11 October 2016

Killing Me Softly With Your Song…or Anything Else You Have Handy

by Paul D. Marks

As mystery/thriller writers, we know there are certainly a lot of ways to kill someone. As Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin), says in “Cat Ballou”: “Guns, bottles, fists, knives, clubs - all the same to me. All the same to you?”

But let’s face it – been there, done that – and these are pretty mundane and ordinary ways to off someone. If you want to kill someone in an interesting and unique way, especially if you’re a character in a movie or book, you have to let the creative juices flow, like Herb Hawkins (Hume Cronyn) and Joseph Newton (Henry Travers) do in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (even if not in script format or what ended up in the film):   

     
Herb (Cronyn): You folks are getting pretty stylish. Having dinner later every evening.
Joe (Travers): Ha ha!
Herb:  l-l picked some mushrooms.
Joe: You don't say?
Herb: Mushrooms mean anything to you, Joe?
Joe: I eat 'em on my steak when I'm out and the meat's not good enough as it is.
Herb: If I brought you some mushrooms, would you eat 'em?
Joe: Suppose I would. Why?
Herb: Then I've got it. The worst I'd be accused of would be manslaughter. Doubt if I'd get that.   Accidental death, pure and simple. A basket of good mushrooms and...two or three poisonous              ones.
     Joe: No, no. Innocent party might get the poisonous ones. I thought of something better 
     when I was shaving. A bath tub. Pull the legs out from under you, hold you down. 
     Young Charlie (Teresa Wright): Oh, what's the matter with you two? Do you always have to 
     talk about killing people?
     Joe: We're not talking about killing people. Herb's talking about killing me, 
     and I'm talking about killing him.
     Mrs. Newton/Emmy (Patricia Collinge): Charlie, it's your father's way of relaxing.
     Young Charlie: Can't he find some other way to relax? Can't we have a little peace and quiet 
     without dragging in poisons all the time? 
     Mrs. Newton: Charlie! She doesn’t ' t make sense talking like that. I'm worried about her.

***

Of course, there’s always poison. Sure it’s been done before, but what hasn’t. So maybe get creative with it like this bit from The Court Jester:

    Hawkins (Danny Kaye): I've got it! I've got it! The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the             pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true! Right?
    Griselda (Mildred Natwick): Right. But there's been a change: they broke the chalice from the                 palace!
    Hawkins: They *broke* the chalice from the palace?
    Griselda: And replaced it with a flagon.
    Hawkins: A flagon...?
    Griselda: With the figure of a dragon.
    Hawkins: Flagon with a dragon.
    Griselda: Right.
    Hawkins: But did you put the pellet with the poison in the vessel with the pestle?
    Griselda: No! The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon! The vessel with the pestle        has the brew that is true!
    Hawkins: The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon; the vessel with the pestle has          the brew that is true.
    Griselda: Just remember that.

Uh, okay.

***

So let’s talk about some creative ways to kill someone, though this list will hardly be complete.
And here’s a starter list of many fun, fab and creative ways to die as found in movies:

Poison string – James Bond
Light Saber – Star Wars
Captive Bolt Pistol – No Country for Old Men
Painted to death (gold, of course) – Goldfinger
Odd Job’s Hat – Goldfinger / James Bond
Chain Saw – American Psycho and, of course, The Texas Chainsaw Murders
Infection – Night of the Living Dead, V for Vendetta
Getting stomped to death by Ryan Gosling – Drive
Getting shower rodded to death by Ryan Gosling – Drive
(I could just list all the killings in Drive here and have a pretty good list…)
Getting stabbed to death by an ear of corn – Sleepwalkers
Wood chippered – Fargo
Getting raked to death - Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
Getting skulled by a Louisville Slugger – the Untouchables
Getting blasted from a cancer gun – Videodrome
Getting run over by Bozo – Toxic Avenger
Sliced and diced and decapitated by flying glass – The Omen
Getting impaled by a stalactite – Cliffhanger
Luca Brasi getting garroted in The Godfather
Steak-boned to death – Law Abiding Citizen

And let’s not forget the multitude of “fun” deaths in the Saw movie series with its mélange of creative and grisly deaths: http://sawfilms.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_deaths

This list of creative mayhem is by no means exhaustive nor complete. It’s barely the tip of the iceberg – in fact, I’m sure someone was iceberged to death in the movies…like in Titanic.

             
Oscar Wilde puts it pretty well in The Ballad Of Reading Gaol:

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword.

So what are some your favorite ways to off someone that you’ve read about or seen in a movie? Hmm…

***

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




###

10 October 2016

Dream A Little Scene

DREAM A LITTLE SCENE

by Jan Grape


The other night I had an awesome dream. Bill Crider was in it with me. Yes, the Dad of the three VBKs (very bad kittens) if you don't follow Bill, then why not? Anyway, this dream involved Bill and me and this blonde lady. So in the dream Bill and I were touring the US together with our Edgar-winning best-selling Books. (Okay, if you are going to dream, dream big, right?) In this dream we were going from East Coast to West Coast with stops in Houston TX at Murder By The Book and including The Poisoned Pen in Scotsdale AZ for book signing events.

This blonde would show up at every bookstore where we were signing. She bought Bill's book and mine, too in TX. Then she showed up in Austin when we signed at Book People. She wanted our signatures only; not personalized. The blonde wouldn't speak other than to say, "Signature only please." She wouldn't talk to either of us, although both Bill and I tried to engage her in conversation.

The blonde showed up in Dallas and in Scotsdale AZ and in LA and then San Francisco. She wouldn't get into our signing line but waited until we had signed books for the store's stock, she'd make her purchase. It began to get a bit creepy. Was she stalking Bill or me? What on earth did she want? Did she have murder on her mind and not the kind you read about but the kind a person actually did.  We talked to police who called in the FBI. Our publisher even discussed hiring a body-guard. We did another couple of signings and she was there each time. But she'd leave before the FBI agent or our body-guard could talk to her. When we walked into the bookstore in Portland OR we gave a huge sigh of relief because we didn't see her. But that was short lived because she came out from one of the back corners of the store just as we were signing the last books for the store's stock.

Our body guard was right behind her. This time he had her by the arm. He spoke to her for about 10 minutes. After that she left. Bill and I finished signing and the guy came up with a silly smile on his face. "The blonde wasn't stalking you. She just wanted to by an autographed book in each store where you had personally appeared."

That's when I woke up. Okay it was a silly little dream but it did stay with me and I soon found myself thinking of different story lines and in what way could I built up suspense? What if I did this ? And what about this after that? Could I come up with enough of a plot to make a short story out of the dream? Doubtful.

Which gave me the idea to write this blog. Have any of you ever written a story or a book based on a dream? I don't think I have but I am sure that I have gone to bed thinking about a scene I was having a problen with and dreamed up a solution to the problem. Years ago I asked Joe Landsdale how he came up with one of his book's strange characters. He said, my wife makes some really greasy popcorn for me. I eat that, go to bed and dream strange
books. Works for Joe.

Have any of you done that? I really would like to read your comments.




09 October 2016

The Fantôme

Hurricane Matthew
Hurricane Matthew
by Leigh Lundin

My SleuthSayers colleagues became a personal comforting presence as Florida braced for a hurricane that had already killed 800 people in Haiti. Fortunately my area was spared with little more damage than downed limbs and a 13-hour loss of power.

Fixed in my mind was 2004 when four major hurricanes attacked Florida. Three of them impacted me personally but I came out of them with the most important thing, bodily intact.

One other positive grew out of the devastation. Enduring endless hours without electricity, with canyons lined with debris and so many fallen trees that roads remained blocked for days and weeks, I began to write.

For this Hurricane Matthew, preparations included food, water, batteries, and propane for cooking on the grill with my friend Thrush. About the time SleuthSayers started, fellow mystery author Susan Slater moved from New Mexico to St. Augustine two miles from the ocean, well within reach of the winds and surge zone. She retreated to stay with friends on higher ground. Another friend and writer, Claire Poulsen, abandoned Amelia Island for the safety of a cabin in North Carolina.

But when I think of hurricanes, I don’t think of my own experiences, fortunately dreadfully dull. Instead, other efforts come to mind.

Labor Day Hurricane

The building of the Florida East Coast Railway makes a fascinating tale involving ingenious engineers, incredibly brave laborers, and an indomitable entrepreneurial spirit.

During construction, hurricanes struck in the late 1800s, then again in 1906 and 1909. I have been unable to identify the date, but one of the stories involved a rescue train chased by a ’cane that didn’t take the time to turn around. The train raced up the coast backwards to avoid the deadly winds.

In testament to the careful planning and design, the current US 1 Overseas Highway is partly built on footings constructed more than a century ago. The FECR sold the right-of-way to the State of Florida for pennies on the dollar following the deadly Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, the one described by Lionel Barrymore in Key Largo.

Castaway Cay
Hurricane Floyd

The incredible engineering of a century ago was brought home in a personally observed way. Disney Cruise Line leases Castaway Cay (formerly Gordo Cay) from the Bahamian government. In taking over the private island, Disney built a pier its ships can sidle against so that passengers can come and go using gangways rather than tenders.

In 1999, Hurricane Floyd swept through the Bahamas. Disney evacuated the island of the few dozen resident cast members (employees). It was with trepidation a team returned to the island where they found two surprises.

Voices in the Dark
In my teens, it was ‘a thing’ to visit the airport at night where we could stand out on a deck with our dates, cuddling and watching flights coming and going. Well, mostly cuddling but we could tune in speakers to listen to air traffic controllers in flat, unemotional voices direct planes amid hand-offs with ground control.

NASA flight controllers use similar restrained, equable commands and commentary during launches and landings. Those passionless voices sends chills when listening to the unforgettable recordings from the takeoff of the Space Shuttle Challenger and the fiery disintegration of Columbia over Texas.
The buildings remained largely intact and most of the wind destruction involved little more than shingles and lounge chairs. The real surprise was the pier. That massive hunk of concrete and steel twisted up out of the seabed like a bitter joke. The storm surge made a mockery of our so-called ‘modern’ construction. Whereas hundreds of Flagler’s railroad foundations remain intact today, this present-day foundation ended up junk.

Hurricane Mitch

On 26 October 1998, I joined a consulting project with shore-based operations of Disney Cruise Line. The people I worked with were experienced ship’s officers, mostly captains extensively recruited from Europe and the US Coast Guard, plus a couple of South Africans and Australians. Unlike me, the other members were professional seamen.

The same day I started my job, Tropical Storm Mitch became Category 5 Hurricane Mitch heading toward Honduras. Unleashing twenty days of hell, it would become one of the most unpredictable of cyclonic storms, wreaking devastation through Central America, slugging Florida, then sailing across the Atlantic where it slapped the British Isles and Iceland. It would take 9000 lives, mostly in Central America. Thirty-one of those lives became of special interest.

Fantôme
The Fantôme (The Phantom)

The four-masted, steel-hulled Fantôme was a beautiful ship with a fascinating history. Purchased in 1927 by the Duke of Westminster, it was later acquired by the Guinness family. At the outbreak of WW-II, Ernest Guinness docked her in Seattle. There it remained until 1953 because of unpaid fees and taxes.

Aristotle Onassis, who would later marry Jackie Kennedy, purchased the yacht, renovated it, intending it as a wedding gift for Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco. Gossip says the couple omitted Onassis from their guest list, forfeiting the lovely present. In 1969, the owner of Windjammer Cruises swapped a freighter for the schooner and spent another fortune, reportedly $6-million, refurbishing it as the Windjammer flagship.

The Wait

On 25 October, TS Mitch, a thousand miles distant, grew in strength and changed course toward Jamaica. As a precaution, Captain Guyan March dropped off the one-hundred passengers and ten non-essential crew at Belize City.

Based upon the latest models and frankly unpredictable storm path estimates, March headed north. The hurricane stopped dead. Then it turned. The Fantôme reversed south in efforts to dodge the onrushing storm apparently driving toward the Yucatán. The captain intended to shelter in the lee of Roatan, but Category 5 Mitch with winds of 300kmph (185mph, 162 knots) veered magnetically toward the ship. A desperate Fantôme turned eastward toward the open sea.

31 Souls

In the Disney Cruise Line offices in Celebration, Florida, the European staff had set up an espresso machine with a number of flavored syrups to supplement the coffee maker. The coffee station contained one other instrument, a shortwave radio.

Upon arrival, I found the professionals gathered around coffee and charts. While tracking the hurricane and the Fantôme, they listened in on the cat-and-mouse playing out in the wavebands of the radio, the coast guards in the flat tones of men aware lives were at stake.

The hurricane picked up her skirts, exchanging eye-wall speeds of 250kmph (155mph, 135 knots) for forward motion. About 16:30 on the 27th, the Fantôme relayed her position. As the storm center approached the vessel, the Fantôme radioed she was fighting winds of 100 knots and four-storey high seas. Five o’clock approached. Few standing around the radio moved to go home.

And then…

And then nothing. Silence. Not silence, but a repeating call into the abyss.

“Fantôme… S/V Fantôme… Fantôme…”

Through the next day. And the next.

“Fantôme… S/V Fantôme… Fantôme…”

Men wore hollow looks. Women blinked away tears.

“Fantôme… S/V Fantôme… Fantôme…”

Days passed. The hurricane swung north.

On 2 November as Mitch took aim at Florida, the British destroyer HMS Sheffield found life-preservers and rafts bearing the stamp S/V Fantôme floating off the coast of Guanaja.

The beautiful Phantom had vanished.

08 October 2016

Mrs. Malaprop Lives!

by B.K. Stevens

Affectation, Henry Fielding declares in the preface to Joseph Andrews, is "the only source of the true Ridiculous." I think that principle holds true for language. We may get irritated with people who confuse "your" and "you're" or "accept" and "except." Usually, though, we're not tempted to ridicule them--certainly not if they're very young or haven't had many educational opportunities, probably not even if they're well-educated adults who ought to know better. After all, everyone makes mistakes. Unless something is so riddled with errors that it's obvious the writer didn't even try to proofread, most of us are more inclined to forgive than to ridicule. (I certainly hope you'll forgive me for any mistakes I've made in this post. It's terrifying to write on this sort of subject, knowing I could slip up at any time.)

But when writers are guilty of affectation--and especially when affectation is compounded by ignorance--ridicule begins to seem like an appropriate response. Some literary characters have become famous for sounding foolish when they try to impress others with inflated language. In Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing, Dogberry announces that he and his men have "comprehended two aspicious persons" and later declares a prisoner will be "condemned into everlasting redemption" for his misdeeds. (I checked several copies of Much Ado, by the way, and they all said "aspicious," not "auspicious." So you don't have to forgive me for that one.) In Sheridan's The Rivals, Mrs. Malaprop complains she has little "affluence" on her niece, who is "as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile." When these characters make us laugh, I think we're laughing at their affectation, not their ignorance: They become ridiculous not because they have limited vocabularies but because they're trying to show off.

And Dogberry and Mrs. Malaprop have plenty of modern descendants. "My new thriller is the penultimate in suspense!" a novelist proclaims. The poor thing probably thinks "penultimate" means "more than ultimate." But since it actually means "second to last," "the penultimate in suspense" isn't much of a boast. "If you're searching for the meaning of life," a motivational speaker says, "I can offer you a simplistic answer." The speaker could have said "simple" but probably thought it sounded too--well, simple. Instead, the speaker opted for the extra syllable, unintentionally admitting the answer he or she is about to give can't adequately explain life's complexities. "If you follow my advice," the astrologer promises a potential client, "you will always be fortuitous." The astrologer may think "fortuitous" is a more elegant way of saying "fortunate." But to the extent his or her promise means anything, it means the potential client will always be ruled by chance. In all of these examples, the real problem is affectation, not ignorance. (True, we sometimes laugh at the things people say even when there's no affectation involved. For example, it was hard not to chuckle when Yogi Berra said, "You can observe a lot by just watching" or "Half the lies they tell about me aren't true." But an affectionate chuckle isn't the same as ridicule. Yogi wasn't putting on airs, just scrambling things up a bit--that makes a big difference.)


People who dress up their sentences with foreign words or phrases may also be suffering from affectation affliction. I love HGTV--like Food Network, it's one of my default channels--but the constant use of en suite grates on my nerves. "Here's your magnificent master bedroom," a star of Love It or List It or some such show will say, "and here's your spa-like en suite." Then he or she throws open the door to what used to be called a master bathroom.

Has en suite become fashionable because "master bathroom" sounds politically incorrect? I don't think so. After all, the same people who use en suite still say "master bedroom"--once, I heard an HGTV host refer to a "master en suite." And if the connotations of "master bathroom" make us uncomfortable, we can always say "owner's bathroom." No, I think en suite is appealing because it has that special air of sophistication, that added note of elegance, that je ne sais quoi. In short, it's appealing because it sounds so darn French. Unfortunately, to anyone who knows even a little French, it also sounds silly. "En suite" is a phrase, not a noun; it means "in a suite," not "bathroom." Two or more rooms that form a unit might be described as rooms en suite, but referring to a single room as "an en suite" doesn't make sense.

It also doesn't make sense for invitations to ask people to "please RSVP," or for menus to say a roast beef sandwich is served with "a cup of au jus." And if the menu also lists a "soup du jour of the day"--sacre bleu! The point isn't that we all need to know French--certainly not--but that we shouldn't try to sound impressive by using words or phrases we don't really understand. The advice George Orwell offers in "Politics and the English Language" can save us from a lot of embarrassing mistakes: "Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent."

Linguistic affectation can take other forms, too. Malapropisms are silly but relatively innocent. Driven by a desire to impress, people abuse the language without realizing it. But sometimes, I think, people are so driven that they push ahead even when they're fully aware of what they're doing.

That brings us to the world of politics, and to the world of television journalism. Like many others during this election year, I've been watching far too much cable news lately. And I've heard far too many reports that go more or less like this:
Top Democratic advisors meeting today to discuss strategies for the next phase of the campaign. On the other side of the aisle, Republican spokespeople responding to the latest controversies and countering with charges of their own. And both candidates issuing statements predicting victory. In Florida, officials warning of worsening conditions. In international news, NATO leaders calling for more joint action against terrorism, North Korea announcing more missile tests, and Vladimir Putin posing shirtless for more photographs.
Here we have five so-called sentences but not a single complete verb, just a plethora of present participles. As a result, we don't really know when things are happening. Have top Democratic advisors already met today? Are they meeting now? Will they meet later this afternoon? We can't be sure. We might think the present participle at least rules out the possibility that the meeting already happened, but that's not a safe assumption. I've often heard news anchors use the present participle, without any auxiliary verbs, to refer to past events.

I don't know when this preference for verbs without tense began. Maybe it's a recent development, or maybe it's been around for a long time, and I just haven't noticed it until now because I don't usually watch so much news. It does seem to be widespread. I sampled three cable news networks to make sure, and I never had to wait long to hear an ing string. I also don't know why the trend developed. It could be that news writers are so determined to use only "strong" verbs that they avoid all forms of to be and other auxiliaries. My best guess is that news writers (or, more likely, producers or executives) decided that unadorned present participles are more dramatic than regular old verbs, that they're sexier, more immediate, more exciting. "FBI investigators revealing startling new facts"--if we don't know exactly when something is happening, we might think it's happening right now. Better stay tuned. If that's why news networks are dangling all these enticing participles in front of us, I'd say it's another form of affectation. And it's a particularly calculating form, a deliberate misuse of language to mislead and manipulate. I don't want to overstate the problem, or to suggest news networks have evil intentions. At worst, they're guilty of trying to drive up ratings, and I suppose that's natural enough. But I don't like it when people twist the language to try to limit my understanding or control my reactions. And as a long-time English professor, I know that plenty of students already have a hard time understanding what a sentence is. If the news networks are muddying the waters still further, that's a shame.

We probably can't do much to reform the language of cable news, and malapropisms of one sort or another will probably always be with us. Affectation has deep roots in the human soul. But we can at least try to keep our own use of language as free of affectation as possible. To the extent that our writing has any influence on others, we can try to make sure our influence is positive. How can we do that? I've always found some advice E.B. White offers in The Elements of Style helpful, even inspirational. "The approach to style," White says, "is by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, sincerity."

That about sums it up.

# # #

Do you have favorite examples of malapropisms, or of other forms of inflated language? I'd love to hear them.


07 October 2016

Classics Condensed

by O'Neil De Noux

When my young daughter read Hemingway's THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, she had to write a book report and said the teacher wanted a short synopsis at the beginning of the report. I suggested my daughter put - Old fisherman. Big Fish. Sharks. The teacher wasn't amused.

Last month I saw a small article online © John Atkinson who called it - Classic books in a couple sentences:
WAR AND PEACE - Everyone is sad. It snows.
THE GRAPES OF WRATH - Farming sucks. Road trip! Road trip sucks.
THE SUN ALSO RISES - Lost Generation gets drunk. Still lost.
ULYSSES - Dublin. Something. Something. Something. Run-on sentence.

This was brilliant and got me going, so much it interefered with my writing as condensations of classic books came into my mind, one after the other. They wouldn't leave me alone so I decided to share them:

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR - It's bad. Man tries. It's worse.
LORD OF THE FLIES - Good boys. Bad boys. Uh-oh, Adults.
THE GREAT GATSBY - Obsession. She's a siren. Don't go swimming.
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE - Phony. More phonies. Fuck it.

GONE WITH THE WIND - She's pretty, slutty, selfish. Frankly, I don't give a damn.
LONESOME DOVE - Cowboys. Women. Sure gonna miss that whore.
THE MALTESE FALCON - Pretty woman. Sharp Private Eye. Everyone sad.
DUNE - What? No water? Muad Dib.
LORD OF THE RINGS - It takes forever.
ANNA KARENINA - Love, sex and a train.
DR. ZHIVAGO - Two women and a good-hearted man with a bad heart.
ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH - Cold. Death. Siberia.
THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW - Headless horseman. Pretty cool.
A FAREWELL TO ARMS - Boy gets girl. Walks home alone in the rain.
MARY REILLY - Jekyll. Hyde. A maid cuddles.
THE CALL OF THE WILD - A man, a dog and howling wolves.


TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD - Racists. No mockingbird in the entire damn book.
THE WAR OF THE WORLDS - Cylinders and Martians and germs. Thank God.
THE BIBLE - Rough opening. The Jesus part is the best.
THE SCARLET LETTER - Sex, lies and the puritan alphabet.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - He really wasn't a ghost.
ROMEO AND JULIET - Boy. Girl. Poison and a knife.
THE AGE OF INNOCENCE - A wimp. Slick vamp. Slicker wife.
LAURA - She's dead. She isn't dead. She did it. She didn't do it.

ANIMAL FARM - Humans are animals and animals are human. What?
LOLITA - She's sexy. She's twelve. It's just human nature. What the hell?
THE METAMORPHISIS - I'm a cockroach. Disgusting. I die.
AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS - Don't go. They go anyway. Arrgggh!
REBECCA - Whirlwind romance. Super-bitch pyromaniac housekeeper.
HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY - Miners die. People Struggle. Town contaminated. Good times!
THE BIG SLEEP - Blackmail. Pornography. People die. Detective depressed.


Then the short stories started in on me:

"The Call of Cthulhu" by H. P. Lovecraft - Awaken giant tentacles. Regret immediately.
"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson - Don't play. Just get the hell out of town.
"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - It is a WILD goose chase.
"Shambleau" by C. L. Moore - Chase her. Cuddle with her. Kill her.

If you can think of some, put them in the comments or do a blog of your own. I warn you. Once you start, it's hard to stop.

O'Neil De Noux
www.oneil.denoux

06 October 2016

Send in the Clowns....

by Brian Thornton
Not THIS type of clown (Arlechhino)...

I don't think this is exactly what Sondheim had in mind.

So I don't talk much about my day gig here, because, hey, this is a "crime fiction blog," not a "teach-history-at-the-secondary-level" blog. But sometimes it's both appropriate and timely for me to trot the day job out, and this is one of those times.

You see, as a school district employee, I'm on my employer's robo-call list in case of a public emergency, and in the age of Columbine and Sandy Hook, of a public threat. These calls don't come often, but when they do, I try to be a professional and take it seriously, no matter how unlikely the threat.

And then I get a call like the one I got last Monday night.

More like THIS type of clown...
The automated system apprised me that my school district had intentions to keep schools open and run classes as normal the following day, but wanted students, parents and staff to be aware that the district had received threats involving (and I quote) "clowns."

"Clown T'reats? Dat's a t'ing."
Apparently, in the words of The Big Bang Theory's Raj Koothrapali, "Dat's a t'ing."

And who or what is at the bottom of it, you ask? Why, social media, and the trolls who manipulate it, naturally.

To be clear, the "evil clown" mania currently sweeping the nation like a dance craze on "American Bandstand" back in the day can be traced back to an apparent hoax perpetrated in a South Carolina apartment complex, where there were alleged reports of menacing clowns wandering the neighboring woods and attempting to lure unsuspecting children into them. Since then there have been clown "sightings" in states from Illinois to Oregon. The phenomenon was even brought up by a reporter at a recent White House press conference.

It was only a matter of time before idiots on social media began masquerading as malevolent clowns bent on invading public schools and snatching innocent children. School districts in Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio all dealt with treats to their students made via social media.

Which brings us back to Monday night, here in Washington state.

I replayed the message for my wife, and her face registered concern for the first part of the message, but once it got to the word "clowns," she burst out laughing. Which is as it should be, don't you think? I mean, after all, "clowns."

Of course anyone with access to the internet and a bit of curiosity
can figure out that clowns have a mixed place in human culture. There's even a word for the concept of the fear of clowns (It's "coulrophobia."). And in this post-Stephen-King's-"It" and post-Heath-Ledger's-Joker world, a fear of clowns is all too understandable.

So on one hand it's sort of understandable how "disturbing" some people find clowns without any help from either popular culture or social media. And while many people trace the turn in popular culture's relationship with clowns back to the 1986 publication of King's masterwork It, in which Pennywise the terrifying clown of a thousand adolescent nightmares was born, honestly, society's uncomfortable relationship with clowns goes back much further than the middle of the Reagan administration. In fact, it antedates America itself.

I mean, come ON....
 I'm speaking of course, of the comedia del arte tradition in Renaissance Italian drama (although the archetype of the scary clown can be traced back even further), and the recurring character of the buffoon Pulcinella (In English "Punchinello"), a clown who was both vicious and sly, often outwitting his antagonists in comic manner by pretending to be far more stupid than he actually was, thereby getting his opponents to underestimate him.

And this, of course, bleeds into such pop culture stuff as Ruggero Leoncalvo's late 19th century tragic opera Paggliacci, in which the title character is a comedia del arte performer whose real-life cuckolding echoes the tropes of the play in which he performs night after night, resulting in a murderous rampage on-stage in which he kills his wife and her lover, then sings the final, devastating line:

La commedia è finita!  ("The comedy is finished!")

The celebrated Italian tenor Enrico Caruso made the role his own in the 1890s. (To hear his rendition of the famous aria "Vesti la Giubba," ("Put on the Costume.) click here. American Mario Lanza also famously sang the part for his final film For the First Time, which performance can be found here. And of course there's Luciano Pavarotti's earth-shaking rendition, which you can watch here.)

And don't even get me started on this guy.

So yeah, it's well-documented that clowns can be scary. In fact the notion is so embedded in popular culture these days that it's subject of any number of lampoons. 1988's Killer Klowns from Outer Space is just one example of this (If you really think you must, you can watch the trailer here.) , as is the subplot in hit ABC sitcom Modern Family where Phil Dunphy (played by Ty Burrell) is secretly terrified of clowns, which makes things awkward when his brother-in-law Cameron Tucker (played by Eric Stonestreet) shows up at a family birthday party dressed as "Fizbo," an "Auguste clown."

Fear is hilarious....
All that said, and current trends notwithstanding, I have to agree with author Stephen King's recent statement made in an attempt deescalate clown-related hysteria. King took to Twitter, and said: "Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria  — most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh."

You see, I come from the Pacific Northwest, home of many great things-including a truly awesome clown known as J.P. Patches. Portrayed by TV station executive Chris Wedes, Patches hosted a local children's show in the Seattle area for over thirty years and was a frequent in-costume visitor to places like Children's Hospital. He never asked for a dime in return for those thousands of personal appearances, by the way, and continued to appear in public at events supporting worthy causes right up until his death in 2012 at age 84.

To say the guy was beloved would be an understatement. In the tradition of the national syndicated Bozo and other clowns intended to entertain and educate little kids, Patches was a great entertainer and deserving of the high esteem in which so many of us who grew up in his orbit continue to hold him.

Who could be afraid of someone like that?

R.I.P. Chris, and may God bless you...

05 October 2016

The Way It Wasn't

by Robert Lopresti

A month ago I noticed that my wife was reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.  What made that particularly interesting was that I was reading Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters.

Both of them fall into the genre of Alternative History (AH), which is usually considered part of science fiction.  Science fiction, more than most forms of fiction, is all about "What if?" and AH  asks "What if events didn't turn out as they did?"

The oldest example of AH we know of is about 2100 years old.  The Roman author  Livy pondered the question: What if Alexander the Great had gone west (toward the still developing city of Rome) instead of east?

Let's jump ahead past a few medieval examples and land in 1931 when John Squires published  If It Had Happened Otherwise, a collection of essays by different authors, speculating on how various turning points of history could have turned out differently.  One of them, "If Lee Had Not Won At Gettysburg," is a double twist (as you can probably tell), being written from the point of view of a historian in a world in which the South did win the Civil War.  He tries to speculate how things would have turned out if the North had conquered.

You may have heard of the author of that clever essay.  He later won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but Winston Churchill was better known for other accomplishments.

You may be surprised that an Englishman like Churchill should have chosen the American Civil War as his subject but that event seems to have an obsessive interest for alternative historians.  Remember those books my wife and I were reading?  Even The New Yorker  recently took note of our country's obsession with the Underground Railroad.

My favorite AH writer is Harry Turtledove and he was inspired to get a PhD in Byzantine History by an AH novel by L. Sprague De Camp called Lest Darkness Fall.  Turtledove's masterpiece is The Guns of the South  (Yup, that War Between the States again).  It starts with a real event: Robert E. Lee writing to Jefferson Davis in 1864 to say the Confederacy could not win.  Except in Turtledove's book the letter is interrupted by some strangers with funny accents who want to sell the South some new weapons called AK-47s.  You see, some Afrikaaners got their hands on a time machine and decided to nip Black aspirations in the bud by saving slavery.

You can argue that that is not pure alternative history since it involves a science fiction concept like time travel.  In that case you might prefer another  Turtledove novel - and it's a mystery! -  The Two Georges, co-written with, of all people, the actor Richard Dreyfuss.  The heroes are cops in the 1960s, but in this world King George III never went mad and when his colonies started protesting his policies he invited the leaders to England to discuss it.  The result is that George Washington became the first Governor-General of British North America.

Some of you may have seen the recent TV series, The Man in the High Castle, which is based (loosely, I hear) on a classic AH novel by Philip K. Dick.  It explores a world in which the Axis beat the Allies.

To my mind, there are two essential elements to an AH fiction: How did things turn out this way (as opposed to the way we know they did)?  And what would happen if they had?  At its best, AH becomes a thought experiment: If Nixon beat Kennedy, how would the sixties have changed?  What if the Spanish Armada had won?

I have had three fantasy stories published and while none of them are pure AH they all, shall we say, partake of its nature.

After George W. Bush became president, Edward J. McFadden III and E. Sedia proposed Jigsaw Nation, a book of stories that asked: What if the blue states seceded from the nation?  My story, "Down in the Corridor," takes place in the  narrow strip of land between Mexico and the Pacific States of America, connecting the USA with the Pacific.   Yes, it's a crime story, but it's not true AH because it was imaging an alternative near future, not a past.  (Recently Andrew MacRae came up with a similar idea for an anthology about post-current events.)

"Letters to the Journal of Experimental History" appeared in a short-lived humor webzine called The Town Drunk.  It's based on the multi-verse theory of time travel; that is, if you go back in time and, say, kill Hitler, it doesn't change our universe, it merely kickstarts a new one.  You can read it here.

And then there is "Street of the Dead House," which appeared in nEvermore! (and has been reprinted in Best American Mystery Stories 2016 and Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2016, he said modestly.)  This one is Alternative Literature, reinterpreting (without changing) a classic Edgar Allan Poe story.

Anyone out there like this genre?  If so, tell me your favorites.










04 October 2016

How to Kick @ss: Tami Hoag Edition

by Melissa Yi

I'm fascinated by successful writers. I've decided to launch a new series where I examine authors I admire and try to unlock their secrets to success.

I met Tami Hoag at Writers Police Academy in August. Yes, that Tami Hoag. The one who's hit the New York Times bestseller list thirteen consecutive times, including five separate books within 20 months. #livingthedream

I happened to sit with Tami on the bus, chat with her over lunch, and listen to her speak at the banquet. Here are five pearls from Tami Hoag.

1. “People say I look like a nice woman. And I am. But I am a competitor.”
I love this. All of us, especially women, are socialized to be nice and kind and “After you” and “Don’t mind if I do.” That makes for a smooth society. But if you want to be a #1 international bestseller, you will have to throw down like Tami Hoag.

Well, maybe not exactly like her. In an interview with myPalmBeachPost, she said, "I could knock [you] out with a single punch and can talk about serial killers all day long.” She got into mixed martial arts for stress relief, and rode horses competitively, although she had to heal up five fractured verebrae after a dressage accident in 2003.

The killer instinct doesn’t mean you have to assassinate your competitors. Just get ready to put your shoulder in it, because…

2. “Writing is a mental full-contact sport.”
This may be my absolute favourite line. That was when I realized I have to read more of Tami's books. She is so passionate, so committed to writing, her body reverberates when she talks about it. There are famous authors who want to sit back and enjoy the money and adulation, and I don't blame them, but Tami is still throwing herself into the ring with everything she's got.
Just bought it.


3. “Commitment is a four letter word to me. I am a total pantser. In all other areas of my life, I am highly organized."
The sweet, sweet sound of someone who writes my way, which is to say, flying through the darkness, making it up en route. As Tami put it, "I know what the central crime is. A third of the way through, I say, ‘I don't think he did it.’ I call the editor and say, 'That's not who did it. Do you want to know who did it?’”

4. “You can't please everyone. It dilutes the quality.”
She does get people contacting her to complain that her characters are swearing, but she said she writes exactly how she sees real police officers talking. "I use the vernacular." When readers complain, it "makes me want to go around my office and say #@#%^@# @#^ )()&.@#@"
That made me laugh. Of course, I also like to swear.

5. “Somehow it's all there. Somehow it's all good.”
In other words, trust the process. In the end, even if she has to get her editors to tell her whodunit, or she has to take back a book to rewrite it to her satisfaction, at the end of six or nine months, she's once again created a brand new, character-driven thriller that has a bajillion readers clamouring for more.

Do any of these pearls speak to you? Are you a competitor? Is writing or reading your mental full-contact sport? Sound off in the comments. And if you'd like to hear more about Writers Police Academy, I'll be blogging about it at my own personal website. Cheers!

03 October 2016

Blood and Gore

by Janice Law

Some time ago, our SleuthSayers colleague Eve Fisher wrote a good piece on why she hated (fictional) serial killers. I had to agree that too often the serial killer is a convenient, if callous, way to hype up the tension and excitement of a book and not always just in horror fiction or low level pulp. There are some really good writers like Jo Nesbo and Jussi Adler-Olsen, whose style and characterizations I otherwise admire, whose fondness for killers commiting ingenious and torturous murders strikes me as dubious both ethically and aesthetically.

Recently, a couple of writers new to me have got me thinking about serial killers again and even more, about the strain of ingenious sadism which so often accompanies their fictional arrival. John Hart’s The Last Child and Zygmunt Miloszewski’s Rage, one tangentially about a serial killer, the other, about a sadistic serial avenger, take radically different approaches.

Hart’s The Last Child throws a whole lot into the hopper: a young girl’s disappearance, a heroic boy out to find her, possible police corruption, a big helping of dismal history, and a touch of supernatural Southern Gothic. A synopsis of the plot practically screams exploitive melodrama, but the skeleton of the story proves deceptive because Hart is a careful and sensitive writer.

Yes, there is something bad happening out in the North Carolina backcountry, but The Last Child focuses always on the people affected by the disappearance of Alyssa Merrimon and the catastrophic effect of her loss on her twin, Johnny, on her distraught mother, and on the weary Clyde Hunt, the detective in charge of the initial investigation.

The portrait of brave, troubled Johnny is particularly well done, as is the companion portrait of his unhappy friend, Jack, but even minor characters like Mrs. Merrimon’s dangerous lover and the mysterious giant Levi Freemantle are well handled. Evil is present, but it’s not around for cheap thrills. Indeed, the book ends in a sadder, more plausible, way that one is likely to anticipate.

Miloszewski’s Rage is another matter altogether. I like mysteries set in foreign countries, and Olsztyn, a Polish resort town with a multitude of lakes and seemingly wretched weather, is a locale ripe for mystery and mayhem. The investigator, Prosecutor Teodor Szacki, is cranky and over worked. He is often difficult with both his lover and his teen-aged daughter and inclined to be abrupt with innocent members of the public.

Harried by the investigation of an exceptionally cruel, if equally exceptionally creative, murder, he fails to pick up hints of serious domestic abuse and finds himself not only in bureaucratic hot water but in true physical danger. This interest in domestic violence apparently represents something new in Polish crime fiction, but that alone probably does not account for the inventively gruesome revenge plot.

The lack of nuance in Rage is too bad, because both the settling and admittedly crusty but not entirely close-minded Prosecutor Szacki are intriguing. But a strain of zestful cruelty runs throughout the novel, and to my mind, at least, too much of the momentum and impact of Rage relies on gruesome ingenuity as opposed to intelligent characterization or to a real exploration of the ethical and social issues raised by the plot.

Oddly enough, in this case, The Last Child, a novel with a bona fide serial killer, if one kept mostly off stage, turns out to be a moving and subtle character study. Rage, with a much lower body count, sadly relies more on gore and sadism than on its distinctive investigator.

I wonder if I am alone in this sort of reaction or if there are other folk out there who find madly inventive and sadistic murders a dubious literary resource?

02 October 2016

Gender Blender

by Leigh Lundin

An over-hyped Business Insider headline caught my eye:
A major newspaper is doing something that could change the English language forever.
If you guessed this has something to do with political correctness, two points for you. That newspaper’s new policy I’ll explain below, but first some background.

Two Bits

Working as a software designer, I specialized in operating systems bits & bytes stuff. Most programmers worked on applications– invoicing, payroll, perhaps tracking the speed of an electron. Some records such as personnel files might require a designation of gender. In computer languages that could address the bit level, that assignment required only one ‘bit’, one binary digit.

See, a binary digit represents either of two mutually exclusive states decided by the developer: 1 or 0, on or off, true or false, yes or no, black or white, yin and yang, day or night, male or female. What could be simpler?

bin dec sym
00 0
01 1
10 2
11 3
A long-ago story in the industry press brought to light a programmer in Asia who didn’t quite understand the concept of binary and assigned two binary digits, one for male and the other for female. Observers realized two additional possibilities could some day be programmed, hermaphrodite (all bits on) and morphodite (all bits off).

Ranching and farming communities use ‘morphodite’ or its older form ‘morphrodite’ to refer to livestock born without either sexual characteristic, the opposite of hermaphrodite, in which both male and female characteristics appear. One of the cruelest bullying insults is to call someone a ‘morph’, i.e, sexless.

Historically, a sense of sexuality is more deeply important to people than its seeming superficiality suggests. Most given names not merely denote masculinity and femininity, an actual meaning may further signify manly and womanly. Two such examples are Charles and Carla.

The importance of sexual awareness naturally provides a rich vocabulary of ridicule and rejection. We apply the term ‘limp-wristed’ only to a small number of males. We’re not complimentary when we call someone a swish or a dyke, and people have been known to use worse, far worse.

Changing Room

You no doubt heard a hysterical North Carolina put a statute on the books requiring people to use the loo associated with their birth gender. I’m hard pressed to think of a more useless law.

☞ When I was a toddler, my mother took us children into the ladies locker room of the local pool house. A woman fled the scene, aghast to have three- and four-year-olds within view. But other ladies didn’t flee in terror and outrage and back then, it was perfectly legal. Tally: One woman verklempt.

☞ In the 1960s, women attending concerts in Central Park often used men’s rooms when their own became overwhelmed. They needed them. No need to get verklempt.

☞ In the 1970s, feminists took over a few men’s rooms in Manhattan just because they could. To their disappointed, no one got all verklempt.

☞ In the 1980s, I consulted in Europe. Outside the WCs, the janitorial staff didn’t bother with those yellow plastic ‘Piso Mojado’ signs (that don’t mean Mojo peed here), the attendants– male and female– went about their business. Thus in an airport pissoir when a lady swabbed the urinal next to me, I summoned available savoir faire, outwardly blithe to the situation, one that would occur from time to time. There were places we’d both rather visit. No need to get verklempt.

O de Toilette


So to North Carolina that wrote the peculiar legislation: My experience with the Carolina legal system has already made it my least favorite for multiple reasons, but what were you thinking? Who the hell cares?

Apparently a couple of cops (male and female) did: They dragged a woman from a ladies room because she didn’t look feminine enough. Put another way, the cops wanted to force the woman to use the men’s room. (According to Snopes, at least one supposed case was bogus.)

Note that the officers demanded ID, but one of the few civil liberties remaining after the US PATRIOT Acts, except for probable cause, is we don’t have to produce identity papers on demand.

How to Put the Rest in Restroom

female, male
I’m as ham-handed and foot-in-mouth as most guys. When it comes to transgender issues vis-à-vis public toilets, I don’t know if I’m insensitive or not when I say “I… don’t… care.” It’s your business, not mine. Each of us carries our own burden without adding to the woes of others. Come in peace, go in peace, what else matters? Unless you're thinking a ‘family values’ senator in a Minneapolis airport futilely cottaging young men.

On the other side of the argument, a guy standing in line at my local WaWa gas station loudly pontificated, “What if some queer goes into the bathroom with your daughter?” He completely missed the irony of his supposition. (And I'm sure he meant restroom instead of bathroom).

Gender Mender

As mentioned in the opening, Business Insider wrote:
A major newspaper is doing something that could change the English language forever.
The story behind the overheated lede is that The San Francisco Examiner (limited to the American language) has adopted a policy that reporters must ask interviewees their ‘preferred pronoun’: he, she, or they.

boy, girl
My ego is sometimes so large that it could be referred to as ‘they’, but sexually, no question. Surely a sensitive interviewer could figure out a non-offensive term on his/her/their own. Embodying this in official policy makes it difficult to deny accusations of overwrought political correctness.

As children, we were taught to say “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir.” The US military created their own rule: Personnel are addressed as “sir” unless an officer requests the use of “ma’am”.

Since childhood, my brother Glen cultivated waggish weirdness into a modest industry. The smartass may have come up with a solution in grade school. Back then he addressed his teachers: “Yes ma’am, sir.” God love ’im.

Opinions, yes, opinions please.

01 October 2016

Boucherconfessions, 2016

by John M. Floyd


As pretty much everyone knows by now, the annual Bouchercon world mystery conference was held in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago. I attended, and my wife Carolyn went along also (many spouses did, I'm told--probably because of the location). We had a great time.

Thankfully, many current and former SleuthSayers and Criminal Briefers were in attendance as well, and although I didn't connect with every single one, I found most of them, and thoroughly enjoyed the chance to visit and catch up a bit. Among them were R.T. Lawton, Bonnie (B.K.) Stevens, Art Taylor, Deborah Elliott-Upton, James Lincoln Warren, Steve Steinbock, Melodie Johnson Howe, O'Neil De Noux, and Terry Faherty. Somehow I missed running into Jan Grape and Susan Cooper, but I'm hoping our paths will cross soon.

Highlights

There were too many different experiences to go into here--certainly too many to hold even the most patient reader's interest--but one that I must mention was the opening ceremonies, on Thursday night. All I can say is, my hat's off to the people who planned this event. They know how to put on a show. All the dignitaries, dressed in suitably flamboyant outfits, rode in on floats that deposited them on the stage amid strobing lights and blaring music. Afterward came several hours of awards, presentations, and speeches, but the hosts somehow managed to keep things entertaining. One of them was O'Neil De Noux, who did a great job.


I also want to point out three other events that were fun, for me. One was the signing of the annual Bouchercon anthology, Blood on the Bayou, edited by Greg Herren and produced by Down & Out Books. Some of the folks whose stories were included in the antho are friends of mine, so we had a good time there, and the process was a bit different from previous years: each of us was given a separate table in one of the ballrooms, and the purchasers of the book filed past and stopped at each table to get our signatures (some on the story page, some on the title page in the front, some on both). It not only made the lines seem shorter, it gave the writers a chance to talk with each reader for a moment more than we might've, in a more crowded setup.


Another delight for me was the annual get-together of members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. With the guidance of O'Neil De Noux (he was everywhere, at this conference), we were herded up the street to the Napoleon House for lunch one day, and I was able to see a lot of old buddies and meet some new ones. I didn't take a headcount, but I figure there were around two dozen of us present, for a good meal and good conversation. Writers of short stories sometimes feel like the Rodney Dangerfields of the fiction world, and it was great to get together with a group that loves that form of storytelling.

The fourth thing I'll always remember was a panel called "Murder by Numbers: Ellery Queen, Their Words, and the Magazine." My old friend and hero James Lincoln Warren was the moderator, and the panelists were a stellar group of EQMM experts: Janet Hutchings, Otto Penzler, Steve Steinbock, Ted Hertel, Shelly Dickson Carr, and Brendan DuBois. I had to sneak out a few minutes early to go to the aforementioned lunch meeting, but it was both entertaining and informative to hear this discussion of the history of one of our leading mystery magazines. Well done, you guys!

Chance observations

One thing that surprised me was that there was such good attendance at most of the panels I went to. Don't get me wrong--the panels were excellent; they always are--but we were, after all, in NOLA, with all the wonders of the city beckoning to us just outside the hotel doors. I can easily recall the conferences and conventions I attended with IBM, and when they happened to be held in places like San Francisco or Miami Beach or New Orleans or Anchorage or Honolulu there were always a lot of empty seats at those indoor concurrent sessions (the equivalent of our "panels"). I specialized in Finance, and during the banking conferences there was a standing joke: anytime someone discovered a colleague was absent from one of the business or technical sessions and inquired about his whereabouts, the answer was "He's studying float management." Which of course meant that he/she/I had opted to go out to the hotel pool instead of in to the meeting.

I wound up with only two complaints, about the four days and nights we spent at Bouchercon 2016. One was the sky-high parking fees at the Marriott--I mean, jeez Louise!--and the other was the unique smell of the French Quarter streets on Sunday morning. The first was unexpected; the second was not--I've spent a lot of time wandering the Quarter, over the years, and occasionally not at the best times of day/night. The good thing is, the positives outweigh the negatives, and New Orleans will always be close to my heart.

A final point. As always, one perk of attending Bouchercon is the chance to meet with your publishers, editors, etc. One morning Carolyn and I had breakfast with Janet Hutchings, Linda Landrigan, and several fellow writers for EQMM and AHMM; that night we shared a meal with Strand editor Andrew Gulli at Cafe Beignet; and the following morning we had Eggs Benedict with Linda Landrigan at Brennan's. Where else can you have the opportunity to spend time in a casual, non-business setting with the folks who are kind enough to publish your creations? B'con is also a good place to meet authors you've always admired and loved to read: in my case,  Joe Lansdale, Harlan Coben, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Lee Child, Harley Jane Kozak, Ace Atkins, Lawrence Block, and Michael Connelly. And I'll always treasure the long visits I had with friends Michael Bracken and Deborah Elliott-Upton (shown at left), Vy Cava, R.T. Lawton, Melodie J. Howe, O'Neil De Noux and Debb, Bob Mangeot, James Lincoln Warren, and others.

Wrapup

I realize all this is old news. Because of the timing of this column--my previous piece was posted during the conference itself--several of my fellow SleuthSayers have already shared their New Orleans memories and experiences. But I must ask: For the rest of you who attended Bouchercon, what were the events, interviews, panels, sights, restaurants, off-campus meetings, etc., that you enjoyed the most? How would you compare this B'con with those in the past? Were you able to track down everyone you wanted to see? Did you play hooky from the panels often enough to get out and explore the area? Did you wind up in any unfortunate late-night Facebook photos? Did you survive the heat and humidity? Are you going to Toronto next year? (If you are, and plan to park at the event hotel, you might want to start saving now.)

If you've never attended a Bouchercon at all, I do hope you'll find time for one in the future. Other, smaller conferences are good as well--I've heard many writers say they're even better--but the special thing about B'con is that (1) it IS so big (you can be sure there'll be a lot of A-list authors there and a lot of your old writer friends) and (2) it's a fan conference, which means it includes readers as well as writers. That affects the topics of many of the panels, yes, but that's not always a bad thing.

Go, and you'll see what I mean. You'll be poorer financially but richer professionally.

Excuse me now, while I go treat my severe credit-card burns . . .