organizations.  Generally, the material could be traced to medical facilities in New York City and its environs.  When investigators showed up, such fronts, and their employees, vanished like chlorine gas, invisible and toxic.  The practical result of their dumping efforts, however, would spread over many miles as the tide and currents moved them inexorably shoreward.  This was not what we were seeing.  This mess had started within sight of the beach.  This was local, and the joyous scent of prey was suddenly very near.

The waste material itself proved equally unusual.  When one of the investigators from the ECB showed us some of the gathered items, we were all baffled.  They were unquestionably of a medical nature, but nothing that we had come to associate with these events.  There were syringes, but of a type we'd never seen, lots of small cottony swabs, but no bandages, hundreds of small capsules containing some kind of unidentifiable material.  Even the ECB boys (who had been to sites all over the state) were flummoxed.  My detective took some of the evidence back to the station to begin researching it over the internet.  It didn't take long.  This wasn't material from a hospital or clinic--this was waste from a dental practice.  Someone who not only was familiar with the area, but who must have piloted a boat to accomplish this incomprehensible crime.  In my view, as well as others, someone who was close.  During the following two days less and less material washed ashore.  By the fourth day it had ceased altogether.  Only the very north end had been affected by the beach closings, though the publicity hadn't done the town any favors.  Still, it could have been worse.

As the buckets of material were sifted through, object by object, painstakingly photographed and recorded, the first really significant clue was discovered--a dental drill bit with its wrapper miraculously intact.  We had a lot number and a manufacturer. 

Then, like a dank, chill wind issuing forth from the cavern of the troll king, a summons was received from the county prosecutor to attend a strategy meeting at his offices.  As the head law enforcement officer for the county this was his prerogative.  While understanding it, I was also a little curious as to why.  From where I was sitting, our unfortunate situation had no ramifications beyond my own jurisdiction.  There had been no other instances at any other shore towns in the county.  Normally, as chief, I would have remained behind, leaving such meetings to my detectives.  But my antennae had detected a disturbance in the Force, and I decided to attend, as well.  It was good that I did.

Seated around a huge oval table in the prosecutor's conference room were myself, my detective, the two ECB investigators, the prosecutor and his chief detective, and two investigators that worked for him.  My detective laid out our findings.  The ECB boys nodded in agreement.  The prosecutor's crew...scoffed.  A couple of hypodermic needles had washed ashore in a town north of us. They had seen this all before.  This was just your usual off-shore dumping, and its effects would show up on other beaches in other towns sooner, rather than later.  A local event, indeed! 

It was clear that the publicity attendant to our unfortunate situation had gained the prosecutor's attention.  Seeing how my department was working with the state AG's environmental investigators (and she was the prosecutor's boss), he wanted in.   

It was also obvious that the syringes in Ocean City were a few insulin needles and did not remotely resemble ours.  I took umbrage.  Not with the prosecutor's rights, or even his motives, but with their sneering condescension.  Umbrage is something I've taken a few times both before, during, and after being a chief of police.  Umbrage means that I clench my teeth, hear bells ringing too loudly, and think dark and bloody thoughts.  Entering the fray, I politely, but forcefully, disagreed, outlining my own extensive experience with these very things; carefully explaining so that even those challenged by their own overblown, and totally unrealistic, high opinions of themselves could understand; making sure to prick the swollen balloons of their egos with the sharp needle of reason and objectivity.  After the long silence that followed, the prosecutor agreed that we should be allowed to continue our futile line of investigation.  He even agreed that a reward should be offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible.  I felt this would bring heat on our perpetrator, wherever he was, as well as the promise that we now had, courtesy of the drill bit maker, a very manageable list of dentist offices that had purchased the lot number recovered from our beach.  I could see no reason not to put this out there for him to hear and sweat.  We promised to stay in touch and left that dark, unhappy, place.

My plan did not take long to bear fruit.  On September 2, even as my detectives were making their way through the list of dental practices that ran from Jersey to the Philadelphia Main Line, a stranger presented himself in the lobby.  He wished to speak with an officer.  Before the day was over, a 59 year old dentist from Pa. had confessed to the illegal dumping of approximately 300 "Accuject" dental-type needles, 180 cotton swabs, and a number of plastic capsules containing filling material, as well as other items.  A search warrant executed at his home and practice revealed evidence that corroborated his confession and he was subsequently charged.

A few days later, the county prosecutor hosted a press conference lauding the arrest and the excellent cooperation between agencies that led to it.  His boss, the Attorney General, was in attendance for his big moment.  I was allowed a few words.  When asked by a reporter how I felt about the arrest, I smiled and said, "I could not be happier.  I feel like Chief Brody when he got the shark."

The strange dentist never offered a motive for what he did, and to this day, I sometimes find myself wondering why.  Medical waste disposal for the average dental office at that time cost about 700 dollars a year.  It couldn't have been the money. 

It had been twenty years since anyone had been arrested for illegally dumping medical waste in New Jersey ocean waters.





         

 





   


03 November 2014

Who Me? Moderate a Panel?


Jan Grape
by Jan Grape

If you haven't already, then one day soon, you will be asked to moderate a panel at a mystery con, writer's event or even locally at a group signing. Personally, I enjoy it, but I'm a bit of a ham. If you are registered to attend a con and you want to be asked to be on a panel or to moderate one and you're worried that you won't be asked, then make your own panel.  Let's face it, you can pick up a few new readers if you're on a panel. You might even do better by moderating one.

To make up your own panel, find out the writers you know personally. Or ones you don't know, but you enjoy their work and want to get to know them better. Come up with an idea for a panel, "Writing Killer Characters?" "Walking the Mean Streets...Research or Not?"  "Can There Be Humor In Murder?" Contact you might want to be on a panel with, Jane Bestseller (you know a little), John Unknown (Just published but funny and you know him from your critique group), Tom, Dick or Harry Whodunit (you've never met, but you love his work.)

So you've chosen a topic, Writing Killer Characters and before you contact other writers you think about your idea on the topic. Most writers have their main characters in mind but you'd like to delve into the mind of your BAD GUY, your Killer. That's a bit of a change than just creating your main and secondary characters and that idea might be more interesting.

You write to your future panelist, Jane Bestseller, John Unknown and Harry Whodunit, telling them you'd like to work up a panel with them to present at Malice, or B'Con, or Magna or whatever con you're all attending.  You mention that you'd like to explore their minds on "How Do They Come Up With a Killer" in their story.

You add that you've never been worth a darn until after lunch time so would something around 1, 2, or 3pm work and why don't we try for Friday afternoon.? Tell them to please let you know if they'd be interested as soon as possible so can write to the program chair and get this panel on schedule.

In the meantime, you also write to Judy Program Director and say that you've published three books in your series with a private-eye. That you'd be delighted to send her a copy of your latest, in case she's not familiar. That you'd really enjoy an opportunity to moderate a panel on "Writing Killer Characters" to be scheduled on Friday afternoon at 1:00 pm. That you think talking about how a writer comes up with a character who kills. Are they evil and devious? Are they just an ordinary person who allows greed, or anger to take hold and they strike out? Or they someone who had been abused and actually only killing in self defense? You mention that you think there can be a number of ways this discussion can be explored and developed. Say that you have contacted, Jane Bestseller, Johnny Unknown and Harry Whodunit to be on the panel with you. That you are sure that Jane and Johnny are on board but you haven't heard from Harry yet. But that if he declines for whatever reason, you'll be happy to invite Tom or Dick Whodunit.

You immediately hear back from the program director and Judy Programmer says she is thrilled that you've done the hard work already. Thanks for the book offer but she's already bought and read all three of your books and thoroughly enjoyed them. She also says she'll be happy to set you up on Friday at 1:30pm. That she's hoping to stagger the times so people can attend more that one session if they want.

In the meantime, you hear from Harry Whodunit who says he'll be delighted to be on a panel with you, that he knows Jane Bestseller quite well and he's read your recent work and likes your writing style and voice.

Now begins the hard part. What can I do to highlight these writer and give them the best light in which to shine? Start by reading their book/s. Read their Facebook pages. Think about your own bad guy character and his or her motives. Is this killer a dark side of you?

This all came to mind the other day when I was asked to moderate a panel at the Jewish Book Festival this coming Thursday, November 6th with Best Selling Authors, Faye and Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman. I didn't have to set up a panel, it was already determined who would be on the panel. I was just asked if I'd be willing to moderate. I was delighted to answer yes.  Faye Kellerman's latest Decker/Lazarus novel, Murder 101 is just out. Jonathan and son, Jesse Kellerman have collaborated on their first novel also just published, A Golem in Hollywood. Jonathan is a Best Selling Author with around 40+ novels under his belt and Jesse is a Best Seller in his own right with five novels published.

Next time we'll talk about how it all went and my take on how to promote your panelists and not promote your own work as much.

02 November 2014

Florida News, Crime and Politics Edition


by Leigh Lundin

Florida postcard
The Murder that Wasn’t

Orlando, FL   After rescuers pulled the body of Miss Hien Tran from her car, police investigators believed she’d been stabbed and her throat cut. It would turn out not to be a murder case at all. When the mail arrived a week later, the homicide investigation turned into a different case altogether.

The mail came from Honda, the manufacturer of her car and it announced the Japanese maker of the airbags, Takata, was making a recall because of bodily injuries. That may come as some small comfort to her family.

Oddly, the recall isn’t universal, but based on geography. The hypothesis is that the airbags may be affected by heat and humidity. That’s a relief because Northerners, aka snowbirds, never drive their Toyotas and Hondas to Florida.

Old Flame

Clearwater, FL   In the heat of alcohol-fueled passion, the light of his life set Carlos Ortiz on fire… literally. Using nail polish remover and a lighter, the saucy but incensed woman lit a fire under her smokin’ hot man in a case of spaghetti scorned.

Too Hunky to Resist

Deltona, FL   The fat hit the fire when a very naked quarter-tonner fan of quarter-pounders found himself under arrest after his girlfriend called police to report he was drunk and abusive. The 500-pound man was too big to fit into a police car. Instead, he sat on the ground and refused to move. Police are no dummies. They somehow wrestled him into a transport van. No word if a forklift was required.

Pam Bondi, Attorney General
Pam Bondi, Attorney General
The Irony Maiden

Tallahassee, FL   No matter which side of the same-sex marriage debate you’re on, you’ve got to find this headline head-spinningly paradoxical:


See, our governor, legislature, and pin-up Attorney General Pam Bondi strongly oppose gay marriage. But… they even more vociferously oppose gay divorce. Not good for family values, see.

I get it, but it makes my head hurt. Oh, by the way, Pam Bondi is the politician who postponed a scheduled execution so she could hit the campaign trail, putting duty second or third or fourth. This could seriously jeopardize Florida's claim as The Execution State.

The Largest Medicare/Medicaid Fraud in History

Tallahassee, FL   Typically when people claim this politician or that is a crook, they mean it more or less figuratively. In the case of our Florida governor Rick Scott, it’s literally fact, as noted by the FBI and attested to by Rudy Giuliani and reported by (gasp!) Fox News. Why this election is neck and neck or that Scott won election the first time beggars belief, but after the $1.7-billion fine for Medicare and Medicaid fraud (he's only opposed to heath care if he can't profit from it), Rick Scott needed a job and had personal millions left over to buy himself a governorship with Tea Party support that steamrolled over Florida's GOP. And he may do it again.

If at first you don’t secede…

Eve Fisher or David Edgerly Gates might provide pithy insights (no, I’m not lisping), but I find it amazing those who brag the loudest about their fulminating love of America are the same folks who want to break up the Union when they don't get their way. (See Eve’s recent articles on revolutions.) Here in Florida, we have two proposals.

Pensacola, FL   The first proposal is to annex Georgia and South Carolina, the heart of the Old South, and break away into a confederate nation called Reagan, as if the great communicator himself wouldn’t be horrified. Longitudinally, at least, they couldn’t get much farther to the right.

Miami, FL   The other proposal is to split Florida into two states, diagonally (sort of). The impetus comes from the inattentiveness and failure of Tallahassee (read: governor and legislature) to take global warming seriously. The City of South Miami has set forth a resolution that before Miami and the Keys sink beneath the waves, they take their own measures and let Tallahassee do what it will– or won’t. I live a few hundred metres from the new state line, which could make things interesting.



As usual, suspects and accused are deemed innocent until proven guilty.

01 November 2014

Name That Crook




by John M. Floyd



I like books about writing. I buy a lot of them, and I always seem to learn more from them than I expect to. These "how-to-create-good-fiction" authors sometimes differ on their views of what's good and what isn't, and what works and what doesn't--but now and then, like a family driving away from the Honda dealership, they are all in one Accord. (Sorry--I couldn't resist.)

One piece of writing advice that they all seem to agree on is that we talespinners should spend at least as much time on our villains as we do on our heroes. The point, there, is that the character who actually propels the action forward in a story or novel is the antagonist, not the protagonist. A wimpy bad guy just won't do. As I heard someplace, Jack the Giant Killer needs a giant to kill.

Another good move is to come up with suitable names for our villains. I once said, in a previous column, that I couldn't imagine 007 introducing himself as "Dinkins. Wilbur Dinkins." Well, the same goes for Bond's adversaries. Arnold Goldpinkie probably wouldn't have presented much of a threat to the world, or Doctor Yessiree.

Along these lines, here are a few fictional baddies whose names I especially like. (I can almost picture the sudden smiles on the writers' faces when these popped into their heads.)

Seriously evil dudes:

Hans Gruber, Die Hard
Noah Cross, Chinatown
Percy Wetmore, The Green Mile
Vince Stone, The Big Heat (Lee Marvin played baddies and goodies equally well)
Amon Goeth, Schindler's List
Morgan Sloate, The Talisman
Roy Batty, Blade Runner
Anton Chigurh, No Country for Old Men 
Voldemort, Harry Potter series
Stuntman Mike, Death Proof
Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now
Randall Flagg, The Stand
Little Bill Daggett, Unforgiven
Sauron, Lord of the Rings
Max Cady, Cape Fear
Oddjob, Goldfinger
Freddy Kreuger, A Nightmare on Elm Street
Dr. Szell, Marathon Man
Bill Cutting, Gangs of New York
Dean Wormer, Animal House
Emilio Largo, Thunderball
Cicero Grimes, Hombre (Richard Boone was always a convincing villain)
Tommy Udo, Kiss of Death 
Commodus, Gladiator (what could be worse? Toiletus?)
Miles Quaritch, Avatar
Leatherface, Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Francis Dolarhyde, Red Dragon
Lex Luthor, Superman

Seriously evil dudettes:

Irma Bunt, On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Cersei Baratheon, Game of Thrones
Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada
The Wicked Witch of the West, The Wizard of Oz
Phyllis Dietrichson, Double Indemnity
Cruella de Vil (cruel devil?), 101 Dalmations
Mallory Knox, Natural Born Killers
Santanico Pandemonium, From Dusk Till Dawn
Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty
Elle Driver, Kill Bill (Daryl Hannah, of all people)
Miss Havisham, Great Expectations
Mama Fratelli, The Goonies
Alex Forrest, Fatal Attraction (Play Misty for Me, Part 2?)
Aileen Wuornos, Monster
Nurse Ratched (wretched?), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Catherine Tramell, Basic Instinct
The White Witch, The Chronicles of Narnia (who better than Tilda Swinton, for this?)
Rosa Klebb, From Russia With Love

Asides and exceptions

I should pause here to admit that some of the best literary and cinematic villains had normal, plain, believable names: Michael Myers (Halloween), Annie Wilkes (Misery), Frank Booth (Blue Velvet), Norman Bates (Psycho), Mrs. Danvers (Rebecca), Ben Wade (3:10 to Yuma), Tom (The Talented Mr.) Ripley, George Harvey (The Lovely Bones), Reverend Harry Powell (The Night of the Hunter), Jack Wilson (Shane), and so on. But who's to say that they wouldn't have been even more ominous if their names had been ominous as well?

By the way, all baddies are not truly evil. Some--Mrs. Robinson (The Graduate), Lt. Gerard (The Fugitive), Major Henry Terrill (The Big Country), Ed Rooney (Ferris Bueller's Day Off), Headmaster Nolan (Dead Poet's Society), etc.--are just unpleasant people who get in the way of the protagonists' needs and goals. I'll always like the name of Milo Minderbinder, the sneaky opportunist and profiteer from Catch-22--and even though his actions unknowingly caused death and disaster, he was more of an antagonist than a villain.

And some villains are so terrifying they have no names at all. In The Village, the creatures in the surrounding woods were whisperingly called Those We Don't Speak Of.

In closing, here are my Top 10 favorite names for bad guys:

Gordon Gekko, Wall Street
Ernst Stavro Blofeld, You Only Live Twice
Lars Thorwald, Rear Window
Liberty Vallance, as in The Man Who Shot
Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter series
Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs
Apollo Creed, Rocky
Darth Vader, Star Wars
Hugo Drax, Moonraker
Uriah Heep, David Copperfield


Sigh. I wish I were the one who came up with those . . .