25 November 2014

Important Thinking On British Televsion Mysteries


By David Dean

Being a trained observer from my police days, it has not escaped my notice that many of my fellow  SleuthSayers are fans of British television mysteries.  It helped that several of you wrote articles on this very subject--these were my first clues.  I suspect that many of SleuthSayers' readers are fans, as well.  I don't have enough evidence to make an arrest, but I think that it's a reasonable suspicion.  So, knowing that I am in good company, I am ready to confess without benefit of counsel, that I, too, enjoy these programs from the misty home of the English language.

English TV Policemen with authentic accents
I've heard, or read, several very good reasons for liking the Brit mysteries (as well as some of their other programming such as "Call The Midwives"), and I have a few of my own which I'm anxious to share.  Firstly, everybody speaks with these really great accents, though sometimes they are difficult to understand.  I have advocated subtitling, but this has not yet been enacted.  What is it about their accents, anyway?  There are dozens of "English" accents being spoken around the globe, from the U.S. to South Africa, but not one of them sound as smart as Englishers themselves.  That's just not fair.  I want to sound smart, too.  But since I can't, I like to watch the British being cultured and savvy.  Sometimes I try on an English accent at home, but Robin either studiously ignores me, refusing to respond to any of my extremely pithy observations, or tells me to stop embarrassing myself.  I feel smarter when I do this, though she says that I don't sound, or look, smarter at all.  She is of Irish descent on both sides of her family and is unreasonably hostile to the English, I think.  Things only get worse when I switch to an Irish accent.



Dreaming Spires
So, the accents are cool, but that's not the only reason I like British television.  There's also the locations.  My absolute favorite is Oxford, the setting of the Inspector Morse, and latterly, the Inspector Lewis, series.  Notice how I worked in "latterly"?  That's how they talk.  Besides being an incredibly beautiful city with its "dreaming spires" (don't ask), it also puts the lie to British weather being lousy.  It's sunny nearly every episode--and this show (in both its manifestations) has a decades-long history!  I can't understand why all the Brits want to move to Spain when they've got Oxford.  If you follow the adventures of Rosemary and Thyme, you'll find that they too walk in beauty beneath a glorious sun and flawless sky.  As soon as Robin retires, we're saddling up for some of that gorgeous English weather!  To hell with Ft. Lauderdale!


Rosemary and Thyme
But the main reason that I like British programming may surprise you.  Yes, the wonderful acting is certainly a draw, but that's not it altogether.  It has to do with the casting.  Have you ever noticed that, unlike American television, British actors are not uniformly attractive?  In fact, in many cases even the actors and actresses in the leading roles of British shows are not in the least bit glamorous.  They're allowed to look like me over there, and still work.  Inspector Robbie Lewis would never be confused for an American television detective.  He might, however, be mistaken for an actual police officer.  Neither Lewis and Hathaway, nor the inspector/sergeant duo on Midsomer Murders appear as if they run ten miles a day and spend an hour every morning in the gym.  I've never seen any of them beat anybody up, which is a daily requirement of their American TV counterparts, and very calorie-consuming.  And since they don't carry guns, they can't shoot any villains.  They actually say that, you know--villains.  As for R and T, they spend all their time investigating murders at various castles, hotels, and estates across England while doing some light gardening, and taking numerous breaks to snack and drink wine.  These Brits appear to drink a lot of wine!  I always thought they were big on warm beer, but no, it's wine for these folks, and it's always being served at things called fetes, which no American knows the meaning of; though they look a lot like parties.  They seem to be held mostly on village "greens" or in gardens.  Though, when the weather doesn't permit (which is almost never--see above) they are held in drawing rooms.  No American knows what kind of room that is either, but it doesn't matter.  This is another thing I like about English life on the telly (sorry, Robin, old girl); they do a lot of partying!  The down side is that the guys almost always have to wear a tux, though they call them something else, I think.  Anyway, it's kind of nice to see men and women who could pass for what I call "normal" populating the screen, with nary a "six-pack" ab between them. 

So there you have it, all the good reasons to watch British television.  Oh...were you thinking it was the clever writing and convoluted plots that form the centerpieces of these programs?  How the hell would I know?  I can't understand half of what they're saying.  I just like how they say it.     
                   

24 November 2014

USC Scores


By Fran Rizer


The University of South Carolina scored big in October, 2014.  No, I'm not talking about the football team.  I'm referring to 150 boxes containing 2,400 linear feet of documents, a couple of typewriters, and some other writing equipment.

What makes this special?  The fact that the documents belonged to Leonard Elmore.

The following article appeared in Columbia, SC, weekly newspaper Free Times:


USC Scores Collection of Crime Writer Elmore Leonard
By Rodney Welch 

Elmore "Dutch" Leonard was a true son of Detroit, but this week Columbia became the eternal resting place for his literary legacy. At a Wednesday ceremony at Hollings Library, USC President Harris Pastides announced that the university had acquired the complete archive of Leonard, who died in August of last year at 87. The university would not disclose the cost of the acquisition.

Besides all of his published work, the collection includes over 450 drafts of Leonard's novels, short stories and screenplays. The collection also includes appointment books, research files, letters, photographs, director's chairs from movie sets, many awards, his desk, typewriters--and even some Hawaiian shirts and a pair of sneakers.

The collection covers a 60-year writing career that spans Westerns--including the screenplays for films like Hombre, 3:10 to Yuma and Joe Kidd--to crime fiction, where he made his name with novels such as Swag, LaBrava, Get Shorty, Rum Punch and Maximum Bob, among many others. Many of these drafts can be seen under glass at the Hollings Library, such as the handwritten draft on yellow legal paper of his oft-quoted "Ten Rules of Writing."  (Rule One:  Never open a book with weather.)

Elmore Leonard
1925-2013
"Each page is unique primary research material that will bring researchers from around the world," said Pastides. The acquisition is a considerable boost for the university's research collection, which also holds the papers of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and in recent years has acquired both a significant Hemingway collection as well as the Pat Conroy archive.

"Certainly, he's one of the most significant and influential writers of the second half of the twentieth century," said longtime crime and mystery editor Otto Penzler, who was at Wednesday's ceremony. "The number of very accomplished mystery writers who have tried, to some degree, to emulate Duch's style--in terms of quick, punchy dialogue, leaving out the parts people tend to skip, and that sort of thing, is enormous," Penzler said. "Almost everybody now, to some degree, has been influenced by Elmore Leonard and his style of writing."

One such devotee is writer-director Daniel Schechter, who found Leonard a deeply cinematic writer, which proved beneficial when Schechter made the recent Life of Crime, starring Jennifer Aniston, based on Leonard's novel The Switch. "It felt like I was given not just a good book, but a great script by Elmore Leonard.:

So just how did the university snag the collection? Because USC Dean of Libraries Tom McNally went after it, and Leonard liked what the university had to offer. When McNally first made inquiries, he half-expected that the well-heeled Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin--which has the manuscripts of everyone from James Joyce to David Foster Wallace--had already snapped up the rights.

Called "Dutch," Leonard
had his own
director's chair at filmings
"It came about as a surprise," said McNally, to discover that Leonard's collection was still in play.

"Elmore's big statement was 'I don't care about posterity, I care about now," said his longtime researcher Greg Sutter.  Sutter, who has been putting the archive into shape for some time, said there were extensive talks with Michigan State Univesity in Lansing.  But while Sutter was thinking Michigan, Leonard started getting calls from McNally.

"I called him every other week," McNally said. "I got to know him, started talking to him about his collection coming, asked him to come down as a speaker. I told him we wanted to give him the Thomas Cooper Society Medal."

Sutter was already familiar with USC.  He had visited in 2006 for the university's exhibit in honor of crime writer George V. Higgins, and thought of it as a model for a future Leonard retrospective. While the Higgings collection would turn out to have a major impact on Leonard's decision to leave his papers with USC, Leonard's son Peter said Wednesday that his father was a little leery of the award.

"I said 'Do you know who has received this award?" Peter recalls asking. "John Updike, Norman Mailer, William Styron." Elmore said 'I don't write like them.' I said, 'It doesn't matter. This is a prestigious thing.' " Elmore and Peter Leonard and Sutter arrived for the ceremony in May of last year, and the writer liked both USC and Columbia--especially the restaurant Saluda's.

"He loved the fact that they had grits and pork belly on the menu," Peter Leonard said.  His father, who was born in New Orleans, grew up on Southern cooking  What really sealed the deal, though, was Leonard's tour of the Irvin Rare Book Library, when Leonard saw that the university housed the works of the two writers who influenced him more than anyone else:  Ernest Hemingway and Higgins.

Hemingway collector Edgar Grissom, who donated his archive to the university in 2012, showed Leonard the first editions of Hemingway.  "Then Edgar pulled out a manuscript of For Whom the Bell Tolls," Peter Leonard said, "and I could see my dad's eyes light up."

Yes, I know smoking is harmful,
but I had to share this author
photo of Elmore Leonard.
Then there was the Higgins archive, and Leonard got a look at the manuscript of The Friends of Eddie Coyle.  That was the very novel, back in the 1970's that Leonard's agent had insisted that he read. "Elmore said it really influenced him," Peter Leonard said.  "He saw how Higgins was writing, and that book set him free, he said."

The destination of his archive was now clear.  "There was Hemingway, there was Higgins, and I think all of these things just had an impact," Peter Leonard said.

"He was swept away," McNally said, "by the collections, and what we're trying to do here in this library.  We don't have all the money that the Ransom Center has, but we take a real personal approach with our writers.  We make a real commitment to them, that we're not just going to take the collections and put them on a dusty shelf and forget about them."

On the plane back home, Peter Leonard asked his father what he thought of South Carolina.  "That's where I want my papers to go," he said.

Some of Elmore Leonard's works

Peter Leonard, who is also a novelist, admits South Carolina is not the first place you think of a writer whose novels are neck-deep in the crime and corruption of inner-city Detroit.  "Friends of mine have said, 'Why South Carolina?' Because it doesn't really make a lot of sense until you know everything."

"It's kind of hard, when you're a favorite son of Michigan, to leave it," Sutter said.  "It's not that they didn't have the facilities or the energy to do it.  This university is dedicated to creating multiple collections in crime fiction and this acquisition is only going to help them get more."

"I didn't know he had any particular connection to the University of South Carolina," said Penzler. "But I couldn't think of a greater library for those papers to go to. The fact he's associated with Hemingway and Fitzgerald and other significant American writers, I think really does show the level of respect and admiration that Elmore Leonard is getting and richly deserves."


The above is printed in full with permission.
www.free-times.com/blogs/usc-scores-collection-of-crime-writer-elmore-leonard-101614

For more, go to:

www.elmoreleonard.com

I wanted to share this with SS readers, but please don't think I "copped out" by simply copying and pasting Mr. Welch's feature story.  Since that frequently distorts format on SleuthSayers, I typed it out word-by-word.  I tried to remain true to the article, but if there are any typos, please be assured they are mine, not Mr. Welch's.  Since I live very near Columbia, SC, if any of you come to SC to see the collection, let me know and I'll take you out to eat some grits and pork belly.

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

23 November 2014

The Ku Klux Klan


by Leigh Lundin

For those who think the Ku Klux Klan is a relic of the past, I tell you it’s not. For example…

The Klan is alive and thriving in Florida. They are, in fact, growing. Occasionally the KKK make the news here as they quietly reconstruct their power base, even recruiting cops (one a deputy police chief) and courting politicians.

According to my tenant, a regular Baker Street Irregular, he claims to know of two Klan meeting places. I’m not sure if that implies two Klan factions or simply two KKK-friendly bars, but both white and black separatists operate in the area. Indeed, both thrive throughout the Sunshine State.

Only California reports more hate groups than Florida. But lack of breadth doesn’t mean a lack of depth. Klan and neo-Nazis dominate the militias ‘patrolling’ the southern border of the United States. White supremacists calculate Americans will be willing to overlook their extremist views as they sabre-rattle on the Mexican border, sometimes clashing with federal agents.

And then there's Missouri.

In many ways, Missouri never quite ended the Civil War. From the days of Border Ruffians and Bushwhackers, Missouri has a long and sordid history of neighbor-against-neighbor violence culminating in Quantrill's Raiders and the bandit and killer, Jesse James. Eventually, the Ku Klux Klan moved in and never left. Missouri’s history has more than a little to do with events in Ferguson.

Anon Again

In February 2011, I wrote about the group Anonymous that uncovered illegal activity amongst Bank of America, the major security firm HBGary, and a large Washington law firm, Hunton & Williams. At that time, I wrote:
“Anonymous appears to the outside world as a loose confederation of ‘hactivists’, activists comprised of computer hackers and crackers. Members claim ages of 16 through 66 and encourage an aura of anarchy, although a closer look offers a different story. They’ve waded into frays in China, Libya, and Yemen to help political dissidents. When not only extremists attacked WikiLeaks but corporations piled on as well, Anonymous sided with WikiLeaks by going after their attackers.”
Some have accused Anonymous of being nihilists or anarchists. No, I don’t think so. Coming from a hi-tech background with a low tolerance of bullies and violations of civil liberties, I understand the need for a merry band of (sensible) Robin Hoods. My background is similar both in advanced technology and belief in civil liberties, but I channel my wounded sense of justice into writing articles like this. While the public faces behind the Guy Fawkes masks appear in their twenties, underground reports suggest the inner core of Anonymous are in their fifties and sixties, technologists determined not to let Goliaths use their skills as a weapon against the weak, the impoverished, the unrepresented.
“As for Anonymous, I’m going out on a limb with an unpopular opinion and suggest the bandits perform a useful function, not only combatting tyranny in China, Lybia, Myanmar, and Yemen, but also in a free society. Can they screw up? Of course, and if they go too far, they’ll pay the price. They goose the body politic when it becomes too fat and complacent. They may not obey the law, but they follow a code. If we listen very, very closely, we can hear a tiny ping of conscience.”

The WWW v The KKK

In case you haven’t heard, the KKK focused its simmering rage on Ferguson, saying it intended to use 'lethal force' to keep residents in line and threatened a female reporter. That didn't sit well with Anonymous.

One week ago, Anonymous breached the servers of the Missouri Klan and hijacked their Twitter account, @KuKluxKlanUSA. They put up their own splash page and, on other sites, posted audio and video of their conquests, which were rapidly taken down by facebook and YouTube. Savor the irony: Social networks allow the Klan to post, but attacks upon the Klan are considered violations of ToS– terms of service. This video, posted under an alternate account, may or may not be working by the time you read this.


But wait… there’s more irony to come. The Klan set up a second account, @YourKKKcentral where it issued threats “to call the FBI!” Anonymous immediately seized control of that account too.

Anonymous operation #OpKKK didn’t stop there. They dug into the Klan’s secret membership database where they’ve been unmasking the quiet cowards who’ve hidden behind the robes. Nothing like shining a light to scatter the rats.

Exit

I’m not sure I’ve matured, but I have mellowed. Confronting white supremacists– telling them they’re stupid, they’re ignorant, they’re morally twisted– may make their opposition feel better, but it’s also an exercise in futility. It changes no one’s mind.

But Germany may be showing us a solution. An organization called Exit offers neo-Nazis a way out, a way of leaving their organization and receiving support in the mainstream world. One town, plagued by neo-Nazi’s annual march through its main street, now uses the demonstration to raise money for Exit.

More power to them!

22 November 2014

Personpower! (They let me off my leash again…)


by Melodie Campbell

Apparently, the current hot project for Those Who Don’t Have Enough To Do At City Hall, is making our language completely gender-neutral.  “Harbourmaster” is the latest word to fall under the gender axe.  While I wouldn’t dream of suggesting “Harbour Mistress” (this is a family column) I am not so sure about HarbourPerson either.

No doubt about it, that man in “woman” has got to go.  Probably the first place to be hit will be public washrooms.  Better get used to “Persons” and WoPersons”.

If that isn’t confusing enough, imagine what is going to happen to all of our great tunes?  Are we really going to be singing along to “Hey Mr/Ms Tambourine Person”?  Frankly, “When a Person…loves a Person” just doesn’t do it for me.  “I’m a Solitary Person” might squeak by, but “Pretty Person” doesn’t have a chance.

Not to mention the effect this will have on our great literature.  Hemingway will have won the Pulitzer for “The Old Person and the Sea.”  “Little Persons” will be read by persons of gender everywhere, and “The Person of LaMancha” may sweep Broadway.  My own personal <sic> favourite has got to be Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Persons.”

All this could result in a new branch of philology, with its own name, of course – SEpersonTICS…and since my Canadian government is so insistent on being politically correct, surely Winnipeg deserves to reside in “Personitoba?”

You see, the problem is personifold.  You can’t just draw the line here.  ALL things must be included and made equal.

It’s simple, when you get the hang of it.  Fireplaces will have persontels, the rich can live in personsions, and those of us with long fingernails can go for personicures.  “Manuella” may not be too happy about becoming Personuella, but what the heck.  We’ve got a persondate.


(This is a leash-free day, so go for it, and add your own gender-free word changes in the comments.)

When she is not cracking the whip as Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada, Melodie Campbell spends her time writing funny novels like The Artful Goddaughter, for Orca Books.

21 November 2014

The Joys of Miss Fisher


by Dixon Hill

Leigh's recent quips about cricket, coupled with Rob's mention of a "sexy cozy" triggered this post about Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, an ABC (um . . . that's: Australian Broadcasting Company, in this case) television series, which I've been watching on NetFlix.

Kerry Greenwood
This two-season (so far) TV series -- which I think could be accurately called a sexy and humorous cozy -- is set in Melbourne and based on a series of books by prolific Australian author and defense lawyer Kerry Greenwood.


Ms. Greenwood has penned no fewer than 20 books about Miss Fisher, plus several more novels spanning the YA, Sci-Fi and mystery markets.  If Wikipedia is to be believed, she's also a playwright.

The series' titular "Miss Fisher" is, point in fact, Miss Phryne ("Fry-nee") Fisher, a young upper-crust Australian woman of the 1920's who evidently served in the ambulance corps during the First World War.  It seems that the horror she encountered there stripped away her innocence, baring a wry and often humorous cynicism that I, as a viewer, find delectable.




In a word, I'd say she's "cheeky."
Delightfully so!




Dot quietly feels
Miss Fisher drives
far too recklessly. 
Having returned to Australia from England, in the first episode, young Phryne pronounces herself a lady detective.

And – stylish detective that she is – she even sports a gold-plated revolver, when needed. As well as a gorgeous Hispano-Suiza, which she drives at breakneck speeds.

The mysteries here are not mind-bendingly difficult to solve.



Nor do people running around with fancy metal-plated weapons usually entice me to watch a show.  Quite the opposite on both counts. But, if I'm honest, I'll have to admit I don't watch Phryne to test my wits against hers, as I might with a good Sherlock or Miss Marple. And, the fact is, the gold-plated revolver works in this case.  It's just the right weapon, with just the right feel of "decorative accessory," that would make it seem likely to strike the character's flair for the unique and stylish -- two things Phryne Fisher definitely personifies.  But, I really don't watch shows because of weapons.


So, why do I watch Miss Fisher?

Frankly, because the show is so much fun.

The characters are delightful.  First, there's Phryne's friend and assistant, Dorothy, often called Dottie or Dot.  Little Dot is devoutly religious, and frightened by technology.  One of my favorite scenes, which occurred in the first episode, involved Dot trying to answer a telephone.

.
As the young woman had earnestly explained to Phryne earlier, the priest at her church had told everyone that the electricity in the phone lines was building up in the center of the earth, and that – one day – one telephone connection too many would be made, causing the world to explode. Thus, as Phryne's phone rings, Dot, charged with answering it in Phryne's absence, is torn between doing her duty to her friend and employer, and her fear that answering the instrument might trigger a cataclysm that  destroys the entire planet.
The results had me rolling.

Then there's Phryne's female doctor friend: Dr. Elizabeth "Mac" Macmillan.  The good doctor dresses in men's clothing, as many women of the time actually did.  It had nothing, necessarily, to do with their sexual leanings; it was simply a style fad in the post-war years, according to my professor at ASU, when I took a class on this time period in Europe's history.

This taste in clothing may actually be associated with the view that women with bodies that looked "good for breeding" were thought of, at the time, as being similar to cows, or even "breeding machinery" (a connotation much distrusted in the wake of a war that saw the horrific effects of combat mechanization for the first time).  Consequently, "le garçon" arrived on the scene in Europe -- women whom the French called, literally: "the boy" because of their thin hips, flat chests and "masculine" behavior (such as smoking in public).  The wearing of men's clothing, according to one line of thinking, was an extension of such new social norms.

On the other hand, there is strong evidence (albeit off stage) that "Mac" may enjoy the company of women in her boudoir – something that bothers Phryne not one whit.  Mac also harbors a deep grudge against the male establishment, which would be perfectly understandable for a female M.D. of that time period. She's quick to anger, slow to trust, but is fast friends with Phryne, whom she evidently trusts implicitly.

Detective Inspector John "Jack" Robinson carries on a – so far – unrequited love affair with Phryne, though the femini Phryne doesn't appear to let this interfere with her bedroom gymnastics with other, more immediately willing, partners.  Robinson is quite conservative, but he clearly can't get this remarkable woman out of his mind.  And, the fact that she keeps showing up at the scenes of crimes that he's charged with investigating does little to alleviate this problem.

Robinson is assisted by Constable Hugh Collins, an innocent new police officer who soon begins dating Dot.


Add in Bert and Cec, two rather rough-around-the-edges manual
laborers with hearts of gold, who do some of Miss Fisher's heavy lifting, and Phryne's dowager aunt Prudence, along with a few other characters, and you've got a gold mine of humor, conflict and fun.

I highly recommend the show, if you haven't seen it already.

Phryne Fisher: Not only can she drive, and fly a plane…
She's also not afraid to fan dance!
See you in two weeks,
—Dixon

20 November 2014

David Dean: "The Purple Robe"


by Eve Fisher

What if you found out there was a place where miracles really happened?  Deep in the jungle, far away from any prying eyes.  Would you go?  And why?  Is it a miracle you want, or a miracle you fear?  Do you need to ask for it, or to stop it?  What is it that you want?  And what would you do if you found out it was all true...  but there is a price?  David Dean's new thriller, The Purple Robe, offers a wide range of answers to these questions and more.

The small quiet Yucatan town of Progreso, on the Gulf of Mexico, far from the tourist hot-spots, is under the bewildered care of young Father Pablo, awkward, uncertain and with a little bit of a drinking problem.  (They don't call him Father Tomato for nothing.)  His acolytes don't respect him; his congregation is dwindling; and then there are Dona Marisa Elena Saenz, a/k/a La Viuda Negra (the Black Widow), and the local police Captain Barrera, two people who always manage to make him feel...  inadequate, if not downright wrong.

Ironically, although Dona Marisa and Captain Barrera have nothing in common, both express a concern about the missing Alcante boy, some say lame, all say drug-addicted, and last spotted out at a rotting plantation in the jungle, perhaps walking...  Perhaps he's joined the insurrectos; perhaps he's found something else.  There are rumors about a ruined place with a holy relic, a secret site with secret pilgrimages:  much to Father Pablo's chagrin, the Archbishop asks him to investigate.  But where? How?  His main clue is a leaflet, given to him on a bus by a woman named Veronica:


"Ask and ye shall receive":  
the only words underneath a wood engraving of Jesus 
beaten and bloody in a purple robe; 
surrounded by Mayan warriors instead of Roman centurions.  


Veronica takes him deep into the jungle, to a nightmare of a plantation, the disintegrating mansion of a Yucatan Miss Havisham, Dona Josefa, a woman as old as time and either a mystic or mad, who holds a relic that she claims is a fragment of the purple robe worn by Christ at his trial.  Surrounded by Mayan guards, and ever-increasing numbers of pilgrims, including two wealthy Norte Americanos, Father Pablo finds himself in a world in which hope, faith, need, and desperation make people willing to do anything to achieve what they want:  healing, power, prayer, control, hope, fear, and even death.  

Especially if someone is willing to do anything to stop another miracle from happening...

The Purple Robe is a Catholic fable, an evocation of the Yucatan, a religious thriller, and quite a ride. And it's worth thinking about:  What if you found out there was a place where miracles really happened?  Deep in the jungle, far away from any prying eyes.  Would you go?  And why?

19 November 2014

Hold the anchovies


by Robert Lopresti

When I saw that someone was working on an "Anthology of Cozy Noir" my first thought was that that was the craziest idea I had heard in a while.

My second thought was "Hey! I've got a story that would fit there."

The fact that those two thoughts fit so closely together may explain why I have not quit my day job to live off my royalties yet.

Be that as it may, Andrew MacRae apparently agreed with my second thought because he bought my story and gave it the lead-off position in his book which has been published this month.  I am looking forward to reading the rest of the stories.  (In fact, I have read some of them now and here is the proof.)  But, selfish devil that I am, I am going to talk a little about my own.

"The Roseville Way" is about a couple who meet on the east coast and move to the wife's midwestern hometown to open a pizza shop.  Problem is, there doesn't seem to be much demand for New York style pizza in Roseville and things are not going so well.  


Then a couple of men arrive from the New York area, a retired businessman and his younger assistant.  Both of Italian ancestry, both looking like they have survived a few fights.  They love  the pizza.

Is it possible the old guy is a former mobster, maybe on the run, and the younger man is his bodyguard?  And do the shop owners want to argue with success?

I trust you can see how we have aspects both cozy and noir here.

I can tell you exactly where this story idea came from.  In fact, if you used to read the Criminal Brief blog, I did tell you about it.  (Please note that this was back in 2007.  When I say I am a slow writer, I mean it.) 



Sitting in a pizza parlor just off Dupont Circle I acquired an idea for a mystery story. Since I was in the capital city of a major nation, surrounded by power, intrigue, and scandal, naturally I came up with a story about blue collar people in a small town. The human mind is a strange beast.

And here is more evidence for the strangeness inside a writer's cranium.  There is a scene in my new novel, out next spring, set in a pizza parlor in Washington D.C.  How can one mostly nondiscript place inspire two completely different pieces of fiction?

Oddly enough, this double-dipping happened to me once before, as I explained here. 

Anyway, I hope this will inspire you to read a short story.  Or eat some pizza.  In either case, happy digesting.

18 November 2014

Postcards from the River


by Stephen Ross

A couple of years ago, I was living in a city called Hamilton. It's one of New Zealand's few inland cities; New Zealand is a long, thin slice of country and the ocean (Pacific Ocean to the right, Tasman Sea to the left) is never more than an hour or two's drive away. Although inland, Hamilton is not without water frontage, as the Waikato River flows through the center of the city and effectively splits it into two.

I lived a couple of blocks from the river, and the office building I worked in downtown was located riverside on London Street. Naturally, I often walked to and from the office each day along the river, taking advantage of the excellent system of paved city walkways that hugged the river bank.

Given the remoteness of some parts of the track, and the signs of nocturnal delinquency (graffiti, condoms, needles, etc.), I expected most mornings to find a body. I did "find" a couple of drunks and several shifty teenagers, but thankfully never anyone dead. My mind had other ideas. Although I've never used the riverbank walkway specifically as a setting, it has inspired two short stories: Boundary Bridge (where an angry, American TV writer shoves a young man off one of Hamilton's five bridges into the river); and The Riverboat (which curiously ended up being set in the early 20th century, in the deep south of the US).

The Waikato River flows through the Waikato Plains region of the North Island of New Zealand, and at 425 kilometers (265 miles), it's the country's longest waterway. The Waikato Plains are one of the country's dairy heartlands, and Hamilton is the region's largest city (the fourth largest in the country). Photo (c)2010 Stephen Ross

One Monday morning, however, there was a dead body at the end of my walk. It was in the alleyway next to the front entrance of the office building I worked in (located about 20 yards from the river).

Actually, the body was no longer there; there wasn't even a chalk outline (they don't actually draw those). There was, however, a police line, a couple of dozen evidence markers, a frozen police officer, and a sea of fingerprint powder residue -- every inch of the alley and the building's entrance, every rock, every piece of litter, all of it caked in the stuff.

The police officer was frozen because he was dressed in his uniform of a blue shirt and dark slacks. I, by contrast, was dressed for an Antarctic expedition -- it was the middle of winter. It doesn't snow in Hamilton, but we were down to about 2°C that morning (that's less than 36°F).

According to the slowly-turning-blue representative of the thin blue line, the dead body of a man had been discovered in the early hours of the morning. The street had been closed off and a forensics team brought in to examine the scene. Yes, the man had been murdered.

The body had been taken away about 30 minutes before I arrived. The remaining officer was standing watch, preserving the scene (possibly forever) as the detective in charge hadn't given the all clear, which meant access to the building was a no go.

"You're not going in there, mate," said the officer, who must have been made out of concrete -- or was slowly turning into concrete.

"When can I go in? I work on the second floor of that building."

"I think you might be getting the day off, mate."

That was nice of him.

My boss (who arrived a few minutes later), when informed of this hindrance in our approach to our desks, and at our being given a day's holiday by the constabulary, said, "This is not good enough." Actually, he didn't say that, but that was the implication I could extract from the obscenities.

After about an hour, the all clear was finally given and we were allowed to enter the building -- to thaw out from the cold. It was a gloomy day at the office; not a joke was uttered. Bad taste took that offered day's holiday. The media had a vulture's picnic on the doorstep, and the scene of the crime became a tourist destination for Hamilton's lowlifes.

Photo (c)2010 Stephen Ross "The Waikato River flowed through Hamilton like a dark freeway. I spent afternoons sitting at the table in the living room staring down at its cool, shady water. Any day, damn it, I was going to jump in and hitch a ride out of town."

BOUNDARY BRIDGE
Stephen Ross

In the afternoon, a friend said: "I suppose you'll use this murder in a story?"

My reply was "No".

I make a very clear separation in my mind between real murder and imaginary murder, and I don't have a lot to do with the real stuff. Sure, I read about such stories in the newspaper, but note them only in passing. I don't believe I've written any story inspired by real life events.

The thing about writing crime fiction (and the operative word here is fiction) is that I get to make it all up. And importantly, I get to serve up justice where and how I see fit. Murder in the real world isn't that neat and tidy, and most writers, I guess, write because we want to bring order to that chaos...  And I won't write anymore on that line of thought, as I'm sure there are at least 50,000 university papers already collecting dust.

Real murder is complicated. It's ugly and banal. The "wonderful" killers I get to write about don't exist in the real world (inventing "Moriarty" types is a big part of the fun of writing).

Hamilton, New Zealand, June 2010

The dead man in London Street was Donald Alfred Stewart. He was 74. Towards midnight on Sunday 27 June, he stopped his car to use a public restroom in the central city. He was murdered for his car keys. His killer, a boy aged 14, and his accomplices, aged 15 and 17, were caught within days. All three were tried, convicted, and jailed.

Click here for New Zealand Herald report
Photo (c)2010 Stephen Ross

Be seeing you…


https://www.facebook.com/stephen.ross.author

17 November 2014

Moderating a Special Panel



Jan Grape
Moderating A Special Panel

by Jan Grape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 November 2014

Return of the Native


by Leigh Lundin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 November 2014

Incognito


by John M. Floyd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It felt good.

14 November 2014

Uncle Sam


by R.T. Lawton

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

My Family

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

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

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

British gas casualties
Unit History

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

Russian troops awaiting German attack
Choosing Sides:

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

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

Aftermath

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

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

13 November 2014

My Worst Case Of Writers Block


by Jim Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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