09 October 2018

Some Reasons Short Stories Get Rejected


by Barb Goffman

Whether you're a seasoned writer or a first-timer, submitting a short story to any publication probably involves anxiety. You wouldn't have written the story if you didn't enjoy doing it. You wouldn't have submitted the story for publication if you didn't hope it's good enough and want the editor to say yes.

Hearing that someone else likes your work is validating. Knowing that strangers will read your work is invigorating. Telling your family that you made a sale is good for the soul.

But not every story sells, especially on first submission. Editors usually try to be kind in their rejection letters, at least in my experience. They might say that they got a lot of submissions, and  many of the stories were wonderful, but they simply couldn't take them all. Or they might say that your story just wasn't a good fit for the publication, but please don't take it personally. Or they might say that they received a very similar story from someone else and simply couldn't publish both in the same book. It's this last type of rejection I'm going to focus on here. It sounds made up, doesn't it? Like an excuse.
There are all kinds of rejection.

And yet ...

I can tell you from personal experience that authors sometimes get very similar ideas. Sometimes this might be expected, especially when anthologies have narrow(ish) themes. For instance, Chesapeake Crimes: They Had It Comin' (which I co-edited) received a bunch of submissions involving revenge. (No big surprise.) A call for stories for a culinary anthology might result in a bunch of submissions involving poisoning. A book that wants weather-related short stories might receive multiple submissions about folks who are snowbound and someone is murdered.

But even when an anthology's call for stories is broad (let's say, the editor wants crime stories with a female protagonist), you can still end up with several similar stories under consideration. One reason could be that authors are subject to the same national news, so it would make sense if several might be inspired by the same news story, especially a big one. For example, I'd bet there are lot more #MeToo-type stories being written and submitted now than three years ago.

Authors also might be inspired by other industry successes. For instance, when vampire novels were all the rage, I knew several short-story authors writing about vampires, too. These authors weren't necessarily following the trend just to be trendy. Instead they were taking advantage of the trend to write about something they were interested in and that they thought they could sell.

I imagine that when novels with unreliable protagonists became big, more than one editor received short stories with unreliable protagonists, too. Perhaps some authors were following the trend, but I bet others simply were inspired and wanted to see if they could pull off an unreliable narrator, as well.

There's nothing wrong with any of these scenarios, but you can see how editors might end up with two similar stories to choose from. Or more. They all might be great, but an editor likely will only take one because he doesn't want the book to be monotonous.

And then, of course, there's the weird scenario, when two authors respond to a very broad call for stories with an oddly similar idea that isn't inspired by the news or trends or, it seems, anything. These two authors were simply on the same wavelength. This scenario is what made me decide to write about this topic today.

When Bouchercon put out its call for stories last autumn for the anthology that came out last month (Florida Happens), they asked for stories "set in, or inspired by, Florida and its eccentricity and complexity. We want diverse voices and characters, tales of darkness and violence, whether they are noir, cozy, hard-boiled or suspense. Push the boundaries of your creativity and the theme! Note: the stories don't have to actually be set in Florida, but can be 'inspired' by itso a character can be from here, it can be built around a piece of music about Florida; etc."

That's a pretty broad theme. With that theme, I wouldn't be surprised if they got a bunch of submissions involving older people, since Florida is where many people retire. And I wouldn't be surprised if they received a lot of submissions involving the beach or the ocean, since Florida is where so many people vacation. But what are the odds that two (or maybe more) authors were going to submit stories about missing cats?

And yet, that is nearly what happened. Hilary Davidson wrote one such story. Her story in the anthology, "Mr. Bones," is about a missing cat. My story in the anthology, "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast," involves a missing pot roast. But as originally planned, that pot roast was going to be  ... yep ... a cat.

If you've read my story, you can imagine how changing the pot roast into a cat would make the story incredibly darker. It was the darkness that got to me. When I was writing and reached page two of the story, I knew I couldn't do it. I couldn't write the story as planned with the object going missing being a cat. (Sorry for being vague, but I don't want to spoil things if you haven't read the story.)

Thank goodness for my unease, because I like the story much better with the pot roast. It makes the story lighter. Funnier. And it turned out that using the roast likely increased my chances of my story being accepted because I wasn't directly competing with Hilary Davidson (who wrote a great story). Indeed, imagine if I had gone through with my story as originally planned. The people who chose the stories would have had two submissions involving missing cats! And they likely would not have taken both stories.

So the next time you get a rejection letter and the editor says, please don't take this personally, take the editor at her word. You never know when someone else has an idea quite similar to yours. The world is funny that way.

08 October 2018

Who Goes There?


by Steve Hockensmith

As part of my day job, I edit an employee newsletter for a large-ish university. Every day, people across campus -- professors and administrators and office managers -- send me news items for it. Usually, the writing just requires a little rubbing and buffing. Changing "9AM" to "9 a.m." Capitalizing job titles when they appear before a name ("University Style Examples Coordinator Jan McUnreal") but not when they appear after ("Dan O'Fakeman, style examples assistant"). Etc.

Occasionally, however, things get a bit tricky, usually because the item looks like this: "You are cordially invited to a public meeting of the Obscurity Subcommittee to discuss the Rhetorical Devices Initiative as it relates to paradigm classifications P-7, P-8 and T-26. Visiting analogy expert Qwomo Makebelievo will share insights and offer examples of NCG-approved VRD proposals for TPN BLTs. 8 in the RQI room. RSVP. Food will be provided, but participants are encouraged to bring their own condiments."

When I get a submission like this, the first question that pops into my head is "Do I really need health insurance?" The answer comes quickly ("YES!!!"), so I strap myself to my chair and move on to my next questions.

question mark
What is the Obscurity Subcommittee? What is the Rhetorical Devices Initiative? What are paradigm classifications? Who is Qwomo Makebelievo, and is his (her? their?) name even spelled correctly? What is the NCG? What is the VRD? What is the TPN? Surely that's not the BLT I know of…? 8 a.m. or 8 p.m.? Where is the RQI room? RSVP how? And why, Lord, why?

But the biggest question of all is the one that the person submitting the item should've asked. It can be found in the very first sentence. The very first word, in fact.

You.

Who is "you"? Who does the writer imagine is going to read this, and what do they already know or not know about NCGs, VRDs, TPNs and BLTs?

I've been in the communication business a lot of years, so I can't tell you how many times I've glanced at something I've been asked to edit and immediately raised that question: Who is this for?

In other words, who's your audience? Once that's answered, you'll know a lot more that you need to keep in mind as you're writing. What they know. What they don't know. What they give a crap about. Whether or not they'll bring condiments to a meeting.

Fiction writers – especially the ones who want to sell fiction – need to ask themselves that question, too. Not about condiments. About who they're writing for. The readers, the editors, the agents, whoever they're trying to reach -- what will their experience be when they look at the words that have been placed in front of them?

And you know who else needs to think about that? Writers for mystery community blogs. Like me. I've been contributing to SleuthSayers for months, but only now, when I sat down to pound out a new post, did I ask myself "Who is this for?"

So – who are you? Why are you here? What are you looking for when you come to this site? Anyone who posts a reply will be eligible to win a free copy of one of my books.

Which raises another question: Is that even something anybody here would want?

Let's find out…

07 October 2018

Talking Turkey


by Velma

Tomorrow Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving and, in case you wondered, Liberia celebrates Thanksgiving the first Thursday in November. The time or place matters little to bachelors who celebrate the holiday much the same no matter when or where.


A Bachelor Thanksgiving
in honour of the Canadian holiday
arrangement in ironic pentameter
by deservedly anonymous


Thanksgiving cornucopia
I think I shall never sniff
A poem as lovely as a whiff
Of turkey and mashed po—
tatoes and frozen snow–

Peas in vast disproportion
As I gulp another portion.
Cranberry sauce, count me a fan,
Maintains the shape of the can.

Cheap beer and cheaper whiskey
Makes the shallow heart grow frisky.
Three litre jugs of screw-capped wine
First tastes horrible, then tastes fine.

Deli turkey, cellophane wrapped.
Processed ham and all that crap.
Sherbet, ice cream, anything frozen,
Packaged cupcakes by the dozen,

Ruffled chips and onion dip,
Reddi-Wip and Miracle Whip,
Maple frosting found in tins
Hide the worst culinary sins.

Seven-fifty millilitres of
Grain vodka labeled Scruitov,
Cheap brandy and cheaper beer
First smells awful, then tastes queer.

Pumpkin pie and store-bought cake,
Anything I need not bake.
If it’s boxed, if it’s canned,
I’m no gourmet, only gourmand.

Chorus    

Baseball, football on the TV.
One spilt bowl of poutine gravy.
This little poem with each verse,
I give thanks if it grows no worse.
vintage post card wreath turkey

vintage post card children, turkey, pumpkin

We admit nothing except Happy Thanksgiving. Graphics courtesy of Antique Images, The Holiday Spot, and Spruce Crafts.

06 October 2018

A Whole Town--Imagine That


by John M. Floyd



How important, one might ask (especially if one is a beginning writer), is setting? Well, most of those reading this blog know the answer. It depends on the story. For some movies, novels, shorts, etc., setting is vital; to others, not so much. Everyone seems to agree that it's usually not as all-important as other elements of fiction, which is why so much more is said and written about character and plot. But I don't want to downplay it. There's no question that an effective setting can be a huge advantage in works of fiction, and can often be the thing that makes an otherwise mediocre story good, or a good story great.

Which made me start thinking about towns and cities in fiction--and, specifically, the names of towns and cities. Some of these imaginary places are immediately familiar to readers, TV watchers, and moviegoers: Mayberry, Metropolis, Gotham City, Castle Rock, Lake Wobegon, Emerald City, Cabot Cove, and so on.

A Peyton Place to call home

Many of the western novels of the late mystery-writer Robert B. Parker (and Robert Knott, the author who continued that series after Parker's death) even have the same titles as their town-names: Appaloosa, Brimstone, Resolution, Revelation, Bull River, etc. The same is true of other titles in novels/movies/TV, like Salem's Lot, Lonesome DoveSpencerville, Desperation, Zootopia, Camelot, Silverado, Evening ShadeKnott's LandingSouth Park, Empire Falls, Pleasantville, and Twin Peaks.


I've done some of that myself, with my short stories. Sometimes I liked my town's name so much (Turtle Bay, Redemption, Sand Hill, Mythic Heights) that I already knew I also wanted to use it as a title, even before I started writing. In other cases I wrote the entire piece before ever giving a name to the town where my characters lived and worked. This happened with my story "Dentonville," which appeared in EQMM several years ago and wound up winning a Derringer Award. I wrote the story without a firm title in mind, finished the story, and only then--when I was still having trouble coming up with a suitable title--decided to call the town Dentonville, and thus gave it double duty as both a title and a setting.

Some novel/movie titles, of course, are the names of real towns and cities. Casablanca, Deadwood, Tombstone, Fargo, Nashville, Atlantic City, Rio BravoCentennial, Rome, Chicago, Philadelphia, London, Elizabethtown, Munich, Dallas, and so on. And some towns that you might think are fictional--like Little House on the Prairie's Walnut Grove or The Martian Chronicles' Green Bluff--are also real places. So that works, too. But . . .

We got trouble, right here in River City

. . . there's a certain freedom, I think, to giving your fictional characters a fictional home. For one thing, it lets you paint that town any way you like, and doesn't restrict you to the way real places are, or the way they look.

Besides, making up fictional town names is fun. Example: I'm currently reading Joe Lansdale's "Hap and Leonard" novels, in order. Hap Collins and Leonard Pine live near the imaginary town of LaBorde, Texas, but in the book I'm reading now, the fifth in the series, they're about to drive up to Hootie Hoot, Oklahoma, to help a friend of theirs get out of a jam. I doubt I'd find Hootie Hoot on Google Maps, and though I don't know for sure, I suspect Lansdale had a big smile on his face when he came up with that name. He might've laughed out loud.

Another upside to these made-up names is that if you're writing police procedurals, fictional towns have fictional police departments, which might be able to operate (within reason) a bit differently than one in a real city. The downside to dreaming up town-names instead of using real ones, of course, is that real-life cities contain real-life streets and parks and buildings and landmarks that might make your story more believable--and can also allow you (if you live there, or nearby) to "write what you know." So, as with most things in life, there are pluses and minuses to consider.

But don't consider them right now. For now, here's a list I've put together of fifty more fictional towns. Many of them you'll recognize right away, but I'm hoping some might surprise you, or maybe trigger a fond memory.



Bus stops on the make-believe map:

Maycomb, Alabama -- To Kill a Mockingbird
Haddonfield, Illinois -- Halloween
Bedford Falls -- It's a Wonderful Life
Hadleyville -- High Noon
Rock Ridge -- Blazing Saddles
Clanton, Mississippi -- A Time to Kill 
Radiator Springs -- Cars
Amity -- Jaws
Greenbow, Alabama -- Forrest Gump
West Egg, New York -- The Great Gatsby
Innisfree, Ireland -- The Quiet Man
The Capitol -- The Hunger Games
Bon Temps, Louisiana -- True Blood 
Arlen, Texas -- King of the Hill
North Fork -- The Rifleman
Santa Mira, California -- Invasion of the Body Snatchers
King's Landing -- Game of Thrones
Wolf City, Wyoming -- Cat Ballou
Perfection, Nevada -- Tremors
Mystic Falls, Virginia -- The Vampire Diaries
Dillon, Texas -- Friday Night Lights
Pawnee, Indiana -- Parks and Recreation
Cuesta Verde, California -- Poltergeist
Sparta, Mississippi -- In the Heat of the Night
Bayport -- the Hardy Boys series
River Heights -- the Nancy Drew series
Cloud City -- The Empire Strikes Back
Derry, Maine -- several Stephen King novels
Rivendell -- The Lord of the Rings
Avonlea -- Anne of Green Gables
New Caprica City -- Battlestar Galactica
Mayfield -- Leave It to Beaver
Charming, California -- Sons of Anarchy
Hogsmeade -- the Harry Potter series
Isola -- the 87th Precinct novels, Ed McBain
Kurtal, Switzerland -- Third Man on the Mountain
Collinsport, Maine -- Dark Shadows
Fairview -- Desperate Housewives
Orbit City -- The Jetsons
Pandora -- Avatar
Hooterville -- Petticoat Junction and Green Acres
Cicely, Alaska -- Northern Exposure
Hawkins, Indiana -- Stranger Things
Silver City, Mississippi -- The Ponder Heart
Sunnydale, California -- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Bedrock -- The Flintstones
Santa Teresa, California -- Sue Grafton's alphabet series
Aintry, Georgia -- Deliverance
Hill Valley, California -- Back to the Future

And my all-time favorite:

Bikini Bottom -- Spongebob Squarepants



Questions:

As a writer, what works for you? Do you usually create your own town/city names, or do you install your characters in real-life locations? As a reader, which do you prefer? Does it matter? Have you ever used the name of your fictional (or real) city as the title of your story or novel?

Or do you give a Hootie Hoot?

See you again in two weeks …

05 October 2018

The Korean War


by O'Neil De Noux

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, November 29, 1950, the Chinese army attacked and overran paratroopers of the 187th Regimental Combat Team. My father, along with all the men in his squad were shot, as were most of the men in the platoon. Chinese soldiers finished off the wounded by bayoneting them. My father was bayoneted in the lower back. He stuffed snow in the wound and passed out.

The following day, My mother, in the hospital after delivering me on the day my father was shot, received a telegram from the army notifying her that her husband was missing in action and presumed dead. My mother named me after my father, instead of naming me Daniel as my father desired. A day afer the telegram arrived, an excited nurse rushed into my mother's hospital room with a telephone. There was an emergency phone call. It was my father calling from a hospital in Japan. He'd been wounded but was recovering. He asked if she'd delievered the baby and she told him he had a son.

"How is Daniel?"
"Fine. But I named him after you."
"What? Oh, no." My father hung up on her, telling me later he did not want to saddle me with two last names as he'd been saddled.

My mother thought she'd hallucinated the call until later when she received another telegram notifying her how her husband was severly wounded and recovering in a hospital in Japan.


O'Neil P. De Noux, Sr. back in Korea after the Korean War

My father returned to action in Korea and was wounded again. He received three purple hearts for his service in the Korean War. He remained in the army, serving in the Vietnam War with the 1st Infantry Division before retiring to become a police officer. He retired from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office after 20-years service. When he was buried in Saint Vincent de Paul Cemetery in New Orleans, he was buried in his army uniform. Active duty US Army paratroopers served as pall bearers. I saw tears on the faces of two of the young paratroopers as their 21-gun salute echoed loudly off the concrete and cement crypts of the above-ground cemetery and Taps bounced along the rooftops of the lower Ninth Ward.

I just finished reading a excellent novel about the Korean War – THE FROZEN HOURS by Jeff Shaara. It tells the harrowing tale of the US Marines at the Chosin Reservoir in 1950. Marines and US Army soldiers surrounded by a huge Chinese army hell bent on killing all of them, ramming massive human-wave assaults against hungry, exhausted and freezing men in -30˚ temperatures. This was one of the finest hours of the US Marine Corps. When trying to break out of the encirclement, Marine General O. P. Smith was asked by reporters if this was a retreat and gave the infamous quote, "Retreat, hell! We're not retreating, we're just advancing in a different direction."


This is a damn good book.

While the Korean War fades in our memories, most Americans today have never heard of the conflict where over 33,000 Americans were killed in battle with nearly 3,000 non-battle deaths.

Shaara's book is not a celebration of war but a heart-felt telling of bravery, suffering, neglect and death of Americans sent across the world to fight in horrific conditions.

That's all for now.

http://www.oneildenoux.com

04 October 2018

More Fun & Games With Victorian English Slang


by Brian Thornton

(For Part One of this series, click here.)


Charity Bob: The quick, jerky curtsey made by charity school-girls, now (1883) rapidly passing away.

Charlie Freer: (Rhyming, Sporting) Beer. e.g., 'He can put down Charlie Freer by the gallon, he can.'

Chew into dish-cloths: (Amer., 1882). To annihilate.
The wolf came down with his eyes working with delight, and had only reached the earth when the goose sprang upon him, and chewed him into dish-cloths.–New American Fables.

Chiv(e): (Historical). A knife.
Said to be Romany, but it may be a curtailment of Shevvle, as the metropolis of knife manufacture, Sheffield, is called to this day. If so, on all fours with 'jocteleg'–Jacques de Liège–who manufactured in the 14th century a splendid knife, long before Sheffield rose to glory.
Chiv is used on the stage. 'I've had to be chivved' Mr. H. Marston (1870)–meaning stabbed in the course of the piece.
Presently Selby pulls out a chivy (knife), and gives Big Tim a dig or two–one on his arm and one at his face, and another at his leg. Big Tim says to me, 'Costy, I've got it a bit thick, suppose I give him a bit of a chivy, and see how he likes it,' and makes a dig or two at him.–People, 6th January 1898.

Chivy: (Criminal) Relating to the use of the knife.

Chivy, To: (Hist.).  To hunt down, worry. A corruption of Cheviot (HillsO, whence this kind of attention was much practiced by the early English of the north when swinging into the Cheviots after the cattle stolen, or to use the more northern term–'lifted'–by the Scotch more or less all along the border.
'Which a pore cove were never chivied as I'm chivied by the cops.'

Choke off, To: (Peoples', 18 cent on). To get rid of. From the necessity of twisting a towel or other fabric about the neck of a bull-dog to make this tenacious hanger-on let go his biting hold. Used against persons of pertinacious application.
'Choke off' in the U.S.A. means to reduce a pleading man to silence.

Chokey: (Sailors), Imprisonment–derived from the narrow confines of the ship's lock-up and the absence of ventilation–chokey generally being fixed as near the keel as conveniently as it can be managed. However, some authorities maintain that this word is an Anglicising of the Hong-Kong Chinese 'Chow Key'–a prison.
Been run in? Been locked up? Been in chokey? What!–what do you take me for? Who are you blooming well getting at? Who're you kidding?–Cutting.
In a very short time the whole of them were safely in the chowkey. The parties implicated have been brought up at the Fort Police Court, and committed for trial.–Bombay Times.

Chouse: (Peoples', 17 cent.) A cheat, ti cheat. Henshaw derives it from the Turkish word chiaus, an interpreter, and referring to an interpreter at the Turkish embassy in London in 1609. He robbed the embassy right and left.

Chuck a Dummy: (Tailors'). To faint. Very interesting as illustrating the influence familiar objects have in framing new ideas–from the similarity of a falling fainting man to an over-thrown or chucked tailor's dummy–a figure upon which coats are fitted to show them off for sale. 'I chucked a dummy this mornin' an' 'ad to be brought to with o-der-wee.'

Chuck out ink: (Press Reporters) To write articles.
Suddenly it came across my mind that the boss might be waiting about for me somewhere with a big boot and genteel language, and that it might be better for my health if I chucked out ink.–Cutting.

Chuck up the bunch of fives: (Pugilistic) To die. The one poetic figure of speech engendered by the prize ring. The fives are the two sets of four fingers and a thumb–the fists–the 'bunches'–flaccid in death. 'Pore Ben–'o's been an' gorne an' chucked up 'is bunch o' fives.'

Church-bell: (Rural). A talkative woman. 'Ah ca'as ma wife choorch bell cas 'er's yeard arl over t'village.'

Churchyard Cough: (Peoples'). A fatal cold–sometimes in these later times synonymised by 'cemetery catarrh'.

Churchyard Luck: (Peoples'). The 'good fortune' which the mother of a large family experiences by the death of one or more of her children. e g 'Yes, mum, I hev brought 'em all up–ten boys, and no churchyard luck with it.'–Said by a Liverpool woman to a district visitor.

Cigareticide: (Soc., 1883) A word invented to meet the theory that the cigarette is the most dangerous form of smoking. More common in America than in Great Britain.
That young man's grit is indeed remarkable in this age of dudism and cigareticide.–Cutting.

Climb the Golden Staircase, To: (Amer.) One of the U S A equivalents to the Latin 'join the majority'.
Edward's Folly Dramatic Company is reported as having climbed the golden stairs. The cash assets are alleged to have been carefully secured in a pillbox–(1883).

Climb the Mountains of Piety, To: To pawn, from the first governmental pawnshop being situated on a height in Rome called Monte di Pietà, so named, of course, for group of the dead Christ and the Virgin called in art a pietà.
Mr Candy On one occasion, I think, you had to resort to what is called 'climbing the mountain of piety'?–Evelyn v. Hulbert, D N, 15th April, 1896.

Clobbered: (N. Eng, Prov.) Well nourished and dressed. Common in Yorkshire.
'Eh, he looks well clobbered.'

Cod: (Trade. Tailors') A drunkard. The word is suggested by the fallen cheeks and lips' corners which are some of the facial evidences of a drunkard, and which certainly  suggest the countenance of a cod, which fish, furthermore from its size, is typical of huge drinking. 'He's a bigger cod every day.'

See you in two weeks!

03 October 2018

Following in Marlowe's Footnotes


Courtesy Western Libraries
by Robert Lopresti

I don't review a lot of books but I would like to take a moment to recommend you read The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.

Oh,  you already have?

I'm not surprised.  But I suggest you should read the new annotated version, edited by Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson, and Anthony Dean Rizzuto.  I have been having a heck of a good time with it.

One reason to pick it up is presented by Otto Penzler in a blurb: "What a great excuse to read this masterpiece again!"  That reminds me:  I should say that if you have not read this classic private eye novel, you should not start with this edition.  The editors, quite reasonably, are not shy about pointing out when something in Chapter 4 is foreshadowing an event in Chapter 14.


So what do the annotations bring to Chandler's text?

* Literary context. We tend to talk about Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler in the same breath, almost as if they shared an office.  Actually they only met once and at that point Hammett was the champeen and Chandler  (although six years older) was a rookie.  But more to the point, The Big Sleep was published in 1939, ten years after Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, and the annotated edition points out how much Chandler borrowed from it.  (More about that later.)  The book also has passages from Chandler's earlier stories which he "cannibilized" for the novel, showing how he modified them.

* Geographic context.  The book provides maps and photographs of the places detective Phillip Marlowe visits (and when they are fictional, points that out as well). At one point Marlowe arranges to meet someone at the Bullocks Wilshire.  The editors provide a photograph and explain that this was the first department store built with its main entrance in the back, facing the parking lot.  It was a "temple to the automobile."

* Language.  What is a pinseal wallet?  What is flash gambling?  Is it a good or bad thing to step off for it?  The editors explain these and many more.

* Symbolism.  In literary criticism one always has to wonder whether the interpreters are finding more than the author intended, but let me give you an example of what we find here.  In the opening chapter Carmen Sternwood asks the narrator his name and he replies "Doghouse Reilly."  Of course, this turns out to be false, but does it mean anything?  The editors point out that it is the sort of nickname given to Irish boxers (and Carmen then asks if he is a prizefighter.)  They also note that "Doghouse" suggests someone who is constantly in trouble, true enough of Marlowe.

But let's go deeper.  The Big Sleep is famous for its knight symbolism.  (A stained glass window featuring one appears on the first page, for example.)  The editors note that "In the great heroic epics, the hero's true name and character often remain hidden until revealed by a distinctive sign or work."  Is that what Chandler had in mind?

* Movie connection.  The editors point out how the book was changed for the Bogart classic.  And of course they discuss the famous issue of "Who killed the chauffeur?"

I'd like to point out one way in which the annotated book broadened my thinking about something quite removed from Chandler.  The editors compare Marlowe's violent encounter with the gay man Carol, to Sam Spade's reaction to gay Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon.  They suggest that both are examples of  "homosexual panic."

Well, I had heard that term before, but what does it mean exactly? The editors don't find it necessary to explain.

According to Wikipedia "Homosexual Panic Disorder" was a psychological condition coined in 1920 and no longer recognized by the APA.  It referred to "panic due to the pressure of uncontrollable perverse sexual cravings," and usually included passivity, not aggression.  This does not seem to apply to Marlowe or Spade.

There is a separate entry for "Homosexual Panic Defense," now usually called "Gay Panic Defense," in which an attacker claims he suffered temporary insanity after receiving unwanted approaches by a gay man.   That doesn't seem to apply to the two novels either; neither Carol nor Wilmer were putting the moves on the PIs.

A medical dictionary gives a definition closer to what I have always thought it meant, and what I think the editors had in mind: "an acute, severe attack of anxiety based on unconscious conflicts regarding homosexuality."  In other words, someone attacks a gay man because his very existence makes them question their own sexuality.

And you could well make the case that that is what happens with Marlowe and Carol.  But does it apply to Spade and Wilmer?  Here is Spade's outburst: "Keep that gunsel away from me while you make up your mind.  I'll kill him.  I don't like him.  He makes me nervous.  I'll kill him the first time he gets in my way."

Homosexual panic?  Maybe.  But, you see, I don't believe Spade means it.  I realize now that I think everything Spade says to Guttman (and to most of the other characters) is an act.  Of course, we see Spade through a third person narration so, unlike Marlowe (or Hammett's own Continental Op), we never get inside his head.  One of the reason his speech at the end of the book is so moving is that for the first time, I think, he actually tells us why he is doing what he does.

Feel free to disagree.
Decatur Street Car Barn, now a bus barn.  Photo by Volcycle.

Speaking of which, one of the joys of a book like The Annotated Big Sleep is quarreling with the authors. especially about what they choose to annotate.  Why explain bacardi but not pony glass?  Why does jalopy require a footnote but car barn doesn't?   Since Marlowe is comparing the size of a house to a car barn, it is important that the reader knows he is talking about a building big enough to store street cars in.

I also wish they had commented on Chandler's frequent use of the adverbs savagely and viciously, most famously at the end of Chapter  24.

But those are minor gripes and, as I said, part of the fun.  The book is a job well done.

02 October 2018

The Impossible Dream


by Paul D. Marks

Today is a big day for me. The Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler, hits the shelves. And my story Windward, originally published in Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea (from Down & Out Books, edited by Andrew McAleer and me), is in it.


It is truly one of the biggest thrills of my writing life and my life in general. I’m still in disbelief – still pinching myself. Still floating on air.

When we embark on this writing journey we have things we want to achieve. It’s a given that we want to write good and compelling stories. But aside from that I think most of us want to attain some kind of recognition, both from our peers and from a general audience. To that end we might have certain goals: getting published at all, getting published in more prestigious/bigger circulation magazines. Maybe winning an award or two. And getting into The Best American Mysteries series.

Otto Penzler
I woke up one morning a few months ago to find an e-mail from Otto Penzler saying that Windward had been selected for BAMS. Michael Bracken wrote a couple of weeks ago about his tears of joy upon hearing the news. My first reaction was total disbelief! I thought someone was scamming me, spamming me. Playing a prank on me. I’m so paranoid about being scammed and I believed this so much that I e-mailed fellow SleuthSayer and BAMSer John Floyd a copy of the e-mail asking if he thought it was legit. He did! So with his imprimatur I responded to the e-mail, relatively sure that I wasn’t going to be talking to a Nigerian Prince trying to scam me out of my Beatles and toy collections.

Louise Penny
Once I found out it was for real it was like fireworks on the Fourth of July, Old Faithful blasting towards the sky, the Ball dropping on New Year’s Eve. My wife Amy and I celebrated with a fancy dinner of take-out pizza and ice cream – because what’s better than pizza and ice cream 😃 ? (I’m not joking here.)

Windward was a fun story to write, partially because it’s set in Venice Beach, one of the most colorful areas of Los Angeles. Here’s an excerpt of the end-notes I wrote about Windward for the anthology:

Venice is a little piece of the exotic on the edge of Los Angeles. That got me thinking about setting my story there and showcasing the colorful and sometimes dangerous streets of Venice Beach in my story “Windward” for Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea. So I gave Jack Lassen, my PI, an office (complete with 1950s bomb shelter), amid the old world columns and archways of Windward.

With a setting like that I needed a crime that would be equally intriguing and what better fodder for crime than the façade of the movie business, where nothing is what it appears to be and a hero on-screen might be a monster offscreen.

Ultimately, Venice is more a state of mind than a location. But either way, a great setting for a story.


The stories in the book are arranged alphabetically by the author’s last name. Since my last name begins with M, the exact middle of the alphabet I always end up in the middle. I remember in school how for whatever things they were doing they often went from A to Z, but sometimes they switched it up so that the people whose names started at the end of the alphabet got to go first. But the Ms in the middle always stayed in the middle. So I’m in the middle again in the book. But that’s fine with me. I’m just glad to be in it, amongst such august company.

It’s a true thrill to be in this book along with Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Joyce Carol Oates – and all the other terrific writers, including my old professor at USC, T.C. Boyle, who I took classes from even though I was a cinema major. (And I was just going through some boxes from our storage facility and came across a postcard from him, which was a trip in itself.)

It’s also a thrill to be with friends and fellow SleuthSayers. And I’d also like to congratulate John Floyd, whose story Gun Work, also from Coast to Coast: Private Eyes, is in this year’s BAMS. And to fellow SleuthSayers Michael Bracken and David Edgerly Gates, who also have stories in it. And to pal Alan Orloff.

So these last few weeks have been very eventful for me, winning the Macavity for Windward, and with Broken Windows coming out and now BAMs. And I want thank everyone who voted for Windward, who bought Coast to Coast, the authors in it, the folks at Down & Out, and the same for those who reviewed Broken Windows, talked about it, bought it, etc. And thanks to our own Rob Lopresti for his review of There’s An Alligator in My Purse, my story in Florida Happens, the 2018 Bouchercon anthology. Wow! What a time!

***

And if that wasn’t enough of a BSP trip:

Here’s a small sampling of excerpts from reviews for Broken Windows:

Kristin Centorcelli, Criminal Element

"Although it’s set in 1994, it’s eerie how timely this story is. There’s an undeniable feeling of unease that threads through the narrative, which virtually oozes with the grit, glitz, and attitude of L.A. in the ‘90s. I’m an ecstatic new fan of Duke’s."

"Duke and company practically beg for their own TV show."

John Dwaine McKenna, Mysterious Book Report:

"This electrifying novel will jolt your sensibilities, stir your conscience and give every reader plenty of ammunition for the next mixed group where the I [immigration] -word is spoken!"

Betty Webb, Mystery Scene Magazine:

"Broken Windows is extraordinary."

01 October 2018

Doing It Right


by Steve Liskow

Two weeks ago, I joined fourteen other authors at a fund-riser for the New Britain (CT) Public Library. I taught high school English in the town for thirty years and some of my former students showed up, one of them as a fellow author (see? I did something right). Another former student works at the library, and several of my books are set in central Connecticut, so I had some sales advantages.

I usually avoid events with more than five or six authors because we tend to cancel out each other's sales. Such affairs generally offer "exposure" (try paying your dentist with "exposure" and let me know how it works) instead of a fee, too. Selling books is always iffy, but this event gives the authors better odds.

Literary Libations occurs every other year, and the organizers host authors in various genres who have released a new book since the previous event. I only knew three of the other writers (including my former student) and only two others write mysteries. I was between a young poet (who had a great sense of humor and made out like Charlie Sheen) and a college professor with a new textbook. No competition there, right?

The organizers charge a hefty admission fee--in advance--because it is a fund-raiser (authors get in free and they even feed us). That large fee conditions people to spend money on new books. A local caterer offers everything from hors d'oeuvres to pasta to ice cream, and they have a cash bar. If you've never worked an event where alcohol flows, you won't believe how it can spike your sales.

This year, the librarian greeted me by asking, "Have you seen your gift basket?"

I had no idea what she was talking about, so she showed me the prize table.

Fifteen people assembled gift baskets as raffle prizes, and one couple liked my first novel Who Wrote the Book of Death? (set in New Britain, of course, and mentioning local landmarks) so much they gathered the various wines and snacks the book mentioned into one lavish gift. That floored me, and it got even better when I learned that same book was the topic of the library's book group the following week.

Guess what? I sold a lot of books (ate well, too). The picture shows Alderman Don Naples and his wife, who assembled the gift basket, along with Arnaldo Perez, the lucky winner. The seedy-looking guy on the right  autographed the book for him.

Within two days, the organizers sent me a thank-you note for appearing and asked for suggestions to make the next event even better. I told them I wished every event went as smoothly as this one had, and hoped they made as much money as their planning and hard work deserved. Then I suggested that the library discuss another one of my books in two years.

30 September 2018

Just Another Day at the Office


by R.T. Lawton

Okay, I was going to write something about Bouchercon for this Sunday's blog, but not too long after I got back from St. Petersburg, there was a curious letter in my stack of mail. The letter was addressed to me at my home and had a return address from the Colorado Springs Police Department. First off, they never write to me about anything, and second, if it's not a request for help of some kind or a speaking engagement, then it can't be something good.

My wife opened the letter and told me I might be in trouble. I grabbed the letter and started reading. It seemed that I was hereby being notified that in accordance with the Revised Municipal Code of the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Motor Vehicle Laws that the following vehicle has been impounded:

     Vehicle:    1990 WHI JEEP WRANGLER          Lic. Plate:   CO960YCR
     VIN:         2J4FY29T7LJ516354                         Impound #  3259-18
     Reason:    RECOVERED STOLEN               
     Date:         09/17/2018          J Strachan  1778

The storage fee was $30 a day and if the vehicle was not claimed, then it would be sold at auction on 01/14/2019. Also, I could not claim the car after 4 PM because they close the office at that time.

WOW!

This was a lot to think about, mainly because I had never owned a Jeep Wrangler of any year or color, much less an old 1990 white one. And, to my knowledge, I had never owned or licensed any vehicle which had been subsequently stolen. Was this a scam letter? If so, how were they hoping to get the money? Had I missed something? Or was this a new type of sting operation run by the police to see if someone would try to get a vehicle on the cheap by making a false claim and bonding out the car? And most importantly, why was my name and address tied to a stolen vehicle?

Time to do some sleuthing.

I called the telephone number for the police impound lot. Not the number on the letter. I knew better than to do that, thus I called the number on their internet website. Turned out to be the same number. So much for being cautious. After a long taped recitation of my choices as to which button to push in order to speak with the party I needed, I finally got put on hold until a real person came on the line. I explained the situation and that I had never owned this Jeep, nor did I know anything about it.

The impound lot employee was polite and sounded helpful. He plugged the impound number into his computer and started checking.

HIM: "So when you took the license plates off..."
ME:   "No, no, I never owned the vehicle. I don't have anything to do with it."
HIM: "Okay. Well, the new owner picked it up today."
ME:  "That's good, but how did my name and address get associated with the stolen Jeep?"
HIM: "Just a minute, I'll check the file."  LONG PAUSE  "The DMV said that's who the VIN came back to."
HE & I in CHORUS:  "Have a good day."

Next step, drive to the DMV and wait in line. Twenty-four people in the vehicle registration line ahead of me. My ticket number in the queue is 654. Drivers license people and other problems get different group numbers than the 600 series. I settle in. Just before I fall out of the chair asleep, the loud speaker announces my number.

At Desk #3 (there are well over twenty numbered desks surrounding our cattle pen), I hand my letter from the impound lot to the nice lady and explain my problem. She also takes my driver's license for proper identification and then consults her computer. After much careful looking, she assures me the VIN on the stolen Jeep in my letter is not registered to me.

"Then how," I inquire, "did the police department get my name?"

"Well," she says, "the name on the VIN is very close to your name."

It appears that I got caught in the scatter gun approach to legal notification. And that was all the information I could gather. I never did find out the owner's name, nor whether he was the new owner or the old owner, nor the complete circumstances of the stolen Jeep. You know, like who stole it to begin with and how was it recovered?

It's tough not being in law enforcement anymore, a position where people would give you the rest of the story.

Now, it's just another day at the writing office.

What next?

29 September 2018

Where's a Grammar Cop When You Need One?



by John M. Floyd



I doubt the Grammar Police are always pleased with me. I make a lot of mistakes, stylewise, in my fiction writing. Some of them are intentional, though--I love to splice commas, split infinitives, fragment sentences, etc.--and most of the others I try to catch and correct during the rewriting/editing phase, so overall I hope the final product wouldn't have made my late great high-school English teacher too unhappy. I also try to be lenient in forgiving some of the errors I see in the speech and writing of others.

But let's face it, there are some things about grammar, word usage, punctuation, etc., that we as educated adults really ought to know, and that we as writers are expected to know. (Newscasters are a whole different story. They should know the rules, too, but usually don't.)

After a lot of thought, a short nap, and three cinnamon rolls, I have put together a list of grammar issues that a lot of folks seem to find difficult. Some of the items that involve word choices are easy, and have a definite right-or-wrong answer. If you violate those, you probably deserve a visit by the Grammar Squad ("Hands up, bud, and step away from that keyboard!"). Other items are sort of iffy; you say tomayto and I say tomotto. On several of them I'm sure we'll disagree.

Even so . . . here's my list:



nauseated/nauseous -- They don't mean the same thing. If you're sick, you're nauseated. If you're making me sick, you're nauseous.

feeling badly about something -- It's impossible. You might feel bad about it, but feeling badly is no more correct than feeling goodly.

everyday/every day -- Everyday is a one-word adjective, and shouldn't be used any other way. "These are my everyday shoes--the ones I wear every day."

into/in to -- You get into your car and drive in to your office. Unless maybe you crash into your office. I still remember the news article I read about someone turning himself into police. A shapeshifter, maybe?

prostrate/prostate -- One's a position and one's a gland. "He's prostrate because he's having trouble with his prostate."

irregardless -- It's a useless word. It means regardless. Same goes for inflammable (which means flammable), utilize (which means use), and preplanning (which means planning).

alright/all right -- It's not all right to write alright. If there is such a word, there shouldn't be. Same thing goes for alot.

blond/blonde -- There's a lot of disagreement about this one. Yes, blond is masculine and blonde is feminine, but I prefer to use blonde as a noun and blond as an adjective. "The blonde had blond hair."

continuous/continual -- They're not the same. Continuous means uninterrupted and never stopping. Continual means often repeated, or frequently.

momentarily -- This means for a moment, as in "I was momentarily speechless." It does not mean soon. If your pilot announces, during takeoff, "We'll be in the air momentarily" . . . that's not good.

hone in -- You can't hone in on something. You home in on it, like a homing beacon.

principle/principal -- Educational principles are upheld by the principal (your "pal"). NOTE: As the person assigned to change the weekly motivational message on our high-school bulletin board, I once posted "It's not school we hate, it's the principal of the thing." I thought it was clever. The administration did not. (An unfortunately true story.)

with baited breath -- It's bated breath. Unless you've eaten a can of worms.

loath/loathe -- I'm loath to tell you how much I loathe seeing this misused.

peaked my interest -- Should be piqued.

slight of hand -- Should be sleight of hand.

If worse comes to worse -- Should be if worse comes to worst.

to all intensive purposes -- Should be to all intents and purposes.

wringer/ringer -- Why do half the writers I read say "He looked like he'd been through the ringer"? Those of us who remember old-timey washing machines prefer wringer.

wrack/rack -- Personally, it's nerve-wracking to see this written nerve-racking. But apparently either spelling is acceptable. Oh well.

comprise/compose -- Comprise means to include. Compose means to make up. According to The Elements of Style, "A zoo comprises animals, but animals compose a zoo."

convince/persuade -- Convince involves thought. Persuade involves action. "He convinced her she was wrong; he persuaded her to go home."

literally -- This means actually, not figuratively. If you say, "I literally jumped from the frying pan into the fire, " I wish you a speedy recovery.

restauranteur -- No such word. It should be restaurateur.

expresso -- Should be espresso.

1980's -- Should be 1980s.

less/fewer -- Yes, I know, we learned this as children. Even so, people get it wrong all the time. Fewer refers to units. Less refers to things that can't be counted. "I've been reading less fiction and buying fewer novels."

first come, first serve -- Should be first come, first served.

give them free reign -- Should be give them free rein.

I could care less -- I have no idea where this got started, and I couldn't care less.

compliment/complement -- To compliment is to praise. To complement is to enhance or add to. "He complimented her on the way her scarf complemented her outfit."

insure/ensure -- If money or a policy is not involved, use ensure.

affect/effect -- Affect is a verb. Effect is a noun.

data and media -- Since the form is plural, these nouns supposedly need verbs like are or were. BUT . . . when I worked for IBM, we burst into hysterical laughter anytime we heard someone say "The data are correct." I think collective nouns like this should be treated as singular, and use verbs like is or was. (And it's dayta, not datta.)


Gone With the Wind -- In a title, capitalize all words (even prepositions) that are longer than three letters.

a two bit operation -- This makes for slow, tedious reading. Hyphenating multi-word adjectives like two-bit (or multi-word) can increase the pace: one-horse town, easy-to-read book, three-alarm fire, elementary-school teacher, high-risk operation, holier-than-thou smirk. It can also prevent misunderstandings: I'm a short-story writer, not a short story writer. My five-year-old grandson is a short story writer.

a/an -- Pronunciation, not spelling, should determine which one is used: a uniform, a European vacation, an SASE, a historical site, an hour and a half.

the Internet -- Some capitalize it, some don't (especially when it's used as an adjective). I usually capitalize it.

From Noon Till Three -- The use of till (instead of until or 'til) is perfectly acceptable.

Texas/TX -- Unless you're addressing an envelope, don't use two-letter postal abbreviations for state names. Spell them out.

imply/infer -- A writer or speaker implies. A reader or listener infers.

hopefully -- This is an adverb describing hope. "The survivors listened hopefully for the sound of a search plane." It's incorrect to say "Hopefully, I'll finish this column by Saturday." (But I still say it. This is one of those rules that I happily ignore.)

i.e./e.g. -- I.e. means "that is" or "in other words." E.g. means "for example."

ironic -- A hurricane during your wedding reception isn't ironic. Getting run over by a Budweiser truck on your way to an AA meeting is ironic.

T-shirt/tee shirt -- The correct term is T-shirt. Hint: the shirt looks like a T when it's on a coat hanger.

writing time -- I prefer using a.m. and p.m., rather than AM and PM.

dialogue and fellowship -- These are nouns, not verbs. Don't say, unless you're a Baptist minister, "Come fellowship with us."

invite -- This is a verb, not a noun. Don't say, "I just received my invite to the party."

y'all/ya'll -- It's y'all. The apostrophe stands in for the missing ou in you all.

Miss Jane/Ms. Jane -- It's Miss Jane, and has nothing to do with whether she's married. The Miss along with the first name is a polite expression of familiarity, especially in the South, and is used when Ms. Doe or Mrs. Doe might sound too stiff and formal. Think "Miss Ellie" on Dallas.

italics/quotes -- Use italics for the names of novels, novellas, plays, books, movies, TV series, ships, aircraft, albums, court cases, works of art, newspapers, comic strips, and magazines. Use quotation marks for the names of poems, short stories, articles, chapters, TV episodes, and songs.

short-lived -- This deals more with speaking than writing, but short-lived should be pronounced with a long "i" as in "life," not with a short "i" as in "give." (I think James Lincoln Warren is the only person who's ever agreed with me on this, but he's a good ally to have.)

Seamus -- Another pronunciation thing. Everyone knows Sean is pronounced "Shawn," but only Irish private eyes seem to know that Seamus is pronounced "Shamus."

may/might -- May implies permission. Might implies choice. "Johnny may go to the movies" usually means his mom says it's okay. "Johnny might go to the movies" means he hasn't made up his mind.

historic/historical -- Historic means something that's famous or important. Historical just means something that happened in the past.


What's irritating is to carelessly misspeak or miswrite something even though you really know the right way to say or write it. Long ago, an English teacher (another true story) asked a question of one of my classmates, and got what she considered to be a not-specific-enough response. She looked at the offending student and said, too quickly, "I want a pacific answer." The guy replied, "Hawaii."

With regard to written mistakes, a magazine editor once told me she doesn't mind seeing an extra apostrophe in "its" or an apostrophe missing from "it's" in a manuscript--she just assumes the writer happened to type it wrong. But if she sees that same error two or three times in the same manuscript, that's a different matter. Suddenly the writer isn't careless--he's dumb. And the manuscript gets rejected.



Okay. Had enough of this? Me too. My interest may have been momentarily peaked, but I would literally be loathe to hone in on it everyday.

Irregardless, what are some of your pet peeves, about misuse of the written/spoken word? Does it make you feel badly? Continually nauseous?

Or could you care less?





28 September 2018

Social Issues in Crime Fiction, and a Farewell


I honestly believe—that the crime novel is where the social novel went. If you want to write about the underbelly of America, if you want to write about the second America that nobody wants to look at, you turn to the crime novel. That's the place to go. --Dennis Lehane, from an interview at Powells.com

 I agree with Mr Lehane and it is one of the reasons I chose crime fiction as the method to tell my stories. That and realizing that I wasn't finding stories about my family or the people I knew in "literary" fiction, except on rare occasions. I don't think you can write about crime without staking your position on many social issues. Even if you don't comment on them directly, you are affirming the status quo in one way or another--stating that "all is well" or "what ya gonna do, that's the way things are." Even the definition of crime is a social issue statement. At Bouchercon, I attended the criminals in fiction panel, and during the Q&A I asked, "How do you define a criminal?"

I asked the question because first of all, actual questions are rare at any writer panel. Most of the time they are manifestos or statements twisted into the form of a question, such as "the unpublished novel about my pet squirrel's ghost solving crimes would be bigger than The DaVinci Code, don't you agree?" So I wanted to give the writers something to chew on, but unfortunately I didn't get any good answers.

One writer used the legal definition, which means anyone never charged with a crime--either because they eluded police or their status and privilege acted as a Get Out of Jail Free card--isn't a "criminal." Which makes no sense at all. Jack the Ripper isn't a criminal, he was never caught. Is someone who is pardoned a criminal? Are you a criminal for life if you've done your time, but an upstanding citizen if you've been acquitted because your victims signed NDAs or disappeared? Our heroic protagonists often break dozens of laws, but they're okay. The most popular genre today, superheroes, act as vigilantes, above the law either by government sanction or their own moral code, and we cheer them on. They are criminals.



As for Get Out of Jail Free cards, police unions give out paper or gold cards to their members to give to friends and family for preferential treatment, and badges to put on windshields to avoid traffic stops, so I guess anyone who's good friends with an American police officer is unlikely to be a criminal by the legal definition, "just don't kill anybody," one recipient was told. We permit this and think it won't lead to abuse. I'm sure the strict moral codes of all involved come into play.

People from the "underbelly of society" as Lehane calls it don't get these too often, they are the hidden tax base that American municipalities leech for revenue, keeping them in a cycle of probation to give jobs to our bloated drug-war-fueled criminal injustice system, but whenever I read about corruption it's about a few "bad apples" like the guys in Don Winslow's The Force. We always forget the other half of that adage: they spoil the whole bunch. I know that's sacrilege these days, saying that our warrior caste of Heroes are complicit in a corrupt system and anyone who says "I hate bad cops! They make my job harder!" but can't produce a list of cops they got jailed for corruption is helping rot the barrel, but yes, that's what I'm saying. And when we write stories about police that ignore that unarmed black men are shot in their homes and turned into criminals, that prosecutors withhold evidence to make their cases, that judges take kickbacks to send kids to private prisons, we are the bad apples, too. Oh, that's unpleasant? That can't be entertainment? The fantasy section is over there.

Am I without sin? Hardly. I've been that cowardly guy who chuckled nervously when a man with power over me said something terrible about women and confessed to mistreating them. It's the same thing. We perpetuate it. It's our problem, not women's. I've tried to do better. I've helped train police to constrain violent people without having to shoot them, tase them, or choke them to death for selling cigarettes. I've tried to write that whether you wear blue uniforms or prison sweatpants, that you are human and have your reasons for what you do, whether those reasons are for the greater good or for personal gain, and make it entertaining in the process. They are not mutually exclusive. If you think they are, take it up with Lehane, Hammett, Hughes, Himes, Chandler, Paretsky, Mosley, and Block--who gave us openly corrupt cops in both Scudder and his cozy Burglar series.

The young bloods in crime fiction are not shoving "social issues" down your throat. It has been the crux since Hammett "took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley," as Chandler said. Even cozies today take on social issues. It is in crime fiction's DNA. Maybe we don't quote scripture, maybe we prefer Lil Wayne. He's sold 100 million albums, do you know who he is? Big as George Harrison (RIP, my favorite of the fab four). If you think "kids today" are stupid when they are the most active young generation in politics since the late '60s because you saw some edited crap on the Jay Leno show, my suggestion is to get out more. Take your head out of the Venetian vase and put it on the streets.

Thanks for listening to this rant. It will be my last for SleuthSayers. Thank you to Robert and Leigh for letting me speak here, and for all of you for reading and commenting. Fare well.

27 September 2018

Nostalgia Bites


by Eve Fisher

BalthazarNovel.jpgAs a bookaholic from my early childhood, I can assure you that I have read my way through shelves, yards, perhaps miles of books.  (That is not a complaint.)  And I have no problem with that.  I've also gorged on music, movies, television shows, and every other entertainment that is made available to me.  Some of this is because I'm greedy, and some of this is because reading is so much easier than writing:
"Will you be writing a novel?" "If denied every other form of physical gratification." - Pursewarden, in Balthazar by Lawrence Durrell
Good old Lineaments of Desire.  Seriously, if you've never read The Alexandria Quartet, check it out.  It rivals Roshomon as far as technique, complications, and amazing reveals.  And it definitely has atmosphere.  I'm not sure that Durrell's Alexandria still exists, but I'd love to see if it does.

BTW, Alexandria, Egypt is also the hometown of the poet C. P. Cavafy.  He's best known for Ithaka, and Waiting for the Barbarians.  (The latter has spawned eponymous novels, songs, paintings, an opera, and an upcoming movie.  Seriously good.  And timely.)  My personal favorite Cavafy poem is The God Abandons Antony:
When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who proved worthy of this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.
Anyway, along the line I have noticed that my tastes have changed.  Thank God.  For one thing, when I get totally bored by a novel, or it's really, really bad, instead of plowing through I quit reading it. (With non-fiction, I apply my grad school skills and gut the boring ones because knowledge / information doesn't always come in a nice candy coating.)  Even when I was reading novels for the Edgars, there were two books that I just gave up on.  One I called "Fifty Shades of Green" because all the sex took place out in the wilderness.  (Presumably a statement of some kind, but I started laughing about page 15 - for all the wrong reasons - and didn't stop until I tossed it onto the pile and reached for the next book.)  And another book that was absolute torture porn.  The first 10 pages gave me nightmares, so I stopped.

Plan 9 Alternative poster.jpgThis is not to say that there's no place for trash.  I still think that an evening of Plan 9 From Outer Space can be very fulfilling, as well as almost any Joan Crawford movie.  And if you've got Bette Davis fighting with Mary Astor or Miriam Hopkins, I'm front row seating.

And there are some things that are like a train wreck.  You just can't take your eyes off of them:  Ancient Aliens.  Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision (did you know that Venus is actually a comet?  Ha!).  Pink Flamingos.  Richard Wallace's Jack the Ripper, Light Hearted Friend (did you know that Lewis Carroll was actually Jack the Ripper?  Ha!)

And I would not have survived grad school without a stack of really cheesy romance novels for mental popcorn.

A couple of summers back I went through a fit of nostalgia and re-read a bunch of books from my tween/teen years.  Some held up.  Marjorie Morningstar is pretty damn good; so are The Once and Future King (which I still know almost by heart), Ship of FoolsThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold, etc.  

But a lot didn't hold up, mostly the books I'd read for the sex, like Frank Yerby novels, because, in the 60s, it was him, Harold Robbins, or Ian Fleming for an educational experience.  (Harlequin romances barely went beyond a kiss in those days.)  Besides, my mother read Yerby, my father read Fleming, and I simply snuck off with their copies when they weren't looking.  (Even as a teenager I couldn't stand Harold Robbins.) 

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress coverBTW, teenaged Eve was so glad to find Robert Heinlein.  Tunnel in the SkyHave Spacesuit, Will TravelStranger in a Strange LandThe Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and many more.  It was my first exposure to strong, intelligent women, and got me ready for Emma Peel.

My two favorite Heinlein quotes are both from The Moon is a  Harsh Mistress:
TANSTAAFL  and  "Is no rape on Luna.  Men won't permit." 

And not, I might add, by curtailing women's freedom to dress, work, walk, jog, speak, behave, and live any way she damn well pleased.

Still, be careful giving in to nostalgia:  sometimes it bites.

Back when Netflix first came out I watched a bunch of 1960s movies that I loved when I first saw them, and while there were a lot of great, great, great movies made back then, there were also some that made my jaw drop.  I liked this crap?

Billy Jack:  I'm embarrassed to say how much I enjoyed it back in 1971, even though even then I knew that the dialog was really bad.  And that they'd all have ended up shot to death in real life.  I mean, this is after Kent State, folks.  Idealism was long gone.

And Blow Up turned out to be a big wad of nothing.  I still think it's main reason for success was that it was the first time that a major actress - Vanessa Redgrave - showed her bare breasts on screen.  But then, I've found I can't stand any of Antonioni's films.  If I'm going to do slow-burning moody atmospherics, give me Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock any day, or Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris or Andrei Rublev.  

Five easy pieces.jpgFive Easy Pieces.  Jack Nicholson in youthful full form.  I loved the scene with him playing the piano on the back of a pick-up truck, and the restaurant, searching for toast, both then and now.  But you know something?  The rest of the movie sucked swamp water.  The women were all basically sexual fungibles, with no intelligence or purpose other than to cling to a man like a limpet.  And Nicholson's character was about as much fun as a razor blade.  In fact, Bobby Dupea was the exact [male] embodiment of the description Jack Nicholson's character gives of Michelle Pfeiffer's character in Wolf twenty-four years later:
"You know, I think I understand what you're like now. You're very beautiful and you think men are only interested in you because you're beautiful, but you want them to be interested in you because you're you. The problem is, aside from all that beauty, you're not very interesting. You're rude, you're hostile, you're sullen, you're withdrawn. I know you want someone to look past all that at the real person underneath but the only reason anyone would bother to look past all that is because you're beautiful. Ironic, isn't it? In an odd way you're your own problem."
(There's a lot of it about.)

But back to books.  I reread a couple of Yerby novels, and, while I still can't help but like The Devil's Laughter (we all have our guilty pleasures), I nominate An Odor of Sanctity as one of the Top Ten Worst Books of all time.  Set in the time of the Crusader Kingdoms of Outremer, every single scrap of dialog is thees and thous, until certes, when I didst reach XXIV, I didst no longer giveth the rear end of a yon black rat.  Not only that, but the hero, the girlishly fair but apparently extremely well-endowed Alaric, like James Bond, suffers from the Dick of Death:  he can't keep it in his pants, any woman he marries dies, and half the women he has sex with die as well.  And plot?  What plot?  From Goodreads, Jackson Burnett writes:
"At one point, Alaric gets on his horse to ride to Cordoba to rescue his one-of-many true loves. Along the way, his horse stops, refuses to go forward, and turns to take Alaric off on a side story to fix an unresolved plot problem. When the hero's horse makes the calls on a novel's narrative arc, you know you are in trouble."
But I will give it credit:  it's still [marginally] better than:
  • The Playboy Sheikh's Virgin Stable-Girl - no, I haven't read it, but, thanks to Smart Bitches/Trashy Books, I don't have to, and you don't either - what a hilarious review!  
  • The Lair of the White Worm - author, Bram Stoker.  BTW, Ken Russell made a movie of it in 1988 starring Hugh Grant.  I wonder if he's managed to buy up all the prints of it yet? 
  • The entire Left Behind series. 
  • Anything by Ayn Rand.