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.



06 September 2017

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Empath


by Robert Lopresti

I scribbled down notes for this piece years ago when I saw an ad in Mystery Scene Magazine  for The Complete George Smiley Radio Dramas.  The BBC had created radio dramas based on the eight John le Carré novels featuring super spy George Smiley.  He is the protagonist of only four or five of the eight (depending on whether you think The Honourable Schoolboy is about him or about, uh, the honourable schoolboy).  

I have not heard the recordings but my first reaction was: Not possible.  Not possible turn my favorite of the books, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, into a radio drama and make it work.

I know people who read that book cover to cover and couldn't follow the plot.  I know people who have watched the whole six hour TV mini-series with Alec Guinness and were baffled by it.

For an earlier blog I wrote up the endings of twenty great mysteries (not identifying which books they came from, fiend that I am).  I spend twice as much space explaining TTSS as any of the others and still received a complaint that I had it wrong.



The novel's story is so twisty, so reverse-logic, that the idea of trying making it clear in a radio performance strikes me as insane.  If anyone has listened to the recording, please let me know what you think.

Here is one of the reasons the plot is hard to grasp.  Characters A and B are in effect asking: "Given that the situation is X why are Characters C and D doing what they do?"  The answer is: Characters C and D think the situation is Y.

(And by the way, the pretty-good movie version starring Gary Oldman, blew this part of the plot entirely, apparently just to put in one shocking scene.) 

My point is that to follow this part of the plot  requires  a leap of empathy, which no one in the book but Smiley is able to make, and a lot of readers have trouble with it, too.

I don’t mean sympathy, the ability to feel what someone else is feeling.   I mean the scientific sense of empathy: the ability to see things from the other person's point of view.

Decades ago a scientist named Daniel Povinelli taught chimpanzees to do a task for a reward.  Then the chimps saw a human doing a second related task.  Finally the chimps had to copy what the humans did.  In other words, the beasties' thinking process had to go something like this: "The human did a certain thing at the table and we both got fig bars.  Now the tables are turned (literally) and I have to do that same thing to earn us bars."

Which turned out to be no problem for most of the chimps to figure out.  But when the same experiment was tried with monkeys, well, it was like trying to teach them differential calculus on a roller coaster.  In spite of the old adage "monkey see, monkey do," those primates could not make the empathic leap.

It is easy to assume empathy is a good thing, but that's an oversimplification.  For example, it is an essential tool for con artists.  They have to see what the mark is seeing and know what the mark wants.  Science fiction writer Harry Turtledove wrote a story called "Bluff" in which an alien world's civilization is overturned when one character learns poker and discovers the concept of lying.

Other fields rely on empathy as well. I just read a terrific book by Nicholas Rankin called A Genius For Deception, about British trickery during the two World Wars.  One example is camouflage which, of course, depends in knowing how the object you are trying to disguise will look to an enemy soldier, sailor, or pilot.

But it is just as true in intelligence battles.  One of the frustrations of the British spies during WWII was that the Japanese intelligence units were so incompetent they would miss the false information that had been cunningly prepared for them.  In other words, you can't get someone into your trap if they don't notice the bait.

Which, I suppose, brings us back to the cunning of George Smiley.  If you haven't encountered Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I recommend it.  There are plenty of versions to choose from.

Addendum: After I wrote this I received an advance reader copy of John le Carré's new novel, officially published yesterday.  A Legacy of Spies is being plugged as a new Smiley novel, but it appears that once again the cunning old fox manages to stay on the side lines. The main character is Peter Guillam, Smiley's protege, who is called out of retirement to explain some of the master's cases to a post-Cold War generation of spies. I'm reading it now, and so far, it's good.


05 September 2017

Introducing Black Cat Mystery Magazine


by Barb Goffman

It's not everyday you get to blog about the premier issue of a new magazine, especially on the very day it's scheduled to launch. And it's especially exciting when the magazine is coming from a publisher that's been around for nearly thirty years, so you can feel confident that the magazine should have staying power.

Well, this is that day. Welcome to the world, Black Cat Mystery Magazine!

The brainchild of Wildside Press publisher John Betancourt and Wildside editor Carla Coupe, the magazine is expected to come out quarterly. The first issue features new stories from fellow SleuthSayers John Floyd and Art Taylor, as well as one from me. (More on that below.) The other authors with new stories in the issue are Dan Andriacco, Michael Bracken, Kaye George, Meg Opperman, Alan Orloff, and Josh Pachter.

Editor Carla Coupe was kind enough to answer some questions about this new venture.

Why did you decide to start this magazine?
To provide an outlet for great short fiction, which we love. We decided to launch Black Cat when certain other mystery magazines cut their publication schedules in half. 

How do you hope to distinguish BCMM from other mystery magazines?

We're focusing on edgier, noir-tinged, character-based short storieswhich happen to contain a crime of some sort. (A crime is essential, or it isn't mystery fiction.) We don't want fantasy, horror, science fiction, routine revenge stories, or sadism. We do want stories with characters who feel real, in situations that are possible (and plausible), and of course great writing.


 


Do you have a minimum or maximum word count? How about a sweet spot?

We’re looking for contemporary and traditional mysteries, as well as thrillers and suspense stories. We hope to feature stories by established and new authors, and will include a classic reprint or two in each issue. We aren’t looking for flash fiction, and our sweet spot is for stories between 1,000 and 8,000 words. We will look at material up to 15,000 words in length—but it better blow us away to take up that much of an issue!


 

Where will the magazine be available for sale? Bookstores?
It will be for sale at our website (http://wildsidepress.com/magazines/black-cat-mystery-magazine/), on Amazon, and hopefully some independent bookstores. US readers can buy a four-issue subscription, so they won't miss any.


You're aiming for it to come out quarterly?
Yes, but as with all our publications, we're not wedded to a strict schedule.
 

When will submission guidelines go up?
Hopefully this week.

When will you open for submissions?
We'll start accepting submissions at the beginning of October.


Do you make the acceptance decisions alone or with John?
We make the decisions together, and so far have agreed on almost every story!


What do you pay?
We pay 3 cents/word, with a maximum of $250.

Is there anything you'd like people to know about the magazine that I haven't asked?
John thinks the response times are often unreasonably long in the short fiction field. Our goal is to respond to most submissions within 2 weeks. (We're going to try for "all submissions"but in rare circumstances we may take longer.) We also will look at poetry ($5 for short poems, more for longer ones) and cartoons.

Thank you, Carla!


So, readers, here's your chance to read some great fiction in this brand new issue, which is already available for sale on the Wildside website (http://wildsidepress.com/magazines/black-cat-mystery-magazine/), and which should show up any moment now on Amazon, if it isn't there already. My story in the issue, "Crazy Cat Lady," is a tale of psychological suspense about a woman who comes home and immediately suspects there's been a break-in, even though everything looks perfectly in order. Go pick up a copy of the magazine. I hope you enjoy it!

Art, John, and all the other authors with stories in this premier issue, I hope you'll comment with information about your tales. I'm so glad to be sharing this moment with you.

04 September 2017

Location, Location, Location


by Jan Grape

Most if not all writers have heard teachers, agents, editors and mentors tell us to write what we know. That it is very important. It's also important to research the subject, the occupation and the location of your characters and where you are writing about.

It's not always possible to visit the town or the state you desperately want your characters to inhabit. You can read books about your location, read travel guides, talk to friends or relatives. Yet we all know if possible, we should try to visit the area or town. You do understand your travel expense will be tax deductible, right?

Sometimes a town can surprise you. Take Nashville, TN for instance. Home of Country Music. Grand Old Opry at the Ryman Auditorium. The Columbia River runs all through the town. It's also the home of the Tennessee Titans, The Nashville Predators are their winning hockey team. It's the Home of President Andrew Jackson, Vanderbilt University and Medical Center. Yes, Nashville is all that and even more.

My daughter, Karla has lived there for twenty-three years and I've visited several times, seeing all the things I mentioned above. This summer's visit, I saw things in Nashville that I had never seen before and wouldn't write about in a story unless I had visited there with a daughter who loves exploring the town where she currently lives.

One of the first things we did was go to a Jazz Club. A Jazz Club in the heartland of Country Music? Yes. It's new and since Nashville is a music loving town it likely will become a hip place to go. The night we were there a young man was playing a piano. He was quite good and after he took a break he added a friend who played saxophone along with him. A full jazz band came in a little later but we had already had dinner and a couple of drinks and were ready to head home.

A week or so later, we met a couple of friends at an Irish Pub. There was a five or six person band playing Irish or Celtic music on the other side of the room. Irish Music in the home town of the Grand Old Opry? Yes. Why not? It's not unusual to find an Irish Pub in a large city. Or probably even a mid-sized one, but I personally had never been to one. The Guinness Steak and Pie was fantastic.

Another night we went to a Holiday Inn in downtown Nashville to their famous Commodore Room. So named because it's across from Vanderbilt University who's nickname is the Commodores .We were hoping to be there for a singer/songwriter night. Up and coming performers come and play their original music for tips. A group of four performers were there and we got to hear them each play and sing a couple of songs.

When they left the stage, we were expecting second group of singer/songwriters but instead a Jazz Band took the stage. Jazz again? Yes, indeed. Maybe jazz is going to be an up and coming thing in Nashville. Who knew?

We did have a treat as this band had a jazz singer. A gentleman singer who's name I'm sorry to say that I have forgotten, but he was awesome. He opened with "My Funny Valentine," slow and sweet. Then mid-way he began a series of jazz riffs with his voice that would have thrilled Ella Fitz Gerald.

Since our big goal was a singer/songwriter night we left after Karla called and found out a friend was hosting such an event in a club in Hendersonville (a bedroom town to Nashville) so we headed there. Of course, we heard some good original music. Many of these folks may only play in small venues but they often pick up fans and followers and make their own CDs to sell and often make a decent living.

One of the last days in Nashville we drove downtown on a Sunday afternoon and drove down Music Row. Most record labels have offices there. Also some booking agents have offices. Then we drove down Lower Broad (Broadway) where many clubs are located. Some of the clubs are owned by a famous country star like, Blake Shelton. Or a famous star like the late, George Jones.

And I saw one of the funniest vehicles I've ever seen.
It's known as a party-tavern. It's about the size of a horse drawn wagon but it is powered by ten or twelve or eighteen people pedaling away. The people sit on bicycle seats and pedal. And the company renting them has a driver to steer this vehicle, while the people who have brought their own alcohol, sight-see and party. If you ride on these party taverns they are NOT allowed to serve alcohol as then the company and the pedalors could be charged with a DUI. These party taverns may be in many cities but I live in a small town and had not seen them before.

Nashville is now known as the Bachlorette Party Capitol of the World. The ladies in the bachlorette groups usually wear t-shirts saying they are Maid of Honor or Bridesmaids and of course the bride has a T-shirt that says BRIDE. And usually she wears a short veil.

We also visited Centennial Park on another Sunday afternoon and Karla pointed out a Pavilion where on Saturday nights there can be Big Bands playing music from the 30s and 40s and dance instructors to teach Jitterbug and Charleston, etc. People bring chairs or a blanket and maybe a cooler and dance or just enjoy the music.

Also there's a Musician's Corner where Singer/songwriters will come on a Saturday afternoon in late summer and early fall to perform. Again people bring their chairs or blankets. A picnic basket and a cooler of drinks to listen to some good music.

Nashville is still known as the biggest and first Music City and you can certainly enjoy live music to your heart's content. If you are going to write about Tennessee I suggest you visit Nashville. Or where ever you're writing about, it certainly will give you the best flavor possible if you can visit and remember, location, location, location.

Hope you're enjoying a good family day and cook-out on this last holiday week-end of the summer.

03 September 2017

Voltaire and Detective Fiction


by Leigh Lundin

Candide

Candide is where most high schoolers discover Voltaire. Due to his criticisms of political and religious topics, he had become adept at wording and enjoyed word play.

François-Marie Arouet : Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet : Voltaire
Oddly enough, students didn’t giggle overmuch about characters dining on sliced butt, but I recall my father and Aunt Rae debating the name Cunégonde. My Aunt Rae detected sex in pretty much everything. Was the novella’s love interest named after Queen Cunigunde of Luxembourg or was her name a sly sexual parts reference? Both, it turns out if Wikipedia is to believed.

Candide’s satire and irony appealed to me. Dabbling in other Voltaire writings, I found he wrote one of the earliest works that might be described as science fiction.

Zadig

Moreover, I happily discovered Voltaire gave us one of the earliest examples of detective fiction, or at the least, deductive reasoning, Zadig, ou La Destinée (Zadig, or The Book of Fate). Within, Voltaire categorizes those who observe and deduce versus people who intuit.

Zadig, both in book and eponymous character, represents a mirror image of Candide. Candide revels in his naïveté and seeks happiness in ignorance. Zadig cannot help but consider his own worth and position in the world, but also those of his fellow man and woman. Like Zadig, the author was twice imprisoned for his liberal views and values. Little wonder the Enlightenment is so strongly associated with Voltaire.

Voltaire published Zadig in 1747. To provide a little literary context, in 1748 John Cleland would bring the famed erotic novel Fanny Hill to press. The following year, 1749, a magistrate named Henry Fielding would become known for two outstanding events, the publishing of Tom Jones and the founding of the Bow Street Runners, forerunner of Scotland Yard. The American Revolution was still a quarter of a century off, but that year a thousand men rioted in Boston objecting to forced conscription into the British Royal Navy, defying Admiral Knowles’ threat to level Boston to the ground. The flame of liberty had been relit.

Detective Work

I managed to wring a college paper out of this discovery and I thought I was more or less alone in making the connection. The Internet is a wonderful tool. As I sat down to share this today, I find I wasn’t alone at all. The Web includes a handful of articles that touch upon the concept. At least one book embraces the notion, Great Detective Stories: From Voltaire To Poe, edited by Joseph Lewis French.

Way back in 1976, the Jeremy Brett who would become Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself, read Zadig the Detective in an episode of the BBC’s long-lived Jackanory story series. Only a reference to the reading appears on-line, not the recording itself, which we may hope is not lost.

A public domain reading by ‘Davinia’ appears on YouTube, not the most convenient form for an audiobook. I’ve attempted to make those files available in audiobook format. If you’re a reader who doesn’t mind thee, thy, and thou, you’ll appreciate the wit of a great writer. Download an ebook or audiobook and enjoy the seduction of deduction.

Downloads
Downloads (public domain)
Apple iTunes, iPhone, iPad, MacAndroid (and iPhone, iPad, etc.)
Zadig.m4b.zip full manuscript, zippedZadig.mp3.zip full manuscript, zipped
Other LibriVox recording.m4bZadig… for women only

eBooks
multiple formats
Zadig 1910 translationZadig 1961 translation

02 September 2017

A Summer Plot



by John M. Floyd



Question: What do you call a gathering of writers? It can't be a school (that's taken), or a murder or a pride or a gaggle (also taken). Of all the suggestions of collective nouns I've seen, I prefer a plot. It has a nice ring to it, I think: a plot of writers. Not that it makes sense or anything--actually I just needed a good title for this column.


The gathering I'm referring to is one I attended two weeks ago, on Saturday, August 19: the third annual Mississippi Book Festival, held here in Jackson on the grounds of the State Capitol. A plot of several thousand writers (and readers) gathered there from nine a.m. until five p.m., in the blazing sun and stifling humidity of a southern summer, to attend author panels and signings and to buy books and--as our Baptist brethren like to say--to "fellowship." And fellowship we did, all day long and into the night, when our annual "literary lawn party" moved to another site several miles north.

The only official indication we have of this year's total crowd-size is the number of people who attended the forty-or-so panels held in several indoor and air-conditioned venues on and around the grounds, and I'm told that was around 6500--though there were certainly many other folks who came to the event and did not choose to attend a panel. As for me, I was stationed for most of the day at an outdoor and un-air-conditioned venue: the twelve-by-twelve-foot tent assigned to my publisher (Joe Lee, of Dogwood Press) and his four authors--Randy Pierce, Valerie Winn, Susan Cushman, and myself--along with stacks and boxes of our books. A couple of us played hooky long enough to participate in signings and panels throughout the day, but it was still a little crowded there. And really, really hot. But we saw a lot of old friends, met some new ones, and sold a few books as well.


My panel was one of the very last of the day, at four p.m., and although we four panelists and our moderator were sweaty and exhausted by then, so was our audience, so we all managed to get through the hour and have a good time. The panel, called "Voices of Home," was held in one of the rooms inside the Capitol, and--a quick plug, here--it's an impressive building, as are the grounds surrounding it. Especially this year, since we've had such a wet summer and everything is, for a change, as lush and green as a rainforest.

We who took part in the festival were extremely fortunate to have several nationally-known authors and publishers in attendance--Ron Rash, Greg Iles, Otto Penzler, Tom Franklin, Richard Ford, etc.--and even though Saturday's schedule was too hectic to allow much visiting, there were a couple of pre-event functions on Friday night that gave everybody time to get together and chat and catch up a bit. These were held at the home of Eudora Welty and at the historic Old Capitol Museum, and included panelists, sponsors, and guests.


I posted a similar SleuthSayers column at this same time last year, following our 2016 event, and I'll ask the same question again. Do you, as writers and readers, have annual local/regional book festivals like the one I've described? I know of several states that do. If so, have you attended or participated, and did you find it enjoyable? I think most of you will agree that getting together with others in the literary world, regardless of where or how, is usually fun for everyone. Even when the temperature and humidity are both well above ninety.

I asked Otto Penzler if he had expected it to be this hot down here. Gracious as always, he said, "Sure--I love the south." And then gulped about a gallon of water.

Excuse me while I go turn up the A/C.









01 September 2017

The Lock-Up: Prison Fiction and Reality


by Thomas Pluck
About 11 million men and women cycle through U.S. jails and prisons each year, according to a September report by the online media outlet AlterNet. The report, which cited data compiled by the Prison Policy Initiative, the U.S.--with 5% of the world's population--is responsible for a quarter of the world's prison population. At any given moment, more than 2.3 million people are housed in "1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails, as well as military prisons, immigration detention centers and prisons in the U.S. territories," and in some parts of the country, more people are in jail than in college.
--John Corley, "Prisonomics," The Angolite, Dec. 2016 issue
That was written by John Corley, a lifer at Louisiana State Penitentiary, and editor of The Angolite magazine, the prison's newspaper. Better known as "The Farm" or Angola, the former plantation houses the most life-sentenced prisoners in the U.S., if not the world. The peace is kept through occupational programs that give the inmates opportunity to stave off boredom and better themselves, to spend quality time with family on park-like benches rather than plastic orange chairs, sports, and faith-based groups.

You would think, with 2.3 million in jail or prison, that we would have more prison stories. There's Orange is the New Black, which is an entertaining fairy tale, but we have had few prison novels of note in the past few decades, as the population has soared. The time is ripe for accurate stories that depict the school-to-prison pipeline, the vicious circle of probation fees and jail, recidivism and parole, and lifers dying in hospice. All too often our stories begin at the prison gates--like my own novel, Bad Boy Boogie--and pay little attention to what happened before. We let the imagination do the job, but our imaginations are thirty or fifty years out of date, if we're still thinking like The Birdman of Alcatraz and The Shawshank Redemption or even American Me.


Inmate Damien Costly on suicide watch. from Mother Jones

Our genre has many tropes about prison, and they come from our cultural beliefs, which come from stories, so it is a vicious circle. Many of our beliefs about incarceration are outdated. For one, no one says "shiv" anymore. That went out with "cordite." There is violence in prison, but it is usually not how it is depicted in fiction. The majority of reported sexual assaults against prisoners is committed by faculty. Rape does occur, but there are plenty of inmates who will willingly trade sex. There's no need to get an assault or murder on your jacket. When rapes occur it is often paid for as revenge, or to make the victim seek protection within a gang. I wrote about this with the Heimdall Brotherhood (a fictional white supremacist gang based on several real ones) in Bad Boy Boogie, as well as what causes some prison riots. Racial lines used to be uncrossable, but things have changed. A friend of mine who is not Latino joined the Latin Kings during his time, to have protection, for example.

The biggest fantasy is that chimo's (child molesters, in prison parlance) will be punished by the population. This seems to be the greatest wish of half the internet commenters whenever a sex offender is charged, but it rarely happens. Most will seek Protective Custody (aka "punk city") which is similar to Administrative Segregation; you're in your cell 23 hours a day, but without the punitive rules regarding visitors and reading material, etc. Incarcerated former police often opt for this as well, putting to rest the "killed by the people they put away" myth. Anyone who can be victimized probably will be, but threats and long con games are more likely than getting shanked to death. When you're dead you can't pay for protection.

The classic prison novels like On the Yard by Malcolm Braley and The Animal Factory by Edward Bunker are still good reads, but they served time in the '50s. Better is Just Like That by Les Edgerton, which involves convicts after release, but gives a great view into the criminal mindset and how well (or not) prison works as a deterrent to the outlaw kind. Les served time in the '70s and stayed current. For an outsider's view, the book Games Criminals Play is a must-read, especially if you plan on writing to prisoners, or working with prison literary or education programs. It explains the long con games some use to get favors and coerce you into illegal behavior. If you have read about psychopathic behavior or how emotional abusers "gaslight" and coerce, the methods will be familiar, and they work outside of prison as well, when a criminal wants to infiltrate a business, or blackmail a government or law enforcement worker.

They start small, asking for the tiniest of favors. Can I bum a cigarette? What time is it? This is also how con artists find victims: Hey, can you help me with something? If you say yes, you are malleable. It depends. What happened? is a better answer, if you don't want to just keep on walking, which is usually the best option. Giving an inmate a cigarette is a violation. So now when they ask you for something bigger, they can use that against you. C'mon, you gave me a smoke. You're not like the others. And when you get adamant: You have a pretty good job here, but John saw you give me the smoke, and he's a rat, he needs to look good, but I can stop him from ratting, if you help me out...

If you give in a second time, they have more to use against you, and eventually this can lead to cases like the officer in Jersey City, New Jersey accused of tipping off gangs. Or the ubiquitous stories of Corrections Officers caught smuggling in contraband. It doesn't help that they are often underpaid; New Jersey has a strong CO's union, but most states don't. And with the private prison industry, things have gotten much worse. Low pay, and corporate-style accountability; it's only a problem if you get caught. Investigative journalist Shane Bauer infiltrated a Louisiana private prison and worked as a guard, and his story is illuminating not only to show how prisoners are treated and mistreated in such facilities, but how the corrections officers are. And what leads them to taking the job. It's a long read, but worth it: My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard, by Shane Bauer.

Another good read is the Phoenix New Times's reporting on Sheriff Joe Arpaio. They have collected it all here: Phoenix New Times Arpaio columns.

Inmate at Angola prison in Louisiana dries his eyes before
the Traveling Vietnam War Memorial Wall. From The Angolite.
Now this is not to say everyone in prison is good or bad. If you follow the Innocence Project, DNA has exonerated hundreds of inmates who served decades in prison. Some fall into a spiral and can't dig their way out. After cuts to mental illness care, law enforcement and prison often take the place of treatment. And then there are the ones who really deserve to be there, our favorite subjects. Just ask Norman Mailer, who worked to get Jack Abbott out of prison, only for him to stab a waiter who angered him. In the Belly of the Beast is still worth reading, for its outlaw insight. Dated as they are, You Can't Win by Jack Black and Killer: a Journal of Murder by Carl Panzram are also helpful in seeing two very different sides of criminal thinking, one the low-grade hobo scammer, the other a seasoned and heartless serial rapist and murderer, frank in his feelings toward humans, and how he was made into what he was.

 America's ignominious position as the leader in incarceration is unlikely to change any time soon, so if you want to write about prison, make sure you are informed. There are many stories to tell, and they are not all the same. The Kafkaesque circle of parole and probation, fees they must pay, losing your driver's license for a drug/etc conviction, not being able to find or hold a job because you can't drive a car and public transportation isn't available, and going to jail for not paying your fines, is horrible to watch. I've seen it up close, and all it does is shift the monetary burden to the family. Who then burden the addict or convict with guilt, which pressures them to use or violate probation again, which...

Well, maybe I should write a story about it, instead.

Here are some more sources on prison and parole:

Games Criminals Play, by Bud Allen & Diane Bosta
Subscribe to The Angolite, the magazine of Louisiana State Penitentiary, by sending a check/m.o. to The Angolite, c/o Cashier's Office, Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola LA 70712
Watch "Life on Parole," online at Frontline PBS.