18 September 2018

Put Some Feeling Into It

by Barb Goffman

Authors often hear the advice to write what you know. The advice is usually offered to make sure the author gets plot details right. You wouldn't want to write a story about a police officer if you know nothing about police procedure. You wouldn't want to write about skydiving if you know nothing about the sport. Getting details wrong annoys readers who knows those details. And you don't want that. You want readers to turn pages without noticing, to be enveloped by the story, not disengaged by errant details.

The beauty of such a predicament is you can find out what you need to know. You can interview police officers. You can go on ride-alongs. You can watch skydivers. You even could jump out of a plane. (The emphasis here is on you. I would not jump out of a plane for any amount of money. I like it when my stomach isn't six feet below the rest of my body.) Ultimately you can learn the information you need to provide a true reflection of whatever it is you choose to write about.

But correct plot details will only get you so far. If you want to write a story that readers love, you need to write characters that are real, and that means characters that react like real people do. This is what readers are talking about when they say they don't like two-dimensional characters. They don't want to read about someone who's all good or all evil. After a while, such characters become predictable and boring. Readers want to see the shades of gray. They want to see characters acting like real people do, with all the emotion that entails.

And the good part about all this? You don't need to interview people or go on ride-alongs to get these details right, though you can. (And is there a "right"? More on that below.) To get emotions and emotional reactions right, all you need are two things: a good imagination--which I hope you have if you're a writer--and you need the special sauce of solid writing, empathy.

First imagination: A good imagination will enable you to understand, to truly picture, whatever scenario you're writing about. And I don't mean to simply imagine the setting. I mean imagine who your character is in relation to the conflict in which you are placing him or her in that setting. You could write a setup involving an avalanche, for instance. A character who is an expert rock-climber would react differently to it than one who is a first-timer.

Now once you've got your characters established and your setup and conflict imagined, empathy enters the picture. You may have never been in an avalanche, but can you imagine how someone in that situation might be feeling? I hope so. Dig deep if you have to. Not everyone will react the same way, even first-timers. But react they will in some way. Some will be terrified. Some will be practical. Some might even be invigorated. If you truly know your characters, you should be able to empathize with each one and understand how he or she would react to different situations in thoughts, words, and actions. Showing those thoughts and how they impact the dialogue and actions is what brings the character truly to life.

That brings me to the question I asked above. Can you get emotions wrong? Not if you make them seem realistic. Not if you let the reader understand where the character is coming from. Show a character whose mother just died and he merely shrugs, and your reader might think the character is one-dimensional. They might have a gut reaction that no one would act that way. But if you show the conflict in the character's head, letting the reader understand why he's shrugging, then that action can become believable. And the character is suddenly real.

I dug deep, trying to make my characters real, when I wrote my newest short story, "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast," which came out last week in this year's Bouchercon anthology, Florida Happens. My main character's husband has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. I've never been in that position, but I've watched friends and family dealing with a parent with such a diagnosis. So I've seen what the reactions can be. But even if I hadn't had this experience, I could imagine it. A character could be horrified, saddened, determined to do the right thing, or some or all of those things at onceor have some other reaction. If you can empathize with who your character is, you can understand how he would react to the situation he finds himself in. And then you need to show it in thoughts and dialogue, as well as actions.

In my pot roast story, my main character, Bev, becomes determined to care for her husband, Charles, in their home, despite that her doctor recommends otherwise. If I had just had Bev decide to care for Charles at home by herself without showing her reasoning, some readers might have gotten aggravated with Bev (or with me), thinking that Bev is reacting unrealistically or stupidly. But I do show Bev's thoughts in the story:

"I was determined to care for Charles in our home for as long as I could. He was my husband. My love. I owed him that."


Four simple sentences, but suddenly Bev's actions make sense. They are believable because the reader can understand where Bev is coming from.

There are a number of other things that happen in the story that might be hard to believe if you didn't understand where the characters were coming from. That's true for most fiction, books and movies.

In Gone With The Wind (not sure why this particular movie came to mind, but here it is), when Scarlet helps Melanie give birth, it might seem unbelievable considering how selfish Scarlet is and how much it must bother her that Melanie is giving birth to Ashley's son, but she does help. And the reader/viewer buys Scarlet's actions because the reader/viewer understands that Scarlet is doing it for a selfish reason, to look good for Ashley, but also for some non-selfish reasons: despite her best intentions, Scarlet has come to care for Melanie and some small bit of conscience is trying to push its way to her surface.


In Casablanca, Rick hated Ilsa for leaving him in Paris. He didn't know why she did it. But once he learned her reasons, he could understand because he could empathize with her. And suddenly she wasn't two-dimensional to him or to the viewer. And that made the story all the more interesting.

So if you want to create characters that readers want to follow, characters that readers love, get to know your characters well and then imagine how each of them would react to the events of your story and then show those reactions. It's the reactions that bring the characters to life. It's the reactions that make them real.

Authors, have you had a book or story that particularly resonated with you or with readers because you created a character that felt particularly real? What was it? And what was it about the character that stood out?

And readers, have you read any books or stories that affected you especially and unexpectedly because the characters felt so true to life? What was one and why?

And finally, if you want to read more about Bev and Charles, you can buy Florida Happens in ebook or trade paperback. Here's a link to the Amazon version. And here's a little more about the story:

"The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" is about aging with dignity. Bev and Charles live in a retirement community near the Everglades. Their home looks out on a lake in which an alligator named Romeo lives. The couple has always loved watching Romeo. But now Charles has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and Romeo has become a source of stress. And these two don't need more stress. When Bev gets injured, she hires an aide to help care for combative Charles. But then items start to go missing, and Bev doesn't know who she can depend on. A friend suggests the aide isn't trustworthy, but Bev begins to wonder if the real person she can't trust is herself.

17 September 2018

Who Wrote It?

by Steve Liskow

When an anonymous "senior administration official" published an op ed in the New York Times two weeks ago, he (or possibly they ) set off another firestorm in the current presidency. Countless articles and online posts have tried to identify the author(s) and the suspects range from Mike Pence to Dan Coates to Steve Bannon, and one even suggests Trump wrote it himself, which I seriously doubt.

Hand-writing analysis has been with us for even longer than the "forensic linguistics" that people are using to identify this writer. But there are stumbling blocks to the approach in this case. It's a small sample and we don't have anything else we can compare it to. We need another article on a similar subject of about the same length by each of the 100 (I love that!) suspects to make a meaningful decision.

The experts look at how certain words are used, how a writer punctuates and uses paragraphs, and many other clues. The good ones claim the science is almost as solid as DNA, but that may be pushing it. More than one expert has pointed out that we don't know how much the Times altered words, phrasing or punctuation to bring the piece in line with its own style guides.

In any case, while there are writers who had a distinctive and usually recognizable style, such as Hemingway and Faulkner, both of whom had contests involving people writing a pastiche of their work, there are others who change style and voice often. Laura Lippman comes to mind. Some writers have been identified even when they use a pseudonym. Patrick Juola, presently at Duquesne University, used forensic linguistics to prove that J. K. Rowling wrote The Cuckoo's Calling, even though the name on the book cover was Robert Galbraith. Gary Taylor boosted his reputation as a Shakespearean by identifying an unattributed (and not very good) poem to the Bard.

When I was still directing plays, I had a reputation as a minor-league expert on Shakespeare. I have read most of the plays several times, acted in a dozen of them, and directed still others. While teaching, I assigned fourteen different plays at one time or another.
 In 1990, Charles Hamilton published a text that he claimed was Shakespeare's lost play Cardenio, basing his conclusion on handwriting analysis, which is problematic because authorities argue over which of several samples really is Shakespeare's hand--if any of those samples we have really is his own. Hamilton said The Second Maiden's Tragedy, credited to Thomas Middleton, was really the text of Cardenio, possibly co-authored by Shakespeare and John Fletcher.

I read the play and disagreed. Thomas Middleton wrote a play called The Witch, which Shakespeare borrowed heavily from for the witch scenes in Macbeth. Shakespeare and Fletcher collaborated near the end of Shakespeare's career, and Cardenio--inspired by a section of Don Quixote, which was published in English in 1612--didn't fit what Shakespeare was producing at that point. I say this as someone who devoured John Barton's and Cicely Berry's books on how Shakespeare used language because they helped me direct. So does the First Folio.

Cardenio was supposedly written between The Tempest and All Is True (Henry VIII), just after The Winter's Tale and Cymbeline.  I've acted in and directed separate productions of The Winter's Tale (about 20 years apart) and participated in two productions of The Tempest. Compared to them, the language in Cardenio is clumsy and immature. The cast is much smaller than in any of Shakespeare's other plays (remember, bit players often played several roles), and the structure is even more truncated than Macbeth, which is complete but always feels like something's been cut. Even on his own, John Fletcher was better than this. So was Kit Marlowe. So were the Earl of Oxford, the Earl of Derby and Francis Bacon.


Truthfully, the authorship is fine topic for yet another graduate thesis, but I don't care who wrote the plays as long as good directors and actors continue to perform them for the rest of us.

Same with the New York Times op ed.

I don't care as much about who wrote the piece as I do about the admission that the White House staff is undermining Trump's actions out of self-interest instead of taking the appropriate steps to invoke the 25th Amendment for the Greater Good.

16 September 2018

Truth in Advertising 1

by Leigh Lundin

Craig’s List
In an unusual local ad, a young lady offered men’s shaving services for free, beards and mustaches not included. Curious, I queried the offerer, who politely wrote back.
    She’s an Orlando UCF student. Her privates shaving service really is free– not even tips allowed. Her clients are mannerly, and she finds her hobby challenging, entertaining, and stimulating.
    Maybe it’s just me, but why not? I can’t pinpoint why, but her avocation oddly charmed me. Surely a romance author or French film-maker could find an offbeat story here.
I ended up with a couple of vehicles I didn’t need and decided to sell them through Craig’s List. They were flawed and I made that as clear as possible. It occurred to me both had a criminal element behind them, hence today’s article.

Craig’s List and Small Crimes

Craig’s List has become an international institution, represented in seventy or so countries. Oddly, the US has the most restrictions. Although CL has helped federal authorities solve crimes, state and local prosecutors threatened lawsuits against the enterprise, claiming its personals facilitated prostitution. Politicians further surmised it could encourage pedophilia, citing approximately the same proof found in Alex Jones’ favorite pizza parlour. Sorry, boys and girls, Craig bent to political pressure and shuttered its personals section.

But today’s column (and next week’s) is about cars and petty crimes.

1. Mercedes 450SL

Restoring a forty-year-old sports car started out as a project until other matters intervened. Needing the garage for other things, I parked it in front, whereupon a local kid vandalized it, as described in the following ad copy.

Turns out, after I placed the ad, the State of Florida couldn’t locate all its records, including chain of ownership. It further appeared a woman from Canfield, Ohio may have forged signatures on its title. The DMV is still working out this unexpected wrinkle. In the meantime, I ran this ad and, like a good writer, I told its story.

CL Orlando > for sale > cars & trucks > by owner…

1978 Mercedes 450SL

1978 Mercedes Benz 450SL make:
model:
year:
VIN:
condition:
cylinders:
drive:
fuel:
paint:
size:
title:
trans:
type:
Mercedes
450SL
1978
107044…︎

pathetic
4.5L V-8
RWD
gasoline
blue
sports
?
auto
roadster
conv

A charming teen miscreant vandalized my 1978 Mercedes 450SL. Neighbors explained I’m not allowed to dismember the little shìt, so I’m selling my poor car for the highest offer.

Specs
Body: 2-seater cabriolet designed by Friedrich Geiger. Engine: 4.52 litre 90° V-8 with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection. Suspension: independent double wishbone diagonal-pivot swing axle Speed: rated 210kmph, in excess of 130mph. At 100kmph, the machine tachs at a mere 2865rpm. Overall: sexy.

The roadster can be switched from a hardtop to convertible. Both hard and soft tops come with this vehicle. The paint code is Gentian Blue.

Note
It needs a lot of work. CL has no ‘rough’ option, so to be fair, I’m telling you it’s rough. I rebuilt the engine, so retorque head-bolts. I’ve tried to document the damage, mainly smashed windows and shredded tires.

If you always wanted a classic Mercedes sports machine and love tinkering on motorcars, now is your chance. Save back enough cash to sand, repaint, and fix the damn windows and tires, then make me an offer I can't refuse. Hey, I might need the money for bail if I catch that little window-smashing sod.


Can’t get more forthright than that, can I? Next week, I sell a dumb drug dealer’s SUV.

15 September 2018

Life's Great Mysteries


by John M. Floyd



I recently attended an annual literary conference held on the grounds of the State Capitol Building here in Jackson, Mississippi. It was fun as always, but I'm especially glad I went because it wound up serving as my replacement for Bouchercon this year. (I underwent abdominal surgery earlier this summer, and though I'm recovering well, I opted at the last minute not to make the long road-trip to St. Petersburg. In doing so, I missed out on (1) participating in a short-story panel, (2) signing with fellow contributors to the B'con anthology, (3) receiving in person an award during the Opening Ceremonies, and (4) visiting with a legion of old friends--but, under the circumstances, I think it was the right decision. And I thank you again, Michael Bracken, for agreeing to stand in for me and accept my award in my absence.)


Instead of B'con, I ended up driving about a hundredth of that distance a few weeks ago to take part in our fourth annual Mississippi Book Festival. Almost ten thousand readers and writers braved the heat and humidity and intermittent thunderstorms to attend, and about three-fourths of those folks attended the more than forty panel discussions held throughout the day. Guests included Salman Rushdie, Karl Rove, Greg Iles, Richard Ford, and Jon Meacham.

I was on two panels, one of them "Southern Writers on Writing," because I'd contributed an essay to an anthology of the same name, and the other "Life's Great Mysteries," which I also moderated. It's this second panel I'd like to talk about today, because my three fellow panelists were indeed great mystery authors, and wrote three of the most interesting and entertaining crime novels I've read in a long time.

The first, Michael Kardos, is the author of Bluff (Mysterious Press), a thriller that Kardos has described as "a heist book disguised as a poker book disguised as a magic novel." It's the story of disgraced magician and card-trick prodigy Natalie Webb, who's been reduced to performing for local festivals and birthday parties and lives alone with her pigeons and stacks of overdue bills. She teams up with another cardsharp to try to win a fortune in a high-stakes poker game with a group of Jersey big-shots, an operation which of course doesn't go as planned. Kardos, who has also written two other novels, a short-story collection, and a textbook on writing, is an associate professor of English and the co-director of the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.

The second panelist was William Boyle, author of The Lonely Witness (Pegasus Books). Though not a sequel, this novel features as its protagonist a character introduced in Boyle's book Gravesend (which was also covered in one of Thomas Pluck's SleuthSayers columns)--and both stories are set in the depressing but fascinating Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn. A truly "literary" mystery, this novel features former convicts, wanna-be gangsters, almost-forgotten classmates, Italian and Russian mobsters, and working-class people struggling to survive. Boyle, whose work has been compared to that of Elmore Leonard, George Pelecanos, and Dennis Lehane, is also the author of the novel Everything Is Broken and the short-story collection Death Don't Have No Mercy. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.

The third panelist, Stephen Mack Jones, discussed his novel August Snow (Soho Crime), which is the first in a series featuring Snow as an ex-Detroit police officer who--after being ushered out of the force for blowing the whistle on department corruption--returns to Detroit to try to prove his worth as a member of the community. The author has described this book as a novel of second chances--for Snow, for some of his drug-dealer acquaintances, and ultimately for the battered and crumbling neighborhoods of his hometown. A Detroit native himself, Stephen Mack Jones is a poet and a playwright, and was awarded the prestigious Hammett Prize by the International Associaton of Crime Writers. His work has also been nominated for the Shamus Award, the Nero Award, and the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel.


Two of these three novelists--Mike Kardos and Bill Boyle--I already knew; Stephen Mack Jones I'd not met before. All three made my moderating job easy and kept the audience interested throughout.

I encourage you to try their books--you won't be disappointed.





14 September 2018

Spies and Secret Agents

by O'Neil De Noux

The subject of the latest MYSTERY READER'S JOURNAL, the Journal of Mystery Readers International (Vol 34, No 2, Summer 2018) is SPIES AND SECRET AGENTS. It features articles by a number of writers, including me. I thought I'd share the gist of my article here on SleuthSayers.

Secret Agent Superheros

When I realized I would never play centerfield for the New York Yankees (too small, too slow, no athletic ability) I turned to books and decided I'd be a south seas adventurer or maybe an archaeologist. Then I stumbled across Ian Fleming, Len Deighton, John Le Carré, Adam Hall and others, which began a life-long fascination with secret agents. I wanted to be one. That did not turn out for me either. Ever hear of a 5'6" leading-man secret agent? I'm not cool or suave, not multilingual. Hell, I'm barely lingual.


Michael Caine as my all-time favorite spy – Harry Palmer (from THE IPCRESS FILE)

I became a police officer instead, an intelligence analyst and a homicide detective before becoming a private investigator. Along the way I found my true calling to be a writer. I wrote about what I knew – police and private eye stories before penning historical novels (I have a history degree).

The secret agent lingered in my mind, tapping my shoulder, asking when it would his turn. So, I created two secret agents and gave them a little help – superhuman powers – and let them loose in 1936, in a world on the brink of war.

So far I've had two novels published in the series:

LUCIFER'S TIGER (Big Kiss Productions 2017) introduces American agent Lucifer LeRoux in search of a mysterious stone only to run into a group of trigger-happy Japanese and Nazi agents and an alluring brunette who needs rescuing. Or does she? The audacious brunette is Catrin Allaway and like Luce, she has hidden powers and the chase in on as Japanese spies and German thugs pursue the American secret agents. Against a backdrop of exotic locales – from a giant casino in Macao, aboard ship through the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca into the Bay of Bengal to India and to the Arabian Sea to battle Nazi SS troops and evil scientists. Enmeshed in a struggle between good and evil, the two Americans are drawn to one another on a lush, tropical island. What diabolical plan do Nazi scientists have for tigers? The perilous adventure becomes a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse in the realm of the ultimate predator – the tiger.



LUCIFER'S FALCON (Big Kiss Productions 2018). It is still 1936 and newlyweds Luce and Catrin are on a mission to rescue two men from two European castles. From the coast of Spain to the French Riviera to a high castle in snowy Bavaria, the American agents tangle with Spanish fascists, Nazi fanatics and monstrous men with superhuman powers. Can Catrin and Luce pull off the rescues and make it out alive to continue their honeymoon? With the unexpected aid of a rapacious falcon, they just may get out alive.

In creating these larger-than-life secret agents, I made them Advanced Humans whose ancestors evolved differently than regular people. It also gave me the opportunity to create superhuman villians. It is great fun to write and for a little while, I get to be a secret agent.

I'll save y'all the trouble. I know I'm a mess. My writing's all over the place. My brain just works that way.

That's it for now.

http://www.oneildenoux.com



13 September 2018

Politically Profitable Predators

by Eve Fisher
“We have people coming into the country or trying to come in, we're stopping a lot of them, but we're taking people out of the country. You wouldn't believe how bad these people are.  These aren't people. These are animals." President Trump, May 16, 2018 (USA Today)
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." Candidate Trump, June 16, 2015
"Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population." Candidate Trump, written statement, December 7, 2015. (Source)
And no, I'm not using this as a segue way into criticism of our current President.  What I want to talk about is how various peoples have been made into politically profitable predators in American history.  From Native Americans to Blacks to Mexicans to Irish to Italians to Asians to Blacks to Native Americans and back to Mexicans to...  fill in the blank.  And the question always is, Who's next?

Native Americans, of course, have always considered a problem.  Back in 1702, Cotton Mather wrote of the Native Americans:
Cotton Mather.jpg"The Natives of the Country now Possessed by the New-Englanders, had been forlorn and wretched Heathen ever since their first herding there; and tho' we know not When or How those Indians first became Inhabitants of this mighty Continent, yet we may guess that probably the Devil decoy'd those miserable Salvages [sic] hither, in hopes that the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ would never come here to destroy or disturb his Absolute Empire over them." (The New English History), Book III, p. 190 (1702)
Ignoring, of course, the fact that the Native Americans actually fed the original settlers from England and taught them how to plant maize, squash, and other New World foodstuffs... Without their help, the original settlers would not have survived.  Ingratitude, thy name is Mather.

Then there's this 1803 painting by American painter John Vanderlyn - Death of Jane McCrae - well, it's obvious what this tells us about the horrors of Native Americans in early America.  The story behind this is classic propaganda, classic use of the death of a beautiful white woman to justify whatever comes next.  There were two versions of the story:

(1) Jane (who was a Loyalist in the American Revolution) was on her way to meet with her fiance at the British camp at Ticonderoga, escorted by two Native American warriors.  (Remember that at this time the British were hiring Native Americans to fight on their side.)  The two got into a fight over how much they'd be paid for delivering her safely. So one of them killed and scalped her.

(2) Jane McCrea was killed by a bullet fired by pursuing Americans.  19th century historian James Phinney Baxter supported this version of events in his 1887 history of Burgoyne's campaign, saying that there was an exhumation of her body which showed she died of bullet wounds, and had no tomahawk wounds.

Guess which one got the most press?  The first version, of course.  It got spread around in newspapers, pamphlets, and letters.  British General Burgoyne wrote a letter to American general Horatio Gates, complaining about ill-treatment of British POWs. Gates' response was widely reprinted:
"That the savages of America should in their warfare mangle and scalp the unhappy prisoners who fall into their hands is neither new nor extraordinary; but that the famous Lieutenant General Burgoyne, in whom the fine gentleman is united with the soldier and the scholar, should hire the savages of America to scalp europeans and the descendants of europeans, nay more, that he should pay a price for each scalp so barbarously taken, is more than will be believed in England. [...] Miss McCrae, a young lady lovely to the sight, of virtuous character and amiable disposition, engaged to be married to an officer of your army, was [...] carried into the woods, and there scalped and mangled in the most shocking manner..."  (Wikipedia)
It also entered American legend thanks to James Fennimore Cooper, who used it in 1826's The Last of the Mohicans.  

And let's talk about Andrew Jackson, who launched the Indian Removals of the 1830s:  
"Humanity has often wept over the fate of the aborigines of this country and philanthropy has long been busily employed in devising means to avert it, but its progress has never for a moment been arrested, and one by one have many powerful tribes disappeared from the earth.… But true philanthropy reconciles the mind to these vicissitudes as it does to the extinction of one generation to make room for another.… Philanthropy could not wish to see this continent restored to the condition in which it was found by our forefathers. What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?"
In other words, we want the land, so they've got to go.  And then, to justify it, consider the American Westerns, both in penny dreadfuls, novels, and movies:  until 1970's Little Big Man, most of them are all about chasing down and killing all the "savages" John Wayne and his buddies could find.  

Meanwhile, there have been constant waves of immigration, and constant opposition to each and every wave:
WW1 propaganda
anti-Hun poster

In 1775, before the United States had gained its independence, Benjamin Franklin warned against the destructive forces of German immigration: 
“A Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them and will never adopt our Language or Customs any more than they can acquire our Complexion." (Source)  
Who knew that Germans were so alien?  Before WW1?  

There were the Irish, presented as drunk gorillas who should be banned
from immigrating to the US and once here, should certainly never be employed:  

             

Do you notice a theme here?  Comparing various groups / people to apes?  Or other animals?

Meanwhile, there were also the Italians, who were also seen as subhuman, either importers of anarchism or - of course - the Mafia.  Did you know that the largest lynching in the United States was in New Orleans, and the victims were Italians?  A popular police chief named Hennessey (Irish) was shot on his way home, and when he was asked, dying, who did it, he gasped, "Dagoes".  So they rounded up the usual suspects, 11 Italians, and tried them - and there was a mistrial!  So the mob went wild, and started killing people...  No one was ever tried.  And, in language that is tragically familiar, a NYT editorial called the victims “desperate ruffians and murderers. These sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins…are to us a pest without mitigations.” Read the rest at the History Channel.  

But at least they weren't Chinese:

For a long time China was known as the Yellow Peril.  The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, prohibiting all immigration of  Chinese laborers, was followed up by massacres (Rock Springs, 1885, Hells Canyon 1887), and a general stereotyping of Chinese (and other Orientals) as apes, lesser men, primitives, children, madmen, and beings who possessed special powers, and who commonly kidnapped white women into white slavery, opium addiction, and eventually murdered them.  (Wikipedia)

Besides propaganda posters like the one to the left, white slavery was presented as a hideously common peril for white women in stories by Frank Norris (author of McTeague), Sax Rohmer (whose Chinese villain Fu Manchu threatened the world and its white women from 1913-1959) and True Confessions.  All of this propaganda was the basis for a series of American Immigration Acts that barred almost any Asian immigration of any kind to America until the 1960s.  Women had to be protected from the evil Orientals, and the only way to do that was to ban them entirely.
NOTE:  This is why both the 1960s movie and musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, and an impossibly bad movie from the 1980s, Angel III:  The Final Chapter, could STILL use white slavery by opium-smoking Asians as a major menace to the heroine(s).  
Birth of a Nation theatrical poster.jpgOf course, even the Chinese didn't / don't make such fearsome villains as blacks, going back to D. W. Griffiths' 1915 Birth of a Nation, (first titled The Klansman, BTW).  In that movie, Elsie (played by Lillian Gish) is saved by the KKK from the lustful mulatto Lynch (who came up with that name?), while the virginal white young Flora is forced to leap to her death to avoid being raped by a "freedman".  (Sounds like a rip-off of Last of the Mohicans to me, but then again, if it works with one ethnic group it'll work with any, I suppose.  Apes and other animals, you know.)  "There is no doubt that Birth of a Nation played no small part in winning wide public acceptance" for the KKK, and that throughout the film "African Americans are portrayed as brutish, lazy, morally degenerate, and dangerous." (History.com)  It was the perfect movie to reinforce the need for Jim Crow laws everywhere across the South, not to mention the holocaust of lynching.  And, as late as the 1970s, David Duke used the film to recruit members to the KKK.

Fast forward to the 1980s and Willie Horton.  Horton was released on a weekend furlough in June, 1986, and didn't come back.  In April, 1987, he raped a white woman.  In October, 1987 he was arrested and sentenced to 2 life sentences.  In 1988, Republican Presidential candidate George H. W. Bush's campaign put out the "Willie Horton" ad against Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis (who had been Governor of Massachusetts at the time, but was not the founder of the furlough program) to prove that Dukakis was weak on crime, i.e., would not protect [white] women.  It played into the stereotype that black men were big, ugly, dumb, violent, and dangerous, so let's stay super tough on crime.  It worked.  But I, for one, don't believe that anyone in the Bush campaign believed they were protecting women:  they were winning an election.

     HortonWillie.jpg

Sounds familiar to me.



P.S.  In case you're wondering about antisemitism, the long, long, long history of antisemitism in America begins with Peter Stuvaysant, the last Director-General of New Amsterdam.  During the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant issued General Order No. 11 expelling Jews from areas under his control in western Tennessee, "as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled …within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order."  Lincoln rescinded the order ASAP, but.  Discrimination against Jews was standard and the cartoons and jokes horrific.  Watch Gregory Peck in Gentleman's Agreement some time, which was extremely controversial when it came out in 1947, because it exposed the standard discrimination against Jews in employment, education, housing, travel, restaurants, clubs, etc.

A short list of famous antisemites includes:  Charles Coughlin, Louis Farrakhan, Henry Ford, FDR (never forget he turned away the ship carrying 907 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany), Joe Kennedy, Sr. (read his correspondence with Viscountess Astor), General Patton ("lower than animals"), Richard Nixon, Billy Graham (he's on the Nixon tapes saying things like "This [Jewish] stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain", and when Nixon mentioned that Graham was a friend of the Jews, Graham replied "But they don't know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country."[72]), and, of course, almost every troll on Breitbart and every white supremacist site you can stomach.  Some of them showed up for the Charlottesville, VA, August 11, 2017, "Unite the Right" rally, where they carried tiki torches while chanting Nazi and white supremacist slogans, including "White lives matter" and "Jews will not replace us." 

The depressing thing about humanity is that you have to educate each and every generation to be moral, compassionate, tolerant, kind, decent...  And obviously, we have a lot of work to do. 

12 September 2018

In The Corner

David Edgerley Gates


Ever painted yourself into a corner? Writers obviously set targets, like a page count or a due date, or decide on a specific setting or circumstance, maybe a card game, or Elizabethan London, or a child's narrative POV - and then of course we move the goalposts. I'm thinking more particularly of stepping into a snare of your own devising, creating a problem you didn't know you had.

Writing's an obstacle course. And one of the things you learn early on is that you can't leave stuff out, you can't skip something because you think nobody will notice. This is obvious if we're talking about forensic detail, say, but less so when it requires us to bring more to the game. We all play to our strengths, and have lazy habits of mind, or avoidance mechanisms. It's about the comfort zone. 

For example. I first blocked out my spy story "Cover of Darkness" a very long time before the end result saw print. We're talking years. Partly, it was cold feet. I wasn't even entirely sure I wanted to write about the Cold War, and my time in Berlin, and I had a handy alibi, because I knew I was crossing the line between inside information and actual classified material. But the real stumbling block was my own skill level. The set-up for the story - the rainy tarmac, the stuffy car, the security, the briefing - was all very fluent. The  problem was, once the story really starts, once McElroy makes the dive into the icy river, everything takes place underwater. It was claustrophobic, there was no dialogue, it was all physical description. I broke it up a little, of necessity, but the basic story is one long action scene. It was a toughie.

Another story, "Winter Kill," stopped me a third of the way in, because I'd written myself into an impossible box. I had a murder victim, a cold case, skeletal remains, but no ID on the victim. How do you pin it on somebody? Doyle claimed that the Holmes stories were written back to front, he knew going in what Holmes would deduce, so it was a matter of reversing the plot. In my case, I don't think I've ever known going in how a story would turn out. The work-around, in "Winter Kill," is that I blinked. I realized it couldn't be made to happen, and I came up with a way to narrow the possibilities, and put a history to the bones. In other words, I fudged it.

I've talked before about the sex scene in my novella Viper. This is an example where there wasn't any work-around. I put my head in the lion's mouth. I hadn't planned it that way, by any means, but as the story took on shape and momentum, the inevitability loomed. And it had to be full-frontal, it couldn't happen off-stage. I've speculated previously that I did this accidentally on purpose, just to see if I could navigate the rapids.

I'm wrapping a Benny Salvador story now called "Second Sight," and I've hit a snag right at the end. The question isn't what happened, but how to explain it - more exactly, how not to explain it, how to paper over the details because the truth will do more injury than a comforting lie. There's the moral issue involved, Benny being pretty much a straight arrow, and a part of him knows he owes an honest account, but the lie will own him. And then we have the actual mechanics. How do I manage this convincingly?

This last is a different kind of obstacle from the ones I've outlined above, and of course that's the point, that each of them presents a new, and individual, difficulty. The specific, not the generic. I'm perfectly ready to entertain the notion that we're testing ourselves, pushing the boundaries, raising the bar. That it's a contest, or even a contact sport, hand-to-hand combat, wrestling an intransigent syntax to a weary draw. Or is it simply the quiet satisfaction of getting it right? No. There's more to it than that. There's that place we all know, where you get to say it out loud. Gotcha, you bastard.



11 September 2018

The Broken Windows Tour of L.A.

by Paul D. Marks

“It is through that broken window that we see the world...”
                                                                                                  –Alice Walker

A while back I did a tour of some of the locations in White Heat. Now, since it’s Hot Off the Presses—it came out yesterday from Down & Out Books—it’s the Broken Windows Tour of L.A. One of the things I really enjoy is writing about Los Angeles in the context of a mystery-thriller. In Broken Windows, P.I. Duke Rogers and his very unPC sidekick, Jack, are on the hunt for the killer of an undocumented worker.

Briefly, a little about Broken Windows: While the storm rages over California’s infamous 1994 anti-illegal alien Proposition 187, a young woman climbs to the top of the famous Hollywood sign—and jumps to her death. An undocumented day laborer is murdered. And a disbarred and desperate lawyer in Venice Beach places an ad in a local paper that says: “Will Do Anything For Money.”—Private Investigator Duke Rogers, and his very unPC partner, Jack, must figure out what ties together these seemingly unrelated incidents. Their mission catapults them through a labyrinth of murder, intrigue and corruption of church, state and business that hovers around the immigration debate. And that turmoil is not unlike what’s roiling the country today—in fact it might be seen as a precursor to it.

Hope you'll give it a read. And Reviews would be greatly appreciated...especially if they're good ones :-) .

Realtors say the most important thing is Location Location Location. I wouldn’t go that far in terms of writing. But location is important. So, hop on the bus for a handful of the many SoCal locations in Broken Windows:

View from behind the Hollywood sign (1)

The Hollywood Sign:

The story opens with a young woman climbing to the top of the Hollywood Sign.

The Hollywood Sign beckoned her like a magnet—or like a moth to a flame. The sign glowed golden in the magic hour sun—that time of day around sunrise and sunset when the light falls soft and warm and cinematographers love to shoot. Like so many others, Susan Karubian had come here seeking fame and fortune, hoping to make her mark on the world. Oh hell, she had come to be a star like all the others. And she would do it, just not quite in the heady way she’d anticipated.


When a friend and I hiked up to the sign before the fence was put around it,
 so you could actually get to the sign


The Santa Monica Pier:

Duke, looking for a little R&R, takes his new dog, Molly, to the pier:

The Santa Monica Pier used to be one of my favorite places to go to while away time, do some thinking on cases when things weren’t breaking right. I still liked it, but not as much as before. They’d remodeled it, turning it into a mini Disneyland, new rides, new chain restaurants. Just another mini-mall-amusement-park, but with a saltwater view, with kitschy chain restaurants featuring Cowabunga Burgers and a food court, for crying out loud. And a lot more people. Tourists. Families with their kids. Freaks of all kinds. Still, the air was clean. And I thought Molly should get a taste of it.

A view from Santa Monica pier of Santa Monica looking north (2)
At the pier, he runs into Marisol, whose brother Carlos, an undocumented immigrant, has been murdered. Later, Duke takes on the case of trying to find out who killed Carlos and why.

We headed back down the pier. In the distance a woman with coal black hair sat on a bench staring out to sea, her back to me. The wind pitched her hair over her face; she swept it away with a backhand. Something seemed familiar about her. When we got closer I saw that it was Marisol. She didn’t see us and I debated whether to approach her. “Days like this are my favorite time at the beach,” I said. She turned around, looking up at me through a tangle of hair. It looked like she had been crying…

Venice and the Venice Beach Boardwalk:

The bad part of Venice is where Eric, a disbarred lawyer, lives in a not so nice place compared to what he had been used to:

He opened a window, could smell the briny ocean air and hear the waves booming in the distance. This was Venice, California—crammed onto the SoCal shore between tony Santa Monica and haughty Marina del Rey—but not the Venice of the tourists and beach people. And this certainly wasn’t what Abbot Kinney had envisioned when he wanted to recreate Italy’s Venice in Southern California, complete with canals and gondoliers. No, Kinney must be rolling over in his grave these days. This was the other side of Venice. No canals here. No bathing beauties. Unless cockroaches had beauties in their midst, maybe to another cockroach. Miss Cockroach of 1994. Would she want world peace too? Or just a crumb of leftover bread?

Venice Beach (3)
Eric puts an ad in the paper. At first we’re not sure how he ties into the main story of Duke trying to find Carlos’ killer…

And he [Eric] opened the L.A. Weekly underground paper. Today was the day his ad was due out. He scanned a few pages until he came to it:

“Contact Eric,” it said, and gave his phone number. So far the phone hadn’t rung, but it was early. Breakfast time. He figured he’d sit by the phone today and hope for the best. If something didn’t come along, he wouldn’t even be able to pay the rent on this hell hole.

He looked at the phone, willing it to ring. When it didn’t, his eyes shifted back to his ad, to the headline: “$$$ Will do anything for money. $$$”.

At one point, Duke also finds himself down in Venice:

When Abbott Kinney founded Venice, California, south of Santa Monica, in the early nineteen hundreds, he had big dreams for it. Modeled after Venice, Italy, complete with canals and gondoliers, it was supposed to be a place of high-minded culture. Maybe it was, a hundred years ago. I don’t think so. And certainly not today. Now it was divided between the Hollywood Haves, who filled many of the little, but exceptionally expensive homes along the canals, and the low-rent people a few blocks away, whose homes were the gangs they belonged to more than the houses they lived in. Los Angeles Schizoid Dream.

Man on Venice Boardwalk (4)
The Café Noir:

A down on its heels bar on Sunset Boulevard, where Duke hangs out sometimes:

I opened the Café Noir’s door, a flood of velvet blackness enveloping me as I entered. The transition from daylight, even overcast daylight, to the Noir’s dimness made me close my eyes for a few seconds. Nat King Cole’s “The Blues Don’t Care” sinuously threaded its way from the jukebox. The bartender nodded. I nodded back. I settled in a corner at the far end of the bar, hoping no one I knew would join me. It wasn’t crowded at this hour, but you never knew. And right now I just wanted to get lost in a drink and the shadows, in the music and the anonymity of a dark corner.


The Cafe Noir


Smuggler’s Gulch:

In the 1990s, Smuggler’s Gulch near San Diego was just what its name implies, a major smuggling point for people coming over the border. Jack and Duke have a “meet” there that goes bad and later Duke returns to the “scene of the crime,” so to speak:

I figured Jack wouldn’t be back and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep so I packed Molly in the Jeep and hit the freeways. Southern California’s become one long rush hour for the most part, but at that time of night, traffic moved at a good clip. We drove south, toward the border. Landed back at Smuggler’s Gulch. Rocky Point. I surveyed the area with night-vision binoculars, making sure no cops, Border Patrol, or even some of Miguel’s friends were there. I knew Jack had hidden the body well, but you can’t be too careful. When I knew the coast was clear, we walked to the rock. I sat there with Molly on the same spot where I’d been shot. She’d been getting stronger by the day and I thought she might enjoy getting out of the house.


Smuggler's Gulch / Tijuana River Valley, San Diego, CA (5)


***

So, there’s a mini tour of just some of the L.A. and SoCal locations in Broken Windows. Hope you might want to check the book out—it’s available now.

***



And now for the usual BSP:

Broken Windows released on September 10th and is available now at AmazonBarnes & Noble , Down & Out Books and all the usual places.



Peter Anthony Holder interviewed me for the Stuph File. It’s short, 10 minutes. You might enjoy it. It’s episode 0471 at the link below. And check out the Stuph File too:

https://tunein.com/podcasts/Comedy/Peter-Anthony-Holders-Stuph-File-p394054/?topicId=123713643

www.thestuphfile.com

And I was also interviewed by Dave Congalton at KVEC radio:

http://www.920kvec.com/davecongalton/posts/air-date-aug-27-2018-seg3-mystery-writer-paul-d-marks.php 


Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com


____________________

Photo attributions:

(1) Hollywood sign photo by Caleb George (https://unsplash.com/seemoris), Unsplash.com: https://unsplash.com/photos/5NslKuaHTJo

(2) A view from Santa Monica pier of Santa Monica looking north photo by Korvenna

(3) Venice Beach, photo by InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA 

(4) Man on Venice Boardwalk, photo by Sean Stratton seanstratton - ttps://unsplash.com/photos/dEEMyIa4zPc

(5) Smuggler's Gulch / Tijuana River Valley, San Diego, CA, USA, photo by Roman Eugeniusz, https://www.panoramio.com/photo/127934179