09 June 2016

It's a Hard Road Home

by Eve Fisher

In case you're wondering, my husband and I went on vacation - a Mediterranean cruise, from Venice to Barcelona.  It was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful...

And then we tried to come home.

Carbinieri on parade -
Wikipedia 
Now, I know security is tight everywhere.  The carbinieri were all over Venice, Naples, etc., and they walk around everywhere with light machine guns.  (Just have another glass of wine and don't think about it...)  And I expect to go through security checks and customs and all the rest.  But this trip... was something else.

We got up in Barcelona at 6:30 a.m., which is the equivalent of 12:30 a.m. in the US.  A last great breakfast on the ship, and then off to the airport.  First we had to find the American Airlines desk, which was tricky, because you're supposed to check the screens to find out what aisle, etc., your check-in desk is at, and the screens go by flights, and our flight wasn't up on any screen yet.  Eventually we found it - on the other side of the airport, of course - and checked in.  Answered questions galore, about our cabin number, our address, who we were, etc.  Checked our bags, got our boarding passes, and headed off for security and then Gate 62A.

Got through security.

Walked about a mile to Gate 62A, where the gate was blocked off and there was an endless equivalent of a cattle chute.  Two carbinieri stood there, blocking any entrance.  30 seats for 200 people; no snacks, no vending machines, no water fountains, and no toilets.  We all creaked down to the floor and waited for an hour until finally someone came and eventually we were put through the lines and questioning again.

A nine hour flight to Philadelphia.  Coach, of course (writers are rarely millionaires...).  I had a happy chuckle over the in-flight magazine that reminded me to "drink plenty of fluids" and "walk around the cabin whenever the seatbelt sign was off."  Sure, in an alternate universe.  First, of course, I'd have to climb over all the bodies to the right and left of me to even get to the aisle.  (The lady next to me, with her mother, had not flown in 20 years, and was practically in tears...)

We landed, and hiked the traditional mile to baggage claim, got our stuff, and then went through customs:  2 hours (endless cattle chutes...), again, no snacks, vending machines, water fountains, toilets, or seats of ANY kind.  Plus a brand new kiosk to manage so that we could take our own photos and get a receipt to match our passport.  After being up for some 24 hours, this was an excruciatingly slow part of the process.  Throughout, various airport employees tried to hurry us up by yelling at us (to be fair, if they hadn't yelled, we'd never have heard them), which only made some people lose track of where they were on the kiosk and start over.

After we got our receipt, we then go through another line to hand all this to a customs agent.
Then we went (because we had a connecting flight), BACK to baggage check, and through security again.
Then we hiked to our next gate.
Another 2 hour flight, and we arrived in Chicago.  Back to baggage claim, and arrived at our hotel looking like zombies on a bad day.

Basically, we were up for over 24 hours, and during this were repeatedly put through situations where we were not allowed to fulfill any of the most basic human needs (water, toilets, food, rest), other than breathing.  Why there are not more outright riots at airports I do not know, other than sheer exhaustion.

And I was exhausted.  I was also severely dehydrated by that 24+ hours.  I didn't realize that at the time, but five days later, I collapsed, sweating profusely, nauseous, dizzy, and Allan took me to the emergency room, where they ran tests, pumped me full of fluids, and sent me home feeling much better and even angrier at the system that had done this to me.

Chicago as seen from a commercial flight 14.JPG
Chicago O'Hare International Airport from the sky -
Wikipedia
I know that we need security, I know that the TSA is understaffed, and I know that this is going to continue, because there isn't the money and fixing it is not a priority.  (I am a realist.)  But I also know other things:

(1) Airports are not designed for actual human beings, especially the rapidly aging.  There are (usually) no carts to move you across these huge spaces from one terminal to another, from one gate to another.  And there is an ever-decreasing number of seats where you can actually sit.  The last flight we had, the Chicago gate had perhaps 50 seats for a plane that held 100.

(2) The screening process itself is not designed for actual human beings. The constant lack - for hours - of toilets, water (fountains or vending machines), and seats is crippling.  And dehumanizing.  And wrong.  There has got to be a better way...  but I don't think anyone's looking for it.

Meanwhile, I'm staying home for a while.

08 June 2016

The Weight of Silence

David Edgerley Gates


An obituary for an Englishwoman named Jane Fawcett, who died recently at 95. She was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during the war, and deciphered the message that led to the sinking of the Bismarck. I've talked about Bletchley before, and Alan Turing, and breaking the Enigma, but I bring it up in this context to note that a lot of our witnesses to history are taking their curtain calls. This is the natural order, and marks the passage of time. It also means that we're losing an immediate living connection to a common, remembered past.

Yesterday (as I write this) was June 6th, the anniversary of the Normandy landings. D-Day was a big deal. The largest air-sea amphibious combat operation ever mounted, I think I'm safe in saying, it cracked open Festung Europa and marked the beginning of the end for Hitler and the Third Reich. Every year, there are fewer surviving vets who visit the battlefields and the cemeteries. The event itself recedes, and pretty soon there won't be anybody left that was actually there.

On a more domestic scale, my cousin Jono has a fairly exhaustive collection of his parents' personal effects. They've been dead more than a few years, and he's in effect the keeper of the flame. My sister and I have run a similar course, with our own parents' stuff, but we've divested ourselves of an enormous amount. The lesson here is that simply because an object or an artifact meant something to them doesn't require us to be their proxies. You can make a counter-argument here, though, and I think Jono's entitled to make it. Whether our own families were walk-ons or center stage, they were part of collective memory. They may have been present at historically significant turning points. Or not. But if they're not in the record books,. then as each of us in our own generation die off, our memories of that previous generation disappear with us, and those people disappear.

History is surprisingly empty, in this sense. Kings and generals crowd the canvas, but the background, the foot soldiers and camp followers, don't leave much more than a shadow. We intuit or interpolate, but the raw detail isn't always that sharp. A lot of them couldn't read or write anyway, and for a long time they just got squeezed out of the story, except as spear-carriers, literally. So losing our first-hand storytellers drops a stitch in the fabric. And all too often, these people will say, Jeez, kid, what I did wasn't all that interesting or important.

Well, yes and no. One of the more fascinating histories I've ever read was based on the accounts of a merchant family, trading out of Brest or the Hague or someplace - I've forgotten - and it was so many bolts of cloth or barrels of salt, but it was an amazingly vivid picture of daily life, in the commonplace. We forget that it isn't necessarily the sword fights, much of the time it's just making the car payments or shoeing the horse. 

So, here's to Jane Fawcett - or Miss Jane Hughes, her maiden name in 1940 - who may have fallen off the radar in the meanwhile, but I'm glad she was manning her desk at the time. And here's to all those guys who struggled ashore, or who didn't, or who never made it off the beaches, I wish I could hear your stories. We bear witness to the times we live in. We don't always sort the wheat from the chaff, or spin gold out of straw. The silence, though, is heavy.

07 June 2016

Hope There’s No Shortage of Tinfoil

by Paul D. Marks

It’s June. So I thought I’d write about conspiracy theories. What it has to do with June, I don’t know. But why not? Maybe it’s a conspiracy.

So, to start off, here’s a list of conspiracy theories from Time Magazine (http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,1860871,00.html). The commentary is mine and not meant to be offensive. We can agree to disagree, but hopefully have some fun doing so.

The JFK Assassination: Okay, we all know about this one. The CIA or Lyndon Johnson or the Mafia or Castro had Kennedy killed. Nobody can believe that a dipwad like Oswald could have done it alone. And despite Oliver Stone’s fiction called JFK, and having read Jim Garrison’s book, Heritage of Stone, which challenged the truth of the Warren Commission’s investigation about JFK’s assassination, I still believe Oswald acted alone. So put me down on the side of Vincent Bugliosi, who pretty much debunked the conspiracies. The real conspiracy here is the size of his book, but you know what they say, big book, big… Just ask Mr. Trump. He has big books.

9/11 Cover-Up: In this one it’s our own government (again) who planned and done it. I hate to blow anyone’s tinfoil helmet off their head, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes it’s the simplest theory that explains something. There have been investigations, both government (I know, can’t trust ’em) and by private groups, including Popular Mechanics and The National Institute of Standards and Technology, and there’s just no real evidence of a government conspiracy.

Area 51 and the Aliens: Aliens crash landed in the Southwest desert and are being refrigerated at Area 51, a top secret base. Now, I know this one’s true ’cause I saw Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith in Independence Day and that was a documentary, wasn’t it? Kind of like Stone’s JFK was a documentary. Okay, the government has secrets. Okay, people have seen weird flying machines over the desert, most likely from the Lockheed’s Skunk Works in Lancaster, CA, if not from there from their own psilocybin addled brains. – Okay, for real: for this one you need more of a colander on the head. Tin foil just won’t do.

A magazine about the Paul is dead rumor
Paul Is Dead: Well, I know this one’s not true. Because I’m not dead…yet. But I have come close a few times. Once, when a producer threatened to send his pals in the Israeli Mossad after me after we got into an argument. But I digress. This one’s about all the clues in Beatle songs and on their album covers pointing to the “fact” that Paul McCartney was killed and replaced by a look-alike, sound-alike double. After all, we all know the Walrus was Paul, Paul was barefoot on the cover of Abbey Road, which also had the words 28 IF on a car license and John sings “I buried Paul” at the end of Strawberry Fields. All I know is that if Paul is dead, the FNG did a pretty good job at songwriting and singing and coming up with some inventive bass parts. So maybe it was a good thing the real one got offed. And perhaps he is dead or at least ran away with Elvis and Jim Morrison, who are really not dead either, and are living the life of Riley on some fabulous bikini atoll somewhere.

Secret Societies Control the World: The Illuminati, the Masons, the Bilderbergers, the CFR, rule the world behind the scenes for their own nefarious ends. But unless their nefarious ends are total stupidity and chaos, they’re not doing a very good job. Now, if I could write a great conspiracy yarn and make Dan Brown money off this I’d become a true believer. And you know what they say about converts…

A Scene from the movie Capricorn One
The Moon Landings Were Faked: Hey, I know this is true. I saw Capricorn One, with James Brolin, Elliot Gould and O.J. Simpson, before he learned how to swing a knife. In this documentary something goes wrong and instead of looking like morons and upsetting the American people, the Powers That Be decide to create the whole moon landing experience on a movie soundstage. Lotta people believe it went down this way. I wonder how Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin felt/feels about that.

Another scene from Capricorn One

Jesus and Mary Magdalene: This is an alt rock band from Scotland. Formed in 1983… Oh, wait, that’s the Jesus and Mary Chain. Take 2: In this one Jesus and Mary are married. People want to believe what they want to believe. See Dan Brown comment above.

Holocaust Revisionism: This one says the Holocaust never happened. And I know it didn’t. I cite an impeccable source, quoting from the Time piece: “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for one, has called the Holocaust a ‘myth’.” We know there’s no agenda there and such an upstanding citizen of the world would never lie. Hence it never happened.

The CIA and AIDS: This time we learn that AIDS was created by the CIA to wipe out homosexuals and African Americans. Let’s not forget Ebola and now Zika. I’m sure they were also created by the CIA. I’m not saying nobody in our government – or other governments ever do anything wrong. But as my mom would say, some people just want to believe the worst. I know we’ve done some bad things, I just don’t think, from what I’ve been able to find via people who don’t wear tinfoil helmets, that this is true.

The Reptilian Elite: Okay, I have to admit I didn’t really know what this one was. So here’s part of the Time piece in case you’re as ignorant as me: “They are among us. Blood-drinking, flesh-eating, shape-shifting extraterrestrial reptilian humanoids with only one objective in their cold-blooded little heads: to enslave the human race. They are our leaders, our corporate executives, our beloved Oscar-winning actors and Grammy-winning singers, and they're responsible for the Holocaust, the Oklahoma City bombings and the 9/11 attacks ... at least according to former BBC sports reporter David Icke, who became the poster human for the theory in 1998 after publishing his first book, The Biggest Secret, which contained interviews with two Brits who claimed members of the royal family are nothing more than reptiles with crowns.” Now, I don’t know about the royal family, but I’m pretty sure Kanye West might be one. And all of our prez candidates and everyone in DC. So this one might be true.

This list barely taps the source, it’s proverbial tip of the iceberg of conspiracy theories. But in an effort to keep it manageable I went with Time’s list.

There might be some great story ideas here – reference Dan Brown and Dan Brown above. And they can be fun and entertaining. But they can also be scary when people believe them and reject common sense. And if they’re proven true you can tell me how wrong I was and let one of the Reptilian Elite perform a Vulcan mind meld on me.

Sorry if you’re a true believer and don’t think I’ve taken these theories seriously enough. I will probably be locked up when the New World Order takes over.

So if I’ve offended your paranoid fantasy, put on your tinfoil helmet, plug yourself into the wall and blast off. And for the real stories check out the Time link above.

***
www.PaulDMarks.com
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06 June 2016

Blood On The Bayou

by Susan Rogers Cooper

Anybody going to Bouchercon? I am, and I'm excited! It's been years since I've been and it's always a great party. For those of you who aren't aware, this year's B'Con is going to be in NOLa – New Orleans, Louisiana, and who can resist that? It will begin on Thursday, September 15 and end on Sunday, September 18. But it's NOLa, so go early and stay late!

Bouchercon is named in honor of Anthony Boucher, who wrote under the pen name William Anthony Parker White, and the writing awards given out at the B'Con banquet are the Anthonys. Anthony Boucher helped found Mystery Writers of America, and co-founded The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. He also reviewed mysteries in the Sunday Book Review for the New York Times. He wrote several mystery novels and short stories and also scripts for The Adventures of Ellery Queen and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes radio dramas.

Bouchercon is touted as the World Mystery Convention and is the largest annual meeting in the world for mystery lovers. There are panels on every aspect of mystery fiction, thrillers, etc., and it's held every year in a city in either the U.S. or Canada, or, as has happened twice, in England.

I've met some of my best friends at B'Cons over the years, and have had the honor of listening to – and meeting -- some of my favorite writers. If it's your first time, be sure to go to the bar and hang out. You'll see just about everyone there at one time or another. And this year, with it being in New Orleans, there will be a lot of things to do outside the hotel as well.

Personally, I can't wait to find out what panel I'm going to be on, and who's going to be on it with me. Being on a panel is always a fun experience – and sometimes even a learning one.

If you've never been to B'Con, I highly recommend that you do. It's not just fun – which it definitely is – but it's a good place to network and interact with agents, editors, and other writers. Hope to see y'all you there!

05 June 2016

It’s the Little Things

by Leigh Lundin

Getting inside a woman’s head is tricky; some say it's nigh impossible. I like trying though… not to mess with her but to write about her. I know what guys think, at least this one, so how can I resist exploring the world inside my favorite subject… women? Brave and foolish, huh, but I don’t entirely botch it. In my earliest days of writing, I wrote a story of a woman with low self-esteem. A professor singled it out as an example of writing from the viewpoint of the opposite sex. I like the discovery. When in doubt, I'm not afraid to ask.

Last month, Eve Fisher reviewed Janice Law’s Homeward Dove. The article was so good, I bought the book. I can’t compete with Eve’s excellent report, but I want to address the book’s characterization– Consider me gobsmacked.

A lot of women write from a male’s point of view. Many are terrific at it, others– meh. Don’t think this hyperbole, but I’ve never seen anyone pull it off like Janice Law.

To be sure, she’s received excellent reviews and awards for her Francis Bacon series. I would find it tricky to get into the head of a gay artist, but Janice pulled it off with aplomb.

In Homeward Dove, she slips into the skin of her main character, Jeff Woodbine. He’s a blue collar 20-something initially drifting and grifting in a big-box electronics store and working in the building trades. Jeff says ‘should of’ instead of ‘should have’ and is better with tools than he is people. He likes beer, sex, sports, and fishing.

At first blush, that doesn’t seem like much characterization but that’s not what we're talking about. A Very Famous Mystery Thriller Author started a series writing from a woman’s viewpoint. For characterization, he stopped the story in places to discuss fashion and to badmouth men. It wasn’t characterization and it wasn’t authentic.

The thing with Janice, her Jeff is so authentic, I can’t see the hand behind the curtain. He’s real. He grows introspective. He matures. She uses setting to her advantage. He lives in New England, so he watches the Red Sox, drinks Rolling Rock, and he doesn’t eat a hoagie, a hero, or a sub– he wolfs down a grinder.

These are minor points, but our boy Jeff knows the intricacies of rebuilding a roof and rebuilding a carburetor better than rebuilding a relationship. He knows his tools and his lumber. More to the point, we feel his fear of heights and fear of relationships.

I can’t discuss a couple of traits without introducing spoilers, but in a way I’m not sure how she pulls off Jeff’s character. Sure, he knows the difference between a rotary and a reciprocating saw and minutiae women aren’t likely to know, but these are like tiles in a floor. We see and admire the tile, but we don't notice the unappreciated grout that supports and enhances the tiles.

Janice understands the need in a male to protect and the craving to be heroic. She also brings out men’s insecurities, not those that women giggle about, but the deeper, little-boy-lost syndromes no man will admit to. In the case of Jeff, he’s the victim of his own quiet desperation.

The novel would make an interesting subject for literary analysis, deconstructing it to see how it works, much like Jeff and the little boy take apart engines to study them.

That brings me to a final point. When Eve summarized the plot, I could not imagine how a little boy might communicate his, well, accusation for lack of a better term. But again, Janice pulls it off.

Who are your favorite cross-boundary authors? What suggestions for writers do you have?

04 June 2016

Crime (and Other) Scenes


by John M. Floyd


A few nights ago I was sitting around with some fellow writers, and we started talking about our favorite movie moments. (It's surprising, sometimes, how seldom we talk about writing.) As it turned out, half the folks in our little group had never watched most of the scenes I described and the other half tended not to agree with me, but it was fun anyway.

As a result of that discussion, I have compiled some of my favorite and most memorable movie scenes, categorized to make a long list seem a little shorter. I've added some quotes too, now and then, and--not that it matters--I have splatted an asterisk beside my personal "best" scene in each group of ten, and explained why I like it so much. By the way, even though many of my female writer friends often accuse me of preferring "guy" plots, you'll see that not all of these scenes I've chosen are from mysteries/thrillers/shoot-'em-ups. (I'm not totally enlightened yet, but I'm making headway.)

Anyhow, here are my picks.


Best openings (in no particular order):

Rear Window
Jaws
Escape From New York -- "Once you go in, you don't come out."
High Noon
Romancing the Stone -- "That was the end of Grogan . . ."
*Goldfinger
Raising Arizona -- "Y'all without sin can cast the first stone."
The Natural
Cat People (1982 version)
The Ballad of Cable Hogue -- "Ain't had no water since yesterday, Lord. Gettin' a little thirsty."

*I think the Goldfinger opening works in two ways. The pre-titles "teaser" is a mini-story in itself, which introduces the main character and shows him carrying out a successful mission, talking it over with a colleague, having a liaison with a double-crossing lover, and dispatching a killer. ("Shocking. Positively shocking.") Then comes the second part: a great opening-credits sequence, probably the best of the Bond series, with title song by Shirley Bassey.


Best action scenes: 

Bullitt -- San Francisco car chase
From Russia With Love -- fight on the Orient Express
*Raiders of the Lost Ark -- opening
Ben-Hur -- chariot race
Dances With Wolves -- buffalo hunt
The French Connection -- car/train chase
The Revenant -- bear attack
Aliens -- ending
Titanic -- sinking
The Road Warrior -- tanker chase

*I once read a review that said there's more action packed into the first ten minutes of Raiders than in most full-length features. It contains a good line, too: "Throw me the idol, I throw you the whip." (Sure he will . . .)


Most emotional scenes (for me, at least):

Shane -- ending ("Goodbye, Little Joe.")
Old Yeller -- death scene
To Kill a Mockingbird -- ending ("Hey, Boo.")
Camelot -- Lancelot saving the jouster
The Graduate -- Ben, at the wedding
Up -- death of Carl's wife
Somersby -- the hanging
The Green Mile -- John Coffey's execution
*Dumbo -- his mother cradling him with her trunk, through the bars of her cage
The Abyss -- Virgil's dive to defuse the bomb ("Knew this was one-way ticket.")

*Strangely enough, Ali McGraw croaking at the end of Love Story affects me not one bit, but I can't even think about that Dumbo scene without getting a tear in my eye. And yes, I'm wondering a little about my priorities.




Best music scenes (not counting musicals):

Superman -- flying with Lois ("Can You Read My Mind?")
Star Wars -- the throne room
The Big Country -- opening credits
Deliverance -- porch-swing banjo/guitar duet
Peggy Sue Got Married -- coming home, seeing her mother and sister
Rocky -- training/running the steps
Top Gun -- opening credits
*The Big Lebowski -- dream sequence
Flashdance -- audition
The Man From Snowy River -- taming the colt

*You wouldn't think a scene featuring a Saddam Hussein lookalike, a bowling alley, a woman with a horned Viking helmet, and Dude Lebowski in a toolbelt would be my favorite music-video-within-a-movie ever, but it is. If I recall, he just dropped in to see what condition his condition was in.


Most suspenseful scenes:

Stand by Me -- boys on the train trestle
Blood Simple -- ending
The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) -- starting the engine
*Wait Until Dark -- attack in the apartment
The Deer Hunter -- Russian roulette
The Birds -- arrival of the birds on the jungle-gym
No Country for Old Men -- coin toss at the gas station
The Godfather -- Michael shooting McCluskey and Sollozzo
The Silence of the Lambs -- night-vision in the basement
Reservoir Dogs -- Michael Madsen scene, in the garage ("Fire Is Scary.")

*I first saw Wait Until Dark in college. I thought then--and I still do--that the lights-out, cat-and-mouse battle between Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin was the most riveting thing I'd ever seen. If this one doesn't scare you, and make you root for the heroine, nothing will.


Funniest scenes:

Airplane! -- "Oh, stewardess--I speak jive."
Raising Arizona -- "Son, you got a panty on your head."
Hot Shots, Part Deux -- rescuing the colonel from jail cell
Liar, Liar -- lawyer being honest with lady in the elevator
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels -- "May I go to the bathroom first?"
Me, Myself, and Irene -- baby-feeding scene, on bench
*Blazing Saddles -- campfire symphony
My Big Fat Greek Wedding -- headphone cord scene
Rustler's Rhapsody -- "Got a match?"
Ferris Bueller's Day Off -- Mr. Rooney and Ferris's sister

*I first saw the campfire scene from BS (probably a good alternate title for the movie) in a theater in L.A. in 1974, and I still remember that it brought the house down. NOTE: Please understand that all these favorites are sort of "guilty-pleasure" funny--the kind of things that made me laugh until it hurt. If you want intelligent funny, watch an episode of Cheers, Frasier, M*A*S*H, Newhart, Seinfeld, etc.


Best endings:

A Fistful of Dollars -- "Load up and shoot."
*Signs
The Shawshank Redemption
The Searchers -- "Let's go home, Debbie."
The Black Stallion
Die Hard
The Last Sunset -- "Primroses."
Dead Poets Society -- "O Captain, my Captain."
Cool Hand Luke -- montage
An Officer and a Gentleman -- "Way to go, Paula. Way to go."

*The odd thing about the last fifteen minutes of Signs is that most of my writer/reader/moviegoer friends don't even like the movie. But I think that scene is a great example of tying up half a dozen threads of foreshadowing into a powerful and satisfying conclusion. ("Swing away, Merrill.")


Best surprise endings:

The Sixth Sense
Presumed Innocent
Fight Club
Chinatown -- "She's my sister and my daughter."
Primal Fear -- "We're a great team, you and me."
The Village
Planet of the Apes
Body Heat
The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
*The Usual Suspects -- "And just like that . . . he's gone."

*The two-part conclusion of The Usual Suspects (the first part in the office, the second out on the sidewalk) still gives me goosebumps. In addition to the twist, it includes one of my favorite movie lines: "The best trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."



Best scenes, period:

Apocalypse Now -- helicopter attack
Psycho -- the root cellar
Saving Private Ryan -- storming Omaha Beach
Witness -- bad guys walking downhill toward the farm
It's a Wonderful Life -- ending ("Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.")
*Once Upon a Time in the West -- opening ("Looks like we're one horse shy.")
Pulp Fiction -- quoting Ezekiel
Twelve Angry Men -- the "same knife" scene ("I'm just saying a coincidence is possible.")
Casablanca -- Ilsa, at the piano ("Play it, Sam.")
True Romance -- "Sicilian" scene ("Tell me--before I do some damage you won't walk away from.")

*I think everything about that first long scene at the train station in Once Upon a Time in the West is cinematic perfection: the creaky windmill, the facial expressions, the humor, the music, the lighting, the way the protagonist is introduced, the steady buildup of tension to an explosive climax. It's another of those "mini-stories" I mentioned earlier--and my favorite movie scene of all time (not just in the West).



Other scenes that I liked a lot: the arrival of Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia; shooting the bucket in Quigley Down Under; the first sight of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park; the two "Do I feel lucky?" scenes in Dirty Harry; the final shootout in L.A. Confidential; the "Is it you?" scene in Somewhere in Time; the death of Oddjob in Goldfinger; the openings of Cliffhanger, The Shining, Midnight Cowboy, and The Magnificent Seven; and the endings of Rudy, M*A*S*H, Brassed Off, Hombre, Breathless (1983), The Cider House Rules, Carousel, Forrest Gump, Back to the FutureBonnie and Clyde, Cat Ballou, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.


Okay, so I got a little carried away--and remember, all these choices should be preceded by "In my opinion only."

What think you, about all this? Any agreements, or disagreements? Any favorite scenes, or favorite lines of dialogue in scenes? If so, goody goody. If not, I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too.

Now, I wish we could chat longer, but I'm having an old friend for dinner.

Anybody up for a toga party?





03 June 2016

An Imaginative Time of the Year

By Dixon Hill

It's that time of year again -- my 13-year-old son's favorite.  Not just because it's summer, and school let out last week.  There's more.

This weekend, Phoenix Comicon runs Thursday through Sunday at the downtown Phoenix Convention Center.

And the Q-man is stoked!

That's him on the right, in this year's almost-completed costume.  He's going as "The Sniper" from the video game  Team Fortress 2.  You can see a pic of the character he's "cosplaying" below.

Quen's still missing a scope and laser range-finder from his rifle, and a few other details, but we're working to fill the gaps by Thursday morning.

I'm writing this Wednesday night, since all my regular free time will be consumed by Comicon activities with Quentin over the next few days.



Comicon or bust!
This year, those activities include a screening of the film Jaws, with live commentary and a talk by the screenwriter, Carl Gottlieb -- and, later, a discussion and demonstration of Bartitsu (You Holmes fans know what I'm talking about!).

Writing workshops are also scheduled, and I'll be attending a few about Science Fiction and Steampunk, to get a few tips I might use in "outside the box" mysteries, while the Q-man goes to see Billie Piper from the Dr. Who TV series. And, once again, we'll be trying to get him into the Cosplay Contest at the comicon.

Those who attended Left Coast Crime, earlier this year, may find it humorous to learn that the Phoenix Convention Center, where I'll be spending the weekend, is just across the street from the hotel LCC was held in.

We're still not quite finished moving in, as you can see in this picture taken in our kitchen (above right).

See you in two weeks!
--Dixon






02 June 2016

An Interview With BOSCH Consulting Producer Terrill Lee Lankford

by Brian Thornton


For today's blog entry I conducted an interview with long-time friend, BOSCH consulting producer Terrill Lee Lankford. The author of several first-rate novels, including EARTHQUAKE WEATHER, BLONDE LIGHTNING, and SHOOTERS, Lankford also sports a lengthy track record in the film industry, with credits doing everything from directing to screenwriting, to production.

Thanks for agreeing to do this interview, Lee. Readers may be familiar with your fiction, especially SHOOTERS and EARTHQUAKE WEATHER, but it seems as if most of your time is currently taken up by your work as a consulting producer and occasional screenwriter on the Amazon series BOSCH, an adaptation of Michael Connelly's series of books featuring LAPD homicide detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch. Now, you've had a foot in both mystery writing and film work for a while. How did that come about?
I started out in the movie business in the 80s. I wrote, produced, directed or doctored about 25 movies starting in 1983. I decided to try my hand at novels in the early 90s. Then I started working with Michael Connelly on a wide variety of projects and when the Bosch series came up I became a part of that as well.
BOSCH series star Titus Welliver & BOSCH series author Michael Connelly
Tell us about the gig with BOSCH. Anyone who's followed Michael Connelly's work over the past decade or so is likely familiar with the web trailers and interviews he's done in support of each book as they have come out. Some might not know that you've been the man behind the camera on most of those.  Can you tell us about  this working relationship, and how it helped lead to your current gig?
Mike and I became friends on the book circuit. Since I had a filmmaking background I became his go-to guy when his publisher decided to do some film promotion for his books. It really started with a promo idea which was to do a short documentary on his early books, but it grew out of control and the next thing you know we had a feature length doc with both Mike and William Petersen providing narration. This was BLUE NEON NIGHT. Little, Brown pressed 75,000 copies of the video and gave them away with the hard cover edition of THE NARROWS. After that we did a series of video promotion. I shot promo stills for him also, some of which became author photos. We wrote a couple of screenplays together and then when Bosch went to series I came along for the ride.
 
Titius Welliver & L.A. at night
That reference to BLUE NEON NIGHT reminds me that the look and feel of Los Angeles at night is a major part of the series. Tell me about the lighting design setting the tone and mood. Especially the night shots of L.A.
 
We have great cinematographers on our show. Patrick Cady bleeds noir and his co-cinematographers work closely with him to give the show a consistent feel and look. Personally, I love it!
I recall you once telling me you thought we would never see Harry Bosch in film, in part because of reservations Michael had with how Hollywood might treat the character and the stories. And yet here we are with a *superb* second season just out, and Titus Welliver (probably best known for his previous roles as DEADWOOD's Silas Adams and the Man in Black on LOST) really inhabiting the role. How did this come to pass?
The rights were tangled up with Paramount for almost 20 years. And they really
screwed the pooch in development. They spent a lot of money and never got anywhere. I always wanted them to try to do what Stephen King did once in awhile - make one of the books into a 4 or 6 hour miniseries for network TV. But features were the name of the game back then. TV and streaming evolved and it became easier to make a quality show that did not have to go through the gauntlet of Network TV, which grinds most good things to a pulp during the process. Mike was approached by a producer who was a super fan of the Bosch books and that got the process started. Because of a very minor glitch in his ancient contract with Paramount he had to pay them a bloody fortune to completely clear all the rights issues up. But it’s been worth it in the long run. He has a lot of control of the show and he’s very happy with how it is turning out.
For a fan like me one of the big selling points of the series is how faithful it is to the books, without being slavishly tied to the plots laid out in them. Was that a big selling point for going with Amazon to produce this series?
That was a key factor. There are people at Amazon who are major Connelly fans. They didn’t just want the name. They wanted the heart of the material. And Mike wanted to have a big hand in making the show. They’ve given him that and in return he’s given them pure Bosch. It couldn’t have happened this way without his involvement.
I am admittedly a fan of both the books and the TV series, but I have to say, while I loved what you guys did with Bosch's character in season one, I really feel like this show has hit its stride with season two, in no small part due to the expanded roles of the supporting cast. It's such great fun to get to see great actors like Jamie Hector (Marlo on THE WIRE), Amy Aquino and Lance Riddick (another WIRE alumnus) get to work. Was this a conscious decision, with having established Bosch's character in season one, to get the supporting cast more involved, with other story lines and subplots involving them, etc.?
We knew we had a fantastic supporting cast and felt like we might have underused them a bit in the first season. We also realized we were burning Titus out with the schedule so we wanted to find a way that he could get some days off to recharge his battery. I think we found a good balance this season. We got a better show and Titus got a few naps.
Jamie Hector, Titus Welliver and Amy Aquino
Anyone who has read the books knows that the defining relationship in Bosch's life was the one he had with the mother who was murdered when he was still a boy. Not surprisingly he seems to be frequently drawn to women who are not what they seem to be, and sometimes has difficulty (at least initially) reading the women in his life as an adult. Is it any wonder then that he married Eleanor Wish, the F.B.I. profiler turned professional poker player, and easily the most enigmatic and hard to read of the women he was involved with in any of the novels? That said, I was interested to see who you were going to cast in the pivotal and difficult role of Eleanor Wish in the series. You seem to have hit it out of the park with Sarah Clarke. How did that happen? Was she someone on your collective radar from the beginning, or did she just nail the audition, something like that?
I had nothing to do with her casting. That was other people. I know Mike had liked her from a lot of previous work, like 24. I think she came in from her agency with a lot of other candidates, but I think she went to the top of the list pretty quickly. She was the first and only offer they made.

Did you have the always underrated Jeri Ryan in mind for femme fatale Veronica Allen all along?
Michael saw her in a little seen SyFy show called Helix. She played a tough and corrupt boss of a pharmaceutical company. He saw in those qualities what they were looking for in Veronica Allen and asked the casting agents to reach out to her. She was very interested because while similar to the Helix role, Veronica is more of a classic femme fatale and she wanted to play that. She signed up.
Jamie Hector, Jeri Ryan and Titus Welliver
Annie Wersching's character Julia Brasher, such a big part of Season One, has a cameo in this season. Does that mean we can expect to see more of her in future episodes, or was that a throw-in?
It’s always possible. We like to say that if we don’t kill a character there is always a chance that character could come back.
Riddick & Hector
I mentioned before that we see an awful lot of WIRE alumni (Jamie Hector, Lance Riddick), in this cast. Was that conscious, or just a happy accident?

THE WIRE had one of the greatest casts ever. Many shows are populated by them now. We are but one.
 
There seems to be an uptick in TV showrunners/producers who keep hands in both the print and screen worlds. Among others, there's Phoef Sutton and his ultra-tight thrillers, Nic Pizzolatto of TRUE DETECTIVE wrote a novel a few years ago, and now Noah Hawley ("FARGO) is coming out with "BEFORE THE FALL, a well-reviewed suspense-thriller with a lot of buzz. Are there ways in which writing for anthologized television has made you — or is making you — a better author of novels?
I don’t write novels anymore. But if I did I hope the experience would have made me better, not worse. Anything is possible though.
  
I would imagine a lot of people trying to write novels look at great crime TV — BOSCH, BREAKING BAD, DEXTER, BLOODLINE, TRUE DETECTIVE, BETTER CALL SAUL, etc. — and think, "Damn, this writing is SO good. I want to take what's good about what I'm seeing and have it inform my writing." What advice would you give writers who are studying all these great series and looking to catch a little of that magic for themselves? What can the best of the current shows teach us in terms of story and prose craft? About what to do and what NOT to do?
I’d tell people to write what they want to write and not focus what others are doing to find their own path. But no one would listen to that. 
Serialized TV/Streaming is very similar to novels now in many ways. With all the same potential weaknesses and strengths. You have the room to tell a long story on TV/Streaming, but this can also lead to a need for padding if your story can’t handle 10-13 hours. Often a 500 page book would have been better at 300 pages. Or vice versa. Your story and characters have an optimum length. It’s up to you to discover what it is and neither shortchange it nor drag it out. 
 
What is your favorite storyline and why?
Do you mean of the ones we have already shot? Probably Harry and his daughter’s quest for the perfect L.A. milkshake.
And lastly, what can we look forward to in season 3 (And will we see any more of Mimi Rogers as "Money" Chandler?)?
I think seeing more of “Money” is a safe bet. I can’t tell you much more than that but the books being adapted are The Black Echo and A Darkness More than Night. People will have to read those if they want the inside track. 
Thanks for your time, Lee. Can't wait for Season Three of BOSCH!
 

01 June 2016

The Truth Is Plain To See

by Robert Lopresti

A couple of warnings: I am not a English copyright attorney.  (I'm sure that astonishes you.)  And I am discussing a court case that could easily fill a book.  So take this for what it is worth.  You can read more about it here and here.

Do you remember "A Whiter Shade of Pale?"   It was a huge hit for Procol Harum in 1967, and is one of the most played and recorded songs of all time (almost 1,000 covers).  Can you call up the tune to memory?  If not, try this:


Most people I have talked to, if they remember it at all, remember that ethereal organ part.  And that is what we are here to discuss (don't worry; it will connect to the subject of this blog eventually.)

According to 40 years of labels and liner notes, Pale was written by two members of the band: Gary Brooker (piano and vocals)  and Keith Reid (lyricist).

But neither one of them was responsible for  that famous organ part. That was Matthew Fisher who played Hammond organ in the band.  He stayed with the group for three albums and then split.  His first solo record included a number with the refrain "Please don't make me play that song again."  What could he have been referring to, I wonder?

He rejoined the band when it reformed in the 1990s, but quit in 2004 and filed  a lawsuit, asking to be recognized of co-creator and co-owner of Pale.  (It turns out that this was not the first time someone threatened to sue over this ditty, by the way: "Where there's a hit, there's a writ.")   After Fisher's case bounced from venue to venue the highest court in England, namely the Law Lords (sounds like a rock band, doesn't it?) got to make their first ever ruling on a copyright case involving a song.  (It turned out to be that court's last decision as well, being then replaced by a Supreme Court.)

So what does it mean if Fisher were to win?  According to his opponent, Gary Brooker: "Any musician who has ever played on any recording in the last 40 years may now have a potential claim to joint authorship.  It is effectively open season on the songwriter."

A strong argument.  But I felt there had to be some reasonable middle ground between "Joe went twang on the chorus so he's entitled to ten percent" on  the one hand, and on the other "the composer of the most famous organ solo in pop music contributed nothing to the  song."  And sure enough, the Law Lords, clever folks that they are,  agreed with me.

They ruled that Fisher should have a credit and 40% of the music royalties, starting with the day he filed the suit.  He gets nothing for the years before he went to court, which seems reasonable.

So what does that have to  with the subject of this blog?  Glad you asked.  Before I send a story to an editor I first send it to R.T. Lawton.  He does the same with me.  We read the stories, make suggestions and corrections and generally help each other's literature inch ever closer to perfection.

But we don't get paid for that.  At what point does a helpful first reader become a co-author?

When I sent my story "Street of the Dead House" to the anthology nEvermore! the editors, Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Sole, made significant suggestions that improved the tale.  Without them would my tale have been selected for two Best of the Year collections? 

I don't know.

Did they get a share of the reprint money?

That I know.  They didn't.

But I think editors are a special case, somewhat like record producers.  They get their appropriate fee but don't expect a writing credit.

Speaking of books, I revised this piece after discovering Procol Harum: The Ghosts of A Whiter Shade of Pale by Henry Scott-Irvine.  He makes it clear that the story is even more complicated than I thought.  Any fan of the band should read the whole book.  Anyone interested in copyright issues should at least read the last two chapters.

I want to give the last word to Chris Copping. Copping replaced Fisher in the band in the 1970s which means he probably played that organ part more than anyone else alive.  He perhaps has a less romantic view of that melody than most of us.

In this essay he discusses joining Procol Harum and then analyzes the song virtually note for note, explaining what he thinks Fisher created and what he borrowed from Bach.

His conclusion on what Fisher is owed? "Let him have the ring tones."

31 May 2016

Aliens, Hot Dogs, and the Case of the Missing Rat Island

by Melissa Yi

Once upon a time, experimenters took a bunch of rats and divided them into two groups. Both groups were dropped into a tankful of opaque water, but one group had an island, not visible under the surface, so those rats could eventually rest with their heads above water. The other group would…swim until they sank.

Luckily, the experimenters pulled all the rats out of the water before they could drown.

The next day, they set both both groups of rats in the island-less tank.

The rats who’d had islands swam twice as long as the rats who’d never had an island.

Bestselling author Jennifer Crusie pointed out that if you’re a writer with an island—basically, a writer with faith, a writer with resilience, a writer with grit, a writer who’ll keep swimming, writing, perfecting the craft, submitting, and persevering twice as long—that is the ticket to success.

For years, I’ve wrestled with this concept. It totally makes sense. But how can you force yourself to become a rat with an island? You can’t just hit yourself on the head and say, “Zowee, now I know everything will work out, if not this century, then the next!”

I got a clue last week, when I flew from Montreal to Los Angeles for Sci-Fest LA. I was a finalist for the Roswell Award for the best short science fiction, for the second year in a row. I was pretty sure a comical story like “Humans ’n’ Hot Dogs” wouldn’t win, so I considered staying home.

Then I thought, Nope. I’m going. I’m going to have fun and celebrate, whether or not I win $1000.

Award-winning Hollywood actor Rico E. Anderson read my story. Yes, that Rico E. Anderson. Boras in Star Trek: Renegades. The man in Criminal Minds, Modern Family, Young & Hungry, and Bones, and The Fosters in June. He got his first big break in the 2005 Academy Award Winning short film, Mighty Times: The Children's March.

Do you prefer theatre? Rico’s got you covered. His stage credits include Oedipus and Malcolm X.

Or, if you’re like my dental hygienist today, you’ll recognize him best from a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy.
So no wonder I was surprised and delighted by Rico’s interpretation of “Humans ’n’ Hot Dogs.” He seized the audience’s attention from the first syllable. He adopted voices for different characters, including aliens, a homeless man, and a pack of skateboarders. He winked. He worked the spotlight. He was funny, dynamic, and likeable.

The audience laughed and cheered.

And yet I didn’t win the Roswell Award.

<Pause to grieve.>

So many people adored my story, though. “It was so funny!" “The judges were absolutely gleeful after reading your story.” “I try to keep an eye out for stories that are suitable for young adults, and yours was it.” “Promise me you’ll keep on writing.”

And I loved Rico’s interpretation.

I could slink back to Canada, quietly weeping over my defeat.

Melissa Yuan-Innes and Rico E. Anderson
Or I could try something else. Something a rat with an island might do.

We weren’t allowed to record Rico’s performance at the Roswell Awards. But what if he recorded it later, and we released it as an audio book?

This is a financial gamble. A short science fiction story by a relatively unknown author isn’t going to light up the bestseller lists any time soon. This would be a special project. One for people who love wee gems, who support the underdog and love art for art’s sake.

Rico and I are going to crowdfund it. I decided to avoid Kickstarter and just have donations go to PayPal through olobooks [at] gmail [dot] com, to try and make every penny count. Both of us are committed to making the best production possible.

And the rewards. The rewards!

Any donation: heartfelt thanks and a backstage picture of Rico shirtless (to show off the wounds for Grey’s Anatomy, not just to ogle). Goal: unlocked! I’m posting it to my website (http://melissayuaninnes.com/bringing-humans-n-hot-dogs-to-life/in case any SleuthSayers have sensitive eyes.
Wiener ($5): an advance e-book copy of Humans ’n’ Hot Dogs and enormous thanks from Rico and me.
Pepperoni ($10): an advance deluxe e-book copy of Humans ’n’ Hot Dogs, including cartoons, inside tips on how to how to network in Los Angeles, and behind-the-scenes stories from Sci-Fest LA, Caltech, and Buzzfeed
Bangers ($20): deluxe e-book and you’ll be the first to hear the audio book, before it’s uploaded to Audible, iTunes, and other retailers. Humans ’n’ Hot Dogs all the way!
Chorizo($25): now we’re cooking. Deluxe e-book, audio book, and line producer credit in the book.
Andouille ($30): now we’re sizzling. All the previous rewards, co-producer credit in the book, plus a copy of my audio book, The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World and Other True Tales From the Emergency Room
Bratwurst ($50): smells absolutely delicious in here. Must be your generosity. Includes all of the above, with associate producer credit in the book
Mortadella ($100): every single previous reward, with executive producer credit in the book, an autographed photo of Rico (yes, he’ll even do the shirtless one if you ask nicely), and a copy of the print book, shipped anywhere in the world for free. Yes, a real, live, print book that you can pass on to future generations, along with Rico’s stunning rendition of my oeuvre.

In other words, Rico and I are going for broke.

He’s a full-time actor in Los Angeles. He’s used to taking this kind of risk.

Me? Not so much. I no longer feel like rejections are mental razor blades, but I’m embarrassed when people turn me down. Yet I can see how handling failure wisely is one of the keys to success.

Rico and I may fail.

We may fail spectacularly.

But we’re both going to keep on swimming, and we hope you do, too.



Sleuths: are you a rat with an island? If so, how did you get that way?