18 September 2017

To Be or Not to Be Shy



TO BE OR NOT TO BE SHY

by Jan Grape


Facebook did one of those reminder items asking if you wanted to share what you were doing 1 to 8 years ago? One popped up for me. Last year about this time I was attending Bouchercon in NOLA and having a wonderful time. And looking on my calendar it is almost time for Toronto Canada Bouchercon. Wish I could go this year, however, I chose to attend my 60th High School Reunion instead. I haven't been to a class reunion in many years. Maybe fifteen or sixteen years. 

I am hoping you Bouchercon 2017 attendees, will do a get together, Meet the SleuthSayers you don't know and renew friendships with those you've known for years.I tried to do something like that last year, sent letters out to y'all but never heard back from anyone. Turns out no one got my email note. It obviously got lost in cyberspace.

I went to a Toronto Bouchercon a number of years ago. It's a beautiful city. I think it was around 1991 or '92. Right after I checked in and unpacked, I went back down to the lobby and immediately  ran into Editor, Jane Chelus who told me she was buying one of my short stories for the second Malice Domestic anthology. I was thrilled as this was third story publication I had sold in six months. All in anthologies. I was never published in AHMM or EQMM but to be honest, at that time I had not ever sent one in.

 Or wait, maybe I did send one in and was rejected and just didn't try again. It wasn't because I was upset it's just that I started to sell for anthologies and couldn't find the time to write something for a magazine. A bird in hand, you understand. 

That's also close to the time I had finished my first novel and was sending it out. That one never sold but the second one sold and it became, AUSTIN CITY BLUE. I always be grateful to Bob Randist for giving me that title. The Austin City TV music show had grown in popularity and my book featured an APD female officer so the title was great. I know it helped sell copies of the book.   

Bouchercon can be great fun, but can also be intimating to some folks. I guess I was born without a shy gene. It has always been easy for me to meet people. Because of that anti-shy gene it's difficult for me to understand someone who is shy. But since all my children are a bit on the shy-side, like that I also can sympathize.

Going to B'Con is where you can get over shyness fairly quickly if you want to meet a writer you admire. Go to the bar. Even if all you want to drink is Diet Coke. If you see the writer you want to meet, call the waitperson over and say you want to buy a drink for your object of admiration. If you don't get a response from them...don't blame me. We all know most writers never drink, right? Realistically, they will be appreciative and perhaps even stop by to thank you personally. Perhaps other writers will have witnessed this and drop over to the table where you are and want to chat. 

Another way to get acquainted at Bouchercon is to team up with a friend who is NOT one bit shy and then follow around with your friend, Your not-shy friend can lead you to a group of people who you might want to know. They could be fans, or authors or editors or agents. Meeting people is simply a matter of smiling and saying, "hi." 

Attending a large convention like this in a city where you have never been or it has been a long time since your last visit is a perfect time to explore. Schedule a little time to do some sight-seeing. If you don't have anyone to go with you, go by yourself. In fact, my personal MO in going to a convention is to plan to go a full day early and once I've checked in and unpacked, I explore the hotel. Check out where the bar is located, where my panel room is located, or panel rooms of talks you want to attend. locate where the book room is and most especially where the bathrooms are located. 

Once I've got the hotel at least partially figured, I go outside and look around. Take a taxi to a famous landmark or museum or river front.  I think it's important to go outside for five or ten minutes every day. Get some fresh air. The canned smell of even a large hotel can get to you in a fairly short time.

If you have a book out or a short story anthology out try to go to the book dealers room right away. Introduce yourself to these booksellers even if your book came out last year. These are folks who sell books and spending a few moments with them is all important.

Writing all this reminds me how much fun I always have at cons and it makes me a little sad I won't be there. But I'll soon be seeing all the people I spent time with for ten or eleven or twelve years, many from second grade when I first moved to Post TX until I graduated. I know I will be wondering who are all these old people and did anyone think to print the name tags in large letters so I can see who it is. I know they will be wondering who I am.

The same works at cons. Please let me be able to read the name tags when I'm at least five feet away. Have fun at Bouchercon 2017, and lift a glass to me.    

17 September 2017

Road Trip


by Leigh Lundin

Shortly before Hurricane Irma struck, I closed shop and ran, thinking Alabama looked pretty desirable as the massive storm trampled South Florida. I’d gassed up a couple of days earlier, fortunate because stations in Orlando and along the interstates had closed for lack of fuel. I came across a full-sized bus (like a tour bus) abandoned on the Interstate, which made me wonder if it had run dry.

I shot north on I-75 fighting rain and high winds. Before hitting the Georgia border, I turned west on I-10 churning as much distance as possible from the hurricane. Past Tallahassee, my gauge read a quarter tank and it had become obvious no place had fuel. News article had mentioned people driving until they ran out of gasoline; I didn’t want to be one of those gamblers.

Angel from Alabama

The first of a series of quiet heroines helped out, an Alabama emergency services operator who monitored shelters not only in her state, but took the time to look up Georgia and Florida as well. With her guidance, I turned back toward Tallahassee and located a refuge in a Baptist Church… closed… but a sign offered directions to a Red Cross shelter in a nearby elementary school. They squeezed me in and gave me a cot. A women lent me a blanket and sheet.

I’d brought Valentine, my 30-year-old cockatoo. His old travel case was long gone, and pet stores and Walmart had been sold out of pet carriers and cages for days. I nested a couple of plastic baskets and later borrowed a plastic kennel from the Red Cross until I could buy a cage.

Through our stay, the pets were universally well-behaved– several dogs, a kitten, a gecko, a fish, and Valentine. A couple of adults could have taken lessons.

Do Unto Others

Bunker living comes with unspoken rules, mainly a duty to intrude upon others as little as possible and likewise ignore annoyances as much as possible. Good citizens don’t notice tetchy babies, major bra adjustments, and peculiar pajama habits. Really, it was okay that one lady chose to spend day and night in her pajamas… there wasn’t much to do anyway. I have little knowledge of other guys, so I never guessed any male past the age of eight wore pajamas. Now that I’ve witnessed man-jammies, I’d consider legislation outlawing them.

Several of us wanted to shampoo, but we encountered an unanticipated problem. Sinks for 1st and 2nd graders are only knee-high to an adult. It just ain’t possible.

Restrooms presented an additional problem. Florida classrooms are built very differently from their northern counterparts. Schools in the cooler north are constructed with indoor corridors and inward-facing rooms, more like a hotel than a motel, where the latter’s room doors open onto a walkway. Florida schools usually take the motel approach with outward-facing rooms opening onto sidewalks. That meant people visiting the loos had to force their way outside and stagger through driving winds and rains. Fortunately, a teachers’ lounge contained a couple of indoor restrooms, so one could choose to queue up or brave the elements.

Can you hear me now?

Unlike Houston, Irma disrupted phone land lines. Cell service and SMS (texts) still remain spotty… sometimes one bar, sometimes zero. The most reliable communications has oddly been wifi, although with so many people using it at once, the internet crawled.

Here the etiquette rules broke down when one hardheaded mother tried to stream Barbie videos while the rest of us simply prayed for email to respond. Worse, she let her daughter play video games on her tablet keeping others awake at three in the morning. As residents and Red Cross volunteers begged her to shut down the racket, she slept– or pretended to sleep. I offered ear-buds, an offer ignored.

Next day, some of the ladies tried a quiet chat with the young mother who pointedly turned her back. Later, those frustrated women were seen stirring a cauldron, chanting into the winds and wearing odd black hats. Soon after, that mother vanished. I’m not saying there’s a connection, but…

Cross at the Red Cross

Another complained loudly and bitterly about the Red Cross, especially that they weren’t feeding us, which seemed strange since they provided coffee, food and snacks 24-hours a day. I think she meant they weren’t offering seafood and chateaubriand, but she became so belligerent, volunteers refused to deal with her without a deputy present. A worker asked if I could speak with my wife– she camped next to my cot. When I explained I didn’t know her, the worker said, “Lucky you!” As soon as the main crisis abated, the sheriff’s department escorted the overstressed woman and her son away, reportedly to a homeless shelter. Potential murder mystery material here.

I don’t know if it’s related, but as I was driving through the fringes of the hurricane, a radio broadcast urged people not to donate to the Red Cross. I don’t know what the hostess’ issues were, but frankly, the Red Cross became my heroes and heroines. Not only did they feed and shelter people, but they cleaned up after us. Criticize the ladies (and men) of the Red Cross, and I have a few words to say about it.

One young father was proactive in cleaning up, getting kids involved and he himself swept up, but as local all-clears were given, nearby residents walked out, leaving the cleanup to volunteers. I discovered most out-of-state Red Cross helpers pay their own way to drive into disaster, deprivation and danger to help others. If that’s not quietly heroic, I don’t know what is.

The Kid in Me

Children liked me mainly because I haven’t grown up. My reply to people who say “You’d make a great father,” is no, I simply make a great uncle.

The young dad who helped with the cleanup was terrific with the kids. On a stage at one end of the auditorium-cum-cafeteria, he organized dodgeball with the kids. Somewhere he found a scaled-down basketball goal, a huge pink dollhouse perhaps 4’ by 4’, and a similarly-sized kitchen cabinet/oven/dishwasher/sink/refrigerator play set. While little girls climbed all over the dollhouse, the boys were a bit frustrated with the lack of boys’ toys except for Star Wars action figures. Then the boys decided the kitchen set sorta, kinda looked like a castle. Thus it became Darth Vaders’s palace quarters.

I’ve now moved into a motel, although phone and SMS problems persist throughout this area. Calls drop, the internet crawls, and text messages arrive jumbled if at all. Minor stuff. People are safe and dry.

But… good news.

Yesterday, I received word power has been restored in my neighborhood. Reports say others on the street received damage including a tree crashing through the roof of the ladies who live opposite me. Fortune may have been with me this time as my house is reputedly intact.

I’ll head home but not before car repair. In the blinding rain on the interstate, I ran over a sailboat or a cow or a 4x4 or something… and it popped loose a fender on my old Acura. Once that’s dealt with, I’ll make the return journey. Gas stations have been getting fuel, although running out by afternoon. At least I won’t have the pressure of a hurricane.

I've gone through Hurricane Andrew and later three devastating hurricanes in a row: Charlie, Frances, and Jeanne. This time, evacuating was the sensible step with such a huge storm and dire predictions. Camping out in my badly damaged house for two weeks in 2004 was bearable, but 13 years later, I was not excited to repeat it.

Remembering

At least three dozen people have lost their lives in this storm. Those in the Caribbean didn’t have the option Floridians enjoyed to get the hell out of Dodge. It’s easy to forget how fortunate we are. There’s a fine line between a mini-adventure in a hurricane bunker and a catastrophic disaster.

16 September 2017

A Trivial Pursuit



by John M. Floyd



Yes, I know: there are a lot of productive things I could and should be doing right now, instead of writing a trivial post about trivia. But, as I've confessed in the past, I love little-known facts about fiction and those who create or portray it.

So, for the next few minutes, I challenge you to forget about the stock market and North Korea and politics and global warming and take a look at these worthless little tidbits about movies and novels and actors and writers. Since they surprised me when I learned about them, I hope they (or at least some of them) might surprise you as well.


- Ian Fleming wrote the children's book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was adapted from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

- Jack Kerouac typed the novel On the Road on one continuous roll of paper 120 feet long.

- Dooley Wilson (Sam, in Casablanca) didn't know how to play the piano.

- Dr. Seuss wasn't a doctor, of any kind.

- Harriet Beecher Stowe lived next door to Mark Twain in Hartford, Connecticut.

- The names of the policeman and the cab driver in It's a Wonderful Life were Bert and Ernie.

- Both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were extras in Field of Dreams.

- Between 1982 and 1984, Nora Roberts wrote 23 novels.

- The announcer who replaced Armed Forces Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer (played by Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam) was Pat Sajak.

- Mel Brooks wrote the lyrics to the theme from Blazing Saddles.

- Steve Buscemi is a former NYC firefighter.

- The final Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King, was nominated for eleven Oscars and won all of them.

- Before writing The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown was a pop singer. One of his solo albums was called Angels and Demons.

- In Raiders of the Lost Ark, a drawing of R2D2 and C3PO appears on a column in the Well of Souls.

- The novel Catch-22 was originally titled Catch-18.

- Robert Louis Stevenson burned stories based on readers' informal responses, Leo Tolstoy's son rescued the manuscript of War and Peace from the ditch where Tolstoy had thrown it, and Tabitha King pulled the discarded manuscript of Carrie from Stephen King's wastebasket.

- James Arness (Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke) and Peter Graves (Jim Phelps of Mission: Impossible) were brothers.

- William Atherton, who played the obnoxious TV reporter in Die Hard and Die Hard 2, sang the "What'll I Do?" theme song during the opening credits of the 1974 (Robert Redford/Mia Farrow) version of The Great Gatsby.

- "Goldeneye" was Ian Fleming's name for the Jamaican beach house where he wrote all the James Bond novels. Sting later used the same desk to write the song "Every Breath You Take."

- One of the voices of E.T. was that of Debra Winger.

- Clint Eastwood composed the main theme ("Claudia's Theme") for Unforgiven.


- Tom Wolfe, who was six-foot-six, preferred to write standing up, using the top of his refrigerator for a desk.

- In The Abyss, many of the underwater scenes were actually filmed in smoky air, using fake bubbles.

- Olivia Newton-John's grandfather, Max Born, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954.

- Both Erle Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie dictated their novels. (Though ESG typed his earliest work.)

- To make some of the spacecraft seem larger in the movie Alien, director Ridley Scott filmed his own two children outfitted in miniature space suits.

- Rowan Atkinson has a master's degree in Electrical Engineering.

- Singer Tex Ritter ("Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin'," from High Noon) was actor John Ritter's father.

- Actor/director Anthony Hopkins composed the music for the movie Slipstream (2007).

- Clyde Barrow once wrote a letter to Henry Ford (it's on display at the Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan) praising the V-8 Ford as a getaway car.

- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was the first book written using the typewriter.

- Clint Eastwood did all his own mountain climbing--no stuntmen--in The Eiger Sanction.

- Most of the cast and crew of The African Queen got sick from the water. Only Humphrey Bogart and director John Huston were unaffected because they drank only whiskey.

- Evelyn Waugh's first wife's name was Evelyn.

- Tom Hanks is a descendant of Abe Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln.

- The first U.S. paperback edition of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale was published with the title You Asked for It.

- Michael Myers's mask in Halloween was a two-dollar Captain Kirk mask, slightly altered and painted white.

- Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew novels, was really a pseudonym for a team of several different writers.

- Hoyt Axton (the father in The Black Stallion) wrote "Heartbreak Hotel."

- Melissa McCarthy and Jenny McCarthy are first cousins.

- The original title of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy. It was reversed when Newman decided to take the role of Butch rather than Sundance.

- The same author (Larry McMurtry) wrote Lonesome Dove and Terms of Endearment.

- Frank Oz was the voice of Yoda, the Cookie Monster, and Miss Piggy.

- Mickey Spillane ordered 50,000 copies of his 1952 novel Kiss Me, Deadly to be destroyed when the comma was left out of the title.

- Mia Sara (Ferris Bueller's girlfriend) has had two fathers-in-law: Sean Connery and Jim Henson.

- Director John Carpenter composed the music for most of his movies.

- Noah Webster was T. S. Eliot's great-uncle.

- Ian Fleming got the name for his fictional spy from a book he owned called Birds of the West Indies, by James Bond.

- The charcoal sketch of Kate Winslet in Titanic was actually drawn by director James Cameron.

- Tommy Lee Jones and Al Gore were roommates at Harvard.

- J. K. Rowling came up with the names for the houses at Hogwarts while on a plane. She jotted the names down on a barf bag.

- The keypad on the laboratory's door lock in Moonraker plays the five-note theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

- Author Sidney Sheldon created the TV series I Dream of Jeannie and The Patty Duke Show, and won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.

- When the kid in Home Alone 2 walks into the Plaza Hotel, the person he asks for directions is Donald Trump.

- Tom Clancy was part owner of the Baltimore Orioles.

- Cormac McCarthy wrote with the same typewriter for more than fifty years. When it broke, he auctioned it off for more than $250,000 (to donate to charity).

- In World War II, Roald Dahl was a fighter pilot, Donald Pleasance was a POW, Christopher Lee was an undercover agent for British Inteligence, and Charles Durning was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart.

- When a hurricane hit the set during filming of Jurassic Park, the pilot who choppered the crew to safety was the man who had played Indiana Jones's pilot, Jock, in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

- The top three most-read books in the world are The Holy Bible, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, and the Harry Potter series.

- In The Secret Life of Ian Fleming, Fleming was played by Sean Connery's son Jason.

- Actor Sam Shepard wrote 44 plays; one of them won him the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979.

- The roles of both John McClane in Die Hard and Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry were first offered to Frank Sinatra.

- When J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, she typed three separate copies of the manuscript because she couldn't afford copying fees.

- Samuel L. Jackson's Pulp Fiction quote from Ezekiel was originally written for Harvey Keitel's character in From Dusk to Dawn.

- Chocolate syrup was used as blood in Psycho's shower scene; it was also used as the Tin Man's oil in The Wizard of Oz.

- Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was eighteen, and it was published when she was twenty.

- Mystery writer John Sandford, a.k.a. John Camp, won a Pulitzer for Non-Deadline Feature Writing in 1986 for articles about the life of a Minnesota farming family.

- Of his 70-plus film roles, Gregory Peck played a villain only twice (I think), in Duel in the Sun and The Boys From Brazil.

- Dolph Lundgren has a master's degree in Chemical Engineering.

- In the UK, Fifty Shades of Grey is the best-selling book of all time.

- George Lucas had a dog named Indiana.

- Robert Duvall had a bit part as Steve McQueen's cab driver in the movie Bullitt.

- The Salvation (2014) was a Western filmed in South Africa, with a Danish director and actors from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, the U.S., and England.

- Haley Joe Osment, the boy who "saw dead people" in The Sixth Sense, played Forrest Gump's son five years earlier.

- Tippi Hedren (The Birds) is the mother of Melanie Griffith and the grandmother of Dakota Johnson.

- Kurt Vonnegut managed America's first Saab dealership.

- Denzel Washington and Jeff Goldblum both played thugs in 1974's Death Wish.

- As a child, Roald Dahl--the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory--was a taste-tester for Cadbury's chocolate.

- Nathaneal West's 1939 novel The Day of the Locust features a character named Homer Simpson.

- In High Plains Drifter, one of the headstones in the cemetery was inscribed with the name Sergio Leone.

- Married (at one time or another): Geena Davis/Jeff Goldblum, Rachel Weisz/Daniel Craig, Calista Flockhart/Harrison Ford, Marlo Thomas/Phil Donahue, Rita Hayworth/Orson Welles, Uma Thurman/Gary Oldman, Dyan Cannon/Cary Grant, Lorraine Bracco/Edward James Olmos, Catherine Keener/Delmot Mulroney, Mia Farrow/Frank Sinatra, Christie Brinkley/Billy Joel, Barbara Streisand/Elliott Gould, Brooke Shields/Andre Agassi, Lisa Marie Presley/Nicolas Cage, Mary Steenbergen/Malcolm McDowell, Isabella Rosselini/Martin Scorcese, Madonna/Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller/Will Arnett, Michelle Phillips/Dennis Hopper, Mimi Rogers/Tom Cruise, Helen Hunt/Hank Azaria, Drew Barrymore/Tom Green, Katherine Ross/Sam Elliott, Scarlett Johanssen/Ryan Reynolds.

-Dated (at one time or another): Helen Mirren/Liam Neeson, Anjelica Huston/Jack Nicholson. Sarah Jessica Parker/Robert Downey Jr., Courtney Cox/Michael Keaton, Whoopi Goldberg/Frank Langella, Carrie Fisher/Paul Simon, Jeanne Tripplehorn/Ben Stiller, Meryl Streep/John Cazale.

- Barbie in Toy Story 3 is voiced by Jodi Benson, who also voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

- Paranormal Activity cost $15,000 to make and has grossed $210 million; Deep Throat cost around $25,000 and grossed $600 million; John Carter cost $350 million and lost $200 million.

- Mickey Spillane was at one time the author of seven of the ten best-selling novels in history.

- Sean Connery wore a toupee in all of his James Bond movies.


And maybe the most valuable and surprising piece of trivia of all:

- Katy Perry's cat's name is Kitty Purry.

(Don't ever say I didn't give you the inside info.)


Can you think of any crazy and lesser-known movie/novel/actor/author facts? Inquiring minds want to know . . .




15 September 2017

What's in a name


by
O'Neil De Noux

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet."
ROMEO AND JULIET
William Shakespeare 

Montague. Capulet. De Noux. DeNoux. Denoux. La Doux. Le Noux. Noux. De la Noux. DeNox. DeNooks. DeNo. DeNuNu. Delacroix (a girlfriend from St. Bernard Parish called me that). It never ends. Even if I smell the same.

As an army brat I traveled and was always the new kid in class. I waited for it. First day of school, teacher calling roll. When the teacher got to the 'Ds' I cringed. When the teacher stopped at a name, I raised my hand and said, "Here."

Invariably, the teacher looked up and said, "You have two last names."

"I know. My parents don't like me."

Funny how so many kids in grammar school thought I was serious. Some teachers as well.

Often the teacher would ask, "How do you pronounce the one that starts with a 'D'?"

O'Neil as a first name? I envied the guys named Mike and Jimmy and Eddie. Even my brother got to be Danny. De Noux is cool. Got an 'x' in it. But it's spelled one way.

When my first novel GRIM REAPER came out, they spelled my last name Denoux on the cover. My aunts and uncle chided me. "You can't even spell your own name."

What I'm trying to say is, for God's sake, spell the person's name correctly. Look it up if you don't know. Poe is not Edgar Allen. It's Edgar Allan. Hemingway has one m.

I know. This is coming from the guy who sets records for typos.

And not just names. Titles!


The internet can be a big problem with this. It never forgets and can never be corrected, even when it is corrected.

When my novel ENAMORED was nominated for the 2012 Shamus Award for BEST INDIE PRIVATE EYE NOVEL, the press release from the Private Eye Writers of America spelled my name correctly but misspelled the title as ENAMORTED. Someone thought it was a play on words, something to do with the French word MORT. Dead. The book's a mystery after all and I do have a French last name, right?

I called for a correction and it was made but the damage was done. Too late. Websites worldwide listed the nominations as soon as the press release came out. The book was ENAMORTED. I had readers and reviewers email me because they couldn't find the book on amazon, couldn't find it on any search engine except references to the nomination. You'd think a book nominated for a SHAMUS would sell. Talk about dead. Sales? What sales? The book sank like RMS TITANIC ... and there was no iceberg.

Such is life in the slow lane. It didn't take me long to joke about it, only my wife didn't laugh. Her Irish was up. She was livid. Still is. For a while, if I wanted a rise out of her, all I have to ask is, "Remember that book I wrote - ENAMORTED?"

Eventually, in my house, we stopped saying someone 'passed' or 'passed away' or 'is gone' or 'is in a better place' or 'is in the hands of the Lord' or 'is playing hopscotch with Saint Peter' or 'is burning in eternal hellfire' or 'crossed the rainbow bridge'. Wait, that's for animals, isn't it?

We say he's enamorted. Funny? A little. Sometimes the hurt is humorous.

So, everyone please check your spelling, especially when it comes to names and titles.

www.oneildenoux.com

14 September 2017

"The radium water worked great until his jaw came off" and Other Quacks


by Eve Fisher

Two blog posts ago I discussed the wonderful Goat Gland Doctor, Doc Brinkley and his crowd way down south.  Today, we're on to radium, oxygenated air, and murder.

William John Aloysius Bailey

First, a contemporary of Doc Brinkley, John Aloysius Bailey (May 25, 1884 – May 17, 1949), a Harvard University dropout who claimed to have a physician's license and promoted using radium as a cure for coughs, flu, and other common ailments. Bailey started up Bailey's Radium Laboratories in East Orange, New Jersey, and while the FTC kept investigating him, he managed to die wealthy (as opposed to Doc Brinkley, who died broke).

While Bailey claimed that adding radium to your drinking water (!) could treat everything from mental illness to diabetes, anemia to constipation, headaches to asthma, his two most famous products were:
  • Arium, a restorative that "renewed happiness and youthful thrill into the lives of married peoples whose attractions to each other had weakened." An analysis of Arium tablets showed that they contained radium, of course, but also strychnine...  (see Arium)
  • Radithor, marketed as "A Cure for the Living Dead" as well as "Perpetual Sunshine".  A man named Eben Byers swore by Radithor, which worked so well for him that he gulped down bottles of it - 1,400 to be exact.  At the trial (for Mr. Byers died) it was stated that "The radium water worked great until his jaw came off" - see HERE, p. 18.  
  • And then there was the Radiendocrinator, as pictured below in its beautiful dark blue embossed leatherette case, which contains the gold plated Radiendocrinator nestled in its velvet lined pocket...  (Always give the punters something for their money.)  







Says the curator of a collection of quack cures, "The Radiendocrinator in the above photo was sufficiently radioactive that I had to remove the source before it could be put on display." Remember where it was supposed to be placed on the human body. https://www.orau.org/ptp/collection/quackcures/radend.htm

Mr. Bailey did serve his country during wartime - he was the wartime manager of the electronic division of IBM during WWII.  Who knows how much radiation he carried with him?  In any case, Mr. Bailey died of bladder cancer on May 17, 1949.  When his body was exhumed nearly 20 years later, it was found to be "ravaged by radiation".

Charles Lewis Blood

C. L. Blood (transparent).png
C. L. Blood, physician
and conman
And now, murder.  Charles Lewis Blood (September 8, 1835 – September 27, 1908) alias C. H. Lewis, a/k/a C. L. Blood was yet another self-styled physician, who operated in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago.  He sold what was known as "oxygenized air", which he promoted as a cure for catarrh, scrofula, consumption, etc.

Now most quacks are relatively harmless, if you disregard the fact that none of their treatments worked, and could kill you in the trying. But they weren't deliberately  trying to harm people.  Blood was different. He had a rival in the oxygen game in Boston, Dr. Jerome Harris, a real doctor, who was giving people "super-oxygenized air" which was really nitrous oxide.  And probably any patients who tried it thought it was a lot more fun that Blood's version.  Anyway, one day Harris treated a man named Carville, who began frothing at the mouth, rolling on the floor, and having a fit. Harris sent him home, Carville called his own physician who cured him! Miraculously!  And the next day the newspapers were plastered with the horrific story of the poisoning of poor hapless Carvill by the evil Dr. Harris, who was only saved by the amazing treatments of his personal physician...  Dr. C. L. Blood.  Harris ended up having to leave Boston because of all the bad publicity.
NOTE:  In 1880, Blood published "A Century of Life, Health and Happiness", a compendium of medical information for the home, and if I ever find it on a used bookstore shelf, I'm buying it.  As long as it's a dollar.  
In May 1884, again in Boston, Blood was arrested for blackmailing Ernest Weber, a local musician. They were, apparently, courting the same woman, Jennett Nickerson.  Cap'n Blood procured from her, allegedly by force, an affidavit to the effect that she had been ruined by Weber (i.e., had sex with him) after he promised marriage, and that Weber had later forced her to have an abortion.  Blood tried to blackmail Weber with the affidavit, but he took it to the police, who arrested Blood.  He was convicted and sentenced to prison. 

Hiram Sawtelle
But Blood got out, and in February, 1890, Blood was implicated in the murder of Hiram Sawtelle, a Boston fruitseller.  Isaac Sawtelle, Hiram's brother, had gotten out of prison "after securing, at great expense, a pardon for his rape convictions."  He moved in with Hiram, Hiram's wife Jeanette, and their mother, a household that was apparently as happy as that of the Bordens.  The main problem was money.  Dad had died, leaving all the money to Mom, but Hiram was managing it, and Isaac was broke (it cost a lot to get a pardon in those days), and he had a friend named Blood, who came up with a plan, involving a third man named Jack...

(Don't worry:  it gets more complicated.)

Isaac Sawtelle
Isaac kidnapped Hiram's daughter, Marion, and used her to get Hiram up to a secluded camp near Springvale, Maine.  Whatever was supposed to happen, it didn't.  Hiram was shot four times, stripped, decapitated, and the body buried in a shallow grave across the New Hampshire state line. When Hiram's wife noticed her husband was gone, she told the police that she thought Isaac had killed him.  Isaac was eventually captured in Rochester, NH.

Meanwhile, Blood's picture was being circulated by the Boston newspapers, where two hoteliers up in Dover, New Hampshire, recognized it.  One of them reported that Blood had been carrying two bundles, one done up in wrapping paper and apparently containing clothes, and the other wrapped in newspaper and "about the size of a man's head".[9]

Isaac was charged with conspiracy, murder, and was awaiting trial.  On April 13, he confessed that he'd plotted to get the property from Hiram, but denying that he planned or had any part in Hiram's murder.  Instead, it was Jack who led Hiram away, Jack who probably killed him.  Isaac knew nothing about it until the day he was arrested, when he got a letter from Blood that read "Your brother had to be put out of the way. Let each look out for himself."[14]

Here's the fun part:  Despite Isaac's jailhouse confessions and the hoteliers' statements, Blood was never even questioned by police. Even Hiram's widow denied that Blood had any dealings with Hiram.  And at the trial, Isaac himself changed his story, confessing that he'd shot Hiram and that all Blood had done was prepare the legal instruments of transfer for Hiram to sign.  Isaac was convicted and sentenced to death.  Almost immediately he recanted his confession and once again laid full responsibility for the murder on Blood:
"Dr. Blood is the man who is responsible. Some time it will be known, a deathbed repentance, perhaps, and when all is known it will be found that I am innocent of anything to do with the murder. I have accused him; I accuse him now. If he had come forward I would have accused him to his face. But why didn't he appear? He didn't dare to; he didn't dare to face me. Now that I am practically dead he can do what he pleases. He has had a chance to establish and prove an alibi, while I have been in jail, tied hand and foot… Blood was responsible in every way. I do not mean to say that he killed Hiram—that he fired the shots which caused his death—but I do mean that he knew of it and was responsible for it."[17]
Isaac Sawtelle died of natural causes on December 26, 1891, shortly before his scheduled execution.

[A reproduction of a visiting card from c. L. Blood.  The card bears the text "Dr. C. L. Blood" in cursive script, and a captioned photograph of Blood in the upper left corner.]
There was no deathbed repentance on the part of Dr. Blood.  Instead, he moved to Manhattan, where he died on September 27, 1908, in Manhattan.  The short obituary in his hometown Ayer, Massachusetts newspaper, reported that Blood "had lived in New York city twelve years, where he was in a manufacturing business."[12] He was buried in Ayers, in the family plot in Woodlawn Cemetery, but his widow and four surviving sisters did not add his name to the family memorial.  His calling card must suffice...




13 September 2017

Cabin Fever


by David Edgerley Gates

The current issue of Alfred Hitchcock (September/October) includes stories by me, Eve Fisher, and Janice Law - all of us SleuthSayers contributors. Here's looking at you, kid.



My story, "Cabin Fever," was written quite some time ago, and it's taken a while for it to work its way to the top of the stack. I'm mentioning this because what I'd like to talk about here is how stories get started, why an idea takes hold, and what kind of legs it needs to get us across the finish line.

Here's a curious thing. For some years now, Craig Johnson has been coming through Santa Fe as each new Longmire title launches, and for the past six years, his visits have coincided with the shooting schedule of Longmire, the TV series. As it happens, when Craig came to town to promote Hell Is Empty, the Longmire cast and crew were shooting the episode based on the book. And also, somewhere in this time period, or not long after, I'd started "Cabin Fever." The point is, Hell Is Empty has Walt tracking down an escaped con through a winter blizzard. "Cabin Fever" has my guy, Hector, held hostage by escaped cons in the middle of a forest fire. But. I didn't catch up with Hell Is Empty until later that year and the Longmire season opener wasn't broadcast until a year after that. There wasn't any cross-pollination. My idea came out of thin air.

Or not? We've all had the experience of things floating around in the zeitgeist, or drifting by, in our peripheral vision, that suddenly take on shape, and density. In our sentimental moments, we might even call it inspiration, the light on the road to Damascus. On a less exalted plane, it's more like you're hitching a ride, and somebody pulls over. I couldn't tell you where the set-up for "Cabin Fever" came from. Hector's truck breaks down, he's out in the back of beyond with no cell coverage, and a weather system's blowing in. He decides to try and find shelter, and beat the storm. There turn out to be other people lost in the woods, and soon enough they find each other.

I think it's safe to say that a story's going to change with different storytellers. The approach, the attack, the retreat. We might call the story "Stop Me If You've Heard This." A cop, a priest, and a hooker walk into a bar. You and I are entirely likely to go off at right angles to one another, or in completely opposite directions. It depends on what we think the story is. Where's the emphasis, who's got the POV, when do you show your hole cards?

Supposing that Craig and I did have a similar idea, and at more or less the same time, the end results turn out differently in the actual telling. I can give you another example. And in this case, I know where and when the match lit the fuse.

I was faithful reader of Marc Simmons' weekly column Trail Dust, in the Santa Fe New Mexican, until he retired the column last year. (Simmons, a highly-regarded New Mexico historian, has a reported forty-nine books under his belt.) He wrote a piece about the Butterfield freight line and a stagecoach loaded with gold that disappeared on the eve of the Civil War, in the desert west of Lordsburg. Was there treasure buried in a place called Doubtful Canyon? OK. First off, Lordsburg. John Ford's movie Stagecoach is based on the Ernest Haycox story "Stage to Lordsburg." I couldn't possibly pass that up. Secondly, how does anybody resist a name like Doubtful Canyon? There's your title, ready-to-wear. Last but not least, the bare bones of the story itself, men on the run with thirty thousand in Yankee gold, in hostile Apache country. I'm lathered up already.

The story I wound up writing ("Doubtful Canyon," of course) clocked in at some 20,000 words. It capped off, at least for a while, the bounty hunter series. I thought it was terrific, fully fleshed, peopled with rattlesnakes and rascals, and a satisfying answer to the puzzle, if made up out of whole cloth. It wasn't an easy sell, though, not at that length. I was a little disheartened. About a year later, then, you can imagine my shock when I ran across a new novel on the Westerns shelf at Collected Works bookshop called Doubtful Cañon - Cañon the Spanish spelling. What fresh hell was this? I knew the name, too. Johnny D. Boggs. I'd read one of his earlier books, Camp Ford, and liked it a lot. I was going to revisit my opinion now, you can bet your sweet ass.

Much to my chagrin, this Boggs turns out to be no schlump, as a writer. And this being Santa Fe, we bump into each other, sooner rather than later, at a library event. He's genuine, personable, and funny. All-around good company. The guy coaches Little League, for John's sake. Impossible not to like, which is even more annoying.



Johnny's novel is a YA, and yes, it does take off from the same start point, the missing stagecoach full of gold. There are other synchronicities. We both tell the story from a distance, in hindsight, although he gives it twenty years, and I gave it fifty. Part of this is, I think, a sense of perspective, tilting the horizon, and another part of it artful misdirection. Johnny and I both used a split screen, in effect, and the device of a not entirely reliable narration as well, but we deployed it differently. In my case, I alternated the two time-frames, too.

As a writer - or as one of two writers grazing the same section of fence - I'm probably more interested in the confluences between Johnny's approach to the canvas and mine. A critical reader, who doesn't have skin in the game, might well be more interested in where we diverged. But absent the annotated Library of America edition, we'll skip the play by play. The question isn't whether the idea is original, it's whether we made it our own.

Here's a last little teaser, a sort of exercise. I ran across this poster at my local frame shop. Tell me it doesn't conjure up all sorts of possibilities. I'm not sure how I'd use it, myself, but I'm going to let it rattle around in the cupboards for awhile. How about you?



12 September 2017

Editing An Anthology Electronically: Stronger Stories, Deeper Relationships


by Elizabeth Zelvin
When I agreed to serve as editor of Where Crime Never Sleeps, the fourth volume of the Murder New York Style anthology series from the New York/Tri-State Chapter of Sisters in Crime, I knew the process had to take place online. I had been a professional editor myself for many years. I had used Track Changes, the editing feature of MS Word, with editors of my own fiction. Furthermore, in my “other hat,” I am an online therapist, a pro at text-based communication and relationships in cyberspace. Yet the alchemy of the online editorial process produced benefits that came as a complete surprise. One was stronger stories than I believe could have been achieved by the passing back and forth of marginal scribbles and a couple of rounds of sticky notes. Another was a dialogue between editor and individual authors that took on depth and complexity throughout the process and created bonds that would not have existed otherwise.

Essential to the process was Track Changes. Compared to paper sticky notes (and before that, marginal slips you had to lick—remember those?), Track Changes balloons are infinitely expandable. It wasn’t just a matter of my offering a suggestion, making a correction, or asking for clarification; of the author complying, explaining, or offering an alternative. We could engage in an ongoing dialogue. In a sense, the margins became a mini-chat room. If we needed to converse at greater length, we could move on to emails at any time. The intensive electronic editing process—three rounds of edits—lasted from early April to mid-May. Then came a final trickle of queries through mid to late June, as I noticed unresolved issues, some quite important, while preparing to send the manuscript to the publisher, Level Best Books. In one case, when I got no answer to my email, I phoned the author, thinking the number I had, with a New York area code, must be her land line. Oops. It was her cell phone, and she was at a funeral in Montana—but she answered my question.

Our dialogue touched on many important elements of storytelling: voice, attribution, pace, when to start a scene, when to use backstory, how to introduce a character, what doesn’t need saying, what kinds of details readers skip over. For example, as an aspect of voice, a character mentioning the Brooklyn Bridge would not describe it in terms that might appear in a guidebook. In introducing a character, it’s awkward at best to inject a description of the new character’s appearance into the attribution:
"Stop, or I'll shoot!" the six-foot, blue-eyed, blonde police officer said.
Physical characteristics are better integrated into the narrative or left out altogether.

Certain small flaws cropped up in story after story, including my own. These were stage directions that failed to offer fresh language or to advance the plot.

He nodded.
She looked up.
He turned.
She stood up.
He sat back.
She shook her head.

I kept highlighting these brief sentences, noting: “Delete. Adds nothing, slows the pace.” I was an offender like everybody else. On the final pass, I found the following passage in my own story.

Jimmy and I looked at each other.
“She’s got a point, Mr. Jones,” he said.
“She is good at asking questions, Mr. Bones,” I said.

Out came “Jimmy and I looked at each other.” It wasn’t needed. Why hadn’t I seen that before? I hadn’t edited sixteen other stories before.

Since the New York/Tri-State Chapter of Sisters in Crime is responsible for the Murder New York Style anthologies, the contributors come from quite a small pool. Those of us who have been around for a while know each other. On the other hand, many of those who submit stories are relative newcomers. I couldn’t have put names to the faces of some of the authors whose stories I edited, though I might have met them at one or two of our monthly meetings. But after working intensively with them online, I did know them, and they knew me. We had developed a relationship.

As a psychotherapist with long-term online clients, I can assure you that genuine emotion, relationship, and personal growth are possible in text and in cyberspace. People who have greeted online writer friends with a hug the first time they met them face to face at Bouchercon or Malice know what I’m talking about. Did you ever hug an editor with whom you’d only exchanged query letters and paper manuscripts? Our SinC chapter ends the season with a party in June at a delightful venue, the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Greenwich Village, before breaking for the summer. This year, every anthology author present whom I hadn’t known before had the same impulse I did: we peered at each other’s name tags, laughed, and flung our arms around each other.

Besides editing Where Crime Never Sleeps: Murder New York Style 4 (Level Best Books), which includes her story, "Death Will Finish Your Marathon," Elizabeth Zelvin is the author of the Bruce Kohler Mysteries, set in New York City, and the Mendoza Family Saga, historical fiction about a Jewish brother and sister who sail with Columbus and later find refuge in the Ottoman Empire. Liz's short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. They have been nominated twice for the Derringer and three times for the Agatha Award for Best Short Story.

11 September 2017

The Moments We Remember


By Steve Liskow

Jim Howard, a former Hartford police officer whom I see more often than not at open mic gigs, is one of those rare people who can play harmonica and guitar simultaneously. Today, he turns 71 (Happy Birthday, Jim), which makes him almost exactly six months older than I am.

But that's not how I remember his birthday.

We all have a handful of days we remember, and they change from generation to generation. Some are good days: meeting your future spouse, for example, or the day you won some award.

There are other days we remember because they changed the way we look at the world. Forever.

One Friday afternoon in 1963, I sat in my Latin III class when the principal came on the PA to tell us that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. The next few minutes are hazy. I remember feeling like the floor had dropped out from under me, and the gorgeous German exchange student whom I never had the nerve to ask for a date turning to the boy next to her and asking him what "assassinated" meant. He answered with tears pouring down his face and most of us cried along with him.

I was sixteen. That may be the moment when I began to comprehend what I now identify as "evil."
Years later, my wife and I met Laurent Jean, a fine actor and director with whom we worked on many theatrical productions. Laurent's mother went into labor on November 22, 1963 and he was born the next day. I remember his birthday easily, too.

Five years later, I was shaving for a date with, coincidentally, another young woman from Germany when my next-door dorm neighbor burst in to tell me Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot. I watched the play that night, but I don't think either my date or I could have told anyone about it the next day. By the time I walked her back to her dorm, we could see the orange glow dancing in the sky over Pontiac, Michigan as the town went up in flames five miles away.


Barely two months later, Robert Kennedy was shot, too. The year I turned 21 featured both those killings and the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago (Where former CT Governor and JFK Cabinet member Ribicoff infuriated Mayor Daly with his comments about police "Gestapo tactics" against demonstrators), not to mention the escalating Vietnam War.

By then, most of the shaping had been done and I was probably about 90% of the person I am now, for better or for worse.

One of my former students was in pre-med classes at George Washington University hospital when the Secret Service rushed Ronald Reagan into surgery after John Hinckley wounded him. He wrote me later to tell of his shock and horror when men in suits rushed in waving weapons and badges. This was his first life shattering event.

In January, 1986, I was producing a play and sat in the lobby of a local theater trying to reach my set designer on the pay phone (remember them?) and watching a portable TV replay the Challenger explosion. My director, a former Vietnam pilot and then an aeronautics engineer, watched a dozen replays and finally called the local news station to suggest what might have gone wrong. The subsequent investigation confirmed his suspicions. We didn't rehearse that night. A few people may have wired up speakers or focused a few lights, but most of us sat in the half-assembled gallery and cried for the astronauts and their families.

In September, 2001, I was teaching five classes--two for the first time--and still learning the names of 125 students. I cut through the media center toward the teachers' lounge and saw dozens of people jammed around the TV set near the AV department. They were still telling me what had happened when we watched the second plane slam into the World Trade Center.

To my students in 2001, the World Trade Center was what Kennedy's assassination was to me, and I remember feeling the curriculum shift slightly for the rest of the year.

Every generation has a horrific event that shapes it. Right now, we're dealing with several natural disasters: Harvey and Irma, the earthquake in Mexico City, tropical storm Katia, the fires in the northwest (Nope, no climate change, uh-uh). But I tend to give the man-made events more weight. We know that Nature is immense and implacable, but the assassinations and explosions remind us over and over (and we never learn, do we?) of our own hubris.

And that's what we all write about. No matter whether we write crime, romance, sci-fi, poetry, or anything else, our material is the shattering events in peoples' lives. The events that force them--and us--to surmount and survive.

The events that make us remember for too short a time that we are all human.

10 September 2017

Murder, Magnets and Hacks.  


I am happy to introduce our latest SleuthSayer, filling in for Leigh who is single-handedly fighting off Hurricane Irma at the moment. 

Unlike all the other inmates of this asylum, Mary Fernando, MD, is not a professionally published mystery writer.  She was, however, a 2017 finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished Crime Novel (Canada). 

She is the first of what we hope will be a new class of SleuthSayer: the special consultant.

Mary will talk about medical mayhem.  She will also field questions from readers and writers about medicine as it relates to crime.  Please don't ask her about your rash.

We are still working at where her permanent slot in our monthly calendar will be, but this is a great chance for her to get started.  Let's give her a big SleuthSayers welcome!  - Robert Lopresti

by Mary Fernando

“Magnets are a simple way to kill someone,” he says, sipping his wine.

“How?” I ask, pen in hand, recording the conversation by scribbling illegibly in my notebook.

My Saturday night guest is a cardiologist. He opens up blocked heart vessels with stents, puts in new heart valves and uses defibrillators to bring people back from the brink of death. When my guest is not busy saving lives, he spends his time being a fabulous husband, a loving father to his children, a puppy-daddy extraordinaire and engaging in extreme sports. He is also a voracious reader of mystery novels, making him a wonderful combination of someone who saves lives and ponders how to kill people. Although I find this combination a delicious one, I am not sure everyone would share my opinion. So I am disguising my guest’s identity by a pseudonym, Mystery Cardiologist, or MC.

The illegible scribbles I use to record this conversation are the unfortunate side-effect of my own medical training.

Now, back to the magnets and murder.

MC understands that a writer wants to kill a character in a manner that doesn't draw attention to the fact that they are being murdered, and that the death should look, at first glance, like an accident or natural death. He also knows that it is always important to have a means of eventually discovering the murder.

“Using lifesaving devices like pacemakers to kill people is a great way to murder someone,” MC continues, nibbling on cheese. “Basically, these devices have failsafe mechanisms built into them and these can also be used to kill people.”

By the time he has finishes off his glass of wine, and eaten more cheese, he explains this in full.

A pacemaker is surgically inserted if the natural heart rhythm is not working. It keeps the heart going at the right pace, hence the name pacemaker. These electronic devices consist of a battery and computer circuitry inserted under the skin in the upper chest or shoulder with wires that extend into the heart. The pacemaker both detects the rhythm of the heart and, when the heart’s rhythm is wrong, it adjusts the heart rate by sending out signals to correct it. More that 3 million Americans have pacemakers. Generally they are inserted in older patients, over 65 years old. Less than 10% are inserted in those under 45. In older people, pacemakers are inserted when the heart rhythm is thrown off by aging or heart attacks. In young people, congenital heart disease or even unexplained slow heart rates are reasons for pacemaker insertion.

A means of turning off key functions of a pacemaker is needed, for example, in the event of surgery where electrosurgical cauterizing might confuse the pacemaker’s sensing system. So a magnet protects the pacemaker’s function when something could confuse its sensing system by going into a failsafe mode with often a very slow pacing heart rate.

So, back to killing with a magnet.

If a character needs to be killed and is dependent on a pacemaker, hold a magnet over their pacemaker, and when they are weakened by a slow heart beat, gently push them into an oncoming car or over a cliff. This creates an apparently accidental death. Sans screaming. This also has the added benefit of damaging the pacemaker, so the crime is covered because pacemaker function can be analyzed.

Now, when your detective comes in and starts questioning this death, they have a means of figuring it out. The pacemaker that the murderer thought would be damaged is, in fact, intact enough to be ‘interrogated’ - that means, the programming can be examined and it can be discovered that the heart rhythm was thrown off before the character’s death. Perhaps the magnet could be found in the murderer’s home.

MC explains there is another, more modern way to kill someone with a pacemaker that allows for murder from a long distance. A pacemaker needs to have a means of reprogramming it. This ability to reprogram a pacemaker makes it vulnerable to being hacked, that is, reprogrammed with a deadly rhythm. But if the pacemaker is hacked, you would want to remove the evidence of this hack, again by hacking the device while the victim is driving a car or climbing a mountain. The resulting accident would damage the evidence of the hack.

“Hospitals are a great place to kill people,” continues MC, popping a chocolate. “Sick people dying in hospitals are unlikely to be autopsied. Even if doctors ask for an autopsy, the family often says no.”

So, giving a character a pacemaker and using the failsafe mechanisms of the pacemaker to murder with magnets or hacking, provides an intriguing way to murder. The interrogation of the pacemaker provides the necessary means of discovering the crime.

This is just a snippet of my conversation with MC. He came up with other intriguing ways to murder people, many using failsafe mechanisms and, at times, using medical interventions to cover up a murder. I recorded it all in illegible scribbles, providing me with more info for my next blog.

09 September 2017

A Balloon for Ben


by Robert Lopresti

Hey good friends...  What with one thing and another (including the odd hurricane thrown in) we lost track of this date.  Blame it on me. 

Here is a video we thought you might like.  It's got a nice sentiment.

And wherever you are, stay safe.



08 September 2017

A Room (or Two) of One's Own


By Art Taylor

In a SleuthSayers post back in July, I talked about how we were moving this summer—a process that still seems never-ending. Yes, we got all the boxes into the new place, and we've made some headway on unpacking, organizing and arranging the contents of those boxes. Yes, we finished cleaning out (slowly) and cleaning up (painfully) the old place and then bringing it successfully to closing (a big sigh of relief). And in addition to the move, we navigated another couple of transitions—most importantly my wife Tara's start at a new job and our son Dashiell's entrance into kindergarten (which I also wrote about at the Washington Independent Review of Books). Much to celebrate in all this, but also still a long way to go—and the dishwasher that died on Monday hasn't helped, I'll admit: one more thing to add to the to-do list.

Still, we're happy with the new place, especially Dash, who calls it a "magic house." There's a corner cabinet in the kitchen with a lazy Susan inside! The timer on the stove plays a little song when the countdown hits zero! And at sunset, the glass in the front door projects tiny patterns, shapes, and rainbows on the wall!

I'll admit: I find that last bit a little magical myself.

Our search for a house seemed quick—we picked this one on our second formal day of looking with an agent—but our plans to move stretch back to even before Dash was born. We'll move to a house with a yard before he starts kindergarten—that was our goal. And we had more than five years to meet that goal—should be easy, right? Just before Dash turned five-and-a-half, we finally kicked into high gear.

When our realtor (shout-out to Dutko-Ragen in Northern Virginia!) asked us what we were looking for in a house, he emphasized that we should talk about things we needed (couldn't do without) and then things we'd love to have (reaching for the stars).

Dash, a car man since he was a baby, judges houses by whether they have a garage, so that was top of his list.

Tara has always loved the idea of a screened-in porch.

And I felt that ideally Tara and I—both being writers—should each have space for an office, hearkening back to that oft-quoted phrase of Virginia Woolf's about a room of one's own. (I recognize, of course, that Woolf's essay is an argument about women's spaces and places in the literary world, but I do believe that writers and artists of either gender benefit from having both mental and physical space in which to indulge their creativity and hone their craft.)

The reasons we snatched up this house as quickly as we could?

Well, Dash got his wish:


Tara got hers:


And while much of the house is still a mess of boxes or else the stuff that came out of those boxes, two rooms were among the first priorities for us to get settled. Here's Tara's office (I avoided the right half, still a work in progress):


And here's mine:


I've enjoyed posts from other SleuthSayers about writers and their working environments, several of them published just this year. Earlier this summer, Jan Grape did a nice round-up of various writer friends' workspaces. Paul Marks gave us a glance inside his office (and into both real and fictional versions of his days). And Dixon Hill treated us to before and after photos of the construction of his beautiful new office during our recent Family Fortnight.

Many of us with office space (me included) also write in other places, I recognize this. In my case, I also have an office on campus where I spent more time than at home, and then there's the library and occasionally a coffee shop, and back here at the house, I'm as likely to work at the kitchen table or the couch as in the office itself; I'm sitting on the couch right now, in fact, but mainly because it's better internet reception tonight.

So given all that, what's behind the desire to have an office of one's own? Part of it is, again, the space to work—to spread out a printed manuscript on the desk and look at it or to stare out the window (and I keep the desk facing that way, clearly) or to close the door and just think. Part of it depends on the things in the space: the books that have inspired me and that I keep at eye level on the nearby shelves, for example, and my own works in progress always within arms' reach too. In the picture of my office above, you might note a brown three-ring binder on the right corner; it holds printed drafts of various stories in one stage or another of needing attention. And the file cabinet on the left, the one with the old typewriter sitting on it? That's got notes on other stories and the draft of a (failed) novel—or, honestly, two. And the typewriter itself? It's an old one, of course, and I like to think that some other writer pounded out a story or two of his or her own on it. It's inspiring somehow, and so too is the artwork on either side of the desk and—not seen here—the framed poster on the wall behind my chair, from an exhibition at Trinity College in Dublin about the great detectives, a reminder of the tradition that informs so much of what I write, so much of how I think about what I write.

Tara, meanwhile, has her own approach: books too, obviously, but she keeps her desk sideways in the room, and she's looking for a chair for the other corner (unseen) where she can curl up and read. She has an Elvis lamp as well—a gaudy thing as far as I'm concerned (and I'm an Elvis fan, I should stress). But that's the beauty of the layout here: It's her space, she can do with it whatever she wants. It must be working OK for her already: Last week she finished a draft of her novel in the new office, and she's already gotten affirmative feedback from her first reader—hooray!

And as for Dash... well, beyond the garage, he's already taken over much of this house in one way or another. But he wanted a desk of his own as well, a place to draw actually, and at the same time he also wants to be close to us when he creates, so he's got a table and chairs in the living room, and we're planning to set up a craft corner if we can ever get all his art supplies unpacked, and then there's an old, old desk from my own childhood that he's taken a liking to... and I'll admit, I was glad to share some of my own office space with him. I hope you'll indulge this one last picture:



Writers who are reading this here: Where do you work? What in your space helps to spark creativity? Not sure how easy it is to post a picture in the comments—if it's even possible—but do offer some description at least if you can! 


Countdown to Bouchercon! (...and a little BSP)


My story "Parallel Play" from Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning won this year's Agatha Award for Best Short Story and is up for both the Anthony Award and the Macavity Award at this year's Bouchercon. My fellow Macavity finalist Paul D. Marks, author of the terrific "Ghosts of Bunker Hill," offered a great post here recently where we joined other nominees Lawrence Block, Craig Faustus Buck, and Greg Herren to talk about the origins of these stories, along with Janet Hutchings, editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, talking about the origin of Joyce Carol Oates' nominated story; do check out Paul's post and check out the links there in order to read the other stories too—such a distinguished batch of short fiction!

I'm hoping to arrange something myself with all the Anthony finalists for my next appearance at SleuthSayers in three weeks, along with announcements about my Bouchercon schedule—all of it rushing toward us so quickly!

Stay tuned for all that—and looking forward to seeing everyone in Toronto next month! 


07 September 2017

R.I.P. Walter Becker, Musician and Noir Author


by Brian Thornton

A giant passed last Sunday.
Walter Becker (1950-2017)

Quietly.

On the island of Maui.

Walter Becker, one half of the duo known to the musical world as Steely Dan, died at his home after a long illness. He was 67.

Responsible for some of the most subversively slick pop hits of the 1970s, Becker and his partner Donald Fagen were jazz lovers who met while undergraduates at Bard College, toured as part of Jay and the Americans, then parlayed jobs as staff writers for ABC records (where they wrote, among other songs, "I Mean to Shine," later recorded by Barbra Streisand) into a recording deal with the type of creative control most artists only dream of.

The result was a string of jazz albums masquerading as pop-rock albums, possessed of sterling production values, sharp, enigmatic lyrics and chops executed by some of the best studio players ever to record. Starting in 1972 with Can't Buy a Thrill and running through 1980's Gaucho, Becker and Fagen wrote cynical, often wry lyrics which owed a considerable debt to the tropes of noir fiction.
Becker (right) playing bass on the "Can't Buy a Thrill" tour in 1972
Here, for example, are the lyrics of "Don't Take Me Alive," from their 1976 album The Royal Scam:

Agents of the law
Luckless pedestrian
I know you're out there
With rage in your eyes and your megaphones
Saying all is forgiven
Mad Dog surrender
How can I answer
A man of my mind can do anything

[Chorus:]
I'm a bookkeeper's son
I don't want to shoot no one
Well I crossed my old man back in Oregon
Don't take me alive
Got a case of dynamite
I could hold out here all night
Yes I crossed my old man back in Oregon
Don't take me alive

Jazz guitarist Larry Carlton featured heavily on The Royal Scam.
Can you hear the evil crowd
The lies and the laughter
I hear my inside
The mechanized hum of another world
Where no sun is shining
No red light flashing
Here in this darkness
I know what I've done
I know all at once who I am

(You can hear a live version of the song here.)

Can't you just hear Jimmy Cagney telling this story before going out in a blaze of glory in White Heat?

Pretty noir.

The album has other moments that play like odes to crime fiction, especially "Kid Charlemagne," based in part on the life of Owsley Stanley, the first drug chef to whip up LSD and sell it in mass quantities (which featured a blistering guitar part laid down by jazz legend Larry Carlton- you can hear a recent live version, recorded in May of this year with Carlton guesting on lead guitar.).

Other albums feature equally bleak moments, especially their 1977 masterpiece Aja, which featured songs like "Deacon Blues", the epic title track, and, of course, "Black Cow" ("I can't cry anymore while you run around...").

By the time of the band's release of 1980's Gaucho, Becker was battling a heroin addiction exacerbated by injuries sustained when he was hit by a taxi cab. He abruptly chucked music (and drugs), moving to Maui and taking up avocado ranching.

Although Steely Dan went on to reform in the 1990s and continues to tour relentlessly to this day, Becker would be plagued by health problems resulting from his drug addiction for much of the rest of his life.

Last Sunday they got the better of him.

Donald Fagen has already pledged to continue playing Steely Dan's music for as long as he has left. That's wonderful news. But Becker will be missed. He was the man who arranged their stuff and ensured that it made sense to the listener. He possessed a wonderful ear, and the band will be the poorer for his absence.

I've often said that the music of Steely Dan would lend itself to a themed anthology of the type recently collected by Joe Clifford and centered around the music of Johnny Cash. I've even worked up my own short story based on "Show Biz Kids," from their Katy Lied album.

I'm positive I'm not the only one so influenced by these masters of the bleak, jazz-tinged pop hook.

What say you all? Anyone else written something Steely Dan-inspired?

And lastly, adios, Walter. And vaya con dios.