13 June 2015

Shorts and Shortcuts



by John M. Floyd



When I first purchased a smartphone several years ago I was stunned by all the things I was able to do, in addition to trivial tasks like making/receiving telephone calls. All of a sudden I could text, e-mail, Google, check the weather, watch the stock market, leave myself reminders, listen to music, and use my phone as a flashlight, calculator, compass, level, alarm clock, stopwatch, GPS device, calendar, radio, camera, and video recorder. I could also use these functions to become (even more of) a pain in the ass to friends, family, and total strangers, but I try to minimize that.

Because of all these "extras," my mobile phone became an item not only of necessity but of great convenience. And I love finding out about new iPhone apps and shortcuts.

Which brings me to my topic for today. My home computer, which happens to be an iMac (I finally leaped out of Windows several years ago and fled screaming to the Apple orchard), is used partly for e-mail, Netflix, Facebook, Web surfing, and such--but I use it mostly for my writing. For creating and submitting stories and cover letters, and for all the associated research, printing, copying, and recordkeeping.

There are, of course, some shortcuts to all that stuff as well.

Bear with me. Much of what follows is basic, and consists of hints and tips about computers, writing, manuscripts, etc., that you probably already know. But they're also things that have been extremely helpful to me as a writer. (And remember, all you novelists, I write mostly short stories--that's me up there waving to you from the cheap seats--so the submission tips are geared toward shorts.)

Here they are, in no particular order:


1. Copy/Cut/Paste using the keyboard: Crtl-C, Ctrl-X, Ctrl-V. Many of my author friends still choose to click on these buttons in the Word toolbar, but to me it's much faster and easier to do it via the keyboard shortcuts. (For the Mac, the Command key is used instead of Ctrl.)

2. Use the mouse to enlarge documents and images. In most applications, you can hold down the Control key and use the mouse "wheel" to zoom in and out, thus making text easier to read and photos easier to see. Sometimes you can also double-click the mouse to enlarge the image, as in Google Maps.

3. Replace italics with underlining, and vice versa. Some markets (AHMM is one) prefer underlining instead of italics, in their submissions. If you have a completed manuscript that includes italics, it's nice to be able to change all italicized text to underlined text at one swoop. This can be done by following these instructions: Open "Find and Replace," click in the "Find What" box, click on "Format" in the dropdown menu, then click "Font" and choose "Italic" and click OK. Then click in the "Replace With" box, and (under Format/Font) choose a single underline under "Underline Style" and click OK. Then click "Replace All," and it's done. To change it back again, reverse the operation.

4. "Find" using the keyboard: Ctrl-F. I need to locate words and phrases so often, I prefer using keys rather than the mouse and the toolbar. (Again, Apple users should substitute the Command key for Ctrl.) Another keyboard shortcut I use a lot is Ctrl-A to "Select All."

5. Turn off Grammar Check. If you want the Word police to be constantly blowing their whistles and shouting, that's up to you. To me, the grammar-checking feature is frustrating at best and maddening at worst. As a writer of fiction, I happily fragment sentences, splice commas, split infinitives, combine uncombinable words, and make up others (like uncombinable), and I don't want my computer telling me not to. (Did I just end that sentence with a preposition . . . ?)

6. Save items in your "Reading List." Reading List is a separate part of the Safari web browser's bookmarking feature that allows you to save articles/information that you might want to come back to and read later. Unlike regular bookmarking, this makes the content available even when you're offline. Entries are intended to be temporary rather than permanent, and are easily deleted.

7. Replace straight quotes with curly quotes. As anyone who's converted Courier to TNR knows, it's difficult to find and change all the straight-up-and-down apostrophes and quotation marks in a manuscript to proper "curved" apostrophes and quotes. A quick way to do it is to just pull up "Find and Replace" and key a single quotation mark into both the "Find What" box and the "Replace With" box and click "Replace All." Then do the same with double quotation marks. When finished, all apostrophes, single quotes, and double quotes should now be corrected.

8. Turn off widows and orphans. This sounds cruel, right? What I mean is turn off the suppression of widows and orphans. If widow/orphan control is left activated, you'll wind up with some manuscript pages that have way too much blank space left at the bottom. It doesn't matter one whit to me whether there might be a single ending line of a paragraph at the top of a page or a single beginning line of a paragraph at the bottom of a page. I think a consistent appearance is far more important.

9. Insert a # (or similar character) as part of your scene breaks. All that's really required to signal a scene break is an extra double-space, and for years that's exactly how I indicated one. Then I had a bad experience: an editor printed my accepted story without including one of those scene breaks. He just left it out completely and continued the story without any break there at all. Since then, I have always double-spaced once, then typed a centered character or group of characters (#, *, ***, etc.), and then double-spaced once more. My book publisher prefers three asterisks, I prefer the #.

10. Highlight using the arrow keys. Sometimes it's difficult to properly highlight certain text with just the mouse. If ever you need to be exact, and (for example) highlight everything up to a particular character but not including that character, you can always fine-tune by holding down the Shift key while pressing the right- or left-arrow key.

11. Copy/paste a manuscript into the body of an e-mail. If a market requires submission of a manuscript as a part of the e-mail rather than as an attachment, it can be hard to paste the story directly in to the body of the e-mail without goofing up the spacing and formatting. Here's a good way to do that without risk: Save the manuscript first as a plain-text (.txt) file in your Word program, then close it and open it again, and then paste it into your e-mail. It will now be formatted correctly. NOTE: Saving an ordinary (TNR, .doc) manuscript in plain-text will automatically convert everything to Courier 10-point font whether you want it to or not, and will lose any special features like italics and underlining. (You'll see this only after you close the file and open it again.) Emphasized text can still be indicated, however, by typing an underscore (_) immediately before and after any text (letter, word, phrase, whatever) that should've been italicized or underlined. By the way, it never hurts to e-mail the submission to yourself first, to check out the formatting, before e-mailing it to the publication.

12. Write your story title on the inside flap of your SASE. Most short-story submissions are now made electronically, thank goodness--but some markets still require snailmailed submissions. And if you wind up doing something called multiple submissions (subbing another story or two to them before you've heard back from the first), there's something you should know. If they reject one of your submissions and the rejection letter doesn't say which story was rejected (believe me, that happens), then you have a problem. Solution: When you submit a story, lightly hand-print the title of the story in pencil on the inside flap of its accompanying SASE. Then, if you receive a rejection letter, you can look inside the SASE flap and see which story got the axe--and submit it elsewhere.

Those are just a few timesavers and stress-relievers that come to mind--I'm sure I'll think of more as soon as this column is posted. And, again, I realize that a lot of this is preaching to the choir.

Please let me know of any other handy tricks-of-the-trade you might've discovered. I would especially like to find out how to determine, beforehand, whether whatever story I'm submitting will be accepted or rejected.

Dream on, right?



12 June 2015

The Third Deadly Sin


by R.T. Lawton

For twenty years, Giuseppe Nicoli Civella had ruled his Kansas City fiefdom with a firm and steady hand. Even the local FBI considered him to be a cunning, capable leader and a competent crime boss, but his mafia family was about to open a treasure chest of wealth only to find it would give free rein to the monster of greed within their organization. That lure of power and easy money soon put the Civella crime family on a downhill slide.

The main war zone opened up in the River Quay area as contestants to this conflict lined up into two main groups: the old guys (Made Men) versus the Young Turks (family associates not yet admitted to the inner circle). As the Made Men closest to Nick Civella saw it, they had the privilege of first rights on anything involving power and money, and they had no intention of letting anyone else in on the potential flow of money. From the Young Turks point of view, they thought they should be let in on the action, especially if it was a project they started, and the old guys should quit holding them down. In the end, it came down to two groups of dangerous men competing for two valuable prizes the old guys wanted only for themselves.

During the 1850's, the River Quay (originally known as Westport Landing) was where river boats landed merchandise for sale and exchange in the Kansas City area. By 1970, it consisted mostly of old warehouses no longer used for the river trade. However, city businessman Marion Trozzolo started visualizing this old section of town as a fine place for trendy restaurants, bars, boutiques and art galleries. In 1972, Fred Harvey Bonadonna, son of mobster David Bonadonna, acquired a lot from Trozzolo and set up a restaurant named Poor Freddie's. When mob boss Nick Civella came around for a visit, Freddie made the mistake of bragging about the restaurant's earnings. This story soon reached the ears of a couple of Civella's henchmen, Joe Cammisano and Paul "Paulie the Pig" Scola, who had previously thought the River Quay area was a waste of resources. But, now that Bonadonna was making big money, these two wanted in. Bonadonna opposed them.

At the same time, the Spero brothers, Mike, Nick, Joe and Carl (associates of the family), were seen as challengers to the old system. Nick Spero was thought to be trying to gain too much power in the local Teamsters Union where the Made Guys already had their own programs in play. The decision was made that Nick Spero had to go. In April 1973, Nick Spero was found in the trunk of his Cadillac convertible. He'd been shot twice with a .38. The three surviving Spero brothers blamed the killing on underlings of mafia boss Nick Civella and  his brother Corky (the underboss).

By October 1973, Paulie the Pig managed to get a foothold in the River Quay with his restaurant Delaware Daddy's in direct competition to Freddie's place. His pal, Joe Cammisano, tried to establish strippers and the trade that went with them. Bonadonna feared the area would become a red light district and continued his opposition. Cammisano became angry with this problem of access to the area. Finally, in 1975, Joe opened up Uncle Joe's Tavern. More bars followed and an x-rated movie theater opened its doors. The Cammisano brothers, Joe and William, also tried to take over the lucrative parking lots owned by the Bonadonna's in the River Quay district.

Eventually, Nick Civella sent William "Willie the Rat" Cammisano (a future KC godfather) to tax Poor Freddie's and attempt a full takeover. On July 22, 1976, David Bonadonna (father to Freddie and part owner of the restaurant) was found in the trunk of his Cadillac which was parked on a Kansas City street. Freddie fingered Willie the Rat as the killer and later testified in federal court against him and the local mafia. After Johnny Broccato turned up in the trunk of his car, it was starting to look like the killer had a fetish for Cadillac trunks.

The war continued. Come May 16, 1978, the three surviving Spero brothers were in the Virginian Tavern on Admiral Street in the River Quay district. Mike and Joe were sitting in a booth and Carl was up to the bar, when three masked men with weapons walked in. Bullets flew. Mike was killed and Joe was wounded. Carl exited via a rear door, but got shot-gunned in the back and ended up paralyzed and in a wheelchair. In a subsequent letter to authorities, Joe identified the shooters as three of Civella's henchmen. Not taking the shootings too well, Joe crafted a home-made bomb that October and placed it under the car of one of the henchmen. Unfortunately for Joe, the FBI interfered, retrieved the bomb and got Joe a prison sentence. There's no indication that the saved henchman ever thanked the FBI for their diligent services in preventing this violent crime.

Towards the end, you had to admit that Civella's group had a flair for irony. In June 1980, a  bomb, later alleged to be a booby-trap, exploded in a storage shed while Joe Spero was inside. The blast put him out through the shed wall and into eternity. Four and a half years later, as brother Carl was entering his cousin's car lot, a nail bomb went off. It wiped out Carl and his wheelchair. That wrapped up any future opposition from the Spero brothers. By this time,mob boss Nick Civella had already passed on from natural causes, so this last action was merely unfinished business. It was left to Corky Civella, as the new boss, to oversee the declining fortunes of the Civella crime family. Seemed the feds had lots of indictments waiting for several family members, to include those going down for the casino skimming charges in Las Vegas.

As for the River Quay area, bombings of several taverns and businesses, plus the shootings and intra-family strife turned the district into a desolate area for the public to avoid. The wealth was gone for now and there were few players left standing.

11 June 2015

Is Cincinnati Reenacting The Wire?


By Jim Winter

Police and politics have been in the news here in Cincinnati in recent weeks. We've been spared the latest round of shootings followed by riots that seems to have overtaken other cities. (Twice in the case of Cleveland, just four hours north of here.) But other problems have arisen.

Our police chief is a man named Jeffery Blackwell, who came to the Queen City from Columbus. Blackwell was named near the end of the previous mayor's term. Three weeks ago, it became news that the Chief would resign after two years on the job, then changed his mind. Despite denials from Blackwell, Mayor John Cranley, and other officials, stories of discord between city hall and the police department are rampant. Then this week, in the wake of a rash of shootings in the Avondale neighborhood, the city demanded Blackwell come up with a 90-day plan to reduce violence. I've seen this before.

It was a recurring theme on The Wire.

To recap, David Simon's Baltimore had a police department hamstrung by senior officers jockeying for position to become the next commissioner. Division captains and lieutenants found themselves terrorized by promotion-minded assistant chiefs at "comstat" meetings, where they had to explain why the crime rate was so high and what they planned to do about it. Never mind that the criminals causing all the trouble had to cooperate. Many of the plans and the personnel moves were tied to politics. Watching the news, I can't help but notice that so are the real-life moves in Cincinnati.

For starters, the increased crime in Avondale, while horrifying, belies a crime rate lower than in past years. There have been increased shootings on the West Side as well, but they make the news as individual incidents, not as a sudden spike in gun crime in one part of the city. But Avondale is two neighborhoods away from downtown and Over-the-Rhine, far enough out to spare the business district and the gentrifying neighborhood to the north of it, but close enough to the stadium to spook city leaders. Why are they spooked?

The All Star Game is coming in a couple of weeks. And so, with the local stations harping on Avondale's rise in shootings, city leaders have turned to that time-tested means of looking like they're on the job: Tell the police to do something, dammit. So Chief Blackwell was given a week to solve a problem that has been building since last year.

Sound like The Wire?

Then we have the hostility between city hall and the CPD. Chief Blackwell replaced James Craig, who left to take over the police department in his native Detroit. However, Blackwell started shortly before the last mayoral election, which means Mayor Cranley did not have a hand in choosing the chief. The current city manager also did not have a hand in the decision. One has to wonder if the administration's need to put its stamp on the police department is outweighing the need for stable leadership in the CPD.

That is speculation, of course, but every time Chief Blackwell, Mayor Cranley, or some council member opens their mouth now, I can't help but think back to Mayors Royce and Carcetti ripping some hapless commissioner a new one on The Wire. Cincinnati does not have all of Baltimore 's problems. If anything, we manage our police-race relation issues better than cities that looked at us funny during the 2001 riots. But when politicians fall all over themselves on the eve of a major sporting event, I can't help but wonder if life is imitating art. It wouldn't surprise me. Some of the cops and criminals depicted on The Wire were also writers and actors on the show.

10 June 2015

Heavy Breathing


David Edgerley Gates

Warning: NSFW

About a third of the way into writing VIPER, my Cold War novella - which is about the antiwar movement in Berlin in the 1970's, a KGB deception, and a love affair, among other things - I realized I had to do a SEX SCENE. I'd boxed myself in, there was no way around it. It couldn't happen off-stage, you had to see these people doing the horizontal mambo. Otherwise, the story wouldn't make any sense.

Now, let's face it, this can be a deeply embarrassing prospect. How many writers do you know who've done it convincingly? With the possible exception of D.H. Lawrence, my own feeling is that women are better at erotic material than men. Harold Robbins? Gimme a break. Or maybe Norman Mailer, THE TIME OF HER TIME? You might as well just call a plumber, since it's all about leaky pipes.

Twist Phelan has what amounts almost to a comedy routine, talking about writing sex. She says, you avoid at all costs an overwrought euphemism, 'the scepter of love,' for instance. On the other hand, you should steer clear of clinical description - you don't actually have to use the word 'cock.' If you manhandle, so to speak, a turn of phrase like, 'she took me in her lips,' the astute reader can probably imagine she's not hanging onto a subway strap. Less, at least in this situation, is probably more.

I like the way Deb Coonts deals this particular card, and she deals it from the bottom of the deck. Near the end of LUCKY CATCH, there's a really hot scene. First of all, she sneaks it up on you. You're not ready for it at all. You're going, like whoa! Secondly, she doesn't cheat your expectations. She goes all the way. And last but not least, she defuses it afterwards with a laugh line. Who'd expect you could make sex funny? Then again, why is it always taken so seriously, or in books, anyway? C'mon. We're supposed to be enjoying it.

Craig Johnson tells a story. Somewhere around the third Longmire book, he puts two major characters in bed together. Of course, this has consequences, but the point is that Craig gets them in and out of the sack in maybe three sentences. ("Which shows you how much of a pussy I am," he says.) Down the road, he's at a reading, and he's taking questions, and a woman raises her hand, and says, we need to talk about that sex scene. Craig says okay. She says, it went on forever

Craig gives this a long beat, and then he asks her, well, how many times did you read it?

Which brings us back to VIPER. The novella is 17K words. The sex scene takes up two pages, so I lapped Craig. Then again, those two pages took me something like three or four days to write. I was sweating bullets. It was as though I'd set myself a hurdle. Writers do this, of course. You sometimes trick yourself, and set something up, and then you have to do it. (For example, the dive sequence in "Cover of Darkness." That's basically the whole story, and because you're underwater, there's no dialogue. It's all physical action, it's nothing but description. Try it some time - you'd be surprised how hard it is.) Anyway, by the time I got done, I was completely exhausted. I'd been having sex for four days. But the end result works. It's not a complete embarrassment. How many times did I read it aloud to myself? It seemed to go on forever

Here's the thing, though. The real point of the scene is that these two people are invested in each other. If it doesn't have emotional resonance, it's just plumbing. And that was the tricky part. The grappling, the earthiness, showing skin, all of that is to no purpose, if you're just waving it around in a warm room. The money shot was making their physical hunger count for something. Martina tells herself afterward, I surrendered, this was rescue. And if I haven't convinced you of that, it's a dry hump.

What it comes down to is purpose. Why do you need it in the story? Anybody in their right mind would turn and run. Unless you're into whips and chains. Let's be honest. Doing it is terrific. It's consuming, It lights you on fire. But trying to convey that sensation is like pushing water uphill with a rake. In this case, it was utterly necessary. Do you have to ask, would I do it again? Bring on the whips and chains. I'm putty in your hands.



09 June 2015

Building the Brand


by Janice Law 

I went to a mystery writers’ convention this past weekend. A nice event, well run, full of mystery fans and valiant souls willing to present their heart’s blood – i.e. manuscripts and query letters – to the scrutiny of big city agents and editors. Everyone was pleasant, but, sad to say, the event marked a passage in my life. Sitting listening to people busy with Instagram, Smashwords, Kindle, and Pinterest, all in the interests of building their brand, I felt myself slipping from being a woman of a certain age to a certified old fart.

There is no doubt over the years I’ve been a writer that the publishing business has changed for better and for worse simultaneously. Feeling grumpy, I wondered when some of these so very with-it literary entrepreneurs actually have time to write – or as much to the point, think of something new.

But then I considered that branding and self-promotion have always been part of the literary game, at least for some writers. Certain of our predecessors would have been naturals for Twitter. Think of Papa Hemingway at the Seville bull ring with iPhone in hand. He was made for the tech.

And consider the Fitzgerald’s, the gayest of the gay celebs of the roaring twenties. Selfies, anyone? If F. Scott would maybe have reservations (he wanted to keep everything for his readers, including Zelda’s diaries), I think she would have enjoyed snapping those bathtubs full of gin and folks kicking up their heels doing the Charleston.

Across the water, we have Colette and wouldn’t she have enjoyed posting her cats’ pix on Pinterest? Not to mention a shot or two of the lover of the moment. George Sand, one of the great galley slaves of nineteenth century prose, would surely have had enough energy for blogging, as would that master of the serial novel, Charles Dickens, who reveled in responses from his many fans.

Earlier times had their own blatant forms of self-promotion. Whitman wrote positive reviews of Leaves of Grass when sufficient praise wasn’t forthcoming, and the eighteenth century Scot, James Boswell, was also known to ghost a glowing review when his prose required one.

Boswell, indeed, should probably be enshrined for his extraordinary literary selfies: the wonderful early London Journal and his monumental biography of Dr. Samuel Johnston. But though tolerant of his assiduous biographer, the creator of the English dictionary would not, I think, have indulged in blogging or tweeting, declaring famously that “none but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”
Shakespeare, the greatest poet of all, might have had a different tack. Although raised to literary divinity in the centuries since he strode the boards and scribbled up the greatest plays in our language, Shakespeare was very much the entrepreneur and hard-headed businessman. If a blog would bring more patrons to the Globe, I suspect he would have churned out the copy and posted it everywhere.

But do these brand-conscious eminences reconcile me to the new world of catering to reader curiosity and sharing my inner thoughts with my Facebook “friends”? Not really. I must confess I prefer to think of those whose “brand,” if we have to use the term, grew naturally. I find it hard to imagine what the withdrawn and eccentric Emily Bronte would have tweeted. Walked on the moor with Keeper? (her mastiff)? Storm brewing over the hills? Great idea for an irresistible anti-hero? Not very likely.

Jane Austen, though a sociable person, devoted to family and friends, would be even less likely to share her thoughts with the world or to update strangers with accounts of local whist parties, carriage rides, and balls. Ladies simply did not wish to be known in such a way, although the Divine Jane was as fond of literary advances and royalty payments as any other writer.

And what about our own American recluse, Emily Dickinson? Though her short poems are certainly tweet length, and she claimed that they were “her letter to the world,” I don’t think we could expect any great revelations from the Belle of Amherst, who also wrote that “my wars are laid away in books.” Passion, regrets, losses, sorrows, angers she had in plenty, and tweet-able phrases, too, but she did not spend her emotions so easily or carelessly. Rather she distilled them into the poems that still perplex and fascinate today.

So although money is good and a recognizable brand can be profitable, I’m not convinced that the assiduous tending of an image is a wholly good thing. It is all too easy to be type-cast in this world, and I suspect that it is also easy to diffuse one’s ideas and energy into catering to fans and indulging in a writerly form of busyness instead of focusing on the hard work of writing.

08 June 2015

What Goes On In Your Town?


 by Jan Grape

Product Details1960s AUSTIN GANGSTERS Organized Crime That Rocked the Capital by Jesse Sublett. The History Press 2015

I may have mentioned this book before, not sure, but I just finished it this week and am still intrigued. Mainly, I guess because I was in and around Austin, TX during the 1960s. No, I didn't moved to Austin until the last 60s and then only for about 16 months. I moved here for twelve years beginning in 1987. My Dad and Bonus Mom moved to Austin in 1957. They both worked at the State Offices of the State Employment Commission (now known as Texas Workforce Commission.) And because my family lived in Austin, I visited often. I'm sure I knew like most people that Austin had a certain criminal element, but Organized Crime?

Mr. Sublett's true crime book is outstanding for the history buff and for the crime writing gang. Okay, the Austin mobs weren't exactly like the old Italian mobs I've read about in crime stories and saw in movies like The Godfather. But the elements of crime were organized even if it could be considered a rather loose organization. Mr. Sublett says it was called a White Trash mafia.

Two high school football players, Tim Overton of Austin TX had every thing a young footballer could ever hope or dream for and yet threw it all away for a life of crime. Tim Overton a youngster from the wrong side of town whose mother died from a brain tumor when he was a senior in high School was a big offensive guard and Mike Cotton,a running back. from the more affluent side of town both received athletic scholarships from the new head coach Darrel Royal. Mike Cotton stayed out of the crime business, but Tim was drawn deeper and deeper into that world.

Tim Overton didn't just go nuts after his mother died, although some people thought he was really never the same. He did go on to college and was making decent grades that first year. After his first problems with the police, Coach Royal helped Tim and gave him more than one opportunity. Overton idolized Coach Royal and felt the coach turned his back on him. Probably harder on the coach than Tim Overton ever realized.

Before long, Tim and his associates or crew were driving Cadillacs, wearing diamond pinkie rings and running roughshod over prostitutes, pimps, banks and small businesses. Tim was involved with crooked lawyers, pimps and used car dealers. Smuggling and prostitution rings were high on the White Trash Mafia's plans and crimes. Murder often came into play and trying to outsmart the police was a big order of the day.



 Mr. Sublett has done fantastic research, with court transcripts, police files, Austin History Center files, talking to people who were around then and knew the players. He was able to also come up with photos of the players, their families, their victims and suddenly you realize while you're reading that you are totally involved with this story. Not to romanticize these criminals, but to be interested in the history of a town you've been in and around for over fifty year and a history you actually weren't aware of and in a way surprised about it.

If you have a chance and are interested in the history a small time frame of the capitol of Texas, I strongly advise you to pick up a copy of 1960s Austin Gangsters by Jesse Sublett.

A little personal note: Here's a photo of the beautiful Sage Award that was presented to me on May 17th from the Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Foundation. It's  lucite and has a silver colored star on top and is engraved. My picture wasn't  the best but I think you can get a sense of it.

07 June 2015

Dread Pirate Roberts


by Leigh Lundin

Day in history, 1 October 2013: A half-cocked Texas Tea Party senator shut down the federal government for seventeen days. The resulting outcry in Washington, panic on Wall Street, and consternation in world markets eclipsed another important news story. Outside of crime and tech circles, the public barely took notice of the seizure of Silk Road, the largest, most far-reaching criminal enterprise in the world, and the arrest of its young founder, Ross Ulbricht, aka, Dread Pirate Roberts.

A few days ago, a judge sentenced Ulbricht to two life terms.

Joshuah Bearman and Tomer Hanuka of Wired Magazine have created a fascinating and comprehensive article. I recommend checking their story, part 1 and part 2. Their article reads like a crime novella… and a Greek tragedy.

Recap

The hallmark of a Greek tragedy is hubris, encapsulated in mythology because of human (and human-like) failing. The putative Greek hero ascends, attaining glory and fame, only to be brought low by his (or her) own weaknesses and arrogance.

Such happened to Ross Ulbricht, an entrepreneur, ardent libertarian, former Eagle Scout and non-violent idealist… until the day he wasn’t. He began what he called a libertarian experiment, an on-line drug bazaar, a better eBay than eBay. He named the enterprise Silk Road after the ancient Asian trade routes.

Silk Road didn’t sell only drugs, they sold collectibles, electronics, and other goods much like Craig’s List. The web site also featured Silk Road chat, Silk Road forums, Silk Road wiki, Silk Road exchange, Silk Road credit union, Silk Road market, Silk Road bookstore, and Silk Road libertarian musings by its founder.

Ulbricht promoted trust, partly through anonymity, and partly through BitCoin exchange, but also through efforts to see customers were treated right. He devised an on-line escrow (which eBay should have done years ago), provided reviews and customer support. Ulbricht is noted for writing in his journal “This is more than a business to me. It’s a revolution and is becoming my life’s work.”

Security and anonymity were provided by software originally created by the US Navy. TOR, an acronym for The Onion Router, offered encryption for web sites behind the curtain that hides both legal and illegal activities, as seen in this video Inside the Dark Web or the recent movie, The Deep Web.

Ulbricht used a clever pseudonym as suggested by his mentor, Variety Jones. That alias was Dread Pirate Roberts, from the novel and subsequent film, The Princess Bride. In the story, Dread Pirate Roberts isn’t merely one person but, like Lee Falk’s The Phantom, a series of leaders who hand off the reins and the DPR name to a chosen successor when they become rich enough to retire. In conjunction with Silk Road, the sobriquet obscured who DPR was. Indeed many people believed Roberts was multiple people.

Operation Onion Peeler

The FBI geeks who went after the leader of Silk Road faced an intriguing challenge from a guy who made few mistakes… but a couple of errors was all it took. The digital police didn’t use a battering ram to get their man, they used finesse– or, as one described it, a form of ballet.

There’s little question Ulbricht ran Silk Road nor doubt he deserved a prison sentence for his misdeeds. But two life terms? The judge succumbed to pleas from the prosecutor to “send a message.”

Not all of us are fans of judicial messaging and over-sentencing, but a few other issues need to be considered. One is conspiracy and intent to commit the murder of at least one person and possibly five others who had stolen from the enterprise. That certainly shatters the image of the gentle idealist who wanted freedom for everyone.

However, the murder charge is murky. A Silk Road employee named Curtis Green had supposedly stolen $350,000. Ulbricht lamented how to handle it, writing that he didn’t want to use violence if Green would simply return the money. But Variety Jones, his mentor, urged Ulbricht to kill Green and referred to Green as the ‘organ donor’.

But the plot sickens. It turns out the money was actually stolen by Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges and facilitated by DEA agent Carl Force, who are being charged with the theft as well as other crimes, including laundering another half million dollars in BitCoins.

In other words, two federal agents stole funds using Green’s account, implicating him in the eyes of Ulbricht and moving him to homicide. One wonders if this constitutes entrapment, tipping Ulbricht over the edge of using violence to protect his interests. The only good part was that Green was in custody and not in imminent danger.

Ulbricht’s attorney is appealing the verdict.

06 June 2015

Proper Care and Feeding of Authors – in which our writer tries to be serious for a few minutes…


by Melodie Campbell

Here’s part one of the series (reprinted with permission):

What NOT to ask an author… (especially a Crime Writer who knows at least twenty ways to kill you and not get caught)

There is nothing I love better than meeting readers, both those who already know my writing, and those who are new to my books. But recently, I was asked to talk about those things that are touchy for an author.  So here goes…a short list of No-Nos!

1.  Do not ask an author how many books she has sold.

Trust me, don’t ask this.
Really, you don’t want to.  It wouldn’t help you anyway.
Because honestly, I’ll lie.

I’m amazed that complete strangers regularly ask this.  Would you ask a lawyer how much money he makes?

Because here’s the bottom line: most of us with traditional publishers make about a buck for every book sold, whether paperback, trade paperback or ebook.  Sometimes, it’s less than that.  (Yes, we were shocked too, when we found out.)  So by asking how many books we’ve sold, you can pretty well figure out our income.  And frankly, I don’t want you to.  You see, I write comedies, and it would depress both of us.

Also:  our royalty statements are at least six months behind (at least mine are.)  We don’t KNOW how many books we’ve sold to date on new releases.  Which is probably a good thing for our egos, if we want to keep writing.

Dare I say it?  The supreme irony is: the only ones likely to make a living in the writing biz are those on the business end.  The agents, and those editors and others employed by publishers, booksellers and libraries.  Sadly, you can't expect to make a living in the arts if you are a creator.

2.  Do not ask an author to read your manuscript and critique it for free.

So many times, I’ve been asked to do this, in a public place, with people overhearing.  Sometimes, by people who don’t even have the decency to buy a single book of mine first. 

Why this is bad:

First: I am in a place that has been booked for me to sell my books and meet with readers. That’s what I’m there for.  You are taking precious time away from me and my readers.  Believe me, my publisher won’t be happy about this.  Ditto, the bookseller!

Second: Every hour I spend critiquing an aspiring author’s book is an hour I can’t spend working on my own books and marketing them.  Like most novelists, I have a day job.  That means every hour I have to work on my fiction is precious.  Most of us do critique – for a fee.  And many of us teach fiction writing at colleges. 

I’m happy to critique my college students’ work.  I’m getting paid (mind you, meagerly) to do so.  And that’s what I always recommend:  take a college course in writing.  You’ll get great info on how to become a better writer, and also valuable critiquing of your own work.

3.  Do not ask an author to introduce you to her publisher or agent.

Want to see me cringe?

Similar to number 2 above, this puts the author in a very awkward position.  You are in fact asking for an endorsement.  If the author hasn’t read your book, she cannot possibly give it (an honest endorsement.)

Second: You are asking the author to put HER reputation on the line for you.  Do you have the sort of close relationship that makes this worthwhile for her?

4.  Do not ask an author: where do you get your ideas?

Okay, be honest.  You thought I was going to lead with this one.
Actually, you can ask me this.  I’ll probably answer something fun and ridiculous, like:
From Ebay. 
Or: From my magic idea jar.
Or: They come to me on the toilet.  You should spend more time there.

Because the truth is, we don’t know exactly.  After teaching over 1000 fiction writing students at Sheridan College, I have discovered something: some students are bubbling over with ideas.  Others – the ones who won’t make it – have to struggle for plots.  It seems to be a gift and a curse, to have the sort of brain that constantly makes up things.

I’ve been doing it since I was four.  My parents called it lying.  That was so short-sighted of them.



Opening to THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE (Orca Books) winner of the 2014 Derringer (US) and Arthur Ellis (Canada)

    Okay, I admit it. I would rather be the proud possessor of a rare gemstone than a lakefront condo with parking. Yes, I know this makes me weird. Young women today are supposed to crave the security of owning their own home
     But I say this. Real estate, shmeel estate. You can’t hold an address in your hand. It doesn’t flash and sparkle with the intensity of a thousand night stars, or lure you away from the straight and narrow like a siren from some Greek odyssey.
     Let’s face it. Nobody has ever gone to jail for smuggling a one bedroom plus den out of the country.
     However, make that a 10-carat cyan blue topaz with a past as long as your arm, and I’d do almost anything to possess it.
    But don’t tell the police.
 
On Amazon

05 June 2015

One Hero's "Masque" May Be Another's Costume


By Dixon Hill

As well as being a writer, I'm also a husband and dad.  I spent this past weekend (May 28th through
31st) at Phoenix ComiCon with my 12-year-old son, and gained some very interesting insight there.

My youngest son, Quentin, likes to practice Cosplay.  Cosplay is a compound word created by the combination of Costume and Play (or player), and hence denotes a person who is play-acting that s/he is the character (sci/fi or anime usually) s/he is dressed as.

Cosplayers may spend hundreds of dollars on their costumes, and work diligently to achieve detailed accuracy (similar to a Civil War reenactor I once knew).  And, at conventions such as this, the prizes for best costume can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Believe it or not, there are Professional Cosplayers who earn big bucks by dressing as characters from video games, television shows, or even movies.  They earn this money not only by winning cosplay contests, but also by doing work for sponsors.  I suppose this shouldn't have come as a big surprise to me; after all there's a guy who frequents the cigar store, who earns a six-figure annual income by portraying Sean Connery at business conventions or on the radio.  Pro Cosplayers earn money in a very similar manner.

I once posted here about an activity my youngest son, Quentin and I engaged in, last summer, called ICon ("eye-con"). At that convention, Quentin cosplayed (dressed and acted) as Edward Elric, the title character of the anime TV series The Full Metal Alchemist.

ICon was not a particularly giant convention, recalling (in my mind) the gaming conventions my older son, Joe, had attended when he was in middle school.  There, Joe and his buddies played Dungeons and Dragons or other board games for several days straight.

But, ICon lasted only one full day.

The Phoenix Comicon, however, lasted four days and was held at the Phoenix Convention Center (very close to where Left Coast Crime will be held in 2016). Last year, over 15,000 people attended Comicon, and this year the numbers were believed to be even larger.  Having been there, I believe it!

The Venues Included Writers! 
Storm Troopers posed for free with folks.
Phoenix Comicon had multiple venues within the convention center, but the admission "membership" bought access to all of these venues for the given day(s) of the membership.

Quen being tossed into
Batman's Arkham Asylum
Venues included two film festivals, one of which permitted members to submit films in advance, in hopes of winning honors.  There were also extensive panels and classes on writing, headed-up by successful Sci-Fi, Fantasy or Romance writers, and myriad author signings, as well as classes on screenplay writing, comic book writing and even something detailing how to become a professional still camera photographer for Hollywood movies.

Writers and pros had booths in the underground area, where steampunk and cosplay items competed for sale against Star Trek, Star Wars and other Sci-Fi and Fantasy memorabilia.

There were also movie and TV stars galore, available for autographs (about $40 to $60 each, additional cost) or to pose in photos with you (that would set a person back a hundred or two hundred bucks each),  The local Dr.Who society was on the top floor (by the stars) with their Tardis, two life-sized Daleks (one of which moved and had a suspicious-looking "Sidekick" badge taped to the front!), and a remote-control K-9.  On this floor also, one could find the Delorean from Back to the
Q sits with "Greedo" on Star Wars "set"
Future
(photo prices supposedly donated to charity -- photos with the actor who played "Doc" in the film were even more expensive), several Star Wars "sets" created by local and distant Star Wars fan clubs, and even the Zombie Defense League and a local Pirate group.

Cosplay filled a lot of con space also, with classes and panels that ranged from how to buy and style wigs, how to sew costumes or make realistic-looking armor that wouldn't weight you down, to panels of professional cosplayers giving tips on the contests and how to make money at cosplaying.

Membership is NOT Cheap

An adult membership for all four days cost about $97.00 (a significant savings!), while a "sidekick" ticket for a kid 12-or-under cost $10.75 for the full four days.

Lunch for 2 = $45.00 LOL
By the time I finished work on Thursday, and we got downtown to the convention center, all of the full-time adult memberships were sold out.  I still managed to get a "Sidekick" membership for Quen -- though he initially didn't like it, feeling embarrassed I believe -- so he was set for all four days, as long as he was accompanied by a paid adult.

By the time it was all said and done, I purchased two adult memberships for Thursday ($30 each) so Q wouldn't have to wear his embarrassing Sidekick badge, two adult memberships for Friday (about $47 each) so my wife could go with him in the morning while I was at work, and my older son's girlfriend could join her until I relieved my wife, three adult memberships for Saturday ($57 each) so my older son, Joe, could attend with his girlfriend and myself, while Q used his Sidekick badge (and the older kids could go to the Steampunk ball or some other adult venue that night), and an adult membership for Sunday ($35) so I could go with Quen on my day off.

COSPLAY  (Hmmm.......)
A Family of Dr. Who's . . . Plus a Cyberman son ....
Talk about dysfunctional teen years! LOL


The main catalyst for our going, of course was that Quen wanted to participate in a Cosplay Contest. The problem was: Though we downloaded Comicon info from their website to our cell phones, months in advance, and that info kept updating over time, we NEVER saw anything labeled: "Cosplay Contest."

Instead, there was a "Cosplay Fasion Show" on Thursday morning, and a "Prejudging for Masquerade" at 4:00 pm on Saturday, and a "Masquerade" at a local Hotel, where the steampunk venues were being held, at 9:00 pm Saturday night.

Was the Cosplay Fashion Show a contest?  Evidently not.  Was "Masquerade" the contest, or was this a codeword for something dealing with steampunk?  We didn't know.  Nor could we find out ahead of time.

At one point, we ran into the evil "boss" from Kingdom Hearts.
You can't see it, but there is a crowd
jumping up and down and screaming behind me.
Quentin planned to dress as Sora, from Kingdom Hearts, a video game in which a young anime boy battles evil creatures with the help of Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Pluto -- though this game is not for toddlers imho.

To that end, for over a month, Quentin worked with my wife as she diligently followed his instructions, as well as online pics, to sew a Sora costume for him.  We bought a pair of too-large shoes at Goodwill, then he and I turned them into Sora's shoes using paint, tape and paper mache.  He and I constructed a "KeyBlade": Sora's primary weapon, using PVC pipe, cardboard, Styrofoam, paint, a small chain, etc.  My wife even styled his hair to match Sora's.

Thursday afternoon, Q and I entered the convention, neither of us in any costume.  Our plan was to orient ourselves to the premises, attend a few panels on cosplay or some other things, and form a strategy for the weekend.  Unfortunately, the maps in the program, cross-indexed with the buildings we were in, didn't make sense to me.  In fact, I'm embarrassed to admit that I -- an ex-SF Sergeant, known for finding my way for miles across empty and inhospitable terrain using only a map and compass -- never did quite manage to orient myself inside those buildings until the end our last day there.

It was not a stationary battle.  Q is waving his keyblade
as the "boss" waves his arms in attack.
I was able to navigate us to several panels . . . only to discover that Quen didn't want to attend most of them.  "I don't want to go to this.  It's like a class in school.  I just got out of school for the summer; I don't want to go to school for fun!"

I didn't blame him.  And, since he was the reason we were there, we did what he wanted to do -- while I scratched my head a lot and tried to figure out where we were on the myriad of seemingly unrelated maps inside my program.

By Thursday night, at last, I figured a few things out.  So, on Friday morning, my wife, Madeleine, and our son's girlfriend, Suzanne, knew where they had to take Q for the fashion show, while I was at work.  My daughter, Raven, wound up there to cheer him on, too.

Suzanne fixes Q's "Sora" hairstyle.
Q got a chance, there, to strut his stuff in his Sora costume, up on a stage in a huge hotel ballroom, in
front of hot lights and hundreds of people -- which I have no doubt was a good experience for him.  He encountered stage fright, but dealt with it on his own --HUWAH!!  I got there too late to see the show, but heard all about it from the kids.  My wife went back to work, while Suzanne, Raven and I took Q back into the con.  The younger folks decided to wander around together for awhile.

One panel I attended alone was called, "How to be the parent of a Comicon Nerd."  Quen had protested his attendance, saying the adults on the panel would make jokes about kids in cosplay.

He couldn't have been more wrong!

From the Mouths of Babes 

This panel was made up of a half-dozen kids ranging in age from about 14 to 17.  The theme of their panel was essentially: "What sort of Comicon Parent are you: Supportive, Disinterested, or Abhorrent?"  (Yes, they actually used the word "abhorrent." LOL)

First, each speaker explained a different facet of what a parent's comicon kid might be "into" and why it was usually "really nothing to be worried about."  They covered comic books, films, TV series, online comic books (webcomics, such as Homestuck), cosplay and other things.

They stressed the idea that "forbidding" a kid to play a game or watch a show wouldn't keep that kid from playing the game or watching the show at a friend's house.  Instead, they stressed open communication as the best way to address parental concerns.  Finally, each kid on the panel told us what her parents were like (supportive, disinterested, or abhorrent) so that we could compare ourselves to them, and adjust our actions if need be.

I was deeply moved when the girl with two supposedly "abhorrent" parents, wiped her eyes as she told us about her dad making fun of her cosplay outfit, and of how her mother refused to drive her to the con, making her take the bus, because "...that stuff is Devil worship -- you can burn in Hell alone!"  (Maybe her parents weren't really that bad, but her perception was that they were.  And, the really heart-rending part, was that I could hear how much she loved her parents and wanted to connect with them.)

Some feel EMPOWERED by cosplay.
The really eye-opening part of this program, however, was that I saw the impact of cosplay on some of these kids' lives.  Several of the panel members were dressed in cosplay outfits, which surprised me at first. Later, however, a couple specifically said words to the effect of, "I'm pretty shy, and I don't ever speak up at school or anything.  But, when I wear this cosplay, I can cosplay that I'm this strong character.  While I'm dressed like (this character), I act like (this character) and that's what gives me the ability to speak to you in front of this room, like this.  I could never do that, if I was just me."

It wasn't just what they said, either.  I could see it in their mannerism; their conviction was clearly evident, as was the importance of what they were doing, and why they wanted to speak to parents about their concerns.  Frankly, I wished that more than five or six parents had come to the panel. I also made sure to ask questions when it came time for Q & A: I wanted the kids to know I valued what they were doing.

And, I got to see one mother obtain relief when she asked, "Please tell me, what the heck is this Homestuck?  Why is my eleven-year-old daughter going to school with gray paint on her face and hands, and orange horns on her head!?!"

All the girls on the panel, along with a few kids sitting in the audience, screamed with joy, then laughed and sighed and comforted her, assuring her that it was alright, that they had all been into Homestuck and painted themselves gray at eleven and twelve.  At one point, one girl held up her arms and said, "See?  No more gray paint on my face or arms.  I outgrew it and she will too.  It's okay.  It won't hurt her.  Your daughter is fine and happy." Then, they gave the mom tips, such as: "The important thing is to keep her from getting in trouble at school, by getting paint on the walls if it rubs off her hands.  The way you do this is to seal with ...(I don't remember: something about baby powder and stuff -- but the mom took notes!)

I Realized:
Entrance to Cosplay Lounge.
Sign for Diversity Lounge in background.

Cosplay empowers people like this -- people who, for one reason or another, feel outcast or sidelined by life.  And, as these kids spoke, though they never addressed the issue, I finally began to understand why gender-bending is an important part of cosplay to many people; so much so that the "Diversity Lounge" was located next to the "Cosplay Lounge" at the con.

I also realized why taking photographs inside the Cosplay Lounge was so carefully forbidden -- because cosplayers take off their costumes in there; they are naked and themselves; they have lain their defensive bulwarks to one side and are vulnerable until they gird themselves, once more, in the armor of their character.

As the kids also pointed out: People (adults and children, both) engage in cosplay or other comicon activities for hundreds of different personal reasons.  Not every cosplayer is looking for a strength or defense that eludes him or her in real life.  Many, like my son, Quentin, just enjoy playing the part of fictional characters -- something I do, every day, when I write.  And I can understand this; I always have.

But, thanks to those brave kids, I now understand more about the genre, and the factors that may be at play in other practitioners lives.

But What About the Cosplay Contest???

Door to PreJudging Room
No Entrance W/O Permission
It finally wound up that the "Masquerade" WAS the cosplay contest.  Q and I camped out, in the hallway outside the prejudging, for several hours, but he did not get in.  The condensed answer is that we didn't understand how to apply online.  We've learned a lot, however, and next year -- WE'LL  BE  READY!

The hallway outside, 2.5 hours later.
In fact, with the help of a friendly "Sailor Venus" cosplayer, we learned of two cosplay contests he can enter in the interim, here in The Valley, so that he can get some more practice in front of a large audience.

A particularly humorous encounter I witnessed at the con occurred during lunch one day.  Q and I were eating, out on a sort of bench under shade, and there was a male-female couple in their late twenties not far from us.  The woman dressed as a Harry Potter character insisted (for some reason, I wasn't sure) on giving her husband/boyfriend a hard time about wanting to watch World Wrestling Federation on TV at home.  When the guy finally griped, "What's wrong with wrestling?" she responded, "It's completely
FAKE!"  At which point, he looked at her and mumbled, "Right.  And like you go to Hogwarts!"

For the Hill family, though, Phoenix Comicon and the lead-up -- gathering info, making the costume -- all of it, was a family activity.  And, in the end, our family really enjoyed it.  So, chalk-up a win this time!

See you in two weeks,
--Dixon


04 June 2015

Science Fiction Fantasy Mysteries


by Eve Fisher

I just got my copy of the July/August Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and (no surprise, folks!) SleuthSayers is well represented:
  • Robert Lopresti's "Shooting at Firemen" just knocked me out. I already knew to look out for it from Rob's blog here (http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/05/telling-fiction-from-fact.html) and it's a wonderful story about riots, politics, and race.
  • David Edgerly Gates gave us "In For a Penny", and what the cover says is true: The graft is greener at the border.
  • Janice Law's "A Domestic Incident" - besides being a harrowing account of betrayal on almost every level - raises the question, "what would/should I have done?"

Congratulations to all!

Another great story is Donald Moffitt's "A Handful of Clay". Sadly, Mr. Moffitt died just before publication. He was a multiple science fiction/fantasy/ and mystery writer. I love this story, both as an historian (setting a story in ancient Sumeria - 4500 years ago - and getting the details right without bogging down in them while keeping the universal humanity of the past, now that's an achievement) and as a mystery buff (love the plot). And it also got me thinking about the way so many people have shifted between sci-fi / fantasy/ mystery / horror without missing a beat.

First, some BSP:


Yes, that's me on the left, and later on the right, at the reception and panel discussion for the Startling Sci-Fi anthology that was held on May 16th in Greenwich Village, NYC, NY. Yes, I got my 15 minutes of fame. We answered questions, posed for photos, and signed books. We signed a lot of books. (Huzzah!)

It's a darned good anthology, if I do say so myself: My story, "Embraced" is a black comedy of lust, obsession, war, prophecy, and resistance during the apocalypse, as told by Yuri Dzhankov, who is, unfortunately, having the time of his life. Jhon Sanchez' "The Japanese Rice Cooker" may be all things to all men (and women), but is it the right thing? And Daniel Gooding's "Cro-Magnum Xix" is one of the best takes I've ever read on poor planning in the search for eternal life. And many, many more.

Copies can be purchased here.

This isn't the first of my sci-fi/fantasy work. "Dark Hollow" appeared in the Fall, 2000 issue of Space and Time, and its semi-sequel, "At the End of the Path", in the July/August 2002 issue of AHMM. And I've written a few others that have showed up in various places.

But here's the thing, innumerable authors, far better than I, have done the same thing. To wit:

DoAndroidsDream.png
a/k/a Bladerunner
  • First off, I would argue that every ghost story is also a mystery story - why are they there? Why won't they leave? Why won't they leave us alone? What do they want? Etc.
  • "Dracula", in case you've never noticed, is a mystery as well as a horror/fantasy story. It's not my fault that Jonathan Harker is a lousy detective, at least compared with Van Helsing.
  • Isaac Asimov - who wrote about freaking everything (says the owner of his "Annotated Gulliver's Travels", which I highly recommend) wrote 66 stories about the "Black Widowers", mostly published in EQMM. There's also The Caves of Steel, introducing policeman Elijah Baley and robot detective R. Daneel Olivaw.
  • Ray Bradbury's work switches regularly between fantasy (he himself claimed he never wrote science fiction) and mystery/horror (Something Wicked This Way Comes).
  • Len Deighton's alternate history novel SS-GB, about a British homicide detective in Nazi-occupied London.
  • J. K. Rowling's Cormoran Strike mysteries (which, to be honest, I have not yet read...) The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm.
  • Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. (Delicious!)
  • Stephen King has been writing horror/sci-fi/fantasy/and now Westerns, so you figure it out.
  • Our own Melissa Yi recently posted about being a finalist for the Roswell Award for Short Science Fiction http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/04/the-writers-dilemma-risk-vs-reward.html
  • and Melissa just posted about some modern mash-ups of mysteries and werewolves (and other creatures) in Monday's post: http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/06/would-you-like-little-werewolf-in-your.html
  • And my personal favorite: that unique, beautiful, crazy, hilarious, and haunting mash-up of history, mystery, fantasy, and Chinese myth, Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was. I read it in one gulp at a library and went out and bought it that afternoon. (Can you tell that I used to teach Chinese history?)
    • Best quote: 'Immortality is only for the gods,' he whispered. 'I wonder how they can stand it.'
    • Seriously - go buy it, read it, just revel in it. An amazing work…
Anyway, I think this sort of switching between genres is pretty normal and fairly common. When you're killing people [fictionally] for a living, sometimes you need a wider horizon, or a shift in time, or a shift in dimensions in order to get the point sharpened, the point across, the point driven in.

And really, given the basic universals of pride, anger, envy, greed, lust, gluttony, and even sloth - and yes, I remember reading, long ago, a sci-fi story about murder by betrayal being done because of sloth - Anyway, given these universals it just doesn't matter about ages, universes, or much of anything else. It can always work. Anything is possible. Or at least wildly improbable.


And keep writing.

03 June 2015

There's a contract out on me


by Robert Lopresti

I did something unusual this week.  I signed a publisher's contract.

Well, technically I have signed a lot of such agreements over the years.  Mostly for short stories, a few times for books.  But this one feels different.

First of all, it's for nonfiction, a book related to my day job, not to the world of mysteries.  But that's not the important difference.

You see, every contract I have signed in the past has been an agreement that a publisher would put out something I had written.  This time I am agreeing to write something.  In other words, I am committing myself to have a book that meets certain specification finished by a certain date.

That's right.  I have a deadline.

I wrote a rather cranky piece many years ago about fellow authors who complain about the tyranny of deadlines.  My point was that some of us would be thrilled if an editor was waiting for us
to write THE END.  When you are having a bad day at what Rex Stout called the alphabet piano it is depressing to realize that no one but you gives a damn whether you keep pounding away or go outside and fly a kite.

Be careful what you wish for, because there is now a big publishing house at the other end of the country where, I like to imagine, an editor is standing with his arms folded, one foot tapping, watching the calendar pages slowly turn, and waiting for my masterpiece to arrive.

So, excuse me if I keep today's missive short.  I have fifteen months to crank out 110,000 words.  Wish me luck.

02 June 2015

Best Of Times/Worst Of Times (Writing)


by David Dean 

Linda Landrigan, Editor of AHMM, Me, and Janet Hutchings, Editor of EQMM at FUN Dell Party
The best of times

I'm very happy to announce that the current (July) issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine carries a story of mine. It's titled "The Walking Path" and demonstrates how exercise is not always conducive to good health or a long life. As is common in many of my tales, the protagonist misreads events unfolding around him which leads to a surprising, though not very pleasing (for him, at least) end to his outdoor pursuits.

The theme of missed opportunities and misunderstood relationships also features in the following month's issue in a story called, "Mr. Kill-Me". The poor fellow conjured up in this tale cannot for the life of him understand why he's being stalked. His antagonist, a shabby cyclist who keeps showing up at unexpected moments, offers him no threat of violence, but is insistent that our hero kill him.

The month following (yes, it's been a very good year– see first half of blog title) I change pace with a police procedural in which a detective must come to terms with his own actions of nearly fifty years before. This novella is titled "Happy Valley". Counting "Her Terrible Beauty" that was in the March issue, that makes four stories in EQMM in a single year– a first for me. Still, I pose no threat to the late, great Ed Hoch's prolific output, or that of our own Edgar-Nominated John Floyd. Speaking of whom, I had the pleasure of meeting John, and his lovely wife, at the Dell soiree in New York this year. The only fault I could find with the man was his overbearing height, other than that he was just as charming and intelligent as we've all found him to be through his SleuthSayers articles. Still, I'm disappointed with his insufferable tallness.

A Less Fun Party
The worst of times

Since the fall of 2012 I've had three novels published, none of which have thrived. If I called a summit meeting of everyone who had read any of them I could probably forego renting a hall and just have them convene in my living room. Even there, I'm not sure that anyone would have to stand during the meeting. I find this a little distressing. My intention in writing the novels was that someone would read them. You can see my frustration here.

Part of the problem is that none of them have received very much publicity. Small indie presses have no funds for advertising it seems. The big corporation boys do, but only if you're already famous, which presents a conundrum for such as the likes of me. The other part of the problem (and this is the part I like even less than the first) is that I may not be very good at writing novels. I especially don't like this possibility because it doesn't allow me to blame anyone else. When I was occasionally asked what I did as a chief of police, I would always fire back, "I find out who's to blame and pin it on them. Now get out of my office!" My wife claims that I still do this as a private citizen. I tell her that it's paramount to blame those responsible for any faults I may possess, then tell her to get out of my office. She does not comply. I find this distressing as well.

So there you have it, the best and the worst. In case I've raised anyone's hopes that I will never write another novel, you must not know me. I'm already taking another stab at the beast and am on page 125 after only a year's labor. It's titled, The German Informant, and is coming along, though I doubt it will fare any better than the others. On the days I find the going tough, I blame the neighbors for all the distractions. If it weren't for them it would be done already!

In closing, and in order to refill the glass to half-full, I want to take a moment to thank a number of fellow writers who have been particularly kind and supportive in recent months: Brendan DuBois, Doug Allyn, Joseph D'Agnese, Don Helin, Lou Manfredo, Art Taylor, Fran Rizer (whom I miss from this site) and my fellow SleuthSayers, Dale Andrews and Eve Fisher. Each of these extremely talented and busy writers have taken the time, and in some cases, expended considerable effort, to aid or support me in my literary pursuits. I am in your debt, my friends, and honored to be so. Below is a copy of the aforementioned EQMM issue. You will find my name next to that of Joyce Carol Oats, a pretty good writer who I think shows real promise. I hope this fortunate pairing boosts her career.

01 June 2015

Would you like a little werewolf in your mystery? And how about some sex and swearing?



by Melissa Yi

Personally, I love a little genre shake-up. I’m the kind of person that, if you asked me, “Chocolate, vanilla, or mirabelle plum?” I’d say, “Is it possible to have all three?”

I know that Dixon Hill has investigated romance and mystery, and Eve Fisher's viral post on the $3500 shirt covered history and mystery. But what about fantasy and mysteries?

At the World Fantasy Convention in 2000, I leaped on Dead Until Dark, the first Sookie Stackhouse book by Charlaine Harris, which of course have since become the massive TV series, True Blood.


Fun fact: remember how I was vacillating about spending money to travel for writing? Last weekend, I flew to Los Angeles for the Roswell Award presentation, and Sci-Fest LA co-founder David Dean Bottrell, who played the professor on True Blood, shook my hand and said, “I just realized who you are. Wonderful story.” Yes! More fun LA moments on my blog.


"The creature" & David Dean Bottrell from THE LUNCHTIME SHOW at Sci-Fest LA


I also adore Charlaine’s “grave” series featuring Harper Connolly, the girl who was struck by lightning and left with a strange gift: she can now sense dead people and relive the way they died.

Who could resist Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, the big, powerful Chicago wizard who shoves himself into a tiny Volkswagen Beetle and regularly solves crimes, fights bad faeries, and saves the world?


If you’re like me and prefer werewolves (warm, furry) over vampires (cold, dead), I’ll throw in Sparkle Hayter’s Naked Brunch, where a Manhattan secretary with “lycanthropic morphic disorder” investigates a series of murders. This isn’t my favourite of Sparkle’s books, but I always love her craziness.

Full disclosure: I wrote a werewolf thriller of my own, Wolf Ice. I’m reading it at ChiSeries Ottawa Presents on June 9th. They’re putting me last because I asked, “Is it okay to have sex and swearing in our reading?” The paraphrased answer: yes, but we’ll put you last because sometimes a child will come to the readings, and this way, the parents can discreetly usher the minor out before you start your X-rated show.

In all seriousness, I won’t be cussing and tossing my characters in compromising positions the entire time. But close! And extremely fun for someone who spends her days in a buttoned-up job. In fact, I’ll be driving directly from the hospital to the venue, so I had to ask if there was anywhere in the hospital where I could shower off the germs first.

One of the side effects of joining two book clubs is that I realize most readers (alas, most people) don’t think the same way as me. They might think genre mash-ups are the Death Star of literature. Or they might want to throw Sookie into Hurricane Katrina, especially because they disagree with the series’ ending. I’m curious what you think, dear readers.

Hands up if you love some mixing and matching. Weigh in if you think it’s ruined both genres. If you want to hear more about L.A., hit me up in the comments! Or just click on my Patreon account to leave a tip. Cheers!