17 December 2016

Twenty Years of B.A.M.S.



by John M. Floyd



I'm not much of a goal-setter, in my writing. Like all of us, I try to do a good job of writing stories and submitting them to markets--but beyond that, I don't feel there's much I can do. If something gets published, great. If something good happens after it's published (awards, other recognition, etc.), that's icing on the cake, and I'm honored and grateful if/when it does. But that's out of my control.

Having said that, I think there are certain things that most mystery writers have on their bucket lists. One might be to win an Edgar, or even to be nominated. Or to win other writing awards, or to have a story picked up for a film. If you're a writer of short mysteries, an additional dream might be to appear in the annual MWA anthology or an Akashic noir anthology.

I've been fortunate enough to grab a few of these golden rings, as have most of you. One of my fantasies was realized last year, when I had a story chosen for The Best American Mystery Stories 2015.

The B.A.M.S. file

I would guess that almost all of us have looked through volumes of Best American Mystery Stories at one time or another. For those who might be interested, here's a quick overview of the series, and the procedure by which the included authors are selected.

The B. A. M. S. anthologies began in 1997 and have always been published by Houghton Mifflin (later Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). In his introduction to the debut edition, series editor Otto Penzler explained that he identified and read all the mysteries published during the previous calendar year--1996--and chose the best fifty, which he then turned over to a guest editor. That editor, Robert B. Parker in this case, selected what he thought were the best twenty stories for the publication; the remaining thirty were listed in a close-but-no-cigar honor roll in the back of the book, called "Other Distinguished Mystery Stories of 1996." This process has been continued every year since. Those lucky enough to be in the "top 20" are notified, early in the year, that their stories will be featured in the book. Contracts are then sent out, the writers are paid, and the anthology is published in the fall.

Where does Otto go to find all this original fiction? "The most fruitful sources," he said in the B.A.M.S. 1997 intro, "are the mystery specialty magazines, small literary journals, popular consumer publications, and an unusually bountiful crop from anthologies containing all or some original work." Apparently the field consisted of around 500 stories at first, and has now expanded to become 3,000 to 5,000 stories a year. His colleague Michele Slung apparently does most of the initial culling, and is, according to Otto, "the fastest and smartest reader I have ever known."

The names of all the guest editors can be found in the opening pages of every edition, but they're so impressive I'll list them here as well:

1997 - Robert B. Parker
1998 - Sue Grafton
1999 - Ed McBain
2000 - Donald Westlake
2001 - Lawrence Block
2002 - James Ellroy
2003 - Michael Connelly
2004 - Nelson DeMille
2005 - Joyce Carol Oates
2006 - Scott Turow
2007 - Carl Hiaasen
2008 - George Pelecanos
2009 - Jeffery Deaver
2010 - Lee Child
2011 - Harlan Coben
2012 - Robert Crais
2013 - Lisa Scottoline
2014 - Laura Lippman
2015 - James Patterson
2016 - Elizabeth George

20/50 vision

As I mentioned earlier, the stories featured in the anthology are the top twenty of the year, chosen by the guest editor. Those named in the Distinguished Mysteries list in the back of the book are the runners-up, the "rest" of the top fifty that were originally chosen by Otto Penzler.

I restated that because most folks don't know about it--including, until recently, me. At the 2012 Bouchercon I had the opportunity to meet Lee Child, one of my favorite authors. I remember saying to him (babbling, probably), "I saw that one of my stories was listed as "distinguished" in The Best American Mystery Stories 2010 . . . and, well, since you were guest editor that year, I'd like to thank you for that honor." He said something kind and gracious and we both went on our way. What I didn't realize at the time was that my story was in the "distinguished" list because it was one of the fifty that Otto had selected, not one of the final twenty that Child chose. What I'd done, essentially, was thank him for not picking my story to be in the book. Good grief.

An SS/B.A.M.S. history

From looking at my own editions of the series, snooping on the Internet, and pestering my fellow mystery writers for information I couldn't find elsewhere, I have created the following unscientific report of current and former SleuthSayers who have wound up either in Best American Mystery Stories or named in its "Other Distinguished Mystery Stories" list. Please forgive me, and correct me, if I've overlooked anyone.

year       included in book (top 20)              named in "distinguished" list (the rest of the top 50)

1997 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1998 ----Janice Law--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1999 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2000 ----David Edgerley Gates-------------------John Floyd----------------------------------------------------
2001 ----------------------------------------------------David Edgerley Gates-------------------------------------
2002 ----David Edgerley Gates-------------------R.T. Lawton---------------------------------------------------
2003 ----O'Neil De Noux--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2004 ----------------------------------------------------O'Neil De Noux, David Edgerley Gates----------------
2005 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006 ----------------------------------------------------O'Neil De Noux-----------------------------------------
2007 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2008 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2009 -----------------------------------------------------Dixon Hill-------------------------------------------------
2010 -----------------------------------------------------Art Taylor, John Floyd-----------------------------------
2011 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2012 -----------------------------------------------------Eve Fisher, Janice Law, John Floyd--------------------
2013 -----O'Neil De Noux, David E. Gates-----Janice Law, B.K. Stevens-----------------------------------
2014 -----------------------------------------------------David Dean, Elizabeth Zelvin--------------------------
2015 -----John Floyd---------------------------------David E. Gates, Rob Lopresti, Art Taylor--------------
2016 -----Rob Lopresti, Art Taylor-----------------David E. Gates, R.T. Lawton, John Floyd--------------

Observations

Here are some things I found interesting about the above chart:

- As you can see, not one but TWO SleuthSayers have stories that made it to the top 20 and into the book this year: Rob Lopresti and Art Taylor. Both are tremendously deserving of the honor, and--not surprisingly--neither of them is a stranger to the limelight. Both have been recognized with multiple awards and honors over the past several years.

(Art Taylor and I seem to have a strange connection: This year, when he made it into the book, I made the "Other Distinguished Mystery Stories" list; the year I managed to get in, he was in the "distinguished" list; and one year both he and I had stories listed as "distinguished." In other words, I always root for Art all the more, because if he's involved I seem to have a better chance of sneaking somewhere into the picture as well.)

- For the first 18 years of the series (before the 2015 edition of B.A.M.S.), only three SleuthSayers had stories featured in the book (top 20): David Edgerley Gates three times (2000, 2002, and 2013), O'Neil De Noux twice (2003 and 2013), and Janice Law once (1998). And only recently have two SleuthSayers been in the top 20 in the same year--O'Neil and David in 2013 and Rob and Art in 2016.

- When you combine the SSers included in the book and those named in the "distinguished" list, David Edgerley Gates has made the top 50 an astounding seven times (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2013, 2015, 2016), I've made it five times (2000, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016), O'Neil four (2003, 2004, 2006, 2013), Janice three (1998, 2012, 2013), Art three (2000, 2015, 2016), R.T. twice (2002, 2016), Rob twice (2015, 2016), and Dixon Hill, Eve Fisher, Bonnie Stevens, David Dean, and Liz Zelvin once each.

- David Edgerley Gates's stories were either included or named in the "distinguished" list in four out of five consecutive editions (2000-2004) and in another three out of four (2013-2016). Also, O'Neil De Noux's stories were either included or distinguished in three out of four consecutive years (2003-2006). A lot of fine stories over short stretches of time.

- In only six years out of B.A.M.S.'s 20-year history have no SleuthSayers been included in either the anthology or the "Other Distinguished Mystery Stories" list--but in one of those no-SS years (1997) Criminal Briefer Melodie Johnson Howe was featured in the book, and in another year (2011) CBer Angela Zeman appeared in the "distinguished" list. And by the way, Angela was also included in the book in 2004 and Criminal Brief founder James Lincoln Warren made the "distinguished" list in 2010. (I couldn't resist mentioning those colleagues; Criminal Brief was the forerunner to SleuthSayers, and Rob, Leigh, Janice, and I were all CBers in a previous life.)

- In the before-I-forget department: Frequent SS guest-blogger Michael Bracken was named to the "Other Distinguished Mystery Stories" list in 2005.
That's my take on Best American Mystery Stories and its connection with our blog. If nothing else, it might steer you to some SleuthSayers' stories in the old volumes you might already have on your bookshelves. (In the course of putting this column together, I wound up going back and reading a lot of them.) May ALL of us be represented often in B.A.M.S.'s pages in the future.

Many thanks to Otto Penzler, to his assistant(s) and his guest editors, and to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, not only for providing us with outstanding reading material but for giving some of us the opportunity, and the great honor, to be a part of the series.

Here's to another twenty years!




16 December 2016

Too Sexy?


by O'Neil De Noux

How much sex (if any) should be in a crime fiction novel? I don't know the answer.

I feel Dasheill Hammett and Raymond Chandler would have written sex scenes if it had been acceptable in those days. Then again, maybe I'm wrong. I've been wrong before.

I think THE MALTESE FALCON called for Sam and Brigid in bed, called for a closer, more physical relationship, more loving relationship, which made it harder for Sam to turn her in. Maybe it would have cracked his hard facade or scratched it at least. Of course, I could be crazy. Why tinker with an almost perfect novel?

THE MALTESE FALCON (1931)

I would have liked to know exactly what was in those photo taken of Carmen Sternwood in THE BIG SLEEP. It's not easy being half-French and half-Italian with all these hormones.

THE BIG SLEEP (1946)

When I wrote my first novel GRIM REAPER in 1986, I wrote it as true and violent and as hyper-realistic as I could and when LaStanza had sex, I didn't fade to black. I also used the harsh language we used when I was a homicide detective - where cursing was commonplace. Still is in police stations and especially detective bureaus everywhere. My old partner travels a lot and visits detectives all over and says Russian police and Italian police and others curse all the time and deal with 'scumbags' just like we do.

Back to sex. I seem to have sex scenes in most of my books. Cops and private eyes like sex. Not as an after-thought but as a main attraction a lot of the time. After all, there are 7.5 billion people on the planet and I've heard of only one immaculate conception. So people are doing it. A lot. But I understand reading about sex makes some people uncomfortable.

EARTH
Population 7.5 billon, one immaculate conception

A reader once emailed me that sexs scenes in my books were unnecessary since everyone knows how to make love. I asked if the reader did it as well as my character did it in the book. Did the reader knock pictures off the wall and lamps off the end table? No response.

Many of the readers who email me mention the sex in the books with positive comments, some like it a lot. Yet, a recent email from another reader said the 713 word sex scene near the climax of HOLD ME, BABE (did I just throw a climax in?) ruined the best book that reader has read all year. Ruined?

 Sexy crime novels with sexy covers

So do we show the reader the moves, the dialogue, the sex act or fade to back? I like a good sex scene, just like I like good dialogue, a good shootout and well, just about anything good in a crime novel. So I'll probably continue to describe the sex in my books. We working mystery writers take our genre where we want to take it.

How do y'all feel about this?

www.oneildenoux.net


15 December 2016

In Pace...


by Brian Thornton

How's this for an interesting literary character:

Half-Japanese, Half-American, born on Pearl Harbor Day. The result of a one-night stand between a married Japanese diplomat and an American naval officer. Adopted by American citizens teaching in Japan, moves to Washington state when he was three.

Blind in his left eye from the age of one, as a result of cancer discovered and removed from his optic nerve at that time. As a result, like David Bowie, has "two-tone" eyes: one brown, the other light green. Always self-conscious about it.

Full height in adulthood: 5 feet, 1 inches. Weight: 125 lbs. Resulting "Little Man, Big Gun" complex is a direct contributing factor to his eventual death. Being short, he is determined not to be "small" and is a gym rat for his entire young adult and adult life. Held several of his high-school's weight-lifting records for his weight class for decades after graduation. Bears a striking resemblance to the rockstar Prince, if Prince were three inches shorter and more muscular.

Gets saddled with the nickname "Flippy" because of his penchant for doing backflips at the drop of a hat (usually at parties, usually with girls present.).

Gives himself the nick-name "The Magician" in late elementary school. Incredibly imaginative: starts writing first fantasy novel in 6th grade, shortly after finishing "The Hobbit." Not surprisingly, this first novel closely resembles "The Hobbit." Goes on to be the most obsessive "Star Trek" fan in his immediate circle of friends. While these personality traits bode well for his prowess at all-night sessions playing "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons," they do little to help him with the opposite sex.

The irony? This is a shorter, more muscular Prince. Women LOVE him. He never really gets over being shy around them, unless they're dating his friends.

Kicked out of junior high school during his eighth grade year for telling his principal to "take a flying f*ck at the moon." The context: he had shown up at school drunk on beer consumed on the way to school, smoked pot with a couple of friends before first period, then went about his educational day, obviously both hammered and stoned. Gets grounded for a year by his parents (and they make it stick). Moves schools and never gets in trouble (at school) again.

In high school plays both sax and tuba in the band. Imagine a five foot tall tuba player in your marching band. Picture that. Also sings BASS in the choir (picture that!) and appears in several theatrical productions.

Favorite album: Pink Floyd's "The Wall," because "It's so nice and depressing."

Graduates high school at 19 (that lost eighth grade year, you know).

In college does all of the following:

Changes his major six times.

At a party held at a friend's lake cabin drinks so much that he demonstrates alcohol-induced psychosis, ranting about his remorse at killing a non-existent childhood friend "Raymond". When pressed as to why he'd done it, claims it was because his father, Satan, told him to do it. All this much to the amusement of friends in attendance at said party.

Hosts a party at his parents' place while they're out of town. Drinks so much that he passes out. Wakes up the next morning rolled up in a carpet (those friends, again), with a note taped to one of the beer bottles he'd emptied the night before, sitting right in front of his face, so the first thing he sees when he wakes up is the sentence: "Let this be a lesson to you: never pass out at your own party."

Bonds immediately and permanently with every child, dog or cat he ever meets.

Works at the public library stocking shelves for years while trying to figure what to major in. Eventually gives high education up for trade school, finds a job as a machinist, moves to the Portland, Oregon area to take it.

Almost immediately regrets his decision. Quits his job within the year. In a move laden with irony, takes a job as a custodian at a middle school. LOVES it. Sets in motion the process by which he changes his residency so he can go back to school, this time majoring in education.

This from the guy, a son of two teachers, who swears up and down that he will never, ever become a teacher.

Doesn't get the chance.

In June of his thirty-eighth year, goes target shooting with a friend. Afterward, while they're cleaning their guns, the friend warns him to watch where he's pointing his pistol. He laughs, tells his friend not to worry, puts the gun to his temple, says, "See? Not loaded."

Then, he pulls the trigger.

The bullet tears through his brain.

He dies later that day.

Okay, I have a confession to make. This isn't some made-up character. This was my friend Jeff.  This post was originally intended for publication on December 8th, the day after his birthday.

He died sixteen years ago. There isn't a day goes by that I don't think of him and attempt to honor his friendship and his memory. To this day, I still miss him, and regret that my wife and my son will never get to experience his sunny bonhomie, his loyalty, his endearing wit, and his occasional bouts of charming awkwardness.

One of the ways in which we bonded as teenagers (aside from Dungeons & Dragons- yep, I didn't date much in high school, either!) was over our mutual love of literature; especially Shakespeare. So let me end with the same quote from Hamlet that I delivered at his funeral:

"He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again."

In pace requiescat, old friend.

14 December 2016

Dickens and His Ghosts


David Edgerley Gates


One of my co-workers asked the other day, Which is your favorite Christmas story? I said, the original, meaning the Nativity. I've always loved the Christmas Eve church service, the lessons and carols. The narrative from Luke, "Now it came to pass in those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed."

Thinking about it, though, I realized that there's a lot to choose from, and the chiefest of these is A CHRISTMAS CAROL. It was a personal favorite of Dickens, and he performed it both publicly and for his family year after year, playing all the parts, taking all the voices, acting out every flourish. He was quite the spell-binder, by most accounts - his children loved it - and it must have been something to see. The story itself has amazing durability, and survives almost any adaption. (One of my own personal favorites is the animated Disney version.) What accounts for its staying power?

Well, first of all, it's a ghost story. There are four of them, remember. Most of us would say three. But the first to visit is Scrooge's dead partner, Marley, and he sets the tone, foretelling the spirits who are to come, past, present, and future. Dickens, then, shows his hand, he lets us know what to expect, even if he doesn't reveal all his cards, Like any skillful conjurer, Dickens uses a succession of reveals, each effect providing a shiver of recognition.

And it's a story of redemption. We suspect Scrooge will save himself, of course, but most of the fun comes from his adventures along the way, not his getting there. It's his resistance to the pull of his own feelings that gives the story its tension. If we were absolutely sure he'd give in to his better nature, we'd be looking behind the curtain. We pretend to be surprised, every time. It's more satisfying that way.

I think there's also a hidden force behind A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Dickens was always very aware of social injustice, and his age saw a lot of it. Children at risk, from poverty, from sickness, is one of the currents in the story. Dickens' own humiliation, when he was a boy, his father in debtors' prison, and the hated blacking factory (which experience figures in both COPPERFIELD and OLIVER TWIST, too), his long-lasting sense of victimhood. A CHRISTMAS CAROL is sentimentally effective because it's at first terrifying.

Lastly, the story's subversive. We sympathize with Scrooge, in some sense. Christmas has become a sort of pathology, all that crappy music on the radio, and the cheesy sales promotions. Who isn't a little gleeful to see it disdained? On the other hand, Dickens had a big part in making Christmas what it is today. It was the Victorians who created our Christmas, although they emphasized a generosity of spirit and the "context of social reconciliation" (the historian Ronald Hutton), not its commercial aspects.

So, in keeping with the season, let's say God Bless Us, Every One, and a Merry Christmas to you all.




13 December 2016

Wrestling the Book Monster


by Melissa Yi, Patreon


“I’ve heard other writers say this: eventually you’ll struggle with a book. The plot will unravel, the characters will elude you, the theme will mishmash….
I just turned in my fourth novel, and I’m so happy to be rid of the Book Monster.”—Kate Moretti, author of The Vanishing Year

When I read Kate’s words on Writer Unboxed, my heart dropped in recognition.
Yes. I have spent over a year wrestling with one.
I never fully related to writer’s block. It’s not like I couldn’t physically write. The imagery of a single block didn’t appeal to me.
But a Book Monster? Some unknown, dripping thing rising from the depths of my subconscious swamp, its ichor and poisons hewn by my enemies, fearsome and loathsome, multi-tentacled and growing every-stronger?
Kate pointed out character and plot and author doubt problems in her excellent article. Now that I’ve finally vanquished the first draft of Human Remains, I’m going to share a few Book Monster symptoms with you, and see if any of you can relate.
How do you recognize a book monster?
How did mine get so out of control?

1. Plot? Where, where?
My plot popped and locked and waacked all over the place. I had lots of ideas, so I’d write 10,000 words with that murderer or 20,000 words with that subplot, only to change my mind the next week or seven.
I’ve always been a panster (“flying by the seat of my pants” kind of writer), because if I already know what’s going to happen, I won’t bother to write it.
After months of this, I considered plotting the book out properly instead. I also went to the Agatha Christie exhibit in Montreal and considered adhering to a strict formula like she did in And Then There Were None. Anything to stop the madness.
What finally happened was that I decided on a murderer and started writing toward that. If my mind said, Wait! Try this other murderer instead! Or Hey, you shouldn’t—, I ignored it and kept writing. No more changes. Well, some changes. But an inexorable overall structure.
Nanowrimo helped as well as hindered. I wrote 16,000 words before I stopped myself and said, No, Mel, no more words! Figure out what you’re doing with them first. But I enjoyed the feeling that the writers of the world were uniting to finish their manifestos, and it’s not a coincidence that I buckled down and finished on the last day of November.

2. No joy
Writers talk about suffering for their art.
As Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith said, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”
But I used to like writing, or at least like having written. Most of the time, I still did—except when I’d stop and look at my latest manuscript chunk and say, “Wait a minute. How does that fit anywhere?” And, because I hate waste, writing over 250,000 words and knowing I was going to toss 75 percent was torture that I felt helpless to stop.
It made me not want to write. It made me want to read about Brad and Angelina instead of pounding out the words that were just going to get incinerated anyway.

3. Too much self-pressure
CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter chose Stockholm Syndrome as one of the best crime novels of the season.
I’d go to work and a nurse would say, “Where’s your next one?”
Mysterical-E published an excerpt of Stockholm Syndrome and interviewed me for their latest issue here: http://mystericale.com/current-issue/
I love it. But I also worried.
I’d strived to make every book in the series better than the last. But what if I couldn’t do it? I could already feel the Amazon reviewers filleting me and roasting me.
I felt relieved to hear Elizabeth Gilbert quote her mom as saying, “Done is better than good.” Because more and more, this Book Monster had to be done.

4. A symptom of a greater problem
One year ago, I battled back pneumonia during the book launch of Stockholm Syndrome. In retrospect, I’d never gotten physically sick for more than a few days. My body couldn’t heal up while I spent sleepless nights trying to work and write and publicize simultaneously.
Yep, I’m that doctor who was a terrible patient.
So finally I stopped and slept, and woke up and wrote. Because that is what I do. Only it came out in inefficient, convoluted bursts., so I wrote a back pain book instead. Then came back to my Book Monster, and which I called a Creative Drought at the time.
Looking back, I wonder what might have happened if I’d taken a break from my writing, the way I did from the emergency department. I’m good at powering through, don’t stop, don’t give in to fatigue or sadness or temptation. But sometimes it’s more efficient to take a rest and come back.
The trick is figuring out how to do that.

If you have a book monster, I’d like to hear about it!
’Cause misery adores company.

And also, because I have to do the second draft. But first, I’m taking a break! Partly because I just worked hideous hours in the emergency department, but also because maybe I’m learning something. Not only about writing, but about life.

12 December 2016

Living the Dream: Self-Publishing II


by Steve Liskow

Last time, I discussed the potential slings and arrows of publishing yourself. If you're not used to the publishing jungle, it may have sounded pretty bleak, so now let's look at the positive side. This is what keeps me going.

Whatever you're giving up monetarily (which is impossible to gauge with any accuracy), you gain two things that outweigh almost everything else: Control and Flexibility.

If you self-publish, it really is your book, the one you envisioned and struggled for. If you worked hard and took workshops and got good advice, you have something you can display and sell proudly. You don't have to split with your agent or anyone else, and you can keep track of your own royalties and expenses. I work with Create Space, and their reporting is timely and clear. They also offer a much higher royalty and lower price for author copies than traditional publishers do.

Control and flexibility matter. I've abandoned three novels. I was only about 60 pages into one and was blocking up, which is always a red flag for me. I stepped back and realized that the two major premises contradicted each other and that without both of them the book didn't work. I put it aside. Later, I recycled several of the characters with minor changes and they appeared in The Kids Are All Right, my fourth Zach Barnes novel. That book was a finalist for the Shamus Award for Best Indie Novel and appeared about two and a half years after the earlier version got shelved.

If I'd abandoned a book for a traditional publisher, the seas would run red. The worst case is that the publisher would cancel my contract because I failed to deliver a MS on time. The best case is that the cover artist, editors, marketing, and everyone else would have been thrown into limbo and the production would have lost anywhere from one to three years. But with no contract and no deadline, I simply turned to my next project and came back to re-think this one later.

I was nearly 200 pages into a book late in 2014 when I decided the subplots didn't have enough at stake to justify their existence. Two year later, I reworked the premise and have completed a third draft that works much better. But that two years would have ended my career with a traditional publisher. Fortunately, I had other rejected works I could re-visit.

When you're your own boss, you determine the deadlines without several other people depending on you. If you have material ready to go, you don't have to wait for months until that traditional publisher decides to release something else so it "doesn't conflict" with your current release.

You also have control over your covers. My cover artist and I worked together in theater for years, so we know how to talk to each other. He does terrific work, and I like my covers better than many that I see at Barnes and Noble. They're different and they stand out. They also give a hint of what the story is about, unlike the generic urban skyline or girl in distress tropes.

When I finally decided to self-publish, I had six novels with a total of nearly 350 rejections in one form or another. Two of them will never see the light of day because subsequent revision changed them so much--and for the better. But I could tinker with the others, send them to beta readers, incorporate their suggestions, and send them out when everyone agreed they were ready. Once I decided to make the leap, I released four novels in about eleven months, two only slightly revised from the most recent agent rejection. Another was a re-edited version of my one traditional book, and another was heavily revised from an earlier series that didn't sell. Maybe I'll tell you about that some day.

Just to be fair, we should talk about traditional publishing, too. I have many negative perceptions and biases here, based on several years of being ignored, insulted, and generally screwed. I can't imagine any reason I would try to place a novel with a traditional publisher now, and I don't think anyone over the age of forty--maybe younger than that--should bother to fight the gatekeepers.

Publishers seldom give an advance now, and even if they do, it may not be more than four figures. It's apt to be for three books, all of which have to be delivered to them in a form they deem satisfactory. You have no vote. If they don't like a rewrite, or you're a few days late, they can cancel your contract. You may not get a cent, and now your name is out there as someone who doesn't deliver.

Those publishers do little or no promoting now, and may tell you that's your job. You'll get no money or reimbursement for anything you do--business cards, travel, whatever--and you'd be doing the same things if you self-published. They also send out fewer advance reading copies for critics (what few real critics still exist), and buy fewer ads in influential newspapers. If your first book doesn't sell in spite of this lack of publicity, they'll do even less for the next one, and may even cancel your contract.

(Since you do your own promotion, scour the Internet to find the best sites for bookmarks, business cards, and anything else you want to use. I like Vistaprint for my business cards and Gotprint for my bookmarks, but there are many others that may fit your needs better.)

Traditional publishers may tell you to hire an editor at your own expense. Traditional editors have evolved (or devolved) from the Maxwell Perkins template of decades ago into marketing liaisons. They help  the firm decide how to package you and write the cover blurbs. You may or may not have any say in this. You are far less likely to have a vote on your cover, and most traditional covers now fall into one of three or four basic templates.

If you sell enough books to earn through the advance, you may receive royalty payments every three, six, or even twelve months. In the meantime, you have to be writing that second and third book, which will be published an average of eighteen months after you turn them in. Your royalty rate will be somewhere around ten percent of the cover price, and you may or may not be able to order books for your events at a discount. If you can, those books may or may not be credited as "sales" for more royalties. Bookstores get those same books at a sixty percent discount and can return any unsold copies to the publisher (who pays the shipping both ways!) for a full refund. Those returns count against your sales and your value to the company.

The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 292,000,000. Your chances of making it big as a writer are better, but only slightly.

I love writing short stories, but because I now spend so much time editing, formatting, and promoting the novels, I've written far fewer of them since I began self-publishing. John Floyd wrote a great discussion of short stories and where to sell them on this blog a few weeks ago and it's worth checking out if you missed it the first time around.

My short stories have won a fairly prestigious award (twice), been short-listed for three others, and been named a finalist for the Edgar Award. Agents and editors no longer pay attention to such things, so I'm still self-pubbing. In fact, I'll publish a collection of those stories in spring of 2017. It may not sell many copies, but through Create Space, I have no initial outlay. I can buy the books for roughly a third of my cover price and it costs nothing to convert the book to an eBook, which can earn a royalty of from 35 to 70 percent. I don't even have to order any copies if I don't need them for an event.

Granted, it's not financing the beachfront property in Bermuda, but it beats a poke in the eye with a rusty nail.

Over the last few months, I've discovered that many local libraries only have a few of my novels, so I approach them individually and point out that if they buy the books through Amazon (Create Space is allied with Amazon), they'll have to pay shipping, usually $3.99 per book. I offer to order the books myself and deliver them. If they want several titles, I negotiate a discount. Again, it's not high finance, but it gets my books into libraries where readers can find them and it puts a few more dollars in my pocket.

When libraries like me, they're more apt to hire me to conduct my writing workshops, too, which gives me another chance to sell even more books.

When it's really your book, you can be flexible so everyone wins. That makes all the effort worthwhile.

11 December 2016

The Gift of the Maggid


by Leigh Lundin

Yesterday, Bonnie wrote about plot twists. She should know– B. K. Stevens practices the twist herself– the literary kind– as I’ve been learning in her short story collection, Her Infinite Variety.

She goes on to mention
“… those irritating people who say, ‘Really? You were actually surprised by the ending of The Sixth Sense? Not me. I figured it out halfway through the opening credits.’ I can't stand those people.”
Uh-oh. I’m one of those people. I even, er, violated at least one of her stories that way. Well, I don’t say it out loud, but you know– the mind leaps ahead – What would I do? – and sometimes hits upon the right result. Do other readers see it the same way? If we manage to figure out where the plot’s headed, then we might see a little self-satisfied glimmer reflected and mumble, “Genius!” And if we can’t, then we take pleasure the author fairly fooled us.

Stevens — Her Infinite Variety
The Girl from Iphigenia

Fact: Once upon a time in a small New England town, a middle-aged woman worked in the data entry department for a shoe company. The story surrounding Edna was that her domineering mother had never allowed her to date, but made her devote herself to caring for her parents and an unmarried aunt. Beyond bringing in an income, it’s possible Edna’s pedestrian workday had become an escape into normalcy. Why do I mention this? Let's talk about Her Infinite Variety.

Last week, I touched upon a trio of the author’s series characters included in two of the book’s eleven stories– Iphigenia Woodhouse, her irascible professor mother, and ‘Little Harriet’ Russo, the assistant who becomes their foot detective. I hinted at the complex relationship: “Little Harriet plays an Archie Goodwin to Iphigenia, and the formidable Iphigenia plays an Archie to her mother, the professor.”

But there’s a fourth character, the ever-patient Detective Barry Glass, inamorato of the divine Miss Iphigenia, known as That Man by her mother with considerable bile and venom. If she hasn’t already done so, I hope Bonnie publishes a collection of her Woodhouse stories so we might learn if Iphigenia and That Man Glass ever manage to slip into something more comfortable, i.e, the hay mow, the woods, or the bedsheets.

Bonnie’s article yesterday and Leah Abrams’ children’s religious studies gave me the idea for today’s offbeat title. A ‘maggid’ was an often wandering Slavic Jewish storyteller and teacher popular in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Temp

The author gives us a sample of another series character, Leah Abrams. Family is important to Leah, her husband Sam and daughters Sarah and Rachel. You notice the Biblical names and may rightly assume quiet piety is important within their home.

Leah, with a PhD in communications, constantly researches material for scholarly volumes, which might or might not see the light of day. In these cosies, we see a parody of those books in self-help courses.

To study workplace psychology, Leah takes interesting office jobs such as temping for a psychic hotline company and counseling for a fancy rehab center. Wherever she works, she stumbles upon murders. Naturally, her friend, Lieutenant Brock, ably facilitates her in finding the perpetrators.

The Rest

B. K. Stevens provides seven additional stand-alone tales, including a Mary Higgins Clark winner, ‘The Listener’. All the clues are there for the astute reader.

I’ve still a couple of stories to go, but I admire the collection. For a smart Christmas or Chanukah gift, you’d be hard pressed to shop for better than Her Infinite Variety, or indeed any of the books from our SleuthSayers members.

Many of our friends and followers have books on the shelves and the on-line marketplace for the holidays. (Elizabeth, does that include you?) Rather than accidentally omit one of my SleuthSayers colleagues, I invite you to add your titles in the comments.

Happy reading!

10 December 2016

The Twist


by B.K. Stevens

At this time of year, it seems appropriate to focus on a short story that would make almost anybody's list of Christmas favorites, especially since that story offers valuable lessons to mystery writers. O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" isn't a mystery, but it does a brilliant job of pulling off something many mysteries strive to achieve. I'm talking, of course, about The Twist. An excellent twist, like an excellent gift, reflects both generosity and good judgment. An expensive gift that doesn't suit the recipient probably won't delight, and a suitable but stingy gift isn't likely to inspire much gratitude. By being generous with the reader but exercising good judgment as a writer, O.Henry gives "The Gift of the Magi" the perfect twist.

It's hard to imagine that anyone reading this post hasn't already read "The Gift of the Magi." But if Scrooge-like middle-school teachers and the perversity of fate have conspired to rob you of that experience, please read the story here before going on. It will take you only a few minutes, and I can almost guarantee you'll enjoy it. If you can't spare those few minutes, please don't go on. For I'm about to spoil a classic ending.

It's fairly easy to surprise readers with a twist that pops up out of nowhere. A bomb explodes without a trace of foreshadowing, or the murderer turns out to be a minor character who makes only two brief appearances in the novel, never saying or doing anything that could arouse rational suspicion. It's much harder to create a surprising twist if we shower readers with all the evidence they need to see the ending coming.

That's exactly what O. Henry does in "The Gift of the Magi." From the opening paragraphs on, it's clear Della and Jim have little money to spare for Christmas gifts. It's also clear they love each other. True, the story emphasizes her love for him, not his for her, but her devotion is so sweet and unreserved we assume, rightly, it can't be a tragically unrequited passion. We also learn, in the first two pages, that Della and Jim each have one treasure. Della has long, magnificent hair, and Jim has a fine gold watch he inherited from his father and grandfather. O. Henry spends a long paragraph explicitly comparing these treasures: Della's hair would put the Queen of Sheba's jewels to shame, and even King Solomon, with all his wealth, would envy Jim's watch.

That's all we need to know. No writer could be more generous with helpful information--and O. Henry is so completely generous that he also doesn't try to distract us with the easy tricks of red herrings or irrelevant details. He is utterly open and fair. If he cheats at all, he cheats with his title. "The Gift of the Magi"--singular, not plural. But the magi gave more than one gift, and there's more than one gift in this story. By using "gift" and not "gifts" in his title, O. Henry may be trying to trick us into thinking Della's gift for Jim is the only one that matters. It's a tiny trick, though, and a clever, subtle one. I think we can forgive him.

At any rate, O. Henry gives us all the evidence we need to figure out his crime-free mystery, and he gives it to us early. Less than halfway through the story, when Della sells her hair so she can buy a chain for Jim's watch, we should be able to conclude, "Well, Della and Jim love each other, neither has much money, and each has one treasure. And it's Christmas. If Della sacrifices her one treasure to give Jim something to enhance his watch, I bet Jim will sacrifice his one treasure to give Della something to enhance her hair. No doubt about it--there are some ironic twists coming."

But I don't think many readers do see the twists coming. (And if they do, chances are they first read the story so long ago that they no longer remember how prescient they were--unlike those irritating people who say, "Really? You were actually surprised by the ending of The Sixth Sense? Not me. I figured it out halfway through the opening credits." I can't stand those people.)

How does O.Henry keep us from predicting his ending? I think we can ascribe his success to his good judgment as a writer. First, he wisely chooses to make "The Gift of the Magi" a short story, not a novel. I don't think the plot would work nearly as well if we couldn't read the story in one sitting. First of all, O. Henry would have to destroy its focus by filling pages with extraneous subplots and details. And if we took a break before reaching the last page, if we put "The Gift of the Magi"" down to go for a walk or drive to work, we'd have time to think things over, and we might figure out what the ending will be. (I've read plenty of mystery novels that would have worked better as short stories, that might well have sneaked their twists past me if I hadn't had time to analyze the evidence while folding laundry or letting my mind wander during a boring meeting.)

But "The Gift of the Magi" is a very short story, and also a very absorbing one--I'd guess few if any readers can put it down before reaching the last page. The action pushes us forward without pause, and the protagonist is so lovable and so troubled that she instantly wins our sympathies and our full attention. That's another example of O. Henry's good judgment. He keeps us so intent on Della's dilemmas and decisions that we don't stop to think about what Jim might be feeling or doing.

O. Henry accomplishes that, partly, by not letting us see Jim until the final pages. Imagine how different the story's effect on us might be if O. Henry had begun with a scene of the couple at breakfast, had let us hear Jim make some gloomy remark about Christmas gifts, or let us see him holding his watch in his hand and gazing at it moodily. Instead, O. Henry begins his story after Jim has gone to work, when Della is alone in the flat, counting and recounting her pitiful hoard of coins. Jim gets mentioned often, but we see him only as the reason for Della's despair, not as an independent character who might be grieving over similarly meager stacks of coins and contemplating desperate measures of his own.

Instead, we focus only on Della, and there's plenty to keep that focus constant and sharp. Della's misery touches us, and so does her admiration for Jim--we're moved by her capacity for affection. (By "we," I mean readers capable of being moved by sweetness and innocence. A Grinch would think Della's being silly. If you are a Grinch offended by any story tainted by sentimentality, you don't like "The Gift of the Magi," and you won't like anything I'm going to say about it. Perhaps you'd rather go read some Sartre.) When Della looks in the mirror, turns pale, and abruptly lets down her hair, we wonder what's going on in her mind. Moments later, when she quickly puts her hair up again and hurries out of the flat, we get a glimmer of what she plans to do. Before we can think it through, we come to the quick little drama of her encounter with the horrible Madame Sofronie, memorably characterized in four well-chosen words--"large, too white, chilly." After only a few lines of dialogue, the hair is gone, and Della leaves clutching her twenty dollars. We may feel torn between conflicting emotions, impressed by Della's ingenuity and courage but appalled by the harshness of her sacrifice.

We have no time to dwell on those emotions, though, because the story rushes on. Now we're caught up in Della's search for the perfect present for Jim. She never pauses to wonder about what Jim might be giving her for Christmas, never takes a moment to gaze into a shop window and sigh over the tortoise shell combs on display. That's consistent with Della's character--she's so selfless that she thinks only about Jim's present, cares only about his happiness. It's also further proof of O. Henry's good judgment. If it ever occurred to Della that Jim might be shopping, too, we might start speculating, and that might spoil the twist. By making Della's quest so single minded, O. Henry keeps our thoughts from drifting off in dangerous directions.

And he never lets the pace slow. Della's two-hour search is described in three short sentences. Then, for one paragraph, we share her joy when she finds the perfect watch chain. But the next paragraph plunges us into new anxieties as Della gets busy with her curling irons and frets about how Jim will respond when he sees her shorn. We ache for her as she hears Jim's steps in the hallway and whispers a quick prayer: "Please, God, make him think I am still pretty."

Jim's reaction, we think, will provide the story's climax, and we wait to see what it will be. The nastiest-minded noir addicts among us may hope Jim will respond with rage, may hope the story will end with a nice little murder-suicide demonstrating the cruel absurdity of human existence. Most of us probably expect Jim to be dismayed and perhaps angry at first but then to embrace his wife, declaring that he now loves her more than ever, that in his eyes she's now more beautiful than ever. This is, after all, a Christmas story.

Few of us, I think, expect any climax beyond Jim's reaction. O. Henry has done such a masterful job of ensnaring us in Della's thoughts and emotions that we don't see any further ahead than she does. When Jim stares at his wife, stunned into speechlessness, we think, as she does, it's because he can't adjust to the change in her appearance. As she pleads with him, it doesn't occur to us that there might be a deeper reason for what O. Henry describes as Jim's "trance." Not until Jim pulls a package from his pocket, not until Della opens it and sees the combs Jim bought for her to wear in her long, beautiful hair, do we realize why he was so paralyzed by surprise. We don't see that twist coming until Della does.

It's a clever twist, an ironic twist, a satisfying twist--and not an utterly devastating one. Della weeps when she first sees the combs, but she recovers quickly. "My hair grows so fast, Jim!" she says, and we share her relief. Soon, Della will be able to wear the combs. What a nice climax.

But it's not the climax. There's one more twist coming--a twist we could have foreseen but probably didn't. When Della assures Jim that her hair will grow back soon, it probably doesn't occur to her to wonder about how Jim paid for the combs. Since we share her perspective so completely, it probably doesn't occur to us, either. And when she remembers the watch chain, we may, like her, think Jim's delight in it will erase any lingering regrets about Della's hair.

Then we get the final twist, and everything makes sense. Of course, we think. Earlier in the story, Della says only "something fine and rare and sterling" would do as a gift for Jim, and anything she offers him must reflect his "quietness and value." Just as someone as selfless and loving as Della would give up her most prized possession to buy a present for her husband, someone as "fine and rare and sterling" as Jim would give up his most prized possession to buy a present for his wife. Della has told us everything we need to know about Jim. We should have seen this twist coming. But we probably didn't, because Della didn't. So the final twist hits us as hard as it hits her, and it's even more devastating than the first one. Della's hair will grow back, but the watch Jim inherited from his father and grandfather is gone forever.

Now O. Henry's good judgment as a writer comes into play again. He didn't begin his story too early by letting us see Jim brooding at breakfast, and he doesn't extend it too long by letting us see Della's reaction to the news that Jim has sold his watch. We've already seen Della weep when Jim gives her the combs. We don't need to see her weep again. So when she gives Jim the watch chain, he demonstrates his "quietness and value" by smiling, telling her he sold his watch, and suggesting they sit down to dinner. That's our final glimpse of Della and Jim. The last twist has fallen into place, and its impact is profound. No need to drag things out by belaboring the irony, or by showing us their dismay and recovery. I think O. Henry ends his narrative at exactly the right moment.

He does, however, add one paragraph of commentary, and I suspect many modern readers will criticize him for that. In this last paragraph, O. Henry is teaching us how to interpret his story. He is making its moral explicit. He is--horrors!--telling and not showing. We sophisticated modern readers know how wrong that is. We know writers must let their stories speak for themselves and leave the work of interpretation to the reader. Writers must never sermonize, must never end their stories with paragraphs such as this one:
The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise, let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the wisest. Everywhere they are the wisest. They are the magi.
I'll admit it--I'm not sophisticated enough to despise this paragraph. Schmaltzy as it is, I love it. I choke up every time I reread it. I enjoy the quiet humor of the suggestion that the original magi may have given gifts "bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication," enjoy the juxtaposition of different uses of "wise." I'm moved by what the paragraph says about true wisdom, and about how some kinds of foolishness rise to become wisdom of the highest sort. And I appreciate the help this paragraph gives me, for I'm not completely confident I would have seen all the story's implications on my own.

I may be wrong. This paragraph may in fact be merely clumsy and inartistic. (I'd definitely never write a story ending with a similar paragraph. Old fashioned as my own tastes may be, I'm savvy enough to know almost any modern editor would reject a story containing such a paragraph, and almost any modern reader would condemn it.) In any case, this paragraph drives home the point that the best twists are more than clever bits of plotting. The best twists illuminate both character and theme. They express ideas. Informed by the writer's generosity and good judgment, they can transform a story into a delightful, perceptive gift to the reader.

Happy holidays to all!

09 December 2016

Diversity in More Than One Direction


By Art Taylor

This week was the final week of classes at George Mason University—though not the final week of the semester, I should stress, since exams and final projects and lots of grading are still ahead.

This semester marks the first time I've taught a course in "Women of Mystery" and the last couple of classes brought some interesting discussions and left me with plenty to think about myself. The final book we studied was Sue Grafton's A Is For Alibi, a novel I've taught before in the context of hard-boiled detective fiction—how this novel builds out of that tradition and shifts its focus. This time, obviously, we were looking at the history of women crime writers and female detectives, which offered a different context. In one class discussion, for example, we charted the great diversity of female characters represented in the book: from young to old, from working class to upper class, from single women to married women to divorced women and with a mix of mistresses in between, and from the domestically minded to the fiercely independent; as students pointed out, while Kinsey Milhone is always jogging and keeping an eye on her health, we also have a character saying that "Fat is beautiful" and arguing for special rights for the "grossly overweight."

But amidst all the diversity of women's experiences catalogued in the book, there was a key bit of diversity missing: As my students pointed out, nearly all the characters here are white.

Throughout the semester, we've examined all our stories and novels as windows into their respective eras: whether as glimpses into the roles and responsibilities of women in those specific times or as challenges to any prevalent expectations. As Maureen Reddy, author of The Feminist Counter-Tradition in Crime, has pointed out, the debuts of Marcia Muller in 1977 (with Edwin of the Iron Shoes) and of Grafton and Sara Paretsky in 1982 (with A Is For Alibi and Indemnity Only, respectively) coincided with the mainstreaming of the feminist movement—and specifically second-wave feminism. But some of the criticism of second-wave feminism, and part of its distinction from third-wave feminism, arose from attention to diversity beyond gender issues. In Bustle's timeline of the feminist movement, the last item from the section on second-wave feminism is the 1983 publication of Angela Davis's Women, Race and Class—and the editors add this commentary:

In spite of its social success, the second wave broke in the late '70s. The racial division that plagued the first wave remained throughout the second, and expanded from a black/white divide to include divisions along economic lines, between various minorities, and between lesbians and straight women. The internal divisions fractured the larger movement into competing factions, which disillusioned many feminists and society as a whole.

On the heels of our study of A Is For Alibi, and for our final day of class, we all studied this year's Report for Change from Sisters in Crime, a "Publishing Summit Report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Mystery Community"—fascinating reading start to finish and glimpse for my students into the many factors the influence book publication and impact readers: from writers' goals and intentions, to the expectations of agents and editors, and even to the inclinations (or disinclinations) of readers to cross color lines, for example. In the report, Linda Rodriguez talks about the little voice inside her head that said, "Mysteries are written by white people. About white people." An unnamed Latina writer points out that "Romance is white people in love; sci-fi is white people in space; mystery is white people solving crime," but if a genre novel is focused on Latino characters, it's Latino literature first. And with specific attention on reader preferences, Rachel Howzell Hall explained that "black readers have been crossing color lines in their reading all of their lives and being able to put themselves into the fiction worlds. If black readers can do this, why can't white readers do that in reverse?"

I won't try to summarize or sample the whole report here, but would encourage folks to read it themselves (the link above) for some perceptive and occasionally provocative insights into these questions about diversity in the mystery genre—and both for some signs of hope about increasing diversity in the genre and for several lists of writers based on race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. 

Coincidentally, as I was prepping for class, this article popped up on the New York Times: Tony Tulathimutte's "Why There's No Millennial Novel." Here's a sample paragraph:

Where are the successors to This Side of Paradise, The Sun Also Rises, The Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Bright Lights, Big City, Generation X and Infinite Jest? Time’s Lev Grossman blames our increasingly “multicultural, transcontinental, hyphenated identities and our globalized, displaced, deracinated lives” for why any consensus about a single voice now seems impossible. I’d go even further and argue that the “voice of a generation” novel never existed to begin with. For starters, why did we ever pretend novels by straight white guys about straight white guys spoke for entire generations?
While we didn't read this one as a class (again, it wasn't published until just before our class meeting), I did bring in some of the column's observations and arguments to help amplify our discussion and our examination of how much has changed even since the early 1980s—and what those changes mean. 

08 December 2016

Updates and Repercussions: South Dakota Edition


by Eve Fisher

Back in December, 2005, the Zip Feed Tower in Sioux Falls, SD, was demolished to make room for retail and office space.  Things didn't go that well:


It's still a running joke up here, and they show it semi-regularly on TV.  Eventually they took a crane and wrecking ball to it, which worked a treat.

However, last week we had a tragedy in Sioux Falls, when a building came down that wasn't supposed to:  December 2, 2016, the Copper Lounge building collapsed out of the clear blue sky while a lot of people were having coffee across the street.  A Mercedes parked right outside the building was crushed; a woman who lived in an apartment was trapped with her dogs, all were eventually rescued; but a man who was working construction in the building was killed.  (The Copper Lounge Collapse.)

Now, before it got tragic, I admit, my first thought was to blame HGTV, because all anyone can talk about on those shows these days is an "open floor plan".  Obviously, someone took out a supporting wall. And - sadly - I was right. This was an old building - built in 1916 - and "Sioux Falls City Building Services approved a limited permit authorizing Hultgren Construction to remove interior finishes such as furnishings, floor coverings, ceiling tiles, and an existing bar area." But the permit did NOT authorize removing walls, as you can see they did in the photo to the left. (Hultgren Construction removed that photo from their website, but local news, and others, posted it on Facebook sites time and again.)

Then, two days later, a hole in an adjacent (and now exposed) wall opened up (belonging to an entirely different business). Emergency Management had put up shoring to protect the first responders and to keep more walls from collapsing, but "The weight was eventually going to take it [down]... That area was heavily compromised." Basically, a lot of businesses are closed. And at some point, a lot of lawsuits are going to be started.

So, lesson of the day:  if you must have an open floor plan, remember that old buildings, like people, don't care to have large chunks removed, and make sure that you leave important supporting walls where they are.  And get all the necessary permits.

On to more fun things, like elections.  South Dakota stayed Republican, and if this shocks you, remind me tell you that "The Wizard of Oz" is a work of fiction.  Donald Trump got 227,701 votes, Hillary Clinton got 117,442 votes, and Gary Johnson got 20,845 votes, with 69.6% of the electorate voting, which isn't bad.  We also had a slew of ballot measures, of which 4 passed:

(1) Amendment R, which transfers control of tech schools from local school boards to a new... something. It's now up to the SD legislature to decide what kind of supervision/board and how much funding to give them. (Note to tech schools: our SD legislature is notoriously cheap about everything but EB-5 and Gear Up. Don't hold your breath.)

(2) Initiated Measure 21, which caps payday loans at 36%, no exceptions. I am happy to say that Chuck Brennan, a former rock concert promoter and CitiBank collections professional, the mastermind behind the multi-million dollar Dollar Loan Center, is indeed doing what he promised, which is that if Measure 21 passed, he'd pick up his toys and go back home to Vegas. (Hint: He's not as popular in SD as he thinks he is.) He's selling the recently purchased Huset's Speedway (bought it for $1 million, wants to $9.5 million), and we're all waiting to see what he'll do with Badlands Pawn and Badlands Radio.

Image result for kelsey grammer marsy's law south dakota
They pulled out the star power for Mary's Law ads...
(3) Amendment S, "Marsy's Law", "creating constitutionally protected rights for crime victims" although they already had them under the SD constitution. This one passed in a landslide, because there were so many ads (with and without star power) that there were barely any fast food commercials on TV for October and November.  That was because Marsy's Law is bankrolled by California billionaire Henry Nicholas III, whose sister was murdered in 1983. Her killer was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, and he and his family attended all the parole hearings, in which the killer was always denied parole.  But apparently that wasn't enough. Mr. Nicholas wants "Marsy's Law" to be not only law nationally, but to become an Amendment to the United States Constitution - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsy's_Law), and is willing to shell out big bucks to do it. (He passes laws, the Hunt boys tried to buy up all the silver in the world, everywhere you look, billionaires have hobbies.)

Anyway, now we have Marsy's Law, and like the dog catching the car, nobody knows what to do with it. The police already aren't giving out address of crime sites anymore - what if there's a victim there? Supposedly, now, a crime victim does not have to be deposed by a defense lawyer (even though that's in the US Constitution.) And everyone agrees that it costs will go up, as notifications now have to go to victims of ANY kind of crime (not just felonies) and sentences will probably get longer, as notifications have to be sent to every crime victim and their families.  More later.

(4) Initiated Measure 22, on campaign finance reform. This is the really fun one: It requires more disclosures and reporting; lowers contribution amounts to AND from PACs, parties, and candidates at all levels. It also creates a publicly funded campaign finance program for statewide and legislative candidates who choose to participate and agree to limits on campaign contributions and expenditures. (Under the program, two $50 'credits' are issued to each registered voter, who assigns them to participating candidates. The credits are redeemed from the program, which is funded by an annual State general-fund appropriation of $9 per registered voter. The program fund may not exceed $12 million at any time.) And it creates an appointed ethics commission to administer the credit program and to enforce campaign finance and lobbying laws. It also prohibits certain State officials and high-level employees from lobbying until two years after leaving State government. It also limits lobbyists' gifts to certain state officials and staff members.

Image result for family heritage alliance actionIn case you're wondering, IM 22 is being fought tooth and nail by the GOP Legislature. Now I understand totally why no one wants to come up with those $50 per-tax-payer-credits.  (HINT: with no income tax, our only revenue is sales tax, and sales have gone down; WAY down.  We don't have money for much of anything in SD.) But that's not the reason our Legislature is already talking about nullifying the will of the people, either by hook (lawsuit) or crook (repeal).  It's about money, honey, and jobs: So far, 12 legislators and 1 organization are filing a Lawsuit HERE, because the legislators are claiming they would need to quit the Legislature or quit their jobs, or their spouses would need to quit their jobs because of conflict of interest. (Makes you wonder who's doing the hiring, doesn't it?)  And the Family Heritage Alliance group ("protecting and promoting faith, family, and freedom", and they only mean conservative Christian), which lobbies our Legislature with considerable success every year, is suing because... well, obviously, they spend some money to get their views... enabled. And our fearless leader, Gov. Dennis Daugaard has (1) said that he'll support repeal if the measure isn't struck down in court and (2) NO MATTER WHAT, he will not fund IM 22.

Meanwhile, going back to Marsy's Law, fear not:  after a month of confusion, our Attorney General, Marty Jackley, has just announced that crime victims have to opt-in for their rights under Marsy's Law, and names, addresses, etc., may continue to be given to news media, insurance companies, etc. (In an interesting twist, he said that crime victims have to opt-in the same way perpetrators do...)  And, although Marsy's Law also increases costs (extra hearings, longer jail times, more contacting victims and victims' families), it will be fully funded, one way or another.

Anyway, one good thing that came out of this is that we know who's running for governor in 2018: South Dakota United States Representative Kristi Noem (who looks great on a horse, and whose family makes their living off of crop insurance, both receiving - 18th largest recipient in the state! - and selling it)

Image result for kristi noem on horseback

and our Attorney General, Marty Jackley (who still can't find the Westerhuis safe, but does have good Anderson Cooper hair).

  Image result for marty jackley

They both opened campaign accounts and transferred money in a couple of days before the IM 22 became law (remember, it limits campaign contributions).  So we also know that Noem has $1.6 million and Jackley has $730,000 in their treasure chests.  This should be fun.  This should be epic. Bring popcorn.

Well, that's it for now.  More later, from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 







07 December 2016

Jailbird


by Robert Lopresti

 I should probably start by saying this is not fiction.  It happened last week.

I'm piecing this together from several news stories.  Craig Buckner was due for an appearance at the courthouse in Washington County, Oregon.  He had failed to appear previously on drug and theft charges.

When the cops found him asleep they suspected something and gave him a drug test.  The result was that he was arrested.

Buckner was upset.  Expecting only a short visit he had brought his pet to the courthouse.  His macaw, named Bird, was sitting in a tree outside, waiting for him.

The cops realized the birdy might not survive the chilly Oregon night.  They tried to coax him down, but Bird was not interested in talking to the cops.  He was no stool pigeon.  (Sorry, but it's going to get worse.)

Finally the police let Buckner out to call his friend down.  A deputy took care of Bird until another friend (this one unfeathered) came to spring Bird from the cage.  (They just write themselves, don't they?)

The cops took an unusual mugshot of Buckner with his pal, and that's what made the news.

The way human-interest stories work (especially those that involve non-humans), I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Buckner and Bird get a lot of offers of help.  I hope things work out for them.

And I hope whatever Buckner did in the past his future career does not involve robin people.  Let us not snipe at him but hope this event gooses him to reform.  Perhaps these toucan go on a lark and have only mynah inconveniences...

All right.  I'll stop now.  Before I do something I egret.

06 December 2016

A Day in the Life of Dru Ann Love


by Barb Goffman

Her name says it all. Dru Ann Love. She loves mysteries and their authors, and they love her back.

You'd be hard pressed to find someone in the mystery community who doesn't know Dru. A self-described book nerd, she began blogging about the mysteries she adores in 2008 on her blog Dru's Book Musings. In 2010, Dru attended her first mystery convention, Malice Domestic, where she found what she calls "her community"--mystery readers and writers. A year later she implemented her idea to let mystery authors share their characters directly with her blog readers, uploading A Day In the Life posts in which the fictional characters talk about their days, and her blog really took off.


Since then, Dru has been a finalist for the 2015 Anthony Award for Best Critical or Non-Fiction Work. And last week she was named the 2017 recipient of the Raven Award by Mystery Writers of America (MWA). The Raven Award recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. Dru will receive the Raven during MWA's Edgar Award ceremony in April.
Dru Ann Love

"I knew a couple of weeks before," Dru said. "It was hard to keep the news to myself. I wanted to shout it to the world."

The mystery world shouted their approval back once the news was announced. And I thought this is the perfect time to let people get a glimpse into Dru's life. (Reporting and writing by Barb Goffman, life lived by Dru Ann Love.)

A Day in the Life of Dru Ann Love

It's four a.m. and I'm wide awake. No alarm necessary. I've always been an early riser, and today's no different. First stop: my computer to check email and Internet. I have several friends who are regularly up at that hour, and it's nice to touch base with them. Barb Goffman, this means you. (Note from Barb: If I'm up at that hour, it's because I woke up hot and will be returning to bed once the sheets cool off.)

Then things happen in a hurry. I turn on the TV news and weather at 4:30, hit the shower, and am out the door at 5:10, on my way to the Daytime Situation. After an hour-long train ride during which I read mysteries (of course) on my Kindle, I arrive at a well-known financial conglomerate and head to my desk in the marketing department. While my author friends are at their computers during the day, writing zigzagging plots and zany characters, I'm working on online surveys, helping to write them, program them, and send them out.

Love my Kindle!
Finally lunch time comes. Some days I'll meet a friend for lunch, but today I'm heading to the Irish pub across the street from my office. I love how quiet it is. I grab a corner table, order my favorite meal of fish and chips--extra crispy, no lettuce, tomatoes, or anything that would make my fish soggy--and I read, read, read.

Alas, lunch time must end. I'm spending this afternoon reviewing survey results to ensure we received enough back as well as  working on a preliminary analysis for clients. I wonder if I could program a survey through which I send out cryptic murder instructions. I'll have to share that thought with my author friends. (Note from Barb: Excellent idea! I feel my muse preparing to visit. ...)

The benefit of starting work early means I get to leave relatively early too. Before you know it, it's a little after five p.m., and I'm back home in Brooklyn. On the agenda for this evening: dinner with a friend, people-watching on the boardwalk, reading (of course), catching up with Facebook friends, and working on my blog, all with the TV on for background noise.
Heather Webber

This weekend I'll begin work on a new quilt and probably start reading another new book. And for sure I'll thank author Heather Webber. She was the one who convinced me to go to Malice Domestic for the first time. I'm such an introvert, it's amazing she succeeded in getting me out of my comfort zone. But boy, I'm glad she did. I wouldn't have found this crew of people, my community, without her.