02 December 2016

Covers, Baby


by O'Neil De Noux

Harlan Ellison once told me a book cover should have one strong image, the writer's name and maybe one thing about the book. He didn't mention awards listed on a cover because if he wore a military uniform with medals for each of his writing awards, he'd look like a general from a banana republic. We mortals with fewer awards can list one, but I don't recommend cluttering a cover with too many things in the days of thumbnails (the computer kind).

Covers can be good or bad, sometimes really bad.

I'll start with the cover of my first book. I raced to my favorite bookstore the day it came out because my publisher hadn't sent my contributor's copies yet (or a proof of the cover). I helped open the first box of books and - oh, no. They misprinted my name. It's De Noux not Denoux. I knew I'd catch hell from my family and did.

"What's the matter with you? You can't spell your own name?" You see we have country cousins who spell their name Denoux and we city slickers in New Orleans spell it with a space. The cover was also sensationally awful. Here it is:



1988 edition                                          2015 edition

When I became an Indie writer, we reissued the entire series. I took photos of New Orleans cemeteries for these NOPD Homicide novels. It's good I was trained as a US Army combat photographer. When I went to the cemeteries, I carried my Glock (I'm still a cop) because New Orleans cemeteries only look peaceful. There have been armed robberies in them. No one bothered me and I got some good cover photos.

The original cover of my third novel, BLUE ORLEANS, was even worse. I'd made a preemptive strike and sent them a photo of NOPD's unique star-and-crescent badge before they put something like an NYPD shield on the cover. Still...


1991 edition                                    2015 edition

Until I became an Indie writer and could control my covers, they remained pitiful. Especially the gobbly-gook on the back covers. On the back cover of my second novel THE BIG KISS, some idiot wrote - THERE'S A RED DRAGON LOOSE AT MARDI GRAS. The book is not about a serial killer, it's a gangster novel about the Mafia and doesn't take place at Mardi Gras. They labeled my fourth novel BAY CITY BLUES. What the hell? The nearest bays to New Orleans are Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and Barataria Bay, down by the Gulf of Mexico, which is about 100 miles from the city.


Super busy 1992 edition                                    2015 edition

Here is the cover of THE LONG COLD (cover art a commissioned oil painting). At least what's written on the back cover is from the book. I think the award finalist notation on the front cover adds clutter to such a busy piece of art but how many times do you get a novel nominated for a SHAMUS?


Judge a book by it's cover? Of course we do. You see a crappy cover online you move along. Clip art looks like clip art, like a child trying to design a cover. There are many sites where you can purchase excellent photos or drawings for as low as $15 for single use on a cover. My last book published by a traditional publisher allowed me to choose the photo from a group of single use images and it came out well. When the rights reverted to me, I used a photo of a model's legs. Since I took the photo, there was no rights issue. Both covers grab attention.


Original Cover                                    2016 cover

I'm no expert but I know what attracts the eye and in these times of thumbnail searches through amazon.com and smashwords.com, I believe a cover should catch the eye.

TIP: If you don't have the ability to design a cover using Adobe InDesign or Photoshop, get your image and go to the nearest community college or university's art department. Seek out a college student majoring in graphic design and hire the student to design your cover. They can add this work to their portfolio and you can cut a bargain with them. I've seen it work.

SECOND TIP: Demand a good cover from your publisher (if you go that route). And PLEASE get a proof of your cover beforehand.

www.oneildenoux.net


01 December 2016

Loaded Magazines


This is the last in a series about broad-range magazine writing. Thanks to all my colleagues who’ve chimed in these past several days.

Milking a Story

When I was 15, the American Dairy Association sponsored a youth conference, inviting a hundred boys and girls for a weekend in Indianapolis. The symposium represented a lot of firsts for many kids: first hotel stay, first formal dinner, first formal dance, and first time adults seemed to take us seriously.

It was marketing, of course, but on the side of the angels. It focused on micro- and macro-nutrition, from food on a personal scale to feeding a burgeoning population. The upshot was that the ADA and its partners (Wonder Bakeries, Kraft, Green Giant, etc) sponsored an outreach competition, encouraging participants to propagandize civilization through our teenage charm.

In my case, they knew not what they were unleashing– a mad scientist bent on world domination through robots, alligators, and power-hungry computers. And eventually crime stories, but that would take a while.

That summer, I wrote articles for newspapers desperate to fill vacant space, The Shelbyville News, The Indianapolis Star. Mainly I wrote speeches. Radio WSVL (now WSVX), set literally in the middle of a corn field, gave me broadcast time. I shudder to think how awful those radio chats might have been. But, community presentations became my thing. At small gatherings, I gave talks using props like Albert my alligator or sometimes taking along my robot. Amazing when I think how tolerant adults were back then. Possibly I stunned them into submission.

The feminine participant of our county, Susan DePrez, grew up in a neighboring town and was a year ahead of me in school. We vaguely knew one another. In other words, she was a pretty, sophisticated, teenage older woman and I was the kid dweeb. There’re makings for a movie here, Hollywood.

Documenting everything, I clipped the articles from the newspapers. With luck, they’ll never again surface to embarrass me, but as it turned out, Susan and I won the respective girls’ and boys’ divisions of the competition. Another dinner and a check, followed by glory, fame and fortune.

The Art of the Article

In school, I didn’t get it. How could I be a writer? I had nothing to say. How could I? I lived in a boring time in a boring school in a boring place… It took a while for matters to *click*.

In the meantime, I had desultory articles published here and there: a New England sailing periodical called OffShore specializing in photographs of tall ships, articles for a zoo newsletter, and occasional articles for Datamation and InfoWorld magazines for those of us in computing. This last brought about my first experience with a heavy-handed editor who chopped a manuscript into unrecognizability, completely altering the meaning of the article. Fortunately, editors since have been kind and applied a much lighter touch.

Mr Strangebottom

Occasionally in movies you’ll see some computer guru who peers at multiple screens as he madly types away. In real life, that’s seldom seen these days but 20-25 years ago, multiple monitors were much more common. The alternative for users who wanted more than one terminal session was a physical switch to bounce between screens.

Ta-da! I wrote a package that allowed such super-users to switch via software… no extra hardware required. Unfortunately, salesmen had no clue how to market it, let alone describe it. In response, I wrote a fictional introduction to the manual describing how Mr. Strangebottom and his programming staff might use the product. After an initial “you can’t put humor in a tech manual” objection from the sales people, the fictional introduction achieved a modest cult following. Fame and glory followed.

I wrote similar introductions for our other software products, including a backup-restore package, an email encryption routine Oliver North should have bought, and a couple of others. The writing was possibly passable, but now I realize creativity was bursting in my veins.

First Contact

Two things happened about the same time. I sent a story to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine way before my writing skills were ready. The editor at the time, Eleanor Sullivan, found minor humor in the cover letter and sent the manuscript back with an encouraging personal note. That was kind of her.

Meanwhile, I proposed an idea for an article to ComputerWorld, the daily newspaper for computing professionals. In fact, I pitched an interview of an unusual fellow who wanted to legally change his name to a number. The editor said, “We don’t do interviews especially of non-notable people.” I pointed out (a) national news outlets were trending with this story and (b) I happened to know this guy, without explaining how vague and tenuous my acquaintanceship was.

The editor grew interested but expressed doubt I could pull off an interview while television and national magazines were vying for his attention. I expressed 90% confidence in landing an interview, about sixteen times my actual estimate given sunny skies and a good wind.

“Okaaaaay, sonny. If you think you can. we’ll take a look at it.” I considered that a sale.

Then I had to convince Mr 1069 (One-Zero to his friends) to sit down with me. As it turned out, he desired recognition by computing professionals, the curators of information numeric. As I would discover, professional acceptance or at least cognizance lent validation and perhaps legitimacy to his quest. Interviews by the networks and major publications like Time Magazine were nice, but ComputerWorld offered something kindred to his digital soul.

Perhaps because I wasn’t a professional interviewer, he felt comfortable as we chatted late into the night, barely pausing for food intake. To my surprise and possibly ComputerWorld’s, they ran my article on page two.

I stumbled upon that long ago interview on-line. Google had indexed it as part of their Google Books project. To my surprise, it reads a little better than I remembered. It’s not prize-winning journalism, but I had persuaded one party to grant an interview and convinced a newspaper to publish it. That has to count for something!

Here now is the outcome of 1069's mission to change his name:


And the saga continues and continues and continues… (Thanks to ABA for these links.)

30 November 2016

Writing for Whackademia


When Leigh - or was it Velma? - suggested a theme week about writing for non-mystery magazines, I said I could contibute nothing.  Then I realized that if you include academic journals I have a bit to say.

You have probably heard of "publish or perish," the idea that college faculty have to do research to get tenure and keep their jobs.  And you are right.  The intensity depends on the field and the institution.  I know people who are expected to publish several short articles a year, and others whose job security hangs on making it into certain major journals.

Fortunately neither of those apply to me, but I am expected to appear in scholarly journals.  So what's the difference between one of those and a magazine?  At the most basic, a scholarly (or academic, or peer-reviewed, or refereed... they all mean essentially the same thing) journal is one where, rather than deciding on the fate of an article herself, the editor sends it to people who have written on similar subjects (peers) for their assessment.

This is considered the gold-standard, the most reliable and authorative type of publication.  And having said that, let me introduce you to Retraction Watch, a website that simply lists scholarly articles that have been renounced by their authors or publishers because of errors.  These errors could be anything from deliberate fraud to an accidentally screwed-up graph.  Some authors have been known to retract an article because, decades after publication, the science turned out to be wrong.

And don't forget Scholarly Open Access, a website created by librarian Jeffrey Beall, which reports on what he calls "predatory journals," which look like scholarly material, but will accept anything you will pay them to publish.  "Vanity publishing!" you shout.  Well, yes.  But it's more complicated than that because in some academic fields you are expected to pay a per-page fee for publication - or at least if you want the article to be "open access," so anyone can read it.  It is so common that many universities have funds to pay for their professors page fees.  Or if a grant pays for your research, you can figure it into the grant request.  But the non-predator journals still reject most articles that are submitted, and won't take your fee until their referees have reviewed your work.


If you have begun to suspect that publishing scholarly journals is a license to mint money, there are many who will agree with you.

Let's get to a few of my own experiences in the field.  Many years ago I did some research which I thought was interesting but probably not worth a publication, so I put it up on a webpage of my own.  The managing editor of an editor read my work and invited me to turn it into an article for his journal.  Great!  I updated the info and submitted it, and waited.

And waited.  And waited.  Eventually (I think a year later) the editor-in-chief contacted me to say he had found the manuscript stuck in a desk drawer.  If I wanted to update it again and resubmit it he would consider it (!).

Another time I felt obliged to explain to the committee who was evaluating my work for, say, 2011, that the reason I included an article  published in a 2010 journal issue was that the publisher had been running late and slapped the wrong date on  so a year would not be missing from the journal's run.  And yes, these were both considered respectable publishers.

Calvin C. Chaffee, House librarian, and luckless hero of my article.
But my favorite story of scholarly hijinks involved the Congressional Serial Set.  These books have been published since the 1830s and basically include reports to and from Congress.  I found something very bizarre in one volume and showed it to my friend August A. Imholtz who is an expert on the Set.  We wound up co-writing an article which was published under the name "'Reckless and Unwarranted Inferences': The US House Library Scandal of 1861."  As befitted such a pompous title we wrote it with great seriousness and a flurry of footnotes.

As soon as it was published in a scholarly journal, with August's kind permission, I rewrote the same bit of history for laughs and sent it to American Libraries magazine which paid me for it (now that's the direction money is supposed to flow in publising) and put it up on their website with the title How Overdue Books Caused the Civil War.


You can read the lighter version by following the link above.  In either version the story is this: After Lincoln was elected and southern states started to secede the New York Times published an article claiming that the southern ex-congressmen were stealing books from the "Congressional Library" to start their own. It turned out to be a mixture of wild gossip, bad journalism and shoddy library management.  Oh, and it involves the Dred Scott Decision.  Really.

Because when you dive into the academic swamp you never know what you will find. 

29 November 2016

To the MMs and Beyond


by John M. Floyd

Like most of you who read this blog, I like mysteries. Mysteries of any kind--shorts, novellas, novels, plays, movies. And one good thing for those of us who write and read mystery short stories is that there are a number of magazines that specialize in that genre: AHMM, EQMM, Strand Magazine, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Mystery WeeklyFlash Bang Mysteries, Over My Dead Body, Crimespree, Mysterical-E, and so on. I submit stories to these publications on a regular basis, and sometimes, when the stars line up just right, I get stories published there. FYI, one of the best lists of these short-mystery markets can be found at my friend Sandra Seamans's website, My Little Corner.


I should probably mention here that a lot of the MMs are no longer in business. Examples include Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, Red Herring Mystery Magazine, Mystery Time, Orchard Press Mysteries, Detective Mystery Stories, Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine, New Mystery, HandHeldCrime, Mouth Full of Bullets, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, Nefarious, The Rex Stout Journal, Crime and Suspense E-zine, Blue Murder, Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, Black Mask, Whispering Willows Mystery Magazine, Raconteur, and Crimestalker Casebook. I have fond memories of many of these, because they were extremely kind to me and my creations.

Genrecial profiling

Here's the rest of the story. As you know from the other columns at this blog over the past several days, mystery publications are not the only markets for our shorts. There are a number of general-interest magazines, sometimes even the literary journals, that occasionally publish mystery stories. (On the other side of the coin, there'll always be those who consider mysteries and other genre stories inferior, but that's another matter.)

The saving grace here is that, thankfully, not everyone thinks mysteries are limited to whodunits. Elmore Leonard, who won the Edgar Award and was recognized as a Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America, once pointed out that he had never in his life written a story or novel in which the identity of the villain remained unknown until the end. He wrote crime/suspense fiction, not traditional mysteries.

Otto Penzler's definition, clearly stated in the introduction of each edition of his annual Best American Mystery Stories anthology, is that a mystery is any story in which a crime, or even the threat of a crime, is central to the theme or the plot. If you write a story that fulfills that requirement, you've written a mystery. This rather broad definition can apply to a lot of unlikely stories. One can write a romance, a science fiction tale, a Western, a horror story, even a literary piece, and if a crime plays a major role in the story, it can--theoretically at least--also be categorized as mystery fiction.

Crashing the party

What are some of these "other" markets? I'll let real life be an example: most of my mystery stories are and have been published in the mystery magazines listed above--but my mysteries have also appeared in the following NON-mystery publications, some of which are still around (Google their sites for more info):

Thema
Spinetingler Magazine
Prairie Times
Western Digest
Amazon Shorts
Grit
Champagne Shivers
Ancient Paths
Star Magazine
Pleiades
The Big Adios
Thirteen Magazine
Short Stuff for Grownups
Writers' Post Journal
The Atlantean Press Review
Eureka Literary Magazine
The Copperfield Review
Yellow Sticky Notes
Scifantastic
Sniplits
Woman's World
Desert Voices
Phoebe
Writers on the River
Dogwood Tales Magazine
Ethereal Gazette
Cenotaph
Scavenger's Newsletter
The Oak
Dream International Quarterly
Kings River Life
Star*Line
Apollo's Lyre
Medicinal Purposes
Pebbles
The Villager
Short Tales
Futures
Seeds
Green's Magazine
The Saturday Evening Post
Roswell Literary Review
Flashshot
Untreed Reads
Taj Mahal Review
Just a Moment
Reader's Break
Writer's Block Magazine
Illya's Honey
T-Zero
The Mid-South Review
Pages of Stories
Ficta Fabula
Spring Fantasy
Lines in the Sand
Mindprints
Anterior Fiction Quarterly
Mythic Delirium
Flash Tales
Lost Worlds
Simulacrum
Listen Magazine
Penny Dreadful
Hadrosaur Tales
Pegasus Review
Outer Darkness
Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind

Some of these are paying markets and some pay only in copies--and I've had multiple stories published in most of them (19 at Amazon Shorts, 4 in Dogwood Tales, 4 in Flashshot, 7 in Reader's Break, 5 at The Saturday Evening Post, etc.).

I also have a mystery story ("Flu Season") in the November 4th issue of The Norwegian American, another ("Survival") in the November 26 issue of Kings River Life, and a third mystery ("A Green Thumb") coming in January in Seeds, edited by my old buddy Michael Bracken. Again, in keeping with the theme here, none of these three publications deals exclusively with mystery shorts.

NOTE 1: My reference to The Saturday Evening Post is its print edition, which is published every two months. That's where my five stories for them have appeared--and three of those five fit the criteria for mysteries. BUT . . . the SEP also has an online version that I'm told specializes in mystery fiction. I've not verified that and I've never submitted to the online edition, but it might be worth checking out.

NOTE 2: I didn't mention anthologies. I've sold a lot of stories to both mystery and non-mystery anthos. Sandra's My Little Corner website also lists anthology "calls for submissions," and so does Ralan.com. As you probably know, anthologies--like magazines--are among the markets that are examined to determine Edgar nominees, Best American Mystery Stories candidates, etc.

Chick fic

Several references have been made this past week to Woman's World, which of course is not a mystery magazine (WWMM?) but which has always included one romance and one mystery in each weekly issue. These mysteries are a little different in format from most that I write: for one thing, they're very short--700 words max--and for the past dozen years or so, they've been "interactive," which means the solution to the mystery is provided separately at the end of the story so the reader has a chance to solve it herself/himself.

Their November 28 issue featured my 82nd Woman's World story (all but two have been mysteries), and I recently sold them my 83rd, which is scheduled to appear shortly. Almost all my mysteries for WW have included the same two co-protagonists--a retired schoolteacher named Angela Potts and one of her former students, Sheriff Chunky Jones--which is probably why I've been fortunate enough to sell so many of them. Readers AND writers seem to like "series" stories because of the familiar characters: readers know what to expect, and writers are able to get quickly into the plot without much need for backstory. Feeling adventurous, I deviated from the path a few years ago and sent Woman's World a mystery starring two other main characters--a female sheriff named Lucy Valentine and her nagging mother Fran--from another of my series. WW bought and published the story, but when I asked if I should continue on that track for a change, the editor said no. "We want more Angela stories," she said, and I saluted and obeyed. I'm not very smart, but I'm smart enough to write what they tell me they like.

WW specifics

For anyone who's interested, Woman's World pays $500 for mystery stories, and the fiction editor is Patricia Gaddis. Longtime editor Johnene Granger retired at the beginning of this year. FYI, the email address to use for submissions is FictionPro@WomansWorldMag.com if you've had a contract with WW in the past; if you've not had a contract with WW before, the submissions email is Fiction@WomansWorldMag.com. For problems only, you can contact Patricia at her personal email address, Prose@dnet.net.

More guideline info: Put "mystery submission" in the subject line of your email, and attach your story as a Word document, double-spaced, 12-point font. You should receive an auto-reply confirmation that your story's been received, but you won't get any further responses unless your story is accepted. If you've heard nothing back in four months, assume it was rejected. You should submit holiday-themed stories two to three months early, and snailmailed submissions will still go through if you don't have access to email--but again, be aware that you'll only get a response if your story is accepted. (Most of the above info is paraphrased from WW's "unofficial guidelines for 2016," which are the only guidelines I've seen.)

If you decide to send them a mystery, remember that 700 words is the absolute limit, and be sure to include the "solution" in that wordcount. Stay away from too much sex and violence (at least in your story) and also avoid politics, religion, or anything controversial. And whatever you do, don't put a pet in jeopardy. Seriously.

Final thoughts

I'm told that we'll soon wrap up this "themed" week about writing for non-mystery magazines, so it might be appropriate to mention several different sources of market information. They are (1) the Internet, (2) the print reference Novel & Short Story Writer's Market, (3) trade magazines like Writer's Digest and The Writer, and (4) the publications themselves. Any of these should tell you whether certain markets would be receptive to mystery/crime submissions.

Another option for getting your short stories published is of course to ignore the traditional venues altogether and--although I've not personally waded into those waters--self-publish them via Amazon and elsewhere. Steve Liskow, our latest employee at the SleuthSayers asylum, posted an extremely helpful column recently, on the subject of self-publishing--here's a link.

In summary, you can sell mystery stories to mystery magazines, non-mystery stories to non-mystery magazines, or (as in my long list above) mystery stories to non-mystery magazines. The only thing I've not yet done is sell a non-mystery story to a mystery magazine. So the only formula that doesn't work is NMS = MM.

Main thing is, don't let your completed mystery manuscripts sit there in a drawer, as I once did. If they're good enough, they'll find a home and a readership. And if you do choose to submit them to traditional markets, remember that there are also places other than the big mystery mags that might take them.

Go ye, and procrastinate no more.

28 November 2016

I Confess


by Michael Bracken

    At the 2016 Bouchercon I received the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer Award for lifetime achievement in short mystery fiction. While I’ve done pretty well writing short crime fiction, it represents less than ten percent of the 1,200-plus short stories I’ve placed since I began my professional writing career in the late 1970s.

True Confessions, Oct 2016
    In addition to writing for several anthologies, my fiction has appeared in digest-sized fiction periodicals, supermarket checkout-line tabloids, and slick consumer magazines. I’ve written for readers of all ages, both genders, multiple sexual orientations, and a variety of ethnicities.

    Of all the genres of fiction I’ve written, though, I’ve probably had my greatest success in a sub-genre of women’s fiction known as confessions– so much so that several years ago, when I had only published 170 of them, I was dubbed “The King of Confessions” (“Diversify Your Career: Exploring Fiction-Writing Options” by Vivi Anna, Romance Writers Report, July 2010).

    Now with more than 400 confessions published, another handful under contract, and several more sitting in the editor’s inbox, and with only two confession magazines still publishing original work, I’m confident that no one will steal my crown any time soon.

The True Story

True Story, Nov 1921
    The first confession magazine ever published, and one of the two still published monthly, is True Story. Launched in 1919 by Bernarr Macfadden, True Story became one of many similar magazines produced by a variety of publishers. When I began writing for confession magazines in 1981, only a few years after my professional writing debut in Young World and long past the genre’s heyday, there were still more than a dozen confession magazines, published by at least four different companies, voraciously sucking up content.

    Though not every magazine was monthly, the confession magazines were easily publishing more than 1200 short stories each year, and many of them also published poetry, recipes, and various kinds of non-fiction. The magazines in other genres--fantasy, horror, science fiction, mystery, etc.– did not publish as much fiction in a single genre each year as the confession magazines did. For a young fiction writer seeking publication, it made sense to try every possible publication in every possible genre. So I did.

    In February 1981, my poem “A Dozen Roses” appeared in True Secrets, and five more poems appeared in confession magazines that year. I also sold my first confession in 1981, but the publisher went bankrupt, and I still don’t know if the story was ever published. I had to wait until July 1984, when my story “Your Eyes Tell Me What Your Lips Can’t Say…” appeared in Secrets, to make my confirmable debut as a confession writer. A year passed before my second confession appeared, and two more years passed before my third and fourth were published. Three years elapsed before my fifth confession appeared in print and I’ve had several confessions published every year –except 2002– since then.

Only Your Hairdresser Knows for Sure

    I probably read my first confession magazines while waiting for my mother and grandmother at the hair salon. They were scandalous publications with lurid come-on lines enticing readers to delve into the debauched lives of the female contributors who were confessing their sins. Alas, the stories were never as lurid as the titles. I once sold a story with the working title, “I Slept with My Son, Now My Husband Won’t Sleep with Me,” which sounds like the author is revealing an incestuous relationship, but is actually about a young mother who takes her newborn son into the family bed while the new father sleeps in the other room.

True Story, Nov 2016
Sin, Suffer, Repent

    Confession magazines such as Intimate Romances, Intimate Secrets, True Experience, True Love, True Romance, True Secrets, and True Story targeted a white female readership. Magazines such as Black Romance, Bronze Thrills, and Jive targeted a black female readership. They all shared, and the surviving magazines still share, the same conceit: That the stories contained within their pages are “true.”

    And readers believe it.

    Certain genre conventions make these stories believable. They are all written in first person (most often with a female narrator), in a colloquial style, about matters of interest to blue-collar, middle-class woman. Nothing in a confession can be unrealistic (for example, cancer goes into remission but is never cured).

    Once upon a time, confessions followed a similar plotline, known as “sin, suffer, repent.” A woman does something outside the bounds of polite society, she suffers for her actions, and then she repents. In a story from the 1950s, for example, an unmarried young woman becomes pregnant, is sent away to a home where she gives birth to a baby she gives up for adoption, and returns home a changed woman.

    Modern confessions rarely follow the old sin-suffer-repent plotline, and are more likely to be problem stories– woman has a problem, explores various solutions to her problem, and then solves her problem (an unmarried pregnant woman must decide whether to terminate the pregnancy, give the baby up for adoption, or raise the baby as a single mother; she chooses one and is either happy or unhappy with her choice) or romances written in first person (girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back).

    Other genres can also influence confessions. I’ve written mysteries, thrillers, and horror stories all while adhering to confession genre conventions.

Means, Motive, Opportunity

True Story, Dec 2016
    With only two confession magazines still publishing monthly– True Confessions and True Story– and with long-time confession writers such as me filling many of the 240 annual slots, the opportunity for new writers to break in is much diminished from when I started in the 1980s. Even so, it is possible.

    But is it worthwhile?

    That’s a tough call. The average response time for one of my submissions is 107 days, but I had one story accepted 542 days after submission, so response time can be slow. The magazines pay 3¢ a word for all rights, and payment arrives several months following publication.

    Also, you won’t see a byline. After all, these stories are supposed to be “true.”

    On the flip side, if you can master the style and can produce work at a steady pace, you might become a regular contributor with regular income. I once calculated that I earn $20+/hour when I write confessions, which is as good as or better than what I earn on an hourly basis writing for better paying publications in other genres.

    And the lack of a byline might be advantageous. If you are a literary wunderkind publishing in all the best non-paying literary journals, you might not want your fellow writers to know you pay the bills writing confessions, just as I don’t reveal the titles and bylines of all the pseudonymous sex letters I wrote early in my career.

How to Write Confessions

    For detailed information about how to write confessions, read “Writing and Selling Confessions” and “Sin, Suffer, Cash the Checks”. Though both articles are a little outdated– especially submission information– the nuts-and-bolts details remain the same.

    For True Confessions and True Story writer’s guidelines, and for other information about the publisher, visit True Renditions, LLC.

    Oh, and never tell your grandmother that confessions are fiction. You’ll break her heart.

27 November 2016

Writing for WW & Other Mags


Here we are in theme week and it's my turn to relate any experiences of writing for Woman's World and other magazines. Since my experiences tend to be on the meager side, I'll count on the true masters of this craft, Michael Bracken and John Floyd to tell the full story when it's their turn.

My first three published stories for any market went to biker magazines; two to Easyriders and one to Outlaw Biker. Easyriders paid $250 each and Outlaw Biker paid $50. At the time, I was working undercover on bike gangs and reading those magazines for background information. Upon finishing a certain story in the first magazine, I decided it was so bad that I could create a better story. So, I sat down, wrote out a story in long hand, typed it and snail-mailed it in. Easyriders bought it and I became a professionally paid author. In a move to CYA, the byline on the story was one of the nicknames I used on the street, the check came in one of my undercover aliases and my wife worked in the financial arena where the checks had to be cashed.

One small problem. Agents weren't allowed to have outside employment, to include writing short stories. However, the agency had spent several weeks teaching us how to go undercover, essentially how to lie to criminals, how to acquire another persona and in general how to survive as a fake person. And, I will give credit to their excellent training, because no one found me out, to include the agency.

I also wrote several children's stories for the South Dakota Lung Association who put the stories in Time Out and Recess, two newspapers which were handed out to 3rd and 4th graders and to 5th and 6th graders. The majority of these stories had an underlying theme such as bicycle safety or don't smoke or don't bully other kids, that sort of thing. The director of the organization would give me a list of potential topics I could choose from and we went to press statewide to all elementary schools four times a year. Ah, when I think of all those little minds I was influencing. These stories were written under the phonetic alias of Arty and were strictly for charity work, although I did get the occasional doughnut and coffee in their office.

Later, I went on to write fiction and non-fiction for Deadwood Magazine, a colorful, slick-paper magazine dedicated to the promotion of the gambling town, Deadwood, up in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This editor wanted some fiction, but mostly she wanted articles about historical sites in the area that might be of interest to tourists and/or about old time characters who had lived in the Deadwood area. I gave her a short story about gambling, an article about the hanging of Lame Johnny (a stagecoach robber and Texas horse thief) and one about Arch Riordan (the marshal of Buffalo Gap who didn't abide the nonsense of criminals). Deadwood Magazine went under a few years ago, but before they did, they converted their files to digital, thus you can find those two articles on the internet. Surprisingly, even though I hadn't written for them for years, they left my name on the masthead as a contributing writer and it was still there for their last edition.

And now, we come to Woman's World magazine. As a member of Short Mystery Fiction Society, I was reading one of their chat posts years ago for various writing markets when Woman's World popped up as a possibility. At the time, they were paying $500 for a thousand-word mini-mystery. Later, the maximum word count dropped to 900 words and now it's down to 700 words. You had to write sparse. I usually started with about 1,200 words and then pared it down. Adjectives and adverbs were the first to go. There wasn't much room for character development and yet you had to create a character who made a strong impression on the reader, which was usually a female. To write that short was like writing in the format for a joke. You did the setup (the mystery) and then the punchline (the solution). The mystery portion was printed right side up in the magazine and the solution was printed upside down in order to give the reader a chance to guess the solution. They published ten of my mini-mysteries with my acceptance rate coming in at about 30%. Some of the rejections were a result of me feeling around to find the outside parameters of what they would accept, some submissions were rejected by their first reader, some by the column editor and every so often one would be rejected by the chief editor of the whole magazine. Never knew the reasons for the latter rejections, they just were.

But, never throw away your rejected stories. Keep looking for a market, even if it doesn't pay much. One of my $500 WW rejects went to Swimming Kangaroo, an e-newsletter. Between the newsletter's title and the editor's aborigine name, I thought I'd finally broken into international publishing. Thought I was now published in a foreign market. And then the $25 check arrived in the mail with a Texas return address on the envelope. Oh well, I did get paid in U.S. currency. Two other WW rejects went to Flash Bang, an e-zine for flash fiction, at ten dollars each.

What can I tell you other than never say die. The writing game is a hard mistress. Good thing that Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Woman's World paid me well, not to mention the recent reprint market.

Ride easy, until next time.

26 November 2016

Want Street Cred? Write for Magazines!


Many readers here know I teach Crafting a Novel at Sheridan College in Suburban Toronto.  (I started teaching fiction writing there before the wheel was invented.  We had to push cars uphill both ways to get them to campus...okay, I'll stop now.)


Students often ask me how to get a novel published.  I say: "Walk out of this classroom right now and become a media personality."

Everyone in the class laughs.  But it's no laughing matter, really.  Most of the bestselling crime authors in Canada were media personalities first.  It's no coincidence.  Being a newspaper or television 'name' gives one a huge visibility advantage.  You leap the slush pile.  And chances are, you know someone who knows someone in publishing.

But launching a new career doesn't work for all of us, particularly if we are mid-career or soon to qualify for senior's discounts.  (Of course, you could still murder someone and become a celebrity.  I have a few names handy, if you are looking for a media-worthy victim...)

In order for a publisher to buy your book, they have to read it first.  I know at least one publishing house that receives 10,000 manuscripts a month.  How in Hellsville can you possibly get noticed in that slush pile?

Here's how:  Develop street cred by publishing with magazines!

How I got my start:

In 1989, at the tender age of twenty plus n, I won a Canadian Living Magazine fiction contest.  (Canadian Living is one of the two notable women's magazines in Canada. Big circulation.)  After that, I pitched to Star Magazine (yup, the tabloid) listing the Canadian Living credit in my cover letter.  They said, "Oh look.  A Canadian.  How quaint.  See how she spells humour."  (I'm paraphrasing.)  Anyways, Star published several of my short shorts in the 90s.  The Canadian Living credit got me in the door.

With several Star Mag credits under my belt (weird term, that - I mean, think of what is under your belt) I went to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  They liked the Star credits and published some of my stories.  Then I got a several-story contract with ComputorEdge.

So ten years ago, when I had a novel to flog, I already had 24 short story publications in commercial magazines.  That set me apart from everyone else clawing to get in the door.

Writing for magazines worked to launch my author career.  I'm now with two traditional publishers and my 11th book (The Bootlegger's Goddaughter - phew! Got that in) comes out in February.

Writing for magazines tells a publisher several things:

1.  You write commercially salable stories.  This is important for book publishers.  If you have published in commercial magazines, it tells a publisher that someone else has already paid you for your fiction.  They deemed your obviously brilliant stores worthy of a wide enough audience to justify putting their money into publishing them.  It's much like the concept of 'peer review' in the academic world.

2.  You accept editing.  A magazine writer (fiction or nonfiction) is used to an editor making changes to their work.  It's part of the game.  If you have been published many times in magazines, then a novel publisher knows you are probably going to be cool with editing.  (Okay, maybe not cool, but you've learned how to hold back rage-fueled comments such as "Gob-sucking fecking idiot! It was perfect before you mucked with it."

3.  You work to deadline.  Magazines and newspapers have tight deadlines.  Miss your deadline, and you're toast.  Novel publishers are similarly addicted to deadlines.  Something to do with having booked a print run long in advance, for one thing.  So they want authors who will get their damned manuscripts in on time.

Here's something to watch out for if you are going to write for magazines:

Kill Fee
If you are publishing with a major magazine, negotiate a 'kill fee.'  (This doesn't mean you get to kill the publisher if they don't print your story.)  A kill fee is something you get if the mag sends you a contract to publish your story or article, and then doesn't publish it.  Usually a kill fee is about half the amount you would be paid if they had printed it.

Why wouldn't they print your story after they agree to buy it?  Sometimes a publisher or editorial big wig leaves and the new big wig taking over will have a different vision for the mag.  Sometimes a mag will go under before they actually print the issue with your story.  That happened to me with a fairly well-known women's mag.  I got the kill fee, and the rights back. I was able to sell the story to another magazine.

Which brings me to a final point:  Note the rights you are selling.  Many mags here want "First North American Serial Rights."  This means they have the right to publish the story for the first time in North America, in all versions of their magazine.  (For instance, some magazines in Canada publish both English and French versions.)  But what happens after that?  When do rights return to you?  Two years after publication? (Very common.)  Or never?  Are they buying 'All Rights?"  It's good to get rights back, because then you can have the story reprinted in an anthology someday.  Make sure your contract stipulates which rights they are buying.

Of course, I always say, if they pay me enough, they can keep all rights, dress them in furs and jewelry, and walk them down Main Street.  I have the same attitude re film companies that might want to swoop up my novels for movies.

Melodie Campbell writes the multi-award-winning Goddaughter series of mob comedies, starting with The Goddaughter.  It features a different kind of 'kill fee.'

 On Amazon

25 November 2016

Guest Post: Tara Laskowski on Writing Crime Fiction (Without Being a Writer of Crime Fiction)


Tara Laskowski
Today, I'm pleased to welcome a very special guest: my wife, Tara Laskowski! Tara is the author of two collections of short fiction, Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons and Bystanders, and since 2010, she's edited SmokeLong Quarterly, one of the leading flash fiction journals in the business. As she'll explain, while much of her success has been in more literary circles (including the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International), she's also published short stories in the anthology The New Black: A Neo-Noir Anthology and in both Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine; in fact, she was the sole American author in EQMM's recent All Nations Issue, celebrating the magazine's work with writers around the globe. While many of our SleuthSayers have written for non-mystery magazines and are planning to share stories about that crossover, today Tara talks a little about moving in the other direction and the challenges and pleasures she's found in the process. Hope you'll enjoy! — Art Taylor

Writing Crime Fiction
(Without Being a Writer of Crime Fiction)
By Tara Laskowski

Earlier this year, I tried for the first time to write an actual mystery story.

While I’ve had a few stories published in crime magazines and anthologies, they were never stories I had intentionally written for those audiences. I am, for the most part, considered a literary writer, and most of the publications I have on my resume are in literary and general fiction journals, books, and magazines. My stories tend to hover on the themes of family, friendships, and women's issues. I write and edit flash fiction, which is often experimental and focused on language and rhythm over plot—closer to poetry in some ways.

But I also love the dark side. I grew up reading Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators and Stephen King's novels and stories. I was born on Halloween and am obsessed with horror movies. I love a good scare, a good creep-out, a wicked villain.

So my stories usually have some of that crime, noir, supernatural element to them—although those darker elements usually creep in after the fact. That is, I don’t intend to write a crime story—and most of the time my crime stories hover in the gray areas between genres, part domestic drama, part murder mystery, part ghost story.

So intentionally sitting down to write a traditional mystery story? The thought kind of gave me hives. Plot and all its intricacies do not come easily to me, and I struggled with how to drop clues and red herrings in ways that weren't completely obvious and stupid, all while trying to move the story forward, make sure the characters were interesting, and not drive myself completely batty in the process.

(Side note: I have profound respect for Sophie Hannah in her plotting of the new Hercule Poirot mysteries. I have no idea how she does it. I cannot even keep a 25-page story straight, let alone a massive novel. Standing ovation, Ms. Hannah. Standing ovation.)

It is a completely different way to write a story. Usually when I am working on something new, it starts with a character and a moment and unfolds from there. I discover what the story is about as I’m writing it, and the language and descriptions carry it forward. But in this case, I started with a scenario and had to build out the plot. I had a character named Nancy Drew who hated the fact that she was named that and who was on a date with a man who thought it was funny to bring her to a murder mystery dinner. And of course, I knew that in the middle of the dinner, someone at her table would have to go missing. But who? And what happened to that person? And how would she solve it? And what would happen with her and her boyfriend? Would this mystery bring them together, or pull them apart for good?

All these questions were swirling around in my brain, and I felt that I had to know what was going to happen before I started writing the story. I sketched an entire outline. Then deleted it. Then reworked it. Then put it aside. Then tried again.

Want to know how long it took me to finish the story after I got the initial idea? Ready?

Ten years.

Nope. Not kidding. Ten years.

Clearly those “putting aside” moments were long ones—in some cases, years—but from initial idea to completed, submitted story draft, it was almost ten years in the making.

The good news: the story recently was accepted by Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, so you’ll be able to find out what happens to Nancy soon—sooner than it took me to figure out what happened to her, anyway.

My point in all this is that mystery fiction does not come easy to me. I love writing it, and I especially love reading it, but I don’t naturally think that way and it’s been interesting to focus my efforts in that direction. For one, the mystery community is extremely generous and welcoming. Despite all the folks killed off in the pages of their books, crime writers are quite lovely and kind in real life.

Plus, there are great reasons to expand your style and topics. I feel like the stories I publish in crime and mystery publications are more widely read than the ones I've published in before. Or, at least, I get a different audience than what I normally would get. Exposure to new readers is always good—and if a writer can expand outside her normal genre she might find new fans and bigger book sales. When I publish in a lit journal, the folks who I hear from who read it are all people I know. But when I publish in a mystery magazine, I will hear from readers I don't know at all—and that's always a treat.

The other perk for me is that crime pays! No, not that crime, silly. Crime fiction. Selling one story to a major mystery magazine gets me more money than the royalties from my books. Getting paid for your work is something that most literary writers aren't used to. We're used to giving away our work for free. We're used to running online journals as labors of love. The idea of paying artists for their work is refreshing to see in the mystery world, and an idea that I hope spreads and grows.

All that said, I love having the privilege of publishing widely, in both crime and mystery publications and in university journals, online and print literary magazines, and anthologies. No matter where my stories show up, they are always in good company with writers I admire and continue to learn from, and that's one of the best perks of being a writer in the first place.

Thank you to everyone for allowing me to contribute here! I recognize I am the other perspective in this special series, and I look forward to hearing what crime writers say about writing for non-mystery publications.


24 November 2016

Messages in a Bottle, or Notes from the Pen


For the next several days, our band of authors will be writing about writing— for magazines, especially non-mystery magazines. We’ll have a couple of surprises and a lot of expertize. Thanks to Eve for kicking off the program with non-traditional penmanship. You'll see.
—Velma
by Eve Fisher

I just got back from a weekend workshop at the local penitentiary, which (as always) was full of interesting moments, hard work, and definite characters.  If nothing else, the weekend confirmed (even if I do say so myself) that I really nailed the young meth-head who's the centerpiece of my latest story, "Iron Chef", in the November, 2016 issue of AHMM.  ("He thinks he's a lady's man because he wants to get laid," and more here...)

I did not tell the guys that.  Actually, I don't tell them much about my writing, because (1) That's not why I'm there (I'm there to facilitate an Alternatives to Violence Project Workshop, not talk about myself all the time) and (2) most of them don't really want to hear it.  Including the writers.
(Sometimes especially the writers.  Recent dialog between myself and an inmate:
Me: "There's a place on-line that lists publishers and -"
Inmate (interrupting): "I HAVE an agent. Or I will soon."
Me: "Okay."
Inmate: "Yeah.")
And there are a lot of writers (and artists) at the pen.  Interestingly, I haven't met one yet that writes mystery or crime stories.  I'm not sure if that's because it doesn't interest them, or they don't know how to do it, or if they're afraid if they put anything in writing, it might be held against them in a court of law.  Like a confession or a plan for future criminal activity...  Anyway, most are poets and/or songwriters.  Some write sci-fi and/or supernatural/horror. And a few write autobiographies.

Getting prison writing published is easier than you might think, thanks to the internet.  Here are just a few of the on-line resources for magazines, newsletters, anthologies and e-zines dedicated to prisoners' writing:

From South Dakota, The Prisoners for Prevention blog.
The Prisoner Poetry Page.
The on-line Prison Poetry Workshop podcasts.
The Prisoner Express which publishes poetry, journals, essays, etc.

One of the main problems, of course, for prisoners is that these days so many places only accept on-line submissions, and access to the internet is hard to get in the pen.  And sending out ms. in hard-copy is expensive when you only make 25 cents an hour.  (Not to mention that getting access to a typewriter is hard to come by, too.)  And almost all of the markets specifically set up to publish prisoners' work are non-paying.

In the search for paying markets, Writers' Digest is invaluable to prisoners:  I'd bet there's a (more or less) old, battered copy in every prison library.  I know inmates who've sent stories to Glimmer Train, Analog, Asimov's Science Fiction, and Playboy.  (No, I don't know any who've been accepted yet, but at least they're trying!)  I've read a couple of the stories, and even given a critique here and there. When I am specifically asked.  Again, not every inmate wants to hear any opinion other than that it's a great poem/story/song.  For that matter, not every writer OUT of the pen wants to hear anything else...

Doing Time: 25 Years of Prison Writing from the Pen ProgramAnother place where inmates writers can get published is with the PEN Prison Writing Contest. Prizes and publication in an anthology make this very prestigious.
And, for all of us, let's not forget sites like Angie's Desk and My Little Corner, both of which list anthologies and markets of all genres (although primarily mystery and science-fiction/fantasy).  Thank you, ladies!  Your hard work has opened up markets for us all!

Most of the work the inmates finally do get published is and has been edited by someone outside for content.  What gets passed around in the tier, chow hall, and our sharing circle is unedited, raw, and cannot be reprinted on this family blog.  Besides the poems of suicidal despair (since this is NOT the Gingerbread House of Corrections)

http://rhymeswithorange.com/comics/november-20-2016/
gangsta rap is HUUUUUGE.  Personally, I get bored with gangsta rap, because they all say pretty much the same thing:  ultra-explicit rap symphonies in F Major on drugs, bling, fights, arrests, killings, and sex.
(It's like the prison tattoos:  the first few times you go in the pen, you see these guys who are absolutely COVERED in tattoos, and it's hard to look away.  But after a while, you realize that they're mostly skulls, naked women, snakes, names, etc., in endless repetition, and the only reason you study them is to figure out what gang they're in.)
But there are those stories that show real creativity and thinking, and poems that take your breath away, like the following from PrisonerExpress.org/?mode=poetry

The thirteenth amendment, Amended

by Name Withheld by Request
A coffle of state slaves shuffles
Slowly into the radiant rays
Of dawn's early light.
Spartacus nowhere in sight.
Flight scarred all, and bone
Weary from strife and stress,
Destined to toil under the sun til
Twilight's last gleaming brings rest.

The tools are issued:
One hoe per man, each
Dull the blade, each
Seven pounds of sweat-stained misery,
Each, in proper hands,
Seven pounds of peril.

Let there be no peril today, we pray:
No quick and vicious fights, where, sweat stinging,
Fists flying, we cull living from dying:
No riots fought for fast forgot reasons__
Swinging steel scintillating in sunlight,
Blood gouting from the too slow heads__
Brown, black, white___
Our blood ruby red and thick with life,
No respecter of color or creed.

Let there be no peril today, we pray;
No dry crackling reports of leaden soldiers,
Chasing wisps of smoke from forge fashioned barrels,
Speaking the ancient tongue of Authority;
Guns guardgripped fast by bossfists,
In confederate gray cloths,
Their fire felling friends, freeing foes.

Let there be no peril today, we pray:
Today only__hard work, for no pay.

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except
as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall
have been duly convicted, shall exist within the
United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

So let it be rewritten.
So let it, at last, be done.


23 November 2016

How I Conceived



photo by Peter Rozovsky
Last month I reviewed a story by Jeffrey Siger, which resulted in some e-conversation, and that led to what you see below. Jeffrey  is an American living on the Aegean Greek island of Mykonos. He gave up his career as a name partner in his own New York City law firm to write mystery thrillers. His books have been nominated for the Left Coast Crime and Barry Awards.

The New York Times called his Andreas Kaldis series “thoughtful police procedurals set in picturesque but not untroubled Greek locales.”  Today he will tell us how he wrote the latest and eighth in the series, Santorini Caesars.                                                - Robert Lopresti .

                                                                          
by Jeffrey Siger


I never thought when Robert Lopresti generously offered me the opportunity of posting as a guest on SleuthSayers that I’d be talking about conception, but hey, nothing surprises me these days, and if it’s details on how I conceived my latest Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novel the SleuthSayers faithful want, that’s what they shall get! 

A dozen years ago, when I decided to walk away from my life as a name partner in my own New York City law firm to unite my loves of Greece and mystery writing, I said to myself I would not write fluff.  I would write what I thought should be said in a way that told the truth as I saw it about a country and a people I cared very deeply about—little realizing at the time how applicable my observations on Greece would be to so much of the rest of our world.

When I started writing the series, I didn’t intend on becoming a chronicler of Greece’s trials and tribulations, but things just sort of turned out that way, as each novel gravitated toward exploring a different aspect of Greek society, and before I knew it I found myself immersed in creating a collage of what Greece is all about.   

For example, I’ve written about the relationships of Greek islanders and mainlanders, Greeks and their government, Greeks and their church, Greeks and immigrants, Greeks and their families, Greeks and their financial crises, and in my just released #8 in the series, “Santorini Caesars,” Greeks and their military. As important as are the elements making up that collage, is the glue that holds it all together—the unvarnished perspective of my protagonist, Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis.

Andreas is a politically incorrect, second-generation cop, and an honest observer of his times, who despite all that life and the system throw at him, retains his integrity.  Perhaps most significant for purposes of my stories is the unfettered access he has to all levels of Greek society, be it the seamy underbelly of its most degenerate bottom rung as head of Greece’s special crimes unit, or the glittering lifestyles of Greece’s movers and shakers by reason of his marriage.

The idea for writing about the Greek military in “Santorini Caesars” had been percolating in my mind for quite a few years. After all, much of the nation’s modern history stands shaped by the Greek Military Junta Years of 1967-74, and until the financial crisis struck a few years back, Greece numbered among the world’s five biggest arms importers.  Even today Greece has four times the number of German made top of the line Leopard tanks as Germany’s own military. 

But how to tie it all together in the context of a fast-paced mystery thriller was my dilemma. Then one day it all came together, inspired by a simple passing thought on the predicament known as Greece: “The fragile fabric of a nation hangs in the balance.” 

Greece stands before the world in perilous straits.  With its government and economy in disarray, its goals and leadership suspect, and men like Kaldis undoubtedly at odds with its direction, life is not the same, nor likely to return to better days any time soon, and many wonder if carrying on the fight matters any more.

Sound familiar?

Yes, Greece’s situation inspired the story, but as I wrote it, I could not help but sense how many other places in the world faced nearly identical circumstances. Here’s the plot line for “Santorini Caesars” that evolved from that thought.

When a young demonstrator is publicly assassinated in the heart of protest-charged Athens, the motive is murky and the array of suspects immense.  Kaldis’ investigation leads him and his team to Santorini—an Aegean island of breathtaking beauty which legend holds to be the site of the lost island of Atlantis—and a hush-hush gathering of the Caesars, a cadre of Greece’s top military leaders seeking to form their own response to the crises facing their country. Is it a coup d’├ętat or something else?  The answer is by no means clear, but the case resonates with political dimensions, and as international intrigues evolve, the threat of another—far more dramatic—assassination looms ever more real. As does the realization that only Kaldis can stop it.  But at what price?  It is a time for testing character, commitment, and the common good.  And for saving the nation from chaos.

As I said, sound familiar?




22 November 2016

JFK, the Beatles and the Beginning of the Sixties


What were we doing fifty-three years ago and a day from today? As a country, many of us were listening to and/or watching Alan Sherman, Victor Borge, Topo Gigio, Senor Wences, Mitch Miller, Perry Como, Bobby Darin, the Dick Van Dyke show, Donna Reed, Leave it to Beaver, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Ben Casey, Leslie Gore, Peter Paul and Mary, Sukiyaki by Kyu Sakamoto, the Ronnettes, the Shirelles, the Drifters, Jan and Dean, Vaughn Meader, and Jose Jimenez (yes, I know, but that was then and this is now). And more.

On November 21, 1963, four guys did a gig at the ABC Cinema, Carlisle, England. In the summer and fall of 1963, a young folk singer was recording his third album, but still not too many people were aware of him outside of a small circle of friends (to paraphrase another Sixties folk singer). Some people might have known some of his songs as done by other people, but they didn’t really know him…yet.

The President and his wife spent the day in Fort Worth. A loser and lost soul spent the night at Ruth Paine’s home, a friend of his.

As the sun came up the next day, November 22, 1963, everything seemed fine.  A group called the Beatles released With the Beatles in England, but they’d yet to make their mark on this side of the pond. And that folk singer, Bob Dylan, was a long way off from his Nobel Prize.

And then it all went to hell.

JFK said, “If anyone is crazy enough to want to kill a president of the United States, he can do it. All he must be prepared to do is give his life for the president's.” Unfortunately this was a prophetic statement. Someone was crazy enough.

There’s been a lot written about John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I doubt I can add much to it. Some say it was the end of innocence for the country. The country went into a deep depression after his death. We started slipping waist deep into the big muddy. The 60s happened: protests, riots, hippies, counter culture, the Summer of Love, Woodstock , Altamont.

So where was I that winter day in 1963? I was a school safety, standing in a hallway monitoring student “traffic”.

***

“Stop, don’t run,” I shouted to some kid charging down the hall, wearing my AAA safety badge on
my arm. He slowed down, but I could hear him hard-charge again as soon as he rounded the corner, out of my sight. I could have given him a written demerit, but chose not to. I guess I was in a good mood. Either that or I hadn’t yet learned the power trip that the badge could give me.

A few minutes later, he ran back down the hall. I was already getting my little ticket book out when he shouted, “The President’s dead.” I dropped the book in dazed silence.

In class later, the principal’s voice came over the tinny sounding loudspeaker. “I have the bad fortune to announce that President Kennedy has been shot.” A collective gasp escaped through the room. Even Jamie Badger (name changed to protect the guilty), the class bad boy, was stunned long enough to stop making spitballs. The principal continued, “It’s unknown what his condition is, though it’s thought that he’s still alive.”

But we found out that wasn’t the case after all.

We were young, but that didn’t stop us from being stunned. Even the boys cried. Teachers tried to control themselves, they had to keep it together for their students. Mary Smith (name changed to protect the innocent) nearly collapsed in my arms – she was the first girl who’d ever sent me a love note.

That long weekend and week that followed the assassination, my parents and I (and my younger brothers to a lesser extent) were glued to the television, as was the rest of the country. LBJ taking the oath of office. The capture of Oswald. Speculation on the whys and wherefores and whos. John-John saluting as the caisson carrying his father rolled by. Jack Ruby shooting Oswald. Conspiracy theories forming.

So we watched in silence as the procession marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. And there were no psychologists, no shrinks to salve our wounds. It was like landing in Oz, only to find the Wicked Witch of the East in control in the dark, forbidding forest of snarled trees and flying monkeys. And we hung our heads. And we cried. I cried. And we didn’t know where we were heading on that cold day in November, 1963.

***

The very popular Vaughn Meader, who’d made a living and career impersonating JFK and the First Family, was out of a job. And we were out of laughter and joy. No more touch football on the White House lawn. No more pill box hats and white gloves. And somehow none of our backyard barbecues would taste as good or as sweet for a long, long time to come, if ever.

Here's a YouTube video of Vaughn Meader.

We needed something to buoy our spirits through the dark winter months of 1963/64. And for many of us that something came on February 9, 1964 in the form of those four mop tops from Liverpool and their first appearance on Ed Sullivan, which was most people’s first exposure to them. My dad called me into the den to watch and I’ve been hooked ever since. But they helped a good part of the country bounce back, at least a little, from the events of a couple of months before, with their effervescent sound, happy music and wit. So at least for a while we could forget about the darkness in our hearts.



It’s hard to say when one decade begins and another one ends or vice versa, because the zeitgeist of the times doesn’t necessarily coincide with the years that end in zero. But I think the Sixties really began with those two events, the assassination of President Kennedy and the coming of the Beatles and the British Invasion, and it ended with Watergate in 1973.

Several year later, when I was in DC, I made a side trip to Arlington Cemetery in Virginia in part to see JFK’s grave (see photo). I know Kennedy wasn’t perfect and Camelot wasn’t all that, but seeing the memorial made me remember a time when there was hope and optimism and maybe even a sense of innocence.



So, what were you doing 53 years ago, if you were around?

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And now for something not quite completely different: My story “Ghosts of Bunker Hill” is in the brand new, hot off the presses December 2016 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Get ’em while you can. And if you like the story, maybe you’ll remember it for the Ellery Queen Readers Award (the ballot for which is at the end of this issue), and others. Thanks.



Oh, and that is, of course, Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, not that “other” one on the East Coast. And more on this in a future blog.

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