18 April 2017

Help(,) Police!


Imagine feeling like every kiss goodbye to your loved ones each day might be your last kiss. Police officers and their families feel this way every single day. Karen Salmansohn

Let me be clear - no one is above the law. Not a politician, not a priest, not a criminal, not a police officer. We are all accountable for our actions. Antonio Villaraigosa


The police feel besieged. Like they can’t get anything right. Everyone wants them to save us from the bad guys, yet never persecute or killing any innocent people. That’s the ideal. They’ll never live up to it.
I feel for police. I relate to them. As an emergency doctor, I also have to deal with the most violent, most ignorant, most manipulative people, and I'm not allowed to make mistakes.
And yet we’re all human. We’re all going to make mistakes. Mistakes that sometimes kill people.
It's so easy for those outside the system to point their fingers and talk about how awful we are, yet those same critics never step in the arena.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Theodore Roosevelt

That said, I am a Black Lives Matter supporter. I never want to detain or kill innocent people. It is never acceptable.

But I feel for individual police officers who are doing their best, who are trying to save the public, who are literally putting their lives on the line every day and every night, for very little thanks and little pay, and a ton of screaming abuse.
So how do we support the police and make sure that the people are protected?
And how do we write about them?
“Where are the police?” Dean Wesley Smith asked me, about my first draft of Code Blues.
Look, they match!
Please admire my new cover.
The truth was, I didn’t know much about the police, so I wrote around them at first and had to add them to subsequent ones. 

Dead bodies? Check. A daring doctor who solves the crime and saves the day? Check. But the police who’d be investigating the murder? Hmm. They came in and dragged away the bad guys at the end of the book, but what about the beginning and middle?

I tried to correct some of my ignorance by attending Writers Police Academy in August.
I’ve written about some of the seminars I attended, but it really made my day when they critiqued my police interrogation scene in Human Remains. Writing about officers is a balancing act. I want to be realistic and portray the police as neither saints nor Satan, but somewhere in between. I want to create tension and drop clues to the murder, yet stay in Dr. Hope Sze's PTSD point of view.

Paul M. Smith wrote, “In a nutshell, the interview sounds very realistic and I don't really have any suggestions for change. You did a good job.  The only thing I could think of is that prior to any interview/interrogation the officers would have read her her rights, even if she wasn't a suspect. Otherwise, if at sometime she would become a suspect none of the interview would be admissible in court.”

Colleen wrote, “The questions you asked are very relevant and realistic. Cops love timelines and nail down timelines  - for suspects. When the timeline doesn’t match, then we begin to peel back the layers of deception for the truth. Nice job.”

Officer Matt wrote, “It looks good and sounds real. The use of the word Billy club is good. Cops call it a baton, but to the normal citizen, it is appropriate.”

Mike Knetzger wrote, “Yes, these are realistic questions. You might also want to explore the cognitive interview technique for some additional insight into questioning people about what they did before a significant event, such as finding a body.”
When Hope asks for a lawyer, Mike suggested that the officer reply, “I can’t give you legal advice.”
At the end, when Hope points out that they’ll be able to track her and her boyfriend’s footprints in the snow, Mike wrote, “When people mention footprints to me, I often reply, “‘Footprints? Are we looking for Big Foot or are we looking, instead, for shoe prints?’”
It made me realize that language has to be precise, especially when you’re dealing with legal matters. So yes, it would be shoe prints (or boot prints, because we’re in Canada), not foot prints.
Mike Knetzger probably had more to say because he’s an author himself. His stepdaughter was killed by an impaired driver one night when he was on duty, and he was unable to save her life. In response, he wrote the book Ashley’s Story, and he speaks out against impaired driving across the Midwest. You can support his cause by buying his book, as I did.

My profound thanks to these officers, and the ones who keep us safe in our beds every night.

Support our police. Support our people. Surely we can do both.

17 April 2017

God Bless the Beta Reader

by Steve Liskow

You have to revise your work, probably several times. That means you're looking at structure, pace, and character development along with accuracy, voice, and grammar. Is your dialogue effective? Does your plot build? Do your characters deepen and grow? Does the whole thing even make sense?

One of the problems with revising is that the more you do it, the more you invest in what you see in front of you. The more you revise and polish, the harder it is to recognize what might be a big problem with pacing or logic because you've been looking at it so long that you begin to take it for granted without even realizing it.

That's why a good beta reader is so important. Someone who hasn't watched you grow and nurture your first several drafts isn't as connected to it and can question your ideas more easily. Distance is a great thing.



Not everyone can be a good beta reader. I know several former English teachers who are so used to correcting grammar and spelling that they can't focus on larger issues like plot or character arc. Dialogue using slang can distract them from the characterization. If they see "literature" as something removed from "genre" or popular" fiction (which many of them do), their bias can get in the way, too.

I've been in two writing groups, and neither of them did the job I would have liked for a number of reasons. The first was composed of people who wrote in all genres: poetry, "literary," memoir, nonfiction...and me. I was dismayed to learn that the rules of good writing don't carry over from form to form. Two people in the group wrote well and offered intelligent feedback, but the rest made me wonder why we'd outlawed flogging. I finally left the group when one woman announced, "This is in the style of Gabriel Garcia Marques," and I, with my usual tact, replied, "So why isn't it in Spanish?" Nobody laughed.

The second group was all genre writers. At one time, we had 23 members, but six or seven showed up at most meetings, four of us regularly and the others at random. One always came to complain that she hadn't had time to write and wanted us to commiserate. I was the only crime/mystery writer, and people complained that my characters kept getting into trouble. Fortunately, the organizer ran into family turmoil and the group dissolved before I had to resort to violence...which I would have called "research."

Both groups had problems with anyone pointing out weaknesses, such as illogical plot twists, 40 pages of description in a 50-page excerpt, or characters who changed speech patterns from meeting to meeting.

Ideally, a beta reader is familiar with the form you write, whether it's mystery, romance, science fiction, free verse or financial theory. They have to understand your work and appreciate it, but still not be impressed by it. Yes, it's a paradox, but it's vital. If people love your work, they'll be reluctant to point out problems, which is the whole reason to be your beta reader.

A good beta reader can spot inconsistencies and inaccuracies but still focus on the big stuff. I remember one reader who wondered if my scene might have more impact in a different point of view, and I realized as soon as he said it that he was right. I changed it.

Another good reader stage-managed several plays that I directed, and she understood my rhythms and my visual/aural sense. She grasped that I "heard" things better than I "saw" them on-stage and blocked scenes and beat changes as a form of punctuation.

When I drifted away from theater, I asked her to read one of my novels. We met a month later, and she pulled out the well-thumbed MA (she'd read the whole thing three times, bless her) and flipped to a page with a paper clip on it.

"Do you know there's a huge energy drop in this scene?" She'd even turned down the page where it started, and it showed me that the scene needed drastic cutting. A ten-page scene became five because I had included so much detail that added nothing to the story.

Both those readers have moved away and I don't have emails for either of them. Alas. I have two or three readers now, and they all have strengths, but they all have weaknesses, too. Fortunately, they complement each other. One is great for details and fact checking (you spelled this name with an "ie" here and with a "y" later) but doesn't get structure or pacing. We constantly argue about a turning point coming too soon (I think 90% of the book is fine, but she wants it in the last ten pages, even though I don't write whodunits). Another, who does physical training, has a sense of my pacing and comprehends my rhythms. Her standard comment is along the lines of "I thought this dragged until incident Z in Scene AA." That helps me enormously.

A good beta reader can tell you what bothers him or her without necessarily telling you how to fix it. Sometimes, a casual comment like "this seems to start more slowly than I expected" is all you need. Or, "was that supposed to be funny?"

A good beta reader is worth his or her weight in chocolate, so if you find one, cherish him or her. And DON'T give him stuff that isn't ready for another pair of eyes. I don't like to show anything until the fourth or fifth draft because by then I've fixed most of the typos and can mention specific concerns, such as shifting POV or a strained plot point.

Whatever your beta reader tells you, listen to it. You don't have to change everything but remember that this is a preview of how other people will respond to your book. Think of it as a first date that you want to go well. Otherwise, what's the point?

16 April 2017

Model Employees

by Leigh Lundin

The French noun librairie looks obvious, right? Library? Mais non, it is one of those words related yet different… it means bookstore. Library en français is bibliothèque. Biblio– the root is obvious once you know the word.

La Librairie Mollat is a sizable bookstore in Bordeaux that has gained a reputation not only for books, but for its photography of books as modeled by store employees. By reputation, I refer to its 50 000 Instagram fans. What makes Librairie Mollat special? Take for example:



The employees photograph book covers… modeled with fellow employees.


Most are amusing, but the precision of the photos astonishes me.




Employees lend body parts or portions of their faces.






The eyes in this lady amaze me.


This case looks almost transparent.


Mustaches are a thing.




Charming, isn't it!


I love this one.


Our paranormal pal Charlaine Harris is very much a thing, too.












Charlaine Harris' covers are by far the most popular.


Enjoy the rest of the show.








Clever!














Backstory…


 Finally for you Star Wars fans…


Thanks to the reader who brought the bookstore to my attention. For other examples, visit here. For the full collection, check the store's Instagram page.

15 April 2017

So Mysterious: a Q&A With Gerald So


by John M. Floyd



Gerald So is a name that's familiar to most of us who write short mystery fiction. In fact Gerald is a past president (2008-10) and past vice-president (2012-14) of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, as well as an author, editor, and publisher. Since 2008, he has published crime-themed poetry, first in The Lineup chapbook series, co-edited with Patrick Shawn Bagley, Reed Farrel Coleman, Sarah Cortez, Richie Narvaez, and Anthony Rainone, and now at The Five-Two weekly website.

I e-met Gerald long ago, and although we've never crossed paths in person, I feel I know him well through our many emails and his many projects. We also share a love of crime poetry. (I've sold more than 300 poems, believe it or not--many of them in the mystery category--to Writer's Digest, EQMM, Grit, Farm & Ranch Living, etc.). Gerald reminded me recently of one of my poems called "Tinseltown," which appeared in The Five-Two several years ago.  (Here's a link.)

Okay, that's my warm-up act. Here's the main event: a brief interview with the crime-poetry king himself, Gerald So.


JF: Gerald, it's great to have you with us at SleuthSayers. Let's start with a clarification: What would you say is the difference between crime fiction and crime poetry?

GS: Mainly, unlike fiction, poetry isn't necessarily narrative. Poetry doesn't have to stick to procedural aspects of genre conventions. It can, for example, depict the aftermath of crime as an emotional moment, before the tendency toward story sets in. Poets have the freedom to approach crime from angles you might not see in fiction. I need occasional breaks from reading and writing crime fiction while poetry has held my interest all along.


JF: How did you get started writing poetry, and especially crime-themed poetry?

GS: I started writing bad poetry in high school. By college, I'd decided fiction was safer ground, but while teaching at Hofstra University I befriended poet Robert Plath, and handled the technical side of the faculty poetry website he edited. In reading the material to be posted on the website, I began to form opinions about it, and then seriously write my own poetry. I broke into print with poetry, not fiction, and decided I wouldn't give it up.

I think the theme of crime worked its way in naturally because powerful inciting events, such as crimes, are what hook and keep me reading anything.


JF: I agree. As I mentioned earlier, you started out publishing The Lineup crime poetry chapbooks. Now that you've published via a website, would you ever consider adding a Five-Two paper format?

GS: Yes, but I'd need more resources and help to make it happen. The advantage of maintaining a poetry blog and ebooks is I'm the only one who has to work on them to see them published. That said, a longterm goal of the site and ebooks is to keep crime poetry in the public eye, to grow interest in the concept until things like print or audio releases, and anything else you might imagine, are within reach.


JF: Can you tell us more about The Lineup series?

GS: The Lineup was a print-on-demand chapbook published once a year from 2008 to 2011. An acquaintance, author Alex Echevarria Roman, suggested the idea of a crime-themed poetry journal, and I ran with it, recruiting friends as co-editors. The Lineup had four editors per issue, each reading and rating all the poems submitted. It was a unique but complicated process, and as my friends turned to bigger projects, The Lineup couldn't be sustained. All four published volumes are still available here, though, on Lulu.com.


JF: The Five-Two, which I've heard you call a "crime poetry weekly," is a great site. Who are some of the authors you've featured in The Five-Two?

GS: Thriller author J.T. Ellison is one of the volunteer audio performers. There have been poems by your fellow Derringer Award winner Joseph D'Agnese and by novelist Peter Swanson. Other frequently featured poets include Robert Cooperman, Jennifer Lagier, Charles Rammelkamp, and Nancy Scott.


JF: What other kinds of writing do you do?

GS: I've written book, TV, and film reviews for Crimespree Magazine, a regular TV/film column for Mysterical-E, and a handful of short stories in various journals. I'm waiting on the status of two shorts whose titles I'm not allowed to mention.


JF: In closing, what are some other current markets for crime-themed poetry?

GS: I don't know many other markets that seek crime poetry specifically as The Five-Two does, but there are always markets for poetry with powerful inciting events, of which crime is just one. Some are Midnight Lane Boutique, Nerve Cowboy, Red Fez, Silver Birch Press, and Yellow Mama.


JF: Which is my hint to try some of these latest markets, and for our readers (hopefully) to try their hand at crime poetry also. Many thanks, Gerald, for joining us today. Keep up the good work!




And thanks to all of you as well. I'll be back next Saturday with my regular SleuthSayers column, and some observations of my own . .  . but I hope you'll tune in anyway.




14 April 2017

Interview with Martin Edwards, Malice Domestic's Poirot Award Winner

By Art Taylor

What has struck me most about Martin Edwards, whenever I've been fortunate to spend time with him, are his kindness, generosity, and modesty—qualities which continually understate his truly monumental accomplishments.

Martin Edwards
Just in the past year, Edwards won the Agatha, Edgar, and Macavity Awards in the U.S. and the H.R.F. Keating Award in the U.K. for The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story, but while this landmark book alone might be enough to earn that adjective "monumental" I used above, it's only part of Edwards' story. He's published a dozen and half novels, including two series set in Liverpool and the Lake District. He's published more than 60 short stories, and he's been honored with both the CWA (Crime Writers' Association) Short Story Dagger and the CWA Margery Allingham Award for his short fiction. He's edited 30 anthologies (and counting!), and he advises the British Library's Crime Classics series, republishing both novels and anthologies of classic stories (published in the US by Poisoned Pen Press). He's the president and archivist of the famed Detection Club, and he's the chair and archivist for the CWA as well. And he keeps up a lively blog on fiction, film, and more at "Do You Write Under Your Own Name?"

Oh, and seems like he accomplished most of this in his spare time, since he's also had a long legal career. 


In two weeks, Malice Domestic will celebrate Edwards with this year's Poirot Award, honoring outstanding contributions to the mystery genre. I can hardly imagine anyone who deserves the award more.

In advance of that, Edwards indulged me with a interview—while traveling and via iPhone!—a few quick questions touching on each area of his distinguished career.

Art Taylor: At last year’s Malice Domestic, you won an Agatha Award for The Golden Age of Murder, and this year, you’re returning as the Poirot Award honoree, with that same book  among the cornerstones of your contributions to the genre. Other than awards, what’s been a particularly memorable moment in the reception the book has received?

Martin Edwards: I worked on The Golden Age of Murder for many years, thinking few people would share my enthusiasm. Of all the many gratifying responses, I treasure the review in The Times by Marcel Berlins, one of our leading and most respected reviewers. Modesty forbids me to quote it here. But not to include it on my website!

[Editor's note, overriding Edwards' modesty: The Times wrote that "Few, if any, books about crime fiction have provided so much information and insight so enthusiastically and, for the reader, so enjoyably... No other work mixes genre history, literary analysis and fascinating author biographies with such relish.”]
 
Is there more ahead in your work as a historian?

Yes, this summer will see publication of The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, a companion to the British Library's amazingly successful series. It's a book I'm very proud of.


How do you select books for the British Library's Crime Classics series, and has there been a title that you’ve been particularly proud to reintroduce into publication?

I act as consultant to the British Library and make endless suggestions about books, but they make the decisions. I'm very pleased about many of the reprints but writing a new solution to Anthony Berkeley's The Poisoned Chocolates Case was a particular joy.

[Another editor’s note: A joy for this reader as well!]

John Dickson Carr has said that short fiction is the natural form of the detective story. What special place does short story hold for you in the mystery genre? What  do you value most in a short story—and what are your own goals and challenges in writing your own short fiction? 


Short stories are wonderful! Sherlock and Father Brown were at their best in the short form, and today it remains a great vehicle for a mystery (as you have shown, Art!). A great short story grips from start to finish with no wasted words or longeurs.

One of the pleasures of short story writing is the chance to experiment, to take risks that might seem too daunting in the context of a novel that could take a year or more to write. I wrote short stories set in the countryside before moving from a Liverpool-based series to one set in the Lake District, and that apprenticeship did help. In between finishing one novel and starting another, writing a short story or two can offer a welcome change of pace, and get you in the mood to start another long haul. And there are some things you can do in short stories that you simply can’t do (or at least I couldn’t do) in a novel. One example is a very short story I wrote in the form of an extract from the index to a book. Another is a story called "Acknowledgments" which takes the form used by authors when they include acknowledgments in a book; except that in this story, things take an unexpected turn....


While you’ve obviously been busy in many directions, your fans are waiting for the next novel! What’s ahead for the Lake District Mysteries? (And really, where do you find time to do all that you do?)


I am working on a different kind of novel at present but after that it is back to the Lakes! I hope to continue to mix fiction and fact as a writer. I love both. As for time, well, life is short. I want to write as much as I can but most of all I want to write as well as I can. The awards have been hugely encouraging and the Poirot award is a great honour for which I'm truly grateful. I hope to repay that honour by writing the best books I can—and as a novelist I think the best may yet be to come. We'll see!


IN PERSONAL NEWS (Back to Art)


I'll close out this post with a bit of news about my own work. Last week, I learned that my story "Parallel Play" from Chesapake Crimes: Storm Warning, already a finalist for this year's Agatha Award alongside fine fiction by fellow SleuthSayers Barb Goffman and B.K. Stevens, has also been named a finalist for this year's Thriller Award for Best Short Story—and I'm in good company there too, with a slate that includes Eric Beetner, Laura Benedict, Brendan DuBois, and Joyce Carol Oates! The winner will be announced at ThrillerFest in New York in mid-July—and I'll be making my first appearance at that conference as well, keeping fingers crossed, of course, and toes too, let's be honest!

In the more immediate future is Malice Domestic itself, April 28-30 in Bethesda, Maryland, and here's my schedule below for that weekend.
  • Opening Ceremonies • Friday, April 28, 5 p.m.
  • Welcome Reception & Anthology Signing for Malice Domestic 12: Mystery Most Historical (as part of editorial selection committee) Friday, April 28, 9 p.m.
  • Panel: “Make It Snappy: Agatha Best Short Story Nominees,” with Gretchen Archer, Barb Goffman, Edith Maxwell, and B.K. Stevens, moderated by Linda Landrigan • Saturday, April 29, 10 a.m.
  • Agatha Awards Banquet • Saturday, April 29, 7 p.m.
Looking forward to seeing folks in Bethesda in just a couple of weeks!

13 April 2017

"Afternoons in Paris" by Janice Law

by Eve Fisher

You remember Francis Bacon:
  File:Pourbus Francis Bacon.jpg  No, not that one, this one:  

Francis Bacon, artist.  Francis Bacon, gambler.  Francis Bacon, bon vivant.  Francis Bacon, gay, asthmatic, Irish, autodidact, devoted to his Nan, louche, rough, crazy...

Well, HE'S BACK!!!!



Yes, my favorite gay artist adventurer is back in Janice Law's "Afternoons in Paris".  Francis is 18 and in the City of Lights, and very glad to be there after the craziness of Berlin (read Janice's "Nights in Berlin":  the book and David Edgerley Gates' review).  Now he's on his own, working for a decorator/designer by day (the somewhat susceptible Armand), visiting galleries with the motherly Madame Dumoulin, and cruising the city by night with the totally unreliable Pyotr, a Russian emigre who, like Francis, has a taste for quick hook-ups and rough trade.

Pyotr has two Russian friends, Igor, who's sinister, and Lev, who's quickly assassinated.  After getting robbed (by Pyotr), beaten up (by 'Cossacks') in Montparnasse, and finding two more waiting to do the same at his lodgings, Francis tries to avoid Russians by moving in with Madame Dumoulin and her brother, Jules, who needs a caretaker.  Well, it could be argued that Francis is the last person to be anyone's companion/caretaker, but our boy knows how to be appreciative.  And Jules, although a traumatized WW1 veteran, is an innocent (at least compared to Francis):  much like Mr. Dick in "David Copperfield", he builds complex machines and flies kites.  Francis can enjoy both.

And then Jules gets a chance to design machines for the theatre group Les Mortes Immortels, and it's back to Paris for all.  Jules' machines are the best part of a production about as audience-friendly as "Finnegan's Wake"; that and the character of Human Hope, played by Inessa, a Russian Helen of Troy who enraptures everyone around her.  Except for those who are using her.

Russians are everywhere, and they're all dangerous:  Pyotr; the NKVD assassin Alexi; the NKVD blackmailer Anoshkin; Inessa's missing brother, Pavel.  And, wouldn't you know it, who's up to his neck in all of this but Francis' Uncle Lastings?  Now known as Claude, art dealer and bon-vivant, but still up to his neck in intrigue, scams, sex, and spying.  Francis has a lot of fast talking, fast running, fast thinking, and fast acting to do to survive...

Soutine's Chemin de la Fontaine
des Tins at Ceret - Wikipedia
As always, it's fascinating to see the world through Francis' eyes, especially at 18, when he is still at the beginning of creating himself.  He has a knack for noticing details, from the "distinctive stink of French drains" to the "most brutal and vigorous thing I'd seen in France" - a dead rooster, painted by Chaim Soutine.  When he writes to Nan that "a glance at her makes me feel more hopeful", we know that Inessa is indeed a remarkable woman, someone to pay attention to.  And, when told that Pavel can't be wandering Paris without proper papers, Francis' reaction is "My own experience in Berlin led me to believe that Monsieur Chaput was exaggerating.  A teenage boy has a number of ways of eluding bureaucrats and busybodies."  And he would know.
Image result for jessie lightfoot
Nan

Emotionally, Francis is still developing, or is he?  At one point he says, regarding his commitment to Jules:  "I had promised Jules, and I believe in friendship.  It tends to be more stable than romance." Not to mention family. As he writes to Nan about his uncle, "I know this is a surprise, but He Who Must Not be Named has secured a job for me, and this time, I have asked to be paid half in advance. You can see I am getting wise to the ways of the world." In fact, the only person Francis trusts implicitly is Nan, in "Afternoons in Paris", "Nights in Berlin", "Fires of London", "The Prisoner of the Riviera", "Moon over Tangier" and in real life.  She will always be the most stable person in his life, not excepting himself.

But even at 18, Francis is already witty, sarcastic, honest, observant, hungry, lustful, reckless, and utterly sure that he will never be among the bourgeoisie. (And how right he is.) He always gives a master class in the art of survival.  Francis Bacon and Paris in the 20s - it's hard to ask for anything more.