12 May 2016

"I Hope You Get the Help You Need"

by Eve Fisher

Ripped from the headlines of South Dakota:

State Receives $300,000 for Mental Health Task Force.

Investigation continues into 50 year old woman's death (35 year old boyfriend claims he woke up and there she was, dead... Yes, there were a few drugs lying around...).

Man accused of killing state trooper wants case separated (he's planning on blaming the other defendants for everything).

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7678578
Fourth of July State Park Camping Reservations open soon (we have some GREAT camping sites; really GREAT).

Report shows an elderly woman found in a freezer died of natural causes  (now why her son brought her to South Dakota in a freezer, that may not be so natural, but he died in February, so we may never have an answer to THAT mystery).

Officials tackling gopher problem at state fairgrounds (no joke, folks).

Entertainment Lineup  announced for RibFest 2016 (June 2-5th, W. H. Lyons Fairground)  .

And a story about someone sentenced to prison for various appalling acts committed under the influence of meth and God only knows what other substances he had in his system.  At his sentencing, someone said, "we hope you will get the help you need while in prison and can turn your life around once you [eventually] get out."

This last story connects with the first one, about the mental health task force:

"A grant of about $300,000 will bolster the work of a task force proposed by the state Supreme Court's chief justice to study issues surrounding mentally ill people entering the criminal justice system.  Officials on Wednesday announced the grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to the state Department of Health.  The state is providing more than $100,000 through in-kind contributions to support the work.

Homer Simpson

"Gov. Dennis Daugaard says the group is set to analyze why and how individuals with mental illness become involved with the justice system.  SD Chief Justice David Gilbertson says the criminal justice system often isn't the most appropriate and cost-effective response."  Mental Health Task Force

To which my answer is "d'oh".  

I've talked before about how our society has criminalized addiction, mental illness, and mental disability.  Some of it was purely political:  
"One of Richard Nixon's top advisers and a key figure in the Watergate scandal said the war on drugs was created as a political tool to fight blacks and hippies, according to a 22-year-old interview recently published in Harper's Magazine. 
"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people," former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman told Harper's writer Dan Baum for the April cover story published Tuesday. 
"You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities," Ehrlichman said. "We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."  John Ehrlichman interview, CNN

Other reasons were the natural fallout resulting from the scandal of "snake-pit" mental hospitals about the same time that people figured out that mental health institutions were expensive.  In other words, the search for social reform AND economic reform:
Snakepit1948 62862n.jpg
"Perhaps what is most interesting about the change in policies of involuntary commitment is the coalition that helped bring it about: a combination of "law and order" conservatives, economic conservatives, and liberal groups that sought reform in the provision of mental health services. But the policy shift had hardly anything at all to do with the mentally ill or the practitioners who treated them. It was designed to lower taxes and shift responsibility away from the federal government. Ironically then, the need for reform perceived by those involved and concerned with the mentally ill (practitioners and families) was co-opted by the interests of capital."  Reagan and the Commitment of the Mentally Ill

In any case the result is that today, instead of going to hospitals, most of the mentally ill, mentally disabled, and the chronically addicted go to jail. (Explains why we have the largest prison population in the world, doesn't it?) According to NIH, "prisons have effectively become the new mental illness asylums". NIH Report on Prisoners and Mental Illness

And, according to the Atlantic: "55 percent of male inmates in state prisons are mentally ill, but 73 percent of female inmates are. Meanwhile, the think-tank writes, "only one in three state prisoners and one in six jail inmates who suffer from mental-health problems report having received mental-health treatment since admission." The Atlantic.

So when someone says "I hope s/he finally gets the help s/he needs" the simple answer is no, most of the time, s/he won't. They will be warehoused. They may or may not be put on psychotropic drugs which may or may not be suitable for their mental illness. If they are mentally disabled, they may be put on tranquilizers, just to calm them down. [This turns them into zombies.]  If they are addicted, they may go through a six week addiction program. Or not. Depends on if there's any money. And, when they've done their time - and most prisoners will eventually do their time - they will come out, in pretty much the same shape they went in, if not worse.

You can't fix people for free.  You can't put mentally ill people into the less-than-nurturing environment of prison and expect them to come out magically all better.  But at least there's a start. I'll take any mental health task force I can get.  Anything is better than nothing, and nothing has been the rule for a very long time.

Okay, now, a little question for all the mystery writers, the woman in the freezer - why do YOU think her son brought her to South Dakota?



11 May 2016

The Guns of Navarone

by David Edgerley Gates

My local library, the Roland Park branch of the Enoch Pratt system (Baltimore's excellent public resource), runs classic movies from their DVD collection the last Saturday of every month. THE COURT JESTER, THE SEARCHERS, SOME LIKE IT HOT. This past month it was THE GUNS OF NAVARONE.

Alistair MacLean had a heck of a run, from the mid-1950's well into the 1980's. He regularly hit the bestseller lists, and a dozen of his novels were made into successful pictures, the best-remembered being GUNS OF NAVARONE, ICE STATION ZEBRA, and WHERE EAGLES DARE. MacLean himself said he had a visual style, which adapted readily to movies.


THE GUNS OF NAVARONE came out in 1961 and did enormous box office. It broke big, being one of the first road-show spectaculars - with a runtime of two hours and forty minutes - and pulled in huge numbers. It was the highest grossing picture of the year, and it racked up seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, although it didn't make the finish line. It was rousing stuff, old-fashioned derring-do, but with a subtext that was basically antiwar.  The mission could have been a suicidal folly, and men's lives spent for nothing.

It stands up pretty well, fifty-odd years later. There's very little wasted motion. The set-up is brisk, the internal frictions get established early, the obstacles are sketched out, and we're off to the races. The leaky Greek fishing boat, the heavy seas, the impossible-to-climb cliff face, the Germans not asleep at the wheel but on high alert, the clock working against the team, the odds of blowing the guns going from bad to worse, and of course the traitor amongst them. Generic conventions, yes, but it's pretty consistently tense. Not that the actors don't help. Peck and Quinn are terrific, Niven is even better. (It's interesting that Niven's character is given the speech about the folly of war, since Niven himself, in real life, is probably the closest thing to an actual war hero.) They make their characters convincing.


Methinks the storyline owes more than a little to Patrick Leigh Fermor's wartime adventures on Crete, but MacLean would probably be the first to admit it. Commando operations usually have an element of desperation, and a high risk of failure. Not to mention a bullet in the head if you get caught. If anything, GUNS OF NAVARONE doesn't soft-pedal the cost, or pretend that heroics can paper over the consequences of taking up killing as a trade. Stanley Baker's veteran knife guy has lost his stomach for it, even as James Darren's baby-faced psychopath can't get enough.

Some the special effects look kind of cheesy, at this remove, although the picture's only win at the Oscars was for FX, but now's the time to bring up the technical specs. NAVARONE was shot using the Technicolor process, and the original limited-release prints had extraordinary clarity and color saturation, but when the picture went into general release, new prints were made. Accoring to IMDb, the film negative was damaged in the lab, and the resulting prints are second-rate. In other words, if you've seen NAVARONE on late-night television or VHS, sometime in the last fifty years, you haven't really seen the picture, not the way it's supposed to be seen. Get the restored version if you can. It's worth the effort to find it.

NAVARONE is the kind of movie that seemed to fall out of fashion
for a while, but it's not really a completely straight-ahead action picture, it's more ambiguous than that. They've got the nuts and bolts down, which can be the most fascinating part, the method, the mechanics of the job itself, but although the characters often reference getting the job done, there are just as many hesitations, as if there were a choice. Sometimes you don't get to choose. NAVARONE is about forced choices. Necessity isn't the lesser of two evils. It's when nothing else is left.

10 May 2016

Lessons Learned in Hostage Taking

by Melissa Yi


April 2013: 22:20

During my first night shift at a new hospital, a prisoner escapes while awaiting medical attention. I chase after him through an empty hallway, open the door to a stairwell, push open a second door, and discover his footsteps in the snow.
Only afterward, when the police have rounded up the prisoner and I'm safely home, do I realize that I could have been taken hostage if the prisoner had been lurking inside the stairwell.
I begin researching hostage takings in hospitals. 

September 20th, 1991: 00:00

Richard Worthington storms into a suburban Salt Lake City hospital with a shotgun, a .347 magnum revolver, and a bomb. He screams, “My life was perfect! Dr. Curtis ruined everything! He butchered my wife!”
He wants to kill the doctor who performed a tubal ligation on his wife, which she'd requested after eight difficult deliveries. Worthington takes two nurses hostage, shoots the one who tries to wrestle the shotgun from him, and breaks into a room where 22-year-old Christan Downey, surrounded by her family and her labour nurse, is about to deliver her first baby.
Worthington orders the nurses to bring two other newborns into the room with them. Then he forces Christan's partner, Adam Cisneros, to retrieve the homemade bomb Worthington had planted at the front entrance.
Worthington tells one nurse, Margie Wyler, to call his wife. After the call, he shoots the telephone, yelling, "I'm going to die tonight, and so are all of you!"
Worthington decides to move them up to the third floor, where Dr. Curtis's office lies, even though Christan can't walk because of her epidural. She lies in bed, pushed by Adam and Margie; the two infants are carried by Christan's sister, Carre, and the second nurse, Susan Woolley. 
Christan's epidural begins to wear off. Susan whispers, "Margie, Christan must have that baby."
Christian, coached by Margie and Susan, delivers a healthy baby girl, Caitlin, at 3:23 a.m.
Police negotiations break down. Sometimes Worthington answers the functional phone lines, sometimes not. He demands to speak to his wife or to Dr. Glade Curtis. But he warms to Margie, calling her "a beautiful woman" when he discovers that she has 11 children.
By late morning, Worthington is screaming less and begins to weep. The adult hostages pray.
Eventually, Worthington allows Adam and the nurses to walk to the door, but becomes enraged when he sees the SWAT team. He pulls the nurses back in and demands to see his wife.
The police refuse, but Worthington allows Susan to come into the hall to repeat the request.
They refuse again.
"But you'll let seven of us die?" cries Susan, although she returns to the room.
Meanwhile, police negotiator Don Bell, knowing that a hostage taker is less likely to kill someone he cares about, asks Margie to hug Worthington.
"I don't know if I can," she says to him over the phone.
"You must," Bell replies.
She does.
"The next thing I knew, Susan and I were running down the hall--free!" says Margie. Susan is carrying one of the babies, Erich. Carre follows, holding a second baby, Bryan. Last to leave are the newest mother and child, Christan and Caitlin.
At 18:00, eighteen hours after the ordeal began, Richard Worthington begins to walk out of the office before dashing back in. The officers tackle him.
Worthington pleads guilty to criminal homicide, aggravated burglary, and eight counts of aggravated kidnapping. He receives 35 years to life. He claims that his now ex-wife, Karen, was responsible for his actions. In 1993, he hangs himself in his cell.
Alta View Women's Centre increases security at the hospital
Margie returns to nursing after only three weeks.
It takes 2.5 years of therapy before Susan finally comes to grip with her post-traumatic stress. She, too, returns to nursing.
Christan enters Alta View on November 1st, 1994, to give birth to her second daughter, Alexa. She asks for a different room.

Stockholm Syndrome


Pregnancy and giving birth is a time where you are intensely vulnerable, both physically and emotionally.
I started writing the latest Hope Sze mystery, Stockholm Syndrome.

I knew Dr. Hope wouldn't be pregnant ("I'm on the pill, thanks," she points out), but she is exactly the kind of person who would be sucked into a hostage taking. She would have to take care of a woman in labour. At gunpoint. Trying to outwit and outplay the killer.
This one is a thriller. This one, you can't put down. This one, I almost can't read any excerpt at a reading except the first page or two, because jumping ahead is such a spoiler.

"I was relieved when I finished it. I thought, at least this didn't happen in real life. And then I turned to the last page and I saw it did happen in real life," said Stephen Campbell, when he interviewed me on CrimeFiction.fm.

Sorry, Steve. CBC Radio Ottawa Morning's Robin Bresnahan and Ontario Morning's Wei Chen were also interested in the link between reality and fiction. And I'm ever so grateful that CBC Fresh Air's Mary Ito took the time to ask me about my "snarky" heroine and "very graphic" thriller.

If you want to hear more, I'm appearing at the Brantford Public Library on May 11th for Mystery Month. I originally wrote this post so I could upload videos for the talk, but I'm running out of time and will have to upload them later.

In the meantime, Happy Mother's Day. I say that without irony. In the end, if you look at the real-life hostage taking, who survived? Think of the courage it would take to have a baby, or return to nursing, in the same building where you were held at gunpoint for 18 hours.

I worked this Mother's Day, and it was busy, but much more peaceful than that other hospital in 1991. I'm proud of the book I wrote, and I think it's good practice to consider how we might act in terrifying situations, so that we have some mental preparation, if it should ever come to pass.

Hug your loved ones tight.

09 May 2016

That Damn Book

by Susan Rogers Cooper

It was 9:30 in the evening, April 25, 2016. I was sitting in front of the computer, staring at that damn book. I couldn't take it any more. I decided to take a break and quickly checked my email. There it was, right there in front of me: an email from Leigh, asking where my post was for tomorrow. Post? What post? OMG, that damn book! I quickly explained to Leigh that I was trying to make a deadline in three days and I was still @#*& words short. He rescued me – at least from the post.

So it was back to the book. That damn book. I'd basically finished the story at @#*& words, which weren't nearly enough. So I added weather: an ice storm. That would be good for a few thousand words, I thought. Wrong. Less than one thousand. Okay, bite the bullet (so to speak) and kill somebody else. Over a thousand words! Yay! Still short.

My hero, Milt Kovak, was the only one of the regulars in the book who'd not been targeted by the bad guy. Okay, let's get Milt. I didn't want to shoot him – the Milt books are basically first person narrative. It would be difficult for him to narrate while dead or even hospitalized. I didn't want to physically hurt his family. A fire! I thought. Scary but not necessarily harmful to anything but his house! And of course Milt's not there because --- because it happens in the middle of the ice storm! Two thousand words! I was on a roll! But I still had @#*& words to go.

Someone suggested a bomb. I'd never done a bomb. Did this book even call for a bomb? Not really. But what the hell! I added a bomb.

The minutes, the hours, the days wore on. And still not enough words for that damn book. But with one day to spare, I finished it. It was ready to go. I didn't want to even think about reading it yet again, but I knew I had to. That damn book! Well, actually, it wasn't half bad. It could be better – every book could be better when you send it off – but it wasn't half bad. But mainly, it was gone.

Now on to the second book in the contract!

P.S. And thanks, Leigh, for the title to this post!

08 May 2016

Professional Tips– S S Van Dine

by Leigh Lundin
I’d planned a different column for today, but due to a technical glitch, we were unable to get an important part of the article working, the audio mechanism. We’ll try again at another date. In the meantime, enjoy the following advice by the author of the 1920s-30s Philo Vance series, S.S. Van Dine, pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright.

Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories

by

S. S. Van Dine

Stern Winter loves a dirge-like sound. — Wordsworth
The detective story is a game. It is more– it is a sporting event. And the author must play fair with the reader. He can no more resort to trickeries and deceptions and still retain his honesty than if he cheated in a bridge game. He must outwit the reader, and hold the reader's interest, through sheer ingenuity. For the writing of detective stories there are very definite laws– unwritten, perhaps, but none the less binding: and every respectable and self-respecting concocter of literary mysteries lives up to them.

Herewith, then, is a sort of Credo, based partly on the practice of all the great writers of stories, and partly on the promptings of the honest author's inner conscience. To wit:
  1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.
  2. No wilful tricks or deceptions may be played on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.
  3. There must be no love interest in the story. To introduce amour is to clutter up a purely intellectual experience with irrelevant sentiment. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.
  4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It's false pretenses.
  5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions– not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.
  6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues that will eventually lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic.
  7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader's trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded. Americans are essentially humane, and therefore a tiptop murder arouses their sense of vengeance and horror. They wish to bring the perpetrator to justice; and when “murder most foul, as in the best it is,” has been committed, the chase is on with all the righteous enthusiasm of which the thrice gentle reader is capable.
  8. The problem of the crime must be solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic séances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.
  9. There must be but one detective– that is, but one protagonist of deduction– one deus ex machine. To bring the minds of three or four, or sometimes a gang of detectives to bear on a problem is not only to disperse the interest and break the direct thread of logic, but to take an unfair advantage of the reader, who, at the outset, pits his mind against that of the detective and proceeds to do mental battle. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn't know who his co-deductor is. It's like making the reader run a race with a relay team.
  10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story– that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest. For a writer to fasten the crime, in the final chapter, on a stranger or person who has played a wholly unimportant part in the tale, is to confess to his inability to match wits with the reader.
  11. Servants– such as butlers, footmen, valets, game-keepers, cooks, and the like– must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. It is unsatisfactory, and makes the reader feel that his time has been wasted. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person– one that wouldn’t ordinarily come under suspicion; for if the crime was the sordid work of a menial, the author would have had no business to embalm it in book-form.
  12. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders: the entire indignation of the reader must be permitted to concentrate on a single black nature.
  13. Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. Here the author gets into adventure fiction and secret-service romance. A fascinating and truly beautiful murder is irremediably spoiled by any such wholesale culpability. To be sure, the murderer in a detective novel should be given a sporting chance, but it is going too far to grant him a secret society (with its ubiquitous havens, mass protection, etc.) to fall back on. No high-class, self-respecting murderer would want such odds in his jousting-bout with the police.
  14. The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. For instance, the murder of a victim by a newly found element– a super-radium, let us say– is not a legitimate problem. Nor may a rare and unknown drug, which has its existence only in the author's imagination, be administered. A detective-story writer must limit himself, toxicologically speaking, to the pharmacopoeia. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure.
  15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent– provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face– that all the clues really pointed to the culprit– and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying. And one of my basic theories of detective fiction is that, if a detective story is fairly and legitimately constructed, it is impossible to keep the solution from all readers. There will inevitably be a certain number of them just as shrewd as the author; and if the author has shown the proper sportsmanship and honesty in his statement and projection of the crime and its clues, these perspicacious readers will be able, by analysis, elimination and logic, to put their finger on the culprit as soon as the detective does. And herein lies the zest of the game. Herein we have an explanation for the fact that readers who would spurn the ordinary "popular" novel will read detective stories unblushingly.
  16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no "atmospheric" preoccupations. Such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action, and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude; but when an author of a detective story has reached that literary point where he has created a gripping sense of reality and enlisted the reader’s interest and sympathy in the characters and the problem, he has gone as far in the purely ‘literary’ technique as is legitimate and compatible with the needs of a criminal-problem document. A detective story is a grim business, and the reader goes to it, not for literary furbelows and style and beautiful descriptions and the projection of moods, but for mental stimulation and intellectual activity– just as he goes to a ball game or to a cross-word puzzle. Lectures between innings at the Polo Grounds on the beauties of nature would scarcely enhance the interest in the struggle between two contesting baseball nines; and dissertations on etymology and orthography interspersed in the definitions of a cross-word puzzle would tend only to irritate the solver bent on making the words interlock correctly.
  17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by house-breakers and bandits are the province of the police department– not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. Such crimes belong to the routine work of the homicide bureaus. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities.
  18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. To end an odyssey of sleuthing with such an anti-climax is to play an unpardonable trick on the reader. If a book-buyer should demand his two dollars back on the ground that the crime was a fake, any court with a sense of justice would decide in his favor and add a stinging reprimand to the author who thus hoodwinked a trusting and kind-hearted reader.
  19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction– in secret-service tales, for instance. But a murder story must be kept gemütlich, so to speak. It must reflect the reader's everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.
  20. And (to give my Credo an even score of items) I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective-story writer will now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. To use them is a confession of the author's ineptitude and lack of originality.
    1. Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect.
    2. The bogus spiritualistic séance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away.
    3. Forged finger-prints.
    4. The dummy-figure alibi.
    5. The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar.
    6. The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person.
    7. The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops.
    8. The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in.
    9. The word-association test for guilt.
    10. The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unravelled by the sleuth.
What are your thoughts?

07 May 2016

Shoot the Sheriff on the First Page


by John M. Floyd


Much has been said at this blog about the openings of stories and novels, and how we writers try to make them as effective as possible. There are also a lot of rules about how to do that--as well as rules about how not to do it: don't start with character description, don't start with the protagonist waking up, don't start with backstory, don't start with cliches, don't start with (according to Elmore Leonard) the weather, and so on and so on.

Like most rules, some work and some don't. Starting with the weather didn't hurt The Red Badge of Courage ("The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting") or Raymond Chandler's "Red Wind" ("There was a desert wind blowing that night"). I do, however, like the idea of beginning with action ("They threw me off the hay truck about noon"--The Postman Always Rings Twice) or implied action ("The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida"--Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"). Most of all, I like openings that are intriguing enough to make the reader want to keep reading.

I'm paraphrasing here, but I remember what the late great writing instructor Jack Bickham once said, describing a conversation with one of his students about story openings:
TEACHER: Your problem is, you started your story on page 7.
STUDENT: What? No I didn't--I started it on page 1. See?
TEACHER: No, you started typing on page 1. You started your story on page 7.

Bickham believed that you should start as far along in the story as possible. That way you can begin with something happening, and let the preliminary information seep in later, as (and if) needed. Author L. Sprague Decamp is credited with the quote "Shoot the sheriff on the first page." In fact, if the story's short, shooting him in the first paragraph might be even better. Or in the first line.

As for first lines, here are a few from my own short stories. Alas, I doubt these opening sentences will ever show up as case studies in the writing classes of the future, but they do suit my purposes for this column, because I can remember exactly what I was trying to convey when I came up with them:



Jason Plumm lay on the beach for five hours before he was found.
--"The Blue Wolf," AHMM
Here, I wanted to introduce all kinds of questions. Why was he there? What had happened to him? Where was he, that was so isolated he wasn't discovered sooner? What will happen to him after his rescue, if indeed the purpose of those who found him was to rescue him?

Ed Parrott was cleaning his gun by the campfire, a hundred yards south of the herd, when the stranger stepped from the shadows.
--"The Pony Creek Gang," Reader's Break
One helpful hint about openings is to try to inject "change" of some kind into a character's life, whether it's death, divorce, marriage, relocation, a different job, the arrival of a new face in town, etc. We as human beings are wary of changes: If the protagonist feels threatened (and if Parrott doesn't, he ought to be), the reader will also feel that tension.

Susan Weeks had never seen a monster before.
--"The Wading Pool," Spinetingler Magazine
I've never seen one either, but I can imagine perfectly the one Susan saw in that story. Here I just wanted something scary, right away, to happen to my protagonist.

At 8:40 on a clear night in July, Jesse Pratt escaped from Building A at Crow Mountain State Penetentiary, stole a pickup from the staff parking lot, and promptly drove it into a lake fifty yards away.
--"Weekend Getaway," Pages of Stories
Another rule of story beginnings is to try to quickly identify as many as possible of "the five W's": what's happening, who's it happening to, why's it happening, when is it, and where is it. In this one, I think I managed to cover all of them in that opening sentence.

"What I can't figure out," Nate said, as he lay in the dirt behind a clump of cactus near Rosie Hapwell's house, "is why you married that idiot in the first place."
--"Saving Mrs. Hapwell,"  Dogwood Tales Magazine
More questions. Who are these people, and why are they hunkered down in the desert? Are they hiding? Who from? Rosie's husband, maybe? If so, is Nate a relative? A good Samaritan? Her lover? Hopefully, the reader will want to find out.

Sara Wilson was almost asleep when she heard her roommate scream.
--"Poetic Justice," Woman's World
One last "tip" that I try to keep in mind: whenever possible, start with action. Things are happening, and the plot is already moving forward. The obvious question here is What caused her roommate to scream?




Great first sentences set the stage for what comes next, and some are so powerful they'll be remembered forever. Here are twenty that won't be remembered forever (they're more opening lines from my own stories), but I like 'em anyway:


All things considered, Jerry thought, it wasn't a bad day to die.
--"The Last Sunset," Dream International Quarterly

Dave Cotten sat on his back porch with a .38 revolver in his lap, staring at nothing in particular.
--"Blackjack Road," The Strand Magazine

Rudy Tullos was in love with his neighbor.
--"The Garden Club," Eureka Literary Magazine

At three a.m. Alice Howell jerked awake.
--"The Range," Mystery Time

The two brothers lived together in the city at the end of the valley at the foot of the great blue mountains.
--"Custom Design," Lines in the Sand

Lou Rosewood stepped into the laboratory, closed the door behind him, and locked it.
--"A Place in History," T-Zero

Rose Cartwright was sipping coffee and knitting a blue sweater for her grandson when she heard the tinkle of the bell on the front door of the shop.
--"Rosie's Choice," SMFS Flash and Bang anthology

Jimmy should be back by now, Karen thought.
--"Night Watchers," Short Stuff

Hank Stegall saw her as soon as she stepped out of the building.
--"Ladies of the North," Phoebe

Tom stood alone in the hallway, staring at the number on the door in front of him.
--"Vital Signs," Red Herring Mystery Magazine

Catherine Munsen was less than thrilled about her job.
--"A Thousand Words," Pleiades

"Get in the truck!" Morton said, as he pushed through the door of the quick-stop and marched toward his pickup.
--"Lost and Found," Writers on the River

"I know you have my grandpa's gun," Eddie said.
--"The Early Death of Pinto Bishop," Writer's Block Magazine

Jack Hollister woke up in a room he'd never seen before: two doors, three windows, bare walls, no furniture.
--"High Places," After Death anthology

The dead woman lay in a pecan orchard fifty yards from the road.
--"Oversight," Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine

Around nine a.m. Billy Roland saw the water tower and the first cluster of buildings in the distance, steered his rented Ford to the shoulder of the road, and stopped.
--"Saving Grace," The Saturday Evening Post

For once, the Swede was speechless.
--"Greased Lightnin'," The Atlantean Press Review

Sheriff Lucy Valentine trudged up the muddy slope to find the first rays of the sun peeking over the horizon and an ancient purple gas-guzzler parked beside her patrol car.
--"Traveling Light," Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine

The scariest day of my life--and the most wonderful--happened when I was ten years old.
--"The Winslow Tunnel," Amazon Shorts

The old man was popping the last of the breakfast biscuits into his mouth when the door crashed open.
--"Newton's Law," Western Digest



Enough of that. Here's the good stuff--a dozen of my favorite opening sentences from both novels and shorts:



I turned the Chrysler onto the Florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer's headless body in the trunk, and all the time I'm thinking I should have put some plastic down.
--Gun Monkeys, Victor Gischler

Fedship ASN/29 fell out of the sky and crashed.
--"Beachworld," Stephen King

What was the worst thing you've ever done?
--Ghost Story, Peter Straub

The magician's underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami.
--Another Roadside Attraction, Tom Robbins

He rode into our valley in the summer of '89.
--Shane, Jack Schaefer

You better not never tell nobody but God.
--The Color Purple, Alice Walker

The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house.
--Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, Tom Franklin

I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes.
--The Beekeeper's Apprentice, Laurie R. King

Your father picks you up from prison in a stolen Dodge Neon, with an 8-ball of coke in the glove compartment and a hooker named Mandy in the back seat.
--"Until Gwen," Dennis Lehane

It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
--1984, George Orwell

Every time they got a call from the leper hospital to pick up a body, Jack Delaney would feel himself coming down with the flu or something.
--Bandits, Elmore Leonard

We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.
--Darker Than Amber, John D. MacDonald



How could a reader NOT keep going, after those?



Okay, what do you think, about all this? Do you find opening lines easy to write? Difficult? Are there specific things you try to do in an opening, like start with action or dialogue or a catchy situation? Do you try to introduce your main character, call him Ishmael, have her dream of Manderley, make his last camel collapse at noon, and get the plot rolling? What are some of your favorite opening sentences, from your own work or that of others?

In an interview with The Atlantic, Stephen King said first sentences are "a tricky thing." But he added that he was sure about one thing: "An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this."

King's good at doing that. Here's an example:

"The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed."

So did millions of readers.






06 May 2016

Perhaps I need a CAT Scan!

By Dixon Hill

First, I'd like to thank all the well-wishers from my last post about our new house.  Sorry I didn't manage to fit any replies into the comments, but I've been a bit busy moving a family-worth of belongings from an apartment and two storerooms into a house.  And, yes, Leigh, fellow SleuthSayers would always be welcome, though you might prefer a different room as the office won't have a bathroom.

The late Lilian Jackson Braun
I've been thinking of Lilian Jackson Braun's wonderful Cat Who mystery series lately.  Not because I've been delving back into those books with Jim Qwilleran, Yum Yum and Koko, but rather because I've been battling our own four cats.  (I know: FOUR CATS!  It's a long story for another time.)

You see, aside from just moving (and trying to get items out of boxes and into sensible locations), I've been working to get a gas dryer hookup to not leak gas all over the place, getting a handle on a swimming pool that the previous owner seems to have treated rather cavalierly, and installing a cat door.

I've got somebody coming out, later this afternoon, to fix that dryer leak and turn the gas back on for it.  And, I've managed to wrestle the pool into a pristine swim environment.  But, that cat door ...

This cat door is for "Big Cats," which does not mean mountain lions, or wildcats.  Instead, it is a cat door designed to provide egress for house cats similar to my youngest son's cat, James Bond Jr. -- a big cat who's also "a big girl," as my wife is apt to intentionally misquote at the cat, from the film Lars and the Real Girl (i.e.: "You're a big girl, James.  A big, big girl.").

James may be female, but this cat is big-boned, large-framed and beefy (and not light when she sits on you!).  In short, I believe she's ready to defend her rights to James Bond's name (though her build would make her a better villain, in my opinion -- particularly if she were to hold and pet a Lilliputian human).

The only problem is, neither she nor any of the other cats will go through the cat door.

They were very happy to go in and out through the HOLE in our kitchen door, the night I cut it out.  But, once I installed the cat door, they immediately refused to go through it ...  unless one of us held it open for them!

And, it's not a matter of education.  We've gently pushed each cat through the thing -- both in and out -- and all went well (except for a little struggling on their parts).  So, they must know how it works.

The photo on the right shows the type of cat door I installed.  Not a single one of our cats will use it, unless we push the little see-through flap open for them.  They just crouch there, looking in at us through the flap, until somebody reaches down and opens it.  Then -- POP! -- the cat hops through.

This morning, at 3:00 o'clock, my wife opened the cat door for one of our cats to come in, only to discover a quick-formed line behind her, of three cats heading out.  And they didn't even thank her for holding the door for them!

My theory is that we should ignore the problem.  The cats' commode is out in the laundry room so I claim that nature will drive them to the right solution.  My wife's response is: if we ignore them, they may decide to designate a NEW commode location, on the carpet somewhere.  This is something we'd like to avoid.

Ah, how I long for the simple issues of Jim Qwilleran and his two Siamese, with their turkey roaster cat box, and no going outside for any cats!  And, well a dead body or two.

Once I manage to empty all these boxes, and find the one with those Cat Who books in it, I'll have to sit down and get lost in them all over again.

My cats will have to wait until I reach a chapter conclusion, before I open the cat door for them.

See you in two weeks!
--Dixon




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

by Robert Lopresti

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?