03 June 2017

Zoning Out



by John M. Floyd



All of us have heard of it, and all of us have experienced it, from time to time (but never enough, it seems). It's special and wonderful and elusive--and no, it's not fame or fortune. What am I talking about?

It's something I've often heard called the Hot Zone, or just the Zone. It's a feeling, or a state of mind, that we as writers are sometimes able to achieve, and when we're reached it our ideas seem to blossom and the words seem to flow and the whole world just seems right. When we're in the Zone we're invincible, unstoppable; we can do no wrong. Author Carolyn Wheat once said, "Getting to that state, and staying there for as long as possible, is the key to writing success."


I used to play a lot of golf, and even though I'm weary of sports analogies, I can still recall the warm and weird "feeling" that came with the confidence of sometimes knowing, during a swing, that the ball was going to go exactly where I wanted it to go. (That feeling was rare, and many of the balls I hit have never been found--but when the sensation was there, it was exhilarating.) The same thing happens occasionally during other activities, including some of my writing sessions.

But I was serious when I said it's elusive. Ariel Gore observed, in her book How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead, "Where do I go to write a story? I don't. I just sit here, waiting and waiting and waiting till the story begins to come to me. Then I sit very, very, very still and try not to scare it off. If I grab at it, it might run under the sofa and hide."

John Simmons, in a piece he wrote for Writers & Artists, said, ". . . When I'm in that zone, I'm not always aware of it. It's a wonderful feeing when you realise afterwards that you've been there. I think it's part of the addiction of being a writer."

More quotes:

"An athlete has her training schedule, the date of the event stamped in her mind, the excitement of the crowded stadium to trigger her best. An actor has his script, his rehearsals and, when it matters, the glare of the lighted stage. The writer has nothing. Hence all the mad little rituals we hear about, having to use a 4H pencil, a Moleskine notebook, having to be in a particular spot, in a certain room, at exactly this time of day, drinking this kind of tea, smoking this brand of cigarette. All desperate attempts to propitiate inspiration, to have ordinariness and originality somehow intersect." -- Tim Parks, "The Writer's Zone."

"The runner's zone is a situation that occurs when you have run for a long time, and your body finds a 'place' where it hits its peak performance. Your body synchronizes your breaths and moves more efficiently. When a writer gets in the zone, inspiration, imagination, posture, keyboard command, focus and concentration, and even the perfect amount of emotion all settle in, making us type much faster, make fewer mistakes, automatically correct the mistakes we do make, and essentially enter a supercharged writing mode." -- Scott Kuttner, "How to Find the Writing Zone and Stay There"

It even got mentioned in the current crime novel I'm reading (Home, by Harlan Coben). The book's protagonist, former NBA star Myron Bolitar, is watching his nephew play basketball in Myron's old high-school gym, and Coben says, "You could see it right away. The greatness. Myron studied his nephew's face and saw that look of what they called 'being in the zone,' focused yet relaxed, on edge yet laid back, whatever terminology you wanted to use, but really it could all be summed up in one word. Home. When Mickey was on the court, like his uncle before him, he was home."

The big question, then, is how do we writers ensure that we reach this mystical place, often and regularly? Well, everybody has different ideas about that. Peter Shallard, in his article "Psychological Tips for Getting in the Writing Zone," said, "Hardly anyone knows how to get in the zone to produce top quality written material. This is about having the state of creativity (or productivity, or whatever is relevant) on tap . . . ready to go, whenever you need it."

Z marks the spot

So how DO we find our way into the Zone? As always, most treasure maps are false, or at least misleading. I've found that some of the "hints" we're given in how-to-write books are maddeningly vague: clear your head, breathe deeply, meditate, find your rhythm, leave your troubles behind, etc. That kind of advice is no help to me--or, I suspect, to anyone else. Of course we need to clear our heads of everything except writing, in order to do our best work. But how?

The following is one of those "do as I say" lists, rather than "do as I do," since I don't seem to be able to make myself obey these rules. But a lot of my writing friends swear that these are the things they do to increase their chances to reach (and frolic in) the flowery meadows and bubbling fountains of the Writing Zone.

1. Write in the same place every day.

This could be the desk in your home office, a recliner in your den, a chair on your sun deck, a swing in your back yard, or anyplace that just feels "right" and comfortable. But let's face it, most writers have schedules that make this hard to do, at least for any length of time. For some, it might be a seat on the commuter train to the office and back. Whatever works.

2. Write at the same time every day.

This is another rule that, for many of us, might or might not be possible. If your daily routine allows it, I can see that it could help. And I've heard that the time should be early in the day rather than late, because our minds are fresher before facing all our daily non-writing problems. Again, if you can do this, fine. Since I'm a night-owl anyhow, most of my fiction is produced in the wee hours (the midnight zone?)--but I don't assign myself a time slot. I can, and do, write pretty much anytime, and anyplace.

3. Surround yourself with encouraging/inspiring sounds.

Many writers say they require a certain kind of music during their writing sessions; others prefer a busy public place with people-noises, like a coffeeshop or the food court in the mall--or a city park with the soothing sounds of birds and traffic and laughing children. I even know writers who use white-noise machines or tapes of rain on the roof or of seagulls and the surf. What I prefer, like Simon and Garfunkel, is the sound of silence. I'm not a solitary person, usually: I like to have things going on around me. But when I write, I want it quiet.


Game analysis and zone defense

If I had to assign percentages, I'd guess that at least half my writer buddies make a sincere attempt to follow the three rules I mentioned. And I say More power to 'em--if that helps, do it. If I did it, I might create better stories, or at least create them faster. But we all have our own methods, and I've been fortunate enough to somehow reach that strange and hypnotic plateau pretty regularly without knowing for sure how I got there.

What do you do, to maximize your writing efficiency/productivity? Is this "zone" state of mind something that happens to you often, or seldom? Do you write in the same location every day? Same time(s)? Do you listen to classical music while you work? Jazz? Rock? Country? The sounds of nature? The Mystic Moods Orchestra?

To each his own.



And by the way, sincere congratulations to my old friend and fellow SleuthSayer O'Neil De Noux, for being nominated earlier this week for a Shamus. Well done!!







02 June 2017

The 60s, man. The 60s.


The 60s, man. The 60s.
by
O'Neil De Noux

It was never the best of times and often it was the worst of times. It was the time of assassinations - JFK, RFK, MLK, Medgar Evans, Malcom X, Sharon Tate, 60,000+ Americans dying in a little elbow of a country called Vietnam. And the guilt we veterans had for surviving and living into the next century. It was a time of anguish, of irreverence, of learning just how bad we could be led by bad politicians.

It was another decade in American History where we lost our innocence. Again.

It was a time to drop out of society. Just live. Just survive. Love and hope the man doesn't come for you, tap you on the shoulder with a telegram that began: Greetings. Your friends and neighbors have selected you for military service ... because you knew there was a rice paddy out there with your name on it. We lost so many.

As I grow older, decades seem to slip by. But not the 60s. Never the 60s.

Was their anything good? Yes. The music. Oh, the music. From Bob Dylan through the The Beatles and the rest of the British invasion and the home grown sounds of the Mamas and the Papas and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and The Beach Boys and Hendrix and The Doors and Joanie Mitchell and Joan Baez and Simon and Garfunkel and Ray Charles and Motown. Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye - man, oh, man. Jefferson Airplane.



Listen to the haunting voice of Grack Slick signing WHITE RABBIT. Turn the volume up first. Let her take you down the rabbit hole.
LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyMtIwobqbI


Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane


How about that little irreverent number we knew by heart when I was in the army. LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HVACPv_KFw

   Country Joe and the Fish

And a parting shot of the song often called the anthem of the 60s. Check it out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIVe-rZBcm4




www. oneildenoux.com 

01 June 2017

The Grind


by Brian Thornton

Ah, yes. "The Grind."

Not talking about the popular '90s Empty-Vee dance program.

And not talking about the grim but effective series of business articles exposing bad practices and the shortcomings of globalization over at Slate magazine, either.

Not talking about the day gig.

Not talking about a coffee house (or a coffee company, for that matter).

I'm talking about powering through a writing project in its final throes.

Call it what you will: the slog. The muddle.

I call it "the grind."

I'm in the midst of something like that now. I've been working on it off and on over the last year. The idea is to expand a short story I sold several years back to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine into a novella.

"Suicide Blonde" originally pubbed in AHMM Nov. 2008
The story, originally clocking in at 6,500 words, is called "Suicide Blonde." It's set in 1962 Las
Vegas, and involves the travails undergone by a mob fixer who gets caught up in a murder that may involve in his boss' brother: a guy he's been playing nursemaid to for a while, now.

When the story dropped, friend after friend told me the same thing: that they wanted more. That they thought I had the makings of an actual novel here. So I thought, "Hey, what if I expand it to novella length, and put it out there and see what happens? How hard can it be, right?"

As it turns out: pretty damned hard!

The thing about writing a short story, or a novella, or even a novel, is that most authors (myself included), start out with a relatively clear idea about what they want to do. Whether you're a plotter or a pantser (I started out as the latter but am now firmly in the former camp), you have at least a rough idea of your potential beginning, middle and end.

I was not prepared for how utterly down the rabbit hole the attempt to expand my original short story by an additional 10,000 words would take me. It turns out trying to expand an existing story into something longer entailed changing it up as much as it did expanding it.

It meant that the initially lean style and terse descriptions had to be given room to work and breathe. It meant that conventions that suited my short story style had to be adapted and reworked, because what works well for 6,500 words, character/description/plot-wise, tends to look pretty thin, pretty stock and pretty flat over the course of 16,000 words.

Plus, as I've mentioned before here and elsewhere, I've a challenging day job, a terrific marriage and a lively five year-old, all of which require a lot of my time and attention.

So, a GRIND, indeed!

That said, I did it. Finished it tonight.

And on that note, I'm off to celebrate. See below for the banner ad teasing the cover artwork.

See you in two weeks!


31 May 2017

The Family That Slays Together


by Robert Lopresti

Our recent extravaganza about families got me thinking about a related subject.  I didn't have time to write about it during our special fortnight because I was working on another project, one I will write about here in July.  But since no one else covered this aspect of the subject I thought I would take a shot of it.

We wrote about having mystery writers in the family.  But what about those families with, heaven help them, two mystery writers in the family?  Here are the ones I could think of. Please tell me who I missed.


Married Couples

Ross Macdonald and Margaret Millar. Kenneth Millar married Margaret Sturm when they were both in their early twenties.  Ken published stories first but Margaret got her first novels out ahead of him. To avoid confusion he tried various pseudonyms, eventually settling on Ross Macdonald, much to the fury of John D. MacDonald who didn't accept the lower case D as a big enough difference.  Ross and Margaret both were named Grand Masters by MWA, in different years.  They never collaborated.

Bill
Pronzini and Marcia Muller.  The other MWA Grand Master couple, both still publishing.  They mostly write separately but have collaborated and even had their characters work together.  They have also both been awarded the Eye  for lifetime achievement by the Private Eye Writers of America.


William DeAndrea and Jane Haddam.  DeAndrea won Edgars in three different categories, and that doesn't happen very often.  Haddam has been nominated twice for an Edgar and once for an Anthony.  DeAndrea died ridiculously young in 1996; Haddam is still active.

The Gordons.  Gordon and Mary Gordon wrote many novels under the name The Gordons (which must have really bugged library catalogers).  Many of them featured FBI agent John Ripley, leaning on Gordon Gordon's Bureau experience during World War II.  They are perhaps best remembered for Undercover Cat, which Disney filmed as That Darned Cat.  In the book the word was not darned, but hey, that's Disney.

Margery Allingham and Pip Youngman Carter. Allingham was, of course, the very successful creator of crime novels about Albert Campion. Hubby Carter was an artist who created her book covers, and wrote about thirty crime short stories of his own.  When  his wife died Carter finished her last book, Cargo of Eagles, and then wrote two more Campion books on his own.

Dick Francis and Mary Francis.  Put a question mark by this one.  Dick Francis was the only name on the cover of those books, although he acknowledged his wife as his researcher and editor.  (She also took the photographs that graced the covers of the British editions of his books.)  Late in life he said "She was in a way a co-author, but she wouldn't take the credit.  I don;t really know why.  She didn't really like publicity, and she was quite happy for me to have all the credit."  Eventually some people declared that Mary had actually written the books, since an uneducated jockey could not possibly have produced such brilliant books.  Ironically, that was precisely the sort of snobbery Francis's protagonists were constantly subjected to.  But see below.

J.J. Cook.  Jim and Joyce Lavene wrote cozies under this name as well as Ellie Grant, and Elyssa Henry.

Sisters

Perri O'Shaunessy.  Pam and Mary O'Shaunessy write about attorney Nina Reilly.  Pam was a lawyer herself until she gave it up for literature.  They have written more than a dozen novels about Reilly, plus some stand-alones.

P.J. Parrish.  Kris Montee and Kelly Nichols write under this name.  They have won an Edgar for their series about Detroit cop Louis Kincaid.


Brothers

Peter Anthony.  Anthony Shaffer and Peter Shaffer were twins.  Anthony wrote several mystery plays, most notably Sleuth.  Peter wrote non-mystery dramas such as Equus and Amadeus, but together they wrote several mystery novels under the name Peter Anthony.


Brother and Sister

Robert Lopresti and Diane Chamberlain.  I am embarrassed to admit this is the last pair I thought of.  Diane's novels are generally described as women's fiction, rather than crime fiction.  Nonetheless The Bay at Midnight and Pretending to Dance are both investigations of suspicious deaths, and The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes and Necessary Lies (my favorite) include kidnappings.


Father and Daughter

Tony Hillerman and Anne Hillerman.  After Tony died Anne took over the Navajo police franchise.  Song of the Lion is number three.


Father and Son

Arthur Conan Doyle and Adrian Conan Doyle.  In the 1950s, decades after his father's death, Adrian teamed up with John Dickson Carr to write a series of short stories which were eventually published under the title The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes.  I have always wondered whether they were aware that one meaning of "exploit" is "use selfishly for one's own ends."

Dick Francis and Felix Francis.  See above.  After his mother died Francis was listed as co-author of his father's books, and after Dick died, he has published several novels with titles beginning Dick Francis'...

William F. Buckley and Christopher Buckley. Among his many other books WFB wrote a series of spy novels about Boysie Oakes.  His son Christopher's comic novels include No Way To Treat A First Lady, in which the protagonist is accused of murdering her philandering husband.

Mother and Daughter

Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark.  Mary is, of course, a hugely successful author of suspense novels.  Carol writes mysteries about Regan Reilly.  Occasionally they write together, usually Christmas treats.

P.J. Tracy. P.J. Lambrecht, who died last year, wrote the Monkeewrench Gang novels with her daughter Traci.  The gang were a bunch of computer geniuses who lived in the Twin Cities.


Mother and Son 

Charles Todd. That is the pen name for Caroline and Charles Todd.  Their most famous books feature Ian Rutledge, a Scotland Yard detective who is haunted by his experiences in the Great War.  Specifically , he is accompanied everywhere by the voice of Hamish MacLeod, a soldier he had executed for disobedience during battle. 

Cousins

Ellery Queen.  You didn't think I would forget them, did you?  Frederick Dannay and Manfred Lee defined the crime-writing-duo for more than four decades.  Supposedly Dannay created the plots and Lee wrote the words.

I am sure I missed a bunch.  Please add them in the comments.

30 May 2017

My Favourite Shape: the Love Triangle



I’m going to break away from mysteries and death for a moment, because no book is 100 percent blood, and talk about the negative space between them. For me, that’s love and relationships, Dr. Hope Sze has a relationship with two different men.
Love triangles fascinate me.
Once Sting said something like, “‘I love you and you love me’ is boring. But if I love you and you love someone else … ” As a kid, I was riveted by that talk show interview.
As an adult, I married my high school sweetheart. So it’s only on the page that I create worlds where women have choices, shall we say. Not in all my books, but one major engine of the Hope Sze series is that two men vie for her affections.
“When are you writing a new Hope book?” asked Kat, one of the nurses.
“I’m working on it,” I said.
“Well, write faster! I need to know what’s happening to the guys.”
I didn’t start by conscious design, but it so happens that Hope solves quite complex mysteries in each book, yet her personal life remains even more complicated.
The first serious man in her life is her ex-boyfriend, Ryan Wu.
As Hope explains in Code Blues, Ryan and I had basically been set up by our grandmothers. He was a smart, hard-working, good-looking Chinese boy. In other words, Grandma’s idea of manna from heaven, and not far from mine, either.
The problem was, his engineering job tied him to Ottawa, while Hope was studying on the other end of the province. They broke up before she made it back to McGill for family medicine, until a chance encounter throws him back in her life.

In the meantime, she meets a mouthy resident (doctor in post-graduate training) who doesn't make much of an impression at first.
John Tucker was a white guy with a shock of wheat-coloured hair. I wondered if he dyed it, while he said in a baritone voice, "Call me Tucker. Everyone does. You can call me Tucker, Tuck, Turkey. I'll answer to anything." He winked at me.
I wrinkled my nose. He was trying too hard. Not my type.

Tucker doesn't know how to flirt or tease the way other guys do, but he ends up proving himself, especially during the hostage-taking in Stockholm Syndrome.

Was it a stupid idea to have more than one love interest? Jennifer Crusie points out in her excellent blog, “Readers/viewers pick a side, and then if their side is the one that isn’t chosen, the story fails for them.”
Another commenter, also named Jennifer, summed it up like this:
“Love triangles usually are a case of:
1. Twilight–the “triangle” is a joke because clearly the game is rigged
2. Stephanie Plum–this … will just drag on forever.
3. Lost–gee, two jerks, which of the jerks will Kate choose? Who cares?”

What do you think? Should it be all monogamy, all the time? More romance? No romance, just plot-plot-plot?

While I solicit feedback, please let me know what you think of my new quiz at http://melissayuaninnes.com/doctor-nasty/ ! You don't have to opt in to get your results, but I'm setting up a free gift for new subscribers by the end of the month. Cheers!



29 May 2017

In Memory of Nora


by Jan Grape
Sometimes a writer can't help memorializing a a purrsonal moment. Prolific short story writer and mystery maven Jan Grape is in the throes of rearing kittens: a pair of black felines made for mischief and murder most feline. It seems they claim a kinship to a certain "uncle Louie." (They are so wet behind the ears from Mama lickings that they have not even learned to Capitalize.) Still, they are Chiclets's off the old gumshoe. Seems there's a mystery in the neighborhood that needs the feline touch…
— M.L.
This was the appearance of Nick and Nora in short story form in the anthology Midnight Louie's Pet Detectives. Edited by Midnight Louie and his owner and author, Carole Nelson Douglas.

It was 1997 when I wrote the story, "Kittens Take Detection 101" and the book was published in 1998. That's how I know for sure my cats were born in 1997.

I did let the kittens write and talk and solve the mystery. It was fun to have them in the story and let them be big heroes and win the day for my protagonist, PI  Jenny Gordon.

Nora turned 20 years old on March 30, 2017. As I mentioned in an earlier post my cats were a big part of my life and after Nick passed 2.5 years ago it was just Nora and I around here. Twenty years is fairly old for a cat. However, she and Nick both were indoor cats and never went outside to be in danger from predator animals for automobiles or disease brought by another animal into the yard. All their lives they had vet care. Check-ups and shots. Same vet for ten or eleven years.

On May 2, 2017 I had to have Nora put to sleep. She had developed hyperthyroidism but was really too old to have to be put to sleep to have blood drawn or to even try to poke pills or even get liquid medicine down. Treatment would only have given her a few more weeks and no telling what other things in her body would go wrong. There is no way I would ever let an animal suffer.

The vet gave her a sedative and as she drifted off to sleep, I rubbed her ears and face which she always enjoyed. I thanked her for being such a good kitty and told her I loved her. The vet came in then and gave her the final shot and I left the room. My friend and neighbor had driven me there and back. Which was great so I didn't have to drive while tears rolled down my face.

It's been really hard without Nora. As I laughingly said in my previous post about having pet in your stories. "Nora was with me longer than any of my 3 kids, who went off to college or got married."

I can think about her now over than Rainbow Bridge where I think animals go to wait for us. She's healthy and happy. She's with Nick, her brother, litter mate and they run and play and chase squirrels.
Good bye, little baby gal. You gave me many smiles, purrs snuggles and head bumps. I will always love and miss you.

28 May 2017

Critiques: Giving and Taking


by R.T. Lawton

In SleuthSayers Sandbox postings last April concerning a potential SS project under discussion, a question came up which led to the topic of critiques. And, that led to this article.

At one time or another, most authors could use a critique of their work before their manuscripts are submitted to an editor. Often, the authors are too close to their work for them to see any defects in their creation, much the same way a mother perceives her newly born baby. It's only later that mom starts shaping the way her child acts.

Hopefully, the items mentioned in a critique help the receiving author to correct any errors or problems in his or her written creation, thus increasing the chances of their manuscript being liked and then published by an editor. Unfortunately, not all critiques are equal in their presentation, and not all critiques are well received by the manuscript's author.

So, here are some thoughts on the critique procedure, most of which have been gleaned from handouts at various writers' conferences, plus some from personal experience.

The Giving:

~ The person giving the critique should keep their personal likes and dislikes out of the critique. After all, the critique is not about them, but rather about helping the manuscript's author produce a salable product. For instance, the critiquer may like or prefer something in the hard-boiled sub-genre or a literary style of writing as opposed to something in the cozy sub-genre or a commercial style of writing, but that's not the goal. The goal is to make helpful comments within the arena in which the author is writing. Just keep in mind that a genre difference or a writing style difference can make it more difficult in how you frame your suggestions, so carefully consider how you say them.
~ There is a difference between a critique (helpful) and criticism (belittling). Statements such as "I hate this" or "This is terrible" are counter-productive and of no help to the author's manuscript. It is better to skip those types of comments and instead point out specific places in need of changing, and then supply helpful suggestions as to how these sections could be written better.
~ Every critiquer has their own areas of expertise, be it grammar, plot, action, characters, dialogue or background. Use your knowledge in these areas to benefit the receiving author.
~ Mention both problems and what's good in the manuscript being reviewed.

The Taking:

~ Let comments in the critique cool for a few days.
~ Consider each comment objectively. If you think the comment is off base, try to figure out why the critiquer made the comment.
~ The work speaks for itself. Don't get defensive, instead ask clarifying questions such as how to improve the critiqued section.
~ If more than one critiquer makes the same comment, then pay attention.
~ Take the positive as well as the negative comments.
~ The important thing is not how high your critique was, but rather what you learned from the experience.
~ Ultimately, it's your created work, so you'll write it the way you want.

                                                  EXPECTATIONS VERSUS REALITY

Expectation:                                   Reality:                                    Yeah, but:

You'll receive a high rating            Odds are probably against it       You'll learn something anyway

Your work is flawless                    Everyone can use some work     You may find flaws you didn't
                                                                                                            know existed

Critiquers are impartial                  Critiquers are human and            Critiquers will give it their
                                                         biased                                          best shot

Feedback is clear and                     Feedback is sometimes                All feedback is worthwhile
 helpful                                             confusing, inconsistent    
                                                         and contradictory

Feedback will fix all                        Only you can fix your                   It will help, especially on
 your problems                                  problems                                        glaring issues

Critiques by various                        Critiques may range widely;         Receiving feedback is the
 readers will be consistent                 some readers may critique             most important part
                                                          different aspects of the story

Your work will be judged                 Some readers have plot                 Some editors have the same
 on story alone                                   prejudices; some are                      prejudices when you submit
                                                           influenced by grammar,                 your manuscript for
                                                           spelling and format problems        publication

An excellent critique means             A good critique is no guarantee     Your odds are better than if
 you'll sell                                          of selling                                         you had no critique


No doubt, most writers reading this article have received critiques on their works and have made their own critiques on the writings of other authors. Some of the points mentioned above may have touched hot buttons out of your past, and/or you may have thoughts of your own on this subject. Feel free to join in with your own experiences.

What other thoughts, suggestions, comments should be added or deleted here?

27 May 2017

If The Goddaughter moved to other Genres (a seriously non-serious post)




by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Last year at about this time, my publisher gave me a challenge.  “We want to try some women’s
fiction for the Rapid Reads line,” she said. "So I need a book from you by August."

Huh?  Me, the scribe of mob comedy, write Chicklit?  Romance?  Okay, can I make it funny, I asked?  Luckily they went thumbs up.  And so WORST DATE EVER comes out in September this year.

More on that later.  This column is about something else.

Point being, all this writing-out-of-genre got me thinking.  Crime has always been my thing.  I write about a mob goddaughter who doesn’t want to be one.  Her inept mob family never gets it right.   

What would happen if Gina Gallo, the original mob goddaughter, were to be dragged kicking and screaming out of crime, and plunked right down into another genre.  Or three.  So here goes.

Western:
(on a stage coach near you)

Gina:  “Please move over.  You’re taking up two seats.”

Bad guy Cowboy: “Hey little lady.  You can sit right here on my lap.  What’s a pretty little thing like you doing with that mighty big revolver, anyway?”

Gina (demonstrating):  <BLAM>

Cowboy drops to the floor.

Gothic Romance:
(in a seriously spooky old manor)

Fiendish male character, rubbing hands together:  “You’ll never escape me, my pretty.  Never!”

Gina (looking around): “Are you sure this isn’t a set for The Rocky Horror Picture Show?”

Fiend:  “Enough!  You’ll be my wife with or without the church.”

Gina (extracting knife beneath skirt): <THWOCK>

Fiend drops to the floor.

Literary:
(at a slam poetry evening)

Male Poet:  “Stop.Cry.Laugh.Love not war.Peace not profit.Climate change.Capitalists.Love crimes.War crimes.Killing oceans.Killing whales.Every other cliché you can think of.Pain.I’m in pain.A pain so great.

Gina: <BLAM>

Poet is out of pain, and so is everyone else.

To be continued…(or not, if someone takes out the writer first)

Just released!  THE BOOTLEGGER’S GODDAUGHTER, book 5 in The Goddaughter series
“…the work of an author at the absolute top of her game” Don Graves, Canadian Mystery Reviews



On Amazon

26 May 2017

Monuments to a Terrible Past


by O'Neil De Noux

Confederate monuments have been removed from public places in New Orleans.

A little perspective about these monuments. Founded on May 7, 1718, New Orleans has been around for 299 years. For 1 year and 3 months she was a confederate city (from January 26, 1861 until April 25, 1862). That's it - 15 months.

For the record - I'm a New Orleanian. Born, raised and educated in New Orleans. I'm fairly intelligent (my last measured IQ was 161). I am a US Army veteran, been a police officer most of my life. I'm an internationally published, award winning writer with 34 books in print and over 400 short stories sales. I have a voice and I now use it.

I dislike changes in our city, dislike renaming streets (What happened to Good Children Street and Craps Street and Nyades and so many others?). I love art and sculpture and statues and have given the removal of confederate monuments a lot of thought.

There is much to be admired about Robert E. Lee but let's face it - he broke his oath to defend the constitution of the United States when he quit the US Army to join the Confederate cause. He led men into battle against the US Army, against men who died flying this flag:


Could you take up arms against this flag?

Robert E. Lee was an important leader of the armed insurrection that divided our nation and caused the deadliest war in American history (Over 750,000 killed and an undetermined amount of civilian casualties). His particular genius at war prolonged the conflict. Jefferson Davis and P. G. T. Beauregard were also traitors. Beauregard, in command of Confederate forces at Fort Sumpter, started the war. We are talking four years of horrific history in America.

Robert E. Lee has no connection to New Orleans (visiting the city doesn't count). His statue was put atop Tivoli Circle by post-reconstruction white citizens thumbing their noses at the Yankees in Washington. The Lee statue, just as the statues of Jefferson Davis and P. G. T. Beauregard, does not celebrate the glory of old New Orleans. They celebrate the lost cause of a confederacy of states whose economies depended on human slavery. They celebrate the arrogance of a people who thought they were better than ungentlemanly Yankees and believed people with darker skin were subhuman and could be bought and sold like beasts of burden.

These monuments were not even put up to celebrate the glory of the old south. They were put up to celebrate defiance, to show the world white people were back in charge of the south after reconstruction and their will be done. Only white folks can vote now. Bring on segregation.

The Liberty Monument is not only a celebration of white power, it is the ONLY American sculpture celebrating the murder of police officers (white and black officers) by an armed mob of terrorists. Abominable. It is a "monument to a deadly white-supremacist uprising in 1874" (www.apnews.com). New Orleans Mayor Mich Landrieu explains these statues "perpetuate the idea of white supremacy". He vowed, "We will no longer allow the Confederacy to be put on a pedestal in the heart of our city."

As I said earlier, I love art and sculpture and statues. These monuments should not be desecrated or destroyed but their time is long past. Put them in a museum.

photo of St. Louis Cathedral © O'Neil De Noux


www.oneildenoux.com

25 May 2017

The Paths of Glory...


by Eve Fisher

Graves at Arlington on Memorial Day.JPG
Arlington Cemetery,
Wikipedia
  • "Fear prophets and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them." -Umberto Eco 
  • “The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble. And those who have the least meaning in their lives, the impoverished refugees in Gaza, the disenfranchised North African immigrants in France, even the legions of young who live in the splendid indolence and safety of the industrialized world, are all susceptible to war's appeal.” Chris Hedges, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
Memorial Day is the United States' official holiday to remember all the people who have died serving in our armed forces.  It's also a good day to remember all who have died in war, period.  And not just in the United States.

Now, this may sound strange to you, but one thing I would like to see is happen is the United States reinstate the draft. Personally, I believe EVERYONE should have to serve in the military, men and women alike.  My reasons are many:

(1) When only 1% of the citizenry serve in the military, and all are "volunteer", then the citizenry as a whole seems to be remarkably unconcerned about what wars, "unofficial" wars, etc., we're in.  The Middle East conflicts have seen military personnel - often "part-time" National Guard - serving 3, 4, 5+  tours of duty, and nobody seems to care.  It's someone else's child, someone else's family, and they volunteered.  Let them go where they're told.  Especially since it's somewhere "over there".  I find this unhealthy.

(2) If everyone serves in the military, then maybe certain politicians won't talk patriotism out of one side of their mouth and then yank promised veterans' benefits away with both hands.  And other things...

(3)  If we're going to police the world, then by God I think we should draft everyone, and let everyone in on what it's like to serve.  Training, education, and a greater knowledge of the world around them.  Mark Twain:  “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

(4) Recurring statements from recurring politicians (who do not/ have not/ will not ever serve) that seem to openly want / long for/ plan for war.  Again, going back to #1 - we have to stop taking our military for granted.  We have to recognize that it's real blood that is shed, real lives that are lost, real minds / bodies that are damaged, sometimes irreparably.

(5) The other side of it is that we appear to be developing a certain (small?) percentage of the military that seems to be increasing in disdain, distrust, and dislike for the non-military majority. I've been told that American civilians in general are unfit, immoral, and slothful.  (From the Walrus and the Carpenter: "I deeply sympathize." Sometimes.) As one said to a judge once, "We throw these people over the fence."  The judge replied, "Welcome to the other side of the fence." And this important:  the military is there to defend the BOTH SIDES OF THE FENCE.

Bill O'Reilly at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia (cropped).jpg
Bill O'Reilly - Wikipedia
I do believe that we take war too casually in this country, mainly because (post 1812) our wars have always (with the exception of the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11) been on someone else's soil.  (This includes the "American Indian Wars" which were all fought on what was, at the time, Native American land.)  There is an American tendency to downplay European distaste for war, European steady pursuit for diplomacy, as "liberal", if not downright cowardly. During the buildup to the Iraqi invasion, Richard Perle stated that European nations "do not have the most courageous of instincts," implying that America must intervene in inter-national affairs because Europeans are afraid to.  (Citation on NBC)  Back in December of 2005, Bill O'Reilly said "I understand Europe. They're cowards." He went on to add,
"...by and large, the European population is soft and afraid. ... They won't confront evil on any level. It is anything goes, just leave me alone. Give me my check from the government and leave me alone." (Citation on MMFA)  It's a fairly constant theme on Breitbart as they quote Neil Farage, Geert Wilders, and others among the alt-right.  

But as one response put it, "Europeans are not cowards - It's that we know war."  And they do.  The following is a list of European wars over the last 200 years:

1789-1795 - The French Revolution (the real beginning of the 19th century)
1802-1815 - The Napoleonic Wars (fought both in every country in Europe and around the world - the War of 1812 was a subset of these)
1819 - August 16 - Great Britain - "The Peterloo Massacre"
1820 - Revolts in Spain and Naples.  Crushed.
1825 - Decembrist Revolt in Moscow.  Crushed
1824-1830 - The Greek Revolt v. Ottoman Empire.  Won (because the Congress of Vienna backed it)
1830 - Serbian Revolt v. Ottoman Empire.  Won (because the Congress of Vienna backed it)
1848:  Europe went NUTS in 1848.  Some of the major armed conflicts were:
  • Revolt in France; king flees; Louis Napoleon Bonaparte is elected, then becomes Napoleon III in 1852, & launches a series of imperial wars on the continent...
  • Berlin revolt.  Crushed.
  • Viennese workers & students revolt in Austria.  Crushed.
  • Czechs revolt vs. Austrian Empire.  Crushed.
  • Milan & Venice revolt vs. Austrian Empire.  Crushed.
  • France invades & occupies Rome at the request of the Pope (they stay until 1870)
1849 - Magyars of Hungary revolt vs. Austrian Empire.  Crushed
1853-1856 - Crimean War.  Russia v. Ottoman Empire, France & Britain.
1854 - Spanish Revolution
1859 - Piedmont (Italy) v. Austrian Empire.  France joins Italy and beats Austria.
WWImontage.jpg
WW1 Montage - Wikipedia
1864 - Danish War (Prussia v. Denmark).  Prussia wins.
1866 - Austro-Prussian War (Austrian Empire v. Prussia).  Prussia wins.
1868 - Spanish Revolution (Italian king put on Spanish throne)
1870 - Franco-Prussian War (French lost; Napoleon III deposed)
1871 - Communard revolt in France.  Crushed.
1876-1878 - series of Serbian-Ottoman (Turkish) wars
1899-1902 - Boer War (Great Britain v. South African Boers).  Britain wins.
1905 - Bloody Sunday Massacre in Russia.
1912-1913 - Balkan Wars.  (sort of a preview of WW1)
1914-1918 - World War I ("The war to end all wars"...  but it wasn't).
1936-1939 - Spanish Civil War (a definite preview of WW2)
1939-1945 - World War II

Infobox collage for WWII.PNG
WW2 Montage - Wikipedia
There are reasons to pursue diplomacy when you have seen war on your home soil at least every decade for over 150 years.  There are reasons to want peace and unification when entire generations of young men have been wiped out time and again (see the list above). When cities have been bombed to rubble, and refugees have numbered in the tens of millions (WW2).  There are reasons to try to figure out what acceptable risks are when you have seen an entire continent explode, and 38 million people killed (civilian and military), over the shooting of one man in Sarajevo (WW1).  And to pursue civil accord, liberties, and responsibility when you've seen an entire continent almost drown in darkness, and almost get destroyed by war, after racist fanatics took over a government and then decided it was time to take over the earth (WW2).

Warsaw, post WW2
Wikipedia
And wars don't just end with everyone going home to a wonderful family reunion.  The scars last a long, long, long time. (Trust me on this: I lived in the South for years, and my mother was Southern.  The Civil War has not yet been forgotten and forgiven, on either side, and that was over 150 years ago. And don't even get me going on the Greeks and the Turks:  my grandfather was still furious at the Turkish invasion of Constantinople... Which happened in 1453...)

WW2 left 20 million military dead and 40 million civilian dead, and God only knows how many wounded.  There were also 60 million refugees.  Of those refugees, at least a million still hadn't found homes by 1951. And millions more weren't refugees, but were simply homeless, as whole cities were bombed into rubble, and much of the European industrial infrastructure destroyed.  And this brings up another unpleasant truth:

World War 2 is the reason why the United States became the leader of the free world and sailed into the 1950s on the biggest wave of prosperity we ever saw:  we hadn't been bombed into rubble, we hadn't lost our infrastructure, we didn't have a huge refugee population to resettle.  Our factories were at top production, when there were barely any left running anywhere else on the planet.  For years, we were the sole supplier of almost everything, and we grew very very rich.  That specific kind of economic boom will never happen again, no matter what any politician tells you, and thank God for it:   it was based on the absolute misery of most of the rest of the world.

Sadly, these lessons may have to be relearned, especially if certain parties in Europe and elsewhere have their way.  But maybe they will continue to remember, even if we do not.  They know how bad it can get.  We can only imagine.  Thank God. May it always stay that way.







24 May 2017

Otto Penzler


by David Edgerley Gates

A nice piece about Otto Penzler just appeared in Atlas Obscura, an introduction and an appreciation, written by Dan Nosowitz. I personally don't think Otto can be celebrated too much. He himself might graciously suggest otherwise, but the rest of us, no. Credit where credit is due.

(I don't pretend to be impartial. Otto's long-listed me a number of times for Best American Mystery Stories, and I've made the cut in three of them, always in good company.)



I'm fairly confident the Mysterious Bookshop wasn't the first bookstore to focus exclusively on mysteries, but it's now the longest-running. There have been a lot of changes to the book biz since 1979, and brick-and-mortar have taken much of the hit. Mysterious keeps the faith.

Mysterious Press has been around since 1975. Sold to Warner, under the Hachette umbrella, later bought back by Otto and moved to Grove Atlantic. He used his own name for an imprint starting at Macmillan, ending up at Houghton Mifflin. Eric Ambler and Isaac Asimov, Len Deighton, James Ellroy, Patricia Highsmith, Ross Thomas, Don Westlake.


Best American Mystery Stories, beginning in 1997. The first guest editor was Robert Parker. Followed by, among others, Sue Grafton, Larry Block, Westlake, Ellroy, Nelson DeMille, Carl Hiassen, Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child, Laura Lippman. The anthology's a benchmark, and the contributors number both brand names and newbies.

Otto puts his money where his mouth is. As an editor, as a publisher, as a bookseller and a book buyer. He doth make love to this employment. He knows everybody. Otto's enthusiasm - for writers, for books, for vigorous opinions - is actually his job description. He gets to share his own consuming passion, and I think he's added a room to the house. not that we had anything to be embarrassed about.



This is in aid of saying, if you don't know the guy, or didn't know of him, make his acquaintance in this profile. Otto Penzler has been carrying water for the mystery and thriller community for quite a while now, and had himself a good time doing it. None of us are the poorer.