14 September 2016

Jack Schaefer and Shane

David Edgerley Gates


Jack Schaefer's most famous for SHANE, and if he hadn't written any other books, he'd still be famous. Then again, with the exception of SHANE, most critics in Schaefer's lifetime pretty much ignored him, or lumped him in with a bunch of other guys who wrote Westerns. (Not that I'd mind keeping company with some of those guys myself, A.B. Guthrie, Tom Lea, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Alan Le May.) Schaefer was said to have preferred his later novel, MONTE WALSH, which is really very different from SHANE - SHANE tight and relentless, MONTE WALSH loose and roomy, almost a shaggy dog story, even if anything but sentimental.


Most of us probably know the movie better than the book. Alan Ladd's mythic entrance, his horse at a light trot, the gait stately, and the deer raising its head, framing the approaching rider between its antlers. "I wouldn't know a Ryker from your Jersey cow." The dog getting up and slinking away when Jack Palance first walks into the empty saloon. Stonewall Torrey's death, still as shocking now as it was then. The final showdown, fated and necessary.

It might not come as a surprise, though, to learn Schaefer thought Alan Ladd was wrong for the part. That shrimp, he's supposed to have remarked. And in fact the casting was almost accidental. George Stevens had other actors in mind, but it came down to availability, and Alan Ladd's box office certainly couldn't have hurt. In any case, the picture's what it is, not what might have been. Shane's a long, tall drink of water in the novel, but his physical description isn't as important as the dynamic between the characters, Shane and Marian, Shane and Joe, Shane and Joey. Ladd gets it right, as do Jean Arthur, and Van Heflin, and Brandon De Wilde. Schaefer isn't the first writer to think Hollywood gave him short shrift, but in the main, I sure wouldn't complain if it were my book.

The more interesting wrinkle, or reversal, is that later in life Schaefer apparently decided Shane had thrown in with the wrong side. I think there's probably an element of mischief here, Schaefer being contrary. Then again, he's not saying Shane would take the cattle baron's side out of spite, or for less than honorable reasons. Schaefer's point is that the nesters signal the end of the open range, in the most literal way. And the gunslinger, like the cattle baron, is a man whose time is passing. His natural sympathies wouldn't be with fences, or farmers, they'd be with the tough old cobs who might have been the first white men to see Wyoming, and took the land from the Indians.

And a further aspect, which involves more self-awareness than Shane might have, but not Jack Schaefer - or, for that matter, George Stevens. Shane, on his white horse, and Jack Wilson, the Angel of Darkness who rides in from Cheyenne, are more similar to each other than either of them are anything like the Starretts or the other nester families in the valley. Shane is the Good Guy, and Wilson is bad, without moral compass, but Marian has it right, that carrying a gun is what sets them apart. This insight is borrowed from the film writer Jim Kitses, and his book HORIZONS WEST. The hero saves the community - Shane kills Wilson - but he uses means the community can't live with. There's no going back from a killing, Shane tells Joey, and rides away. The forces of anarchy are contained, is the way Jim Kitses puts it, but the hero himself is a force of that anarchy. Shane uses murder to rescue the farmers, and he in turn has to go into exile. What he's done makes him different. It's the right thing to do, but he pays a blood price.


I guess this could easily seem both overly analytical and blindingly obvious. That's often the case. You go, How did I not know this before? You could ask, I suppose, whether Grendel proceeds from Beowulf's subconscious, some monster of the hero's own imagining. Duality is a device of long standing. Isn't it generally accepted that Lucifer is the most compelling character in PARADISE LOST? Not to get overinflated, or not with literary models. The best examples I can come up with are the pictures Burt Kennedy write for Budd Boetticher, starring Randolph Scott, and RIDE LONESOME in particular. Scott and Pernell Roberts are the same character, at different stages in their lives.

I'm not sure if Jack Schaefer meant SHANE to approach the mythic, or if it just kind of crept up on him. It's not hard to do. You can see myth working its yeasty magic in a lot of Western writing. (George Stevens, in the movie, is self-consciously Arthurian, even.) Looking at SHANE as archetype, you have to wonder whether that was conscious. Schaefer grew up in Cleveland. When he wrote the book, he hadn't actually been West, or so the story goes. After the novel was published, he moved to Santa Fe, and spent the rest of his life there. This bears thinking on. Do we write more confidently out of our imagination or from direct experience? Schaefer could fully imagine the West, as real as the face on a nickel, and I doubt if he felt any disappointment when he finally got there.

I have to say I believe the West is a landscape of the imagination. I think James Fenimore Cooper was onto something, that the European settlers were drawn by the far horizon, an echo of the empty sky, the tidal pull of the continent itself. This isn't a new observation, by any means. And the narrative has its own heroic dimension, in spite of the horrific, implacable cost to Native peoples and the land, what we now recognize as genocide and environmental plunder. For all that, it speaks with the many tongues of legend. Our shadows cast before us in the long grass, the sweep of skyline, the enormous solitude. It has the familiarity of collective memory, the density of earth, the promise of grace.

In the sense that we invent ourselves, then, the West is our invention. It becomes an object of longing, a mirror we turn to the light. We inhabit it. In turn, it inhabits us entirely. We are a part of it, but it makes us whole.



13 September 2016

Viruses and you

by Dr. Melissa Yi/Yuan-Innes, emergency physician

“A crappy virus is one that kills its host.”—Agnes Cadieux of the Ottawa Hospital

At our Can-Con 2016 infectious diseases panel, Dr. Anatoly Belilovsky, a paediatrician and SF writer from Brooklyn, explained that the most virulent viruses have jumped from animals to humans, killing the host before figuring out how to be less destructive. (You can imagine that a dead human isn’t as effective at passing on the vector when the body is buried inside the ground.)
Dr. Belilovsky said, “Rabies is not a human infection. It’s happy on bats. When it jumps to dogs or humans, it doesn’t do so well.”
“It’s a virology drive by,” said Dr. Dylan Blaquiere, a neurologist in New Brunswick.
Agnes Cadieux talked about how herpes simplex, herpes zoster, and even HIV are evolving to co-exist with humans.
Dr. Anatoly Belilovsky, Dr. Dylan Banquiere, Agnes Cadieux, Dr. Alison Sinclair, Dr. Melissa Yuan-Innes, Pippa Windsong 

Pippa Wysong pointed out that often a flu virus will kill the very young and the old. With Spanish flu, the cytokine storm was what killed people. This targeted people with strong immune systems.
The Spanish flu killed over 50 million people, and that was in 1918. If a virus struck like that today, the consequences would be absolutely devastating.
One audience member asked about superbugs and antibiotic resistance. One key problem is patients asking for unnecessary antibiotics. I can tell you that I’ve spent many cumulative hours explaining that no, you don’t need antibiotics.
Them: But I’ve lost my voice!
Me: Yes. I hear your hoarse voice. And 90 percent of the time, laryngitis is viral.
Them: I’m coughing up yellow and green stuff!
Me: Those are just old white blood cells. You have bronchitis. Seventy-five percent of the time, it’s viral.
Them: My throat is red!
Me: Most of the time, your sore throat is viral. Strep throat only causes ten percent of cases. And even if it is strep throat, a normal immune system will kill the bacteria almost as quickly with or without antibiotics. The strep strain in our area does not attack the kidneys (glomerular nephritis) or heart (rheumatic fever).

There are exceptions, of course. For example, I prescribe antibiotics to people who have emphysema and two out of three of the following: more cough, shortness of breath, and/or a change in mucous, because they may go on to develop a devastating pneumonia. You always have to watch out for premature babies, transplant patients, people on steroid medication, HIV patients, and so on.
But most people are healthy, with perfectly good immune systems, that can and will fight off infection. As my friend Dr. Michael Sanatani pointed out, “What’s the one thing bacteria have never developed a resistance to?”
Answer: Our immune system.
Voltaire put it this way: “The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease."
Of course, we have many more powerful weapons than in Voltaire’s age, but the problem is that, as one doctor put it when he was trying to convince us not to use a too-strong class of antibiotics when we don’t need them (fluoroquinolones), “We’re using bulldozers when we can use shovels.” Because patients are demanding them. Because patients don’t want to hear “Suck it up.” Because it’s faster to write a prescription than explain over and over again that you should save antibiotics for when you need them, or else they won’t work when you do need them. Plus they cause diarrhea and other problems.
Viruses and bacteria are a normal part of our environment. In fact, viruses make up 8 percent of our DNA. I, personally, avoid antibacterial soap, which kills the “good” bacteria and allow the more dangerous ones to propagate. Thank goodness the FDA agrees with me.
It's time to stop the fear. Dr. Alison Sinclair said, "When have you ever heard the word 'virus' in the media without it being preceded by the word 'deadly'?"
The solution to fear is education.

I'll be writing more about Zika on my own personal blog, http://melissayuaninnes.com/the-zika-page/, so please follow me there if you want to know more.
To your health!

12 September 2016

Father and Daughter Act

by David and Bridgid Dean

Part One: Father Knows Best

If I had to choose a few adjectives with which to describe my life, it might be these: fortunate…blessed…lucky…providential. It’s not that I haven’t had a few set-backs and trials along the way—I wouldn’t be human if that weren’t true, but I have a lot to be grateful for—I have Bridgid… my daughter.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for her siblings, too: older sister, Tanya, and younger brother, Julian. But, Bridgid and I, over the years, have forged a writing connection. I’ve shared a reading connection with all of them, but Bridgid evolved into a writer and that, as the Wizard says, “Is a horse of a different color.”

In order to properly train her for her chosen profession I’ve required that she read and edit nearly everything I’ve written over the past decade. This was not done, as some may suspect, because I am one of the cheapest SOB’s on the planet, but in order to provide depth to her appreciation of fine literature (mine) and round out her college education. The fact that her editorial eye virtually removed the element of chance in my story acceptance ratio is neither here nor there. I would have done her this fatherly kindness in any event. Plus, I did pay for that education. Now she’s gone and penned a novella.

Yes, for those of you who suspected this was going to be a shameless plug for mylatest non-selling novel, you were wrong. It’s a shameless plug for Bridgid’s book, The Girl In The Forest.

No, it’s not crime fiction like her old man pens, but it does contain intrigue, shady characters, and betrayal. Something we can all relate to. My daughter’s story is set in a world in which the border between reality and myth blurs and no one you meet is exactly whom they may appear to be. It’s fast-moving, readable, and features a very sympathetic heroine. As to how it came about, well, that’s a story I’ll leave for Bridgid to tell, as it’s as unique as the book she’s written. Oh, by the way, I finally returned the favor by helping to edit this, her first published work.

I also want to thank mighty Leigh Lundin for suggesting this post in the first place. Thanks, Leigh!



Part Two: When Life Serves You Lemons…

by Bridgid Dean

Bridgid Dean
Bridgid Dean
The idea behind The Girl in the Forest was born of a rather unfortunate event. In August of 2011, shortly after we were married, my husband and I had a tree fall on our house. Not a limb, and not a small tree, but a massive oak.

We were at a dinner party at my in-laws when it happened; when we drove around the corner and saw our little hundred year old house, half smushed, my Volvo buckled under a thousand pounds of oak, I could only laugh. A crazed, reality-is-standing-on-its-head kind of laugh.

My husband went inside and found the house full of gas. We waited in the back yard for the fire department to arrive, our cat Zelda looking from us, to the tree, to the house, as though asking, "Do you see this?"

After the fire department turned off the gas connection my husband drove us back to his parents' house. We spent the next ten weeks living in their guest room before we acknowledged that this process was going to take a really long time, and we'd better rent something. In the end it was almost a year before our house was fixed and we were able to return home.

Volvo
smushed
Those first two months were incredibly stressful, but things began to look up when we found our rental, the little cottage in the woods. We'd never lived outside of town before- we loved it!

Our landlord had a grand old home on what felt like hundreds of acres, with three rental cottages on the property. Ours was a five hundred square foot cottage surrounded by trees. It had a green metal roof, wisteria climbing the porch railings, and was so small as to be almost one room. We slept in a loft that looked out over the great room and the huge wood stove. As night fell you could sit on the porch and watch the sun set over the Blue Ridge Mountains, linger while the stars came out, then hurry inside when the coyotes started to howl.

The combination of natural beauty, isolation- and even something about the self-contained quality of a house that small- had me, before long, thinking about fairy tales. In so many of them, there is something magical about the cottage in the woods. I suddenly felt I was experiencing a bit of this first hand. Inspired by the surroundings, (and with the peace and quiet to really think!) I began to write the first draft of “The Girl in the Forest.”

This novella is a modern retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story, set it in a town not unlike Charlottesville, VA, where I currently live. The protagonist, Jolie, is new to the town, having moved there after her mother's death. She feels alienated and lonely, friendless at a crappy job, with only a cat for company. The recurring nightmares keep her from sleeping well, and she eventually gets fired from her job. At a bookstore she meets Jamie, a strange man with a past who secures her a job at his friend, Greta's, bakery. As Jolie starts to learn the ropes at this new job, the questions stack up quickly: What are Jamie and Greta planning? Who is Greta running from? And what is the creature that Jolie sees in her dream each night? And, perhaps most puzzling, why is Jolie the only one who can see the cottage in the woods?

It was not until I'd finished writing the fourth draft and handed it to my dad that I realized I'd written something of a Fantasy/Mystery crossover. You might think, after editing so many of my dad's stories, that a fact like this would not sneak up on me. Yet somehow it did, in the same way, I hope, that the inevitable conclusion to my story will sneak up on the unsuspecting readers. Like a coyote, or a wolf, or some other hungry creature, waiting in the shadows of the forest.



Thank you to Leigh Lundin and the SleuthSayers audience for the opportunity to tell my story-it's been a privilege!

11 September 2016

Don't Bury that Lede

James Lincoln Warren
James Lincoln Warren
by Leigh Lundin
featuring guest star James Lincoln Warren


Today’s article takes an international bent, one at which the British might cock an eyebrow, South Africans pretend not to look superior, Australians mutter, “WTF?” and Canadians cringe. “Oh, not another American diatribe to confuse the issue.” Yes, I’m talking about spelling, but words of particular interest to writers.

I’ve lived and worked in the UK so I’m a bit schizophrenic about the topic. On good days I might give myself an A- but other days barely a B. When it comes to those plural-singular collective noun & verb combinations, I want to shoot myself, e.g, “Manchester are a great team.” Manchester what? Even Liverpool and Leeds disagree… for different reasons, but do they say Manchester suck or sucks? No… yes… maybe… I’m off on an unwinnable rant.

We can blame the devil in Noah Webster for part of our dilemma, but no one ever credited natural language with logic. It’s up to us poor writers to struggle against the darkness. And the not so poor– Stephen King reportedly insists upon certain ‘international’ spellings. Double points to him because he provides a web page so readers can report typos and other errors.

Story v Storey

Our steadfast friend, James Lincoln Warren, has previously suggested we should use ‘storey’ to refer to a floor within a building and ’story’ for literary uses. JLW writes:

The reason I prefer “storey” to “story” when describing a level of a building above the ground floor is because it is more specific. “Story” can mean several things, but “storey” means only one thing.

For whatever it’s worth, etymologically, both words derive from the same origin, Latin historia. In medieval “Anglo-Latin”, historia was used in both senses as with “story”, i.e., “narrative” and “floor”. The Oxford English Dictionary therefore considers “storey” a variant spelling of “story”, and doesn’t show an example of the spelling with the “e” until Dickens, which suggests to me that the inclusion of the “e” in the architectural spelling is quite recent.

Brilliant and simple, right? So if we use story and storey, why not further distinguish other words the same way?

Cosy v Cozy

We North Americans recognize (or recognise– more on that later) two great British inventions, the cosy and the, er, cosy. One popularly keeps tea warm and the other warms readers of golden age mysteries.

Some American authors happily use this spelling, but exceptions abound including our own Fran Rizer, and why not? She writes Southern cozies with a ‘z’, thank you very much.

I like cosy as a noun, but when it comes to verbs and adjectives, my senseless sensibilities kick in. “She cosied up to him,” seems wrong, like she quoted Agatha Christie while serving him a pot of tea.

But if we expand our North American use of cosy with an ’s’, I suggest we negotiate ‘-ize’ endings. The poor zee (or zed) sees so little use, why not allow it to participate in ‘authorize’ and ‘pressurize’ and ‘legitimize’?

Celebrate, crossword puzzlers, celebrate!

Lede v Lead

The first time I came across ‘lede’, I had to look it up to make certain I wasn’t misreading it. The use of ‘lede’ as a variant of ‘lead’ is even newer than storey, dating back to the late 1950s or early 1960s.

Lede has been used to mean a headline, but more precisely refers to the opening paragraph of an article or story that summarizes (not summarises) the content following. Waffling Wikipedia suggests lede/lead combines the headline and first paragraph, but the ever precise Grammarist narrows its definition:

Strictly speaking, the lede is the first sentence or short portion of an article that gives the gist of the story and contains the most important points readers need to know… allowing readers who are not interested in the details to feel sufficiently informed.

In more dramatic forms, the lede can compare with a hook, but perhaps less obviously in, say, legal and technical writing. Professional journalism practices say a lede must provide the main points of a story, interest the reader in the story, and accomplish those goals as briefly as possible.

Newspapers used to be set in hot and cold lead (molten metal, Pb), so the lede of a hot lead could be cast in cold lead. As an interesting footnote, the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language comments upon lede:

Obsolete spelling of lead, revived in modern journalism to distinguish the word from its homograph lead, strip of metal separating lines of type.

Bury the lede” uses only the lede spelling. It’s sometimes misunderstood as burying a lead article within a newspaper, but it more narrowly means to begin an article with unessentials and postpone revealing salient points or facts until deeper in the body. For example, an editor might bury the lede for popular or political reasons.

Kerb – Curb, Tyre – Tire

If we succeed in making the spelling choices in the English language smaller while making the meanings more exact, why stop with these words? Why not use certain British nouns in exchange for North American verbs? “I tired of the tyre against the kerb, which curbed my enthusiasm.” Yeah, that works.

The words clew/clue seem to have sorted themselves out, although an author like  James Lincoln Warren might employ ‘clew’ in nautical and historical writings.

Back to crime writing, what the hell do we do about ‘gaol’, an unholy Norman abomination that dismays even the Welsh? We turn to James once more:

Interestingly, in Samuel Johnson’s definition of GAOL in his dictionary, he writes, “It is always pronounced and too often written jail, and sometimes goal.” He does, however, also list JAIL under the letter “I”. (There is no "J" section).

Publishing News

Congratulations to James for two stories soon to appear in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines. Tip your boater to him at the New Orleans Bouchercon.

10 September 2016

A Question of Empathy: The Social Scientists, The Poet, and the Mystery Reader

by B.K. Stevens

Two scholars at the New School for Social Research published an article about literature and empathy last month, full of bad news for mystery readers. If you belong to Sisters in Crime and saw the most recent SinC Links, you may have noticed the references to "Different Stories: How Levels of Familiarity with Literary and Genre Fiction Relate to Mentalizing." The authors, David Kidd and Emanuelle Castano, say people who read novels by authors such as Alice Walker and Vladimir Nabakov excel on a test of "theory of mind," indicating they have superior abilities "to infer and understand others' thoughts and feelings." Such readers are likely to be characterized by "empathy, pro-social behavior, and coordination in groups." Readers of mysteries and other genre fiction don't do as well on the test. So apparently we're an obtuse, hardhearted, selfish bunch, and we don't play well with others.

This is grim stuff. And maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. I made myself read the whole study--and let me tell you, the experience didn't do wonders for my levels of empathy. Kidd and Castano don't actually say genre readers suffer from all those problems. In fact, they speculate that reading any kind of fiction may do some good. But they definitely think reading literary fiction does more good than reading genre fiction does. Literary fiction, they say, has complex, round characters, and that "prompts readers to make, adjust, and consider multiple interpretations of characters' mental states." Genre fiction relies on flat, stock characters and therefore doesn't encourage readers to develop comparable levels of mental agility and emotional insight. The authors discuss other differences, too--for example, they say literary fiction features "multiple plot lines" and challenges "routine or rigid ways of thinking," while genre fiction is characterized by "formulaic plots" and encourages "conventional thinking." I won't try to summarize all their arguments. It would take too long, and it would get too depressing.

I will say a little--only a little--about their research methods. To distinguish between literary readers and genre readers, Kidd and Castano put together a long list of names--some literary authors, some genre authors, some non-authors--and asked participants to check off the names with which they were familiar. People who checked off more names of literary authors were classified as readers of literary fiction, and--well, you get the idea. To determine levels of empathy and other good things, Kidd and Castano had participants take the "reading the mind in the eyes" test: Participants looked at pictures that showed only people's eyes, looked at four adjectives (for example, "scared," "anxious," "encouraging," and "skeptical"), and chose the adjective that best described the expression in the pictured eyes. Participants identified as readers of literary fiction did a better job of matching eyes with adjectives. Therefore, they're more empathetic and perceptive than readers of genre fiction.

It's not hard to spot problems with these research methods. Scottish crime writer Val McDermid does a shrewd, funny job of that in a piece also mentioned in SinC Links. (Among other things, Val says she took the "reading the eyes in the mind" test and got thirty-three out of thirty-six right, beating the average score of twenty-four. Just for fun, I took the test, too, and scored thirty-four. That may prove I'm one point more empathetic than Val. Or it may prove the test is silly.) And of course decisions about which authors are "literary" and which are "genre" can be subjective. Kidd and Castano talk about how they wavered about the right category for Herman Wouk. The Caine Mutiny won a Pulitzer Prize, so maybe Wouk's a literary author. On the other hand, some critics accuse Mutiny of "upholding conventional ideas and values," so maybe he's merely genre. (Kidd and Castano never consider the question of whether a knee-jerk rejection of all ideas and values currently judged "conventional" might sometimes reflect a lack of insight and empathy. Is sympathy for people who devote their lives to military service automatically shallow and nasty? Is portraying an intellectual as a fraud never justified?)


As for their method of classifying participants as either "literary readers" or "genre readers," I recognized the names of almost all the authors on both lists. I've heard of James Patterson--most people have--but I've never read a book of his; I don't think I've sampled a single page. With many other authors (both "literary" and "genre"), I've read a few pages, a few chapters, or a single story, and then I've put the book  aside and never picked it up again. Recognizing an author's name isn't evidence of a preference for a certain kind of fiction. For heaven's sake, how many people make it through middle school without reading To Kill a Mockingbird? So how does checking off Harper Lee's name on a list indicate a preference for literary fiction? (For that matter, some might argue To Kill a Mockingbird is crime fiction, and Lee therefore belongs on the genre list. It could be that Kidd and Castano consider crime fiction that's well written literary. If so, that's sort of stacking the deck against genre--if a work of genre fiction is really good, it no longer counts as genre.)

It may be--and I'm certainly not the first person to suggest this--that social science's methods aren't ideally suited to analyzing literature, or to determining its effects on our minds and souls. Social science, by its nature, seeks to quantify things in exact terms. Maybe literature and its effects can't be quantified. Maybe attempts to measure some things exactly are more likely to lead us astray than to enlighten us. As Aristotle says in Book I of the Ethics, "it is the mark of an educated [person] to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs."

If social scientists can't help us understand the connection between literature and empathy, who can? Perhaps a poet. In 1821, Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote "A Defense of Poetry" in response to a friend's largely playful charge that poetry is useless and fails to promote morality. I think we can apply what Shelley says about poetry to fiction, including genre fiction. After all, Shelley declares that "the distinction between poets and prose writers is a vulgar error," and he considers Plato, Francis Bacon, and "all the authors of revolutions in opinion" poets. So why not Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammet?

I'm going to quote several sentences from "A Defense of Poetry," and I'm not going to make Shelley's choice of nouns and pronouns politically correct. I tinkered with Aristotle's words a bit--it's a translation, so tinkering felt more permissible. But I'll give you Shelley's words (and his punctuation) without amendment:
The whole objection, however, of the immorality of poetry rests upon a misconception of the manner in which poetry acts to produce the moral improvement of man. . . . The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause. . . . Poetry strengthens the faculty which is the organ of the moral nature of man, in the same manner as exercise strengthens a limb.
As far as I know, Shelley compiled no lists, administered no tests, and analyzed no statistics. Even so, there may be more wisdom in these few sentences than in any number of studies churned out by the New School for Social Research, at least when it comes to wisdom about literature.

For Shelley, literature's crucial moral task is to take us out of ourselves. Most of us spend much of our time focusing on our own problems and feelings. When we read, we get caught up in a character's problems and feelings for a while, seeing things through that character's eyes and sharing his or her emotions. This vicarious experience is temporary, but Shelley says it does us lasting good. I like his comparison of reading and physical exercise. Working out at a gym makes our muscles stronger, and that means we're better able to handle any physical tasks and challenges we may encounter. Reading gives our imaginations a workout and makes them stronger. If we feel the humanity in the characters we read about, we're more likely to recognize the humanity in the people we meet. Will we therefore be kinder to them and try harder to make sure they're treated justly? Shelley thinks so.

But won't literary fiction, with all its round, complex characters, give our imaginations a more vigorous workout than genre fiction will? To agree to that, we'd have to agree to Kidd and Castano's generalizations about literary and genre fiction, and I think many of us would hesitate to do so. Yes, the characters in many mysteries are pretty flat, but couldn't the same be said of the characters in many works of literary fiction? Val McDermid challenges some of Kidd and Castano's central assumptions about literary and genre fiction, and I think she makes some persuasive arguments. I won't repeat those here, or get into the question of to what extent current distinctions between "literary" and "genre" have lasting validity, and to what extent they reflect merely contemporary and perhaps somewhat elitist preferences. (Would Fielding, Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, and other still-admired authors be considered "literary" if they hadn't been lucky enough to die before the current classifications slammed into place? Would they be consigned to the junk heap of genre if they were writing today? But I said I wouldn't get into that. I'll stop.)

I'll raise just one question. Shelley says that to be "greatly good," we must imagine not only "intensely" but also "comprehensively," identifying with "many others." If he's right, fiction that introduces us to a wide variety of characters and encourages us to identify with them may exercise our imaginations more effectively than fiction that limits its sympathies to a narrower range of characters.

Generalizations are dangerous, and I'm neither bold enough nor well read enough to propose even tentative generalizations about literary and genre fiction. (And when I say "genre," I really mean "mystery," because I know almost nothing about other types of fiction currently classified as "genre"--though I've read and admired some impressive urban fantasy lately.) All I'll say is that I'm not sure all contemporary literary fiction encourages readers to empathize with many different sorts of characters. Most of the recent literary fiction I've read seems to limit sympathy to intellectual characters with the right tastes and the right opinions. Even if the central character is a concierge from a lower-class background (probably, many of you will recognize the novel I'm talking about), she has to be an autodidact who's managed to develop tastes for classical music, Russian literature, and Eastern art, who turns her television on only to trick her bourgeois employers into thinking she fits their stereotypes. Two other characters who are portrayed in a positive way, a troubled adolescent girl and a wealthy Japanese gentleman, are in many respects variations on the concierge, with similar tastes and opinions; most of the other characters in the novel invite our disdain rather than our sympathy. How often does contemporary literary fiction encourage us to empathize with characters such as a concierge who actually enjoys television, reads romances, and adores Garth Brooks and Thomas Kinkade? George Eliot could have portrayed that sort of character in a genuinely empathetic way. I don't know if many authors of recent literary fiction would have much interest in doingso.

I think some--not all, certainly, but some--genre fiction encourages us to extend our sympathies further. I think many mysteries, for example, introduce us to a variety of characters, including characters who aren't necessarily intellectuals, flawed characters we might be tempted to shun in our day-to-day lives. Mysteries can help us identify with people who have made bad choices and taken wrong turns, with victims, with people caught in the middle, with people determined to set things right, with people who feel overwhelmed by circumstances. I can't cite any studies to support my suggestions, but I think the best mysteries, by portraying a wide range of characters and nudging us to participate in their lives, might give our imaginations a robust workout and help us become more empathetic.

Mysteries can even help us empathize with criminals. That's ironic, in a way, because some social science studies argue criminals are marked by an inability to empathize. Then again, other social science studies challenge those studies, and still other studies--but maybe we shouldn't get into all that. Maybe we should just pick up a favorite mystery and start reading. I bet it'll do us good.


Next week at this time, many of us will be at Bouchercon. Just briefly, I'll mention some SleuthSayers nominated for Anthony awards. Art Taylor's On the Road with Del and Louise, a remarkable example of a mystery that encourages us to empathize with a wide variety of characters, is a finalist for Best First Novel. Art also edited Murder under the Oaks, a finalist for Best Anthology or Collection; both Rob Lopresti and I are lucky enough to have stories in that one. And my Fighting Chance is a finalist for Best Young Adult Novel. If you're so inclined, you can read the first chapter here. Hope to see you in New Orleans!


09 September 2016

So Long ... at least for now

No, I'm not frowning; the sun is just bright.

By Dixon Hill

As many of you know, we've got a new house that has a relatively empty backyard.  We've got a pool back there, and a concrete slab that was probably poured so some past owner could park an RV on it, but other than that all we've got  is gravel.  Well, gravel ... and three large pallets with plastic wrapped boxes and goods that I need to put in my office.

Problem is, I don't have an office yet.  We need to put one in -- right atop that RV slab back there. The plan is to place a hot tub beside it covered by a loggia.  We've got the loggia, but not the hot tub.

Nor do we have the office, though I've lined-up a nice structure that will be delivered for a good price.  I'll need to do interior and finishing work, though, before I can write in there.

My wife, with her degree in interior design, has some projects she wants me to construct within the house as well.  And, since she handles our home interior, I get the fun of landscaping the backyard once my office is up and running.  (I've revived the grass in our front yard, only needing to add some trees, bushes, and vines that will shade the mostly windowless east and west ends of our ranch house.)

Meanwhile, I also have several writing projects that need my attention.

The result is that I haven't had enough time to take care of home matters, my writing, and my blogging, while still holding down my day job.  One of the things that I've let slip is making comments on my own posts.  I managed to squeeze in time to write my posts, but I haven't often been able to respond to readers' comments.

And that bothers me.  I think, if I'm going to write a blog, that means also taking part in reader discussion of my posts.

I've written for SleuthSayers since its inception, and was wildly excited to be invited to partake of this blog.  At times, I think I've done my best, but lately my best just hasn't been good enough to warrant my continued participation.

I don't look forward to leaving SleuthSayers, but I need to take some extended time off in order to (literally) get my house in order (as well as the grounds), and to concentrate on writing projects I've let slip lately.  SleuthSayers isn't the only activity I've engaged in, that I'm pulling out of at the moment, but it is the only one it makes sense to write about here.  Once I believe I've gotten my writing house back in order, and that it makes sense for me to return to this forum as one of the posters (if that's even the right word?) I'll let you know.

O'Neil De NouxThe Great News!

You'll be very happy to learn that my slot will be filled by award winning mystery writer O'Neil de Noux.

He has written 18 novels and published over 300 short stories, including science-fiction adventure stories, character-driven mysteries, historical fiction and even a smattering of very well executed erotica.

He served as the 2012-2013 Vice President of the Private Eye Writers of America -- and rightly so.  His work has won multiple awards for both long and short fiction, among these a Shamus in 2007 (Best Short Story) and a Derringer in 2009 (Best Novelette), while his The Long Cold is in the running for Best Paperback Original Private Eye Novel this year.  (I've got my fingers crossed for ya', buddy!  Though it's not like you need the luck, because you write great stuff!)

In short, I'm flattered even to be REPLACED by this guy.  And, he's clearly a great fit for this blog site comprising so many other highly successful writers.

I hope you'll join me in welcoming O'Neil de Noux to SleuthSayers, and I strongly encourage you to be sure to catch his inaugural blog in two weeks!

Meanwhile, this time I ... won't ... see you in two weeks!  In the immortal words of Red Green, however, "Keep your stick on the ice; we're all in this together!"
--Dixon








So Long ... at least for now

No, I'm not frowning; the sun is just bright.

By Dixon Hill

As many of you know, we've got a new house that has a relatively empty backyard.  We've got a pool back there, and a concrete slab that was probably poured so some past owner could park an RV on it, but other than that all we've got  is gravel.  Well, gravel ... and three large pallets with plastic wrapped boxes and goods that I need to put in my office.

Problem is, I don't have an office yet.  We need to put one in -- right atop that RV slab back there. The plan is to place a hot tub beside it covered by a loggia.  We've got the loggia, but not the hot tub.

Nor do we have the office, though I've lined-up a nice structure that will be delivered for a good price.  I'll need to do interior and finishing work, though, before I can write in there.

My wife, with her degree in interior design, has some projects she wants me to construct within the house as well.  And, since she handles our home interior, I get the fun of landscaping the backyard once my office is up and running.  (I've revived the grass in our front yard, only needing to add some trees, bushes, and vines that will shade the mostly windowless east and west ends of our ranch house.)

Meanwhile, I also have several writing projects that need my attention.

The result is that I haven't had enough time to take care of home matters, my writing, and my blogging, while still holding down my day job.  One of the things that I've let slip is making comments on my own posts.  I managed to squeeze in time to write my posts, but I haven't often been able to respond to readers' comments.

And that bothers me.  I think, if I'm going to write a blog, that means also taking part in reader discussion of my posts.

I've written for SleuthSayers since its inception, and was wildly excited to be invited to partake of this blog.  At times, I think I've done my best, but lately my best just hasn't been good enough to warrant my continued participation.

I don't look forward to leaving SleuthSayers, but I need to take some extended time off in order to (literally) get my house in order (as well as the grounds), and to concentrate on writing projects I've let slip lately.  SleuthSayers isn't the only activity I've engaged in, that I'm pulling out of at the moment, but it is the only one it makes sense to write about here.  Once I believe I've gotten my writing house back in order, and that it makes sense for me to return to this forum as one of the posters (if that's even the right word?) I'll let you know.

O'Neil De NouxThe Great News!

You'll be very happy to learn that my slot will be filled by award winning mystery writer O'Neil de Noux.

He has written 18 novels and published over 300 short stories, including science-fiction adventure stories, character-driven mysteries, historical fiction and even a smattering of very well executed erotica.

He served as the 2012-2013 Vice President of the Private Eye Writers of America -- and rightly so.  His work has won multiple awards for both long and short fiction, among these a Shamus in 2007 (Best Short Story) and a Derringer in 2009 (Best Novelette), while his The Long Cold is in the running for Best Paperback Original Private Eye Novel this year.  (I've got my fingers crossed for ya', buddy!  Though it's not like you need the luck, because you write great stuff!)

In short, I'm flattered even to be REPLACED by this guy.  And, he's clearly a great fit for this blog site comprising so many other highly successful writers.

I hope you'll join me in welcoming O'Neil de Noux to SleuthSayers, and I strongly encourage you to be sure to catch his inaugural blog in two weeks!

Meanwhile, this time I ... won't ... see you in two weeks!  In the immortal words of Red Green, however, "Keep your stick on the ice; we're all in this together!"
--Dixon








08 September 2016

Don't We All Deserve a Surrogate?

by Brian Thornton

I've come to the conclusion that what this world really needs most right now is more talking heads. Nope, not talking about a potential reunion of David Byrne and his erstwhile bandmates, or more cable news TV hosts (got plenty).
You've got nothing to prove. Stay broken up, guys.

Uh-uh.

Let me clarify: I'm talking about more surrogates.

For those of you wondering what connection a woman willing to carry someone else's baby to term (or a sex worker) has to do with the notion of "talking heads," I'm not talking about that kind of surrogate. (Or THAT one, either.)
Not THIS type of surrogate.

Okay, let me clarify further: I'm talking about more media surrogates.

You might not be familiar with the term, but you know what I'm talking about: people hand-picked, most often by two types of public figures: by politicians running for office (Hillary, Trump) or for other occupants of the public eye running for cover (Roger Ailes, Anthony Weiner), to step in and either take part of their public beating for them, or try to make sense of some of the stupid and often inexplicable things they say or do.

It's a pretty thankless job. And yet there always seems to be a line out the door of people ready and willing to step in and do it. So why not put 'em all to work for regular folks like you and me.

Surrogates are basically tools. These people are media surrogates. So they're media tools. Or. if you prefer, just tools...
Think about it: instead of seeing these jokers with their eyes popped wide and a vein visibly throbbing their forehead, getting into it with an on-air host on CNNMSNBCFIXEDNEWS we could have surrogate interactions that really matter! You know, the important (and not so important) moments in everyone's life where they just wish someone else would step up and deal with their day-to-day ration of B.S.

Some examples spring to mind:

"I think what Brian REALLY intended when he showed that other driver the middle finger of his left hand after the guy clearly cut him off in traffic, was to make the clear statement that 'You're number ONE with me!"

Or:

"Brian did NOT misspeak! He never misspeaks! He always intends to say exactly what comes out of his mouth. Just because you and the rest of the Lamestream Media can't wrap your head around the notion of 'Gribblesnagreckleshaft' doesn't mean that it doesn't exist, or that it's not a powerful force for change in a post-Obama world..."

Or even:

"This audit is just the latest attempt on the part of Brian's enemies in the executive branch to target him and discredit him as a fully enfranchised citizen, and of course, he's going to release his tax returns just as soon as this audit is wrapped up, because, let's face it, by that time Brian'll be retired or dead, and no one's gonna care one way or the other...."

Tool.
And we're not just talking about curation of the surrogee's (see what I did there?) media presence, here. Think about it. The waiter at your favorite restaurant gets your order wrong? No problem. Your surrogate steps in and emphatically explains that you clearly ordered the fish! Problem solved!

Or better yet: you ordered chicken, but changed your mind and want the fish, but don't want to admit you've changed your mind? 

No worries! Your surrogate will insist that your position on dinner has not changed one iota, not backing down and admitting any change of either mind or attitude on your part on the question of chicken or fish: your choice now is the same as it's always been, and an examination of the record will clearly reflect that, and if the waiter continues to protest that your surrogate is not lying in support of your lie (lying by proxy?), then your surrogate just threatens to stiff the poor sap on the tip.

Tool.
Your neighbor kid left their bike in the middle of the street. blocking your driveway again? No problem! Your surrogate will gleefully pick a fight with the snot-nosed punk's ex-Army ranger father, and no matter how much of a beating he takes or how bad he looks for picking on the family of a veteran, will never back down!

And the whole time *you* remain clearly (and safely!) "above the fray."

Lastly, your surrogate can help you with those ticklish professional situations and handling potentially ugly confrontations for you:

"WWE's in town tonight, and Brian rightly considers pro wrestling America's sport. He's got ringside seats and realistically this is likely his best chance to realize his life-long dream of breaking a folding chair over Randy Orton's head, so there's just NO WAY he can work late for you tonight, Jim..."

And of course there's always the potential for an exchange along these lines....

PUBLISHER'S REP: "Well, clearly Brian's sales numbers on that last book don't qualify him for royalties–"
Tool.

SURROGATE: "Says who?"

PUBLISHER'S REP: "–so we'll just–ummm excuse me?"

SURROGATE: "Says who?"

PUBLISHER's REP: "Ummm the sales data?"

SURROGATE: "Which sales data?"

PUBLISHER'S REP: "All of it?"

Could be just the beginning of a new era, folks....

07 September 2016

Enter the Villain

by Robert Lopresti

I'm not going to tell you the author or title of the book I am discussing today, but I will say that it was not written by any past or present SleuthSayer.

The book is a first novel, much anticipated, and written in a particular style.  It is a style I like and I was much looking forward to it.  And everything was going well for the first third of the book.  Then a new character walked in wearing a black top hat covered with neon letters spelling out I'M THE KILLER.

Okay, I am exaggerating.  No hat.  No neon letters.  But as soon as this guy walked in I said: that's the killer.

I am not a reader who feels a need to guess the murderer or feels disappointed if it's too easy or it's too hard.  Most crime novels I read are not even whodunits. But this rankled.

It got worse.  A hundred pages later the heroes received the benefit of what I call an unearned clue.  They visited a place for reasons unconnected to crime, and chatted with a stranger.  When the stranger found out they were cops it was "Oh, by the way..." and out came a big hint that pointed straight to top-hat-man.  They didn't recognize it.

By J.J. at the English language Wikipedia
At this point I kept reading for only one reason: Either this is the best red herring in the history of crime fiction or it is a disaster.


Well, it was a disaster.

The editor - a well-known one in the mystery field - should be embaressed. He or she (I'm not telling) should have spotted the first-time author's mistakes and  insisted that they be fixed, which would not have been that hard.  Instead we have what looks like contempt for the reader, which is never good for future sales.

I checked the blurbs on the cover of the paperback edition.  Only one was from a review.  The rest, and they were plentiful, were from well-known mystery writers.  Perhaps they liked the book, but I suspect they liked the author more.

Enough whining.  Perhaps I can provide a useful writing tip.  Why did I suspect the killer was the killer as soon as he walked in?

Because he had no other plot-related reason for being there at all.  He strolled into his boss' office while the cops were interviewing him, got a detailed description from the author, and was introduced.  No immediate explanation for why he belonged in the story.  And so, my alarm went off.

My penance for that author?  Read five Agatha Christie's.  She had her limits, but nobody could hide a killer or a clue in plain sight with her skill.

So what disappoints you in a mystery?

06 September 2016

The Atlanta Child Murders and My First Mystery

by Barb Goffman

I've been reading mystery fiction since I was a kid. I remember reading Nancy Drews at night with a flashlight the summer I was ten years old.  I started writing mystery fiction in 2001, first with a novel I didn't finish, then with a novel I did finish, and then with short stories, where I've had a nice amount of success.


But my first foray into the mystery writing world came long before that. When I was a kid, my mom and I always watched Good Morning America during breakfast. And in 1980 and 1981, we saw a lot of reports on the Atlanta Child Murders.

If you don't remember or know about this tragic story, here's the nutshell: Between 1979 and 1981, more than two dozen black children and teens, as well as six adults, were found slain in Atlanta. The killer was eventually caught, tried, and convicted, but before that, Good Morning America was all over that story. Each time another child was found dead, it surprised me, because with each death came more media coverage. Surely, I thought, the kids down there know to be on alert. They wouldn't go off with a stranger, especially now, given that a murderer was on the loose.

With hindsight, I realize that not everyone--particularly kids--watched the news as I did. But back then, as an eleven or twelve year old, I didn't realize that kids in the danger zone might be ignorant of that danger. So I tried to figure out how the victims could know of the danger and still end up in the clutches of the murderer. And I came up with a solution.

I blamed it on the mayoral candidates.

Around that same time, Atlanta was in the middle of a mayoral election campaign. This news was also reported on Good Morning America. And I thought, the murdered kids would know not to go off with a stranger, so the person abducting and killing them must be someone known to them, someone trustworthy. But who could be known to all of them? Being a kid who watched a lot of news, I figured it must be one of the candidates running for mayor. (Yes, I know, those poor children in Atlanta were probably not following the local mayoral race as avidly as I was--if at all--but back then, that idea hadn't occurred to me.)

Atlanta
I wrote an essay laying out my theory, and I showed it to my sister (who was then in college). She thought my idea was ridiculous. And in retrospect, it certainly had flaws. Indeed the man ultimately caught and convicted of killing two of the adults (and to whom many of the other murders were attributed) was not one of the mayoral candidates. But as a kid, I really thought I had something there.

If I were an adult when this was going on, I might have turned my idea into a novel. Doesn't the idea simply scream Thriller? (Indeed, several books and movies resulted from the Atlanta Child Murders.) But back then, I just had my essay. And I'm still proud of it. It was an interesting take on a horrific situation, as well as a hint of my future career writing about murder and mysteries.

So, writers, what was the first thing that prompted you to start thinking about mysteries and murders--solving them or writing about them? And did you write the first story that came to you?

05 September 2016

Lies, Lies, Lies

by Jan Grape

     Did I write about this last year or year before last? Actually, I think I wrote about Telling Lies For Fun and Profit. It's just that telling lies constantly from news media and from politicians is driving me nuts. I know I don't honestly want to write about political stuff but, I'm going to try to just write about lying.

     When we write our stories, we are writing fiction. Stuff we make up in our heads. Yes, it's lying in a sense. However, we're lying to entertain ourselves and our readers or fans. Story tellers have been around for centuries. Anyone who could tell a good story was invited by kings and rulers to attend court and tell a good story. Those who did tell a good story were rewarded and those whose stories fell flat sometimes were imprisoned or even lost their head.

     Thank goodness things aren't quite that bad for we lying fiction writers. If people don't care for our lies, I mean our stories, people won't buy our books and next thing you know publishers won't publish our books. We are predisposed to tell intriguing, believable lies. Stories that entertain. Stories that have characters that our readers can like and root for or maybe even root for a character to be caught and punished.

     What's with all the lies we hear on the news every hour of every day? Television has reached a point where the news anchors repeat lies or they interview people from campaigns or people in Congress who just out and out lie. Supposedly it's to keep higher ratings for the TV network and their advertisers. And I suppose for the newspaper's advertisers. The huge companies can't have a two-cent drop in revenue because their competition might make three cents more.

     A few years ago, we had a political candidate who was a member of the Mormon church. I have nothing against that religion.  I have nothing against any religion or the lack there of. Whatever a person believes is certainly between them and their supreme being. In doing a little research on the Mormon church, I discovered that their attitude was if you were lying for the Lord, it was okay to do so. If we have any Mormon readers and this isn't true, please let me know. What constitutes a lie for the Lord, I wonder?

     I was just taught that lying was about the worst thing you could do. If I had committed some infraction of our house rules, I would get in worst trouble if I lied about it. I might get punished for breaking a house rule but then if I lied about what I had done I was in deep trouble. I tried to bring my own children up with the same lesson.

   You could rightly guess that I really hate liars. I'm not talking little white lies that we have to tell or at least think we have to tell.  Like when a wife ask her hubby if these slacks make her butt look too big. Not when we know we'll hurt some one's feelings way more than necessary if we told the truth.  Not we crazy folks who tell lies for fun and profit. But plain old everyday liars. We've all known people who are pathological liars. They tell lies when telling the truth doesn't matter at all.

     I'm talking about the big whoppers the new media allow politicians to tell on air and the TV talking head doesn't call them out on it. Or the news media that keeps a reporter and allows that person to stay on the air when that person not just lies, but make up facts.

     I think it's setting a horrible example for our children. You listen to television and you hear the lie and you say out loud. "That's a lie. I know because I fact-checked it." Your child hears this and that little brain absorbs that fact. The children don't need the hate and bullying being screamed at them daily from their televisions either. Again, the children thinks it's okay to act that way. It's already showing up in schools all over the country and it's going to only get worse.

     Lies, lies, lies where does it lead us? Into a bad situation, is my sad guess. Can we stop it? Does anyone want to stop it?

     Thanks all, for letting me get this out. It's been bothering me. Let's all get back to telling lies for fun and profit.

04 September 2016

Dystopia Revisited

by Leigh Lundin

By definition, prisons stay out of view of the public eye, and, as Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo taught us, citizens are all too happy to ignore the abuses carried on behind locked bars. Fast forward a century or so where sci-fi acts as a literary bellwether: The golden age of science fiction introduced the concept of corporations taking over a number of government functions often beginning with prison systems. Back then, company prisons were considered too fantastical to appear outside dark imaginations.

Until commercialized incarceration arrived with a vengeance.

Corporation Glossary
BOP • Federal Bureau of Prisons
CCA • Corrections Corporation of America
GEO • formerly Wackenhut formerly G4S
MTC • Management and Training Corp
CCS • Correct Care Solutions (medical)
Bad Tidings

As both Eve and I have written, corporations have found numerous ways to profit from prisoners and take every opportunity to capitalize upon the misery of others. Practices include charging extravagant court and jailhouse fees, usurious interest rates, and for food and ‘accommodations’ in state and federal prisons. These fees make it impossible for many prisoners to ever get out of debt. Although the US has banned debtors’ prisons, courts in the pockets of prison corporations continue to incarcerate those who cannot pay. Indeed, it’s possible for a poor person to be adjudged not guilty and still end up imprisoned for failure to pay jail costs and legal fees. Lobbyists see to it that more and more citizens receive ever longer sentences. It’s good for business and best of all, nobody cares.

It’s come to light that corporate prisons have been ignoring constitutional rights. True, county jails and state prisons have abused prisoners and even served rotting food, but corporations made the assumption they’re not responsible for upholding Amendments to the Constitution. Companies have been caught recording attorney-client sessions… then sharing them. Prison apologists say private enterprise shouldn’t be forced to obey BoP rules because it reduces profits.

But there’s worse. Corporations have implemented a form of slavery right here in the US. If a man or boy refuses to work, he can be punished severely, tasered, thrown in solitary confinement, and even killed. In recent years, Florida’s corporate prisons have become so unsafe, that an inmate per day dies, often murdered by guards or other prisoners. In case you question the term ‘murder’, read the reports. Guards even steamed one prisoner alive, reportedly leaving pieces of his body in the shower.

Within the special federal immigrant contract prisons, the numbers are also appalling regarding so-called ‘medical care’, occasionally provided by CCS. In cases where records were available, medical and mortality reviews determined the quality of medical service was inadequate and in more than a third of cases, directly contributed to prisoners’ deaths. Private companies understaff with LPNs/LVNs, which require no more than a year of study beyond a GED, and permit them to diagnose and prescribe. Rather than sending out lab work, evidence suggest LPNs tended to ‘eyeball’ samples and and simply (and wrongly) guess.

Sad Tidings

Corrections Corporation of America
 
Geo Group
 
Management and Training Corporation
 
Correct Care Solutions
I very much believe in free enterprise, an almost magical engine that works automatically… under the right circumstances. When it comes to economics, I’m also a pragmatician if not a pragmatist. If an industry isn’t regulated, i.e, policed, it will devolve into exploitation and even criminality. We’ve learned time and again that industries cannot police themselves.

By definition, free enterprise also implies that a percentage of people will be unemployed at any given time. If you want 100% employment, turn to socialism, but don’t expect dynamics or efficiency in managed production and consumption. An economy sails best that steers itself.

But economics can resemble religion: capitalists versus communists, free trade versus tariffs. Religionists are convinced they’re right and everyone else is wrong. Both extremes don’t take into account human factors and that’s what prisons are about… assuming you’re among the percentage who still believe the incarcerated are human too. Esquire Magazine used the term ‘faceless bureaucratic indifference to human suffering’ in a different context, but it definitely applies here.

Then we learned the much touted cost-savings to taxpayers turned out moot.

Glad Tidings

As safety, rehabilitation programs, food quality and medical care plummeted, mayhem, injuries and deaths shot up. Protests and property damage increased as well. Our own Eve Fisher touched on mental health and prison terror here and here and here and here.

Mother Jones journalist Shane Bauer went undercover as a prison guard and is being sued by CCA for his trouble. CCA would very much like their policy to remain “What happens here, stays here.” You know, where the bodies are buried.

But the news is promising. Despite furious lobbying and campaign donations, the Justice Department has ordered private contracts with prison corporations not be renewed, concluding corporate administration is less effective and safe. This decision does not apply to the appalling immigration prisons mentioned above nor to the far larger population in state prisons.

Our beloved Florida governor has been the states’ own best lobbyist for corporate prisons with disastrous results. It remains to be seen whether situations will change at the state level. But at least we can give thanks that for federal relief and corporate karma.