20 June 2018

The Mysterious Women of Dell Magazines: Jackie Sherbow

Jackie Sherbow
photo by Ché Ryback

Leigh Lundin had the wonderful idea of inviting some of our favorite editors to sit for interviews. As the guiding hands at the mystery side of Dell Magazines (EQMM and AHMM) they have a huge influence on our field by bringing new readers and writers into it. Tomorrow we will feature Janet Hutchings, and Friday will star Linda Landrigan. But today we have the delightful Jackie Sherbow.
— Robert Lopresti

Jackie Sherbow is the Associate Editor of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. She is also the editor of Newtown Literary Journal and her poetry has appeared in places like Day One, Moonchild Magazine, and Luna Luna Magazine. She lives in Queens, New York.

What is one thing you wish everyone would know about your publications?

First and foremost, that they (still) exist. This of course seems like child’s play to anyone reading SleuthSayers, but you don’t know how many people come up to us at events and say the words “I didn’t know you were still around,” or otherwise think we’re publishing reprints of older issues. It’s wonderful to speak with readers who have a long-time, nostalgic connection to the magazines (and/or have unearthed their parents’ or grandparents’ collections, which they remember from childhood), but I think there’s no reason why short mystery fiction shouldn’t have a wide and growing audience—especially since so many different modes of contemporary and traditional fiction fall under that umbrella and can be found in the magazines.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading the short-story collection Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti, and Eye Level, poems by Jenny Xie. I am usually reading two or three books concurrently, and trying to catch up on magazine or journal subscriptions too—I try to balance my reading between short stories, novels, poetry, and nonfiction at all times. Looks like I need to pick up some nonfiction.

What other hobbies or jobs do you have?

I’m the editor of a community-based literary journal in Queens called Newtown Literary, and I’m involved with the nonprofit organization that publishes it. I am also a writer (of poetry) and a runner (albeit a very slow one).

Do you have any pets?

I’ve somewhat recently adopted a small asthmatic cat named Dottie (after Miss Fisher’s companion in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries). And now I’m the kind of person who has attached a photo of the cat to this e-mail.

What great short story or collection have you read recently?

I loved Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, which came out last year from Graywolf Press and has received a handful of awards and nominations since then. A story that really unnerved me recently was “The Midnight Zone” by Lauren Groff, originally published in the New Yorker and reprinted in The Best American Short Stories of 2017. I had to put it down and give it a break before finishing it. I read a lot of short horror as well as—naturally—crime and thriller, but I can’t remember the last time I had such a visceral reaction to a story. Very uncomfortable, but very memorable.

What do you love about short stories?

As a poet, I’m always impressed by fiction in general: what an author can pull off in terms of plot while also concentrating on theme and form—and as we know this is accentuated in a short story, where there’s less wordly “real estate.” As an editor and reader of short fiction, I particularly find intriguing the plot and character arcs in a short story (especially when there’s a mystery—which there almost always is!). I find that in a short story, imaginative leaps, experimental form, and other playful or innovative methods can be pulled off more successfully. And I really love how reading a short story on its own and then among others (whether in a single-author collection or a periodical or anthology) can bring out something new in the work. In terms of practicality, I’m a fairly slow reader, so short stories tend to strike me more in this way than a series of novels do.

Who is your favorite author?

Gabriel García Marquéz.

If you knew you’d be deserted on an island, what book would you bring?

One Hundred Years of Solitude.

What is your personal editorial philosophy?

In general I edit for clarity, consistency, and then refinement in service of the author’s voice and the entirety of the piece. I think that everything in a piece of writing matters, down to the smallest element of punctuation, but that it’s important as an editor to examine the power structures underlying the use of different types of language. I think it’s irresponsible not to do this. In everyday life, I think it can be pernicious to promote unsolicited, moralized adherence to traditional correctness without thinking about it. Language is a gift and powerful tool, and I think the words, style, and usages we choose to employ (or choose not to) have a cumulative effect on our communities.

Aside from short mystery fiction, what other parts of the genre do you enjoy?

I am a fan of mystery novels, television shows, and movies, and I am fascinated by true crime, but I would have to say the community of writers, readers, and fans. I think mysteries bring people together. Speaking of which, thank you, SleuthSayers, for inviting me, Janet, and Linda to participate.

Thank you, Jackie. Tomorrow, Janet Hutchings.

19 June 2018

Yesterday and Today

Yesterday was Paul McCartney’s birthday and I was going to do a post related to the Beatles, writing and me. But when I found out that the next three days will be posts from the three editors at Dell Magazines,  Janet Hutchings, Linda Landrigan and Jackie Sherbow (in alphabetical order) I thought I’d do a little lead into that. I’ve met all three on various occasions and broken bread with them and they’re all terrific. So, I hope no one minds that I revisit our trip to NYC in April, 2017 where we got to hang with them.
Amy and I got to meet Janet and Linda at Bouchercons in Raleigh and Long Beach. And when we went to NYC last year we got to meet up with them again and also meet Jackie Sherbow in person. So, in honor of these editors’ posts coming up, I hope you don’t mind if I rerun my post from a little over a year ago. Hey, the TV networks do it. So here’s a revisit to that wonderful trip.

From L to R around the table: Janet Hutchings, me, Eve Allyn, Doug Allyn, Jackie Sherbow, Linda Landrigan


New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town. The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down. Or is it the other way around? Amy (the wife) and I recently spent a week in New York City and I’m still not sure.  (Well, I am, but it plays better the other way.) And now the legally required disclaimer: I wrote about this trip for another blog a few weeks ago as my last slot for SleuthSayers was the family blog post that Amy did. So I didn’t have a chance to talk about our trip here. But it was writing-related and so great and so much fun I wanted to share a slightly revised version with SleuthSayers too.

Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building
The trip came up very unexpectedly when I got an e-mail from Janet Hutchings, editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, telling me that my story Ghosts of Bunker Hill had won the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll and inviting us to come to the Ellery Queen cocktail party and awards ceremony, as well as to be their guests at the Edgar Awards. I think I was in disbelief for several days, so we made no plans to head to New York…until the wonderful reality actually sunk in and we headed off to The Big Apple from The Big Sour, I mean, Big Orange.

We booked out on Jet Blue because we heard about their great on-time record. We got lucky—they were late both coming and going. I guess someone has to be the exception to the rule.

The week was a whirlwind of adventures and some sightseeing, much of it filled up with literary events. We arrived Monday night and since the hotel is next door to Grand Central Terminal we decided to check it out and have dinner at the famous Oyster Bar. Talk about a cool place. Then we walked around the neighborhood near the hotel late into the night.

On Tuesday we went to the Ellery Queen offices for tea with Janet and Linda Landrigan, editor of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and Jackie Sherbow, senior assistant editor for both EQMM and AHMM. Also there were Doug Allyn and his wife, Eve. Doug’s stories came in #2 and 3 in this year’s poll. But he’s been #1 11 times. I think it will be a long time before anyone can top that!

From L to R: Jackie Sherbow, Doug Allyn, Linda Landrigan,
Janet Hutchings, me

Everyone was very gracious. And it was good to talk with Janet again and Linda, who I’d met briefly before. And to meet Jackie for the first time in person, but who I’ve had a lot of correspondence with.
Me and Jackie Sherbow
After the afternoon tea, Jackie very graciously offered to be our guide on the subway, something I really wanted to do. So we subwayed to Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop for a gathering of Edgar nominees, authors, publishers and more (I think we fell into the “more” category, though now that I think about it I guess I’m an author too). It was crowded, it was fun. It was great to see the famous bookstore. And to meet Otto Penzler himself. And to see some people I know, including Edgar nominee Jim Ziskin and many others. And Doug Allyn was kind enough to introduce me to several people.

In the subway: L to R me, Eve Allyn,
Doug Allyn and Amy

After the party at the Mysterious Bookshop, Jackie was once again our subway guide, taking us to a real New York pizza place that she likes. So she, Doug and Eve, and Amy and I, braved the rain to get to the subway and then the pizza place. And in a scene that could have been out of a Woody Allen movie, we stepped just inside a local market to get out of the rain for a few minutes. I was waiting for the “nasty” New Yorkers to kick us out, but nobody was nasty and nobody kicked us out. Eve grabbed some plastic bags from the produce section to cover our heads and we ventured back out into the rain. We still got soaked by the time we made it to the pizza place. But the pizza was good and it was all worth it. After dinner, Jackie headed home. Doug and Eve, Amy and I took a cab back to the hotel. And this was the one loquacious cabby we had the whole time we were in New York and he was a riot. When we were just about at the hotel he nudged through a crosswalk and some guy in the walk started yelling at him, challenging him to a fight. Now we felt like we were in New York.

Jackie guiding us through the subway.
Wednesday we had a free day, so we played tourists (which we were). Lots of other tourists all around us. We did a tour of Grand Central Terminal, which was right next to the Grand Hyatt Hotel where we were staying and where the Edgars would be held the following evening. (On the other side of the hotel was the Chrysler Building, which we had a view of from our window. Now that’s pretty cool to be sandwiched between the Chrysler Building and Grand Central. During our tour we had another “New York” experience when some jerk called the tour guide a “dirty scumbag” and neither she nor any of us on the tour could figure out why or what she’d done. But despite that, most everyone was really friendly and nice and we had no problems with anyone.

Grand Central Terminal
After our tour of Grand Central we followed Clint Eastwood’s “Speed Zoo” example from the movie True Crime, where he jams his kid through the zoo at the speed of sound, and did “Speed New York.” We bought tickets for the hop on-hop off buses—buses where you can get on at one location and off at the next, hang out, then get back on and go to the next location. This way we saw a lot of the city in one day. Everything from the Empire State Building to the Flat Iron and various neighborhoods. We also hopped onto the Staten Island Ferry. From there we could see the Statue of Liberty. We ended the day in Rockefeller Center and then Times Square and dinner in a pretty good Italian restaurant off Times Square. Our meal was served family style—and being only 2 people we ended up with enough left over to feed everyone in Times Square.

The next day was the Ellery Queen cocktail party and awards, held at a specialized library not too far from the hotel. And it was a truly terrific experience. But the best part (besides picking up the award of course 😉) was being able to meet people in person that I know online but hadn’t met for one reason or another. Fellow SleuthSayer David Dean. Tom Savage. Dave Zeltserman, who published some of my stories early on in his HardLuck Stories magazine, and whose Small Crimes was just made into a movie on Netflix that released recently, so check it out. Besides hanging with Janet, Linda and Jackie, we also got to hang with Doug and Eve Allyn again, both of whom were great to hang with.
Me and Doug Allyn at the Ellery Queen cocktail party.

And, of course, it was more than a thrill to win the award!

Me receiving the Award.
And then it was off to the Edgars that evening. Very exciting. And all was going well, I even liked the food (and who likes the food at these things?), until the Master of Ceremonies, Jeffrey Deaver, stumbled and then fainted on the stage while doing some introductions. That was scary. Luckily he was okay, though whisked off to the hospital to make sure it was nothing serious. I believe tests showed that it wasn’t—hope so.

That’s the litany, now for the real deal: While we loved New York and all of the events, the best part of anything like this, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, etc., is the people. The community of mystery writers is a very warm, very supportive group. And, as I’ve mentioned, it was great to see old friends and also meet new people. We saw Jim Ziskin and Catriona McPherson, and had a nice chat with both of them. Met Otto Penzler. And it was good to meet Sam Reaves, Dave Zeltserman and too many others to name here. And great to spend time with Janet, Linda and Jackie.

Amy and Jackie at the Edgars.
New York has a bad rep in some ways and people who know me thought I’d hate it (as I haven’t been there in years…decades). I loved it. I loved the crowds. I loved the energy. I loved the writing community. I loved this whole unexpected trip. And I’m more than appreciative to Janet Hutchings for publishing Ghosts of Bunker Hill and taking a chance on my first story for Ellery Queen, Howling at the Moon (which, by the way, made it to #7 in the Ellery Queen Readers Poll). And to Linda Landrigan for publishing my story Twelve Angry Days in the current (May/June 2017) issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. And to Jackie for everything she does to keep the wheels turning. And last but certainly not least to the people who voted for Ghosts of Bunker Hill and made it #1.


Look for Past is Prologue and Fade Out on Bunker Hill (a Howard Hamm story) in upcoming issues of AHMM and EQMM, respectively.


And now for the usual BSP:

And some good news: My story “Windward,” from Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea (edited by Andrew McAleer & me) is nominated for a Macavity Award for Best Short Story. Our own Art Taylor’s story, “A Necessary Ingredient,” and Matt Coyle’s story, “The #2 Pencil,” also from Coast to Coast are also nominated. Congratulations Art and Matt! And I’m truly thrilled at how much recognition our little anthology is receiving. It’s very rewarding. And thanks to all who contributed and everyone who voted for these stories!

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

18 June 2018

Hello, Cruel World

by Steve Hockensmith

Hi. My name is Steve, and I'm a blogaholic.

I've been blogging on my website, SteveHockensmith.com, since 2006. I got started because my first novel was about to come out, and blogging was just what one did. I'm not sure what one does as a first-time novelist these days. Post pictures of your breakfast on Snapchat? Start a podcast? Vlog about your breakfast-themed podcast on Instagram? All of the above? None of the above? Thank god I don't have to know. You can only be a "first-time novelist" once. After you get that out of the way, you're just a plain old "novelist," and no cares what you do.

When I started blogging, I had no great message to spread, except an implied "Please be so kind as to consider buying my book." I had no great wisdom to share either. (Those who know me well will quickly confirm this.) I could've blogged about how to become a first-time novelist, I suppose, but I'm not a big believer in writing advice, subscribing instead to the Capt. Kirk Method: "We learn by doing."

Irony alert #1: The actor who originally played Capt. Kirk, William Shatner, is the "author" of many "co-written" novels. So when it comes to writing, he didn't, in fact, learn by doing. He did it by hiring people who already knew how to do it and having them do it for him. But we can't all be William Shatner, can we? Civilization wouldn't survive it.

Irony alert #2: Although I'm not big on writing advice, the most-viewed blog post I ever did is called "50 Dos and Don'ts for Wannabe Writers." It still draws a few eyeballs to my site every day because it inspired a long, bitter, bile-filled thread on Reddit. (Is there any other kind?) The second most-viewed blog post I ever did, by the way, is written in the voice of one of my characters, "Big Red" Amlingmeyer, and is about him stumbling across a video called "Top 10 Spanking Scenes in Cowboy TV Shows." Which means that the Google search "spanking cowboys" now brings a few extremely disappointed web surfers to my site each day. And will now bring them here, as well. Howdy, partners! Better luck next click!

Although I figured out a long time ago that blogging wouldn't actually help me sell more books, I kept at it. Why, if there was nothing I was burning to say and no particular reason to say it anyway?

Damn. Good question. Blogging...

Perhaps for me blogging's been a sort of reverse suicide note.
Hello, Cruel World.

I still have silly little projects to work on and silly little thoughts to think.
So I'm sticking around.

Nyah nyah nyah-nyah nyah! You haven't completely crushed me yet!

Your pal,

Fortunately, there are bloggers with more to say than that. Case in point: the fine writers here at SleuthSayers. Somewhat to my surprise, they've been foolish kind enough to ask me to blog here on a regular basis. Even more to my surprise, I've said yes. I'll be popping in once a month. Which means I need to up my game, blogging-wise.

Can I do it? We'll see. I know how to get started. It's what all the hip kids are doing on social media these days, I think.

17 June 2018

Someone Else's Nightmare

“Some men hear the word ‘no’ from a woman, and they push harder with a side of violence,” says Dr. Sampsel. 

As a Clinical Forensic Medical Examiner, Dr. Kari Sampsel is the only Canadian physician with a fellowship in Clinical Forensic Sciences. Dr. Kari Sampsel is an Attending Staff Emergency Physician and the Medical Director of the Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program at The Ottawa Hospital. As the Medical Director of the Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program, when victims of  sexual violence come into the emergency room, she is in charge of the rape kit, assessments of sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy as well as setting up long-term physical and mental health care for these victims.

She states that statistics show that one out of every three women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Although those who come into the emergency room are overwhelmingly 18- to 24-year-olds, women of all ages are raped, even those in their 80s.  Since 85% of rape victims know the attacker, Dr. Sampsel says that one of the crucial questions to ask is,“Do you feel safe?” and that this should be a screening question for all rapes. 

Interestingly, Dr. Sampsel says that younger woman are more likely to come into the emergency room to prevent disease and pregnancy, but it is women in their forties who are more likely to complete the evidence kit. Older women want justice but younger women may only want physical safety. 

During the ten years Dr. Sampsel has run the unit, she has seen a marked rise in the number of rape victims coming for help. However, she points out that it is only 10-20% of rape victims who seek help immediately. Some rape victims don't come in because stigma and shame keep them from reporting the rape. Interestingly, Dr. Sampsel says that after being raped, many are confused about what happened. This is only in part because of the use of alcohol or drugs. More often it is that trauma makes it difficult to remember. Later, they may get snippets of memory of the event.

A large proportion of rape victims develop recurrent symptoms like headaches and abdomen pain. Dr. Sampsel’s work is also to educate doctors in the emergency room and family doctors’ offices to recognize these symptoms and ask the right questions. 

I asked Dr. Sampsel how we can decrease the incidence of rape. She hones in on education. On three fronts.

The first thing we need to do to reduce the incidence of rape begins with our children. Young people should be educated in the need for consent on all levels. You don't have to give a hug unless you consent. If you are uncomfortable, you should walk away and adults should support this rather than be embarrassed.

In the emergency rooms and doctors’ offices: there needs to be an education campaign by those in the field, clarifying what to do with rape victims who seek help immediately and also those who come in later. Protocols for treatment need to be in place and these have to be adequately funded to mean anything.

On a societal level, Dr. Sampsel would like to see a public campaign, perhaps like the one that educates people on the signs of stroke. One piece of this would obviously be about consent and how it needs to be given in every circumstance of physical contact. This might seem extreme to some; however, if I rephrased it and said that every person entering your home needs consent and an invitation, it seems like common sense, does it not?

The other piece of this is what Dr. Sampsel calls a social contract: what is done privately between people should be up to the standards of what is allowed in polite and civil society, where we all adhere to the basic principle that how we treat others is how we would like to be treated. This has the perfect makings of a public campaign. 

With one in three women being assaulted, this looks like a healthcare epidemic to me. It rivals the chance of getting cancer or having a stroke. So, perhaps the same steps to reduce the problem are in order. The steps outlined - prevention, identification and public awareness - seem long overdue.

One final and haunting statement from Dr. Sampsel: “People need to realize that their flirtations may be the makings of someone else’s nightmare.”

16 June 2018

Conference Memories

I haven't been to a writers' conference in a while, although I'm scheduled for at least three in the coming months. But I've been reading a lot of blogs and other posts by writer friends who have been attending conferences regularly. Besides making me want to go also, it's reminded me of things, good and bad and ugly, that have happened to me at conferences in the past.

Here are some that stand out in my memory:

- Ten or twelve years ago, at "Murder in the Magic City" in Birmingham, I wound up sitting beside author Harley Jane Kozak during a presentation. We chatted awhile, and even though I didn't recognize her name I said, "Don't I know you? You sure look familiar." Neither of us could figure out where our paths might've crossed before, and I couldn't help noticing--and being puzzled by--the amusement on her face. Only later did I realize why she had looked so familiar: she was an actress as well as a writer, and I'd watched her on TV the night before, in Arachnophobia.

- Highs and lows: At Bouchercon in Baltimore several years ago, two different ladies approached me after seeing my name tag and said they loved Angela Potts (one of my series characters). Music to my ears. Later at that same conference, a guy asked me if I was famous. I said, "No, sadly, I'm not." He said, "Can you point me to somebody who is?"

- Before my first and only trip to the Edgar ceremony in New York, the publisher of my books told me to try to get a photo of me with Stephen King, who was up for Best Novel that year. At the reception, I reminded my wife Carolyn of this, and she pointed to King and said, "Well, there he is--go talk to him." I gave her my cell phone to take the picture with, walked over to SK, and he was kind enough to chat with me for a minute or two. When I got back to our table I saw Carolyn looking at my phone and said, "Did you get it?" She looked up at me and said, "Get what? I was texting with Karen [our daughter]."

- When I spotted Otto Penzler in the midst of a huge crowd in the lobby of the conference hotel at the Raleigh Bouchercon I asked him, "Do you know everyone here?" He smiled and said, "No. But everyone here knows me." I loved that. And I bet he was right.

- I was once invited by author Steve Hamilton, who was a fellow IBM employee at the time, to a private screening of a short film adapted from one of his stories. The story was "A Shovel With My Name on It," and the resulting movie was retitled "The Shovel," and starred David Strathairn. That gathering remains one of my most enjoyable experiences at a writers' conference. This was at another "Murder in the Magic City"--Jan Burke and Steve were the guests of honor that year, and two of the kindest writers I've ever met.

- I think I mentioned this in a SleuthSayers post awhile back, but I happened to meet Lee Child at a Bouchercon in Cleveland not long after he had served as guest editor for Otto Penzler's annual Best American Mystery Stories anthology. That was one of the years when one of my stories' titles was mentioned in the appendix of the book, a story that made the top 50 but not the top 20. I remember babbling my thanks to Child for that mention of my story, even though the story itself didn't get included in the book. Only later did I learn that those top 50 are chosen by Otto, and then the guest editor picks the top 20 . . . so what I had done was thank Mr. Child for NOT choosing my story. (Sigh.)

- At a Bouchercon several years ago I was crossing a hotel lobby when I was hailed by unnamed Editor #1, who informed me that they'd decided to publish one of my submitted stories. While I was thrilled to hear that news, I was a little worried too, because Editor #1 had held onto that story for a long time and hadn't responded to my inquiries about its status--so I had since given up and submitted it elsewhere, to unnamed Editor #2. After leaving Editor #1 (on one side of the lobby), I quickly searched out and reported to Editor #2 (on the other side of the lobby) that the story I'd submitted to their publication was now no longer available. Editor #2 accepted my apology and graciously agreed to withdraw that story from consideration, and all was well, but I went to bed that night resolving to never again send a story someplace before being absolutely certain that it was no longer being considered elsewhere. (Have I mentioned that this is a crazy business?)

- I attended a writers' conference four or five years ago that was held at one of he big casinos on the Gulf Coast. I had a good time and attended some educational and informative panels, but I must tell you, attendance at some of those sessions was sparse. That happens, when gambling and/or sun-and-sand are close by. I was reminded of the IBM banking conferences I attended in south Florida in the Good Old Days. I specialized in finance at IBM, so I went to a lot of those conventions, and anytime questions arose about a particular banker's absence from a particular session, the answer was always "He couldn't be here--he had to go study float management." In other words, he was outside at the pool. Another memory of conferences and conventions held in casino locations: my clothes always smelled like tobacco-smoke afterward.

- At one conference reception, I took what I thought was a sausage ball from a tray of hors d'oeuvres (in Mississippi we call them horse divers) and it turned out to be a piece of liver. I chomped down on it just as someone behind me, with a lady's voice, said, "Excuse me, aren't you John Floyd?" I am usually unknown to anyone outside the walls of our home, so I turned to say hello--at the very same moment that my taste buds sent a red-alert message to my brain that this was liver and not sausage. I remember gagging violently and squeezing my eyes shut, and when I finally opened them again whoever was behind me had disappeared/fled. To this day I hope she just chose to wander off before she saw my look of agony, but I doubt it. (Another sigh.)

- One of the sessions I attended at a writers conference in Mobile a few years ago featured a young woman teaching writers how to set up their own websites. I wasn't really interested, but I sat down and started listening to her anyway. The following weekend, after getting back home, I used what I had learned to create my own site, from scratch, and it went live that Sunday night. I can't remember the name of the presenter, but I owe her a great debt. Sometimes those panel sessions and presentations pay off!

- At the top of my "bad" list is an experience my wife and I once had at a conference hotel: the alarm clock was set wrong and couldn't be changed, the closet-rods were mounted too low to allow normal clothes to hang properly (much less those as long as mine), the shower head couldn't be adjusted, the bedside radio turned itself on in the middle of the night and couldn't be reset (or unplugged), a shelf immediately above the sink was too large to allow us to bend over and spit after brushing our teeth, our view from the window was a brick wall ten feet away, every single light in the room was too dim, the peephole in the door was set at waist-height, etc., etc.--we counted almost two dozen aggravations and inconveniences. And most of these weren't things that were malfunctioning--they were just designed that way. A week earlier we'd been to one of my class reunions, where we had to stay at a Super 8 Motel (the only lodging in that town); its nightly rate was several hundred dollars less than this conference hotel, and it was ten times more guest-friendly. Just saying.

- At the top of my "good" list for conferences are meetings at the bar (or dinner or elsewhere) with some of my heroes, heroines, and online acquaintances. I won't list names here for fear of leaving someone out, but you know who you are. Seeing and talking with and getting to know other writers is, to me, by far the best reason to attend any of these conferences. Great memories!

And that's my pitch, for today. What are some of your highlights and horror-stories about conferences you've been to?

Inquiring attendees want to know…

15 June 2018

Story & Structure: "English 398: Fiction Workshop" in EQMM

By Art Taylor

Writers often get questions about the weight of character and plot in their works, the balance between them—which they start with when sitting down to write or which ultimately drives the story as it unfolds.

For me, another element seems both inseparable from a story's success and the key, for me, in figuring out how to write it in the first place: structure.

My fiction workshops at George Mason University focus on narrative structure first and foremost. While we obviously discuss character and plot and dialogue and setting and... well, everything that goes into making a story, the semester itself is divided into two assignments: first, write a linear story (chronologically driven start to finish, rising action leading scene by scene to a climax, Aristotelian really), and then write a modular story... which may require some explanation. In class, I assign Madison Smartt Bell's Narrative Design, which likens modular design to the mosaic—bits and pieces of narrative adding up to a more complex whole—and then analyzes modular stories by breaking them down into various vectors, looking at how those vectors interweave and interact.

At its most basic level, there are several ways to understand vectors as they contribute to modular design. Imagine a story that shuttles section by section between two different time frames—exploring how past events impact the present. Or a story with several different narrators, interweaving various contrasting/conflict points of view to reach a clearer truth (I did this myself in my story "The Care and Feeding of Houseplants," navigating the points of view of all three characters in a love triangle.) Or perhaps two seemingly unrelated tales which dovetail on some thematic point. Bell's Narrative Design is also an anthology, and one of my favorite stories is Gilmore Tamny's "Little Red," with one of the vectors narrator the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the other providing commentary from the narrator herself, analyzing the fairy tale, fretting over the themes and implications, even arguing with Little Red herself at various points.

I'll admit that I thrilled by experimental structures. Robert Coover's "The Babysitter" is one of my favorite stories, whose short sections swoop through various perspectives, fears, fantasies, and possibilities all centered on the title character. And then there's Joyce Carol Oates' "How I Contemplated the World from the Detroit House of Correction and Began My Life Over Again: Notes for an Essay for an English Class at Baldwin Country Day School; Poking Around in Debris; Disgust and Curiosity; A Revelation of the Meaning of Life; A Happy Ending..." which plays with chronology and perspective so magically. It's a story I teach and reread regularly, I just find it so endlessly fascinating.

Both of these stories were among the inspirations for my new story in the July/August issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine—and its full title shows a clear nod toward Oates' story: "English 398: Fiction Workshop—Notes from Class & A Partial Draft By Brittany Wallace, Plus Feedback, Conference & More."

As the title promises, the story is an amalgam of bits and pieces—with those "note from class" providing the overall framework, punctuating the story with the kinds of advice and guidance that are common to creative writing courses: show, don't tell; use sensory detail; escalate the conflict in as many ways as possible; that sort of thing. A draft from one of the workshop's students is submitted, along with her own notes about other characters, other potential plots twists. Students comment on the draft. And then comes a discussion with the professor—that conference being a required part of the whole process. The "& More" is basically an article from the student newspaper (and I anticipate that last element is part of what prompted Kristopher Zgorski at BOLO Books to comment on the kinds of "contemporary social issues" I'm weaving into the story; thanks again, Kris, for the kind words).

The structure here may not be to everyone's tastes, I recognize that, but I hope that the plot itself will prove interesting and those characters at the core of it—basically, as one of the workshop participants comments, "James M. Cain relocated to a college campus," charting a dalliance between a college professor and one of his top students and then the fallout from that relationship.

(Though I actually teach "English 398: Fiction Workshop" at George Mason University, the story is, um, not autobiographical. Just feel the need to point that out (again and again (and again)).)

Finally on this story, I want to say how pleased I am that EQMM not only gave me a shout-out on the cover but also top billing there—even above recent MWA Grand Master Peter Lovesey, which kind of astounds me. I've already been sampling other stories in the issue—including "The Mercy of Thaddeus Burke," a terrific tale by former SleuthSayer David Dean—and look forward to reading more, with another SleuthSayer in the mix as well, Janice Law with "The Professor," another academic mystery! Looks like a great issue, and I'm honored to be part of it.

14 June 2018

Dark Side of the Sound: Seattle Through 21 Crime Novels

(My buddy Jim Thomsen is something of a connoisseur of Pacific Northwest literature, and that includes crime fiction. As such his insights are not to be missed. See you in two weeks! –Brian)

by Jim Thomsen

Elmore Leonard advised crime-fiction authors to “never open a book with weather.” But Dutch never wrote about Seattle, and the problem with his half-serious advice when it comes to depicting the dark side of the Emerald City — a sunny marketing term usually used here with a smirk and the sour pump of a thumb-covered fist — is that, well, there’s still the rest of the book. And even for those of us who have lived in the Puget Sound region for large stretches of our lives, the impulse to slather large page spreads with thick knife-sides of rain-jellied atmosphere is all but irresistible.

(In my work-in-progress, I caught myself writing, with a smirk, if not the other: “Pacific Northwest rain is the passive-aggressive drizzle of a middle-aged man with prostate problems.” I didn’t feel great about it but I kept it, which is an eminently Seattle attitude toward anything and everything from shopping on Amazon to buying $22 hipster cocktails in Belltown to installing Microsoft software updates.)

“Passive-aggressive” might also describe Seattle’s presence in the global eye as a crime-fiction capital. The Pacific Northwest is often called the serial-killer capital of the world, and while that’s true in a true-crime sense, given Green River Killer Gary Ridgway’s prolific slayings of prostitutes — he was convicted of 48 murders, mostly just south and east of Seattle, but claims he was responsible for at least 80 — fictional killings here have only fitfully captured the national imagination.

It seemed like Noir Seattle might have more than a moment in the mid-1980s, when Microsoft was on the ascendant, Starbucks had a frothy head of syndicated soy-milk steam and Boeing had roared back to rocket-fueled health after its “Will The Last Person Leaving Seattle Turn Out The Lights?” low point in the 1970s. All of that stood in contrast to the fishermen and boat builders and other blue-collar types who built the city, and the conflict between those who aspired to be world-class and those aspired to maintain middle-class standing proved to be fertile ground for fictional murder.

J.A. Jance had made a big splash with 1985’s Until Proven Guilty, starring J.P. Beaumont, a tough-but-tender alcoholic Seattle police detective who could have stepped from the pages of a Spillane novel; that same year, Earl Emerson came out with The Rainy City, featuring bicycling private eye Thomas Black (Emerson would win the Shamus Award for his second Black book, 1986’s Poverty Bay.) Soon after came attorney Fredrick D. Huebner with a series featuring lawyer Matt Riordan; suspense and cozy novels from K.K. Beck and Mary Daheim; police, P.I. and newsman procedurals from G.M. Ford and Ridley Pearson; all well-received, all findable on the drugstore paperback racks of flyover America.

But, just as grunge music came and went in the national consciousness in the space of a few years, so did the sense of Seattle as a fictional crime hub.

With the release of Jennifer Hillier’s Jar of Hearts, a big-buzzy Seattle-set thriller, Jet City may see another moment in the national consciousness as a symbol of disruption and reinvention. Jar Of Hearts is getting strong reviews (“There’s no denying her page-turner’s grab-you-by-the-throat power,” says Publishers Weekly) and a pricey, high-profile push from her publisher. In onetime Big Pharma exec Georgina “Geo” Shaw’s attempt to reinvent herself after a prison stretch for a moment of teenage horror, Seattle-watchers may see parallels in the city’s rapid, rapaciously rich transformation from isolated backwater to techbro paradise.

Seattle’s economy may be booming, but it’s become diminished in many ways that matter to readers. The city is down from two daily newspapers to one. More than a dozen bookstores have closed in the last dozen years, including the beloved Seattle Mystery Bookshop. And a lot of Seattle’s crime authors have been washed out with the tide — Earl Emerson, for one, hasn’t had a publishing contract in nearly a decade, and today the retired Seattle firefighter, now 70, quietly self-publishes a new Thomas Black novel every few years from his home at the extreme eastern edge of the Seattle sprawl, in the burg of North Bend (a.k.a., the setting of Twin Peaks).

And we can argue forever about whether Amazon, which has been taking over large organs of the body of downtown Seattle like a metastasizing tumor, has been good or bad for readers. (The short answer: Both.)

Also, many of the greater region’s most successful genre authors, such as Aaron Elkins, A.J. Banner, Urban Waite and Daheim, seem to prefer to set their works comfortably outside Seattle, in the Cascade foothills and amid the Salish Sea’s shoreline hamlets and secretive islands, buffered from the cacophonous bluster of what might as well be called Construction City. And others (Alan Furst, Robert Ferrigno, Ingrid Thoft) have called Seattle home but set their stories outside Washington state altogether.

Jennifer Hillier
A lot of the young energy filling Seattle comes from elsewhere, and in 2007, so did Jennifer Hillier, a Toronto native who spent a decade of living on the outer edges of Pugetopolis before moving back home last year (on the strength of her Jar of Hearts advance!). Yet, she’s set all five of her thrillers in and around Seattle, including Jar of Hearts, the tale of a serial killer, his onetime teenage love, and a body count rising on a wave of manipulation and obsession in scenes and settings that straddle the greater Seattle economic continuum.

I asked Hillier about how Seattle showed itself to her through her outsider’s eyes.

“I moved to Seattle in 2007 not knowing very much about it at all, other than what I learned from binge-watching the first two seasons of Grey’s Anatomy (in hindsight, I could have done better research),” she said. “But I fell in love with the city almost instantly, and something stirred creatively during that first winter.

“While not remotely the coldest I’d ever experienced, my first winter in Seattle was by far the wettest and darkest. Yet the trees stayed green. People still went outdoors as usual, even when it was raining, not even bothering with an umbrella. Folks were friendly, but not welcoming, and it was difficult to make friends.

She added: “Everyone seemed to drink a ton of coffee, which I now realize is the best way pep up in the constant absence of sun. I didn’t realize I was severely deficient in vitamin D, and the months from October to April were more depressing than I could have imagined. But a few months after surviving it, my first serial killer novel (Creep) was born.

“Maybe metaphorically the clouds provided the perfect cover for my villain to commit heinous crimes. Maybe the cool-yet-distant personalities of Seattle folks made them easier to fictionally murder. All I knew was that hunkering inside my house to write on dark, drizzly days—when I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything in the outside world—was not only perfectly acceptable, but comforting.”

Something in Jennifer’s words stirred an interest for me in seeing how crime-fiction authors have depicted Seattle over the last few decades. The list below is not meant to be Seattle crime-fiction canon, or even a survey of the novels I’d suggest to others. But it does touch on just about every subgenre, and each title shares a willingness to not just set a story in Seattle, but to interpret it to some degree for those who have never been here.

And, maybe, make you understand why we who grew up with metaphorical webbed feet like to marinate in its miseries.

The Butcher, Jennifer Hillier (2014)

Quote: “He had initially wanted an inground pool, but Jason had put the kibosh on the idea, reminding Matt that the weather in Seattle was only conducive to swimming between July Fourth and Labor Day. Eight weeks of summer was hardly worth the thousands it would cost to build a pool.”

Note: This was Hillier’s third thriller, with a powerhouse premise: an 80-year-old serial killer who’s still got the urge … and happens to be retired as Seattle’s chief of police. The novel didn’t sell well, and Hillier’s next title, Wonderland, was demoted to her publisher’s ebook-only imprint. Jar Of Hearts represents a rare comeback in a world where poor sales numbers often create a death stench that few careers can escape.

Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca? G.M. Ford (1995)

Quote: “Somebody once said that living in Seattle was like being married to a beautiful woman who was sick all the time.”

Note: Wanda Fuca is the first of ten (so far) private-eye novels featuring Leo Waterman. Ford, now 73, lived in Seattle for more than two decades but has since moved to San Diego. The series continues, through Thomas & Mercer, Amazon’s crime-and-thriller imprint. Wanda Fuca (a pun on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the body of water that separates Western Washington from British Columbia and Puget Sound from the Pacific Ocean), was nominated for Anthony, Shamus and Dilys awards.

Until Proven Guilty, J.A. Jance (1985)

Quote: “Seattle is used to the kind of gentle drizzle that lets people walk in the rain for blocks without an umbrella and without getting wet.”

Note: Jance, now 74, splits her time between Seattle and Arizona. Part of standard Jance lore is that she used a gender-neutral pen name because a publisher told her that readers wouldn’t buy books written by a woman about a male detective. Quite the opposite of today, when male authors (A.J. Finn, Riley Sager, S.J. Watson, et al) routinely adopt androgynous pseudonyms to break into the suspense subgenres now dominated by women.

Nervous Laughter, Earl Emerson (1986)

Quote: “Two angry rain showers doused us on our short journey, but the street was dry when we parked on Third Avenue. Seattle was like that. If you don’t like the weather, stick around five minutes.”

Note: The Thomas Black mysteries were the ideal blend of Seattle aesthetics and snappy-shamus wordplay, and over 33 years, Black has aged little but grouses much. In the latest Black mystery, 2018’s Jackson Street, Black grumbles: “I hated what growth was doing to the city, but nobody was asking me.”

A Man's Game, Newton Thornburg (1996)

Quote: “The next morning was a little too perfect for an old Seattleite like Baird. There was a stiff breeze blowing out of the north, holding the temperature in the high sixties and scouring the air so vigorously that the city’s streets and buildings seemed to sparkle in the brilliant sun. Flags spanked and trees shimmered, and down the hill the Sound was a lake of blue fire rimmed by the green of the peninsula, above which the Olympics soared snowcapped and jagged, as if they had been placed there by the Chamber of Commerce.”

Note: Thornburg is revered by hardcore crime-fiction fans for his 1976 novel Cutter and Bone, which became an equally fetishized 1981 film, Cutter’s Way, starring John Heard and Jeff Bridges. But he lived in Seattle for the last 31 years of his life, dying in 2011 at age 82, and set a couple of novels there, including 1990’s The Lion at the Door. He published fewer than ten novels in a career cut short by a 1996 stroke.

Have You Seen My Son? Jack Olsen (1982)

Quote: “Far across the Sound, Seattle’s new buildings shimmered in the April sun like rock candy. A row of cormorants rode serenely past on a gravel barge; an auklet pecked at a slick. The lovely light-struck scene made her smile. She shut her eyes and sucked in the salty air with a sybaritic hiss. She asked herself if there was life after separation and decided that the answer was yes, provided the weather held up.”

Note: This was the last of six novels written by Olsen, the author of nearly forty books who was known for decades as “the dean of true crime” (though he despised the term). Olsen, a Philadelphia native, lived in Western Washington from the early 1970s until his 2002 death. Many of his books, including this one, were reissued by Crime Rant Press, run by Gregg Olsen, another Western Washington author of fiction and true crime — and yet, no relation.

Thick as Thieves, Neil Low (2008)

Quote: “Ballard is old town, Swede town, fishing town. It is a quiet, unflashy place of plain old houses on plain streets, where people still just do their jobs and raise their kids and hope for a decent break. It’s probably the last neighborhood in Seattle where you can light a cigarette in a bar without immediately being placed on the same social scale as, say, a child molester.”

Note: Low, who set this debut novel in the 1940s, is a Seattle Police captain. He also leads walking tours of some of downtown Seattle’s “most notorious crime scenes.” His love of old-school Seattle is evident in this bit of praise from the late Seattle true-crime author Ann Rule, who said: “Reading it is akin to stepping into a film noir, shadowy, smoky and shocking.”

Picture Postcard, Fredrick D. Huebner (1990)

Quote: “In his later years, influenced by Asian art and postwar abstract expressionism, his work had become officially abstract, but I thought I could still see in his later canvases the dark waters and green rocky forms of the Pacific Northwest landscape, the pellucid oyster light of the Northwest sky.”

Note: Huebner, a mediation attorney, appears to have given up on publishing novels; apart from a little-noticed thriller in 2015, his last mystery was published in 2001. In an interview that year, he said: “I’m finding it harder and harder to maintain the intensity of focus needed to write, sitting on the terrace with my wife, looking over the flower garden.” Not sure there’s a more Seattle-area attitude than that.

Greywalker, Kat Richardson (2006)

Quote: “As we headed south to Pioneer Square, mid-April was doing its spring fake-out of good weather. Seattleites seem to forget that it usually starts raining again in May; they were out without jackets, enjoying the beginning of an unexpected clear evening that would probably turn cold by nine and produce more fog by morning. In spite of its capriciousness, this was usually my favorite time of year.”

Note: As far as I’m concerned, Seattle is its own dystopian setting, but Richardson took it up a notch with a nine-volume series about a Seattle P.I. who drifts between the gray and the Grey — a parallel world of ghosts, vampires, witches and magic. For many years, the California native lived “in the Seattle area with her husband and a pit bull named Bella aboard an old wooden boat haunted by the ghosts of ferrets,” according to her website.

Night Strike, Michael W. Sherer (2015)

Quote: “Seattle was a backwater, a city that would have been an afterthought had it not been for Boeing first, and Microsoft later, huge companies that had kept the economy alive and attracted other businesses. Yet she’d been called to these boondocks four times now because things happened here, world-changing events. Its proximity to the Pacific and all the countries along that ocean’s rim made it a gateway for commerce, technology and criminal enterprise in both directions. Maybe the other Washington was passé. Maybe this was where the action was.”

Note: As Ford’s career was revived by Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer, Sherer’s was hurt by it; the imprint dropped him a couple of books into his thriller series about Blake Sanders, a newspaper deliveryman who tends to get swept up in high-stakes geopolitical horrors. The Illinois native, who broke in as an author of Chicago-based mysteries, has shifted to young-adult thrillers with a female protagonist.

Murder One, Robert Dugoni (2011)

Quote: “Summer in Seattle, Sloane had concluded, was the reason people in the Northwest tolerated the nine miserable months of gray and rain. God must have chosen Seattle to spend His summers; there was no other way to describe the beauty that befell the place almost immediately after July Fourth. The snowcapped Olympic Mountains to the west looked close enough to touch, and the water brightened from a bland gray to a sparkling blue, with everything beneath a great dome Michelangelo could not have painted better.”

Note: Dugoni is an energetic and prolific presence on the Seattle-area literary scene and the crime-fiction conference circuit. He pivoted from legal thrillers with a well-received series of procedurals featuring Seattle Police Detective Tracy Crosswhite, published by Thomas & Mercer. This year, he crossed over into literary fiction with The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell.

The Silence of the Chihuahuas, Waverly Curtis (2015)

Quote: “An umbrella would have helped me defend myself against that parrot, but no one in Seattle ever uses an umbrella. We view it as a sign of weakness. But it helps us identify the out-of-towners.”

Note: Waverly Curtis is the pen name of author friends Waverly Fitzgerald, who writes historical fiction, and Curt Colbert. Colbert is the author of Rat City, a well-regarded noir novel about Seattle after World War II, among other hardboiled offerings. Their accent-heavy readings at Seattle’s quarterly Noir At The Bar series, at the Hotel Sorrento, are not to be missed.

The Edison Effect, Bernadette Pajer (2014)

Quote: “Seattle was a city in perpetual motion, with destruction and construction happening side-by-side, above and below, and all the while business continued uninterrupted at a feverish pace. Like ants detouring around a leaf dropped in their path, the people of Seattle found ways around the messes and just kept going.”

Note: Pajer’s Professor Bradshaw science mysteries — four in all — take place in the Seattle of the early 1900s. She’s a Seattle native who traces her interest in writing to a chance encounter on Orcas Island with Richard Bach of Jonathan Livingston Seagull fame.

Deadline Man, Jon Talton (2011)

Quote: “Soon Daylight Saving Time will be gone and Seattle will slip into the winter months when night comes early. It’s suicide season and the time of year when distracted drivers run down black-clad pedestrians and people complain about the dark and the rain. I like it.”

Note: Talton is the longtime economics columnist for The Seattle Times, and Deadline Man is about a columnist at a Times-like paper propelled into escalating geopolitical heinousness. Like Jance, most of his mysteries are set in his native Arizona.

Past Crimes, Glen Erik Hamilton (2015)

Quote: “They drill politeness into the Seattle cops with six-inch galvanized screws.”

Note: Hamilton, who was raised on a sailboat all over Puget Sound, now lives in Southern California. But, as he says on his website, he “frequently returns to his hometown to soak up the rain.” Past Crimes, the first of three (so far) in a series about Iraq War vet Van Shaw, won several awards.

Bound to Die, Laurie Rockenbeck (2017)

Quote: “Court checked to see if the mountain was out—a phrase locals used as an overall descriptor for the weather as well as their passion for Mount Rainier, the most prominent feature around. After a few seasons of living in Seattle, he’d learned how deceptive the clouds made the landscape. Months could go by by when the rain and low-lying clouds completely hid Rainier—a fourteen-thousand-foot glacier-covered volcano sticking up out of nowhere. When the weather cleared, and you could see the mountain, it was like a goddess appearing to the world, the foothills like arms spread out for an embrace.”

Note: This debut, self-published novel was a first: a police procedural featuring a transgendered Seattle police detective (who identifies as male) with a special instinct for solving crimes involving exotic sexual cultures and practices. (Full disclosure: I was Rockenbeck’s editor.)

Bound to the Truth, Lisa Brunette (2016)

Quote: “You don’t understand. This is Seattle. You don’t actually meet anyone in person here. You waste a lot of time and energy petting each other for days until it escalates into brief but vague text-messaging. We’re at that stage. I’m sure the excitement will fizzle out before we reach the coffee-date stage.”

Note: Brunette segued to mystery novels after writing mystery scripts for video games as a “narrative designer” for Seattle-area mainstays Nintendo, Cat Daddy, Big Fish and a number of other game companies. She now lives in her hometown of St. Louis and runs her own gaming firm. (Full disclosure: I was Brunette’s editor.)

Assault and Pepper, Leslie Budewitz (2015)

Quote: “Throwing decent flowers in the trash is universal bad karma. It’s seriously bad karma in Seattle, where recycling is religion. Even our sample cups have to be recyclable or compostable. Putting ‘green waste’ in the wrong container violates more rules than you could shake a cinnamon stick at.”

Note: Budewitz’s Seattle Spice Shop cozies are set in the must-visit Pike Place Market. She went to Seattle University and later worked in Seattle for several years as an attorney before making her current home in her native Montana.

The Other Romanian, Anne Argula (2012)

Quote: “The idea of going six hundred and fifty thousand in debt, if I could even find a bank to lubricate that, for the joy of living in a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment with a view of Pioneer Square and a slice of Puget Sound was hard for me to get my graying head around. My parents paid nine thousand for their house. Even now, for what I would have to pay for a small apartment in Seattle, I could get a horse ranch in Kentucky, including the nags.”

Note: Anne Argula is the pen name of Darryl Ponicsan, the novelist and screenwriter best known for The Last Detail (a 1970 novel that became a 1973 film starring Jack Nicholson), and Cinderella Liberty, a set-in-Seattle film from 1974 starring James Caan and Marsha Mason. Ponicsan, now, 80, has since relocated from Puget Sound to Palm Springs. The Other Romanian was the last of four novels starring female P.I. Quinn (no first name).

A Hopeless Case, K.K. Beck (1992)

Quote: “She’d remembered Seattle as a relentlessly dull town, far away from anything else; but, walking to Montcrieff’s office this morning, she’d found it quite charming, full of espresso carts and window boxes with flowers and interesting-looking people on the streets, and The New York Times on sale. Had she changed, or had Seattle changed? Both, she supposed.”

Note: Kathrine Beck writes lighthearted mysteries, most recently 2015’s Tipping the Valet, about a Seattle parking valet who’s “a master of bad timing.” A Hopeless Case is the first in a series about a lounge-singing female private eye in 1940s Seattle. Beck, now 68, was married to the late Seattle mystery author Michael Dibdin.

Black Hearts and Slow Dancing, Earl Emerson (1988)

Quote: “A rust-brown smudge ballooned over Seattle, end to end, a thousand feet thick. Mac knew the locals were telling themselves that if they were getting headaches and their eyes were bloodshot and their noses ran, it must be something else. Seattleites had a stunning town, but it grew dirtier by the minute. It was only Northwest vanity that kept people calling it fog.”

Note: There are so many good Emerson snark blasts about Seattle that I couldn’t resist one more. This one comes from the first of five novels about Mac Fontana, a small-town fire chief who’s often called to investigate cases with strong Seattle connections.


Jim Thomsen is a writer and book-manuscript editor who lives in his hometown of Bainbridge Island, Washington, a 35-minute ferry ride west of downtown Seattle. He was a newspaper reporter and editor for 25 years, including stints at The Seattle Times and The Kitsap Sun. A longtime board member of the Mystery Writers of America-Northwest chapter, his crime fiction has been accepted for publication in Shotgun Honey, Pulp Modern, Switchblade and West Coast Crime Wave. He can be reached through his webpage: jimthomsencreative.com