13 October 2017

American Gun Mythology and the Role of the Writer


--Thomas Pluck

It's been a little over a week since once of the worst massacres in the history of the United States committed by a civilian. And there's been a lot of talk about "what could have been done" to stop him. Because it's nearly always a him, but that's another can of worms. Once the shooting began, there was little anyone could have done. The terrorist chose a high vantage point. He moved between two windows. He set up cameras in the hallway to alert him, and fired at the door once security arrived, and killed himself.

The Internet tough guys are out in force saying that "if only..." If only what? Anyone in Nevada who wants a gun can get a gun. They have extremely lax gun laws. The crowd was not disarmed. More guns would not have saved anyone, short of having snipers at every public event. Which I am sure, will be suggested as a solution by the arms dealer lobby of the NRA, over sensible legislation for consumer ownership of military hardware.

I am a gun owner. I live in one of the states with the strictest gun laws, and I do not think they are enough. But I don't want to talk about gun control. I know I'm not going to change your mind, and you're not going to change mine.

And besides, what can writers do?

For one, we can stop promoting gun mythology. Guns are not the only solution to a problem. They are not magic wands. You don't get to decide if they wound or kill your target. You can try, but the bullet decides if it will nick the femoral artery and make that "leg wound in the meaty part of the thigh" bleed you out. The bullet decides if that shoulder wound passes through "just the muscle" ... and kills the baby in the woman's arms behind your thriller protagonist who started a gun battle on a crowded street. We perpetuate the myth of the gun as a protective talisman. It won't protect you.

After all, it's only a tool. "It is the hard heart that kills," as Gunny Hartmann would say. Sometimes it's the frightened heart that kills. I nearly shot a friend of mine one night thinking he was an intruder. I had been taught firearm safety. It was nearly not enough to save my friend's life. I train in self-defense with and without weapons. The majority of this training is to commit actions to muscle memory, because humans do not perform well under stress without such training. Yet some characters is cool as a cucumber in battle, never misses a beat, and the gun saves the day.

Horse puckey.

That's what that is.

Ask any officer about gun retention training and the "21 foot rule." That's the distance a determined individual can cross while the average officer clears their holster and readies their sidearm. It takes a little over or under a second. I've trained it. I'm a big, slow guy, but unless you're Quick-Draw McGraw, I'm going to flatten you like a rhino chasing an ice cream truck before you can get a bead on center mass. And yet, I recently read an otherwise fine novel where the protagonist shoots two armed people, one who has a battle rifle, with his .45, during a conversation. He's dead-eye dick. Never misses. And they never get off a shot. I kept reading, but this was a story that bought into our mythology about guns. Another fine novel had a character shoot four security guards "in the leg" and you know what I just said about that. This isn't Terminator 2. Those men will die or live in pain for the rest of their lives, but it's played off as merciful. It served to make the character seem a bad-ass and start things off with high tension, but all I could think of was four guys in physical therapy because that was the best the writer could do.

“We don’t sensationalize guns,” he said. “Society sensationalizes guns.”
“Have you ever watched a movie with guns and violence in it?” he continued. “Have you ever played Call of Duty, or any video game where there is shooting involved? I haven’t heard one person who said ‘no’.” --owner of Machine Gun Vegas, who advocates for stronger gun control.

Is it possible to write violence without glorifying it? Filmmaker Francois Truffaut said that it's impossible to make an anti-war film because the excitement onscreen inevitably glorifies it. I'm not so sure. Fury by David Ayers stripped me of any desire to fight in World War II. When historians and pundits opine that they never got to fight in a war, they sound like petulant children. Are they really listening to veterans? My great-uncles, before they died, confided in me about cowardly acts during wartime without shame. Because they survived. Another cried for the Germans he killed, because "they were just doing what I was doing." And yet Couch Colonels want to see millions suffer so they can get medals? If historians are pushing this sociopathic garbage, what hope do we who deal in fiction have?

Here's an interesting anecdote from John McTiernan, the director of Predator, on "gun pornography":
There were some studio types who were basically into gun pornography. They wanted to sell gun pornography. They said I wasn’t doing enough close-ups of guns and stuff. So I said, “Why don’t I just do a whole scene?” But I also made it one that had something to do with the story, because all of these guys have giant guns and the whole point is that they’re helpless in the face of this monster. That’s the whole point of the story. They’re these enormously, heavily-armed guys, and they’re not prepared for this. So the whole point was, we hit nothing. But it also got rid of the gun pornographers because I gave them five minutes of nothing but guns. So they were quiet after that. - From this interview at Cinephilia & Beyond.

Violence will always be a subject for storytelling. Nature is brutal, and we are part of it. But we must look past the logic of the victor, the survivor, who looks back as if this was destined, just, and the only solution at hand. That's a defense mechanism. "I had to kill him. It was him or me."

In self-defense, we laugh at this. You couldn't cross the street? Shut the door and call 911? You had to stand your ground? Were you defending your life or your "honor"? We say the best defense weapon is a good pair of running shoes. If you must strike, you hit until they are down and escape if you can. Because people have friends. Even jerks who want to rob you or push you around have friends. And they may not like how you kicked their friend when they were down because it felt good to show that jerk who dared to threaten you what they get for besmirching your honor.

How many stories play fast and loose to give us a villain who simply must be killed? They won't give up! They have no fear of death. The endless henchmen who file into John Wick's house made me laugh. I mean, no one thought to toss a few Molotov cocktails and burn his house down? Or tell the boss to engage in aerial intercourse with a rolling pastry, then head home? Not saying you should feel bad about liking the movie, it was good entertainment, but it's the kind of fantasy we take for granted. The kind of fantasy that makes internet tough guys think they could hit a sniper on the 32nd floor, or make it past his machine-gun nest to get to his hotel room and get him.

No, the bad guy thought of that. The hotel room door was found riddled with bullets. Just enough time for the terrorist to take out "a large, silver revolver--probably his favorite, I wonder what he named it?--and blow his own brains out. As planned.

So how do we not glorify violence? By showing the consequences. By not going Shakespeare on our characters' behinds, and killing them off for convenience. You might think this is death for a pulp story, but Billy Jack laid a whuppin' on the bad guys and he was a pacifist. He was so kind he took off his cowboy boots before he kicked you in the face. Your bad-ass heroine can learn Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and use arm locks. Your super-agent can be tired of assassination and use the defensive aspects of tai chi. Or be a boxer who simply sidesteps and slips punches and gets out of there. If you've never seen a pro boxer dodge punches by street thugs and amateurs like myself, it is really funny. You can't hit those guys! Just ask Connor MacGregor...

I would've been much more impressed with the scene I mentioned earlier if instead of shooting the guards, he disarmed them. That's still violent, your trigger finger often gets broken when a gun is wrenched out of your hands, but I'll take a finger splint over a lifelong limp. But this is nitpicking, really. It's the big pictures that matter. Are our villains human, or caricatures? Are guns tools, or dei ex machina? Is violence an easy solution that gives us a place to end the story, or is it a trauma that affects the characters for the rest of their lives? And I don't mean one that's solved by all those whiskies they drink without seeming to be affected, but that's a third can of worms, and that's my limit.

These are questions we have to ask when we write a story.
Because stories matter.

12 October 2017

Fun With Funerals!


by Eve Fisher

I hope many of you watched the series "My Name is Earl" with Jason Lee.  I thought it was hilarious.  One of my favorite episodes was when John Waters did a guest spot as Walter Hamerick, a creative funeral director who liked to put his clients in familiar conditions:  hence the guy in this picture, who'd spent his life as a couch potato is surrounded by all his favorite things.  I watched that, and besides laughing my head off, thought THAT'S the way it's done.  Even if it does look like a spooky Duane Hanson retrospective.

Locally, we have a funeral home that offers a motorcycle hearse (shout out to you, George Boom!) which provides not only one of the best funeral billboards I've seen in years, but makes a whole lot of sense, considering that Sturgis, South Dakota, one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the world.  (Yes, it's the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.)

NOTE:  You'd be amazed at the performers who've played at Sturgis.  From Bob Dylan to Ozzy Osborne, from Motley Crue to the late, great Tom Petty...  (here's Tom Petty's Set List from Sturgis 2006).

Anyway, back when I was a child, my father drove my mother and me to northern Kentucky every summer, where we spent at least a few weeks, if not the whole summer, with my grandmother.  She lived in a small town of probably 500 people (which was considerable growth from the 40 who were there in 1800), settled in the late 1700s, and everyone knew / knows everyone.  Everyone knew my grandmother, because she taught school there for 40 years.  And my grandfather worked in the bank as a teller until the late 1950s.

Image result for 1858 pennySide storyEvery time someone brought in a very old coin to the bank to deposit, my grandfather would take it and replace it with a modern equivalent from his own pocket.  The result is that I have a modest but authentic old coin collection.

Anyway, another family everyone knew was that of the local morticians.  The Walworths (the names have been changed so as not to embarrass anyone) had been burying everyone in Falmouth since the 1800s, and had / have every intention of continuing to do so for the foreseeable future.  Whenever Mother and I went to Falmouth, we stopped and paid our respects.  Mrs. Walworth, the matriarch, gave me lemonade and cookies, and the adults discussed old, literally dead days with great relish.  Mrs. Walworth especially like to reminisce about when she and Mr. Walworth first met.
"We didn't fall in love at first sight.  No, he had to work to get me.  But oh, those were sweet times.  Hand in hand, courting and embalming..."  

She also told the sad story of when her first son died, as a little boy, and having to lay him out and bury him themselves.  And, after the funeral, there was a tremendous rain storm, and she couldn't sleep thinking about how cold and wet it was out there in that grave...  (BTW, both those stories gave me a few nightmares.)

But back to Fun with Funerals.  Maybe.

Fast forward 30 years, and my grandmother died.  I went back up to Kentucky with my parents, in my one black suit, a 1930s linen number that I'd bought at the thrift store and gave my mother something to talk about instead of crying the whole way.  Randy Walworth (who was about my age, and had taken over for his parents a few years back) met us, and we finished making the arrangements:  lilies, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus", and cake as well as cookies for the viewing that evening.  Then we went and booked a room for the night at the local motel, because there weren't any living relatives left in town.

I swear to God everyone over 60 came that evening for the viewing.  The three of us went from little old lady to little old man and on to the next until I at least was dizzy.  At one point I stopped by the coffee and looked out on the sea of tinted grey, the chatter like the sea in my ears, and realized I desperately needed a cigarette.  So I stepped back into the office, where Randy was taking a little time off from his duties as well.

"I just need a cigarette," I said.

"No problem.  You want a drink to go with it?"

"Hell, yes."

funeral-humor-old-people-at-weddingsRandy pulled out a bottle of bourbon and poured us both a stiff one.  We sipped away, in silence at first, and then Randy started talking.

First about what a good crowd we had, because my grandmother had always been hugely popular.

We reminisced about Falmouth in the old days - we were very close in age - and how we'd run from house to house and race each other over the railroad tracks, which ran right through the middle of town.  Who lived where.  When.  When they died.  Where they were buried (his contribution).

And then Randy started talking about "restoration work" (we were on a multiple of drinks at this point), and how delicate it is, and what wonderful things he'd done for my grandmother, and how he'd done them.  He went into some detail, and I tried very hard to look interested while not hearing one single word of it.

He wound it all up with, "Now I want you to do me a favor."  "What?" I asked.

"Whatever you do, don't ever have an autopsy.  Autopsies just wreak havoc with a person's body, and the funeral director is stuck with the damage.  Please, please, please, whatever you do, make sure you don't ever have an autopsy, because I simply can't guarantee my work if you do."

Well, I promised.  Without pointing out that I'd have nothing to say about whether or not I'd have an autopsy, if the issue ever arose.  And then I went back to the party, because for some reason...

Well, it's interesting to chat with the man who plans to embalm you.  But it isn't really comfortable.  Even with bourbon.




 

11 October 2017

The Devil Loads Empty Guns


David Edgerley Gates


Back in the late Bronze Age, when I was a kid going to summer camp, the NRA was a sportsmen's organization. They taught firearms safety, and sponsored marksmanship competitions, and published The American Rifleman, which was pretty much the only gun magazine available, aside from maybe Shotgun News, which was basically classified ads. I learned to shoot at Camp Chewonki - I was ten or eleven, if memory serves - and I was awarded the NRA pins and patches for whichever level I got to.  I think Sharpshooter, that first year. We shot prone, sitting, kneeling, standing. Single-shot .22 bolt actions. Paper targets at fifty feet. Ten rounds. You needed to score in the black. I want to emphasize, though, that riflery was one of a mix of activities, swimming, canoeing, lanyard-weaving, woodcraft. They wanted to keep us busy, that critical mass of boys.

My dad let me buy my own .22 when I was fourteen. He was from Ohio, he'd served in the war, and like a lot of people his age, it seemed perfectly natural for kids to learn basic shooting skills. How not? He and I shot up a lot of tin cans.

I went in the military, then, with a little preparation, and qualified Expert on the .30 caliber carbine. Now, the .30 carbine is a lightweight compared to the M-14 the Marines were still being issued at the time, or the M-16 the Army had transitioned to, and they were shooting at distances out to three hundred yards, but still. Iron sights on a little gun that fired what wasn't all that much more than a pistol load? I thought I did okay. 

In the years since that first .22, I've had a few other guns, a couple of single-actions, cowboy guns, a couple of auto-loaders. One of the things I've always liked about guns is their simplicity of function. I'm no good at working on cars, I couldn't take a carburetor apart, but guns are straightforward, mechanically, like a watch. The single-action Army, for example, a design that dates to 1873, has six moving parts, with three springs. There aren't that many more in a .45 auto, the 1911. Guns you can drop in sand, or salt water, and they'll still operate. That's why they were military-issue.

This is prologue. I'm telling you so you know where my sympathies lie. It's a familiar story. Anybody of a certain generation, or anybody with a certain background, is going to say more or less the same thing. They grew up in a culture where hunting and shooting were part of the metric. It didn't make you a nut. Of course, this is also a culture where military service was often the norm. So, it depends on your attitude toward that. If you can't see yourself in uniform, you might be unsympathetic. Same with guns. Or broccoli. 

But my actual question here is, What the heck happened to the NRA? How did they shape-shift from a generic bunch of hunters and recreational shooters, back in the day, into this pack of rabid crazies? (Exaggeration for effect, of course, but that's how they're perceived by many.) The answer is that there was a coup, at the national meeting in Cincinnati, in 1977. 

Forty years ago, a dissident group led by Harlon Carter waged a floor fight, and voted the NRA board of directors out of office. Carter's platform was simple: on 2nd Amendment issues, there's no room for compromise. Compromise means erosion, and the end result of gun control can only be confiscation and tyranny.

This is how the argument continues to be framed. If the gun-control advocates suggest banning high-cap mags, to take an example, 2nd Amendment absolutists say this is gradualism, a wolf in sheep's clothing. They've got a point. Once you start loosening the bricks in the wall, you hasten its collapse, and gun rights people simply don't believe it, when you tell them these are just common-sense measures. They know your real agenda is getting rid of guns, period. And when you come right down to it, there are people whose real agenda is getting rid of guns, period. It flies in the face of reason and experience to say that isn't true. So the problem isn't just the gun guys. The problem is that both sides believe themselves to possess the True Cross, and Satan rules their adversaries.

Where do I stand, personally? Like more than a few gun guys, I'm for gun control. But the dialogue, if you can call it that, is owned by the extremes, and what's in short supply is trust.

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

10 October 2017

Dietrich Kalteis and the Process of Writing


by Paul D. Marks

One of the things I really enjoy in the writing game is the process of writing. Both my own and other people’s. Everyone seems to do it just a little bit differently. Of course, there’s the big stuff like pantsters vs. outliners, but there’s also things like whether you try to write a specific number of words a day. And, whether I’m on a panel or reading a blog, I always find these little subtleties in the way various writers work interesting. I also often pick up pointers, so I might change how I do something or at least try something new. If it works fine, if not that’s fine too. But there’s always room to learn and grow.

To that end, I thought I’d talk to Canadian author Dietrich Kalteis about his process and his new book. Dieter’s fourth novel House of Blazes won this year’s silver medal for historical fiction in the Independent Publishers Awards. Kirkus Reviews hailed it a cinematic adventure. And Publishers Weekly called his third novel Triggerfish high-octane action that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. Crimespree Magazine said it satisfies the need for all things dark and leaves the reader breathless. The National Post called The Deadbeat Club a breakout for Kalteis, and his debut novel Ride the Lightning won a bronze medal for best regional fiction in the Independent Publishers Awards, and was hailed as one of Vancouver’s best crime novels. Nearly fifty of his short stories have been published internationally, and his screenplay Between Jobs is a past-finalist in the Los Angeles Screenplay Festival. He lives with his family in West Vancouver, British Columbia, and is currently working on his next novel. His upcoming novel Zero Avenue was released just this week through ECW Press.

So here goes, and maybe there’s something new here that will help your writing too:


Paul D. Marks: Did your new novel Zero Avenue end up as the book you anticipated writing from the start?

Dietrich Kalteis: I started with an early scene where the main character Frankie del Rey walks into Johnny Falco’s club. We learn she’s an aspiring rock star who runs dope for a dealer named Marty Sayles, and that Johnny’s club’s in financial trouble. Sparks fly between Johnny and Frankie which leads to a major conflict between them and Marty Sayles. From there, the first draft just flowed out scene by scene.

I don’t plot a story out ahead of time, so during the early chapters I never know where the whole thing will end up. As I’m writing and the story takes shape, ideas drift in for what’s ahead, and those ideas are better than anything I could come up with if I plotted the whole story ahead of time. Working this way makes writing more of an organic process for me. And these ideas can come from something I’ve experienced, or something I read or saw somewhere, and with just the right twist they find their way into the story.

It’s not the only way to write a story, but it works for me. Once I’m through a first draft, I create a timeline to make sure the sequence of events makes sense. I guess it’s a little like outlining in reverse.


Zero Avenue is your fifth standalone novel. Have you ever considered writing a series?

I love a good series, but I haven’t come up with one that I want to write. Right now I’m working on a story set in the dustbowl days of Kansas, and I have a first draft for the one after that: a present-day story about a guy on the run up in the Yukon. Usually by the time I finish one novel, I have the next one in my head, ready to go. I love creating new characters and dropping them in different settings and situations. Having said that, I did borrow a minor character from my first novel, and she became a main character for my second story, The Deadbeat Club, although I wouldn’t call that a series.


Your characters often come from the wrong side of the tracks, do you like taking an outlaw’s perspective? 

My characters have been bounty hunters, cops, ex-cops, criminals, ex-cons and then some. They often end up in that gray area — not all good and not all bad  — no matter what side of the tracks they’re from. Some don’t follow any rules while others bend them to get what they want, or catch who they’re after. I find this helps make the characters less predictable and somewhat more realistic.

Just like in real life, nobody is all one thing. And when I drop characters in a scene, I let them take their own course and develop as the story progresses, and I try not to interfere by imposing my own values or principles.


Being a prolific writer, do you set a daily word count?

I never have a word count in mind. Typically, I pick up where I left off the day before. Sometimes I back up and rework some of the chapter I was working on the previous day, and by the end of it I may only have written a couple hundred new words. Other days I charge through a couple thousand words. The only thing that matters is that the words that end up on the page are good ones.


Do you cut and save your unpublished gems? 

I used to keep a file for scenes and ideas I cut, thinking I might be able to use them down the road. That’s never happened so far, so I stopped keeping the file. Sometimes when I’m doing a second or third pass through a story, I find something that isn’t working and needs to be cut, and it’s not always easy to throw something out, but I’ve come to realize there are always fresh ideas coming.


You’ve written crime novels set in present time and some that are historical. What determines the setting?   

It comes down to what suits the story. For Zero Avenue I liked the anger of the punk rock scene, and Vancouver was this sleepy backwater town back in the late seventies. And that combination just seemed the perfect setting for the story I had in mind. Also the late seventies was a time before Google Earth and satellite imagery, making it easier to hide some pot fields, which was necessary to the story.

I’ve written stories set in present-day Vancouver, and I like the setting since it hasn’t been overused in crime fiction. Also, the city’s a major seaport sitting on the U.S. border, and that’s just begging for a crime story.

For House of Blazes I set the story in San Francisco in 1906 at the time of the big earthquake. It was a time of debauchery and corruption, and it also had a wild west meets a modern city feel to it. Some people rode into town on horseback carrying sidearms while others drove cars wearing three-piece suits. After the earthquake hit, the fires that swept the city for three days took on a character feel as they raged and forced people to run for their lives.


What’s coming next?

I’m pleased to have a story included in the upcoming Vancouver Noir, part of Akashic Books’ Noir Series, edited by Sam Wiebe.

The next novel to be released is Poughkeepsie Shuffle, due out next year from ECW Press. It’s set in Toronto in the mid-eighties and centers on Jeff Nichols, a guy just released from the Don Jail. When he lands a job at a used-car lot, he finds himself mixed up in a smuggling ring bringing guns in from Upstate New York. Jeff’s a guy willing to break a few rules on the road to riches, a guy who lives by the motto ‘why let the mistakes of the past get in the way of a good score in the future.’

Thanks for stopping by, Dieter. And good luck with the new book.

***

And now for the usual BSP:

Please check out the interview Laura Brennan, writer, producer and consultant, did with me for her podcast, where we talk about everything from Raymond Chandler and John Fante to the time I pulled a gun on the LAPD and lived to tell about it. Find it here: http://destinationmystery.com/episode-52-paul-d-marks/


09 October 2017

BSP For You & Me


by Steve Liskow

On the heels of Janice's excellent discussion of how to prepare for an interview...

This year has been a good one for short story sales (for me, anyway. Most of the other contributors to this blog sell more in any given month), but it's still stacking up as my first losing season since 2013.

Yes, I have more books available than I did then (so far, twelve novels and a collection of stories), but both my close friends know that the annual sales and royalties from those self-published books won't pay for our cats' prescription diets for a week.

The bulk of my writing income--and "bulk" is a misleading term here--comes from other sources, mostly editing and conducting writing workshops. Over the last two years, the State of Connecticut has been plagued with horrendous budget problems that have been passed on to libraries, where I usually hold those workshops. In 2015, I led sixteen sessions, my all-time high. This year, I did one in April and only had one more scheduled until last week. I know three other writers going through the same straits, and for the first time ever, we're competing with each other for the same few gigs.

How do you get more business without bumping off the competition?

Packaging.

Years ago, comedian Bill Dana, AKA "Jose Jimenez," had a routine in which the interviewer asked him, "How did you get the title 'King of the Surf?'" and he replied, "I had cards printed."


 That's not quite as outrageous now as it was then. We need to figure out the continuum of shrinking violet, effective promotion and obnoxious BSP. It's a fine line, and when you're offering to teach, it gets even finer.

Most people want to drive a car before they buy it. I have yet to buy a guitar online because I need to hear it and touch it first. It's the same with writing. People need to believe that you can help them write better, so you have to show them what's under your hood. Obviously, your own books can help, but some people don't have time to read them before hiring you.

When I began editing, I offered a freebie through Sisters in Crime. I would examine the first twenty-five pages of a manuscript for free to the first three respondents in exchange for a reference letter I could post on my website. The requests arrived in my email so quickly that I ended up reading five samples. Satisfied customers give you more cred than anything else. If you're a writer, nothing tops reviews from happy readers...except maybe blurbs from other writers who have a large following.

Those references are on my website, and I keep a printed copy for when I meet a librarian or--as happened last week--the head of a writer's retreat that plans to open this month.

I also bring blurbs that better-known writers (practically everyone) wrote for me. These are people I met at various conferences. In a few cases they mentored me or led workshops I attended. Reviews written by a real person, especially a legitimate critic or Publishers Weekly or Kenyon Review mean a lot, too. I print out a list of my awards and nominations because they mean that someone who knows the business thinks I won't stink up the joint. Besides, it's great being able to say I lost an award to Karin Slaughter or Dennis Lehane.

Be flexible. I have a printed description of my workshops and can make them last from about sixty to ninety minutes by encouraging more questions or giving people more time to work on the activities I include. I taught high school English for thirty-three years, so I know how to create a decent worksheet.

One of the first rules of grant writing is that you have to show how the public will benefit, and it's the same here. You're working with the library, bookstore or other venue. Remember the new writers retreat I mentioned above? Instead of charging my usual fee for workshops, they will charge the students and we will split the fee. I'll get less money than usual, but the Story Teller's Cottage will get some money in the coffers right away, which means they can grow...and invite me back again. You can spend "less," but try spending "nothing."

I gave the new director some of my business cards (yes, thank you, Bill Dana), which mention my editing. I gave her several bookmarks, too. The front is a head shot with my website and Facebook page. Easy to read, and won't need updating. I can use it forever, especially since I don't plan to age at all. Ever. I assembled the list of books on the back three years ago when I had the titles but they weren't out yet. Planning that far in advance meant I could buy the bookmarks in bulk (lower price) and use them longer. Starving writers go for cheap, OK?

The bookmark serves two purposes First, it shows people that, yes, I did write a book, which suggests what's under the hood. Giving the titles means people can find the books and read them, which does even more of that.

Sure, it's creating an image, but it's also content and credibility. I don't wear a tie when I meet people, but I don't wear cut-offs and a Playboy tee shirt either.

I've learned to ask a few questions, too. These help the venue and me work together and help that professional image again.

Do you have Wi-fi? Most places do, but I'm beginning to sell more books at events by card than by cash, so it's good to know, especially if I post the event on my website or Facebook page. If you take a credit card, it suggests that you're a "real" business, too.

Will you print out my handouts? If the venue takes registration in advance, they know how many copies they need. That means I don't show up with a bunch of extras I'll have to recycle. It also means that if someone decides to attend at the session at the last minute, the venue can print up more copies and I don't have to ask someone to share.

Do you have an easel or dry marker board (I hate power point!)? I can bring one, which shows I have my own equipment, but it's easier if you have to cart less stuff around.

Finally, I encourage librarians and other people to take pictures I can use on my sites for further credibility. But do I really look that funny?

Yes, it's BSP, but it gets your foot in the door. And the best promotion in the world won't hide a lousy workshop.

Does this all work? I picked up three workshops last week. They satisfy my teaching Jones. And since this is a new venue and we're guessing at the best times and days for the sessions, I'm adding an evaluation sheet that asks participants about the format, content, presentation, time and space. It also asks if they'd like to take another workshop. Criticism and suggestions are how you get better.

The Story Tellers Cottage (check their website and Facebook page) held their open house last Saturday, and I made a point of showing up with more bookmarks and to meet more people. They're doing the same thing I am, but they're taking a bigger risk, so they have fewer chances to get it right.

I think they're on the right track.


08 October 2017

Hospitals and Murder in One Step or Two


by Mary Fernando
“Hospitals are a great place to kill people” said MC, during our interview, “You can kill people in one-step or two.”
I would like to reintroduce MC – Mystery Cardiologist. He is a doctor who opens up blocked heart vessels with stents, puts in new heart valves and uses defibrillators to bring people back from the brink of death. He is also a voracious reader of mystery novels. What can be more delicious than a man who saves lives and ponders how to kill people? After he read my last blog, he felt it made him sound a bit ghoulish. So I would say, unequivocally, that he is a great guy. A wonderful husband, father, puppy owner who has never murdered anyone. He is safe to have over for dinner and introduce to your children.

Although his one-step and two-step murders are worth hearing about, what is equally as interesting is the character of a hospital murderer.
“There is nothing more creepy than someone like a nurse, doctor or paramedic who kills.” said MC. “That is the person with the most access to the patient, the knowledge to kill and the person everyone trusts.”
MC is right. The best person to know what drugs could kill and at what dosages, is a person who is medically trained. Further, they would know, for example, that in death, all cells break down, release sugar, and make an insulin overdose difficult to detect. However, a sample of the vitreous humour (fluid in the eye) could be a perfect way to catch this murderer.

Setting a murder in a hospital opens up avenues of murder but also allows for the creation of a complex character. What makes someone who has devoted a great deal of time educating themselves on how to save lives, who has a career of service to patients, turn themselves into a killer?  It could be a latent aggression finally coming to the fore, or it could be a character up against hard times who changes and becomes embittered. Or it could be a character who becomes a doctor or nurse to compensate for a sense of helplessness but gradually develops a sense of arrogance and invincibility, coupled with the a distain for those who are helpless like they once were.

One-step murders in hospitals can involve numerous methods. If someone is admitted to hospital for routine surgery such as an appendectomy or even for a heart attack that they survived, then finishing them off in hospital is an interesting option.

In hospital, people have IVs that provide a portal to inject them with something deadly. An overdose, of insulin, epinephrine, or potassium are some of MC’s suggestions.

A two-step murder is another intriguing option. Perhaps a murder attempt - a car accident, or bludgeoning on the head - has failed to completely kill off the victim. Bringing them to hospital provides an opportunity to try to kill them again.

Here a principle of reversing medical treatment is key. For example, if the victim has brain swelling after a thump on the head, in hospital they will give drugs to reduce swelling. They will also raise the head, using gravity to get rid of excess fluid in the brain. A visit during which the hospital bed is positioned to lower their head will send enough fluid into their brain to kill them. It is a gruesome way to die as the brain swells and pushes into your skull and again, it takes a certain twist of character to make a person trained to save lives, now take them.

Killing via an IV line is of course an option when a murder is botched and someone wants to complete the kill. Insulin injected could bottom out their glucose and put them into a deadly coma. Adrenaline could cause a fatal heart attack. And someone who has survived a murder attempt would be frailer and more susceptible to most drugs. Air injected into an IV is a perfect way to kill someone.

Once you have decided to set up a hospital murder, either in one or two steps, there is a wealth of internet info to look at. For example, if you are set on killing someone with air injected into an IV, I would like to recommend the blog by James J Murray, Prescription for Murder, as a great starting point. Another intriguing find is a book about murder by insulin.

For me, the intriguing part of my interview with MC was the hospital setting as an opportunity for murder with a necessity of developing the kind of complex character who would murder in a hospital. I truly think this hospital killer allows a writer to develop a character that embodies the saying: ‘As we get older, we just get more so.'

All our vulnerabilities, our fears and frailties, can be hidden under work and purpose. However, in the end we all become ourselves and more so. What haunts us eventually will consume us and that, in essence, is the making of a murderer.

07 October 2017

Writing for the Record



by John M. Floyd



Like many of my fellow writers, I've had my share of unusual experiences. I once had three stories in four months in AHMM (the March, May, and June 1999 issues); I once did a signing at a flea market, right in there among the T-shirts and yard ornaments and velvet paintings; I've twice had stories in Woman's World that listed someone else's byline; I've published poems in places like Volcano Quarterly and Appalling Limericks; one of my short stories was rejected twelve times before it finally sold; I've had stories published in Braille and on audiotape and translated into Russian; and I once drove 150 miles to do a library presentation where only two people showed up (and both of them worked for the library). Etc., etc., etc.

But something happened recently that was even stranger than any of those. A writer friend from Los Angeles named Eric Guignard, who has also edited several anthologies I've appeared in, contacted me with information about an opportunity. He began his email with "There's this little project I stumbled across that you might be interested in . . ."

The project was an attempt by a publisher in South Africa to--again, in Eric's words--"create the biggest book of short stories ever for The Guiness Book of World Records."

Here's the deal:

CEA Greatest Anthology Written, published by Celenic Earth Publications, will include 111 original short stories, each between 3000 and 8000 words, written by 111 different authors around the world. The book is an attempt at a Guiness World Record for the most authors contributing to a single volume of short fiction.

Shaun M. Jooste, a writer/publisher from Cape Town, South Africa, began working on the project in April. He applied to Guiness World Records, challenged the existing record of 50 writers, and stated that he could double that number in an anthology that he would then publish. After GWR granted him permission for the attempt and sent him a truckload of requirements and guidelines, Shaun put out a call for contributors, read all the submissions, and categorized them by genre. The book will then be "authenticated and verified" according to specifications by Guiness. To attain World Record status, 1000 copies of the book must be printed and at least 500 print copies and 500 e-book copies must be sold. (For anyone who's interested, it is available now for pre-order here and will also be sold via Amazon.)


The anthology, which will be about 600 pages, will feature authors from South Africa, the United Kingdom, the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hungary, Nigeria, Mexico, Bolivia, and Switzerland. The main genres included are mystery/crime, fantasy, science fiction, horror, and romance (with about 2% children's, 4% LGBT, and 4% historical).

Eric and I received word last month that our stories will be included. Mine, which is called "The Tenth Floor," is a 4000-word fantasy tale about a teenager who buys an artifact from a pawn shop as a gift for his grandmother and then finds that it's also a portal to another world. Not a mystery, but it contains several plot twists, and one of my favorite endings. And the timing of the anthology call was perfect: when I found out about the opportunity, this story was already completed and sitting here in my to-be-submitted stack.

Everything about this project is a little unusual--including the five-page contract I received a few weeks ago. It stated that authors will retain reprint rights but will not be offered royalties; their payment will be the permanent inclusion of their names in The Guiness Book of World Records. I decided I could live with that.

Eric, a Bram Stoker Award winner, agrees. In fact he told me that inclusion in Guiness World Records has always been one of his bucket-list items. I had honestly never thought about it--but now that it's a probability, I'm pretty excited.

Maybe if I talk about that at one of our libraries, more than two bored employees will show up.

Or maybe not.





06 October 2017

More About Inspirations



by O'Neil De Noux

I started writing in high school and in college, nothing publishable. When I became a road deputy (patrol officer), I took note of what I observed and felt. Notes I'd use to inspire stories. When I became a homicide detective, I knew - this is what I should write about. While my first two novels were not inspired by real cases, the anecdotes in the books were. The small stories and the way the characters talked and thought.

My third novel BLUE ORLEANS is based on a real case we worked. Not only a whodunit, it was a whoisit as it started with a dumped body. Didn't take long to identify the victim as a New Orleans drug dealer, which led to his family and friends, which led to the solution of the case. I jazzed it up in the novel, put in a little sex and violence, created a femme fatale.

   LaStanza Novels 3, 4, 5

My fourth novel CRESCENT CITY KILLS is a telling of another dumped body case, the case of two young New Orleans women executed on the river batture (land between the levee and the water's edge, in this case the Mississippi River). In real life, the murders occurred in Jefferson Parish. In my book, I moved them back to New Orleans were my recurring character NOPD Homicide Detective Dino LaStanza could work it. Condensing the 13-month investigation wasn't hard but pacing the novel was difficult.

Those books also had strong ancillary plots - LaStanza's personal life. But I was fortunate to have a framework. Real cases.

The inspiration of my fifth novel, THE BIG SHOW, came from a phone call from Harlan Ellison who said he had an idea for LaStanza. He gave me flashes of an opening scene and suggested I run with it. I did. All he asked was for me to put an acknowledgement: Thanks Uncle Harlan. Which I did. I made up the rest of the story. Inspiration from a phone call.


The third novel in my Lucien Caye Private Eye series - HOLD ME, BABE (which was a finalist for this year's SHAMUS Award for BEST ORIGINAL PAPERBACK PRIVATE EYE NOVEL) - was inspired by a conversation with my literary agent Joe Hartlaub (who is also an agent for musicians). He relayed an emotional story about a lost song. I got caught up in the emotion and was inspired.



Hurricanes are inspiring. Look at the flood of Hurricane Katrina-inspired books. I waited eight years before penning CITY OF SECRETS, a story triggered by the haunting poem "Eternal Return" by James Sallis. Sometimes you just have to let an idea ferment.

We writers get inspiration from a lot of sources. The night my wife walked into my home office with a catalog (either a Victoria's Secret or Frederick's of Hollywood catalog) and showed me a new product - the kissable cleavage bra. I made note of what she said, then wrote a story "Kissable Cleavage" that's been published three times. Sorry, don't have a picture of the brassiere to share.

Sometimes it's the little things, sometimes the big ones. Whatever causes emotion in a writer can cause emotion in a reader if well written.

That's all for now.

www.oneildenoux.com



05 October 2017

Born a Rebel


by Brian Thornton

"She picked me up in the mornin'
And she paid all my tickets.
And she screamed in the car,
And left me out in the thicket.
Well, I never would have dreamed
That her heart was so wicked.
Well, I'm goin' back tonight,
'Cuz it's so hard to kick it."

                        –Tom Petty, "Rebels"

"It was nearly summer,
We sat on your roof.
Yeah, we smoked cigarettes,
And we stared at the moon.
And I showed you stars
You never could see.
It couldn't have been that easy
To forget about me."

        -Tom Petty, "Even The Losers"

Someone a whole lot more articulate than I once said, in effect, that art was simply stepping into the spotlight and telling the truth. By that definition, rock icon Tom Petty, who died Monday at age 66, defined "art."

Petty probably wouldn't have cared for that description. Not a pretty face, uninterested in cultivating either connections or an artist's image, Tom Petty died counting the likes of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, Jackson Browne, Roy Orbison (until his death), George Harrison (ditto), and many, many others as friends and collaborators. It was an irony worthy of a Tom Petty song.

And it was a long, long road from his origins in Gainesville, Florida as the son of an alcoholic and abusive father who beat him mercilessly throughout his childhood. A brush with fame in the person of a meeting with Elvis Presley (who was in town to shoot a movie) during his early teens is supposed to have provided the spark that lit the fuse on Petty's towering ambition. Petty scoffed at the notion in later interviews.

"You Don't Know How It Feels"
This is not to say that Tom Petty was not ambitious. On the contrary, bandmates in the late-60s blues-rock outfit Mudcrutch marveled years later about how Petty had more ambition than native musical talent. Petty himself was known to joke about how as a lead guitarist he was actually a pretty good rhythm guitarist. He didn't play a solo on any of his albums until he laid down the lead track on "You Don't Know How It Feels" for his 1994 album  Wildflowers.

None of that mattered, though. Tom Petty's art was in the songs he wrote, and in the crystal clarity of how he envisioned them sounding in the final cut. In service of that vision he surrounded himself with musicians possessed of a particular set of chops. Two key players in Petty's long-time band The Heartbreakers were guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench.

Left-to-Right: Keyboardist Benmont Tench, Petty, & Guitarist Mike Campbell–core of the Heartbreakers' sound for decades
It's Tench whose swirling organ kicks off the iconic "Refugee" on 1979's Damn the Torpedoes, considered by many to be Petty's breakthrough album. Campbell's searing guitar leads provide the counterpoint of a call-and-response with Tench's keyboards, and hovering over it all is Petty, whose trademark wail both sells and punctuates the lines:

"Baby, we ain't the first.
I'm sure a lot of other lovers been burned.
Right now this all seems real to you, but it's
One of those things you've got to feel to true."

Petty's music contained on-going homages to the likes of country-rock stalwarts such as the Byrds (whose lead-singer Roger McGuinn, tapped Petty to collaborate with him on his 1991 "comeback" album, Back From Rio.), the Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan (another frequent collaborator, and not just with The Traveling Wilburys), Del Shannon (Ditto), and yet still managed to be strikingly original. And his lyrics dealt with universal themes usually having to do with the personal consequences springing from one's life choices.

"Refugee," his most recognizable song, is about not being a victim. Petty the child abuse survivor was many things, but never that. Other songs such as "You Got Lucky," "Change of Heart," and the above-referenced "Even the Losers" are often bitter ruminations on the cost of relationships. Still others, like "The Waiting," and "Deliver Me" are the exact opposite: hopeful, even optimistic:

"Oh baby don't it feel like Heaven right now
Don't it feel like somethin' from a dream                            
Yeah I've never known nothin' quite like this
Don't it feel like tonight might never be again
Baby we know better than to try and pretend
Honey no one could have ever told me 'bout this"

                                  –Tom Petty, "The Waiting"

"Sometimes I wonder if this is worth the trouble.
Sometimes I wonder if this is worth the fight.
I never have made my mind up about it.
I've just decided to let it all ride."

                                     –Tom Petty, "Deliver Me"


And Petty knew about fights. After suing his first record company over the disastrous deal he'd made with them (he won), he went on to immediately piss off his next one by nearly naming his latest album The $8.98 Record Album in order to keep the record company from jacking the price of his records to $9.98 in the wake of the success of Damn the Torpedoes. The record company caved, and the album (which contained "The Waiting") was eventually released as Hard Promises.

And his fans loved him for it.

When he died on Monday, Tom Petty was fresh off a 40th anniversary tour with The Heartbreakers. At 66, he had survived abuse as a child, exploitation by rapacious record companies, the destruction by fire of his large Southern California home, and the disastrous spiral of his first marriage downward into serious drug addiction for both himself and his ex-wife.

He had always come back with an answer to these big life challenges: leaving his parents' home at seventeen and decamping for California while "Runnin' Down a Dream," Damn the Torpedoes for his first record company. Rebuilding his burned-out house. And finding sobriety and love with the second wife who now survives him.

And when he was found in full cardiac arrest late Sunday, it even seemed as if he might pull back from the brink yet again, as reports of his death were initially hotly contested when they broke on Monday.

Not this time.

The refrain from the last song on Petty's 1982 album Long After Dark runs like this: "Don't have a wasted life." Looking back on his impressive body of work, it's pretty damned clear that Tom Petty took his own advice.

04 October 2017

The Librarian Murder Mysteries


by Robert Lopresti

Thanks for all the additions, comments, and corrections! All those received by October 6th have been added in red.  Keep them coming!

Crime-writing attracts people from many different fields, including crime-fighters and, of course, criminals.  I am working on a list of mystery writers, past and present, who happen to be librarians.  (I am limiting it to this to fiction writers with M.L.S. degrees.)

I went to the geniuses who dwell at Dorothy-L, the listgroup for fanatical mystery fans, and asked for their collective wisdom.  And boy, was I impressed with the list they came up with.  If you know of any we missed, please pass them along.

James R. Benn.   Benn served as the head of school libraries for West Hartford, CT, and then managed a private history library before going full-time into mysteries.  The history stuff might have helped him with his books about Billy Boyle, a Boston police detective who spends World War II as confidential investigator for his "Uncle Ike," Dwight D. Eisenhower.  

Jon L. Breen.  Jon is a retired reference librarian who is best known for his nonfiction, which has won him both Edgar and Anthony Awards.  His What About Murder? is a definitive (and continuing) guide to reference books in our field (it now appears in each issue of Mystery Scene Magazine).  He has written around ten novels and several collections of short stories. My favorite is Kill the Umpire!, a collection of fair-play mysteries starring Ed Gorgon, major league ump.

Barbara Cantwell.  With her husband Brian, she forms B.B. Cantwell, who writes the Portland Bookmobile mysteries.  She did work on a bookmobile in th 1980s, and now stays more in one place  at the University of Washington.

Donis Casey.  Casey has been an academic librarian in Oklahoma and Arizona.  Now she writes full-time.  Her first book was The Old Buzzard Had It Coming.

Jo Dereske.  My friend reference librarian Jo Dereske wrote a series of comic mysteries about Miss Wilhelmina Zukas, who works at the public library in a small northwestern city not unlike the one where I live.  Helma is in some ways a stereotypical librarian but she has enough quirks and spine to make her a pleasure to spend time with.  In one book the police want to know who borrowed a particular book and to protect her patron's privacy, Helma destroys the records.  Making this more interesting is  that her would-be lover is the police chief.

Amanda Flower is a librarian in Ohio.  So is her character India Hayes who works and sleuths at a college there.

Charles Goodrum.  Goodrum may have been the first librarian to write crime novels about a librarian.  Dewey Decimated (1977) and its equally pun-titled sequels centered on an institution reminiscent of the Library of Congress, where Goodrum worked for many years.


Dean James used to be a medical librarian in Houston.  Under the name Miranda James he writes the Cat in the Stacks books about a small-town Mississippi librarian.

Jayne Ann Krentz. Krentz was a school librarian in the Virgin Islands (which she considered a "disaster" of a career move), and then worked at Duke University.  She is a hugely successful author or romantic suspense and donates generously to libraries, setting up a foundation to provide money for UCSC's humanities collection, among other gifts.

Eleanor Kuhns is the assistant director at the Goshen Public Library in Orange County, New York,  She writes about Will Rees, a weaver in Colonial America.

Robert Lopresti.  Yeah, that guy.  I wrote three stories about a public librarian buit couldn't sell them.  I got some satisfaction by slipping the character into one of my stories about eccentric mob detective Uncle Victor.

Mary Jane Maffini.  How many people can boast of once being the librarian of the Brewer's Association of Canada?  Maffini can.  She authors three series with female amateur sleuths.  The most popular may be the books about professional organizer Charlotte Adams, as in The Busy Woman's Guide to Murder.

Annette Mahon.  Mahon has worked in public and academic libraries.  Now she writes novels about the St. Rose Quilting Bee. The quilters, like their author, live in Arizona.

Jenn McKinlay.  She was a librarian in Connecticut, then tried writing.  McKinlay switched from romance to mystery because "I'm just better at killing people than I am at making them fall in love."  Among her series are the Library Lovers' Mysteries.

Shari Randall.  Randall has had two short stories published.  Her first novel, Curses, Broiled Again,comes out in early 2018.

Robert F. Skinner.  Skinner was the head librarian at Xaver University in New Orleans.  He wrote a series of novels about Wesley Farrell, a nightclub owner "passing for white" during the 1930s.

Triss Stein.  Stein describes herself as a small town girl who became a children's librarian in Brooklyn.  Later she ran the library for DC Comics!  How cool is that?   She says that part of the inspiration for her books set in Brooklyn neighborhoods came from the places she worked in libraries there.

Marcia Talley.  Most of these authors worked in public, academic, or school libraries.  Talley represents another major category: special libraries.  She worked for corporations, a non-profit, and the government.  She writes about Hannah Ives, a cancer survivor now living in Annapolis.

Will Thomas.  Thomas is a librarian in Oklahoma.  His characters Barker and Llewelyn are private inquiry agents in Victorian England.

Ashley Weaver.  Weaver runs the technical services side of things at a library system in Louisiana.  Her books are set far, far away, involving an Englishwoman named Amory Ames who solves crimes with her playboy husband in stylish spots in the 1930s.


Of course, one reason there are so many librarians in mystery fiction - including ones not written by people in the field  - is that a lot of librarians are fans, and therefore potential customers.  How many?  Enough to make it worthwhile to have a Librarian's Tea every year at Bouchercon.  Next week in Toronto a lot of people in my field will gather for tea and cookies and the chance to hear some famous writers tell us how much they love libraries.  And no one will tell them to shush.

03 October 2017

Nailing the Interview


by Janice Law

Recently I did a morning drive time interview with our local a.m. station, WILI, following up stories in the Hartford Courant and the Willimantic Chronicle. This counts as a veritable PR blitz here in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut. It’s not exactly BSP ( Blatant Self Promotion) but maybe about right for a novel with local settings by a local author.

I know many of my Sleuthsayers colleagues are far ahead of me in the publicity sweepstakes, but I got thinking that a few tips for interviews might be useful for less experienced or less entrepreneurial writers.

Early a.m. at WILI 
First off, assume nothing. I was lucky. Wayne Norman, WILI’s long time radio personality, is a complete pro, well prepared and immensely experienced. He asked good questions, and he had done some preparation, although even he had not read the whole book. No offense! Remember that radio hosts have a guest or two a day, five or six days a week. Many of those guests have written books and articles. Who can read them all and still do the required prep for weather and traffic and sports reports and news breaks? No one.

So, make it easy for your interviewer. Have a PR sheet that describes your book and gives some interesting personal information.

For the actual interview, you will need to have a pithy statement of what the book is about. That was, in fact, the first question I was asked. While most of us hate the idea of boiling down our brilliant prose and profound insights to a few sentences, that’s what’s required. The TV listings are too short, but a Times review is definitely too long.

Figure three or four sentences mentioning your protagonist and his or her situation, emphasis on conflict. You need to do this without giving away the whole plot. Tricky? You bet, so if you are not an old classroom teacher used to thinking on your feet about plots and reader interest, plan ahead; even a few notes won’t hurt.

The next big question is, or should be, chief characters. Once again I was lucky. Mr. Norman had read enough to know who was important and to ask about them specifically. If your interviewer hasn’t cracked the book, find a way to introduce your characters. You don’t need to give their entire biographies, but an enticing villain, a charming child, romantic interest of one sort or another is good – if you can give short and interesting descriptions. Be prepared for this.

Morning WILI host Wayne Normal in parade mode
Sometimes, as in the case with Homeward Dove – and here a tip. Do as I say, not as I do: Mention your book title! I must confess that I left that to my interviewer. Points off! Anyway, in the case of Homeward Dove, setting was my friend. If your book features a particular area, you can sometimes interest a program that would otherwise be cool to your prose. People like to read about their own communities – or in the case of Homeward Dove – the surrounding parks, rivers, and forests.

The clincher for me was the fact that Homeward Dove ended with Willimantic’s famous Boom Box Parade. For those still ignorant of this event, it is a promotion of the local station and was designed to compensate for the demise of local marching bands. When it is time for the parade, the station cues up patriotic marches which are played by a couple of sound trucks but also, and here was the genius idea, by marchers and spectators carrying boom boxes. A description of this event and the creative costumes and floats produced by the locals was clearly a way to my interviewer’s heart.

Along the way, we talked about a number of things mentioned in the book, including the many references to the trades – a chance to talk about my father who was a skilled carpenter, and about whether a particular passage about fears of learning to swim reflected my own attitudes. Since I’ve always adored the water, we ventured into imagination and where ideas come from.  These are good topics and perennials when readers and fans meet writers.

Thinking about that, led me to consider the difference between what readers and critics and interviewers, too, are interested in as opposed to writers. The readers are interested in art, in ideas, in the meaning of it all. Writers, and from my experience, painters, too, tend to talk about money, markets, or, less often, technique. Who’s buying, who keeps your manuscript for ages, who writes snarky rejection letters, who pays promptly, who’s looking for submissions: these are the big questions for writers.

Speakers on for the start of the Boom Box Parade
So, once in a while, it’s nice to talk to some of the folks who love art with the capital A: the readers and fans.

02 October 2017

My 60th Class Reunion


by Jan Grape

Our class secretary, Orabeth White, asked me to read this poem at our alumni banquet.

The Class Reunion


Every ten years, as summertime nears,
An announcement arrives in the mail,
A reunion is planned; it'll be really grand;
Make plans to attend without fail.

I'll never forget the first time we met;
We tried so hard to impress.
We drove fancy cars, smoked big cigars,
And wore our most elegant dress.

It was quite an affair; the whole class was there.
It was held at a fancy hotel.
We wined, and we dined, and we acted refined,
And everyone thought it was swell.

The men all conversed about who had been first
To achieve great fortune and fame.
Meanwhile, their spouses described their fine houses
And how beautiful their children became.

The 20th homecoming queen, who once had been lean
Now weighed in at one-ninety-six.
The jocks who were there had all lost their hair,
And the cheerleaders could no longer do kicks.

No one had heard about the class nerd
Who'd guided a spacecraft to the moon;
Or poor little Jane, who's always been plain;
Why she'd married a shipping tycoon.

The boy we'd decreed 'most apt to succeed'
Was serving ten years in the pen,
While the one voted 'least', now he's a priest;
Just shows you can be wrong now and then.

They awarded a prize to one of the guys
Who seemed to have aged the least.
Another was given to the grad who had driven
The farthest to attend the feast.

They took a class picture, a curious mixture
Of beehives, crew cuts and wide ties.
Tall, short, or skinny, the style was the mini;
You never saw so many thighs.

At our next get-together, no one cared whether
They impressed their classmates or not.
The mood was informal, a whole lot more normal;
By this time we'd all gone to pot.

It was held out-of-doors, at our lake shores;
We ate hamburgers, coleslaw, and beans.
Then most of us laid around in the shade,
In our comfortable T-shirts and jeans.

By the 50th year, it was abundantly clear,
We were definitely over the hill.
And those who weren't dead, had to crawl out of bed
But be home in time for their pill.

And now I can't wait; they've set the date;
Our 60th is coming, I'm told.
It should be a ball, they've rented a hall
At the Shady Rest Home for the old.

Repairs have been made on my hearing aid;
My pacemaker's been turned up on high.
My wheelchair is oiled, and my teeth have been boiled;
And I've bought a new wig and glass eye.

I'm feeling quite hearty, and I'm ready to party
I'm gonna dance 'til dawn's early light.
It'll be lots of fun; But I just hope that there's one
Other person who can make it that night.

— Author Unknown

reunion of 16 people
photo courtesy of Debbi Ethridge Hanks
(whose dad is very tall guy behind me,)

As you can see by the photo that I wasn't the only one to show up at my 60th high school reunion in Post, Texas. (Post is 35 miles southeast of Lubbock.) It was a nice group of 21 from the class of '57.Thirty-three have passed away. There are three or four who were too sick to attend; fortunately two were minor illnesses. There are three who have never attended a reunion and we don't know if they are still alive.

We all had a grand time. Some of us attended the Post Antelope's football game on Friday night and met afterwards for coffee and doughnuts. Our banquet was on Saturday night There were many hugs and laughs and tears as we discussed our current lives and brought up the old days. Rumors were flying around the room faster than you could imagine about who did what in which class. We all denied the bad and laughed about the good. And the best part was we voted to do this all again in three years.

I'm so glad I got to go and look forward to 2020. Now surely I can come up with a good story from this adventure. In fact my travel buddy, Leslie who I've known since 2nd grade, fell as they were locking the door to the Fellowship Hall and severely broke her left arm. They took her to Lubbock by ambulance and she had surgery on Sunday. Her daughter came to Lubbock after her and brought her home. I had to drive back all by my self. Took me 7 hours from Lubbock because I stopped sever times to keep my legs and knees from getting stiff. (Leslie is the one in the photo in front, second from the end on the right. She's dressed in black and has very white hair. I'm in the front row, second from the left end in white capri pants in case you aren't sure about me.)



Velma says Leigh insists articles contain elements of crime or writing. Let’s see… There has to be a criminal tale about someone getting a broken arm at a class reunion. Maybe along the lines of “It was a dark and stormy alumni night…” Plus there's that little dagger thingie.†

01 October 2017

You, Identity Theft Victim


by Leigh Lundin

Today’s article outlines the massive Equifax identity theft that’s still surfacing today. For the first steps in protecting yourself, you can jump to the distant section on discovering whether you have been targeted and obtaining security features that have been made free for you.

Equifax investigated
Monetizing Your Body

Commercial law can be a peculiar thing, who owns what and why companies have certain rights you don’t. For example, you enter a hospital for surgery. Doctors snip out some piece of you. Likely, you never question who owns that removed bit of flesh or bone and you’re happy just to get rid of it.

Suppose doctors discover something unique and potentially highly profitable in that tonsil or toenail, your appendix or gall bladder. Your DNA might save millions of lives around the planet and earn billions of dollars… none of which you’re entitled to. Unless you signed an agreement otherwise, the physician or hospital owns that biological bit of you including the rights to exploit it. One woman actually applied for a patent on her own body for such a circumstance.

Monetizing Your Life


Financially successful corporations make tidy profits collecting information about you, not merely your earning and spending habits, but where you live, work, school, shop (or shoplift), if you’ve been to court and why. The peculiarity is you don’t own that data. Huge companies do and often their information is wrong and sometimes misused.

A few years ago, credit bureaus were finally forced to hand out credit reports to those who demanded them (a) no more than once a year or (b) if you were turned down for credit. But… odds are high you’ve never seen your full report, because it can contain information the bureaus don’t want you to know. When a mortgagee or a banker or employer receives your credit report, a line at the top might instruct them not to show the report to the subject (you or me), followed by information or opinions they don’t want shared with the… well, victim.

For example, the redacted secret part on my own credit report read “suspected of using false address.” This came about in two ways. First, I had been buying property, a dozen addresses were associated with my name, so I relied on a post office box, much as my grandmother had done. Second, the US Postal Service allows post box renters to use the post office’s physical address, quite handy for imprinting on checks. Such an address looks like:
Chandler Hammett
1201 Post Industrial Drive #107707
Los Angeles, Ca 90210-7707
In my case, the comment didn’t particularly affect me, but imagine someone applying for a sensitive job. The HR department reads the line “suspected of using false address,” and suddenly the potential employee is rejected with no reason given. The applicant should have a right to know about that careless assessment, but has no way of learning of or correcting the report. Why? The bureaus own the reports, you and I don’t.

Monetizing Miscreants

In a past article, I pointed out that curious hackers– the benign exploring kind– can receive severe prison sentences for merely poking around in data warehouses and behind the scenes in web databases. I argued that bankers and merchants who fail to secure vaults, leave doors unlocked, and don’t hire a watchman should be punished as well. If any major office didn’t lock its doors, could you blame kids for wandering in and looking around?

Let’s discuss Equifax, which has suffered an extraordinary data loss to a ‘state actor’… presumably China, North Korea, or Russia. Stolen is your name, social security number, credit card numbers, drivers licence, address, and all the minutia that makes you you. With this kind of data, thieves can lie low for years before springing into action.

I say that as fact, because thieves (state actors) stole the records of the vast majority of working and retired citizens in two separate breaches. The second theft (the first was acknowledged only after the second came to light) affects between ¾ and ⅞ of American adults. Equifax admissions have edged upwards from 153-million stolen files to 182-million; outside assessments estimate as high as 200-million or more.

Note: Canadian and British records have been stolen in the same breach. Equifax says they’re “working with UK regulators,” whatever that means.

Monetizing Misfortune


Equifax executives cashed in stock before the breach became public, attempting to option their knowledge for their personal profit. Then after the big reveal, the company offered to help protect user accounts through a subsidiary— for a fee. Equifax and their security pet since had their arms twisted into providing the services free.

Political response has been as antithetical as you might expect. Congressional members of one political party sent a demand letter to Equifax with a deadline for explaining details and corrective actions. Contrarily, in defense of Equifax and in fear of impacting deregulation, the other major party is working a bill through Congress to limit the liability of credit bureaus and other companies.

Have You Been Hit?   866-447-7559

Here Equifax estimates whether or not your data has been sucked overseas. Be cautious of similar links, because identity thieves are working those, trying to snatch whatever data they can. Use this link:
☞  Has my data been stolen?
Note that updates may still be made, so it’s possible an all-clear this week might turn into a false negative next week. Tap that link to see if you’ve become a victim:

Once you receive an indication, you can decide what to do next. Equifax can take several days to email you about options (now free) that they provide. The FTC offers suggestions and guidelines.

Equifax will provide ninety days of ‘fraud alert’ (notification of identity theft) and a year of monitoring, which can be renewed indefinitely. You may also choose to lock or freeze your account and ‘thaw’ it only when you apply for a loan or other use.

Use the phone number (866-447-7559) above if you have questions or need help you can’t find elsewhere. Contact the other credit bureaus to notify them your identity and data has been compromised.

Equifax Inc.
P. O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
800-685-1111
800-525-6285
1150 Lake Hearn Drive
Atlanta, GA 30342
fraud: 800-525-6285
web site
Experian
P. O. Box 2002
Allen, TX 75013-2002
888-397-3742
888-243-6951
701 Experian Parkway
Allen, TX 75013
fraud: 800-397-3742
web site
Trans Union Corp.
P. O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022-1000
800-916-8800
800-888-4213
2 Baldwin Place
Chester, PA 19022
fraud: 800-680-7289
web site

Let us know if you’ve been hit. In the meantime, be safe out there– state actors abound!