24 September 2016

Things that drive Crime Writers CRAAAZY

by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

I’m a crime writer. Hell, I’ll put on my other hat (the one with the pointy top) and say it. I’m even a fantasy writer (my corvette reminds me every day, as those are the books that bought it.)


So I know about suspension of disbelief. I’m willing to admit that as an audience, we might agree to ‘suspend belief’ for a little while.

But enough is enough. Television, you go too far. CSI Hoboken, or wherever you are, take note. Here are some things that drive otherwise fairly normal crime writers (oxymoron alert) crazy:


1. Crime scene people in high heels and raw cleavage.

Of all the !@#$%^&* things that television distorts, this is the one that bugs us the most. Ever been on a crime scene? Ever been in a LAB?

For six years, I was Director of Marketing for the Canadian Society of Medical Laboratory Science. I’ve been in a friggin’ lab or two. Take it from me: it ain’t a place for fuck-me shoes and long loose hair. You want my DNA messing with your crime results?

Network producers, stop treating us like ignorant adolescents who need to be sexually charged every single moment. Stop. Just stop. It’s insulting.

2. Gunshot victims who give their last speech and then die, Kerplunk.

Full disclosure: I was also a hospital director. People who get hit with a bullet to the heart die, kerplunk. They aren’t hanging around to give their last words. People who get hit in the gut may take many hours to die. It’s not a pretty sight. Take it from me. They usually aren’t thinking sentimental thoughts.

3. Where’s the blood spatter?

If you stab someone while they are still living and breathing, there is going to be blood spatter. Usually, that spatter will go all over the stabber. So sorry, producers: your bad guy is not going to walk away immaculate from a crime scene in which he just offed somebody with a stiletto. You won’t need Lassie to find him in a crowd, believe me.

4. Villains who do their ‘Fat Lady Sings’ pontification.

Why does every villain in boob-tube-town delay killing the good guy so he can tell the soon-to-be-dead schmuck his life story? I mean, the schmuck is going to be offed in two minutes, right? You’re going to plug him. So why is it important that he know why you hate your mother and the universe in general?

Someday, I am going to write a book/script where one guy gets cornered and before he can say a word, this happens:

<INT. A dark warehouse or some other cliché. >

BLAM.

The smoking gun fell to my side as Snidely dropped to the floor.

“Dudley!” gasped Nell. “You didn’t give him a chance to explain!”

I yawned. “Bor-ing. All these villains go to the same school. You heard one, you’ve heard them all.”

“Isn’t that against the law?” said Nell, stomping her little foot. “Don’t you have to let the bad guy have his final scene?”

BLAM.

The smoking gun fell to my side as Nell dropped to the floor.

Melodie Campbell writes silly stuff for newspapers and comedians, and usually they even pay her. You can catch more of her comedy on www.melodiecampbell.com, or better still, buy her books.

23 September 2016

Writing the Historical Mystery

      We at SleuthSayers are delighted to announce our newest regular member, O’Neil De Noux. He is a New Orleans writer with thirty-two books in print and more than three hundred short stories published in multiple genres. His fiction has received several awards, including the Shamus and Derringer and the 2011 Police Book of the Year. Two of his short stories have appeared in Otto Penzler’s Best American Mystery Stories anthology (2007 and 2013), and he is a past Vice President of the Private Eye Writers of America. Please join me in welcoming my old friend O’Neil De Noux.
— John Floyd

by O’Neil De Noux

Accuracy vs. Fiction

      Joseph Pulitzer wrote on his newsroom wall – “Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy.” Excellent advise for journalists but fiction writers are not journalists and we do not write history books. Historical accuracy is important in the historical mystery but is it more important than your story? I say no.

When we write historical fiction we are writing FICTION. I have a degree in European and Asian History and have had historical articles published in academic journals. I’ve also penned fifty historical fiction short stories among the 300-hundred plus short stories I’ve sold.

In writing academic historical articles, I strive to be as accurate as humanly possible. Nearly all history graduate students take a class in HISTORIOGRAPHY, the study of historical writing. They know unless you are an eye-witness to an historical event – and that’s one person’s subjective observation – then you must rely on first hand accounts of other contemporary witnesses or second hand accounts complied by other historians. So why worry if you get a minor detail wrong in your historical fiction as I did when I had a character wearing a Banlon shirt several years before Banlon was introduced? Oh, yes. Someone caught me and I had to miss recess that day.

Historians in critically-acclaimed history books also get things wrong. Ever read history books of the Napoleonic Wars? British Historians and French Historians paint nearly opposite histories of the same period. It’s almost funny.

Back to my first statement - when we write historical fiction we are writing FICTION – I have fudged on historical accuracy to write a better story because, in my opinion, historical fiction is like someone’s name. John Smith is a SMITH, part of the SMITH family, not the JOHN family. Historical Fiction is FICTION and fiction outranks history, otherwise you’re writing a history book.

Fiction writers make up stuff. We make up characters and events, sometimes with an historical backdrop.

Artistic license was taken when I wrote my historical-mystery THE FRENCH DETECTIVE, set in 1900 New Orleans. As a New Orleanian I know the term po-boy did not originate until the 1929 streetcar strike. The muffuletta sandwich was created at the Central Progress Grocery Store in 1906. I used the terms anyway. I’ll probably get a detention slip.

Additionally, I updated the arcane language and dialogue of whatever period I’m writing for a 21st Century audience. I could not have the characters speak as people spoke at the beginning of the 20th Century. Actually, a great number of the people in THE FRENCH DETECTIVE spoke French or Italian at the time. So I wrote the book for a 21st Century audience. There goes another recess in the playground.

In my 1950 novel HOLD ME, BABE, I have a scene where a father gives his daughter a hula hoop and the scene works well. The hula hoop didn’t come about until 1958. I noted it at the beginning of the book to save some smart-mouth from emailing me how I’m wrong.

At the opening of my short story “Death on Denial” which appeared in FLESH & BLOOD: DARK DESIRES Anthology, Mysterious Press (2002) and was chosen for the BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2003 Anthology, Houghton-Mifflin, I put the following quote to set up the story: “The Mississippi. The Father of Waters. The Nile of North America. And I found it.” Hernando de Soto, 1541. de Soto never said that. I made it up because it’s a story. IT’S FICTION.

In my short story “General Order No. 28”, which appeared in ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE (May 2004 Issue), I quoted the order penned by Gen. Benjamin Butler. I was fortunate to have a photograph of the printed order and therefore quoted it verbatim. I didn’t have to make it up. I did, however, make up just about everything else in the story. Bottom line – do not be restrained by historical accuracy.

One more example and I’ll shut up. After his success with “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway, Tennessee Williams had occasion to return to New Orleans where he was accosted by an uptown dilettante who chided him for his description of the streetcar lines. She told him if Blanche DuBois took the streetcars as described in his play, she wouldn’t end up on Elysian Fields Avenue. “They simply don’t run that way,” said the dilettante.

Williams replied, “Well, they should.”


PS: Y’all do know Hitler and Goebbels were not burned alive in a movie theater as depicted in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.

I have to sign off now. I’m due in the principal’s office.

O’Neil De Noux

22 September 2016

Rich, Engaging, Storied Digests

Richard Krauss
by Joe Wehrle, Jr.
The first time I met Richard Krauss was at Left Coast Crime in Portland a couple of years ago. He gave me a copy of the first issue of his magazine, The Digest Enthusiast. I liked it a lot. I liked the second issue even better because I was interviewed in it.

This month I got the idea of inviting him to tell us why digest magazines fascinate him - and maybe you too. Take it away, Richard!
—Robert Lopresti


by Richard Krauss

In February 1922 an innovative new reading experience emerged: Reader’s Digest. The first edition was 64 pages and measured about 5.5” x 7.5,” a magazine small enough for readers to carry in a pocket or purse.

In that era, the word digest referred to previously published content in a condensed or abridged form; but as the years went by the word also came to define a publishing format.

By the 1940s—and particularly 1950s—these smaller-sized magazines were more economical to produce than the pulp magazines that dominated popular fiction on newsstands before WWII. In the mid-twentieth century there were hundreds of digest magazine titles targeting every popular market—mystery, western, romance, adventure, science fiction, etc. Many lasted only a few issues, but others went far beyond, racking up impressive runs over a dozen years or more.

Fate magazine brought readers “true reports of the strange and unknown” beginning in 1948, and continues its unique mission through over 700 issues spanning nearly 70 years in print.

Lawrence Spivak, who first published Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in the fall of 1941 also launched a companion digest magazine devoted to fantasy in 1949 called The Magazine of Fantasy, under the editorial guidance of Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas. By the second edition it expanded its purview to Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF), and like EQMM is still delivering the goods—it recently published its 727th issue.

 In 1953, Manhunt exploded onto newsstands with a brand new, serialized novel by Mickey Spillane, concurrent with the height of his popularity. Manhunt #1 sold half a million copies and launched the beginning of the magazine’s phenomenal 114-issue run, inspiring dozens of similar titles like Verdict, Murder!, Pursuit, Guilty, Menace, Conflict, Trapped, etc.

Westerns fared better in regular-sized magazines, but a few digests like Zane Grey’s Western Magazine, Gunsmoke, Western Digest, Western Magazine and others, appeared on newsstands before the public’s interest in the genre shrank.

The proliferation of detective and mystery digests was eclipsed only by science fiction. Analog holds the distinction of the longest running science fiction magazine, reaching issue 1000 in June 2015, and is still going strong every month. It began its life as the pulp magazine Astounding Stories in 1938, changing its title to Analog in 1960, and its format to digest-size in November 1943.

In many ways the storied past and present of digest magazines is yet to be recorded. There is far more to tell than it may seem at first glance. In fact, the relative lack of information about the titles and history of these “lost” gems inspired me, along with a small band of like-minded fanatics to begin recording their story.

What titles do you remember? Which were your favorites, and which would you like to read more about?

Thanks to Robert Lopresti for the invitation to share a few covers and thoughts here at SleuthSayers. The Digest Magazine Blog provides daily news on current digests, old favorites, opening story lines, and lots of killer covers. Our magazine, The Digest Enthusiast, covers similar territory in greater depth.

21 September 2016

Dance Him Outside

by Robert Lopresti

 This year of 2016 keeps stealing celebrities at a record pace, doesn't it?  On the same day last week two famous authors passed away.  The better-known was playwright Edward Albee, but the one who mattered more to me was Canadian writer W.P. Kinsella.

Even if you haven't read his stuff, you probably  saw Field of Dreams, which was based on his novel Shoeless Joe, which in turn was based on a short story.  That  piece was not a one-off.  He wrote a lot of novels and short stories about baseball and they were almost examples of magic realism.  My favorite was a short story in which the manager of the Boston Red Sox receives a vision from God which informs him that that beleaguered team will win a World Series some day - but it will be the last one before the end of the world.  How would that affect your coaching decisions?


But my first encounter with the man, and still my favorite were his Ermineskin stories, and frankly they have always been controversial.  They should be.

The stories are set on the  Reserve of the Ermineskin First Nation in Alberta.  In the U.S. we would call it a Reservation of an Indian Tribe or Native Nation.  The problem is that Kinsella is not a member of any First Nation and, if I recall correctly, said that when he wrote the first story, his only experience of that people was having some as customers when he was driving a cab.

Which brings up the subject of cultural appropriation.  Now, you could argue that Tony Hillerman did the same thing with his Navajo characters, but they were clearly the heroes and as far as I know, his books were popular with members of the tribe.  (They gave him an award, after all.)

But Kinsella was not so respectful.  His stories were often funny, sometimes at the expense of his First Nation characters.  As the books went on they got worse in that regard, in my opinion. One reviewer complained: "[I]magination does not absolve racialism; humor is no excuse to exploit negative preconceptions about tribal people. The author plays Indian for a white audience."

So why do I bring these works at all?  Because some of them are so damned good.

The hero is Silas Ermineskin, a sensitive young man, who practices his writing skills by telling these stories, which also feature  his family, his friend Frank Fencepost, a snarky and sneaky Lothario, and the shrewd medicine woman Mad Etta.  (At least two lines from Mad Etta have found their way into my quotations list: "Gifts make slaves like whips make dogs." and "The law is like rope...useful, necessary, strong, but it can be bent and twisted into all kinds of shapes depending on the occasion.")

Most of the stories are not mysteries in any sense but a few are and one is on my list of favorite crime stories.  The title tale of the first collection, Dance Me Outside, concerns the murder of a young First Nations woman by a young White man who is let off with a slap on the wrist.  When justice fails, a type of vengence is exacted. (This story and a few others were the basis for a pretty good movie of the same name, which then spun off a not-so-good CBC series called The Rez.)

But my favorite is "Pius Blindman is coming Home," which appears in The Moccasin Telegraph, probably the best of the books.  An elderly woman is dying in a hospital and her westernized children, against Mad Etta's advice, assure her that her son is coming to her side.  They just want to comfort her dying hours but, expecting her son, the woman simply refuses to die. The ending is one of the most stunning I have ever read in a short story.

So there you have it.  I wish I didn't feel so ambivalent about the stories. .  Kinsella's world may have nothing to do with the real life of the people on that Reserve, but, for good or bad, he makes me believe it and feel compassion for them, even if he and I are a million miles off from understanding who they are.  Such is the complexity of fiction.

20 September 2016

Breaking Up is Hard To Do

by Paul D. Marks

I have been divorced. It was a messy divorce. Dividing-the-baby-in-half kind of divorce. Calling-the-lawyers-in kind of divorce.

Oh, you think I’m talking about getting divorced from Amy or one of my nine previous wives. Nope. I’m talking about breaking up with my writing partner, at least one of them.





Backstory:

In Hollywood, I had two or three writing partners, maybe even four, at various times, as well as going solo. And with all but one we pretty much just came to a parting of the ways. But with one it truly was like a very messy divorce.


Conflict:

So, as Spandau Ballet said, to cut a long story short, I lost my mind—well that too. X and I had been friends for a long time and then decided to write together. We worked up a bunch of projects and eventually got an agent at one of the major agencies and even had some things optioned (sort of like someone takes a lease out on your property). But we weren’t getting rich and X’s wife wanted him to have a more steady income. So we decided to break it up, but it was a messy break up. Since we had no written contract or collaboration agreement, we ended up in “divorce court,” or at least in a lawyer’s office, dividing our babies (our work product) up, based on who came up with which idea. The lawyer acting like Solomon, split the babies—and everything else.

And like many divorcing couples we were barely speaking to one another and it wasn’t pleasant when we did. So X went his way, I went mine. I went on to find another agent and I did a lot of rewrite work/script doctoring (no credit-no glory) and optioned a lot of things that never got produced. And after a time, X and I began to be civil and even friendly again. Though not close like we once were.


Act II

So how about some tips on how to work with a partner even though it seems like there’s more solo flyers in the prose world than in Hollywood. Nonetheless, there are writing teams out there and in case you might ever consider working with a partner here goes:

First out of the gate, have a prenup: a written contract that spells everything out ahead of time. Every little detail. You can work it up yourself if you’re good at that kind of thing but before signing I’d run it by an entertainment lawyer to make sure all the Is are dotted and Ts crossed. At the very least the prenup should lay out splits, who will do what and maybe what the writing process might be, how often you’ll write. Credits: whose name comes first? Do you do it alphabetically or like my partner and I did so that whoever came up with the idea and did the first draft got the top billing?


The WGA (Writers Guild of America, which is for screenwriters) has a collaboration agreement which you might be able to adapt to prose writing partnerships: http://www.wga.org/uploadedFiles/writers_resources/contracts/collaboration.pdf , though I’m really not sure about that. There might be more suitable templates online.

Also include:

Decide who will do what. Will you each do 50% of everything? Or is one better at dialogue and another better at plot? How will you work? Sitting across the table from one another or long distance (even if you’re in the same town) via the internet? Will one write a full first draft and then pass it to the other? Will you work it scene by scene, chapter by chapter, etc.?

How will you decide what project/s to work on?

Since you want to write with a consistent voice, one should be the polisher-in-chief to make sure that happens. Who will that be and how will you decide?

How will you handle your partner’s critique of your work? You need to have a thick skin, but you also need to critique constructively.

How will you pay for expenses?

Who will contact editors, agents, etc.? Will one person be on point? Is one better at this?

Splitting income. Will it be 50-50? If not why and how will you do it.

Bad things happen to good people and even the best of friends. Don’t let things fester. Deal with them as they come up. Sometimes it won’t be pleasant, but hit the nail on the head, diplomatically hopefully. When you disagree about things how will you resolve them—you might even want to include this in the contract? Everyone has an ego and we all want our little babies included.

I’m sure there’s many other things that can and should be considered. And this is not a complete list by any means, but at least something to think about and get started with. My partner and I learned the hard way. Hopefully you won’t have to.

***

Climax:

The moral of this tale is sort of like the Boy Scouts’ motto: Be prepared. Have that prenup. Spell everything out ahead of time. Have a lawyer check it over if you’ve written it yourself. Then, if things go bad—or even if they don’t—go out and buy a bottle of Johnny Walker Black and get blotto.

***

Please check out my story Deserted Cities of the Heart in Akashic’s recently released St. Louis Noir.




###



19 September 2016

Unconventional Convention —
Susan Cooper, Unbarred

*hic* You may be wondering why my name is attached to this post instead of Susan’s. See… we went out drinking… Well, not drinking exactly but imbibing slightly. Okay, we were drowning in our cups, flippin’ inebriated. And at the bar Susan says “There’s Brad Pitt,” and I say no, it can’t be, we’re too blitzed to see straight. “It’s Brad Pitt, I tell you. He’s drinking mimosas and flirting with me,” except she pronounced it “mirmoshash.” It’s not, I say staring into my empty glass and then she says “He tastes like Brad Pitt.” I’m not sure what happened or if Suze has a 2-foot Tex Avery tongue, but I grabbed her and we ran before the cops arrived. We raced to SleuthSayers Corporate Headquarters to post her article when she says, “Oh, no. I slipped Brad Pitt the wrong key.” So without her office key, the Crider Building security guard, who was already irritated by Leigh’s stupid article a couple of weeks ago, wouldn’t let Susan in. While she happily napped snored in the lobby, I rattled up the elevator by myself and posted her freakin’ article. So there. *hic*

Velma

by Susan Rogers Cooper

In honor of Bouchercon week, I thought I would tell tales from previous conventions. The Statute of Limitations has expired, so any admissions made in this post cannot reflect adversely on those involved. That said, let’s talk about ClueFest.

Many of you may never have heard of this particular convention, mainly because it was very small, held in Dallas, Texas, and only lasted about four years. The mystery fans who started and ran this convention did so with gusto and grace. The tales to be told revolve more around the hotel of choice than the convention itself. It is only apt that I tell these tales now as I plan on traveling to New Orleans with my dear friend Joan Hess (a co-conspirator) and rooming with my other dear friend Jan Grape (at times an instigator).

My first inkling that the location of the convention was not at a Five Star hotel was when I took my shoes off in my room and my feet stuck to the floor. Never a good sign. Then we, my roomie Jan Grape and I, discovered that the hotel bar closed at ten p.m. For a mystery convention? Were they out of their minds? Did they not want to make the big bucks? Had they never heard the rumors about writers? This brought about the great wine opening fiasco. They – the hotel staff – wouldn’t allow us into the closed bar to find a corkscrew, nor would they send someone up to the room with one, due to the fact that there was only one staff member on duty. In the entire hotel. The fact that we also did not have any pillows in our room only intensified the situation. That was the first day. And it was only half a day.

The first full day of the convention the air conditioning in a room that was to be used as a panel/discussion room failed – this convention was held in July, in Dallas, where temps often reach and steady at 100 degrees or more. This caused them, the staff of the hotel, to relocate the panel/discussion to, you guessed it, the lobby. Yes, the lobby. Joan Hess and I, both smokers at the time (this was the ’90s, get over it) had moved to the lobby to smoke as the bar was, again, closed. They, the staff of the hotel, made us leave. Seeing as it was over 100 degrees outside, we, Joan and I, decided to sneak into the bar to smoke. I mean, come on, we could see into the bar and there were ashtrays everywhere! A clear invitation.

The bar was a section of the hotel lobby area bordered by a half wall. Joan, in pants, jumped over. I, in a dress, managed to keep my ladylike demeanor intact by carefully maneuvering my way over the wall. We were halfway to an ashtray when the alarm went off. Let’s just say I wasn’t as ladylike as I lept over the wall to safety. Walking carefully to the front of the hotel, one could clearly hear Joan Hess say, “Is it a fire? Must be. Maybe we should leave.” I could not respond. I was giggling too hard. And I’m not much of a giggler, but then the situation clearly called for nothing less.

It was that evening that we discovered that the hotel next door to ours (with, we assumed, clean floors and an open bar) was hosting a sci-fi convention. Joan, Jan and I looked at each other and, of course, Joan said, “Well, duh. Let’s go.” So we did. On the escalator to the lobby we saw a man dressed in a full “Cats” the musical costume. He was gorgeous.

Once in the lobby area we saw more women than we cared to see dressed in the skimpy Star Fleet women’s uniform, a man with a black wig and pointy ears, three or four red suits (we didn’t stand too close to them -- you know they’re always the first to die), and then the contingent of Star Wars characters: three Princess Lea’s, a couple of Han Solos, and one Chubaca. Which was all quite fascinating and instigated a discussion of why we mystery people didn’t dress up. Of course, for the guys it would be easy: a couple hundred Sherlock Holmeses, a few Hercule Peroits, a Sam Spade or two. But for us, the women, who did we have besides Miss Marple and a few dames in red dresses? We decided to let that idea stay on the back burner. Eventually we found ourselves in the basement level in a room occupied by fantasy gamers (always the basement, the poor guys), with nothing very exciting going on. So we headed back to our dingy, mostly barless hotel.

The one really good thing about those conventions are the stories that can be told. When everything goes right, there are no stories. It’s the mess-ups and derailments that made a con memorable. If I could remember the name of that hotel, believe me I’d post it here. Hell, I’d post it anywhere, although I’m pretty sure it died a natural death years ago.

Looking forward to new adventures in New Orleans, where I’m sure the bar will always be open.

P.S. Whatever Velma might have told you isn't true.

— Susan Rogers Cooper

18 September 2016

Flights of Fancy

by Leigh Lundin

Psssst. At least half the staff of SleuthSayers is attending New Orleans Bouchercon where they likely suffer from hangovers, our offices are virtually empty, my computer’s keyboard is dying a deplorable death, and I have neither criminal nor literary news to report. So… let’s sneak out to the movies, something about the life of a writer.


How is your Bouchercon weekend?

17 September 2016

Namedropping

by John M. Floyd

Something I've always enjoyed, when reading novels and short stories, is finding things in the story that are familiar to me. Things like street names, restaurants, movies, quotes from movies, quirks of regional dialect, etc. When authors insert those into stories, it seems that it can establish an instant connection between writer and reader.

Because of that, I suppose it shouldn't have been surprising to me to find, after I'd published a number of stories, that readers sometimes approached me (usually friends, and often jokingly) with the suggestion that I should someday use them in a story. Or at least use their names.

You know, that's not a bad idea …

My reaction to that was Why not? We writers dream up names all the time for our characters; it would be easy to stick a real name in, now and then. Especially if you know that those folks already like what you write and would enjoy seeing themselves as a part of it.

I don't do it all the time, of course--most of my character names continue to come from the same place my plots do: my overactive and usually scary imagination. But when the situation's right and it fits the character and I can remember to do it, I try to plug in a familiar name.

Examples:

- Teresa Garver, an old friend and avid Woman's World reader who lives in Georgia, made an appearance a couple years ago as a high-school English teacher in one of my WW mini-mysteries.

- Chuck Thomas, one of my customers during my IBM days (and one of the smartest programmers I've ever known) showed up as one of three schoolkids who captured a python that had escaped from the zoo in a story called "Not One Word." It first appeared in the now-defunct Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine in 2002 and has been reprinted several times since.

- Charlotte Hudson, a former student in my writing classes, has been featured in two of my Woman's World mysteries. In one of them, she and her real-life husband Bill were farmers who owned a pond where the main character liked to fish.

- Cheryl Grubbs, a dear friend from my high school days, will be the deputy of Sheriff Ray Douglas in a story called "Trail's End," coming up soon in AHMM. She's also on hand in the next installment of that series, which I sent to AH a few months ago. Whether they decide to buy it is (pun intended) another story …

- Charles Heisley, an old Air Force buddy who lives in Honolulu (I visited him there once, back when I was globetrotting with IBM), became a Louisiana state cop in my story "The Blue Delta," which is included in the Bouchercon 2016 anthology Blood on the Bayou. (Note to all readers: Invite me to Hawaii and you get featured in any story you want.)

Sometimes the mention of a name can be oblique, and subtle. In honor of my friend and fellow Mississippi writer Larry Chavis, my lead characters in a Strand Magazine story a few years ago were passengers on the Chavis Island Ferry--in fact the whole story took place on that boat. And a lady in one of my many stories for Futures was Janet Bailey, a combination of the names of two of my writer friends, Janet Brown and Carole Bailey. I have also often used the last names of friends in stories, when those names were interesting and/or unusual: Denbroeder, Prestridge, Cash, Bishop, Wingo, Higa, Liggett, Valkenberg, Pennebaker, Zeller, Bassett, McClellan, Fenwick, Boatner, Fountain, Parrott, Stovall, Stegall, Blackledge, LaPinto, Tullos, Crowson, Burnside, Moon, Speed, Fetterman, Lindamood, etc.

Other writers, other approaches

All this is, of course, nothing new. Fiction writers use real names for fictional characters a lot, and it might be worth noting that Nelson DeMille--one of my all-time favorite authors--has taken that practice a step farther. In the Acknowledgments section of most of his novels, DeMille mentions those people who have made generous contributions to charities in return for his using their names as characters in the book.

My favorite memory of this kind of thing is of something my SleuthSayers colleague Rob Lopresti once did in "Shanks Commences," a story which appeared in (and on the cover of) the May 2012 issue of AHMM. At the time that Rob created that story, he and I were among seven writers who did weekly columns for the Criminal Brief mystery blog, and he chose to put all of us into the story. I still remember how much fun it was to read it--and how pleased I was to find that I didn't turn out to be the murderer. Rob talks about that story here.

How about you?

The obvious question is, have any of you tried using real people's names in your stories or novels, either as themselves or as characters? I know some writers are afraid that might backfire, but I think the chances are slim. As with statements about real places or real companies or real products, you'll get into trouble only if you say bad things about them, and if the mentioned characters are friends of yours, they'll almost certainly be pleased. If they're not pleased--well, maybe that's a good way to find out who your friends really are.

According to one of my writing buddies, part of the fun of being a fiction writer is being able to look at someone and say, "Be nice to me. If you're not I'll put you in a story and kill you off."

Fair warning …

16 September 2016

Bouchercon Word Find

By Art Taylor

My column this week is scheduled right in the middle of Bouchercon, and while my goal originally was to post something direct from New Orleans—breaking news! fun photos! insider anecdotes about the mystery world's stars!—I realized quickly that I probably wouldn't get to the computer often or easily or....

So instead, posted in advance, here's a fun little game in honor of the event: an old-fashioned word find!

Featured here are the guests of honor, the various awards given out throughout the weekend, and a sprinkling of other mystery terms—including the name of one of the best blogs in the business. Do know that the clues appear vertically, horizontally, diagonally, and both forwards and backwards.

Whether you're in New Orleans or not, I hope you'll enjoy!


15 September 2016

Kirk O'Field, or How To Blow Up a King

by Eve Fisher

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587).  How you view her depends on if you see her as a romantic, beautiful young woman who had the tragic luck to be rebelled against by her own subjects and executed by the jealous, paranoid Elizabeth I; or if you see her as a beautiful young woman who was stupid enough to marry an unvetted idiot, then marry that idiot's murderer and then flee to England rather than France.  Guess which school of thought I belong to?

FrancoisII.jpg
Francis - looks a
bit sulky, doesn't he?
Mary at 13
Mary, Queen of Scots spent very little time in Scotland until she was 18.  She was shipped over to France at the age of 5 to marry Francis, heir to the French throne.  Her father in law, Henry II, and her mother in law, Catherine de Medici, both found her charming.  Her fiance/husband, probably not so much:  For one thing, Mary was at least 5'11" tall, beautiful, healthy, active, and eloquent, while Francis was "abnormally short", stuttered, and always ailing.  They married in 1558.  (The marriage was probably never consummated, but the debate continues.)  The next year, Henry II died in a jousting accident when a lance splintered and a splinter went up into his helmet and into his eye.

NOTE:  This was foretold by Nostradamus in the following memorable quatrain which is the source for all of Nostradamus' future fame and reputation:
"The young lion shall overcome the older one,
on the field of combat in single battle,
He shall pierce his eyes in a golden cage,
Two forces one, then he shall die a cruel death." 
Anyway, Francis was 15 when he became king.  He immediately turned the management of France over to his mother, Catherine, who turned it over to the House of Guise, who promptly ran amok on power.  Barely 2 years later, he died, of anything from meningitis to an ear infection.

And Mary, Dowager Queen in a kingdom that already had one of those (Catherine de Medici was no shrinking violet), was out - sent back to Scotland, which she barely remembered.  And promptly disliked.  Compared to France, Scotland was crude, rough, cold, and besides she was practically met at the boat by John Knox, ultra-Presbyterian, whose whole attitude towards "The Monstrous Regiment of Women" was summed up in his pamphlet of the same name.  (He walked back on this to Elizabeth I, when he realized she was the only Protestant ruler around, explaining that he really didn't include her. She was not amused.)

And of course, everyone wanted her to marry again, fast, because she was only 18, and Scotland needed an heir to beat back the English.  Preferably Scots.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.jpgInstead, over the border came a young, handsome, TALL young man, of both English and Scots noble blood, Henry Stuart, Duke of Albany, Lord Darnley.  Six foot three inches, TALLER than Mary, one of her nobles described the meeting:  "Her Majesty took well with him, and said that he was the lustiest and best proportioned long man that she had seen."  They were married in 3 months.  She got pregnant almost immediately.  Great rejoicing.

Except that she had married an arrogant, vain, power-hungry man who had no intention of "just" being King Consort - he wanted the Crown Matrimonial, i.e., to be KING, with Mary as his subordinate queen.  She refused.  Darnley was also not the most cultured of men, and she spent more and more time with her secretary and lute-player, David Rizzio.  Now the Scots lairds all already hated Rizzio (Catholic, Italian, plays a lute, what's not to hate?), and since she was spending so much time with him rather than her husband, rumors flew that she was pregnant by him.  (And stuck for a very long time:  Years later, when one man called Mary's son, James VI of Scotland, "the Scottish Solomon", another quipped, "Aye, for he is the son of David".)

Anyway, Darnley joined in the hatred, and joined with the lairds to murder him.  And they did:  lairds and King came storming into Mary's supper chamber and stabbed him 56 times in front of her.  I have to hand it to her:  she was tough.  She was 7 months pregnant, and didn't miscarry.  She managed to, after the murder, to persuade Darnley that the lairds would murder him next, and got him to help her escape.  They fled on horseback, and again, she didn't miscarry.  Some of the lairds fled to England, which did them little good.  (Elizabeth I wasn't thrilled by lords rebelling against their queen.)  Mary had a bonny baby boy, for which all rejoiced.  

So, everyone was great, everything was fine - except that Darnley had developed a bad case of the pox.  Arguments still abound whether it was smallpox or syphilis, but at the time, it was assumed to be syphilis.  (He'd never been known for his faithfulness or sobriety.)

And four months after the birth of James, Mary and her lairds held a meeting to discuss the "problem of Darnley".  Divorce was discussed, but somewhere - and, hopefully, when Mary was not in the room, the nobles agreed that :"It was thought expedient and most profitable for the common wealth ... that such a young fool and proud tyrant should not reign or bear rule over them; ... that he should be put off by one way or another; and whosoever should take the deed in hand or do it, they should defend."[114]

Darnley wasn't entirely stupid - he went to stay on his father's estates in Glasgow, but in January, Mary persuaded him to come back to Edinburgh.  (The rumor was that she promised to bed him again.)  He was staying in a house belonging to the brother of Sir James Balfour at Kirk o'Field. Mary visited him daily.  On the night of February 9, 1567, Mary visited him and then went to a wedding at the palace.  In the late night/early morning hours, a massive explosion blew up the house - later it was proved that the basement had been packed full of gunpowder, and not by accident.  However, Darnley managed to get out before the explosion:  he was found dead in the garden.  There were no marks of violence on the body, or so they said.  (We have no autopsy or photographs, of course.)  It was assumed, however, that he was smothered to death:  and that Mary had ordered it.  And that an old friend and strong ally, James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell, was deeply involved.

Elizabeth I wrote her:  "I should ill fulfil the office of a faithful cousin or an affectionate friend if I did not ... tell you what all the world is thinking. Men say that, instead of seizing the murderers, you are looking through your fingers while they escape; that you will not seek revenge on those who have done you so much pleasure, as though the deed would never have taken place had not the doers of it been assured of impunity. For myself, I beg you to believe that I would not harbour such a thought."[124]
NOTE:  And indeed she did not:  when Elizabeth's favorite, Robert Dudley, was suspect of murdering his wife, Amy - who'd fallen down a flight of stairs while he was at court, breaking her neck - Elizabeth sent him away from the court, and ordered a trial.  He was acquitted, and Elizabeth did receive him at court again.  But she never married him, and never would.  In fact, at one point she offered Mary a signed document, guaranteeing her succession to the English throne, if Mary would marry Robert Dudley, which was pretty insulting.  Mary married Darnley almost immediately afterwards.  

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, c 1535 - 1578. Third husband of Mary Queen of Scots - Google Art Project.jpg
Lord Bothwell
But, back to the murder.  Lennox, Darnley's father, demanded Bothwell be put on trial.  He was, on April 12, 1567.  Seven hours later, he was acquitted.

Now here's where it gets tricky.  12 days later, Mary was "abducted" by Lord Bothwell, and taken to Dunbar Castle.  Was she raped, or did she consent?  (I confess, that I have always wondered why, if he did rape her, she didn't have him executed. I mean, fine, agree to marry him, go with him back to Edinburgh, and then call in the palace guards.  By God that's what Elizabeth I would have done...) Either way, something happened, because they returned to Edinburgh and she married him on May 15.  (And she had a miscarriage in July that was far enough along so that they knew there were twins.)

Nobody was happy with the marriage other than (perhaps) Mary and Bothwell.  Everyone was shocked that she had married the man accused and tried of murdering her husband.  Twenty-six Scots peers raised a rebellion against them, and by June 15, Mary was their prisoner.   On July 24, she was forced to abdicated in favor of her son, James, who was 1 year old.  Bothwell was driven into exile. (He fled to Denmark, where he died, insane, in 1578.)

Mary had a knack for persuasion, though: She managed to get the brother of the owner of Loch Leven Castle (where she was imprisoned) to help her escape on May 2, 1568.  She managed to raise an army of 6,000 men, but lost to the forces of the Earl of Moray.  She fled south, and crossed the Solway Firth into England in a fishing boat.  On May 18, she was in "protective custody" at Carlisle Castle.

A really good question is why she didn't try to get to France.  France and Scotland had always had a strong alliance against the English.  The House of Guise was still powerful, and would have helped her one way or another. If nothing else, she would have been a valuable dynastic pawn.  But she somehow thought that Elizabeth would help her get back her throne, which (imho) is ultimate proof of how stupid she was.  After all, Elizabeth I's position as Queen of England was infinitely safer with an infant King of Scotland than with this loose romantic cannon, still reeking of strong scandal.  Mary spent the rest of her life in England, a prisoner, plotting to regain her throne and, eventually, plotting to have Elizabeth I dethroned and murdered.  After a trial, that was more or less rigged, she was convicted.  And on February 8, 1587, at Fotheringay, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded...

Elizabeth I never had any children.  James VI of Scotland became James I of England after Elizabeth's death in 1603.  It's almost impossible to know what James really thought about his mother, but two points leap out at me:  
(1) James never tried to get his mother released, never wrote to her, and never spoke of her to anyone during the years before her death.  
(2) After he became King of England, it took him 9 years (in 1612) to have her body transferred from Peterborough Cathedral in Cambridgeshire to Westminster Abbey in London.  
Make of that what you will.  




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.