01 November 2016

Hollywood Scavenger Hunt

Well, since it’s the day after Halloween and you’re probably running low on candy already, how about something a little different? A Scavenger Hunt of sorts. There’s an old Merrie Melodies cartoon called Hollywood Steps Out—you might have seen it—that features a gaggle of Golden Age stars. So the hunt here is to see who can identify the most stars. That’s the mystery. There’s even a prize…
The cartoon (that’s what we called them) was directed by the celebrated Tex Avery, who created some characters you might have heard of, Bugs, Daffy, Porky, and more. It was produced by Leon Schlesinger, which is a name I remember seeing on cartoons from the time I was a little kid, even before I could appreciate who he was. It’s from a story by Melvin Millar.  And among other voice actors, the renowned Mel Blanc makes an appearance. The list of the characters he voiced is too numerous to even attempt, but here’s a handful: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, Pepé Le Pew, Speedy Gonzales, Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner.

The cartoon’s action takes place in the legendary Ciro’s nightclub on the fabulous, mah deah, Sunset Strip.

So let’s get looney. How many of the stars can you pick out—no cheating:

So how did you do? Hope you had fun. First one who gets them all in the comments gets a copy of my collection of 5 noir and mystery stories, L.A. Late @ Night, in either paperback or e-version, your choice. Of course you’ll have to give me your address and I’m not sure I can be trusted.

Here’s the key to the pix, in Order of Appearance:

Cary Grant
Greta Garbo
Edward G. Robinson & Ann Sheridan
Henry Binder and Leon Schlesinger
Johnny Weissmuller
Cagney, Bogart, Raft
Garbo & Harpo
Gable and the mysterious woman in red
Bing Crosby
Leopold Stokowski
James Stewart & Dorothy Lamour
Gable and the mystery woman in red again
Tyrone Power & Sonja Henie
Frankenstein – as himself
Three Stooges
Oliver Hardy
Cesar Romero and Rita Hayworth
Mickey and Judy
Lewis Stone and Mickey
Crosby and horse
Sally Rand
Kay Kyser
Standing: William Powell, Spencer Tracy, Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn.
      Sitting: Wallace Beery and C. Aubrey Smith
Peter Lorre
Henry Fonda
J. Edgar Hoover
Boris Karloff, Arthur Treacher (remember him from Merv Griffin?), Buster Keaton,
      Mischa Auer and Ned Sparks
Jerry Colonna
Gable and Groucho, the mysterious woman in red…………revealed

Thanks for playing. And if you want to see the whole cartoon, check it out here:


31 October 2016

At Last

Today is October 31, 2016--Halloween.  Also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows Eve, and All Saints Eve, Halloween begins the three-day observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembrance of the dead.
To most of us, Halloween is a holiday characterized by the dispensing of candy to costumed young people who threaten, "Trick or treat."  Other traditions include costume contests and parades.  When I taught elementary school, teachers and parents worked together to hold Halloween carnivals for students.  Before my retirement, these changed to Fall Festivals, and scary costumes (such as vampires, werewolves, skeletons, zombies, and this year--clowns) were forbidden because some people felt that Halloween was a celebration of witchcraft.

The traditions of Halloween include decorations such as black cats and pumpkins carved into jack-o-lanterns as well as activities like apple bobbing, pranks,  bonfires, and divination games.  In some parts of the world, Christian observances include church services and lighting candles on graves.

What accounts for the popularity of the non-religious aspects of Halloween? I believe it's because humans like to be scared--so long as what frightens us isn't real.  We might think that fall and Halloween would amplify the appeal of spookiness, but horror is a genre that transcends season.

How does the title "At Last" relate to Halloween and the horror genre?  Recently I've been doing a lot of writers' workshops in South Carolina libraries.  One of my most popular is entitled "A Late Start." The topic is writing as a second career after my retirement including disadvantages of waiting so long to begin writing fiction as well as the obvious advantages of greater maturity and vaster experiences. The workshops include tips on speeding up the process of successful writing and publishing.  The story of my first horror book proves that I don't always follow my own advice when it comes to fast writing and quick publication.

"At Last" would work as well if this blog referred to my first novel in 2007 as it does now to my tenth book released this month, but Leigh Lundin didn't invite me to return to SleuthSayers to summarize the workshop.  I'm here to tell you about my newest book and why "At Last" is a perfect title for this column.

The HORROR of JULIE BATES began several years ago as A Midnight Dreary and morphed into Something to Fear.  Both David Dean and Dixon Hill critiqued the manuscript during one of those phases, and I incorporated several of their suggestions. After numerous rewrites, my agent accepted it, but held back a year before pitching it.  Berkley was interested and made two suggestions.  Pardon my unladylike expression, but I busted my butt to work out the changes and dashed it off back to my agent in two weeks.  I didn't hear anything.

Sure, I wanted to push for a response, but we all know that it's not a good idea to put pressure on agents or editors.  After months and months, I asked the agent to touch base with the interested editor at Berkley.  I almost had another heart attack when I received an apology from my agent because he had forgotten to send her the manuscript revised to her requests.

Meanwhile, there had been major changes in the publishing world. To make a long story short (literally in this case), it was too late.

I began querying new agents and received some requests for the complete manuscript, but when Darren Foster at Odyssey South Publishing said, "Let us have it," I jumped at the chance.  And so, ladies and gentlemen, at last, my first horror novel is now available.  Here's the back copy:

                                 Who knew Columbia, South Carolina, could be so scary?

Julie Bates discovers a corpse in front of the Assembly Street post office.  Arson destroys her home the same day, but Julie's story is not a mystery.  It's horror--southern style.  Police officer Nate Adams thinks the killer who raped and murdered Julie's mother the year before is stalking Julie, but Julie's tormentor is not human.  The well-known ghosts of South Carolina barely skim the surface of the evil that awaits Julie Bates.  Move over, Amityville.  Columbia, South Carolina, is right there with you on the scale of terror.

How does a writer transition from cozyesque to horror? The preface explains:

When a red-haired woman approached me at a book-signing, I expected her to ask me to autograph one of my own cozy mysteries.  Instead, she asked me to write a book for her.  I went into my usual spiel that she could do a better job of putting her story on paper than I, but we agreed to meet in the coffee shop after the signing.  Writers are frequently approached to write or co-write someone else's story. Most of the time, we decline politely, but there was something about this mysterious stranger that made me hesitate to dismiss her so quickly,

The HORROR of JULIE BATES is that woman's story.  I spent many, many hours recording Julie Bates' tale and many more days and nights scaring myself as I wrote her story from her point of view, changing only names. The occasional third-person chapters were added after I was fortunate enough to obtain Richard Arthur's journal.

I have already received several emails questioning, "Did you make up this story or did a red-haired woman really tell it to you?"  I can honestly say the story came from a red-haired woman.

Long-time SleuthSayer readers know that I've jumped genre from cozies in the past when I wrote the thriller KUDZU RIVER.  I have no idea where I'll land next, but in the meantime,

Until we meet again, take care of … you!

30 October 2016

What's in a Name?

For most people, their name and their reputation go hand in hand. Someone mentions a person by name and another person in that conversation automatically recalls whatever information they know or have heard about that name. If it is something honest or good about the name then fine. However, if the receiver in that conversation has negative information about that name, or receives derogatory information, then he or she will feel wary about that particular individual. And, therein lies a true story. True as in it actually happened, but...let's just say some of the details were changed, like names, for instance.
We had a federal warrant for a guy named Jerry Goldsmith. Jerry was alleged to be a young up and comer as a Jewish associate to the Kansas City mafia. He supposedly had a legit job working for a local insurance agency, but it was also rumored that he didn't have to show up and do actual work in order to receive a paycheck. In any case, Jerry turned to dealing drugs in order to supplement whatever income he did have. And, that's how the guy came to our attention. Seems one of our agents made a case on Jerry for distribution of several thousand amphetamine tablets, also known on the street as white crosses in the old days. With arrest warrant in hand, my partner and I were sent out to fit the young gentleman with a set of shiny metal bracelets.

Big Jim and I checked out the usual hangouts, but Jerry was nowhere to be found. Last on our list of addresses was an apartment for Jerry's ex-girlfriend over on the Missouri side of the river. Her residence was in a two-story, red brick, four-plex. We knocked on the front door at ground level. A young woman came to the door. "Yes, that's me," she said, "but Jerry isn't here."

While we were talking with her, a four year old boy appeared at his mother's side. "Daddy?" he inquired. "Yeah, he's upstairs."

Jerry, who must have been listening to our conversation while he stayed just out of sight at the head of the stairs, now descended to the front door. At this point, Big Jim and I took Jerry into custody and read him his Miranda Rights. As the cuffs went on, Jerry did not take his new circumstances well, nor did he choose to employ his right to silence. Since it looked like it was not going to be a quiet ride to the holding cell anyway, I took this opportunity to remind Jerry that his immediate situation was his own fault. I'm sure he expected a lecture about the long term consequences of dealing drugs, however, what he got was something closer to home. "Jerry," I said, "you really should have married the little guy's mother and made him legitimate. Cuz it was your own son who gave you up to the law."

Jerry was quiet for a few heartbeats while he digested that thought, but then he started up again with his loud tirade. Seems I'd touched on a new sore spot.

The man was so disagreeable that a few months later, I started using a close variation of his name whenever I went undercover to buy drugs and make cases on dealers and their distribution organizations. For the next several years, even though Jerry was sitting in a federal pen staring out through iron bars, his name got used a lot. By the time Jerry got out on parole, his name was mud. Nobody trusted him as far as doing business with him in the criminal world. For years after, I often wondered if I'd helped Jerry keep to the straight and narrow path in his later life when he'd returned to the civilian world.

One of the main goals of U.S. Parole and Probation for its many clients is to guide each of those clients towards leading an honest life. One of their requirements is for said client to remove himself from his old ways and distance himself from his previous criminal companions. To accomplish this goal, the parole/probation agent tries to accentuate the positive aspects of doing so. I, on the other hand, I guess you could say, was on the other end of the balance, letting Jerry know in my own fashion that there were some negative repercussions waiting for him if he tried to return to his old environment, repercussions that had nothing to do with the threat of him going back to prison. It's a known factor on the streets that some hard core criminals don't take kindly to those low lifes who have allegedly made cases for the feds, whether they actually did or not.

After all, a rep and a name go hand in hand.

So yeah, I've wondered how Jerry's future went.  Was he smart enough to see the handwriting on the wall and therefore change his ways? Or did he take that long slide back down, the slide that would put him into the high percentage of recidivists where so many other convicts end up? And of course, there's always the cemetery or a car trunk if the bad guys can't take a joke.

Sometimes, it's all in a name.

So now, put on a costume and mask, go out in the world and pretend to be someone else.


29 October 2016

Things That Go Bump in the Night

by John M. Floyd

Even though it's not yet October 31, I'm told that some folks will be celebrating Halloween tonight instead (since it's Saturday, I guess). To me, that's goofy reasoning, but if trick-or-treaters can bend the rules, why can't I? I am hereby posting a Halloween-related column two days early.

I got the idea last week, when I was in Walmart looking for a roll of packing tape and happened to wander through the electronics section of the store. (I always wander through the electronics section of the store, but that's another matter.) Gravitating as usual to the DVD shelves, I noticed a huge display of Halloween movies--or at least scary movies. Or at least what the Walmart geniuses (genii?) think are scary movies. The point is, it got me to thinking about my favorite horror films.

Strangely enough, I don't consider zombie movies and teenage-summer-camp-slasher movies scary. They're just too unbelievable. What creeps me out the most are the two extremes: (1) insane people who seem all too real, and (2) otherworldly horror involving science fiction and/or fantasy elements. (I know, I know: that second item isn't believable either--but I love it.) Anyhow, that's just me. To each his own source of goosebumps.

Having said that, I offer the following list of my ten picks for scariest feature films:

1. Psycho. We'd probably agree that this is more mystery/suspense than horror, but tell me your sphincter didn't do some serious tightening when Norman popped into the root cellar wearing Mom's dress and a gray wig. I mean, what's scarier than a crazy guy with a butcher knife? (Honorable mentions, in the needs-to-be-fitted-for-a-straitjacket category: Misery, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Shining.)

2. Alien. I thought its sequel, Aliens, was a far better film, but it was better because of the action, not the creepiness. In the first movie, the steady buildup of suspense to the final standoff with the monster was wonderful.

3. Poltergeist. I first saw this in a theater in Dallas in the early 80s, and I loved it. I fact I love most Spielberg movies, whether they involve evil trucks or the Holocaust or a parkful of dinosaurs--but I thought he outdid himself, here.

4. Halloween. Many of the chills in this film came from John Carpenter's soundtrack. If you don't believe me, listen to it again sometime.

5. The Sixth Sense. I think TSS is at its spookiest when the kid is seeing the dead people and nobody else can. I also had to include this one to prove I didn't choose only movies with one-word titles.

6. Candyman. This weird film, based on a Clive Barker short story called "The Forbidden," is a little different in that I didn't particularly enjoy it. But boy is it scary.

7. The Others. Okay, here I go with two-word titles. I promise, there is a moment in this movie--I won't tell you which one--that's absolutely leap-out-of-your-seat terrifying. Don't watch it alone.

8. Cat People. I admit, I mostly liked Nastassja Kinski (is she really Klaus's daughter??), but I think this is a truly spooky film, beginning with a spinetingling opening-credits scene.

9. The Exorcist. I saw this in L.A. in 1974 with a bunch of fellow IBM trainees, and found myself thinking about it nonstop for weeks afterward. The final scenes between Father Merrin and the demon are especially nightmarish.

10. The Thing. John Carpenter again. In this one, like Alien (which wasn't Carpenter), the buildup is as good as the payoff. Everyone always talks about the original (The Thing From Another World, with James Arness as the creature), but I consider this a better film.

I'm thinking I'd better stop right here, and publish this before my list changes. (It's already changed a dozen times--at various points I included Silver BulletThe OmenTrollhunterThe MistThe Blair Witch Project, The Village, The Mothman Prophecies, Cloverfield, and many others.) As always, please chime in with your own personal favorites. My Netflix queue awaits your recommendations.

And on whatever night you choose to trick-or-treat this year . . . don't stop at the house on the hill above the Bates Motel. Nobody's home anyway.

BREAKING NEWS -- Tune in next week in this time slot for a great guest post by my friend Michael Bracken. (Unless you're watching one of the ten movies I suggested. Michael will understand.)

28 October 2016

We are what we write?

C.L. Pirkis's Loveday Brooke
My "Women of Mystery" class at George Mason University has been examining the ways in which 19th- and early 20th-century women mystery writers have challenged contemporary attitudes about gender roles and gender relations. In a Victorian Era when men and women were assigned to "separate spheres" based on their "natural" characteristics (to quote a brief essay by Kathryn Hughes at the British Library), it was likely refreshing to see fictional female detectives taking the lead on investigations and besting men in the process. And even in our class's short sampling of work from the era, it's been fun to watch how the implied quickly gave way to the explicit. In C.L. Pirkis's "Drawn Daggers" (1894), for example, Loveday Brooke holds her own in conversations with her employer, Mr. Dyer—not backing down in disagreements about how to approach a case or where the truth might be found, and eventually proved right about her plans. Two decades later, Baroness Orczy could be much more direct in the first of her Lady Molly tales, "The Ninescore Mystery" (1912), where the narrator—a member of Scotland Yard's "Female Department"—states from the start: "We of the Female Department are dreadfully snubbed by the men, though don't tell me that women have not ten times as much intuition as the blundering and sterner sex; my firm belief is that we should haven't half so many undetected crimes if some of the so-called mysteries were put to the test of feminine investigation."

Even in 1912: You've come a long way, baby—right? Toss us a pack of Virginia Slims—from 1968.

Pauline Hopkins
With most texts, we've been zeroing in on the progressive elements—the ways in which these writers have conceived of their protagonists both within and then in opposition to prevailing feminine ideals, the ways in which the texts have commented on and subtly (or not) criticized the values of their eras. In the case of Pauline Hopkins' "Talma Gordon" (1900), generally considered the first mystery story by an African American writer, we've looked at how a writer can address racial issues as well as gender issues—two perhaps not unrelated parts of a more progressive agenda—both through the story that's told (the plot that unfolds, the racial themes within the story) and through a strategic awareness of the publication venue, its specific audience, and that audience's values and concerns.

What's interesting about Hopkins, however, is that even as she explores racial attitudes and gender issues with a progressive's eye, her story is more conservative on other issues, somewhere at the intersection of class, intellect, and morality—and Hopkins herself seemed to be so as well, advocating elsewhere the "amalgamation" of the races as a way to bring down racial barriers, but also stressing that it was the "worthy" blacks and white intermingling which would improve civilization, while those unworthy ones... well, as critic Sigrid Anderson Cordell explained it in a fascinating 2006 essay on Hopkins' work, those unworthy ones would be "'civilized' or removed from the gene pool."

Even in texts without the racial elements, my student saw that attention to gender equality often parted ways quickly with concerns about class inequality. Lady Molly and her companion in the Female Department were quick to dismiss men's attitudes and achievements, but the story was equally quick to villainize women of the lower-classes for greed and for sexual promiscuity—"slut shaming" them, as one of my students put it.

Much of this discussion came to a head this week as we discussed Nancy Drew—everyone's favorite girl sleuth (or nearly everyone's; see SleuthSayer B.K. Stevens' terrific dissent here).

As an icon perhaps even more than as a character, Nancy can—and certainly has—been celebrated from a number of feminist perspectives, from her first appearance still in the shadow of the 19th Amendment's ratification (just a decade before) and right up til today. As Priya Jain writes in her 2005 Salon essay "The Mystery of a Feminist Icon," Nancy was "a model citizen with a perfect balance of toughness and femininity, an icon of independence and poise. As such, she has provided a connective thread between the six generations of girls she has ushered into adulthood." And Jain links Nancy's "smarts, pluck and independence" to the passions of the first Carolyn Keene, ghost-writer Mildred Wirt, "a young college graduate filled with the ideals of suffrage and the women’s movement."

As a class discussing The Mystery at Lilac Inn, we worked through the ways in which Nancy could be considered a valuable role model (and, Bonnie, you'll be pleased to know that one student did ask, "But isn't that a lot of pressure to put on the girls reading this?"), and we circled again around that word "progressive" in terms of the images and messages in the text. But at the same time, we couldn't help but be aware of the hints of conservatism lurking at the book's core—those parallel messages about upper-middle-class values, nostalgia for the past (look what's being done to the Lilac Inn!), about respectability and social grace and unerring etiquette.

We read the 1961 edition of the book, but I also brought in the original 1930 text—almost completely different. (In case readers here don't know, the original books were rewritten beginning in 1959, so for most of us, the Nancy Drew books we grew up on were not the original Nancy Drews.) In that 1930 version, not only are class issues more evident but—perhaps hand in hand—so are some unpalatable references to race and ethnicity. When Nancy is tasked with hiring a new housekeeper to temporarily replace Hannah Gruen (called away by a sister's illness), Nancy first interviews a "colored woman" ("dirty and slovenly in appearance and [with] an unpleasant way of shuffling her feet"), then the next morning an Irish woman ("even worse than the one that came yesterday") and a "Scotch lassie" ("she hadn't a particle of experience and knew little about cooking"). Later in that edition, the villains are revealed to be working class, uneducated, and mostly dark-complexioned; one is distinguished by a "hooked nose."

What's most interesting here isn't necessarily the racial/ethnic prejudices—signs of those times, one might argue—or the fact that these were revised away in the 1961 edition, there already in the midst of the Civil Rights Era (and the Cold War too, my students pointed out, noting that Nancy in 1961 also keeps criminals from selling secrets to enemy agents). Instead, what's possibly most interesting is that Wirt in 1994, in an introduction to a reprint of the original Mystery at Lilac Inn, stressed that "judging from reader letters, [Nancy] never was offensive" in the same paragraph where she talks—without explanation—about the books being rewritten beginning in the late 1950s.

...all of which brought us back to our earlier discussions of C.L. Pirkis and Baroness Orczy and Pauline Hopkins and to the assumptions underlying those discussions that the authors were intentionally or strategically challenging gender stereotypes. But were they always? And even where statements about gender issues seemed explicit—as with Lady Molly and the assertions about the Female Department's superiority—was the author aware of the negative attitudes toward lower classes crying out from elsewhere in the text? Were those latter messages explicitly intended as commentary on class, or was the author simply blind to how her views (and prejudices) had snuck into the writing?

In short, I guess, how can you tell when a writer is commenting on the values of her era—and when she's simply reflecting them?

And to flip this around, how many of us writing today are explicitly championing certain values in our work—and how many of us are unaware of the values we're revealing in those same works?

A good discussion in class on these topics—and I hope maybe a good discussion ahead here.

27 October 2016

A Celtic Halloween

When you say folk music in America, the first thing that comes to most people's mind is Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and music that's a mixture of politics and sweet ballads. Folk music in Britain? Try some of the dark stuff. You want to know how to cheat the Fairy Queen? Kill a monster or two? Go crazy? Be killed by a werefox? Try old British folk songs.

Back in 1969, a British group called Fairport Convention issued their fourth album, called "Liege and Lief". It's been credited as the beginning of the "British folk rock" movement, and in 2006 it was voted "Most Influential Folk Album of All Time". I love this album, because it's chock full of traditional British and Celtic folk material, done with an edge and a steel guitar. And the amazing vocals of Sandy Denny.   Let's just say it makes for a good, alternative Halloween sound track.

My personal favorite on Liege & Lief is Reynardine. Listen to it here:

A Scarfolk Council-issued card to remind you you're always being followed."Your beauty so enticed me
I could not pass it by
So it's with my gun I'll guard you
All on the mountains high."
"And if by chance you should look for me
Perhaps you'll not me find
For I'll be in my castle
Inquire for Reynardine."
Sun and dark, she followed him
His teeth did brightly shine
And he led her above mountains
Did that sly old Reynardine

And, to prove that fairy tales can come true, they can happen to you, try this (fairly obscure) movie by Neil Jordan, "In the Company of Wolves", starring Angela Lansbury as Granny, who tells her granddaughter Rosaleen stories about werewolves, wolves, innocent girls, dangerous strangers, and full moons... (See the trailer below:)

Back to Fairport Convention and the eerie "Crazy Man Michael":

Pair that with Francis Ford Coppola's "Dementia 13", set in an Irish castle, and you'll probably check under the bed at night.  And lock all the doors.  Maybe burn a little sage...

Of course, sometimes they aren't crazy.  In "Grabbers", directed by Jon Wright, a small rural Irish village is taken over by monstrous sea creatures who love the typical Irish day:  constant rain and drizzle.  The creatures are killing off as many people as they possibly can, as gruesomely as possible. But they have one weakness – alcohol. If you're drunk, they can't kill you.  So, the whole village takes to steady drinking...  Laughs, gore, and terror, what more can you ask for?

The remainder of the instructional booklet, complete with a helpful quiz.A poster from a Scarfolk Council anti-people campaign.
BTW, all the photos above are from "Scarfolk, England's creepiest fake town,".  A big shout out to AtlasObscura.com for a great article.  Check out, also:
Carmilla, the first vampire story by Sheridan LeFanu
The Essential Guide to Living Lovecraft
Traveling Thru Transylvania with Dracula
Satan's Subliminal Rock Music Messages

Finally, two things:  first of all from Pink Floyd, a wonderful song that is, perhaps, the Addams Family lullaby, "Careful with that Axe, Eugene":

And for a last video, check out Michael Mann's 1983 movie, "The Keep".  It is World War II in German-occupied Romania. Nazi soldiers have been sent to garrison a mysterious fortress, but a nightmarish discovery is soon made. The Keep was not built to keep anything out. The massive structure was, in fact built to keep something in...

Happy Halloween!

26 October 2016

Beam Me Up, Scotty

We had a lot of sailors in town earlier this month. It was Fleet Week, here in Baltimore. Saturday and Sunday, events were capped off with an air show featuring the Blue Angels. I don't know about you, but F-18's doing 600 knots, right down on the deck? There's something purely atavistic going on, the warrior gene, maybe, all that brute hardware, so disciplined and graceful.

The really big deal, though, at least from the Navy's point of view, was the commissioning of the USS Zumwalt. It's a stealth warship, the first of a new destroyer class. There have been some issueswhich leave room for discussion.

First, some background. People of a certain age might remember Elmo Zumwalt, who was Chief of Naval Operations in the early 1970's. Zumwalt did his best to drag the US Navy, kicking and screaming, into the 19th century - with mixed results. He wasn't universally admired at the time. You have to realize the Navy has always been the most traditional, not to say hidebound, of the services. The admirals resist systemic change. They've probably waxed nostalgic on occasion for press gangs, rum, and flogging. Bud Zumwalt seriously tried to alter course, and combat the Navy's institutional racism and dogged resistance to women serving in billets previously restricted to men. His other major legacy is the Perry-class guided missile frigate.
Back to the destroyer Zumwalt. These are larger ships than the conventional destroyer, displacing half again the tonnage - sorry for the techspeak - but designed to have a very low radar profile. You can see how different the hull shape is, looking at pictures, and the inverted bow. The superstructure's unconventional, no visible bridge or even antenna array. It's built to be frictionless in the electronic sense, with no recognizable signature. They say its footprint on a scope is the size of a torpedo boat.
As you can imagine, the R&D wasn't without problems. Much of the modern battlefield is digitally rendered, and we have the example of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, whose development has been characterized as "acquisition malpractice." USS Zumwalt followed a path originally charted back in 1994, for a new class of surface combatant ships. The goalposts moved, budgets were cut, different war-fighting doctrines found or lost favor - in other words, there was twenty years of whose ox is gored. Given the necessary compromises, it's some kind of miracle that the Zumwalt was built (although there will only be three of them, in the end), and launched, and went through sea trials, and is actually entering service. It is, everybody admits, a real Space Age vessel.
It's a nice irony, I was taking pains to point out, that Elmo Zumwalt, a CNO who was so vigorously opposed on so many levels inside the Navy (not too many old salts pissed off Hyman Rickover and lived to tell the tale), gets the ship of the near future named after him. It's appropriate, though. He would have gotten a kick out of it.

Also appropriate. USS Zumwalt, the ship of the future, is skippered by a Navy captain named James Kirk. I kid you not. The guy has a sense of humor. At the Zumwalt's commissioning ceremony, Capt. Kirk said to the crowd, "Live Long and Prosper."

That's him.

25 October 2016

How to Kick @ss: Janet Evanovich

by Melissa Yi

Who debuts at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, handles up to 3000 fans at her signings, and sustains three million hits on her website per month?
Yep. The one, the only Janet Evanovich.
Here are six tips from her singular career:

1. You can be a late bloomer.

Janet’s first book was published in her early forties. In a BookPage interview, she said, "In that respect, I think I'm a great role model for my children. I have shown them that you are never to old to try something new.”
Isn’t that terrific? Usually, you hear about how you’re over the hill if you haven’t started creating masterpieces by age six, like Mozart.

2. But figure out your weaknesses, and improve on them.

In an interview with Island Packet, Janet said that because she was trained as an artist instead of a writer, her dialogue “was very stiff and boring. But I had a friend who was doing acting classes, so I joined one of the improv classes that she was doing. What we do as writers is very similar to what actors do.”

3. Learn the writing business

In Mystery Scene, Janet recommends
a) Romance Writers of America. Even if you don’t write a romance, she says RWA is “a very nurturing organization for establishing peers, for learning skills, for getting market information.”
b) Sisters in Crime
c) Publishers Weekly “to see what’s going on. You want to look at the bestseller lists and see what people are reading and enjoying, and see if you can stay in front of the curve.”
She says that learning the business helped her figure out that her timing was perfect. “I came in on top of the wave…right behind the crest of the wave—Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky—and I rode that in. And I think that’s important when you’re starting out to understand where the market is going and see if you can look to the future, see if you’re riding a wave—if a wave exists.”

4. Work hard.

She told BookPage, “I’m just a boring workaholic. I motivate myself to write by spending the money I make before it comes in.”
In Janet’s book, How I write, she describes this schedule:

 Weekdays: 05:15-14:00 Write
14:00: Business (phone calls, mail, publicity, website work with daughter etc.)
1-2 hours of exercise “in the middle of the day”

Write in the morning only
Afternoon/evening: fun

On a book deadline: writing 24/7

Mystery Scene

5. Love your fans.

As she told Mystery Scene, “I didn’t want to be an author in an ivory tower. Maybe it’s the mother in me, but I think of my readers as an extended family.”
Her website has contests and polls every month, and readers can submit photos of their pets.
Because so many people come to her signings, they can get bracelets so they don’t have to wait in line for hours, and she makes the signings an event, “because if somebody is going to be driving for four or five hours to come see me, we should have something interesting for them to see. For a couple of cities, we brought in a live band, and this year in New York, I dragged a friend of mine, Lance Storm the wrestler, onstage with me to take his shirt off and read Joe Morelli, and because you can’t have a WWE wrestler without a slut, my daughter volunteered to be the slut of the night.”

6. Team up to make the best work possible.

Janet involves her whole family in her business. She told the Island Packet,“My son (Peter) is my agent. He's very detail oriented. My daughter (Alex) interfaces with my publisher and handles all the online stuff and social media. My husband, Pete, manages all aspects of the business and tries to keep me on time. It's great.”
Janet talked to Forbes about pairing up with popular authors like Lee Goldberg, Charlotte Hughes, Dorien Kelly, and Leanne Banks, so she can offer more books for her readers. “I like being able to provide consistent and frequent literary choices for my fans. Since I can barely write two books a year the best solution seems to be co-author projects. My goal isn’t to get another writer to clone me …it’s more to produce a book that shares my vision of positive, fun entertainment.”