08 December 2015

Public-Speaking Tips for Authors


by Barb Goffman

Every autumn the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime runs two programs we label Mystery Author Extravaganzas. Chapter authors who've had something new published that year can stand up and tell the audience about their new works, and a local bookseller (usually Mystery Loves Company from Oxford, Maryland) is on hand to sell the authors' works. The first Saturday of each November, we appear at a library in Columbia, Maryland. The first Saturday of each December, we appear at a library in Reston, Virginia. In our promotion, we remind people that this is a good time to do your holiday book shopping, and it's also a way to support local mystery authors and a local indie bookstore.

Our events are open to the public, and the libraries promote the heck out of them. We usually get fifty people at our Columbia event. At our event this past Saturday in Reston, more than ninety people showed up--standing room only--including the twenty authors who spoke. We started having these events annually when I was chapter president nearly ten years ago. And I've had the pleasure of organizing them nearly every year since. My experience has taught me a few things about how to succeed as a speaker, and I thought I'd share them here:

  • Keep it snappy, i.e., don't feel the need to use all the time allotted to you. Short story writers have long known to get in and out of a story as fast as you can. Don't meander and go into unnecessary detail. This is good advice for public speaking, too. The authors who keep the
    A different kind of high point
    audience's attention best are the ones who don't describe all their characters and drill down into a lot of the plot. They hit the high points, the exciting stuff, the information you'd find on the back of a book, and they leave the audience wanting more. If you're a person prone to meandering, consider bringing a cheat sheet with you with bullet points so you can occasionally look down and see the high points you want to address. (More on bullet points below.)
  • Consider if you have something particularly interesting to share--not just about your story, but perhaps an interesting research tidbit or what prompted you to write the story. A good tale can entice an audience. For instance, on Saturday, when speaking about my story "The Wrong Girl," I shared how my fifth-grade teacher tried to get me to stop speaking quickly, and how that humiliating experience finally became useful when I wrote this story about a girl who went through the same thing I did, but unlike me, my character doesn't plan to let her teacher get away with it. I heard from audience members who enjoyed learning the story behind the story.
  • Don't write a speech and read it. I know public speaking can be scary, and writing down
    My story made the cover!
    what you want to say can help you feel more comfortable. But I've seen too many authors read their speeches with their heads down, barely making eye contact. Don't do that. You want to connect with the audience. So practice at home. Get a feel for what you want to say. And if you'd still feel more confident with notes, bring them, but have them address only the high points, so when you look down, you'll be reminded of what to talk about, and then you can look up and do it. For instance, if I were talking about my short story "A Year Without Santa Claus?" my bullet-point notes might say:
    • Title and publication
    • Main character
    • What's her problem?
    • What's her solution?
  • If you're considering reading aloud from your book or story, practice first. And have someone you trust--someone not afraid to tell you the truth--listen to you read so they can tell you if you are a good reader or a bad one. If you read in an animated fashion, looking up regularly and making eye contact with the audience (see the prior bullet point), great. If you read in a monotone voice without looking up at all, then don't read. The last thing you want to do is put your potential readers to sleep.
  • Briefly (for a few seconds) hold up a copy of your book as a focal point. But don't leave it
    propped up there while you talk. That's distracting, and it might block someone's view of your face. (This applies to panels at conventions, too.)
  • If you're a funny person, don't be afraid to be funny while you're speaking. But if you're not funny, don't force it. There's nothing worse than someone bombing because he felt the need to come up with a joke. You're there to sell your books and yourself. Do it in the way best suited to your personality.
  • Keep in mind how much time you have. If you think you'll fill your entire allotted time, practice at home so you can be ready to wrap up when the timer dings. You don't want to hear that ding and know you never got to talk about the third story you had published this year because you meandered talking about story number one.
And since I have your attention, I'll tell you briefly about my new stories from this year. There's "The Wrong Girl" mentioned above. It's in the anthology Flash and Bang, which is the first anthology featuring stories from the Short Mystery Fiction Society. It's available in trade paperback, large print, and e-book format from Untreed Reads Publishing. In "The Wrong Girl," a fifth-grader humiliated by her teacher plans revenge.

My second story is the aforementioned "A Year Without Santa Claus?" from the January/February 2015 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. In this story, my main character is the head of everything magical that happens in New Jersey. It's two weeks until Christmas, and Santa says he's skipping Jersey this year because a murderer is on the loose. So my main character sets out to find the murderer and save Christmas. Can she do it? You can find out by reading the story--it's available on my website: http://www.barbgoffman.com/A_Year_Without_Santa_.html

Do you have any public-speaking tips for authors? Feel free to share in the comments.

07 December 2015

Christmas Spirit


by Jan Grape

Some days around this time of year I have zero spirit for Christmas. Husband passed away ten years ago. Grand kids are all grown up. it quickly feels like just another day. Last night I was watching some re-run on TV when my doorbell rang. It was about 8:20 or so, a little late for unexpected company. Even a bit late for a sales call.

I turned on my front porch light. I could see a well-dressed man holding the hand of a little boy.  The little boy was also well dressed including a rakish French cap. Probably wanting a donation for the holidays, I though,t as I cautiously opened the door.

The man smiled, he was holding a small paper sack. "We're from a local Church and we want to invite you to our presentation of  "A Christmas Carol." Next Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We're going around singing Christmas songs as we invite people.

I could hear a bit of noise out on the street, looked and saw a pick-up pulling a flat-bed truck behind. The flat-bed was decorated with Christmas lights and a lot of people were sitting in it. They started singing "Jingle Bells."

It was apparent these were mostly children and you could hear joy and laughter in their voices. The duo at my door handed me the paper bag and wished me a "Merry Christmas." I stood in my doorway as the truck drove slowly by. I waved and the carolers all waved back. I kept standing there until they were all the way past, all of us waving back and forth at each other.

Of course they were almost all the way past before I thought of taking a photo. I grabbed my phone, but they were too far away. I enlarged the screen hoping to still get something. It was too dark and the flash flashed twice and the picture was nothing except a bright white spot. Frustration, but I have a great mental photo which will last.

I closed the door and looked inside the paper sack they had given me. There were two pieces of peppermint candy and one piece of lemon drop candy and a Christmas tree ornament. The ornament was a clear ball with shiny red paper stars inside.

A little personal size advertisement card was also inside which told the times of the presentation of the "Christmas Carol" event they were inviting people to attend and that there was no admission charge. Another card attached to the sack had the name of the church.

I couldn't help having a smile on my face for the rest of the evening bcaue it brought back memories of caroling. Both going caroling and having carolers come by my house. Both had happened many years ago.

I posted a short note on Facebook and several people commented about nice memories that caroling had been for them. School children used to go caroling like this. We walked about our neighborhood. Everyone enjoyed the caroling. The people singing and the people listening.

It did give me a nice feeling of the spirit of the holidays and I wanted to share this with all of you.

06 December 2015

Sherlock Holmes meets O Henry, 1


by Leigh Lundin

Last month, we brought you a Sherlock Holmes parody by the author of Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie. A number of famous writers have penned takeoffs on Holmes. Today, we bring you a Holmesian tale from one of America’s best known authors.

O Henry
You might not recognize the name William Sydney Porter (spelled Sidney on his birth record) because he’s much more famous under his pen name, O Henry.

The author is known for his contemporary humor and twist endings. He wrote at least two Sherlock Holmes parodies featuring the characters Shamrock Jolnes and Dr. Whatsup. Not O Henry’s best works, the stories contain tepid joke endings. A number of jests and witticisms of the time can be found in this story, such as a comment on the price of gas for heating in New York City where O Henry’s characters reside.

We see here another example of British spellings still in use, much as we found in the works of Horatio Alger, Jr in post-Civil War America. Here the publish date is 1911, the eve of World War I, a year after O Henry's death.

After reading this, you’ll probably head to the bar for a stiff one, muttering, “Oh, man. O Henry gets this trash published and I can’t get an editor to look at my Sherlock in Love opus?”

You’ve been warned.

The Adventures of Shamrock Jolnes

by O Henry
(© 1911)


I am so fortunate as to count Shamrock Jolnes, the great New York detective, among my muster of friends. Jolnes is what is called the “inside man” of the city detective force. He is an expert in the use of the typewriter, and it is his duty, whenever there is a “murder mystery” to be solved, to sit at a desk telephone at headquarters and take down the messages of “cranks” who ’phone in their confessions to having committed the crime.

But on certain “off” days when confessions are coming in slowly and three or four newspapers have run to earth as many different guilty persons, Jolnes will knock about the town with me, exhibiting, to my great delight and instruction, his marvellous powers of observation and deduction.

The other day I dropped in at Headquarters and found the great detective gazing thoughtfully at a string that was tied tightly around his little finger.

“Good morning, Whatsup,” he said, without turning his head. “I’m glad to notice that you’ve had your house fitted up with electric lights at last.”

“Will you please tell me,” I said, in surprise, “how you knew that? I am sure that I never mentioned the fact to any one, and the wiring was a rush order not completed until this morning.”

“Nothing easier,” said Jolnes, genially. “As you came in I caught the odour of the cigar you are smoking. I know an expensive cigar; and I know that not more than three men in New York can afford to smoke cigars and pay gas bills too at the present time. That was an easy one. But I am working just now on a little problem of my own.”

“Why have you that string on your finger?” I asked.

“That’s the problem,” said Jolnes. “My wife tied that on this morning to remind me of something I was to send up to the house. Sit down, Whatsup, and excuse me for a few moments.”

The distinguished detective went to a wall telephone, and stood with the receiver to his ear for probably ten minutes.

“Were you listening to a confession?” I asked, when he had returned to his chair.

“Perhaps,” said Jolnes, with a smile, “it might be called something of the sort. To be frank with you, Whatsup, I’ve cut out the dope. I’ve been increasing the quantity for so long that morphine doesn’t have much effect on me any more. I’ve got to have something more powerful. That telephone I just went to is connected with a room in the Waldorf where there’s an author’s reading in progress. Now, to get at the solution of this string.”

After five minutes of silent pondering, Jolnes looked at me, with a smile, and nodded his head.

“Wonderful man!” I exclaimed; “already?”

“It is quite simple,” he said, holding up his finger. “You see that knot? That is to prevent my forgetting. It is, therefore, a forget-me-knot. A forget-me-not is a flower. It was a sack of flour that I was to send home!”

“Beautiful!” I could not help crying out in admiration.

“Suppose we go out for a ramble,” suggested Jolnes.

“There is only one case of importance on hand just now. Old man McCarty, one hundred and four years old, died from eating too many bananas. The evidence points so strongly to the Mafia that the police have surrounded the Second Avenue Katzenjammer Gambrinus Club No. 2, and the capture of the assassin is only the matter of a few hours. The detective force has not yet been called on for assistance.”

Jolnes and I went out and up the street toward the corner, where we were to catch a surface car.

Half-way up the block we met Rheingelder, an acquaintance of ours, who held a City Hall position.

“Good morning, Rheingelder,” said Jolnes, halting.

“Nice breakfast that was you had this morning.” Always on the lookout for the detective’s remarkable feats of deduction, I saw Jolnes’s eye flash for an instant upon a long yellow splash on the shirt bosom and a smaller one upon the chin of Rheingelder -- both undoubtedly made by the yolk of an egg.

“Oh, dot is some of your detectiveness,” said Rheingelder, shaking all over with a smile. “Vell, I pet you trinks und cigars all round dot you cannot tell vot I haf eaten for breakfast.”

“Done,” said Jolnes. “Sausage, pumpernickel and coffee.”

Rheingelder admitted the correctness of the surmise and paid the bet. When we had proceeded on our way I said to Jolnes:

“I thought you looked at the egg spilled on his chin and shirt front.”

“I did,” said Jolnes. “That is where I began my deduction. Rheingelder is a very economical, saving man. Yesterday eggs dropped in the market to twenty-eight cents per dozen. To-day they are quoted at forty-two. Rheingelder ate eggs yesterday, and to-day he went back to his usual fare. A little thing like this isn’t anything, Whatsup; it belongs to the primary arithmetic class.”

When we boarded the street car we found the seats all occupied -- principally by ladies. Jolnes and I stood on the rear platform.

About the middle of the car there sat an elderly man with a short, gray beard, who looked to be the typical, well-dressed New Yorker. At successive corners other ladies climbed aboard, and soon three or four of them were standing over the man, clinging to straps and glaring meaningly at the man who occupied the coveted seat. But he resolutely retained his place.

“We New Yorkers,” I remarked to Jolnes, “have about lost our manners, as far as the exercise of them in public goes.”

“Perhaps so,” said Jolnes, lightly; “but the man you evidently refer to happens to be a very chivalrous and courteous gentleman from Old Virginia. He is spending a few days in New York with his wife and two daughters, and he leaves for the South to-night.”

“You know him, then?” I said, in amazement.

“I never saw him before we stepped on the car,” declared the detective, smilingly.

“By the gold tooth of the Witch of Endor!” I cried, “if you can construe all that from his appearance you are dealing in nothing else than black art.”

“The habit of observation -- nothing more,” said Jolnes. “If the old gentleman gets off the car before we do, I think I can demonstrate to you the accuracy of my deduction.”

Three blocks farther along the gentleman rose to leave the car. Jolnes addressed him at the door: “Pardon me, sir, but are you not Colonel Hunter, of Norfolk, Virginia?”

“No, suh,” was the extremely courteous answer. “My name, suh, is Ellison -- Major Winfield R. Ellison, from Fairfax County, in the same state. I know a good many people, suh, in Norfolk -- the Goodriches, the Tollivers, and the Crabtrees, suh, but I never had the pleasure of meeting yo’ friend, Colonel Hunter. I am happy to say, suh, that I am going back to Virginia to-night, after having spent a week in yo’ city with my wife and three daughters. I shall be in Norfolk in about ten days, and if you will give me yo’ name, suh, I will take pleasure in looking up Colonel Hunter and telling him that you inquired after him, suh.”

“Thank you,” said Jolnes; “tell him that Reynolds sent his regards, if you will be so kind.”

I glanced at the great New York detective and saw that a look of intense chagrin had come upon his clear-cut features. Failure in the slightest point always galled Shamrock Jolnes.

“Did you say your _three_ daughters?” he asked of the Virginia gentleman.

“Yes, suh, my three daughters, all as fine girls as there are in Fairfax County,” was the answer.

With that Major Ellison stopped the car and began to descend the step.

Shamrock Jolnes clutched his arm.

“One moment, sir,” he begged, in an urbane voice in which I alone detected the anxiety -- “am I not right in believing that one of the young ladies is an _adopted_ daughter?”

“You are, suh,” admitted the major, from the ground, “but how the devil you knew it, suh, is mo’ than I can tell.”

“And mo’ than I can tell, too,” I said, as the car went on.

Jolnes was restored to his calm, observant serenity by having wrested victory from his apparent failure; so after we got off the car he invited me into a cafe, promising to reveal the process of his latest wonderful feat.

“In the first place,” he began after we were comfortably seated, “I knew the gentleman was no New Yorker because he was flushed and uneasy and restless on account of the ladies that were standing, although he did not rise and give them his seat. I decided from his appearance that he was a Southerner rather than a Westerner.

“Next I began to figure out his reason for not relinquishing his seat to a lady when he evidently felt strongly, but not overpoweringly, impelled to do so. I very quickly decided upon that. I noticed that one of his eyes had received a severe jab in one corner, which was red and inflamed, and that all over his face were tiny round marks about the size of the end of an uncut lead pencil. Also upon both of his patent leather shoes were a number of deep imprints shaped like ovals cut off square at one end.

“Now, there is only one district in New York City where a man is bound to receive scars and wounds and indentations of that sort -- and that is along the sidewalks of Twenty-third Street and a portion of Sixth Avenue south of there. I knew from the imprints of trampling French heels on his feet and the marks of countless jabs in the face from umbrellas and parasols carried by women in the shopping district that he had been in conflict with the amazonian troops. And as he was a man of intelligent appearance, I knew he would not have braved such dangers unless he had been dragged thither by his own women folk. Therefore, when he got on the car his anger at the treatment he had received was sufficient to make him keep his seat in spite of his traditions of Southern chivalry.”

“That is all very well,” I said, “but why did you insist upon daughters -- and especially two daughters? Why couldn’t a wife alone have taken him shopping?”

“There had to be daughters,” said Jolnes, calmly. “If he had only a wife, and she near his own age, he could have bluffed her into going alone. If he had a young wife she would prefer to go alone. So there you are.”

“I’ll admit that,” I said; “but, now, why two daughters? And how, in the name of all the prophets, did you guess that one was adopted when he told you he had three?”

“Don’t say guess,” said Jolnes, with a touch of pride in his air; “there is no such word in the lexicon of ratiocination. In Major Ellison’s buttonhole there was a carnation and a rosebud backed by a geranium leaf. No woman ever combined a carnation and a rosebud into a boutonniere. Close your eyes, Whatsup, and give the logic of your imagination a chance. Cannot you see the lovely Adele fastening the carnation to the lapel so that papa may be gay upon the street? And then the romping Edith May dancing up with sisterly jealousy to add her rosebud to the adornment?”

“And then,” I cried, beginning to feel enthusiasm, “when he declared that he had three daughters” --

“I could see,” said Jolnes, “one in the background who added no flower; and I knew that she must be --”

“Adopted!” I broke in. “I give you every credit; but how did you know he was leaving for the South to-night?”

“In his breast pocket,” said the great detective, “something large and oval made a protuberance. Good liquor is scarce on trains, and it is a long journey from New York to Fairfax County.”

“Again, I must bow to you,” I said. “And tell me this, so that my last shred of doubt will be cleared away; why did you decide that he was from Virginia?”

“It was very faint, I admit,” answered Shamrock Jolnes, “but no trained observer could have failed to detect the odour of mint in the car.”



Coming next week, another painful classic.

05 December 2015

Posted and Stranded



by John M. Floyd


Sounds like a soldier abandoned at his duty station, right? Actually, what it means is that this month I'm lucky enough to have short stories in The Saturday Evening Post and The Strand Magazine. And there are three reasons I'm writing on that subject today: the first is a "Look, Ma--see what I did!" thing (otherwise known as BSP, with emphasis on the BS); the second is laziness (nothing is easier than talking about your own creations, since you're the only one who knows how and why they were written); and the third is that I couldn't think of anything else to write about, this week.

Anyhow, those two stories, both of which are fiction, are different in several ways. For one thing, the first is short, around 2000 words (most of it takes place inside a plane parked on the tarmac of an airport), and the second is long, around 8000 words. Also, one is fairly easygoing and the other is violent. Besides all that, the first tries to make an observation about right vs. wrong, while the second is a twisty suspense story about murder, robbery, kidnapping, and a few other heinous deeds. In their own ways, I suppose both are mysteries in that they involve puzzles that the protagonist has to figure out--but only one of the two stories fits the generally accepted definition of mystery fiction, because only one involves crimes that are central to the plot.

The only thing truly common to both stories is a rather unintentional "secondary" theme: One of the best ways to deal with the stressful seas of Corporate America is to hold your nose, jump over the side, and swim for shore. Being somewhat familiar with that theme in real life, I felt qualified to use it as a plot element in these stories.

A tale of two ditties

"Business Class," which appears in the current (Nov./Dec.) print issue of The Saturday Evening Post, is both a Christmas story and a fictional account of ethics and (the lack of) common sense in the modern-day business world. The antagonist, like Mrs. Robinson or Apollo Creed or Smokey chasing the Bandit, isn't really an evil villain--he's just an antagonist. He's there to prevent the protagonist from accomplishing what he needs to do. And the only mystery in the story is the "clue" that the hero discovers that allows him to complete his journey.

This story, published on November 1 (at least that's when I received my contributor's copy in the mail) was also made available online at the SEP's website yesterday, December 4. If anyone's interested, here's a link. FYI, The Saturday Evening Post publishes one piece of fiction in each print issue (six stories a year).

My other story, "Arrowhead Lake," is featured in the current (Oct.-Jan.) issue of The Strand Magazine, and with this one I'm on more comfortable ground: it's a crime story with a lot of action, and it's probably more of a thriller than a mystery because it involves ordinary people thrust into a fight-or-flight, life-or-death situation. In this story, which is actually quite a bit longer than a ditty, a successful businesswoman and her underachieving younger brother face off against a couple of ruthless home-invaders with hidden agendas, who do little to hide the fact that the victims probably won't survive to see the end of the tale. What finally happens comes as something of a surprise to both the bad guys and the good guys--and, if I'm lucky, a surprise to the reader as well.

A most pleasant surprise to me was that this issue of The Strand also contains a never-before-published short story by a fellow (and slightly more famous) Mississippian named William Faulkner. In fact, Strand editor Andrew Gulli has managed to unearth and publish quite a few of these long-lost manuscripts lately, by authors like Tennessee Williams, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, etc. The first I heard about this one was an interview with Andrew on NPR that aired the other day, in which he talked about the new issue. I picked the magazine up at our local Books-A-Million this past week and just finished reading the Faulkner story--I think you'll like it. And I hope you'll like mine also.

The Strand usually publishes four or five pieces of fiction in each issue, and this one includes interviews with Dean Koontz and A. E. Hotchner.

Bonus material

I was also pleased, during a trip to Kroger the other day, to discover one of my stories in Woman's World. (The contract always names the issue in which they expect the story to appear, but that sometimes doesn't hold true, so I usually find out for sure by hearing about it from one of my e-friends who has a subscription or from spotting it myself on the newsstand when I go to the store for necessities like Oreos or potato chips.) This story, my eighth in WW this year, is called "Strangers on the Block," in the December 7 issue, which went on sale on November 26. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this market, WW publishes one mystery and one romance in each issue. You can probably guess which genre I prefer.

A quick note about Woman's World mini-mysteries. They really are minuscule (700 words max), and since the "solve-it-yourself" format was introduced in 2004 they are always interactive, featuring a puzzle and an upside-down "solution box" that allows the reader to try to supply the answer. In my story this time, the amateur sleuth figures out which of the three suspects is the guilty party, and the reader's challenge is not whodunit but howdidsheknowwhodunit?

Several of my present and former co-conspirators at SleuthSayers--B. K. Stevens, R. T. Lawton, and Deborah Elliott-Upton, among others--have sold to WW, and they'll vouch for the fact that writing those little mysteries is a lot of fun.

Counting my blessings

As I have mentioned before at this blog, 2015 has been kind to me, writingwise. I'm sure the Law of Averages will soon catch up to me, but meanwhile I'm having a great time. One of the best things to happen to me this year, on the literary front, was having three of my writing buddies--B. K. (Bonnie) Stevens, Barb Goffman, and Art Taylor--join our infamous group here at SleuthSayers, and the other was getting the chance to finally meet Bonnie and Art face-to-face, along with fellow SSers R. T. Lawton, David Dean, and Rob Lopresti. And to see and visit once again with longtime friends Barb, Dale Andrews, and Liz Zelvin.

Here's to a good year for all of us, in 2016.






04 December 2015

The Dutchman Who Won't Die


by Dixon Hill

Those confused to find my two posts about the Legend of the Lost Dutchman, and the Superstition Mountains, on the SleuthSayers blog, may be glad to learn the reason.

As many of you know: this year, I am posting a series of articles about Arizona Crime Scenes. Though it may seem odd to list a mountain range or wilderness area as a crime scene, the fact is: the Superstition Mountains, and the Superstition Wilderness Area have been the unfortunate host for many crimes, including murder. And, the legend of the Lost Dutchman's mine was a major catalyst for many of them.

Even though you can see a picture of that "Lost Dutchman" tomb stone on the right – there may have been no Lost Dutchman at all! At least, not in the Superstitions.

In fact, according to some research, there are as many as 51 versions of the Lost Dutchman legend, many of them having nothing to do with the Superstitions, and some taking place in states other than Arizona.

So, why is this legend so prominent, here in The Valley, that folks die over it?

Lost Dutchman Mine Ride at Legend City Amusement Park
Park was located at border of Tempe and Phoenix in the 1970's.
The Lost Dutchman Mine Ride was the "haunted house" attraction.

'What is so "haunted" about a mine?' you may ask.

Other than the part of the ride where an outhouse door flew open to a startled miner's recorded cry of, "Gee, Miss Mary, ain't there NOWHERE a man cain get a little privacy 'round here?" – which is pretty scary when you think about it – the answer is: A mine can seem pretty spooky if its location is mysteriously unknown and the reason for this is interconnected with murder, mayhem, Apache curses, the ghosts of dead Conquistadors, ghosts of dead Spanish miners, and/or dead Apaches, as well as Apache spirit guardians (evidently not quite the same as the ghosts of dead Apaches) – all of whom are pledged to slay any living soul who sets foot inside the mine shaft.

But, Where Did All These Ghosts Come From?

Long before anyone, from some land that might lead others to say he was 'Dutch,' ever came to Arizona's Great Salt River Valley and perhaps got lost, the Spanish Conquistadors encountered a group of the Apache tribe living not far from the Superstition Mountains, which they (the Apaches) considered sacred.

The Spanish, after evidently deciding there was gold in the mountains, directed the Apaches to help them find it. (Don't ask me how they decided there was gold in the mountains, if they hadn't already found it. It's a Conquistador thing: you wouldn't understand.) The Apaches refused, supposedly saying the mountain was "The Devil's Playground" (whatever that was supposed to mean – I mean, who translated it from Apache into Spanish, and from Spanish into English? I have no idea!), and that this mountain was the home of their "Thunder God," causing the Apaches to warn the Spanish that they would be cursed if they set foot on the land.

So, see: In the beginning, came "The Curse" element. As many a reader will happily realize, we can lay this one firmly at the feet of those nasty Conquistadors – mascot of my children's high school (the Coronado High "Dons"). This Curse Element, imho, lends a sense of magic to the story.

And magic is important, when it comes to fueling dreams.

The Peraltas (or Paraltas, if you wish)

Another part of the reason this legend rests in the Superstitions may be due to the Peralta family – members of which supposedly claimed to have mined both silver and gold in the Superstition Mountain area during the mid-1800's – though they didn't find it easy.

After all, the Apaches still considered the place sacred. And, they weren't exactly willing to look the other way or turn the other cheek when they felt their beliefs were being violated. (Can't say I blame 'em!)

Another shot from Legend City. This is how I always imagined the mine.
Except without wood floor, or a bar. Maybe not even a piano.
At one point, the Peraltas supposedly had to hide their mine and run for their lives, because the Apaches had tumbled to their presence and were not happy about it. This work of hiding the mine didn't help the Peralta miners very much, however. The Apaches caught up with their heavily laden wagon train (gold and silver not being terribly light-weight) and killed most of them, scattering (or, according to some: caching) the gold and silver they had collected on this trip.

Finally, around 1864, after a 16-year hiatus, on the north-west slope of the Superstitions, in an area now known as "Massacre Ground," the last Peralta to lead an expedition here was killed on his way back into the mine area, along with about 400 of his party, by rather angry Apaches, who evidently objected to outsiders again trampling over ground they considered sacred.

So, here we have: (A) the introduction of a hidden gold mine, (B) an expansion of the Curse, and (C) the addition of mass death.

Please note: The above description of the Peralta family's activities is the one shared by a large portion of the Lost Dutchman legends. And, the Peraltas evidently did mine gold from within what is now Arizona. (Though there is a train of belief that says they mined their gold in California – just so you know.)

I should note here, however, that the Peralta family may have told folks they were digging in the Superstition Mountains just to throw people off the scent of where their real mine(s) were located. There is a strong belief that the Peraltas actually mined their ore from an area near, or around, the later-established Mammoth Mine or Black King mine, located roughly 4 miles north-east of where Apache Junction now sits. (This location is not literally within "shooting distance" of the Superstitions, but the mountains certainly do dominate the landscape here.) These mines pulled a lot of gold out of the ground during the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, which might support this theory.

This same belief holds that the Peralta Massacre took place there – not in the relatively near-by Superstition Mountains – while the miners were packing their ore for shipment back to Mexico.

And the Peraltas certainly continue to be deeply involved in many versions of the legend. The photo
on the right shows stones, supposedly discovered in the Superstition Mountains, which provide a map to the Lost Dutchman Mine (though, so far, nobody has successfully found the mine by using said map). These rocks are commonly known as the Peralta Stones, or the Peralta Rocks, or the Peralta Stone Map. Last week, as some of you may recall, I wrote that the Lost Dutchman supposedly created the marks on these stones.

And, in fact, many versions of the tale claim he did. In some, he was a friend of the Peraltas, and thus spoke Spanish (which explains why there is Spanish writing carved into the stones). In others, he carved the stones while working for the Peraltas, which is why he later knew the mine's location. In other versions – he just carved the darn things!

Be advised, however: There is NOT ANY EVIDENCE that the Peraltas ever dug in the Superstitions. Nor is there a single iota of evidence that ANY massacre of Peralta miners ever took place. Anywhere.

But, something else also occurred.

In the 1860's (remember, this is around the time that the Peraltas may have tried to reclaim their mines), people began spreading the rumor that two prospectors had found three dead pack mules somewhere in the desert around the Superstition area. The two supposedly claimed to have liberated $37,000 worth of "Spanish Gold" from the dead mules' saddle packs, which had still been intact. Popular opinion held that these mules must have been pack animals of the Peralta miner group killed when fleeing the mine in the mid-1800's.

After that, prospectors began combing the area for more spoils. They also started exploring the Superstitions, hoping to find the Peralta's mines. Hence: We now add prospectors to the mix, and the sense of magical mystery that has already begun.
From the lobby of Westward Ho hotel.
The peak in background is Weaver's Needle.


Enter the "Dutchman"!

Just who this Dutchman was, depends on who you ask.

One story holds that his name was Jacob Waltz, that he knew the Peraltas and had been told where their mine was. That's his tombstone, in that picture up higher, incidentally.

In another version, this same Jacob Waltz learned of the Peralta mine location from his young wife, an Apache woman he met while working at the Vulture Mine in Wickenburg.

In other versions, he's not Waltz at all, but a mysterious someone else.

What everybody DOES agree on is this:

  1. There may have been a man, who was a prospector, who was somehow involved in all this.
  2. That guy may have come from some place in Europe that caused the local yokels to call him a "Dutchman."
  3. This guy, who might actually have lived, and whom everybody supposedly called a Dutchman, died.
HOW he died (assuming he ever lived) remains in contention.

The folks who say Waltz was the Lost Dutchman, claim he brought several loads of high-grade gold ore out of the Peralta mine in the Superstitions over a period of several years. Before he could reveal his mine location, however, he was (A) killed, or (B) died of natural causes, at home, in bed (B-1) without revealing his mine's location, or (B-2) after whispering the location to someone who died without sharing this knowledge, or (B-3) he died after whispering cryptic clues about this mine's location to the woman nursing him on his death bed, who later was unable to locate the mine, or (B-4) he wandered off in a fever and told somebody else, who later told it to somebody else
just before dying, but that other person didn't quite understand what the dying man had told him. (And, while we're at it, don't forget those Peralta stones he may have been involved in, too.)

Another version of the story, is that a green-horn from Europe, whom local yokels called a "Dutchman" because they had a hard time understanding his poor English and thus lumped him in with those who were rather Germanic, stumbled into an assay office in Phoenix several months after anyone had last seen him around town. This "Dutchman" turned in a load of ore for assay, and was overjoyed to discover it was incredibly "pure." This "prospector" then lives it up all over town, getting folks fired-up to discover where he found his gold. But, he refuses to say, departing in the dead of night, to avoid being followed back to his mine – never to be seen again.

The real Weaver's Needle, plays significant role in the legend.
According to which legend you prefer, he disappeared because he was killed by (A) someone in town who followed him out to the desert, tortured him for the mine's location, and then cut his throat before realizing the "Dutchman" had left out important clues, or (B) by Apaches who were getting really tired of all these white guys digging holes in their sacred mountain, or (C) the ghosts of dead Apache braves who had been killed in the mine so their spirits could protect it from being plundered by others, or (D) by the ghosts of Conquistadors who were entombed with the gold they had abused the Apaches to find and now must guard for the Apache horde in the afterlife, in order to atone for their bad behavior, or (E) the ghosts of Peralta miners who are there for reasons similar to those in choice D, or (F) by Apache 'Spirit Guardians' who protect the mine from interlopers, or (G) by the desert itself, since he was a greenhorn – he might have just died of thirst and evaporated into a desiccated husk-like mummy.

Pure Gold

The "incredibly pure gold" part of the story might be important to note here. This is why some people – many of whom claim the Dutchman was Waltz – say he had discovered, not a vein of gold ore in the ground, but rather the site where the massacred Peralta miner's gold had been hidden (either by the miners, or the Apaches, depending on who's telling the story). The theory here is that the gold was "too pure" to have been simply mined from the earth, but must have already been processed somehow – hence the introduction of the Peralta miners, who must surely have had smelting equipment or something on hand, so the story goes.

At this point, I'm sure the reader has already noticed the easy way in which that rumor of two prospectors discovering dead mules with gold-laden saddle packs sort of fits right in, or perhaps morphs and entwines itself within the "Dutchman's" legend. Which illustrates another factor that I believe keeps this legend so alive: The Dutchman does not stand alone.

Instead, "his" story is combined and en-wrapped by many others, wrapping itself about these stories in return, serving to create a rather thick "cable of legend" created by myriad strands of other legends all twisting together to form a plot-line capable of bearing great weight over a long period of time.

This also helps account for why there are so many versions of the Legend of the Lost Dutchman: Person A is introduced to the legend through one strand, which the teller follows throughout the tale's recounting, while person B is introduced via another legendary strand, which puts a different slant on the main legend, and person C is introduced through a third strand, etc.

In fact, some versions of the story insist on specifying that the Dutchman discovered a vast sum of "Spanish gold." Among these versions, some fail to identify where this "Spanish gold" came from, while others claim it was Peralta gold, and still others claim it was gold mined by Apaches used as slaves by Conquistador overseers.

Enter the Fourth Estate

The best explanation I think I've read, concerning the origins of the Lost Dutchman's Mine legend, can be found HERE at the Apache Junction Public Library's website.

Evidently, Julia Thomas, a woman who claimed to have been at Waltz's bedside as he lay dying (with many valuable gold nuggets in a box beneath his bed) supposedly searched the Superstitions after his death, following the directions he had given her. She was unable to find the mine shaft, but did evidently mine some meager profits by selling the story to Peirpont C. Bicknell, who wrote an article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1895. And, once the newspapers got hold of the story, it was "Drop the soap and Katy bar the door!"

Whatever the truth behind the "Lost Dutchman" and his "mine" there can be no denying the fact that its influence on some folks' imagination is responsible for many deaths, violent or otherwise. And most of those deaths occurred within the Superstition Mountain Wilderness Area.

The legend was also responsible for bringing a lot of money into The Valley, whether spent by tourists or contemporary treasure hunters. Many tourists enjoy a picnic at Lost Dutchman State Park, while others climb from the trail heads there to explore the inner wilderness area behind the jagged peaks in the foreground.

The Mountains themselves do not stand mute, in my opinion. Walk the trails through them, and I'm sure you'll discover what I mean.

Just watch out for the tourist traps that the Dutchman's legend helps spring up around the area. If you want to take the kiddies on an extremely safe ride into a "mine," see a "shootout," or maybe get a good steak, you might check out Goldfield Ghost Town.

Just be aware: The real Goldfield burned down in the 1940's. When I was a kid, the area looked like the photo on the right. Now, it looks like the one below.





















If you want to see something that really is, basically, a ghost town, however, the Superstition Wilderness holds some of the nicest American Indian Ruins I've ever encountered. Not only are they TRULY old and authentic, but you actually have the opportunity, in some of these ruins, to reach out a hand and lay your fingertips on the very spot on a wall, floor, or roof, where ancient peoples may once have touched their fingers to it.

This is a very powerful feeling, and may ... in the final calculation ... account for the real reason that the Lost Dutchman's story has such a strong hold more than a century later. Touching that ancient place touches a person's heart in return. There can be no denying the deep-seated call of the ancient past – which may well be the same call sounded by that Lost Dutchman.

See you in two weeks!
–Dixon

03 December 2015

The Drug Smuggling Missionary of the Pearl River


by Eve Fisher
Karl Friedrich August Gutzlaff.png
A young Karl Gutzlaff

I talked a while back about the opium trade in China, run by Western "trading companies" like Jardine-Matheson and Russell & Company, who smuggled and sold opium (then illegal) all up and down the coast and rivers of 19th century China.  And how that led to two Opium Wars, which eventually forced the Chinese (who lost) to make opium legal.  And Christianity.  Both legalizations merged in the person of the one and only Karl Gutzlaff (1803-1851), missionary, journalist, translator...

What do you do with a person like Karl?  He started out as a missionary when he was 23, sent to Java by the Netherlands Missionary Society in 1826.  (Karl was German, born in Pomerania.)  He left them after 2 years, and spent the rest of his life in the mission field as an independent operator, earning his living in a variety of ways, some of which were highly unorthodox.  Please remember this:  Karl Gutzlaff was never "officially" affiliated with any organized church ever again. 

He moved around a lot:  from Macau, to Singapore, and eventually Hong Kong. He was a superb linguist, speaking/writing Chinese, Thai, Cambodian, Lao, and perhaps Japanese.  He translated the Bible into all of these languages and wrote dictionaries for at least three of them.  He also - and this is VERY key - married a very wealthy English missionary, Maria Newell, who died in childbirth within a year, leaving him all her money.  In 1834, he remarried, to missionary Mary Wanstall, who at that time ran a school and home from the blind in Macau.  (She died in 1849, and Karl remarried, one last time, in 1850 to an English woman in England.)

Karl, in native dress
1834 was when Karl's "Journal of Three Voyages Along the Coast of China in 1831, 1832, and 1833" was published.  It became hugely popular, partly because it described more of China's interior than any previous book written by a European.  It also described his missionary work, distributing tracts and pamphlets and talking to the people.  Karl did not mention the fact that the 1832 voyage was on an East India Company ship, and the 1833 voyage was on the Jardine Matheson opium smuggling/trading ship "Sylph."  He worked for both as a translator, and while he said he was opposed to the use of opium, he also said that he saw this (distributing Bibles as the opium was being traded) as a great opportunity to spread the gospel.  (G. B. Endacott, A Biographical Sketchbook of Early Hong Kong, p. 106)

In 1840 his Chinese translation of the Bible was published.  It would be the text adopted by the leader of the Taping Rebellion, God's Chinese Son Hong Xiuquan (and I hope to write about that wildly improbable man some day).  It was also the year that the First Opium War began, and Gutzlaff translated for the British throughout, assisted at the negotiations for the peace treaty, and got an official government position afterwards for his trouble.  NOTE:  He did not work for free.

In 1844, he set up his own training school for native missionaries and an organization - the Chinese Union - to send them out.  It succeeded well enough that Gutzlaff went on a hugely popular European fund-raising tour from 1849-1850.  Back in China, though, things were nowhere near as rosy as Gutzlaff proclaimed:  Most of his native Chinese "missionaries" were criminals and/or opium addicts who faked their conversion figures, taking the Chinese Bibles that Gutzlaff had given them to distribute and selling them back to Gutzlaff's own printer, who then resold them to him.  (Jessie Gregory Lutz, Opening China:  Karl F. A. Gutzlaff and Sino-Western Relations, 1827-1852, p. 276) A huge scandal erupted, forcing him to return to Hong Kong in 1851.  It was still going on when he died in 1851.

Despite the scandal, Gutzlaff's legacy was wide-spread and varying.  His idea of native missionaries and foreign missionaries speaking the native language, wearing native dress, living as the natives did, caught on, and was continued through the founding of the China Inland Mission under Henry Hudson Taylor.  This (now the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, a/k/a OMF International) became the primary missionary organization in China.

HSParkes.jpg
Harry Parkes, Consul
He and his wife ran a boarding school in Hong Kong, where all the up-and-coming future European leaders of Asia were boarded.  Among them was Mrs. Gutzlaff's nephew, Harry Smith Parkes.  Harry stayed with them from age 13 to adulthood, learning fluent Chinese, and accompanying his uncle on many of his travels, including the signing of the peace treaty for the First Opium War.  Over time, Parkes became acting Consul in Canton, and in 1856, he began the Second Opium War in true British Imperial style:  there was a Chinese ship called the "Arrow", owned by a Chinese, manned by Chinese sailors, under a British flag.  Well, the Chinese sailors were drunk and unruly, the Chinese authorities arrested them and (rumor has it) took down the British flag.  Mr. Parkes saw this as an insult to Britain, stormed into the jail, yelling, swearing, and beating on the jailers with his walking stick.  One struck back, and voila!  Parkes declared war on China.  The British won, and the opium trade and Christianity were both finally, fully legalized in China.

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume."
And then there was Gutzlaff's writing, which influenced both Dr. Livingstone and Karl Marx.  (It's not often that you get to write those two names in the same sentence...)  David Livingstone read Gutzlaff's "Appeal to the Churches of Britain and American on Behalf of China" and decided to become a medical missionary.  Unfortunately, it was 1840, and the outbreak of the First Opium War made China too dangerous for foreigners.  So the London Missionary Society send him to Africa, where (in 1871) Henry Morton Stanley would find him working hard in Ujiji, Tanzania.  "Dr. Livingstone, I presume."

Karl Marx 001.jpg

Remember the European fund-raising tour that Gutzlaff went on to raise money for the Chinese Union?  Karl Marx went to hear him speak in London (David Riazonov, "Karl Marx on China", 1926).  He also read Gutzlaff's many writings, which became sources for Karl Marx' articles on China for the London Times and the New York Daily Tribune in the 1840's and 1850's, all of which are anti-imperialist and anti-religion.

(Alas, I have searched for, as yet in vain, for a direct written-in-Karl-Marx'-hand connection between Gutzlaff and Marx's well-known statement, "religion... is the opium of the people."  All I can say is, it was written in 1843, nine years after Gutzlaff's "Journal of Three Voyages..." was published.  Who knows?)



HK Central Gutzlaff Street sign near Wellington Street.JPG
"HK Central Gutzlaff Street sign near Wellington Street" by Wenlensands - Own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: HK_Central_Gutzlaff_Street_sign_near_Wellington_Street.JPG#/media/File

A very influential man.  And also, in many ways, a mystery:  a profoundly earnest missionary, who would use any means that came to hand, including the opium trade.  A man of great pride and presumption, who was convinced that the Chinese were inferior to Europeans, and yet was the first to train (or at least try to train) native missionaries.  A great linguist, who made sure he got paid very, very well for his translating work.  As you can see above, there's a street in Hong Kong named for him.  There's his writings.  And there's the image of him, in his twenties, handing out Bibles from the back of the opium ship as the traders are handing out opium from the front...  Karl, Karl, Karl...



02 December 2015

Caching in on Uncle Victor


by Robert Lopresti

This is a somewhat convoluted tale about an old form of entertainment meeting up with a much newer one.

Back in the 1990s there was a publication called Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine. I used to write a column called FYI in every issue which allowed me to say anything I wanted as long as it was related to mystery fiction. Call it rehearsal for the blogging I have been doing for so many Wednesdays.

I also created my first series character there. Uncle Victor was inspired by Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Robert Graves' I, Claudius, and Jack Ritchie's Henry Turnbuckle stories.

You see, Victor was an elderly and eccentric member of an organized crime family. Like Claudius, he survived in his murderous clan because no one took him seriously enough to kill him. His brother, the actual crime boss, told his son on his death bed, "Take care of Victor. God knows he needs it."

Benny, the son and new boss, is not a nice man, and he doesn't like his uncle. But he wants to make a lot of changes in the business and so, to please the traditionalists, he has to honor his father's dying words. When Uncle Victor decides to become a private eye Benny pulls strings to get him a license. Alas, Victor's main qualification, like that of Henry Turnbuckle, Jack Ritchie's police detective, is totally unjustified self-confidence.

I wrote a bunch of stories about this gentleman and then Murderous Intent went out of business and I moved on to other subjects. But naturally I included the stories in my online bibliography.

And that's where things remained earlier this year when I heard from some geocachers. Do you know about geocaching? I first learned about it from Maphead, Ken Jennings wonderful book about people who obsess about geography.

Here is a definition, from geocaching.com:

Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.


The geocachers who contacted me were Kathleen and Bob Loose (and like the fictional Henry Turnbuckle, they are residents of Milwaukee). Their nom de cache is Team~DNF (DNF stands for Did Not Find, a signal that either the hider or the finder went wrong).

And now I will let Kathleen Loose explain why they wrote to me, and what happened next. With her permission I have done a little editing.

Geocachers hunting for Uncle Victor
A team of geogcachers searching for Uncle Victor
Where do the ideas for a geocache come from? They can come from anywhere. Often a geocacher may find a geocache that is different and it inspires them to use a similar technique. That was the case for Team~DNF with Cache GC5XM0N. We had discovered the possible use of ultraviolet paint as part of a cache we attempted in Arizona. Upon returning home, we determined that there weren't any UV caches hidden in our area. We decided to change that and began to brainstorm ideas for possible caches incorporating UV paint/light.

We settled on making our next hide a two stage cache with the UV light needed to get the coordinates for the second (final) stage where the log would be hidden. We tested materials to use for the first stage. Our plan was taking shape. Besides the physical items for the first stage and the cache container for the final, the cache page was needed. Most geocachers try to make the cache pages for their hides interesting, intriguing and inviting to encourage fellow geocachers to go out and find them. We brainstormed ideas for working "UV" into the cache title and cache page ... besides listing the geocache attribute "UV light required". We tossed around word combinations using "U" and "V" starting with the military "Uniform" "Victor" which quickly morphed into "Uncle Victor". We then searched the web and found that "Uncle Victor" was the featured detective in a series of stories by Robert Lopresti.

Finding the first stage
Being a detective is what geocaching is all about. "Uncle Victor's First Case" sure sounded like a good cache title for this first UV hide. Mrs. DNF, figuring nothing ventured, nothing gained, decided to contact the author to see if there might be a way to weave the story in to the cache page. After receiving and reading the story, it seemed clear to Team~DNF that there was a good fit. They enjoyed working with Rob to get the cache page ready for publication. We hope that geocachers who find the first page of the story in our cache will finish the story by visiting Rob's website.

There were a few set backs in placing the cache. The initial location attempts ended up being unsuitable due to several mystery (puzzle) caches hidden closer than the minimum 528' distance between cache hides. A new location was found that met the hide requirements and the cache was published on August 1, 2015. The FTF (first to find) was claimed on August 2.

The successful hunters: Silyngufy, Mewwi101,
Ranger Boy and Ranger Rob, and Mrs DNF
While many in the geocaching community looked at the cache page, no one else was attempting a find. This may have been due in part to an intense competition going on involving many of the very active Milwaukee area geocachers during the time the cache was released. This competition ended in mid-October. After confirming the competition was over, Mrs. DNF decided to put in a plug on the local geocaching community's facebook page on October 18th. In the following days there was positive discussion and one geocacher decided to organize a hunt for Friday Oct 23 at 9:00 AM. Mrs. DNF was also available during that time, so she tagged along with the group of four as they hunted the geocache. Everyone had a good time and two of the four even gave the cache a favorite point.

As for Team~DNF, they are working on more ideas for geocache hides involving UV light and increasing their geocache find count.

01 December 2015

Happy Murder. Happy Murder?


by Paul D. Marks

Many of those who read this blog are mystery writers of one subgenre or another. Most of the rest are mystery readers or people interested in crime. There are lots of theories as to why people read mysteries. One of the most popular is to see justice win in the end, which it often doesn’t in real life. Of course, this doesn’t apply to noir where almost everyone meets an unhappy end, but then there are exceptions to every rule.

I often wonder if there really is more crime today or if, because of the ubiquitous media, we just know about it. In the olden days if you lived in Los Angeles and a crime occurred in Atlanta it’s unlikely you heard about it unless it was the most sensational crime imaginable. But today with the 24 hour news cycle and competing media outlets looking to fill all that time we hear about every little pin prick. And the local news, at least here in LA, often leads with every drive-by, road rage incident and other crime they can find. After all if it bleeds, it leads.

But what’s a person to do in the middle of the day or the middle of the night when you’ve got that jones on for murder? Well, we here probably hope you’ll read one of our books (see end of this post). But what if you want the real thing? Well, let’s say the real thing once removed. You turn on the tube and look for the Murder Channel, I mean Discovery ID. Murder, Mayhem and Madness 24/7. Who could ask for more in 21st Century America?

A few years ago when my wife and I were watching TV and a commercial came on we’d flip to the Home and Garden Channel in the interim. (Yeah, I know.) Then we started flipping to various “murder shows” on the commercials. They hook you. You’d watch three minutes and you were in for the duration. They grab you the way a good novel does and, I hate to say it, maybe more so because they’re real. Real lives at stake in every episode and a new cliffhanging episode beginning at the top of the hour to give you your fix and keep you hooked.

I sometimes tell myself I watch these shows to get ideas, not only for overall plots, but for specifics of how to carry out crimes and “get away with them” in my stories. I lie. I watch because they hook me, like heroin does an addict. And like an addict I want more. I want to see what happens next, to try to figure out who really done it. Is it really the husband? He seems like the most likely suspect. Or is that too obvious? The red herring?

And I get annoyed when one show does the same story as another. I want fresh blood.
These shows are not just good for story ideas, but also as a fascinating look at society and human nature. It amazes me how little people will murder over, whether over a small financial amount or a perceived insult. It’s hard to understand how someone can do these things to another human being—even if the marriage is on the rocks or the person cheated you in business or fired you from your job—is it really worth it to do that? And how can you go to that extreme measure and be that cold blooded? Yeah, it’s worth ruining my life and going to jail for twenty years because I want to buy a new boat or car or XBox and need that life insurance money. Or I don’t want my boss to find out I embezzled money. And how many people choose murder as the way out of a bad, or even not so bad, marriage, because they want money, freedom or are having an affair or whatever? Haven’t they heard of divorce? Yeah, there’s alimony and all that, but it’s better than sharing a 6’ X 8’ cell with Bubba.

I have to admit watching these shows makes me a little insecure sometimes. So I turn to my wife and
say, “Just divorce me, don’t kill me.” If she asks to up my life insurance or gives me a sweet green drink that she says is Kool Aid, but there’s an empty anti-freeze container in the trash, I know I’m in trouble.

And, of course, almost always, the person murdered is the most wonderful, sweetest, kindest and most beautiful person in the world, male or female. It’s pretty rare that someone will come out and say that John Doe was a bastard and deserved to die. But I have to admit I do wonder sometimes if the families of the deceased are upset when the actors portraying their loved ones are not as attractive as the real people...

There are shows for every taste and every location, from Evil Kin and Momsters: When Moms Go
Bad (w/ a smiling Roseanne Barr...) to Swamp Murders and neighbors from hell on The Nightmare Next Door, which sounds like a bad horror movie title, but these are real horrors. There is one show that I don’t like as much as some of the others, Disappeared. And the reason is because there is often no resolution. People disappear, never to be heard from again and it leaves one, at least this one, with an unsatisfying feeling. Another show that I don’t watch much, if I remember the name, is Twisted. It’s just too twisted.

Obviously I’m not the only person that likes these shows as evidenced by the multitude of them popping up all the time (see list below). People are fascinated by murder. And maybe this is part of why murder mysteries and crime novels are so popular. We want to understand—even as we are repelled by the idea. And if I’ve offended anyone with my attempts at black humor in this piece I’m sorry. Gallows humor is the only way I know to handle these things.

Some Discovery ID Titles – Let the titles do the talking:
50 Ways To Leave Your Lover
Alaska: Ice Cold Killers'"
American Occult
A Crime to Remember
A Stranger In My Home
Bad Teachers
Beauty Queen Murders
Behind Mansion Walls (currently airing under reruns)
Bloodlands
Blood, Lies, and Alibis
Blood Relatives
Breaking Point
Catch My Killer
Cause of Death
Cold Blood
Cry Wolfe
Cuff Me If You Can
Dangerous Persuasions
Dateline on ID
Dates From Hell
Dark Minds
Deadline: Crime With Tamron Hall
Dead of Night
Deadly Affairs
Deadly Devotion
Deadly Sins
Deadly Women
Death By Gossip with Wendy Williams
Did He Do It?
Do Not Disturb: Hotel Horrors
Evil-in-Law
Evil Twins
Evil, I
Evil Kin
Facing Evil with Candice DeLong
Fatal Encounters
Fatal Vows
FBI: Criminal Pursuit
Fear Thy Neighbor
Frenemies: Loyalty Turned Lethal
Happily Never After
Handsome Devils
Hate In America
Heartbreakers
Hell House
Homicide Hunter
House of Horrors: Kidnapped
How (Not) To Kill Your Husband
I (Almost) Got Away With It
I'd Kill for You
In the Line of Fire
Indecent Proposal
Injustice Files
Inspire a Difference
Karma's a B*tch!
Killer Instinct with Chris Hansen
Last Seen Alive
Let's Kill Mom
Momsters: When Moms Go Bad
Most Evil
Most Infamous
Most Likely To...
Motives & Murders
Murder Book
Murder Comes to Town
Murder in Paradise
My Dirty Little Secret
My Strange Criminal Addiction
Nightmare Next Door
Nowhere to Hide
Obsession: Dark Desires
On the Case with Paula Zahn
On Death Row
Over My Dead Body
Poisoned Passions
Pretty Dangerous
Pretty Bad Girls
Redrum
Scorned: Love Kills
Secret Lives of Stepford Wives
See No Evil
Serial Thriller: Angel of Decay
Serial Thriller: The Chameleon
Sex Sent Me to the Slammer
Sins and Secrets
Southern Fried Homicide
Stalked: Someone's Watching
Stolen Voices, Buried Secrets
Surviving Evil
Suspicion
Swamp Murders
Tabloid
The Devil You Know
The Killing Hour
The Mind of a Murderer
The Perfect Murder
The Worst Thing I Ever Did
True Crime with Aphrodite Jones
True Nightmares
Twisted
Twisted Tales of 9 to 5
Unraveled
Untouchable: Power Corrupts
Unusual Suspects
Vanity Fair Confidential
Very Bad Men
Web of Lies
Wives with Knives
Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?
Who the (Bleep)...
The Will
Wicked Attraction
Women in Prison
Young, Hot & Crooked
Your Worst Nightmare
But never fear, if you’ve already seen everything on Discovery ID there’s several other channels that play murder shows off and on all day long, but of course only Discovery ID will serve your 24 hour jones.

*** *** ***

And now for the usual BSP stuff:

Down and Out Books is putting a whole bunch of great books on sale for 99¢ for the next two weeks, including Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea, with mystery stories from such luminaries as 4 Time Edgar Winner and Co-Creator of “Columbo,” William Link • Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Bill Pronzini • Scribner Crime Novel Winner William G. Tapply • Shamus Winner Paul D. Marks • EQMM Readers Award Winner Bob Levinson • Al Blanchard Award Winner James Shannon • Derringer Award Winner Stephen D. Rogers • Sherlock Holmes Bowl Winner Andrew McAleer and other poisoned-pen professionals like Judy Travis Copek • Sheila Lowe • Gayle Bartos-Pool • Thomas Donahue


And my new noir-thriller Vortex is also on sale in e-form for 99¢.

“…a nonstop staccato action noir… Vortex lives up to its name, quickly creating a maelstrom of action and purpose to draw readers into a whirlpool of intrigue and mystery… but be forewarned: once picked up, it's nearly impossible to put down before the end.” 

—D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

 
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