05 May 2016

Research, Research, Research...


by Brian Thornton

So last week I went to New York for the Edgars, and took the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. I was staying at the Grand Hyatt, just four blocks from the New York Public Library's famous central branch, and so I took the opportunity to do some research on a cache of papers the NYPL now owns.


The collection I needed to look at were from the personal papers of John C. Spencer–a career politician from western New York state served in President John Tyler's cabinet, first as War secretary, then as Treasury secretary. The son of a speaker of the New York state assembly, Spencer was more than just the scion of a political dynasty. In fact he was a man of letters, and instrumental in shaping the first American publication of Alexis de Tocqueville's seminal work, Democracy in America.

He was also the father of Midshipman Phillip Spencer–a drunken wastrel drummed out of two different colleges before he turned 16–and the only U.S. naval officer hanged for mutiny.
John Canfield Spencer
 When the U.S.S. Somers, the ship from whose yard arm his son had been hanged at sea a month earlier pulled into New York harbor, Spencer attempted to have the captain, one Alexander Slidell MacKenzie (brother of future Louisiana senator and eventual Confederate peace commissioner John Slidell), put on trial for murder in connection with the death of his son.

MacKenzie requested and got a summary court martial in front of a jury composed entirely of navy captains (who would never convict him). He was acquitted, and double jeopardy attached, thus Spencer's attempts to get MacKenzie arraigned on a murder charge in a New York court ultimately came to nothing.

(On an interesting side note, MacKenzie's first lieutenant was a fellow named Guert Gansevoort. Gansevoort was a native New Yorker, who told his first cousin about the whole affair. That cousin, the writer Herman Melville, later fictionalized the story of the Somers Affair in his novella Billy Budd.)

The man responsible for (reluctantly) granting MacKenzie's request was Spencer's colleague in Tyler's cabinet, Naval secretary Abel P. Upshur. To say that this turn of events made things awkward between the two men was an understatement. They actually came to blows during a cabinet meeting, with Upshur breaking a stool over Spencer's head.

So John C. Spencer, a complex man, with an interesting story. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what I'd already learned about him before getting access to his personal papers last week. Tune in next time to see what I learned about this fascinating man here:

The Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room–Repository of a cache of John C. Spencer's personal papers.

04 May 2016

Spying on Chicago, for a Good Cause


Take a look at the photograph on the right.  Notice the store I am standing in front of?  Or of which I am standing in front?  Boy, was that awkward.

Okay.  Last month I visited Chicago and wandered, not for the first time, into the Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Company.  You are probably thinking that it is a spy shop, selling listening devices, cameras smaller than a grain of rice, and the like.  You are, of course, wrong.

As the employees confidentially explain to each newcomer: the store is a front.  It is secretly the headquarters for 826CHI, "a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write." So anything you buy in the shop (mostly writing-related material) supports the real work of the organization, which is encouraging kids to write.  Pretty cool, huh?

There are actually seven 826 branches promoting writing in different cities, and each has its own cunning disguise.  For example, in San Francisco 826 Valencia hides behind the Pirate Supply Store.  Clearly these people take kids seriously, but not themselves.

Among the merchandise for sale in the Secret Agent Supply Shop is a small selection of books, including the works of novelist Dave Eggers, which is fair because he is one of the two founders of the organization.  More power to him.

But I was more interested in another book I saw there.  I picked it up and told the enthusiastic salesperson "I have a story coming out in the 2016 edition!"

"Really?  That's great!"

Out of Print Clothing Company
"Yup, and the same story has been selected for the Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror collection."

"Oh, now you're just bragging."

"Damn straight," I said.  "I've been writing for forty years and this is my first best-of appearance.  Of course I'm going to brag about it."  Which, you may notice, I just did.

Of course, I had to buy something and I did.  See the photo.

Next time you are in Chicago I recommend you drop by.  You don't even need a secret password.

03 May 2016

The Joys of Description


Me and my teapot :)
On Saturday night, I won
the Agatha Award for best
short story of 2015, and
I was just a little happy.
Kudos too to Art Taylor,
who won the Agatha for
Best First Novel.


by Barb Goffman

In search of blogging topics, I asked my friends for suggestions. This paraphrased question caught my eye right away:

How much detail should a writer use when describing the setting, what the characters look like, and what the characters are doing?

The amount of detail a writer should use is of course a personal matter. Some authors love expounding on setting and appearance, giving every detail so that a person could--if they had to--draw an exact replica of a room or a picture that would make a sketch artist proud. Other authors take a minimalist approach, preferring to leave setting to the readers' imagination. Readers' taste also varies, with some wanting to know every detail of each place and character's appearance, others not wanting their time wasted on that detail.
 
Given that readers' tastes do vary across the spectrum, an author obviously can't please everyone. I typically suggest something in the middle of the spectrum (though my personal taste is toward the minimalist side). You want to set the scene but you don't want to bore the reader or hold up the action.

When it comes to what characters look like, I suggest telling the reader one or two telling details, something to make the character stand out in the reader's mind. Does the character have a large mole on his cheek? Does she walk with a limp? Does she have extremely big hair? And I wouldn't limit myself to thinking a character's description only applies to what he or she looks like. Saying the woman who came to visit smelled like she worked in a kennel or her voice rumbled like she'd been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for decades will hopefully be more memorable than simply saying she had shoulder-length brown hair and blue eyes.
This man's hair color and style are likely all you need to tell.

I suggest getting this type of detail in early, before the reader decides for herself what the character looks like. But don't force the detail in right when we meet the character if it doesn't work there.

If there's something important about the character's appearance, make sure you get it in early too. You wouldn't want your bank robber to be described as someone who sometimes slurs her words, and not show the reader until the end of the book that this character sometimes slurs.

Of course sometimes you need to give a little more detail in order to create a smoke screen. If something about a character's appearance is an important clue (or red herring), try to weave that detail into the narrative, hiding it among other details so it doesn't appear important. For instance, if it's important that Jane has dark green eyes, don't make that the only thing you say about Jane because then that detail will stand out. Instead tell the reader that Jane has ratty brown hair that looks like it hasn't been washed for a week. Her hair is so nasty you can hardly see her dark green eyes or the scar on her forehead she got from a bar fight. The reader will hopefully focus on the scar and Jane's nasty hair, with the eye color fading into the recess of her brain.

These same techniques can be used for setting. You want to create your world, but you don't need to spell out every detail to do it. Are you creating a charming town? Tell me Main Street has an old-fashioned ice cream shop and a Mom and Pop diner that's been there for decades. Let me know that a large green is adjacent to Main Street with some Revolutionary War statues and large shade trees people picnic under in the summertime. That's more than enough for me get the quaint picture you're trying to set. I don't need the name of every store, of every statue, of every street. But if it's an important clue that a certain statue was defaced, don't have that be the only damage done. Bury that clue in a report of the damage supposedly all done by the vandal.

As to detail of what characters are doing, I also advocate for minimalism. If you have two characters driving and discussing the case, I don't need to know each time the driver changes gear or flips on the turn signal. If you tell me that Bob is driving, I can picture what he's doing. I only need to know things that are unusual. If Bob is distracted and keeps looking at his phone or the radio or keeps checking out the rear-view mirror because he thinks they're being followed--things that are important to the plot--I want to know.

There are some actions you don't need to show at all. If your character is beginning a new day, I don't need to see her brushing her teeth unless her toothpaste is poisoned or someone is going to strangle her while she's working on her incisors. I don't even need to know she brushed her teeth. Just show her arriving at her office, finding it in disarray from the burglars who struck overnight. And if your
When brushing teeth, less is more.
character is going up a staircase, and you show the character heading to the staircase, she thinks a bit, and then she's at the top of the stairs, that's just fine. The reader can infer that she just walked up those steps. You don't need to show every step as it's taken unless you're trying to show that she's wobbly or that a stair is creaking or if someone is going to push her over the banister. (Such fun!)

Of course, again, everyone's mileage may vary about the amount of detail preferred. I'd love to know what you think. And please, let us know if you're a reader or a writer. Or both.

02 May 2016

Proud Mother


by Jan Grape and son, Phil Lee

Today I have to succumb to being a rather prejudiced mother. My oldest son, Phil Lee, wrote a rather interesting ad entertaining blog this week and I decided to reprint it here. Think y'all will enjoy it.

In the photo at right, Phil Lee is the dark haired young man on the right. Middle is my daughter, Karla and left is my son, Roger Grape.

Lee Editorial Noise


After over 30 years, I have fallen in love once again with vinyl records. Yes, I know, I am about 5 or 10 years late to this fashionable party, but I am finally back where I started after all these years. I think that LPs started to build up steam about 2007 and have been rising every year, fueled by interest from old geezers to young hipsters.  I know a few of you out there never really left, and still have record collections and nice systems that you have faithfully maintained. But in my lifetime going from LPs and 8-tracks to cassettes, CDs and then totally digital, I never dreamed I would ever own or buy or play or enjoy these artifacts of yesteryear, but here I am once again. Let me back up a bit…

About 2 years ago, I purchased an amp to add to our speakers in the den. My plan was to enhance audio for the TV, and then also have a way to plug in a dedicated ipod for digital music. That worked out great- but I noticed the music quality was not really that impressive with the volume cranked up to a decent level. For years, I have enjoyed the convenience of  itunes on my office computers and in the car, but never really played digital music on a higher end system. The compression of digital files has left us all with an inferior, muddy sound- and certainly not anything most artists and musicians intended us to hear when listening to their creations.

However even with all the shortcomings of digital music, the ability to discover a new band online, and then within seconds purchase a track or an album, (or for some people, steal it) and then instantly hear it- still feels amazing to me. Also the convenience and portability to have access to all your music on a tiny device is something I never dreamed would be possible in my lifetime. Patton Oswalt has a funny bit about how if he could go back in time and confront his younger self and explain how in the future every song in existence will fit on something smaller than a cassette tape. (and his teenage mind would be instantly blown) He then compares how jaded our youth have become with this technology-  it's just something they have grown up with, and holds no magical amazement that greeted us older folks when it was released.

Although with all that being said, it's really an odd acceptance we've all grown accustomed to over the years: this trade-off of convenience and accessibility over audio quality. A lot of that stems from compression, the device and the environment that the end user experiences, limited by computers, phones, tablets, etc. I recently saw a Dan Rather interview with Jack White. When discussing technology, White draws a comparison between streaming movies online and digital music. He admits that it's great to have the convenience of enjoying movies on the little screens of tablets or computers or phones. But then he adds: when you drive past a movie theater, everyone agrees THAT is the real place you go to experience a movie in its intended format and environment. And the equivalent finished product for the music industry is vinyl and a decent sound system.

 A couple of years ago as I continued my quest for better sound, I stumbled on to Neil Young's Kickstarter campaign for his new PONO music player. It looked intriguing at the time- a way to play high resolution music files in the car or on the home system. I asked my son about the concept and he just laughed at me and said: "just get a turntable." I was hearing more and more about the revitalization of the LP market in recent years, so about a month ago I walked in to my local Best Buy. They had  exactly one turntable- very bland, very basic, and its big "feature" was a USB port so that you can transfer all your old records to digital. Ouch- not really what I had in mind!


I did some online researching and found the answer: The Orbit, a really sweet turntable made by a small company called U-Turn, located in a suburb of Boston. Three guys in their 20s set out to design and manufacture a turntable that looked cool and sounded great for only $150, and to somehow make it here in America. They had a successful Kickstarter campaign, and as of Fall of 2015, have shipped over 10,000 units. They did not quite make their original price point- but came close as their base unit sells for $179. They also offer an interactive online customization tool that allows you to select color, platter type, cartridge and a few other options.
  
http://uturnaudio.com/

The ability to support an American company- especially one that manufactures an electronic product, is very rare in this day and age! The majority of the turntable elements are made here at home in various locations across the country- although some of the inside parts are from overseas. Everything is assembled by hand at the U-Turn facility. Customer service is excellent- and if you have any issues, changes or future upgrades, you are dealing with someone in the Boston area, and not from an out sourced overseas imposter.


Reviews looked solid and the photos were great, so I quickly made the plunge. I've had the unit about 2 weeks and continue to be amazed at both the sound and the look. I can turn up the volume and hear a sharpness of detail that's been missing for decades. I've already had 3 or 4 "goose bump" moments hearing specific sections or little nuances that have been hidden within songs from my favorite old bands from the 80s. One of the greatest joys has also been re-listening to newer bands I discovered only in the last 10 years or so.  Up until now, my only point of reference for those bands has been limited to compressed digital songs. But now on LP, the clarity and detail really shines. It's a night and day difference of listening experience.

I know its just stupid nostalgia, but putting  a record on the platter, and hearing that "bump" as you carefully drop the needle down just feels strangely familiar and comfortable.

Holding an album in my hands, looking at the artwork or reading the notes or lyrics is a long forgotten pleasure.

Even playing some of my old stuff that have a bit more crackle and pop during the quiet moments only add to the experience.

I have the turntable in my office, so although a lot of its use so far is typical background music while I edit, I have noticed an entirely different feature that was really unexpected. Playing a record requires more effort- there is something so primitive about the technology, and about the entire process. You can't really pause it, and you have to be there to pick up the arm at the end of a side. (this unit has no auto return)  It almost feels more like an event in and of itself. Sitting and doing nothing except listening to the music and watching that disc spin is all you need. Playing entire album sides have also an added benefit. I am already enjoying several buried "deep" tracks that I long neglected during this age of just downloading  favorite digital songs, and ignoring those other lesser tunes that did not immediately grab my attention.


So if music matters to you- consider going old school and embrace the vinyl once again. My only regret is not taking better care of my collection. I found one box, but another is still MIA, most likely in my attic. Of the records I did find, most are warped- but all in one direction, so at least I still get to enjoy one stable side.

DISCOGS.COM is also a great resource for buying and selling LPs from around the world.


Share your vinyl memories below in the comments section, and thanks for listening!

www.leeeditorial.com

NOTE: from Jan
Phil's turntable is sitting on furniture my Dad made in late 50s early 60s.

01 May 2016

Mayday, Mayday


by Leigh Lundin

TeleType telex TTY
TeleType – early texting
It’s May Day, which got me thinking about mayday and codes. How did ‘mayday’ come to be a distress signal? It’s a mispronunciation of the French m’aider, from venez m’aider, “Come to my aid,” or “Come help me.”

So, parents and writers, it’s been a long time since we posted SMS codes and acronyms in use by kids, counter-culture, and people in technology. Some mnemonics have faded into obscurity like ROFL (rolling on floor laughing) and others have been truncated like WTF.

But OMG, a number remain with us (LOL). Some not only predate texting, but at least two, BRB and GA, date back to the days of that early messaging system, the telex. I wouldn't be surprised if Samuel Morse used such abbreviations.

I confess to liking ILYSM and 'bae' (short for bae-bae). Yet, as kids search for ever-more-circumspect communication, codes change rapidly.

You may see ‘Kik’ floating around. It’s not an acronym but a messaging phone app, popular with the young and bad guys because its messages evaporate after reading.
code meaning…
AF As ƒ, in context with other words, e.g, “That’s cool as ƒ.”
AFAIK As far as I know.
bae Babe, baby.
BMS Broke my scale, i.e, high marks for looks or deeds.
BRB Be right back.
cook Gang-up, dump on someone.
DOC Drug of choice.
FML ƒ my life, chagrin.
GA Go ahead.
HMU Hit me up, request for phone or message contact.
IDK I don't know.
ILYSM I love you so much.
KOTD Kicks of the day, sneakers.
LMAO Laughing my ass off.
LOL Laughing out loud. (still in use)
OMG Oh my God. (still in use)
OOTD Outfit of the day.
RN Right now.
smash Sexy, want sex.
SO Shout out, give recognition.
TBH To be honest.
TBR To be rude.
TF WTF? (What) the ƒ?
6 Sex, often used in combination with other codes, e.g, IW26U.
9, CD9 Parent in the room, or PIR. Formerly, POS meant parent over shoulder.

What codes are your kids sending?

30 April 2016

To Whom It May Concern


Having been a writer for several years now (and a reader for many more), I have accumulated what I suppose is an adequate vocabulary. The funny thing is, I sometimes find myself avoiding the use of perfectly good words when I write my stories, for the simple reason that they aren't often used in real life. Examples? Well, there are the many less-than-well-known-and-rarely-used suspects, words like myriad and plethora and beatific, etc.--but I'm talking mostly about words that are widely known but still not used much, in either fiction or in normal conversation. Here are three that come to mind: periodically, frankly, and whom.

What's wrong with "periodically"? Nothing--except that you seldom hear it or read it. Probably because it's just as easy to say "often" or "occasionally" or "regularly" or "now and then," which mean almost the same thing, minus the raised-eyebrow reactions. And what about "frankly"? Nothing wrong with it either, my dear, except that "honestly" seems to work better and sounds a little less pretentious. (I was once told that if you hear someone say "frankly," watch out, because whatever comes next is probably a lie.) But the one I most avoid--notice that I didn't say eschew--is "whom."

Yes, I know, there are many times when "whom" is correct, or at least grammatically correct, and it even sounds right, from time to time, as in For Whom the Bell Tolls. The problem is, it usually sounds--especially in dialogue--uppity and constipated. Anytime somebody says to me, on the phone, "To whom am I speaking?" I picture the late John Gielgud, or maybe Carson on Downton Abbey.

I don't need no steenking rules

Apparently there are others who (not whom) agree with me. Here are a few quotes and observations on that subject that I've found in my "how to write" books:

"Whom has long been perceived as formal verging on pompous . . . The rules for its proper use are obscure to many speakers, tempting them to drop whom into their speech whenever they want to sound posh."--Steven Pinker, A Sense of Style

"'Whom do you trust?' and 'Whom will it be?' are technically correct but painfully stilted. Go ahead and use Who do you trust? and Who will it be? except in the most formal of writing."--Bill Walsh, The Elephants of Style

"As far as I'm concerned, 'whom' is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler."--author Calvin Trillin

"About half the people you hear spewing the word whom in everyday conversation don't really know how. They're bluffing. They know just enough to get it right sometimes--that's all they need to make themselves feel like big shots."--June Cassagrande, Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies

"In almost all cases, you can use who instead of whom in conversation or in informal writing . . ."--Patricia T. O'Conner, Woe Is I

Going by the book

If you do choose to salute to the Grammar Police and perform your duty, when should "whom" be used?

The rule I like best, although I've forgotten where I first heard it, is simple. (Since any discussion of objects, participles, noun antecedents, subjective cases, etc., makes my head hurt, I prefer simple rules.) Here it is:

If you can substitute he, she, or they in the sentence, use "who," and if you can substitute him, her, or them, use "whom." (For him the bell tolls.)


Sometimes it gets tricky. "I'll date whomever I want to date" is correct, but so is "I'll date whoever wants to go out with me." The second sentence requires the "who" form because it's the subject of another action within the sentence. But my dumb rule always works.

More examples:

Judy invited to the party only those who she thought would behave. (She thought they would behave.)

Judy wouldn't tell me whom she invited to the party. (She invited them to the party.)

I don't know who is going to take me to work. (She is going to take me to work.)

I don't know whom Dad told to take me to work. (Dad told her to take me to work.)

For whom the spell trolls

I still believe, though, that you should minimize using whom if your fiction is, like mine, more informal than formal. Can you imagine one of your characters--unless he or she is an English professor--saying the following?

"Guess with whom I had a date last night."
"It's not what you know, it's whom you know."
"Whom are you going to believe, him or me?"

Maybe you can. I can't.

I listed a quote earlier from A Sense of Style. That book also mentioned the comic strip Mother Goose and Grimm, which showed an owl in a tree calling "Whom!" and a raccoon on the ground replying "Show-off!"

And this excerpt from an old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon:

NATASHA FATALE: Ve need a safecracker!
BORIS BADENOV: Ve already got a safecracker!
NATASHA: Ve do? Whom?
BORIS: Meem, dat's whom!

William Safire, author of the New York Times's "On Language" column, once said, "Let tomorrow's people decide who they want to be president." According to Steven Pinker, if Safire can misuse who/whom in this way, so can he.

Questions? Anyone? Anyone?

What's your opinion, on all this? Do you, like Natasha, use whom at every opportunity? Do you avoid it like Kryptonite? Do you often find, or have you ever found, the need to use whom in a piece of fictional dialogue? Fictional narrative? Have you ever substituted who even though you knew it wasn't grammatically correct? Is your head beginning to hurt too?

Whatever your views, I wish good luck to all of you who write stories, and to all of those for whom they are written.

29 April 2016

Murder Most Conventional: Interviews About The New Malice Domestic Anthology


By Art Taylor

As this post is published, Malice Domestic is already underway in Bethesda, Maryland—three days (plus!) of the best in traditional mystery. There are many highlights of the weekend ahead, including celebrations of this year’s honorees: Katherine Hall Page earning a lifetime achievement award; Victoria Thompson as guest of honor and Linda Smith Rutledge as fan guest of honor; Hank Phillippi Ryan as toastmaster; an Amelia Award for Douglas Greene; a Poirot Award for Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald; and a remembrance of the late, great Sarah Caudwell. Several of our SleuthSayers here are in the running for Agatha Awards, including both Barb Goffman and B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens in the short story category—for “A Year Without Santa Claus?” and “A Joy Forever,” respectively—and Bonnie again for her YA novel Fighting Chance, and I’m honored that my own book, On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, is a contender for Best First Novel honors. (Good luck to us all—and a second dose of best wishes to Bonnie, who recently broke her arm and won't be making the festivities herself!)

Another highlight of this year’s Malice is the return of the Malice anthology—this one with a focus on conventions themselves. Malice Domestic: Murder Most Conventional is presented by Katherine Hall Page and features 22 original stories and one reprint, including stories by Marcia Talley, Neil Plakcy, Victoria Thompson, John Gregory Betancourt, Su Kopil, Kate Flora, Charles Todd, Gigi Pandian, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Frances McNamara, KB Inglee, Kathryn Leigh Scott, KM Rockwood, L.C. Tyler, Nancy Brewka-Clark, M Evonne Dobson, Ruth Moose, Rhys Bowen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons. Our own SleuthSayers are among this batch of honorees too, with B.K. Stevens’ contributing “What Goes Around” and Barb Goffman doing double-duty both as a contributor with “The Best-Laid Plans” (the stories were chosen by blind submission) and as one of the editors, along with Verena Rose and Rita Owen—with Barb focusing on developmental and line editing.

Last year I edited the Bouchercon anthology Murder Under the Oaks, and one of the great joys of that process was working with first-time writers, so to celebrate the new anthology, I’m interviewing Marie Hannan-Mandel, author of “The Perfect Pitch,” and Eleanor Cawood Jones, author of “Killing Kippers”—two authors making their debuts as traditionally published authors—and also talking to Barb about her experiences editing the project and working with these two writers in particular.

Before the interview then, a couple of quick introductions:

  • Raised in Ireland, Marie Hannan-Mandel now lives in Elmira Heights, NY. She is an assistant professor and chair of the Communications department at Corning Community College. She was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger award in 2013, longlisted for the RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland short story award in 2014, and received an honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction award competition in 2014. Her short story “Sisters, Sisters” will appear in Adirondack Mysteries 3 in 2016.
  • Eleanor Cawood Jones got her first writing job as a reporter with the Kingsport Tennessee Times-News and now work as a marketing director and freelance copywriter in Northern Virginia. Her independently published short story compilations include A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Tales of Murder and More and Death is Coming to Town: Four Murderous Holiday Tales.
  • In addition to her own success as a short story writer—including the Macavity and Silver Falchion Awards—Barb Goffman also has a distinguished career as an editor, including both the new Malice anthology and the award-winning Chesapeake Crimes series, the newest book of which, Storm Warning, was just released.
And now on to the interviews—with Marie and Eleanor up first!

Tell us a little bit about your stories “The Perfect Pitch” and “Killing Kippers,” and given the anthology’s theme, how did your own experience with conventions—maybe Malice in particular!—inform your characters or your plot?

Marie Hannan-Mandel
MARIE HANNAN-MANDEL: My story is set at an inventors' convention in Maine where the first person narrator from New York City has come to persuade the hot-shot inventor leading her workshop to support her product. When a crime occurs she hopes that if she solves it the inventor will be so grateful he will back her.  I have attended many conferences and there are always representatives of various "types" in attendance--the pushy ones, the painfully shy ones, the beautiful ones whom everyone defers to, the famous, and the stalkers who are hyper-focused on getting to know the presenters. I tried to represent this mixed bag of people in a crime setting.

Eleanor Cawood Jones
ELEANOR CAWOOD JONES: Although not a single character in "Killing Kippers" is real, I did actually get snowed in at a casino-hotel many, many years ago where there was a clown convention going on. I was frankly astonished that clown conventions existed and the whole experience was distinctly surreal. So though the memory of that time is fuzzy, when it came time to come up with a crime-most-foul in a convention setting, that herd of clowns bulldozed their way to the forefront when I sat down to start writing. This is not your father's Stephen King clown story, although there is a clown front and center. I'm only sorry I didn't attend any clown panels while I was there. I think I could have been a great balloon-animal artist.

"Kippers" is written in first-person drunk from the perspective of a narrator who is not normally much of a drinker, which made room for some off-the-wall observations and interactions along the way. If pressed, I'd call it dark humor. And it's not just about murder, it's about life and joy and sadness and unusual friendships found in unexpected places.

Malice Domestic celebrates the traditional mystery and the book cover copy explicitly calls these cozy mysteries. How do you define those terms traditional and cozy for yourself, and how did that determine your approach here? Do you usually write in the traditional/cozy vein?

MARIE HANNAN-MANDEL: To me, cozy or traditional mysteries are those that focus on the gentler side of crime fiction. I'm not interested in gruesome description or detailed forensics. My focus is on the characters and why they do the things they do. I enjoy humor and try to use it where I can.  I almost always write what I consider cozy stories.

ELEANOR CAWOOD JONES: When I think of traditional and cozy I picture Miss Marple and some steaming tea and a paneled drawing room. I like to sit down in the comfort of my own home and go there to figure out with Miss M (or Poirot or any number of others) to enjoy the atmosphere of a whodunit. This applies to any number of settings, of course. Strange, but all the traditional mysteries I have read and no two are alike. They are comfortably familiar yet unique. But there's a certain feeling and mindset that goes along with reading one, and that's what traditional and cozy mean to me. Also, they are less violent and bloody than say, a traditional thriller, and thus considered less disturbing. For that reason, I wanted a milder, more bloodless plot and crime for Kippers, and though not a locked room setting, at least a self-contained area.

With that said, I do write some traditional mysteries, but I like to break rules. Some of my characters might just get away with it and I like to tamper with the definition of a bad guy—not everything is black and white and sometimes I find myself rooting for the villain. I also am extremely interested in motivation and personality of characters, and although plot is king I like to write about interesting people—even if they are only interesting in their own minds. Everybody has a story and everybody has a button just waiting to be pushed. I like to push the buttons of my characters and see what happens. So I stray into the thriller side but cozy is my home.

Finally, how did you celebrate the news when you heard that your stories had been accepted?

MARIE HANNAN-MANDEL: I took a walk on the beach in Ireland and skipped through the sand.

ELEANOR CAWOOD JONES: Best feeling in the world. I sprang up from my couch and walked around the house in circles, making celebratory shouting noises and trying to hold still long enough to text a few people who have been over-the-top amazing in their encouragement and support. Then I ate off that news for a week! All my favorite restaurants. Writing is fattening.

And now to switch perspectives on all this—a quick chat with Barb Goffman from the other side of the desk.


Barb, you’ve served as an editor here and also for several volumes of the Chesapeake Crimes series. Have you seen any differences in working with first-time authors or authors early in their career versus those who are veteran authors?

BARB GOFFMAN: While I'm happy to work with all authors, I love working with new and newer authors. Newer authors' stories often need more work than stories written by more experienced writers, but newer authors often are quite enthusiastic about doing revisions (sometimes several drafts) and taking advice that allows their stories to shine. I love helping them transform their stories from good to great.

More veteran authors can sometimes be less open to editing. Because they're more confident in their skills, if they like what they wrote and think it works, they might be willing to let issues slide. And that is their prerogative. But the best authors, no matter how experienced, are open to at least considering if there's a problem to fix. I've found that if I give a detailed explanation about why I have a concern about something, most authors—be they new or established—will try to address the situation.

Thinking about the anthology on the whole, what was it about Eleanor’s and Marie’s stories in particular that stood out as distinctive or memorable, or what can readers expect from the contributors by these two new voices on the mystery scene?

BARB GOFFMAN: Marie has a great, funny voice and has crafted an interesting puzzle with strong clues. In her early drafts, she had some inconsistencies and logic problems that distracted me when I read the story. When I pointed them out, she enthusiastically dug in and fixed them. The result is a much stronger story. With the logic issues resolved, Marie's voice really gets the chance to stand out. I hope everyone will take the time to read this story. It's a winner.

Eleanor's story is also very funny. (I write funny stories so perhaps that's why this element stood out to me in both stories, but I think it's something everyone will enjoy.) It takes skill to make a story involving death funny, and Eleanor does it. I also loved that she set her story at a clown convention. That's imagination at work. And, like Marie, Eleanor has a strong voice. Her first draft had a bit too much detail, but once that came out, her dialogue and internal monologue was able to really shine, making her story one readers will remember with a smile.

Malice Domestic: Murder Most Conventional is available at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle and is also for sale at Malice Domestic this weekend. A special signing by the contributors in attendance will take place at the opening reception, Friday, April 29, 9:15-10 p.m.



28 April 2016

Janice Law's "Homeward Dove"


by Eve Fisher

Have you ever looked around and realized you're in a dead-end job, in a dead-end town, working your butt off for just enough to keep you in rent and groceries?  Too much drinking, too much junk food, too much wasted time.  A memory of something better - like that girl back in high school - but right now you've settled.  Oh, how you've settled.  The only good thing in your life is fishing, drinking, and the occasional roll in the hay with a woman who's also settled, and doesn't really care...

And it ticks you off, down deep. It should be better than this.  There should at least be a future, right? Maybe a vacation that doesn't involve Motel 6 or a friend's busted out old camper? A better job? A home and family?

And if you can't get that, why should you play it straight?  It's a mug's game, and you don't want to be just another loser.  So you cut corners, do some dicey stuff, make a little money on the side, but you've got your ass covered.  Everything's fine.

And then in she walks.  Not Lana Turner from The Postman Always Rings Twice.  The supervisor from hell, with a clipboard, an attitude, and a taste for money.  The kind of person who knows who's screwing the company, because that's her plan, too.  And she goes straight for your throat.  Pay up, or get fired.  And keep paying, paying, paying...

Welcome to the first 14 pages of Janice Law's new novel, Homeward Dove.  (Available here at Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle.)

Our dead-ender is Jeff Woodbine, our supervisor from hell is Michelle, and the high school dream girl is Jess.

So, where do you think this is going to go?  Not where you think.  Like a Coen Brothers' movie, this has twists and turns, dark humor and black deeds, that go places that you don't expect, but when they come, you know they're absolutely right.

Michelle is like all blackmailers, just stupid enough so that her greed makes her feel invincible.  She keeps pushing, and pushing, and pushing for more money.  Jeff is at the end of his rope.  But on the opening day of trout season, when a hungover Jeff climbs out of bed with his f-buddy, Lynn, and goes down to the river to clear his head, who does he find but Michelle, wheeling a toddler down the path.

Well, they're going to get into a fight, right?  Yes.

He's going to kill her, right?  Inadvertently, yes.

The only witness?  A toddler, who can't even speak...

And when he gets back home, Lynn is still asleep, nobody's noticed, everything's fine.

So why does he feel so sick?  And what happens when the police show up?  Thank God - in Jeff's world - for Hurricane Andrew, which gives him a chance to get out of town without seeming like he's running away.  He works hard, cleans up his act, makes some money, lives with it all.

Months later, he's back, to a new job.  And he runs into Jess, the woman he's always wanted, who cried in his arms the night before her marriage to a man who died a few years later, a military hero. She's beautiful, sympathetic, loving; and Leon, her son, is the toddler in the stroller who saw Jeff kill Michelle.

So, where do you think this is going to go?  Not where you think.

There are twists and turns. Conscience and cops.  A fire that damn near destroys everything.  A story that Jeff's grandfather has shared with no one, "Though you're maybe the one to tell."  And when he does, it comes with a warning:  "See you be careful and don't get into [a business] that's as high priced."  But the warning comes too late for Jeff.  What he needs is to know what to do next.

Homeward Dove is like a Coen brothers' or an Alfred Hitchcock movie, where ordinary people in ordinary lives get bad breaks, make bad choices, and do bad things.  Sometimes very bad things. And then try to break free, as frantic as a fly in a spider's web.

You can't help but root for Jeff.  But what's right?  What's fair?  What should happen?  What does?
"Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin.
Dance me through the panic 'til I'm gathered safely in.
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove...
Dance me to the end of love;
Dance me to the end of love."       Dance me to the end of love - Leonard Cohen

27 April 2016

Berlin Noir


David Edgerley Gates


I mentioned last time around that I'd discovered a new enthusiasm, the Bernie Gunther mystery series written by Philip Kerr. These are period stories, set mostly during WWII, and because Bernie's a German homicide cop, he has to answer to the Nazi chain of command.

I picked up on Bernie mid-stride, reading A MAN WITHOUT BREATH first - the ninth book, which takes place in 1943, and involves the murder of Polish military prisoners by the Russians, at Katyn. My habit, generally, if I happen on a writer I like, is to go back and read their books in the order they were written. Right? Seems only fair. In this case, as it was with Alan Furst, I snatched up what was immediately available, and took one step forward, with THE LADY FROM ZAGREB, and one step back, with PRAGUE FATALE, and then FIELD GRAY. Next on the list is the Berlin Noir trilogy, the first three Bernie novels. I couldn't help myself. I grabbed whatever title was on the library shelf. I was too impatient to wait my turn.

I think there are three elements that make the books so fascinating. The first is historical irony. In more than one novel, actually, the story's framed with a look back, from the later 1940's or the early 1950's. Secondly, there's a constant sense of threat, the Nazi regime a bunch of backstabbers, and Bernie hangs on princes' favors. One dangerous patron is Reinhard Heydrich, a chilly bastard who meets an appropriate end. And thirdly, Bernie is really trying to be a moral person, against all odds. You go along to get along, to simply survive, in a nest of vipers, and hope it doesn't rub off on you. After seeing the Special Action Groups at work in Russia, and himself participating, Bernie is sickened by the whole enterprise. He suspects, too, that the handwriting's on the wall.

Bernie's a Berliner, a guy with street smarts, and too smart a mouth. He fought in the first war, in the trenches, and started out as a cop during Weimar. He has no politics. He's as contemptuous, early on, of the Communists as he is of the Nazis, and then, the better he gets to know the Nazis as they consolidate their power, he comes to realize they aren't the lesser of two evils. They are evil. And it does rub off on you.

This is the question often raised in Alan Furst's books, and the two writers have some things in common, aside from the time-frame and the context of their novels. We don't in fact know how we might behave at a personal breaking point, in the context of Vichy France or Nazi Berlin. It's comforting to think we might Bogart through, but daily life becomes an enormous struggle, for the simplest of things. Having a conscience, or a moral compass, might be a luxury we couldn't afford. We might not rise to the occasion. One of Bernie's superiors in Minsk even quotes Luther - "Here I stand" - and then dismisses it. You can't be serious, he tells Bernie. There's no room for that.

And in the middle of all this, institutionalized murder, mass hysteria, people still commit common crimes for common reasons. They kill people for shoes, or bread, or envy. FIELD GRAY has Bernie trying to solve a homicide inside a POW camp. The fact that he's a POW, and the camp is run by the Russians, only makes the whole thing more surreal. Often enough, it isn't some crazed Nazi weirdness at work, although that usually informs it. Everything's out of square. The truly strange thing is that you begin to see this unbalanced world as somehow the norm, at least to the degree of understanding how to navigate it, and once you go there, you've stepped over the edge. The pit opens.

26 April 2016

House for Sale! Not Haunted!


2475 Glendower Place, Los Feliz (Los Angeles), CA 90027

Los Feliz Murder House
“First time on the market in over 50 years! Perched on a hill up a long drive way with sweeping views sits this 4 bedroom 3 bath Spanish Revival home on a large lot. Features include grand entrance with a step down living room with serene views, formal dining room, library/study, large kitchen, and a ballroom with bar on the third floor. Three car garage at street level and two car garage at the end of the driveway. Waiting for that special person looking for a wonderful opportunity to remodel or develop,” says the agent’s listing, which you can find at: http://www.bhhscalifornia.com/listing-detail/2475-glendower-place-los-angeles-ca-90027_1843846

All of this for only 2.7 mil (and change). Spare change, for some.

The one thing that the agent forgot to mention in her description is the murder-suicide and attempted murder committed here on December 6, 1959. No biggie. So it definitely might take a “special person” to buy this joint.

According to CA law, I believe the crimes committed in this house need to be disclosed. When my wife and I were looking for our current house several years ago, one of the houses we liked a lot had had a suicide in it and that was disclosed to us. It wasn’t a deal breaker – no, that was the fact that the house needed work and the seller wouldn’t come down, considering the amount of work needed. But one does think about how it would be cozying up in the family room, watching The Haunting and knowing that someone had shot themselves right there. So when that popcorn you were eating is suddenly all gone you might wonder “who” ate it…

But this Los Feliz house (a really great neighborhood by the way) has something on the house we were looking at, a murder and a suicide instead of just a mere suicide. And an attempted murder. I guess today we’d call the killer a family annihilator or at least a family annihilator wanna-be, though I don’t know if the term was in use in 1959.

The house’s architecture is Spanish Revival, similar to the house used in Double Indemnity and the house I grew up in. And my favorite style of home architecture.

Los Feliz Murder House
Apparently the house is frozen in time, a relic of 1959, when Dr. Harold Perelson hit his sleeping wife with a ball-peen hammer till she was dead. He then attacked his daughter Judye, but his bad aim caused her to wake up and run into her parents’ bedroom. Finding her mother dead, she ran out of the house screaming, until the neighbors called the police. The commotion caused the Perelson’s two younger sons to wake up but the good doctor gently told them they were having a nightmare and to go back to bed... but not as bad a nightmare as they probably had when they woke up and found their mother bludgeoned to death.

A neighbor entered the house to see Perelson taking a handful of sleeping pills, lay down on Judye’s bed and count sheep – or maybe dead bodies – while waiting for death, which came before the police. Nobody knows what motivated the good doctor to do what he did. People speculate that he was depressed or had business setbacks, but no one knows for sure.

The house was sold in a 1960 probate sale and the son of the buyer died just this last year. Supposedly another family rented the house right after the sale, adding a Christmas tree and presents, but fled a year later. Since then, no one lived in it except maybe a squatter here or there. But word is, because of the murders, they never stayed long. And the Christmas tree, old and untouched, and presents are still there and supposedly have been all this time.

Rudy Enriquez, the recently deceased son of the home’s buyer, said he used the house for storage but not much else. He could have given it to me, I would have loved it.

Word is that the house is a teardown, both because of its history and because it’s falling apart and in such great disrepair after so many decades. But one has to wonder, does the bad energy of that fateful night linger? And will it linger on this spot if the house is torn down? Oooooh!

Curious Lookie-Loos come up the narrow street and bother the neighbors, parking in their driveways or just using them to turn around. They park and get over the chain-link fence and look around. The gawkers would bother me more than the “ghosts”.

Some people think haunted houses increase a home’s value. Others wouldn’t’ touch them. But as silly as it may sound to some, even “haunted” houses have to be disclosed these days.

Personally, I love Los Feliz. It’s a beautiful neighborhood filled with tons of gorgeous Spanish Revival homes, where my cousins and aunt and uncle lived in a cool Spanish style house, pretty close to this murder house. So, we’d hear stories…about the bogeyman and worse! And when my wife and I were looking for our current house we looked in Los Feliz, but ultimately decided we wanted to be farther out of the city, so where we live now the local little paper has things like saddle stolen on their crime blotter page instead of family bludgeoned to death every other day. Los Feliz is where the main characters in my novel Vortex live. And there’s a really cool bridge there, the Shakespeare Bridge, that is part of a very intense scene.

SHAKESPEARE BRIDGE, LOS FELIZ (LOS ANGELES)
So, if you happen to have 2.7 mil handy, make an offer. If I could afford it I’d put a down payment down right now. And I wouldn’t tear the house down either.

And here’s how the ad should read if there really was truth in advertising:

“Planning that perfect murder? Don’t mess up a virgin house. Famous Murder-Suicide house on the market for first time in over 50 years. Haunted by ghosts of past murders. Perfect for you: Features soundproof walls. Large kitchen with butcher block, perfect for chopping. Formal dining room with wood beams for hanging things from. Ball-peen hammer room on the third floor. Stainmaster carpet throughout. Only two people died here. Three got away. You might too...”

(Hat Tip to Leigh Lundin for suggesting this piece, though not the tone of it. And I hope I haven’t offended anyone with my gallows humor. ’Cause so many are offended so easily these days…)

***


25 April 2016

Brief Encounters of the Story Kind


Writing a book or a short story is like a relationship. You meet a pretty girl (you think of a cool idea for a plot). You discover the girl is super smart and intelligent (the idea has depth and resonance, and is compelling), and you become even more attracted to her. You start on page one (you ask her out), and there begins your relationship in earnest. Your first several dates go off without a hitch, and you make good progress on the first draft. The relationship grows and blossoms.

Without extending this metaphor into the realms of the surreal, you fall madly in love (you get into the zone of writing the story), and love (your writing) flows as poetically as a Shakespearean sonnet on a summer's day.

Pause for sighing. Ahhhh...

But, unlike in the real world, your relationship with your story is doomed to failure because, at some point, the relationship has to end. It must end. You can't keep writing the same story for the rest of your life. There has to be closure. We writers sometimes spend so much time with our creations, they are describable as significant others: loved and cherished, honored and obeyed, and breaking up can be hard to do.

Sometimes, the breakup might be mutually beneficial, especially when the story has been a hard write, and there's been a lot of bickering between you and it in the course of its telling. You know those stories, the ones with lots of long silent nights sat staring at each other, with nothing to say. And you're just mopping up the loose ends, to get it over with, so you can go your separate ways, with both hoping to survive the bitter separation.

Worse, still, is when you leave the story for another. And it sits there, alone, in the café of your soul, drinking endless cups of coffee waiting for your return. And when you do return (after your torrid affair with another story), it's never the same.

For most writers, writing is rewriting. I think only in movies (and in our dreams) does anyone start on page one, spend a couple of months working through to page 400, type in THE END, and then send the completed book off to a publisher (where, of course, it immediately sells and is immediately published)). The first draft is merely the gateway into the story. The real writing comes in the rewriting.

But rewriting can't last forever. How many times can you read over a story and refine it and polish it? Every time through you find something new to fiddle with and adjust: another adverb to throw out, another debatably redundant word or phrase to toss, another he said or she said that can be dropped, because it's quite obvious who is talking.

And every time you get to the end of a read over, you think, yeah, let's do this just one more time.

The best way to end a story is at the train station.


You're about to board the train (to continue on your journey), and your story is going to wave goodbye from the platform. You both know it can't go on, that you must part, that it's over. You're done. All that needs to be said has been said, and you both know it.

The encounter, albeit brief, has come to an end.

Your train departs.

You both wave goodbye.

Tears.

To actually go ahead and shunt this metaphor firmly into the realms of the surreal, your story then becomes your child.

It goes off on its own, and you have little or no more control over it. All you can do is sit back and watch as it grows and makes its way in the world.

Hopefully, it'll graduate from high school (i.e., sell and get published). Hopefully, at least, somebody might say some nice things about it. It might even get lucky and get nominated for an award; it might even win one.

It might even mature into an adult and get picked up by another medium: audio, film, theater, computer game (and who knows what else awaits us in the future). And it might even one day grow up to be considered something rather special: an outstanding story among its peers.

And one thing is absolutely for certain: no "mights "about it. Your story will outlive you. And long after you have gone, someone somewhere may still know of it, have a copy in his or her hand, and perceive a sense of the love that once bloomed.

Shakespeare has been dead for 400 years, and we can still feel the resonance of love in his writing:
If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it...

Be seeing you.

P.S. The photo is a still from the 1945 movie Brief Encounter. If you've never seen it, give yourself a treat.

http://www.StephenRoss.net

24 April 2016

Shakespeare's Words at 400


by Dale C. Andrews 
William Shakespeare:  You will never age for me, nor fade, nor die.  
                                                              Marc Norman
                                                              Shakespeare in Love:  A Screenplay 
I understand a fury in your words.  But not your words.
                                                              William Shakespeare
                                                              Othello 

       Shakespeare, we are told, died on his birthday -- 400 years ago yesterday. It was Shakespeare himself, in Sonnet 18, who predicted that his works would be with us "[s]o long as men can breathe or eyes can see."  That observation has proven prescient.  Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, after 400 years, are staking out a great case for immortality. But that is not to say they are also age-less. The English language has seen a lot of changes since Shakespeare gave up the ghost.

      Language can sometimes lull us into a sense of presentism. Because it evolves slowly it is easy to assume that it doesn’t really change all that much. But that is not the case. Language growth may be a slow process but it is also an inexorable one.  Measuring that growth is at its easiest when we are confronted with literature borne of a different time.  This is readily apparent in the plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare.  But before we get there, lets pause for a minute to contemplate more recent language changes.

       As discussed in a previous article, each year’s new edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is accompanied by a description of new words that have been added in a race to keep up with the evolution of our language. We are about due for the 2016 update to this list, but back in spring of 2015 over 1700 new words were added to the the dictionary’s list of recognized words. These included “emoji,” “net neutrality,” and “meme.” Also on the list was the now nearly ubiquitous exclamation “WTF.” (I suppose this is helpful -- if someone asks what it means now you can simply say “look it up!”) 

       The editors of the dictionary take all of this vocabulary evolution very seriously. Their goal, after all, is not one of creating new words but rather of acknowledging the new words that have already become accepted in conversation. To do this, according to Merriam-Webster, the publishers must seek out words that have been “used in a substantial number of citations that come from a wide range of publications over a considerable period of time,” Merriam-Webster’s publishers note that “the word must have enough citations to allow accurate judgments about its establishment, currency, and meaning.” 

     Even when a word makes the cut its meaning may not be set in stone (or the dictionary page). Common and accepted words over the course of time may find their meaning completely changed. According to the Oxford Dictionary the words "learn" and "let," for example, now mean the opposite of their former use. Other words (a good example is “sanction”) continue to have directly opposite meanings based strictly on how they are used in a sentence. Other words evolve to mean different things in different geographic settings. If an issue is “moot” in the United States it is not ripe for discussion, but in England the word implies that the issue is. Similarly an issue that is “tabled” is ready for discussion in England but decidedly not so in the United States. (Talk about separated by a common language!) 

       All of this, however, focuses on the addition of new words and their subsequent evolution. But an evolving language also involves subtraction. Over the years there are many words and phrases that simply fall by the wayside, unable to keep up with their comrades. These fallen soldiers predictably linger on in the dictionary for a while, usually branded with the word “archaic,” before giving up their own ghost and disappearing altogether. 

     Literature is the best museum for such words. It is amazing how rapidly writing can become dated simply because the words chosen by the author no longer seem right to a reader years down the line. The more years there are between writing and reading, the larger the problem.

       And what better example of this than Shakespeare? The shear brilliance of Shakespeare's works has ensured that 400 years later they are still a familiar part of our world.  But that is not to say that reading or listening to a performance of Shakespeare is an easy task.

       We are all taught that Shakespeare’s greatness was partially based on the fact that he wrote in the language of the people. And there, as Shakespeare might have said, is the rub. The irony of Shakespeare’s use of language common to his time is that his literature becomes, as a result, difficult to parse today because centuries later many of his words are no longer those of the people. And I am not just talking about just an occasional “thy” and “thou." How about this from King Henry the Fourth, Part I
As the honey of Hybla, my old lad of the castle -- and is not a buff jerkin in a most sweet robe of durance?
         What!!?

        As a public service there are several sites on the internet that have been established solely to help the vocabulary-challenged reader muddle his or her way through Shakespearean prose and poetry. Here are just a few examples of common words and phrases used by The Bard that now require further explanation: 
  • Anon -- in a little while 
  • Belike -- with considerable certainty  
  • Betimes -- in good time 
  • Betwixt -- in the interval 
  • Bourn -- a boundary 
  • Bruit -- tell or spread rumors 
  • Buckram -- a coarse cotton fabric stiffened with glue 
  • Cap-a-pie -- at all points from head to foot 
  • Cozen -- be dishonest with 
  • Fain -- having made preparations 
  • Fardel -- a burden, literally a bundle 
  • Haply -- by accident 
  • Hautboy -- a slender double-reed instrument   
  • Hugger mugger -- to act stealthily or secretively 
  • Incarnadine -- redden or make flesh-colored 
  • Meed -- a fitting reward 
  • Mote -- a tiny piece of anything 
  • Nonce -- the present occasion 
  • Orison -- reverent petition to a deity 
  • Palter -- being deliberately ambiguous or unclear in order to mislead 
  • Rood -- a crucifix 
  • Shrive -- a contemptuous term of address to an inferior man or boy 
  • Sooth -- truth or reality  
  • Swain -- a man who is the lover of a child or young woman 
  • Thou -- the cardinal number that is the product of 10 and 100 
  • Vouchsafe -- grant in a condescending manner 
  • Welkin -- the surface of an imaginary sphere on which celestial bodies appear 
  • Withal -- together with this 
  • Wonted -- commonly used or practiced; usual 
And note that as helpful as all of this might generally be, none of it is any help when it comes to deciphering that King Henry the Fourth, Part I quote! 

       Of course the problem lies not just in the works of Shakespeare. His writing is a good example of the problem simply because it has endured so long, a process that ensures the maximum number of dated words. Pick up any classic golden age mystery and the same problem, to a lesser degree, presents itself even where only 75 years separates the pen from the reader. 

       And as words depart from the realm of accepted usage dictionaries must take note of this as well. Just as words are constantly being added to dictionaries, so, too, others are quietly disappearing. You will no longer find “aerodrome” in the Collins Dictionary. And, as The Guardian noted a few years back, that word is in good company: 
Other words on the [deleted] list include "wittol"– a man who tolerates his wife's infidelity, which has not been much used since the 1940s. The terms "drysalter", a dealer in certain chemical products and foods, and "alienism", the study and treatment of mental illness, have also faded from use. Some of the vanished words are old-fashioned modes of transport such as the "cyclogiro", a type of aircraft propelled by rotating blades, and charabanc, a motor coach. 
     It is probably inevitable that this process cannot take place without some folks voicing objections. The same fervor that inspires us to form groups committed to saving almost anything poised on the brink of extinction has also provided a catalyst for various groups to champion the restoration of some of the more colorful words that have been deemed, as a result of diminished usage, obsolete. And, truth be told, you have to admire some of these proffered candidates. Take, for example, the following gathered from various “save the word” sites scattered throughout the Internet: 
  • Apricity -- feeling the warmth of the sun in winter 
  • Beef-witted -- An inactive brain resulting from eating too much beef 
  • Brabble -- Loudly arguing about something inconsequential 
  • California widow -- A married woman whose husband is away 
  • Cockalorum -- A small person with an inflated view of themselves (in this election year wouldn’t that one come in handy!) 
  • Crapulous -- feeling ill due to over-indulgence 
  • Curglaff -- The shock of stepping into cold bath water 
  • Curmuring -- the rumbling sound produced by bowels 
  • Fuzzle -- To get someone drunk 
  • Gorgonize -- Projecting a hypnotic effect 
  • Groak -- silently watching someone while they eat in the hope you will be invited to join in 
  • Grumpish -- How you feel when you are grumpy 
  • Jargogle -- to confuse or bamboozle 
  • Jirble -- Decanting with an unsteady hand 
  • Lethophobia -- the fear of oblivion
  • Ludibrious -- someone apt to be the butt of a joke 
  • Lunting -- smoking a pipe while walking 
  • Resistentialism -- the malevolent behavior displayed (all too often) by inanimate objects (hammers in proximity to thumb, for example) 
  • Snoutfair -- Displaying a pleasing countenance 
       Joining the bandwagons and re-introducing any of these words into your own writing can be tempting. But beware -- by doing so you may risk showing your age.  And, as Hamlet decried:
Age, with his stealing steps, hath clawed me in his clutch.