27 May 2015

The Verdict

David Edgerley Gates

Awhile back, I wrote a story and submitted it to HITCHCOCK. Not long after, a bomb went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It was one of those WTF moments, because it didn't make any sense. (Of course, you could say that terrorist acts, by definition, don't make any sense, and you wouldn't get an argument from me.) The weird thing was that inside of 48 hours, the suspects in the bombing were ID'd as Chechens. My story began with a hit on a guy in a car. The shooters were hired guns, contract killers. They were Chechen gangsters, brought in soft, for the one job.

Now, my story didn't have anything to do with terrorism. It was about money, and closing a loop. Eliminating loose ends. But the coincidence bothered me, and I dropped a note to Linda Landrigan at AHMM, and suggested it was kinda too close to home, as if I were exploiting a real-life event - that killed people - and better we revisited it, if and when she bought the story.  

Next up, I touched base with my pal Michael Parnell, who at the time was living in Tbilisi, Georgia. Michael's pretty much my go-to guy for crazy feudal stuff in the Caucasus, and I wanted his input. Michael came back at me and agreed it was an odd juxtaposition. He said, Chechens make great heavies, for sure, but you got a lot to choose from, this neck of the woods. For openers, there's your Armenian rug guy who gets his thumb cut off - why not make the baddies Azeris, for example? Armenians and Azeris hate each other. And he threw some other stones in the pool, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the heroin traffic out of Afghanistan, the Moscow mafia moving in on the Georgian gangs. In the end, writers being jackdaws, attracted to shiny objects, I wound up writing a book called EXIT WOUNDS, and I'd happily credit Michael with giving me the background.

This is taking the long way around to the Tsarnaev verdict. Everybody's familiar with the essential narrative. An impressionable kid, led astray by his older brother, who'd been lured to the dark side of Islam. I have to comment that I have no patience at all with Fundamentalism, whether it's Born Again bible-thumpers, or extremist Orthodox Jews (like the guy who murdered Yitzhak Rabin), or ISIS thugs. My personal sympathy is that I'd like them out of the gene pool. Tsarnaev himself is sort of a poster boy, or at least that's the tack his defense took. There's something to this. The wars in Chechnya, for instance, drew in plenty of recruits from the disenchanted Soviet republics, border states along the southern perimeter, what the Russians like to call the Near Abroad, many of them with majority Moslem populations. Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Tajiks. All of them disaffected with native dictatorships, set up by Moscow. These are genuine grievances, and historic. Don't think people don't nurse old wounds.

This is, however, no alibi. You don't spray a crowd with shrapnel from pressure-cooker bombs. An eight-year-old kid died. What does he have to do with the Palestinians, or the invasion of Iraq? There's something truly screwy with making these things morally equivalent, or using them as an excuse. I don't get it. Terror tactics, the bombing of the King David hotel by the Irgun, say, or the IRA campaign in central London, in the 1990's, don't really work. They come back to haunt you. Prince Charles can shake hands with Gerry Adams, but it was the Irish, after all, who blew up Mountbatten.

I know inviting a conversation about the death penalty is asking for trouble. Abortion, capital punishment, and gun control seem like hot-button issues. (How gay marriage got sucked into this is beyond me.) But certain things seem obvious. The death penalty isn't a deterrent. It's unequally applied. Guys on Death Row turn out not to be guilty. DNA evidence, twenty years later. That's enough reason to get rid of it. Me, personally, I kind of like beheading, and hanging, and electrocution. They're all inhumane - you hang somebody, you have to stand on their shoulders, it doesn't break their neck, put some weight into it. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, society's revenge. You murder the social compact, you pay the price. And in this particular case, there's certain guilt. I'm sorry, but this isn't good enough. I might personally think Tsarnaev should be publicly disembowelled. That's not the issue.

Tsarnaev has no excuse, legally or morally. Like the old lawyer joke. Guy murders his parents, and then throws himself on the mercy of the court, because he's an orphan. I don't think so. You take responsibility. Diminished capacity doesn't work, not in this instance. There was a plan that required malice aforethought. They knew innocent people would die. They went ahead. Good lawyering can't explain this away. In fact, nobody even tried. We're left with the raw thing itself. The dead.

I think we deserve satisfaction. Socially. I think we deserve an endgame. I think we want payback. I think we're entitled to it. The death penalty speaks to this. You fry 'em, or they roll on the gurney. Retribution. But. I can't answer my own question. Are there people who deserve to die? Yeah, there are. Who makes the decision? I guess we all do, collectively. Which means the burden is ours. We choose this. Have we repaired the damage to the social compact? There's certainly something final about it, that a blood price is paid, and we're complicit. I don't know. If you take innocence off the table - if we can say, beyond doubt, that Tsarnaev is guilty - is justice served? I'm not convinced.


www.DavidEdgerleyGates.com

26 May 2015

Turnabout is Fair Play

By Paul D. Marks

Okay, time for me to piss everyone off. Well, at least some agents and editors I’m sure.
I want to air some pet peeves about the above-named people. They have their peeves about us, so turnabout is fair play, right? They think it’s a crime if we don’t follow their guidelines—and everyone has a different set of guidelines. And I think it’s a crime that there’s no set standard so that we’re constantly scrambling to change our manuscripts every time we submit to a different person.

Peeve #1: No simultaneous submissions. Sure, I’ll send you my story or novel and I’ll just sit around for the next year and a half waiting to hear back from you....if I hear back from you at all. And lately, a lot of agents and editors are saying something to the effect of “if you don’t hear back from us within six weeks that means we’re not interested.” Nice. Whatever happened to manners—yeah, I know. But how hard is it to send a form e-mail saying thanks but no thanks. And if we never hear from them how do we know they got the story, especially if it was sent over the net. And then they put the fear of God into you if you dare follow up or contact them again. I think authors should rebel against the no simultaneous submissions policy and just submit everywhere you can. Then what? You go on some agent/editor blacklist that says “don’t accept anything so and so sends.” But what’s the alternative? Sit around and wait and grow old.


Peeve #2: Every editor or agent seems to want a different thing. The first 50 pages or the first three chapters. Some want a one page synopsis, some 2 pages. Another wants no more than one paragraph. Others want detailed outlines, another a summary. I don’t know about you but I get sick and tired of having to reinvent the wheel every time I submit something to someone. I understand they need guidelines, but do they realize how difficult they make it for us when there’s no set standard? So what if you send a 3 page synopsis instead of two pager? Or 2½ pages? You’re a malcontent. A subversive. It’s time for the balance of power to shift. Our time is valuable too. How about an industry-wide standard, so we don’t have to start over every time?

Peeve #3: They all have things that turn them off before you even get off the ground. There was a producer once who said if you submit a script with ellipses in it he would automatically reject it. Why? Did that make it a bad story? If a writer submitting to him, on their own or through their agent, would have taken out all the ellipses would that have made it a better story? Some agents or editors don’t like prologues. Well, what if there is a need for a prologue? Coming from a film writing background I understand the need to get into a story quickly. But one of the joys of books is that you can—or used to be able to—take a little longer to get off the ground. And sometimes a prologue is necessary. But I do know about cutting to the chase. In my rewriting gig I once chopped off all of Act I of a script and started on Act II, using just a few tidbits from the first act, inserting them where I could. I understand when the prologue is used for exposition and only exposition that’s not a good idea, but sometimes that’s what works for that particular project.

  Ricky_Nelson_free
Peeve #4: Everyone has a different opinion, so when you get notes from someone, but without a commitment, should you rewrite your manuscript every time? What if they still don’t like it? Or the next person who reads it doesn’t like the things you just changed for the last person? Write your story not theirs. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be open to criticism, but only if you agree it’s valid. I once optioned a script to a producer. He loved the dialogue. It was the best dialogue he’d ever heard. He gushed on and on about it. He gave it to a director who hated the dialogue. Magically and overnight the producer hated the dialogue. Another script I optioned several times went to an agent, early on, who complained that a scene was set in Union Station in L.A. “Nobody takes trains anymore,” he said. Should I have changed that? Would it have made all the difference and he would take me on? Well, I didn’t and he missed the whole point of why it was set in a train station, which was to contrast the “old” vs. “the” new in the context of a main character stuck in the past in some ways. So if you rewrite for everyone who has an opinion you’ll spend your whole life doing that. You can’t please everyone so please yourself. Like Rick Nelson said in his song “Garden Party,” “It's all right now, yeah, learned my lesson well, You see, ya can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”

I’m not saying it’s wrong to have guidelines and rules, but they should be consistent and not so rigid that you lose before you even get in the door. Sure, margins should be an inch. Manuscripts should be carefully proofread and edited. But just like everyone one wants one inch margins, they should all be on the same page (pun intended) with other things so we aren’t starting from scratch every time we submit to them.

Whew! Glad I got that off my chest. Let the arrows fly.

***

A little bit of BSP: My short story “Howling at the Moon” from the November, 2014 issue of Ellery Queen has been nominated for an Anthony Award. I’m very grateful to those who voted. And it certainly came as a surprise. Very cool, but very unexpected. If you want to read the story, click here and scroll down to the Short Story section. All of the short story nominees are here: http://bouchercon2015.org/anthony-awards/

Hope to you see at the California Crime Writers Conference

(http://ccwconference.org/ ). June 6th and 7th. I’ll be on the Thrills and Chills (Crafting the Thriller and Suspense Novel) panel, Saturday at 10:30 a.m., along with Laurie Stevens (M), Doug Lyle, Diana Gould and Craig Buck.

And please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my soon-to-be-updated website www.PaulDMarks.com

Subscribe to my Newsletter: http://pauldmarks.com/subscribe-to-my-newsletter/



"Ricky Nelson free" by The original uploader was Mind meal at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ricky_Nelson_free.jpg#/media/File:Ricky_Nelson_free.jpg



25 May 2015

All I Need To Know


Mystery Author Jan Grape


 by Jan Grape


This past week I was thinking about how things learned at a very early age can form us in a way that we really don't understand. Thinking about that reminded me of the book title, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. Have any of you read that book? I never read it but I did read Mr. Fulghum's original essay on the subject. If you haven't read the book or the essay here are some highlights:
  • Play Fair.
  • Don't Hit People.
  • Put Things Back Where They Belong and Clean Up Your Own Mess.
  • Wash Your Hands Before You Eat And Don't Forget To Flush.
  • Take a Nap Every Afternoon.
Pretty good examples of how to live a pretty good life, right? And we did learn this in kindergarten or if you didn't go to kindergarten, you learned it in first grade. A couple more things were mentioned but I didn't want to get into copyright problems. And the major point I was thinking about was how this all can relate to your characters as you write. Definitely to your main character and to your villain as well.

My late husband, Elmer, had a somewhat traumatic experience when he was five years old. In fact, it was on this fifth birthday. He was playing outside and although he knew he wasn't feeling too well, he kept running and playing and one of his older sisters who was in the house watching him out the window didn't see him fall. He just fell unconscious. No injury, no reason. If she saw him at any point, I'm sure she just thought he was playing dead or whatever little five year old boys do.

A nearby neighbor saw him and called for an ambulance. The ambulance took him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. A short time later, his mother who had returned home and found out her child was in the hospital raced to the medical center. Mama began having a screaming fit because this was a Catholic Hospital. She had been taught in her church that Catholic churches were evil and that all nuns, even nurses worked for the devil. She came into the children's ward, right to her son's bed yelling about how they were going to kill her baby and that she absolutely had to take him out of this Satan's Den of Evil before he died.

Fortunately, the medicine that had been given Elmer had broken his fever and since the family didn't have any insurance or money, they sent him home with his mother and medicine. For the rest of his life, every time Elmer had to go to the hospital and he had a number of surgeries after we were married, he always had a bad experience. There were times he called me to come get him, he felt they were doing him more harm than good. I had heard his childhood story but never connected the dots of the child's traumas with the man's bad experiences. Often because there were little things that had gone wrong, like pain meds making him sick or a bad nurse, or machine failures.

The mother of a good friend of ours died when he was five years old. He actually doesn't remember much of the next couple of years although his father remarried and his new mother was kind and loving to him and his three older brothers. His parent's had four other boys and all were happy and healthy. It wasn't until he wrote his memoirs when he was in his seventies that he recalled the devastation he felt. It also explained his fear of separation from his wife and children even though they were only going on a short trip to visit her mother two hundred miles away.

These little stories made me think of how things that could have happened to your main character when they were four or five or six can shape the life of a hero/heroine or the life of your villain or even secondary characters.

I even read that psychologist say that even if a young person goes bad and maybe commits crimes and seems to hate everyone and everything, love can save him.  If that person knew and felt love when he was a baby up to age five or six, that he will return to return that love. I have no idea how this relates to career criminals but it might redeem some bad person you're writing about it you know their life story.

I'm writing this on Memorial Day and I want to say thank you to all those who are serving in the military, those who have served through all the years, and those who have to wait. May all come back home safely. Including my father, my bonus dad and my husband who did come home safely.

24 May 2015

Scams, part 2

by Leigh Lundin

© BBB
Last week I wrote about my friend Thrush fielding a scam telephone call pretending to be the IRS. This week I turn my attention to friends who were the subjects of web-mail scams. But as I was writing about other people’s email being cracked, my own was used to spoof addresses of email spammers.

Fourteen years ago, I signed up with AOL. I stuck with them during the vicissitudes of their development cycles, but at some point they wanted to charge fees at a time when their mail interface had run amok. I switched to Yahoo and stuck with them through their vicissitudes of (mis)fortune. Mail received by my old AOL account is forwarded to my Yahoo address, one-way only. I still give out my AOL address– it’s simpler to spell over the phone– but any reply I may make will come from Yahoo, not AOL.

As I’m working on today’s article, imagine my surprise when friends Dale Andrews, Thrush, and Sharon tell me my email’s being used to blast unsuspecting souls with ads for weight loss, penis enlargement, and an eatery called “Quick Sushi”. Friends, colleagues, and acquaintances have recently been attacked in a similar way. Typically, programs either mine email headers for addresses or they break into an address book. They then email from their own accounts ‘spoofing’ a fake return address hoping acquaintances will open emails from an apparent friend or family member.

But our SleuthSayers’s friend Cate was the unwitting pawn in a different kind of attack, as you can tell in the following exchange. I caught on early as did our friends Sharon and Darlene Poier. Not trusting her other accounts hadn’t been cracked, I immediately sent emails to friends and family to warn Cate her business address had been compromised.

Here’s my exchange keeping the scammers busy. Note the grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and keep in mind that Cate, a former teacher, writes and edits textbooks and tutorials.

From: ☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒ Consulting <☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.consult1@gmail.com>
To:
Interesting. Cathrine is notorious among family and friends for refusing to carry a cell phone.
Sent: Wednesday, 06 May 2015 4:59 AM
Subject: Good Morning

How's is your day going,  I'll like to discuss something with you. i should have called, my phone fell in the tub this morning are you online ?  let me know

Cathrine ☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒

Sent from my iPad



On 06 May 2015 at 16:11, Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com> wrote:

Is this you?

Leigh Lundin



From: ☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒ Consulting <☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.consult1@gmail.com>
To: Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com>
A professional editor would rather die than write horrible grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Sent: Wednesday, 06 May 2015 10:37 AM
Subject: Re: Good Morning

How are you ? hope all is well with you sorry to bother you I'm actually in need of a loan, i have decided to request this from you. its just a token and i intend to refund back by  next week.  please are you able to loan me this funds.

Sent from my iPad



On 06 May 2015 at 17:12, Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com> wrote:

Now I'm playing with them. But I'm also probing to see what they know: The real Nelly is missing a leg.
I'm sorry to hear that. What happened? Are you okay? Are you in Düsseldorf or München? Isn't Nelly doing the leg work for you? You've got to keep her on her toes.

Of course, I'll help. How many euros do you need? If you send me your street address, Chadwick is leaving Bruxelles in an hour or two. We'll send a courier; just sign for it.

It's a hectic morning, but I'll do what I can.

Leigh Lundin



From: ☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒ Consulting <☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.consult1@gmail.com>
To: Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com>
More of the same plus 9000 what? Dollars? Euros? Rand? Notice the stuttering "the the".
Sent: Wednesday, 06 May 2015 11:15 AM
Subject: Re: Good Morning

Thank you so much the  the funds (9000) its needed for some outstanding payments I'll be more than glad to get it today,  i'll have it refunded before the end of next week i  promise you . can you help me send it through now ? can you help me send money via western union

Sent from my iPad



On 06 May 2015 at 17:26, Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com> wrote:

I'm confused. 9000 in which currency? I've got Mickey Chadwick standing by. Are you okay? Elle says you're not in Düsseldorf. Where are you?

Leigh Lundin



From: ☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒ Consulting <☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.consult1@gmail.com>
To: Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com>
Imagine Bill Cosby saying "R-i-g-h-t…"
Sent: Wednesday, 06 May 2015 12:49 PM
Subject: Re: Good Morning

No i am in south africa now , can you help me send the money now yes i am very okay, reply now



On 06 May 2015 at 19:36, Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com> wrote:

What the hell are you doing in South Africa? You're supposed to be in Düsseldorf. What the hell's going on?

Leigh Lundin



From: ☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒ Consulting <☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.consult1@gmail.com>
To: Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com>
Tap-tap-tap dancing. Notice how "Sent from my iPad" comes and goes.
Sent: Wednesday, 06 May 2015 1:42 PM
Subject: Re: Good Morning

Yes i went on a quick trip and should be back Düsseldorf on Friday but now i am owing some outstanding payment and i am in good health will you be able to assist me on this money



On 06 May 2015 at 19:54, Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com> wrote:

Where is Nelly? She can't go running around with you.

Look, I'll send the money if you tell me what currency and your address. Get your arse on a plane and get back to Düsseldorf immediately. We're going to have a long talk.

Leigh Lundin



From: ☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒ Consulting <☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.consult1@gmail.com>
To: Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com>
Here we go! Notice Cathrine's name– the supposed author of the email– and Johannesburg are spelled wrong as well as all uses of 'its'.
Sent: Wednesday, 06 May 2015 1:57 PM
Subject: Re: Good Morning

Please send the funds to the below information "Western Union Money In Minutes"

NAME :
    Catherine ☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒
    Johanesburg
    South Africa

once its sent please send me the #10 digit confirmation number that will be used to pick up the funds  how long will it take to be sent ?

Sent from my iPad



On 06 May 2015 at 20:18, Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com> wrote:

Except for Nelly, Chadwick and all other names I use are from stories I've written.
It’s 20h15 here and I imagine the same in SA. Smuts, Sergeant Ngenzolwampi, and Magondo Svitsi are in Harare headed to Pretoria. What’s your addy in Joburg? And where’s Nelly? I’ve given Svitsi orders to clean up your mess and put you on a plane. Smith’s involved in that op in Sana’a and he’ll not like this at all.

Leigh Lundin



From: ☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒ Consulting <☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.consult1@gmail.com>
To: Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com>
Did I say that?
Sent: Wednesday, 06 May 2015 2:19 PM
Subject: Re: Good Morning

Are you saying your no longer sending the money



On 06 May 2015 at 20:30, Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com> wrote:

Svitsi's got instructions to take care of any trouble you're in including paying off whatever crap you've got into or other measures– I'm sure you know what I mean. Stop being coy about your address; I can't deal with evasiveness. And where's Nelly? Smith's definitely going to be pissed off. Either answer my damn questions or deal with him yourself.

Leigh Lundin



On 07 May 2015 at 06:29, Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com> wrote:

Smith called in on the sat-phone and he's pissed. Call him ASAP.

Leigh Lundin



From: ☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒ Consulting <☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.consult1@gmail.com>
To: Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com>
Testy, testy! And look how the spelling deteriorates.
Sent: Wednesday, 07 May 2015 07:15
Subject: Re: Good Morning

I dont need to call anyone as i need your assistance to leave here but you dont want to send the oney



On 07 May 2015 at 07:43, Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com> wrote:

Abu Bakr? Never mess with a crime writer. Oh, and never call Cathrine 'Cathy'.
Cathy, I'm asking you to cooperate. Svitsi is standing by with whatever funds you need, but we can't wait forever for you and Nelly. We're trying to run an op and Smith is furious. Abu Bakr is selling out and yet we've got to deal with you. Either make contact or deal with your own problems and don't expect us to bail you out. If you've been captured, you know what to do.

Leigh Lundin



From: ☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒ Consulting <☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.consult1@gmail.com>
To: Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com>
Likely dreaming but I like to imagine a small sense of panic.
Sent: Wednesday, 07 May 2015 07:46
Subject: Re: Good Morning

w?



On 07 May 2015 at 07:49, Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com> wrote:

Message from Smith: Ipso lorem de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum. Si?

Leigh Lundin



From: ☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒ Consulting <☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.consult1@gmail.com>
To: Leigh Lundin <leigh_lundin@☒☒☒☒☒☒☒☒.com>
Unsure what they intended.
Sent: Wednesday, 07 May 2015 08:26
Subject: Re: Good Morning

(empty email)



From: Maj. Ngenzolwampi <undisclosed@berlin.com>
To: undisclosed list
Always work historical and current events into your fiction.
Sent: Thursday, 08 May 2015 09:50
Subject: OP 2371

Congratulations, team, for another successful operation. One of the best protected men in the world, Nasser al-Ansi, is no more. Special thanks to Colonel Smith and his squad. Job well done! See you in Ankara.



© BBB
I’m happy to report Cate has re-seized control of her business account. She was touched that friends called her land-line to offer help and one of her best clients even deposited money into her business account, money that has to be returned. (Today I received word that the client reacted by awarding her another project rather than have her return the deposit, a very positive outcome.) To the best of her knowledge, no one wired money to the isigebengus, an isiZulu word meaning bad guys.

But I can envision a terrible outcome where a friend reacts and sends money to the swindlers and of course expects to be paid back. Imagine the strain in the relationship of two good-hearted people.

There’s an even more evil ploy in which the isigebengus claim one’s daughter was in a campus accident or someone’s grandson was kidnapped and to send money immediately… all through the anonymity of the internet.

Be cautious out there!



Images © the Better Business Bureau

23 May 2015

Worst Typos Ever - Take 2!

by Melodie Campbell

It happened again, and this time it was my fault.

You know how it happens.  Spellchecker has an evil twin that changes your word by one letter, and you don’t notice it until it goes to print.  

Public becomes Pubic.  Corporate Assets becomes Corporate Asses.  The Provincial Health Minister becomes Provincial Health Monster.  We’ve all been there.

Readers may recall that last year, I wasn’t too happy when the virtual blog tour company paid by my publisher changed the title Rowena and the Dark Lord to Rowena and the Dark Lard.  Sales were not stellar.  However, the hilarity that ensued was probably worth the typo.  Seems there were all sorts of people willing to suggest alternative plot lines for a book about Dark Lard.  Many were a mite more entertaining than the original concept (she said ruefully.)

Here’s a small sample:
Protagonist moves back to Land’s End and opens up a bakery.

Protagonist and love interest return to Land’s End and become pig farmers.

Protagonist messes up another spell that causes all who look at her to turn into donuts.

It’s enough to make a grown writer cry.

Well, this time I did it to myself.

REALLY not cool to request a formal industry review for a book and misspell the title.

No matter how it reads, "Cod Name: Gypsy Moth" is not a tale <sic> about an undercover fish running a bar off the coast of Newfoundland...

That wasn’t enough.  People were quick to respond with suggested plot lines on Facebook.  Other authors (22 in fact) had to wade in <sic>.

he'd have to scale back his expectations - a bar like that would be underwater in no time.

and here's me waiting with 'baited' breath

Readers will dive right into that

That's a whale of a tale

that book will really "hook" a reader

Smells pretty fishy to me

definitely the wrong plaice at the wrong time.

We're really floundering here; no trout about it.

Okay!  In the interest of sane people everywhere, I’ll stop on that last one. 

The real name of the book? 
CODE NAME: GYPSY MOTH
“Comedy and Space Opera – a blast to read” (former editor Distant Suns magazine)
“a worthy tribute to Douglas Adams”  (prepub review)

It isn't easy being a female barkeep in the final frontier...especially when you’re also a spy!
Nell Romana loves two things: the Blue Angel Bar, and Dalamar, a notorious modern-day knight for hire.  Too bad he doesn't know she is actually an undercover agent. 

The bar is a magnet for all sorts of thirsty frontier types, and some of them don’t have civilized manners. That’s no problem for Dalamar, who is built like a warlord and keeps everyone in line. But when Dal is called away on a routine job, Nell uncovers a rebel plot to overthrow the Federation.  She has to act fast and alone.

Then the worst happens.  Her cover is blown …

Buy link AMAZON
Buy link KOBO

22 May 2015

Keep the faith, Buddy!

By Dixon Hill

In the last phase of the Special Forces Qualification Course I ran into an instructor who clearly didn't
like me because he was intimidated by my previous experience in Military Intelligence.  In fact, the first words he ever said to me, after having met me about ten seconds before, were: "So you worked for Military Intelligence, huh?  You probably think you're really smart.  Don't you?  Well, we'll see how far 'book smarts' get you through, where you're going.  I think you're gonna be pretty surprised!"
I hadn't said a word to him before he said that to me; clearly he'd been reading my personnel folder.

After he walked away, the other members of my training A-Team asked me, "What did you do to tick that guy off?"

I shook my head.  "Never saw him before in my life."

Roughly a month later, I was one of the 11 men he'd flunked out of Phase 3 (that's 11 out of the 13 guys on my training A-Team).  With the exception of one sergeant, who quit in disgust, all of us went back through Phase 3, starting a few weeks later -- all over again -- and we all passed.

Because we had a very good company commander, Captain Juan O'Rama, all 11 of us were signed out on leave within 24 hours.  When I returned, to start Phase 3 again, I found a brass Zippo lighter on my bunk, left there with a note from my buddy, Sergeant Ed Antonavich.  The note explained that he had "kidnapped" my pillow (for very sensible reasons that will remain a mystery on this blog). The lighter was inscribed: Keep the faith, buddy!

What has this got to do with writing?

My life as a writer sometimes seems to come at me as a sort of wave-like experience.  My success crests, washes over, and then I find myself in a trough, working to mount the next wave.

When it comes to the writing itself, I suppose this wave behavior works its way into a surfer's analogy: I paddle my board into the middle of a story trying to catch that big curling wave and ride it for as long as I can.

It strikes me that this is similar to a previous analogy I've posted here, one in which I pick an interesting freight train, with various and intriguing boxcars coupled to it, and hitch a ride, hoping that after I push-start the locomotive it will begin running along on its own steam, whisking me down the line with it.

I suppose the surfer analogy is the friendlier of the two, because changing course doesn't require tearing up the track and laying it back down in a different configuration.


Problem is: changing course in a story sometimes DOES require such drastic measures, so maybe the train analogy holds truer.

The wave theory of a writer's life, however -- MY writer's life, at least -- pertains to more than just the mechanics of writing.  It also applies to successes and failures, as well as those times that are simply spent working, during which neither monetary nor critical success or failure are achieved; a writer is just busily working.

When this happens, a writer has to have a considerable amount of faith that the project in question is worthwhile, because s/he is usually getting no feedback from the publishing world, and sometimes not even from a critique group.

At such times I am strangely reminded of trials I went through in the army, trials which required an enormous expenditure of physical strength and endurance, often coupled with mental agility and determination if one were to succeed.  Whether these trials were part of training, or simply a necessary component for mission accomplishment, the end result was usually the same: sagging head and shoulders, ragged breathing, tongue hanging out, and -- when salvation arrived! -- that blessed sense of a lightened load when we clambered aboard a chopper, or some other vehicle, and could slip the ruck straps from our shoulders.

For the writer, of course, there is no chopper to whisk one away to the land of security.  The closest we come to that is the moment we receive a request for more pages, an acceptance, or a check in the mail.

There are other times, however, when a writer might receive a much-needed shot in the arm.  That manuscript submitted nine or ten months ago, and forgotten about, suddenly catches an email nibble or bite.  Or, as happened for me a few months ago, you open the mailbox to discover an unexpected check for royalties on work you did some time ago.  The effect on a writer's psyche is not on par with being choppered home to relax, but it certainly helps when you're on the march with no relief in sight.

So, if you're currently in a long trough, working away at something, and the doubts are threatening to set-in, take heart and Keep the faith, Buddy! -- a shot in the arm, or literary chopper-equivalent is undoubtedly on the way.

A couple years after reaching my first A-Team, when I went through Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) school our instructors  constantly exhorted us, if ever captured, to: Always look for the little victory each day brings!  

POW's who survived long incarceration evidently shared this common trait: they always looked for the little occurrences that gave them a chance to laugh at, or at least think mocking thoughts of, their captors.  Many made a field-expedient calendar and marked off each day, thinking: "One day closer to freedom and home," each morning or evening.  Others took heart from managing to do small things that bucked-up the sagging spirits of a fellow prisoner(s).  On rare occasion, a few even managed to sabotage enemy vehicles or equipment.

All these things are little victories.  Personal victories.  They didn't win any military war, but they did help POW's to survive long periods of hardship, doubt and fear.

The same holds true for writing.  The little victories are there all around a writer: completing X hours that day, finishing a certain chapter -- any and all of the little signs that you're making progress, no matter how much you DON'T hear about it.  If nothing else, a writer can always say, "One more day of writing down, one day closer to completion!"

So, my thoughts to those in the long trough:
Keep the Faith, Buddy!
Look for the little victories each day brings.  

See you in two weeks,
--Dixon

P.S. How do I feel about having to repeat Phase 3 of the SFQC?  Well . . . as I mentioned earlier, all of us who went back through it again, passed with flying colors.  Additionally, the sergeant who flunked us wound up being put out of the army on grounds of mental instability, so I don't hold much of a grudge.

P.P.S. Please don't think I know anything about surfing.  If I tried it, I'd probably end up looking like this guy!


21 May 2015

Wolf Hall

by Eve Fisher

Like so many others, I was hooked by Wolf Hall, both the novel and the PBS Series.  I love both. My only quibble with the TV show was that the actors were so much thinner than the (overly?) well-known portraits of Henry VIII, Cromwell, and Wolsey - all of whom were EXTREMELY hefty men. But then, of course, times have changed. In the 16th century, physical weight proved power and privilege; today, thinness proves it, and Wolsey's massive weight would be considered proof of his lower-class origins...

Cardinal Wolsey Christ Church.jpg Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01.jpg 

Well, that's only my first quibble...  my real quibble was with the portrayal of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife.  By the time Anne Boleyn came along, Catherine had had at six pregnancies, five of whom were miscarriages, still births, or died in infancy.  Only Mary survived.  She was, by all accounts, at 45 years of age very stout ("as wide as she is high"), gray-haired, wrinkled, and not nearly as attractive as the lady who portrayed her (see right).  Once again, even historical women can't lose their looks in modern media...

But enough about that, let's get to the real danger:  politics.

Hans Holbein, the Younger - Sir Thomas More - Google Art Project.jpg
Sir Thomas More
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Sir Thomas More, a/k/a St. Thomas More, was everybody's hero, thanks to Robert Bolt's "A Man for all Seasons". In that play More was presented as a married saint, a man of humor, humility, affability, intellect, education, and a keen sense of conscience. Thomas Cromwell was absolute evil, determined to ruin and destroy More - and does.  But then, all the people in power, from King Henry VIII to Cromwell to little Richard Rich, are presented as corrupt, expedient, power-hungry...  Only More is different, which is amazing when you consider that More was a politician from the time he was elected to Parliament at 26 until his resignation as Chancellor two years before his death.  It does raise the question how he, and he alone, managed to remain pure in the midst of all that fraud, double-dealing, dishonesty, unscrupulousness, corruption...

Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger - Portrait of Henry VIII - Google Art Project.jpgAnyway, today we have Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, in which Sir Thomas More is less saintly and Thomas Cromwell less evil.  But there's nothing much you can do about Henry VIII.  The truth is, politics (not to mention marriage! is always a deadly game when you are dealing with an absolute monarch, who can have you killed at any moment, innumerable nobles who are all scrambling for scraps from said monarch's table, and a brewing religious war.  And the irony is that it didn't help that Henry VIII was an enlightened, extremely well-educated monarch:  the true philosopher prince everyone had always dreamed of.   Be careful what you wish for:  all that enlightenment, all that education, all that religious training combined with the divine right of kings meant that Henry thought he was always right about everything.  Especially when he wanted to get a new wife or more money, or be Head of the Church in order to get a new wife and more money.

When Henry made himself Head of the Church of England (with help from Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury), he put everybody in England on the spot:  who were you going to side with, Henry or the Pope?  Most sided with Henry because the Pope was foreign, so the hell with him.  But for many - most famously Thomas More, but also John Fisher, and 137 other priests, friars, and laypeople - it became a matter of conscience, and they were willing to die over it. And did.  Just as, later, Mary I ("Bloody Mary") executed almost 300 Protestants, including Archbishop Cranmer.  There is nothing worse than being in the middle of a religious civil war...
NOTE:  One of the problems with today's Middle East (which has one great big fat religious civil war right in the middle of it) and Middle Eastern politics is that too many Americans think the Sunni-Shiite split is much ado about nothing, and what they're really fighting about is us. (1) We have got to quit flattering ourselves and (2) think back to the Tudors.  Or, better yet, the European Wars of Religion of 1540s-1648.  
Back to Henry VIII:  one fairly unique thing that he did was change the government of England - briefly - when he made Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith's son, Lord Chancellor of England.  This was pretty unprecedented.  Yes, there were low-born churchmen from time immemorial, mainly because the Church took everybody and anybody, and it was the one place where you could rise from peasant to Cardinal to even pope.  Pope Sylvester II, the peasant's son.  Thomas Wolsey, the butcher's boy. Thomas Becket, the merchant's son.  But that's the church.  For the real ruling of the kingdom, for office and money and lands and a king's favor, you had to be noble.  Until Cromwell.

Anne of Cleves, by Hans Holbein the Younger.jpg
Anne of Cleves
Henry VIII grasped, briefly, the great advantage of having his chief officer be a commoner, not a nobleman.  He made him, he could break him, and in between, he could work him to death, without any complaints.  Meanwhile, the nobility despised Cromwell.  He was a nobody, a peasant, a thing that was beneath them, but now they had to actually speak to him, listen to him, ask him favors. They wanted him dead, and eventually - when Henry VIII was furious at the marriage to Anne of Cleves - they managed to get him charged with a variety of improbable crimes (including plotting to marry Mary Tudor, Henry VIII's daughter) and executed before Henry cooled off.  When he did, he felt awful, awful, AWFUL about it, and never ceased bewailing the loss of the best minister he ever had.  He'd also felt the same about executing Wolsey, after the fact.  "Bureaucracy Can Be Deadly" should be the subtitle of Wolf Hall.  That and/or "Henry VIII:  A Kill for All Seasons."

The young Louis XIV
A hundred years later, Louis XIV made commoners bureaucrats, but as a matter of principle.  Whereas the nobility were Henry VIII's best friends and playmates, Louis XIV never trusted the nobility because, when he was 12 years old, the nobility rose up against the monarchy (The Fronde).  They lost, of course.  Actually, they didn't lose so much as just run out of steam...  But Louis never forgot or forgave them the fact that he - the Sun King! - had had to go on the run.

So, when he came to full age and power, Louis decided that the only purpose of the nobility was to praise and support him, so he took away every shred of power from them.  His cabinet was almost entirely of (often brilliant) bourgeoisie, especially
Colbert mg 8447 cropped.jpg
Colbert

  • Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Finance Minister, who actually managed to keep Louis XIV solvent despite his royal tendency to spend money like water on everything from royal mistresses, royal chateaux, and piss-ant wars.
  • Michel Le Tellier, Chancellor of France, who nationalized the army.  Pity it was for Louis XIV.  
And I have to say, on Louis XIV's behalf, that he never executed any of them.  And yet, he only increased in power: absolute monarchy would remain in France for another 150 years, admittedly limping towards the end.  Meanwhile, by the time Louis XIV came to power in the mid-1600's, the English House of Commons had become the greatest force in the English Parliament and, hence, of the English government - doing everything from passing laws and raising taxes to executing Charles I in 1649 and setting up a Commonwealth. When Charles II was "restored" to the throne in 1660, he walked very, very carefully, doing nothing to upset Parliament.  And, after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the Bill of Rights of 1689, the monarchs of England were all constitutional monarchs, firmly under Parliament, and not the other way around.

Today, of course, we take it for granted that bureaucracy is done by, of, and for the commons.  But it's still deadly.  Disgruntled office workers lead to regular crime scenes on the national news.  And there's more than one way to skin a cat:  if you don't want to risk murder, there's always slander, and in today's age of cyber-bullying, it's easier than ever to destroy someone's reputation and career.

Anne Boleyn would be smeared in every chat room; Cromwell would be trashed on the Drudge Report or Daily Kos and perhaps both; Cranmer would be the idol of Patheos until he wasn't; the tweets would have been nonstop about Jane Seymour; the cyber-whispering would be constant, and at the heart of it all would be the King, strutting and posturing without pause, even when his footsteps walked through blood.
"Kings are earth's gods; in vice their law's their will."  Shakespeare, Pericles, Prince of Tyre
— or  —
“You can be merry with the king, you can share a joke with him. But as Thomas More used to say, it's like sporting with a tamed lion. You tousle its mane and pull its ears, but all the time you're thinking, those claws, those claws, those claws.” Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies

20 May 2015

Telling Fiction from Fact

by Robert Lopresti 

(The excellent picture on the right is the illustration Tim Foley created for my story in AHMM.  It is used by his permission.  See more of his  work here.)


The Encyclopedia of American Race Riots.
 
The words above are the opening of "Shooting at Firemen," my twenty-fifth appearance in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (July-August 2015, on sale next week).  I suppose when a short story opens with the title of an encyclopedia you can safely guess that the author is a librarian.   

But that book gave me more than my opening line.  It was the inspiration for the story as well.  When I saw it on the shelf of the library where I work I immediately grabbed it up and searched the index for the city where I grew up.  I didn't find it.  And when I realized why Plainfield, New Jersey's troubles had not made the book, I realized I had to write a short story.

What I want to write about  today is how to turn actual events into a piece of fiction, or at least how I did it.


You see, the hero of my story is a grown man who was a twelve-year-old boy in Plainfield when the riots struck in the summer of 1967.  So am I.  Like him, I spent that summer working as an unpaid junior counselor at a day camp for disadvantaged children.   (That picture shows me a year later, by the way.)

There are plenty more connections to reality - for example, the scene which gives the story its title is written down exactly as I remember it.   And I reported the details of the riot as accurately as I could, without overwhelming the plot.

But that's the thing.  Real events are not a plot.  And a riot, no matter how dreadful its crimes were, is not itself the engine for a crime story, at least not the one I wanted to write.  So in the middle of the chaos that occurred - burning buildings, stolen semi-automatic rifles, one brutal murder - I had to invent a  disaster on a small scale, one that my twelve-year-old boy could have an effect on. My inspiration for that was an actual event - an injury that happened to one of our African-American counselors as he tried to sneak past the National Guard, with no more nefarious purpose than trying to get home.  I raised the stakes as much as I could, fictionalizing both the cause and effect of the injury. A few of the characters in the story are based on real people I knew back then.  The villain was inspired by someone I met years later.

I want to mention one important change I made.  Throughout the story my protagonist reports on the events of the riot objectively, as certain of his facts as an omniscient narrator.  But there is one exception.

As I said, there was one brutal murder during the riots, the death of a police officer.  I don't mention his name in the story, but he was John Gleason.  His family doesn't believe the official version of his death -- you can read about the controversy here -- so out of respect for them in the story I reported that event differently.  It begins "[My mother] told me the version she had heard on the radio."  No guarantee that it was true.


Oh, by the way.  The reason Plainfield didn't make it into the Encyclopedia?  There was no room.   There were more than one hundred race riots in America that year.  And 1967 was just one of the so-called Long Hot Summers.

I seem to have a lot to add here.  For example: a few months ago my sister Diane Chamberlain wrote in this space about her new novel The Silent Sister, and how it was sparked by one of my short stories.  This is the one she was talking about.

And one more thing.  Back in those days I used to read a newspaper column by a guy named Sydney J. Harris.  One of his columns stuck in my head - or at least I think it did.  As I recall he gave a graphic description of a horrible riot.  Then he explained that it happened, not in Watts, or Harlem, but in Ireland in the 1920s.  The Protestants were fighting with the Catholics.

"Perhaps," he said (as I recall) "in forty years it will seem as ridiculous that we fought over race as it seems now that people fought about religion."  A good writer, but not a hell of a prophet.

I hope you enjoy the story.

19 May 2015

Attitude and Cops

by Jim Winter

A lot of attention lately has been focused on police lately. And why not? Unarmed people die in confrontations, it brings up a lot of uncomfortable questions about training and race and whether police departments are getting too militaristic. But this past week, I got an up-close-and-personal look at what police officers face on a daily basis.

About ten days ago, my wife and I went out of town for the night. It was the first time we'd left our boy home by himself. He's gone off on his own overnight, even flying back from Germany on his own at the age of 16, but for some reason, in 20 years, he'd never had the house to himself for more than an evening. On our way to our destination, my wife says, "What if he throws a party, gets the police called, and mouths off?" AJ is at that age where he knows the law better than his parents or even the cops. And you can't argue with him because, unlike me or his mother at 20-21, he has the Internet on his side.

So last week, I get a knock at the door. Sure enough, Friday night while we were gone, AJ's friends made a lot of noise - though only enough, apparently, to rile up that one nosy neighbor on everyone's street. The couple across the street and the elderly couple next door had no clue there was even a party - and the deputies arrived to quiet things down. And AJ showed off his legal knowledge.

And the deputy came by to let us know. The deputy is about my age with a kid about AJ's age, so he knew all about attitude. We got a good laugh out of it, and AJ's attitude toward the police has softened somewhat in the past week or so.

But it makes me think of my own interactions with police over the years. The closest I've ever come to being arrested was when I went on a job interview only to find out I was doing drive-by sales. You barge into a business and sell junk to whoever will buy just to get you out. Only Middletown, Ohio, is not the friendliest city to solicitors, and we had the cops called on us. So when they asked if I was interested in this job, I said no. If I wanted to deal with the cops, I'd just keep the driving habits I had since I was 16.

And because I was young and stupid behind the wheel, I dealt with a lot of cops. Very quickly, I learned that, if you handed a cop your license and registration (or now insurance papers), things go a lot more smoothly. Why mouth off? You know you were doing 80 in school zone. Suck it up, buttercup, and pay the fine. You also find that, if you're not an ass when you're pulled over, the offense on the ticket somehow goes down.

Sometimes.

I have mouthed off to a couple of cops. Once, when I was really young, I made it a point to taunt one who worked for an obvious speed trap. My view? He ticketed a friend of mine for doing 60 when he only did 42. I know. I was in the van when he got the ticket. So I would drive 5 miles under the speed limit all the way through that township with this cop on my bumper, then jack it up to 70 after I crossed the township line and he'd turned around. Stupid? Absolutely. It got to the point where I took the long way home to avoid an almost certain trip to the county jail. That was all me. Right or wrong, the last thing anyone needs to do is taunt a cop. Even if their employer exists primarily to collect speeding tickets, their primary job is to deal with bad people. And while I thought I was being funny, I was probably being a bad person.

Another time, shortly after I moved to Cincinnati, I had to explain to an officer from a nearby suburb that, just because he was sitting inside the 35 mph zone when he clocked me doing, did not change the fact that the speed limit where I accelerated was 50. We went round and round for about five minutes before he realized that, yes, I was under the speed where I was when he clocked me.

That was an honest disagreement. I did not raise my voice or give him a hard time. I handed him my license and my insurance.

Since then, I've had unusual interactions with cops. Once, while listening to a Final Four game during my pizza delivery days, I got pulled over for driving 45 through a park. Kentucky was playing, this being the Tubby Smith era. The Cincinnati cop who pulled me over came up to me, knowing me when as one of the pizza dudes, strolled up filling out the ticket with a look of disappointment on his face. I rolled down the window with my license and insurance card out. He heard the game on my radio.

"Who's winning?" he said.

"UK," I said, meaning Kentucky.

He disappeared back into his cruiser. Two minutes later, he shoved a warning through my window. "Here's a warning. Slow down. Go 'Cats."

Sure, things are bad out there. Just look at Ferguson. (And somebody explain to me why a speed trap like that has heavy artillery with a force that makes Barney Fife look like the cops on Law & Order?) But it helps when at least one side doesn't lose their cool. My conflict with the small town cop when I lived in Cleveland? I'm damned lucky I didn't end up in jail. With the suburban cop? Well, I'm sure he wasn't happy with that traffic stop, but it wasn't a big deal. I got off because I wasn't an ass.

Like a wise man once told me, it costs you nothing to be gracious.

18 May 2015

The Means, Motive & Opportunity to...Patreonize

by Melissa Yi

Last year, during my day job as an emergency physician, I worked with a resident who was over twice the usual age. Since I’m a curious writer/doctor/nosy parker, I asked him what he’d done before medicine.
“I retired from my first career and decided I wanted to become a doctor.”
“But why?” I gestured at the general insanity of stretcher patients in the hallways and ambulances trying to offload more patients.
“That’s what they asked me during my medical school interviews. Only two schools even considered me, and at the interview, they just goggled at me and said, ‘Why?’”
I nodded agreement. Whatever he’d told them had obviously worked for him, since he was less than a year from obtaining his license to practice.
He grinned and leaned forward. “I told them to think of it like a crime. I’ve got the means—I’ve already earned enough money. I’ve got the motive—I want to do this. All you have to do is give me the opportunity.”
As far as I’m concerned, that is the perfect answer. Which is why I’m trying a new crowd-funding model: Patreon.
I’ve resisted crowdfunding up to this point. I just wanted to put my work out in the world and have people buy it. Sink or swim. Also, I didn’t want to start a huge Kickstarter campaign and fall on my face. I hate failure.
But in the past year or so, I’ve started to take more risks for my writing. For example, I’m flying to Hollywood next weekend as one of the Roswell Award finalists. I flew to Oregon for a fantasy workshop last month even though I’m not actively writing a fantasy series, where I met people who encouraged me to take even more risks. So here goes.

What does Patreon mean to me?


1. Means: the ability to commit the ‘crime’

Basically, Patreon is a platform where people can send you money either per item (like per article, song, video, etc.) or per month. They’re your patrons. I’ve seen as low as 25 cents per oil painting.
I chose per month because I’m blogging twice a month here, at my own site, plus writing books, short stories, and articles for the Medical Post. Patrons will have special access to content through a secret page, as well as individual rewards. People can cancel their donation at any time, turning it into a one-time donation.
If I reach my goal of $100 per month, patrons can request a blog post. For example, if a Sleuthsayer has a medical question about a type of poison, I could post the answer here. [Medico-legal warning: I won’t act as your physician, but I can ask questions in general.]

2. Motive: the credible reason to commit the ‘crime’

You may think medicine is a sure thing. I pointed that out to a friend who works in the private as well as public health care system and is actively building his own business. I said, “That’s risky.”
He said, “Look at the way the government is cutting our pay. Look at the way the government is cutting operating room time. To my mind, not doing anything is risky.”
In comparison, me taking a few courses and setting up a Patreon page are baby steps. But they’re still steps toward taking my writing seriously as a profitable business.

3. Opportunity: the chance to commit the ‘crime’

I hesitated a long time before I made that Patreon page. I wanted to make the perfect video (ha). I couldn’t figure out what I should write, or what rewards to give. I researched other people’s pages.
And then I just decided to do it. True, it may just sit there like a lump of zeros. But so what? Not trying guarantees me the big bagel; trying means I might get a bagel, might net enough money to buy my kids a gumball, or I could win big over time. I’m looking forward to meeting people and having them tell me what video health course they’d like me to do, or what audio book they’d like me to tackle first.
As I told another doctor who was cramming in at least three different hospitals in two different hospitals, along with a busy family life, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Sprint with me!

17 May 2015

Scams, part 1

by Leigh Lundin

You may remember my friend Thrush who spared no expense helping us uncover an insidious scam for Criminal Brief. Last week, he found himself targeted in a rather more serious voice-mail scam:


Before you say “Seriously, people fall for this?” yes, they do. All the usual warning signs are present: It’s non-specific and lacks considerable detail. It carries an implied threat, in this case of a lawsuit, which a government agency would never leave on voice-mail. It sounds like the word ‘information’ is misspelled without the R and a legitimate caller would likely omit the ‘point’ in ‘seven-three-eight-point-one-nine-one-nine’. (I say ‘misspelled’ rather than ‘mispronounced’ because I believe the digitizer is reading from text.)

Why a digitized voice? It’s probably used to disguise the perpetrators’ heavy accents from the Indian subcontinent. That assumption is based upon calling their number after first prefixing my call with *67 to hide my own number from their caller-ID. I politely enquired if this was the IRS and a man replied in a rough accent. I asked for his agent number which seemed to disconcert him. He replied, “Just a minute,” and I heard the receiver covered followed by a muffled conversation. I hung up.

Imitating the IRS takes guts– or foolhardiness. It turns out this number, 202-738-1919, has appeared in other scams including a variation of the Nigerian scam in which recipients are told they’ve been awarded a $7000 grant. All they have to do is pay a 5% award fee ($350) via Western Union.
© BBB

Many will recognize 202 as a Washington DC area code, but this might have easily been a different kind of scam, one in which the con artists trick the target into unwittingly dialing a ‘premium rate’ number and keeping him on the line as long as possible. The original flimflam began with area code 900 and its descendants– any area code beginning with 9– but people caught on. They flooded AT&T and government agencies with complaints, and these hustles gradually faded away.

But fraudsters in the Caribbean discovered they can turn any old number into a $20 to $60 a minute premium call and your phone company won’t do a damn thing about it. In fact, they’ll cut off your service if you refuse to pay a bill that may extend into several hundred dollars. Some of the worst offenders use area codes 809, 284, 473, 649, 876 (and the original 9xx numbers).

Thanks to Forbes, here’s a list of area codes to be wary of if you don’t know the party you’re calling:

use caution when dialing these area codes
242 284 649 784 868
246 345 664 809 869
264 441 758 829 876
268 473 767 849 9xx

Next week: Friends find themselves the subject of a current scam and, as I was writing about it, my own address was used to spoof others. Be cautious out there!


Images © the Better Business Bureau

16 May 2015

Dinner With the Poe Folks


by John M. Floyd


A couple of weeks ago, on Wednesday, April 29, Mystery Writers of America held its annual Edgar Awards ceremony in New York City to honor this year's nominees and to announce the winners. I should begin by stating two facts: (1) I was nominated, and (2) I didn't win.

But I attended, and I had a great time. As many of you know firsthand, the awards banquet is accompanied by several days of other events, parties, and receptions that encompass what has come to be known as Edgar Week. My wife Carolyn and I flew up that Monday morning and returned home Thursday night, and while we weren't able to attend every single function, we did show up for most of them. It was a unique opportunity for me to see some old writer friends and meet new ones. And to thank some magazine editors who have been extremely kind to me these past few years.

My only official duty all week was to participate in a panel of nominees Tuesday morning, the first event of an all-day Edgar (short for Edgar Allan Poe) "Symposium." The topic of our panel was "Crossing Genres," but it morphed quickly into a discussion of mystery subgenres, which was of course appropriate for a group of crime writers. Our moderator was Greg Herren, and my fellow panelists were Adam Sternbergh (nominated for Best First Novel), Kate Milford (up for Best Juvenile), and William Lashner (up for Best Paperback Original), all of whom did a great job. Kate, a delightful lady, turned out to be the only one of us four who would take home an Edgar this year, for Greenglass House (Clarion Books).

Later in the day more panels were featured, on settings, research, and the art of juggling a writing career and a day job. The sessions that I visited were well done, but I confess that I wandered in and out of them--like any other gathering of writers, most of the fun came from roaming around the hotel to chat with the other attendees--and my wife and I took advantage of the great weather to explore the city for a few hours. The afternoon ended with an interview of 2015 Grand Master Lois Duncan by Laura Lippman and an interview of co-Grand Master James Ellroy by Otto Penzler. I especially enjoyed listening to Ellroy--an interesting guy, to say the least. One of the most surprising things I learned about him was that he didn't like the film adaptation of his novel L.A. Confidential. (Personally--what do I know?--I thought it was one of the best crime movies ever.)

That night I attended an "Agents and Editors" party, where Mary Higgins Clark announced the winner of the annual award given in her name and where I finally met Otto Penzler--he and I had been corresponding via e-mail lately regarding one of my stories he's selected for an upcoming anthology. This was the only event, I believe, to which spouses/guests were not invited. I also got a chance to catch up a bit with editors Linda Landrigan and Janet Hutchings and former SleuthSayer Elizabeth Zelvin. On several occasions I heard Liz trying to explain to others that what I was speaking wasn't a foreign language, it was just Southern.


I was able to spend even more time with Linda, Janet, and Liz the following afternoon, at a cocktail party sponsored by Dell Magazines. Also in attendance at the Dell party were fellow SleuthSayers David Dean and Dale Andrews, as well as old friends Terrie Moran, Barry Zeman, Bill McCormick, and others. (In the lopsided photo above, I'm the guy in the green tie, talking with Barry.) It was a thrill for me to put faces to some of the names that I'd seen so often in the pages of AHMM and EQMM, to meet many of Linda's and Janet's colleagues at the magazines (Peter Kanter, Jackie Sherbow, Carol Demont, etc.), and to introduce everyone to my far better half.

After a cab ride back to the hotel and a change of clothes, Carolyn and I went downstairs to the Edgar pre-ceremony reception. Much of our time there was spent getting photos taken and visiting with my competitor-in-the-Best-Short-Story-category Doug Allyn and his wife Eve. Doug has long been one of my favorite writers, and since my wife's maiden name is Allyn the two of them fell into a deep discussion about their family history while his wife and I discussed people who like to discuss their family history. I also had an opportunity to meet and visit awhile with my hero Stephen King, who was nominated for Best Novel this year. I'm sure SK was overjoyed to meet me, although he somehow forgot to ask me for my autograph. (The photo here is of Doug and me, with the Kingster in the background.)

The banquet itself was great. Carolyn and I were seated at the table with Strand Magazine editors Andrew and Lamia Gulli, who were kind enough to have published the story that got me there, and I spent much of the meal listening to another tablemate, Mike (Francis M.) Nevins, tell fascinating tales about the old days of writing, publishing, and copyright law. When the steaks and desserts were finished and the award presentations rolled around, Doug and I lost out to Gillian Flynn, who in true Gone Girl fashion did not make an appearance that night. King won for Best Novel (Mr. Mercedes), which I thought was well deserved. A newfound friend, J. W. Ocker, won for Best Critical/Biographical, and later wrote a great piece about this year's awards ceremony. I think the most memorable quote I heard that evening came from R. L. Stine. He told the group that a lady in the lobby had said to him, "You look like R. L. Stine--no offense."

The next day we flew home--in my case older, poorer, and Edgarless but truly grateful to have been allowed to come to the festivities at all. It was my first time in NYC in years and the very first time Carolyn and I had been there together, and we'd had a wonderful stay in the company of talented and interesting people. I owe heartfelt thanks to the good folks at the Strand; to any of you who might've read and enjoyed my nominated story; and certainly to anyone who might've been involved in choosing my story, out of so many worthy contenders, to be one of the finalists.

Maybe next year . . .