10 November 2016

The Worst Thing on the Worst Day

by Eve Fisher

I had an interesting weekend back in October.  My friends and I went to see Don Giovanni.
(Live in HD at our local theater, thanks to the Metropolitan Opera!, AND a great shout-out to Simon Keenlyside, who did the best Don Giovanni I've ever seen.  Wow!)
Then the next night, we watched the PBS Documentary on the making of Hamilton, the Musical. Another excellent choice, and I really hope to see the musical itself some day.
HINT:  There is a connection between these two...
Jonathan Edwards,
Puritan Divine and
Aaron  Burr's grandfather
During the special on "Hamilton", Leslie Odom, Jr. spoke about playing Aaron Burr, and how he could relate to him, offering that you can't "judge a man by the worst thing he does on the worst day of his life..."  At which point I turned to my husband and said, "Yes, but shooting Hamilton wasn't the worst thing Burr did on the worst day of his life."

I can say that, because dueling was common back then:  Burr fought other duels besides the one with Hamilton; Hamilton's son died fighting a duel (not with Burr); future President Andrew Jackson fought in 103 duels.  So, no, the duel is not the worst thing that Burr ever did.

Aaron Burr (1756-1836) was an interesting man of true New England aristocracy.  Not because of wealth, but because of his bloodline.  He was the grandson of Jonathan Edwards, the great Puritan Divine who wrote "Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God" (a good read for Halloween, and I should have thought of it earlier).  His extreme defense of the most extreme form of Calvinist Predestination terrified people.  They trembled, wept, sobbed, and screamed for mercy in the pews, and this turned into The Great Awakening of 1733-35, the first and perhaps greatest revival in American history. Mr. Edwards eventually became the first president of what would become Princeton University; Burr's father, also a Calvinist minister, was the second.

But both of these men were dead by the time he was 2 years old.  Burr and his sister Sally were taken in by their 21 year-old maternal uncle Timothy Edwards in 1759.  Burr was well educated, and got his BA at 16, and studied theology for 3 years with the noted hard-core Calvinist of his day, Joseph Bellamy. By all accounts, it didn't take. (See below.)  He quit and went to study law with his brother-in-law. He got to Connecticut as Lexington and Concord, and Burr joined the Continental Army.

Burr served well:  he saved an entire brigade from capture after the British landing on Manhattan - but George Washington did not commend him. Nor would he promote Burr to brigadier general, writing, "By all that I have known and heard, Colonel Burr is a brave and able officer, but the question is whether he has not equal talents at intrigue." Ouch.  (No, Washington did not give his reasons.)

After the war, Burr (now married to Theodosia, a widow, by whom he had a daughter, his beloved Theodosia) became a lawyer and went into New York politics. Tammany Hall was already up and running and put him on the Democratic-Republican presidential ticket of 1800 with Thomas Jefferson. The two running mates didn't like each other, but Jefferson needed Burr to get the New York/urban electoral vote. (Electors were chosen by the states' legislatures back then.) But Jefferson neither liked nor trusted Burr to begin with, and it only got worse.

Burr.jpg Jefferson won the popular vote over John Adams, about 41,000 to 26,000 votes.

But the electors told a different story. Back then, every elector could vote for two people as long as they didn't come from the same state as the elector (thereby supposedly cutting down on corruption). Whoever got the most votes became president. Now it was understood, in the 1800 election, that Jefferson was to be President, Burr Vice President. But in the Electoral College vote, Jefferson and Burr came out tied, 73 electoral votes each. This threw the election into the House of Representatives, where it deadlocked for 11 days and 35 ballots, as the Federalist party (who hated Jefferson) tried to make Aaron Burr President.  Read more HERE.)

And Aaron Burr just sat there. He didn't say, "Oh, but Jefferson was the one running for Presdient,"; he didn't decline the honor; he didn't urge everyone to do what they knew was the right thing to do; he sat there and smiled and waited. This might have been the worst thing that Burr did on the worst day(s), because it was cold-blooded betrayal based on monumental ambition, and BTW, shook everyone's faith in the workings of this newborn democracy.

He lost, but only because Hamilton - no friend AT ALL to Jefferson - told his Federalist friends to support Jefferson because he was "by far not so dangerous a man" as Burr. Better someone with the wrong principles than none at all.
NOTE: Yes, this added to the Hamilton-Burr feud, which went back to their days working for Washington.  But part of Hamilton's opposition to Burr was the little matter that Aaron Burr had lied to Hamilton and other Federalists about founding a bank. He said he was going to set up a badly needed water supply company for Manhattan. As soon as he got the backing, he secretly changed the charter to include banking; as soon as it was approved, there was no water company, only a bank. What made this really hurt was that the lousy water led to a malaria epidemic.
NOTE: The 1800 election is what led to the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, which calls for each elector to vote for a President AND a Vice President on their ballot; no more "guess which one wins what spot" politicking.
The Burr-Hamilton duel came in 1804, and 1805 was the end of Burr's Vice Presidency. It was a good time to get out of town, and he went to the Ohio River Valley (which was the Western frontier back then), and started acquiring land and raising a private militia. Later, Burr claimed that he was making preparations for war with Spain. When word got back to Jefferson, he ordered Burr arrested, and he was, twice, and acquitted, twice. But then a whole bunch of correspondence came out which showed that Burr was trying to get a lot of money, help Mexico overthrow Spanish power in the Southwest, and set up his own dynasty.

Burr stood trial for treason in 1807, under Chief Justice of the United States John Marshall. He was acquitted because treason requires direct witnesses, and there weren't any. He immediately fled to Europe and lived there until 1812. He spent his time soliciting funding for a conquest of Mexico (didn't get it), and pursuing women. Lots of women.  He described his pursuits and encounters in great detail, both in his journals and in his letters home to Theodosia, with dozens of women (now do you understand the Don Juan connection?).
Theodosia Burr Alston,
Aaron Burr's daughter
BTW, I can understand the journals, but writing his daughter about his sexual prowess seems... inappropriate? to say the least...
NOTE:   Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote far more about New England life and history than about slavery, made Aaron Burr a major character in her 1859 novel "The Minister's Wooing," portraying him as a Don Juan type, but also as being damaged by an extreme Calvinist upbringing.  She also continued the legend that Theodosia - who at 29 was lost at sea in 1813 - was actually "taken by pirates and [died] amid untold horrors" and said that in all of Burr's post-1800 years "one seems to see in a doom so much above that of other men the power of an avenging Nemesis for sins beyond those of ordinary humanity."
To be fair, Burr believed women to be intellectually equal to men:  he educated Theodosia extremely well, and he submitted a bill to the New York legislature to give women the vote.  He also fought to abolish slavery immediately after the Revolutionary War.  He was generous financially, often to complete strangers, especially women and children. Still, almost all of his contemporaries, and most historians, have agreed that Aaron Burr was ruled by massive self-interest, and ambition.

Image result for simon keenlyside don giovanni
Simon Keenlyside as
Don Giovanni,
(thanks to the Met);
but with the pistol...
Aaron Burr?
Alexander Hamilton:  "Mr. Jefferson, though too revolutionary in his notions, is yet a lover of liberty and will be desirous of something like orderly Government – Mr. Burr loves nothing but himself – thinks of nothing but his own aggrandizement – and will be content with nothing short of permanent power [struck: and] in his own hands – No compact, that he should make with any [struck: other] passion in his [struck:own] breast except [struck: his] Ambition, could be relied upon by himself – How then should we be able to rely upon any agreement with him? Mr. Jefferson, I suspect will not dare much Mr. Burr will dare every thing in the sanguine hope of effecting every thing –"   Quoted from HERE

John Quincy Adams:   "Burr's life, take it all together, was such as in any country of sound morals his friends would be desirous of burying in quiet oblivion."

Aaron Burr:  "The rule of my life is to make business a pleasure, and pleasure my business."

09 November 2016

Old Mortality

by David Edgerley Gates

I don't imagine Sir Walter Scott is much read these days. Back in high school, for some of us, IVANHOE was on the reading list, maybe QUENTIN DURWARD or THE TALISMAN. All three of them were made into pretty successful movies, in the 1950's - romantic swashbucklers, not particularly credible, I admit, but incredibly rousing.  


His reputation now perhaps in disrepair, Scott in his lifetime was quite possibly the most widely read novelist in English, and maybe in translation. He's the first brand-name author, at least in trade publishing as we know it. He falls somewhere between Shakespeare and Dickens. not just chronologically, but in how he inhabited the popular imagination. If you look at expressions that have entered out common vocabulary, the Bible of course comes first, with Shakespeare a close second, then Dickens, and then Scott, you might be surprised to realize. The rest of us are back in the pack. Shakespeare, Dickens, and Scott. They're the most-quoted writers in the English language, although more than half the time, nobody's consciously quoting them. Something rotten in the state of Denmark. The best of times, the worst of times. Every dog has his day. Recognize the source? A lot of us wouldn't. They've become commonplaces, There's an interesting transition with the generic. Years ago, Xerox fought bitterly against their name being used as a synonym for copying - "let's Xerox it" - and Rollerblades has done it too, more recently, calling it trademark infringement. Fridgidaire once tried the same thing. Hard to see Dickens complaining about being Uriah Heep'd - it gave him legs.

Shakespeare and Dickens both set out, from the starting blocks, to be rich and famous. Neither of them came from privileged backgrounds, and their ticket to stardom was their skill as writers. Scott had more advantages. He was well-educated, and read for the law. Writing was at first an avocation, not a career. And neither was he drawn to commercial genres. He was fascinated by the Borders, the bloody history, the clan feuds and the religious wars, the Covenanter Rebellion and, later, the doomed Stuarts. His first book was a collection of Border ballads. He'd met Robert Burns when he was fifteen, and it had decided him on being a poet.

Let's be plain about this. Poetry was a gentlemen's profession. It was literature. In the early 1800's, the novel was below the salt. They were written for women, and not to be taken seriously - some obvious irony, here. Scott launched the novel in a new direction. The first of his historicals, WAVERLY, was published in 1814, and it took off like a rocket. I don't think Scott anticipated its success. He wanted to popularize the Jacobite legend, and maybe at the same time, bring it down to earth, make it accessible but show it for the folly it was.

Scott tapped into a hungry audience. They were waiting for it. He
was the missing piece, and he hit the market at exactly the right time, although he hadn't calculated for it. The early books were simply gobbled up.  Of those novels, my own opinion, the best is OLD MORTALITY, which has a political and moral complexity Scott never pulled off again. Yeah, the hero's kind of an insipid boob, but the heavies are jaw-dropping, the Royalist general Claverhouse and the Presbyterian assassin Burley. Think, perhaps, of the IRA Provos, or Islamic fanatics. OLD MORTALITY is deep in those dark woods.  

Scott didn't trade on his celebrity. It was an open secret in Edinburgh literary circles who the so-called Author of Waverly was, but his name never appeared on the title pages of his novels. A quaint convention? Maybe. He put his name to THE LADY OF THE LAKE, which sold like hotcakes, but it was of course epic poetry.

And then the inevitable happens. Scott's success catches up with him. It isn't hubris, or over-reaching, but his publisher, James Ballantyne, goes down. Scott has been a silent partner in the business for years, and his books have supported Ballantyne's bad business decisions. Scott could have thrown them over the side, but he's way too honorable for that. They declare bankruptcy, Scott writes them out of debt, and it kills him, at 61.

This is an over-simplified version of a complicated story. I admire the fact that Scott took responsibility. It speaks to the man. but the later stuff isn't that good, with the exception of ST. RONAN'S WELL, which is patently playing to the romance market, Austen and Bronte, and Scott doesn't shy away from admitting it. 


Seriously, can you envision anybody doing this, in the present predatory publishing climate? I think it's astonishing. The guy's loyal to an old friend, who's been a fool, but not devious. The guy believes that his good name, and his legacy, is more valuable than immediate profit. The guy wants to finish an enormously ambitious building project, Abbotsford, but he won't mortgage his reputation. In other words, Scott's willing to break his ass, and risk his physical health, to make good on his debt to history. I'm not at all sure we could meet that bar.  


08 November 2016

Election Day short stories

by Barb Goffman

I hope you'll excuse me for this short post. As I write this on Monday, the 7th, I'm on day twenty of bronchitis, and while I'm improving, I'm certainly not well.

I hope you'll all celebrate with me, too, because as you read this, it's Election Day, i.e., the end of what feels like the longest election season ever. While we all hope our own candidates will win, in the end, some people will be disappointed, but I hope we can all work to come together in the coming days for the good of ourselves and our nation.

One way to come together is to talk about a common love--short stories. And on this day, it seems perfect to focus on ones involving elections.

I've written one short story involving an election, "Ulterior Motives," which appeared in the anthology Ride 2, published in 2012. (This is an anthology series all about bicycles.) When asked to describe the story back then, I wrote: In "Ulterior Motives" a teenage girl finds herself in danger when she gets involved in a local civic campaign and learns that in politics, everyone has an ulterior motive.

My editor came up with his own description of the story: There's a mystery in this small town, and a secret, and a teenaged girl at the middle of it all who doesn't think the adults around her understand much. Which maybe they don't.

I got the idea for this story from a sad real-life event. Back in 2012, I read about a county in Oregon that was having such money problems, it had to cut back on its policing, with officers on patrol only a few hours each day. And because of the cutbacks, police might not respond to every call, including burglaries, the article said. Well, that got my writer's wheels spinning, and "Ulterior Motives" was born. The story involves a local campaign to get a bond issue on the ballot to fund a sheriff's department in similar straits to the real-life Oregon county. It may sound like a dry topic, but the story is told from the point of view of a teenage girl who cares very much about what happens, and she does her best to make an impact on the campaign. There's humor and danger and, hopefully, everything readers want in a mystery short story. I'm particularly proud of this story because of its local nature. So many political mysteries involve presidential elections. Not too many short stories that I know of involve local campaigns, which can have such a profound impact on day-to-day living. (If I'm wrong on this point, I hope you'll let me know, sharing story information in the comments.)

One other political short story (okay, it's a novella) worth mentioning here is by fellow SleuthSayer B.K. Stevens. The story is "One Shot." This description of the story is from B.K.'s website:


 When rising politician Karen Dodd pushes through the toughest gun-control bill in Ohio’s history, she thinks it’s her ticket to the governor’s office. But soon after she announces her candidacy, on the day she’s slated to receive an award from a gun-control organization, Karen Dodd is found dead in her comfortable suburban home, one bullet through her heart.

Okay, so that's two short stories perfect for Election Day. I hope you'll check them out, and I hope you'll share your favorite Election Day short stories in the comments. In the meanwhile, happy reading. And go vote!





07 November 2016

Fact or Fiction?

Sleuthsayers is delighted to welcome our newest member, Steve Liskow, an award-winning writer who has been a finalist for both the Shamus and the Edgar and has taken home the Black Orchid Prize. His short stories have appeared in Vengeance, the MWA anthology edited by Lee Child, and in Level Best Books’ anthologies.

A retired high school English teacher, Steve experienced what he terms a “horrible experience” with a traditional house. “I bailed as soon as I could without a financial penalty,” Steve says.

In addition to his writing, Steve is a keen guitar player with a special passion for early blues. A number of his mystery titles reflect his musical enthusiasms, including his newest, featuring Detroit PI Chris “Woody” Guthrie, Dark Gonna Catch Me Here and the earlier novels, The Kids Are All Right and Cherry Bomb.

In addition to writing, Steve does editing and conducts fiction workshops. Check out his fine web site, www.SteveLiskow.com and his October 1st appearance on the Jungle Red Writers blog site, where he writes about music and his writing.

Welcome aboard, Steve!


— Janice Law

by Steve Liskow

First of all, let me thank Rob, Leigh, Janice and everyone else for making me feel so welcome here. I hope I don't embarrass them too much.

When I'm conducting a writing workshop or a signing, people often ask me where I get my ideas. I often start with an idea generated by a real event, but I seldom stay with that. Laura Lippman cites real incidents as the seed for several of her novels, including What the Dead Know and After I'm Gone. She stresses that once the original idea occurs, practically everything else changes.

Alafair Burke's The Ex uses a back-story that reminds me of Adam Lanza, who invaded a Connecticut elementary school in 2012 and killed twenty-six teachers and first-graders. Many other writers have used similar starting points, and there's a cottage industry in stories involving fictionalized visions of Jack the Ripper. My own novel Run Straight Down was inspired by teaching in an inner-city high school when one of my students was killed by a rival gang. Nothing in that novel resembles the real story. I even changed the name of the town.

Why?

I don't like to remember that the boy was shot directly below my classroom window. Many other people who were involved are still alive, and examining the case would be a horrible intrusion into their lives, too. In fact, when I was still considering writing the novel, I met attorney-turned-novelist William Landay at a conference, and as soon as he knew that people involved in the case still lived in the area, he said, "Fictionalize it." End of discussion.

Most horrific crimes don't shed much light on the human condition anyway. By and large, the perpetrators are bad people who have been in trouble because of their won stupidity or addiction or some other pathology for most of their lives. Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook killer, had been identified as unstable for years and his parents had not heeded warnings. The killer in the Cheshire (CT) home invasion in 2007 were career criminals who had spent major portions of their lives in jail, rehab, or both. Six people died in the Donna Lee Bakery massacre (New Britain, CT, 1974) because the killers planned to rob a liquor store, but the owner felt ill and closed early. The bakery was next door. Again, through my teaching job, I had a two-degree connection to three of those six victims...and the owner of the liquor store was the father of one of my students.

The only case I know that became a major literary event involves Amy Archer-Gilligan, who ran a nursing home about twenty miles from where I live now. She poisoned several residents and was eventually acquitted of murder by reason of insanity. Her story became the basis of the famous play Arsenic and Old Lace, which keeps nothing of the original story except the arsenic.

The only other "true" stories I think about at all are Capote's In Cold Blood, which is as much fiction as fact but invented an entire genre all by itself, and Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City. Larson's research is staggering, but his story-telling skills are even better.

Basically, the problem with writing "true crime" is similar to writing a biography. No matter how much research you do, you're still guessing. WHY did this person do this NOW? Why THIS victim? Why did Mozart produce such beautiful music while we consider Salieri a musical joke and someone else with a similar background can't even whistle? Why could Shakespeare write nearly forty plays, the worst of which is still worth reading, while better-educated people with more leisure time can't fill a page? We don't know.

Facts are messy and may not prove anything, but when we move them around and sand down rough edges, we can create the characters and events that develop a logical or emotional point. That's why mysteries or crime fiction or detective stories or whatever you want to call them will always be popular. We want an answer that works. Whether it's Sherlock Holmes or Harry Bosch solving the crime, we want to believe things happen for a reason and the world makes sense.

It's fun to take a real case and fictionalize it to she what "might" have been. The Bobby Fuller killing (Remember "I Fought the Law and the Law Won" in 1966?) is still open 49 years later, but it inspired the film Eddie and the Cruisers. My own novel Blood On the Tracks used a cold case about a dead rock singer, too. I didn't even realize I was channeling the case until one of my guitar-playing friends asked me about it.

So, if you want to talk to me about a "true story," just give me a sentence or two and get out of the way. No, I won't split the profits (Profits, ha-ha-ha) because you may not even recognize your story when I finish with it.

Shakespeare's histories are anything but history, and while Macbeth really existed, little of the story is accurate. King James claimed he was descended from Banquo in the play, but my research never turned up anyone by that name. Shakespeare wrote the play to flatter his king. He was one of the first people to show us that facts can get in the way of a good story.

It's a lesson most writers take to heart.

06 November 2016

The Accountant

by Leigh Lundin

Suspend disbelief. Suspend disbelief… Feel sleepy, very sleepy… Count backward from zero, suspend disbelief, accountancy is not boring…


A couple of weeks ago when I found myself at loose ends, my friend Geri and I went to see The Accountant. We… were… surprisingly impressed.

A mere 50% of film critics gave it a thumbs-up, but (IMDB IMHO) audiences got it right– 85% liked it, giving it an A on an A+—F scale. Why the huge gap? Most of the critics couldn’t buy the concept of an autistic, kick-boxing/kick-ass accountant. The film– trust me in this– makes the premise painless.

The Accountant contains a surprisingly intelligent plot for a film surfeited with low-brow violent action. This is not a movie for children although one critic suggested it gives autistic kids their own superhero. Think Bruce Wayne gone totally bats. Or Bruce Willis… either works.

The superhero feel might not be a fluke. It appears Warner Bros may have worked out a deal with DC comics. See animated prequel below.

One Ben Affleck scene might flip stomachs, a scene that features the protagonist in his own bedroom fighting his demons. As a couple of characters discuss, it’s impossible to argue the story doesn’t glorify violence. The saving grace is the Accountant’s moral code.

A Puzzling Error


A couple of times in the screenplay the question arises, “Do you like puzzles?”

Me personally, yes, as readers might recall from past columns. One scene in the film raised a flag, although I didn’t tumble to the reason until I later replayed it in my mind. It dawned on me that the dialogue included a classic puzzle. Surprisingly for a movie about math, they got it wrong. I won’t give away the error, but listen carefully when the Accountant mentions he’d lived in 34 locations in 17 years.

The Prequel

05 November 2016

Tales From the Dark Side


by Michael Bracken



NOTE: I'm pleased today to welcome my friend and 2016 Golden Derringer Award recipient Michael Bracken as a guest blogger. Although Michael has written several books, he is better known as the author of more than 1200 short stories published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery MagazineCrime SquareEllery Queen's Mystery MagazineEspionage MagazineFifty Shades of Grey FedoraFlesh & Blood: Guilty as SinMike Shayne Mystery Magazine, and many other anthologies and periodicals. He has received two Derringer Awards, was nominated for a third, and has earned several awards for advertising copywriting. Stories from anthologies he edited have been short-listed for the Anthony, Derringer, Edgar, and Shamus awards. He lives, writes, and edits in Texas. Learn more at www.CrimeFictionWriter.com and CrimeFictionWriter.blogspot.com. As always, it's great to have you here, Michael! -- John Floyd





I don't discuss editing near as often as I discuss writing, but my editing career stretches back almost as far as my writing career. My first published writing was a poem in my junior high school's literary magazine when I was in the 9th grade. My editing career began two years later with a science fiction fanzine my best friend and I started when we were high school juniors. I then edited my high school newspaper as a senior, continued editing and publishing my fanzine for several years post-high school, and later edited several company and organization newsletters.

For many years now I have been editor of a weekly newsletter, managing editor of a bi-monthly consumer magazine, and an editor for a monthly tabloid newspaper. Additionally, I have edited eight crime fiction anthologies (five published and three cancelled prior to publication) and one essay collection.

Editing Knights, the fanzine Joe Walter and I started in 11th grade, brought my first contact with professional writers. I published regular columns by Grant Carrington, Charles L. Grant, and Thomas F. Monteleone, and work by Robert Bloch, Algis Budrys, David Gerrold, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and many other writers who were then, or later became, widely published science fiction, fastasy, and horror authors. These are the writers--especially Grant, Charlie, and Tom--who taught me by example what it meant to be a professional writer.

I have tried, as a writer, to live up to the standards of professionalism these writers exemplified. As an editor, I wish other writers did the same.

Though I don't have any sordid tales of debauchery to share from the dark side of the editor's desk, I do find that too many writers and would-be writers stumble over fundamental aspects of professionalism. Following are a few examples of how:

Plagiarism. In a word: Don't. Several years ago, a regular contributor to one of the publications I edit submitted an article that included a quotation from a famous play. As part of my editing responsibilities, I searched for the proper attribution (author, play, act, scene, line) and discovered instead that the quote was but a small part of a significant portion of the article that had been lifted verbatim from another source. When confronted about this apparent plagiarism, the writer provided many excuses for the grievous failing. Though I sometimes see that writer's byline in other publications, that writer no longer contributes to the publication I edit, nor will that writer ever contribute to any other publication I may edit in the future.

Failing to withdraw work accepted elsewhere. Within the past year, I prepared an article for publication, all the way from initial editing through page layout. While in the process of determining how best to illustrate the article, I learned it had been published in a non-paying online publication a few days earlier. The article was removed from my publication's production schedule and replaced with another. Not only did this writer lose income, but it is unlikely the publication for which I edit will ever again consider this writer's work.

Failing to incude contact information. Writers frequently fail to provide complete contact information (name, address, phone number, and email address) on their manuscripts. During the production process, email attachments often get separated from submission emails, so that, even if this information is provided in the body of the original email, I have a difficult time tracking it down several months after submission when the work is slated for publication.

Worse, though, is what happened recently. An article made it all the way through to publication. When it came time to pay the writer, we discovered that the only contact information we had on hand--after searching through a year's worth of emails--was the writer's email address, and the writer has not responded to any emails we've sent requesting a mailing address. For this failing, the writer might never be paid.

Submitting sloppy manuscripts. Though I rail against sloppy manuscripts as often as possible, this transgression is irritating rather than career threatening.

I edit far more non-fiction than fiction, so I work with many contributors who are not writers. They are, instead, professionals for whom writing is a secondary task. I have worked with manuscripts prepared using a variety of fonts, a variety of font sizes, a variety of paragraph indents (or no indents at all), and which violate every "rule" of proper manuscript preparation (see this link.)

Part of my job as an editor is to reformat all of these mss. before they are put into the production pipeline. To avoid irritating your editors, consider following these manuscript guidelines:

1. Put your name, address, phone number, and email address on the manuscript itself.

2. Number pages using Word's Header/Footer command.

3. Be consistent. For example: However you indent your paragraphs, indent every paragraph the same way. However many spaces you put between sentences, put the same number of spaces between all sentences. However you indicate an em-dash, indicate an em-dash the same way every time. And so on.

In the end, remember that editors are striving to produce publications that attract readers, and you are striving to produce work for editors that will do just that. So, treat your editors and your work with a high level of professionalism. If you do, you should avoid ever providing the examples someone like me uses to frighten new writers.






04 November 2016

What's in a Title?

by O'Neil De Noux

What's in a title? Well, just about everything to a writer because the title's the first thing a reader sees after the cover image.

How many times have you asked yourself, "What was the name of that book?" It was Blood-something or Fatal-something or something that sounds like a lot of other books. You don't want your title easily forgotten. Make your title memorable.

Walker Percy said, "A good title should intrigue, without being too baffling or too obvious." He's right of course.

So where do we get our titles?

Within the story is one way. As we write our stories we sometimes create an excellent line that identifies our story completely. So while we write, look for a title. Some examples are Harlan Ellison's "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream" and C. L. Moore's "Shambleau." I did it it with THE BIG KISS, THE FRENCH DETECTIVE and HOLD ME, BABE.

 
Harlan Ellison                        James Lee Burke

Go to the BIBLE for titles or Shakespeare, Greek tragedies and other classics. These are rich resources and in the public domain. Examples are James Lee Burke's A STAINED WHITE RADIANCE from Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ray Bradbury's SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES from MACBETH, John Steinbeck's THE GRAPES OF WRATH from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."  I got the title of my story "Cruelty the Human Heart" from THE DIVINE IMAGE by Williams Blake. That particular story is in the American Literature textbook used at the nine universities of the University of Louisiana system.

Sometimes a title can come from a story's theme. Some good examples are Lawrence Kasdan's brilliant screenplay BODY HEAT and the southern classics TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and GONE WITH THE WIND. I used theme to title my novel CITY OF SECRETS from the poem "Eternal Return" by James Sallis (used by permission).

A popular expression works or twisting a cliché around as Bill Pronzini did in "Cat's Paw" and John le Carré did in THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL, as well as fellow New Orleans writer John Dillman's UNHOLY MATRIMONY. Poppy Z. Brite might have topped us all with ARE YOU LOATHSOME TONIGHT?

We can use emotive words related to death, murder and terror, like Stephen King's THE DEAD ZONE, Frederick Knott's DIAL M FOR MURDER and Mario Puzo's FOOLS DIE. I used it in "Murder at Suicide Oak" and GRIM REAPER.

A number in a title works, like John Buchan's THE 39 STEPS, Joseph Heller's CATCH 22 and Ray Bradbury again with FAHRENHEIT 451, as well as short stories like "69 Love Songs" by Maxim Jakubowski and "Cantata 140" by Philip K. Dick. I've used this more than once and sold stories entitled "26 Down," "General Order No. 28" and "21 Steps."


The name of a character can be a good title like Thomas Harris did with HANNIBAL and Vera Caspary's LAURA, Daphne du Maurier's REBECCA, Bram Stoker's DRACULA and don't forget the classic Robert Louis Stephenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." I used it in JOHN RAVEN BEAU and it gave the series a good launch as it drew readers to the character.

A story's setting is a good source for a title like Martin Cruz Smith's GORKY PARK, Robert Towne's CHINATOWN, Larry McMurtry's LONESOME DOVE, as well as Cornell Wollrich's wonderful story, adapted into a Hitchcock classic, "Rear Window."


Complex titles, both cited here are related to theme, attracted immediate attention to the stories - "The Doors of his Face, The Lamps of his Mouth" by Roger Zelazny and Harlan Ellison's Edgar Award winning "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs."

Colors work in a title as in Edgar Allan Poe's masterful "The Masque of the Red Death," Edward D. Hoch's "The Golden Nugget Poker Game," Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Red-Headed League." Dashiell Hammett used it in RED HARVEST and Raymond Chandler in THE BLUE DAHLIA. I've used colors in several titles - BLUE ORLEANS, NUDE IN RED and "The Purple Side of Blue."

Animals in a title can work, as in Dashiell Hammett's THE MALTESE FALCON, Poe's "The Black Cat," Susan Scotto's "The Magic Cockroach" and Harlan Ellison's "Soft Monkey" (another Edgar Award winning story). I used it in "The Gorilla Murders" and "A Night for the Dogs."


Try the NAKED or NUDE, which draws automatic attention, as in the bogus best-seller NAKED CAME THE STRANGER, Norman Mailer's THE NAKED AND THE DEAD. I used it in an historical mystery "The Naked Lady of Whispering Gulch" and another novel THE BLUE NUDE.

One more suggestion. In the 21st Century we need short titles on our book covers, no more than four words because they have to read it in a THUMBNAIL. Sometimes putting four words, along with the author's name, is almost too much for a perusing reader viewing books online.

That's all for now ...

www.oneildenoux.net

03 November 2016

Stun Gun

by Velma

My friend Sharon sent this email that has been floating about for years, author unknown.
Last weekend I saw something at Larry’s Pistol & Pawn Shop that sparked my interest. The occasion was our 15th anniversary and I was looking for a little something extra for my wife Julie. What I came across was a 100,000-volt, pocket/purse-sized taser. The effects of the taser were supposed to be short lived, with no long-term adverse effect on one’s assailant, allowing her adequate time to retreat to safety.

Way Too Cool!

Long story short, I bought the device and brought it home.

I loaded two AAA batteries in the darn thing and pushed the button. Nothing! I was disappointed. I learned, however, that if I pushed the button AND pressed it against a metal surface at the same time; I’d get the blue arch of electricity darting back and forth between the prongs.

Awesome!

Unfortunately, I have yet to explain to Julie what that burn spot is on the face of her microwave!

Okay, so I was home alone with this new toy, thinking to myself that it couldn’t be all that bad with only two triple-A batteries, right?

There I sat in my recliner, my cat Gracie looking on intently (trusting little soul) while I was reading the directions and thinking that I really needed to try this thing out on a flesh-and-blood moving target. I must admit I thought about zapping Gracie for a fraction of a second and thought better of it. She is such a sweet cat. But, if I was going to give this thing to my wife to protect herself against a mugger, I wanted some assurance it would work as advertised. Am I wrong?

So, there I sat in a pair of shorts and a tank top with my reading glasses perched delicately on the bridge of my nose, directions in on hand, and taser in another.

The directions said a one-second burst would shock and disorient an assailant; a two-second burst was supposed to cause muscle spasms and a major loss of bodily control; a three-second burst would reportedly make your assailant flop on the ground like a fish out of water.

Any burst longer than three seconds would waste the batteries. All the while I’m looking at this little device measuring about 5-inches long, less than ¾-inch in circumference; pretty cute really and (loaded with two itsy, bitsy AAA batteries) thinking to myself, ‘No possible way.’

What happened next is almost beyond description, but I’ll do my best.

I’m sitting there alone, Gracie looking on with her head cocked to one side as to say, ‘Don’t do it, moron,’ reasoning that a one-second burst from such a tiny little ole thing couldn’t hurt all that bad. I decided to give myself a one-second burst just for the heck of it. I touched the prongs to my naked thigh, pushed the button and…

Holy Mother Of God!

I’m pretty sure Hulk Hogan ran in through the side door, picked me up in the recliner, and then body slammed us both on the carpet, over and over and over again. I vaguely recall waking up on my side in a fetal position with tears in my eyes, body soaking wet, both nipples on fire, testicles no where to be found, my left arm tucked under my body in the oddest position and tingling in my legs! The cat was standing over me making meowing sounds I had never heard before, licking my face, undoubtedly thinking to herself, “Do it again, stupid, do it again.”

Note: If you ever feel compelled to mug yourself with a taser, one note of caution: there is no such thing as a one-second burst when you zap yourself. You will not let go of that thing until it is dislodged from your hand by a violent thrashing about on the floor. A three-second burst would be considered conservative.

A minute or so later (I can’t be sure, as time was a relative thing at that point), I collected what little wits I had left, sat up and surveyed the landscape. My bent reading glasses were on the mantel of the fireplace. How did they get up there? My triceps, right thigh and both nipples were still twitching. My face felt like it had been shot up with Novocain, and my bottom lip weighed 88lbs. I had no control over drooling. Apparently I’d crapped my shorts, but was too numb to know for sure, and my sense of smell was gone. I saw a faint smoke cloud above my head, which I believe came from my hair.

P. S.
My wife loved the gift and now regularly threatens me with it!
P. P. S.
I’m still looking for my testicles and I’m offering a significant reward for their safe return!

If you think education is difficult, try being stupid!

02 November 2016

Things I Did Not Say To My Taxi Driver At Five A.M.

by Robert Lopresti

When he found out that I was headed to the airport to fly to a librarian's conference the taxi driver informed me: "I haven't read a book all the way through since Hedy Lamarr when I was fifteen."

What I didn't reply:

"I pity you."

"There's a lot of good books out there."

"Not even Kant's Critique of Pure Reason?"

"Maybe you should give another one a shot.  Some people write better than Hedy Lamarr."

"You must be so proud."

"Personally, I only read the entrails of sacrificed goats."


"To each their own, I guess."

"The books haven't missed you at all."

"I'll be back in a week.  Drop by my house and I'll give you a free copy of one of my novels."

"So, how about that local sports team?"

"You like DVDs?  The public library lends them for free.  Music CDs too."

"Stop the car.  I'll walk."

"Did you know Hedy Lamarr was an inventor and one of her patents made the cell phone possible?  I read that in a book."

"So, who are you voting for?"

"There are dirtier memoirs by newer actresses, you know."

"No tip for you, bucko."

"You like any movies that are based on books?  A lot of the time the books are better."

"Do you think you're bragging?"

"I've been reading a book about not patronizing people."

"To each their own, I guess."

"Hey, that Hedy Lamarr was some broad, wasn't she?"

What I actually said to him:

Nothing.  Nothing at all.

01 November 2016

Hollywood Scavenger Hunt

by Paul D. Marks


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:

Ciro’s
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:




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