29 November 2018

Not Just Another Holiday Post

by Brian Thornton

November is nearly always a challenging month for me. It begins with the run-up to Veterans' Day (about which I have rather strong feelings, and about which I wrote in a blog post earlier this month), then the run-up to Thanksgiving Day, only to terminate headlong in to the beginning of the sprint towards Christmas.

And sandwiched in there in the midst of all of this excitement, you have the singular experience of Parent Conferences.

Regular readers (both of them) of my rotation in this group blog will recall that I teach middle school: specifically to eighth graders; more specifically ancient world history (and as I tell my students all the time, by "ancient world history," I most assuredly do not mean "the 1990s".).

I've blogged from time to time about the experiences to which my day gig has exposed me, not least here, when I wrote about chaperoning an end-of-school-year dance a year-and-a-half ago, for example. I have to admit: I write because I have to (if you're a fellow sufferer of the syndrome, you know what I'm talking about). I teach because I like to.

I enjoy 13-14 year-olds (there, I said it.). Otherwise why would I even do this job? And I love history and the teaching of same.

All that said, the run-up to Parent Conferences is stressful. There's lots to do, for staff and for students. This is in no small part because in my district we do student-led conferences. Ideally teachers mostly listen (alongside parents) while kids lay out their education goals in our classes, track their progress, and formulate plans to address obstacles which might keep them from achieving their goals.

I admit to a fair amount of initial skepticism about this format. After all modern education is littered with discarded fads which tried (and failed) to masquerade as trends.

But, while it's not a perfect process, it does a lot of good for kids. They experience immediate accountability (positive and negative), with their parents and teacher right there to either lend a hand, raise a cheer, or talk about what comes next.

I came early in my career to the realization that all too often, the parents most in need of attending one of these events are those teachers are least likely to encounter. Meanwhile, honors kids are often there in spades, flanked by one or both of their parents.

But a funny thing has begun to happen over the past several years: the turnout has trended sharply upward. I used to be able to count on at least a couple of lengthy breaks during conferences (we go from 1 PM to 4 PM, break for dinner, then reconvene from 5 PM to 8 PM). Not anymore, not for the past several years.

I am busy, start to finish. And anyone who has spent extended periods actively listening, knows how utterly exhausting it can be.

The upshot? It's also completely energizing. I drive home at the end of the night both wiped out and wired.

It was during just one such drive home at the end of my most recent conference experience that I had an epiphany. It was last Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, and it occurred to me that, for me, and those like me, at least, it's not Thanksgiving itself which serves as the table setter for the holiday season, for that time when we gather to spend a month or so celebrating with friends and family all of the blessings we receive over the course of the year.

It's Parent Conferences.

Here's why: we currently live in turbulent times. People are pessimistic (and usually with good reason) about the viability of so many of the institutions on which civil society rests: faith, good government, public and private institutions, capitalism, and so on.

Parent Conferences invariably renew my faith in our greatest resource: our children.

No less a sage than the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates once famously said of the young:

"Kids today love luxury. They have terrible manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love to gab instead of getting off their butts and moving around."

The guy had a point, and you can hardly take the "human" out of "human nature."

But kids are more than cliches. Every year, day in, day out, I am amazed, amused, challenged and invigorated by them. They invariably teach me as much as (if not more than) I teach them.

What better way to start a season of prolonged celebration of the fraternity/sorority of humankind than to be reminded of this?

And what seals the deal is the families they bring along with them. Not just parents, but siblings, cousins, grandparents. It does the heart such good to experience one's neighbors in a setting such as this one.

So for those you out there reading this whose confidence in our species is flagging, who need a visible testament to the good-heartedness of human beings, I say to you: go volunteer at your local school.

All the affirmation of the good things coming down the pike is right there, ready and waiting, just to teach you.

Happy Happy, and see you all in two weeks!

28 November 2018

Hitler's Bomb

David Edgerley Gates


Call it the Uncertainty Principle.

The theory was sound, the practical applications needed work. Leo Szilard, the Hungarian-born physicist, wrote a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt and got Alfred Einstein to sign it. It was August, 1939, and Germany invaded Poland in September. Szilard's letter made three main points. A nuclear chain reaction, using a critical mass of uranium, would release enormous energies. (It hadn't happened yet, but Enrico Fermi succeeded in 1942.) Second, the principles of nuclear fission could be used to make a bomb. And last, the Germans were already working on it.

The three most famous names in world physics in 1939 were Einstein himself, who was teaching at Princeton, Niels Bohr, in Copenhagen, and Werner Heisenberg, developer of quantum mechanics, at the Kaiser Wilhelm in Berlin. They knew each other's work well, they were part of the same community of ideas, and Bohr in fact knew the other two men personally. The war fractured their dynamic.

You have to understand something else, which is completely unscientific and counter-productive, namely that race hatred, anti-Semitism, was fundamental to Nazi beliefs. The movement known as Deutsche Physik argued against theoretical physics, particularly quantum mechanics and relativity. A guy like Heisenberg was tainted - he was a 'White Jew,' meaning an Aryan with Jewish sympathies - and as ridiculous as this seems, it crippled German science and the German war effort. Small favors, it turns out.

In the event, it wasn't until 1942 that Heisenberg got the ear of Albert Speer, the Minister of Armaments, and made his case for the Uranverein, the atom project. Heisenberg told Speer an atom bomb couldn't be built for some years yet, and even then with an enormous diversion of resources: money, materials, and manpower. It was more practical to focus on nuclear power generation, to think in terms of what industry required. Heisenberg's argument was persuasive. Speer put weapons research on hold, but he didn't stop funding nuclear power research, so it was still considered vital to the war machine. Hold that thought.

We have to roll the clock back to September, 1941. Heisenberg went to Copenhagen, and talked to Niels Bohr. There are conflicting accounts. Heisenberg seems to have been feeling Bohr out. The question is, what result was Heisenberg looking for? The least flattering interpretation is that Heisenberg was trying to recruit Bohr to work for the Nazis. More charitably, Heisenberg might have been voicing his own conflicted views, that an atom bomb was possible, but didn't a scientist have a moral obligation not to build it?

Bohr managed to be willfully obtuse, and said after the war he never understood why Heisenberg had come to see him in the first place. Bohr escaped occupied Denmark a couple of years later, to Sweden, and then to Britain, courtesy of SIS. He went to the U.S., and visited Los Alamos several times. He knew an atom bomb was perfectly feasible. "They didn't need my help," he remarked.

So what else do we know about this? At the end of the war, the Alsos Mission - organized to monitor the German atom project - reached Haigerloch, and found both Heisenberg and the experimental reactor his team had built. Heisenberg and nine of his colleagues were interned in Britain, at an SIS safe house wired for sound. The transcripts indicate the Germans never tried to build a bomb, only an atomic pile, for energy. Heisenberg says it would have been ludicrous for him to suggest assigning a hundred thousand men to a job with no guarantee of success. In other words, it wasn't a sure thing.

There's some wiggle room, here. Thomas Powers, in his book Heisenberg's War, doesn't doubt Heisenberg knew how to build an atom bomb, or knew which direction to take. Trial and error might have gotten him there, they way it did Oppenheimer's team in Los Alamos. Certainly a lot of the motivation for the Manhattan Project was the suspicion that Germany was mounting a similar effort. Powers argues that Heisenberg dragged his feet. He told Albert Speer it wasn't practical. He said it would take too long, that it would eat up needed war resources. He didn't come right out and say it wasn't possible, he didn't want to be shut down completely. He kept his hand in. He knew at each and every moment exactly how far they'd gotten.

None of the principals ever said so afterwards, not that we know of, but the evidence suggests Heisenberg committed treason. He very possibly lost the war for Germany. He didn't build an atom bomb for one simple reason. He didn't want Hitler to have it. 


27 November 2018

Senseless Writing

by Michael Bracken

How we sense the world around us impacts our writing in ways we may not realize.

Apparently, the couch is blue.
Because I don’t see the world the way other people do, I tend to “white room” my scenes, describing what my characters say and do without describing them or their environment. This is because I don’t “see” the world around me. For example, I can probably draw a diagram of where everything in my living room is placed, but I cannot tell you the color of my couch, the color of the end tables abutting it, or the color of the chair in which I often sit.

This can be a problem. I once spent hours looking for a shirt because it was not in the place where I always put it. I repeatedly looked every place I thought I might have put it, only to learn that my wife put the shirt away, and, because she doesn’t put things away like I do, I had looked at it several times and had not seen it.

Or worse: I have no clue what my toothbrush looks like, but I know exactly where it is. This caused problems when I shared a bathroom with other family members because I would reach for my toothbrush each morning and use whichever one was in my toothbrush’s space. When other family members discovered I was using their toothbrushes, they finally understood why it was important to keep theirs out of my toothbrush’s space.

Being surrounded by people who never put things in the same place twice is an ongoing source of frustration, a frustration I struggle to control, and my writing space is essentially off-limits to everyone else for this reason.

What confounds people who know my particular foibles is that I write fiction, a creative act that appears on the surface to be the messy, creative antithesis of environmental blindness and rigid everything-in-its-place organization.

And yet, it isn’t.

A well-developed plot is nothing more than putting everything in its place, and a white-roomed scene is still filled with action and dialog.

I can write action and dialog because I hear how people speak and I see how they move. So, I use my strengths to mask my weaknesses.

Then, when I write scenes that require more than action and dialog I either cycle back—that is, I write the scene as action and dialog and then immediately go back into it and flesh out the details—or, I do what I did a few days ago: I stop completely and spend an inordinate amount of time researching some niggling detail that I have to get right for the scene to work. (For that project I was writing approximately one paragraph for each hour of research.)

Many books and articles about writing insist that all five senses must be engaged.

Those of us who do not naturally engage all five senses can only take solace in the fact that Tommy did quite well without them all. After all, “That deaf, dumb, and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball.”



My dark crime story “Dollface” was posted at Story and Grit on November 19.

26 November 2018

Neither Fish Nor Foul Play

by Steve Liskow

15 years ago, conventional wisdom stated that the way to pique an agent's interest was to publish short stories. I love short stories, but writing them makes calculus look easy. I never took calculus.

Nobody even mentioned novellas, novelettes or any of the other hybrid mutants. Nobody even agrees on word counts for any of them. Rex Stout used to publish three novellas and a short story together as a hardcover book, most of them starring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, but that's about the only consistent example I can name. Granted, the average mystery was much shorter than it is today, and Stout died in 1975. His novellas were probably between 15 and 20 thousand words, and you'll see where I came up with that estimate in a minute. Now, authors occasionally publish an eBook novella between longer works to keep readers aware of them.

 I wrote several unpublished short stories featuring my Detroit PI, rock & roll wannabe Woody Guthrie, although that wasn't even his name yet. One I liked a lot, called "Stranglehold," came in at nearly 7000 words, which was a problem. During 2005, I sent it out to the only five markets I could find that would accept a story of that length, and none of them did.

A writer friend told me he had trouble keeping the large cast of characters straight because they all showed up early in the story. I tried cutting some of them--and the story's overall length--and created an incoherent mess. I didn't see enough potential subplots to make the story into a novel, so it languished for four years.

Then someone told me about the Black Orchid Novella Award, sponsored by the Wolfe Pack (The Rex Stout Appreciation Society, named after his detective, Nero Wolfe) and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. The contest wanted stories between 15K and 20K words (see above) and following the general form of Stout's mysteries. Well, I'd read most of Stout's work because he was one of my mystery-reading mother's favorites. Archie's tone was a big influence on my own writing, maybe because we're both from the Midwest.

Could I add words to "Stranglehold" and turn it into a novella? If I expanded the opening, that large cast would appear more gradually and be easier to absorb. Imagine my surprise when I added 9000 words--and only two minor transition scenes--to the story in four days. I had a novella on my hands without even knowing it. I sent it off to the contest, and it won. It appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in summer 2010.

OK, I thought. When you have more detail than you can pack into a short story, think novella. I've never done that again.

Five years later, I struggled with another Woody Guthrie novel. By now I knew his name because he'd appeared in two novels, and so had several of his supporting cast. This time, I had the opposite problem from "Stranglehold." I had a solid main plot and an anemic subplot I couldn't expand without excessive and obvious padding.

My wife suggested that maybe it would work as another novella, and she was right. "Look What They've Done to my Song, Mom" won the award in 2015 and appeared in Alfred the following summer.

Now, I think I know how to write a novella. Step one is don't plan to do it. If you find yourself trapped with no other way out, focus on one main plot and one subplot. You might have a second subplot if it resolves easily. We're talking 60 to 80 pages, so we don't have a lot of introspection, static lyrical description, or technical wherewithall. If two sets of somewhat similar characters work through parallel or related plots, they're easy to bring together at the end. In both novellas I've written so far, each plot involved members of a band and their music.

Both stories have about ten characters, too. The band was a quintet in the first one, and four of the members were suspects in the killing of the fifth (Music fans would call this the "diminished fifth"). In the second story, the remaining members all have something at stake and two of them are suspects again. If you're a musician, you might think long and hard before joining this band.

I'm kicking around ideas for another novella. It doesn't involve Woody or the band or music, but I have about ten characters again. And one subplot.

If it works out, maybe I'll show it to you.

If it doesn't, maybe I really have a bloated short story on my hands...or another anorexic novel.

TIME FOR THE BSP: My sixth Zach Barnes novel, Back Door Man, a light-hearted romp into a cold case involving mass murder, is now available, just in time for your Christmas shopping.


If I'd known it would be ready for the holidays, maybe I would have called it "Violent Night."

25 November 2018

Hey, I'm Writing Here

by R.T. Lawton


So, here I am writing at my computer on a Friday morning somewhere around 10:45, minding my own business, preparing my next blog article in advance so as to stay ahead of the game. For some reason, I glance out the study window. Across the street, but not parked at the curb, sets a black Jeep Cherokee, pointing in the wrong direction for that side of our cul de sac. The driver is leaning forward in his seat like he's reading the dashboard or looking at something on the floor. He stays in that position for a while, but his head moves occasionally, so I'm pretty sure it isn't a problem where I'll have to out and give him CPR. I go back to writing.

About five minutes later, I glance out the study window again to check on the vehicle. It hasn't moved, but the driver is now standing on the rear bumper. On the roof of his Jeep, he has positioned an orange Home Depot bucket, a reddish one-gallon plastic jug and a length of rubber hose. One end of the hose is in the bucket and the other end disappears over the driver's side of the vehicle. Obviously, the poor guy has run out of gas.

Since my vision has declined to the point where the state no longer allows me to drive at night, I call my wife into the study and ask her if it's anyone we know. She replies in the negative, watches for a few seconds and then goes upstairs and starts taking pictures. Unfortunately, her cell phone camera focuses on the screen mesh in the storm window. She then goes out the back of our house and shoots off a few more from the corner of our garage. I need to get that woman one of them long range lenses.

I pick up the binoculars to see what the guy is doing now. He keeps pulling up on a cloth to cover his lower face. I tell you, something ain't right here.

Two neighbor women who frequently walk together for exercise, pass by the guy and barely notice him and his actions.

Well, you can take the cop out of the street, but you can't necessarily take the street out of the cop. I abandon my writing, put on my hat, lace up my tennie-runners and exit the rear of my house to walk around to the street. Wished I'd a had a baseball bat to carry along, but I'd given both bats to my grandsons years ago when they got interested in baseball. Could have taken my 9mm, but I'm not law enforcement anymore. Civilians get in trouble for shooting other people, even shooting criminals if it's a non life threatening situation. This appears to be a misdemeanor, which is a non capital crime. Oh sure, we have the Make-My-Day-Law, but the guy isn't in my house, so no free shots here. I'm better off, at this point, not carrying a firearm. Still, the bat would have been a good idea because the guy is in his twenties, slender, about 5'10" and healthy. Me, I've managed to put more than seven decades behind me, but while my mind still thinks it's got it, my body is not so sure. It's like having the brains of a fighting rooster with the body of a..... Never mind, form your own picture.

By now, the guy is sitting on the curb beside my neighbor's red Jeep. The guy's head is almost inside the red Jeep's rear wheel well. His head comes out when he hears my approach.

I lead off.

"Does Frede know you're siphoning gas out of his Jeep?"

The guy remains unruffled and calm.

"Yep."

Well, hell, that slowed me down. I expected a shouting confrontation or to have the guy make a dash for freedom. Nothing.

Next question.

"How do you know Fred?"

"From school."

Now he's got me because Fred is a college professor and I've had at least one other weird run-in with some of Fred's strange associates. Something about an early morning encounter a few years ago when a young woman crawled underneath this same red Jeep and staying there while her male companion tried to get her out. And, no, she wasn't a transmission mechanic. People sure are entertaining.

One way to find out what's going on this time. I head up the sidewalk to Fred's house. At this point, the guy immediately jumps up, runs to his car and drives away. Me being armed with only pen and paper, I jot down his license plate number and go ring Fred's doorbell. Fred comes out in his stockinged feet.

The gas thief has punctured the gas refill hose above the fuel tank with a knife, stuck one end of the hose into the line and down into the gas tank. By sucking on the other end of the hose, he got the fuel moving and then stuck that end in the bucket. The gas was still siphoning out of the red Jeep when Fred got down on his hands and knees to look into the wheel well.

Amazingly enough, a uniform cop shows up to take statements and make a report. I transfer the photos my wife took over to the cop's cell phone. Unfortunately, there are no photos of the thief's face, but then he kept the lower half covered anyway. Turns out the license plate comes back to a green Jeep Cherokee, not a black one. Probably a stolen plate.

All this happened in broad daylight in a nice residential area. Pretty bold for a thief.

I tell my wife we may need to start up a mini-neighborhood watch, just for our cul de sac. She agrees, but then she probably wants to be in charge of the photography department.

I also tell my two grandsons that I want my bats back. I'm not going out there un-weaponed again. Hell, I'm over seventy and have more writing to do.

Damn distractions.

                                                           *     *      *      *

On a side note, the Best American Mystery Stories 2018 put my name in their list of Other Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2017 for "Black Friday" AHMM Nov/Dec 2017. According to John Floyd's record keeping, that's my third time on their list. Now, if I could only edge over into the Top Twenty category.

24 November 2018

ACK Not Again! Five Crime Series Plots that Deserve to Die

by Melodie Campbell  (Bad Girl)

You have to admire the Brits.  If they have a successful crime series, they don't automatically grow it
beyond one season (Midsomer, excepted.)  But the trouble with most crime series filmed, and also successful crime series in print, is they go beyond their best before date.  And by this I mean, they start to run out of plots - healthy original plots - and search madly for something, anything they haven't done before, including things that have been done to death <sic>.  The following tropes drive me crazy.

1.  The protagonist sleuth is the murder suspect.
By far, this one has me fired up to throw things.  Inevitably, every long-running series has one episode where the Detective Inspector, the PI or the well-respected amateur sleuth, becomes the prime suspect for a murder well into the series.  Into jail they go.  They've done it with Father Brown.  They've done it with Don Matteo.  Hinterland.  You name it.  Whenever I see this happening, I grit my teeth.  Why?

That plot is boring, man.  Obviously, they didn't do it.  If they did, then it is 'series over'.  And it can't be series over, because there are several episodes left, or a new season to download, and I can see that right on the screen.  So all we're doing is tediously waiting for the sidekicks to get proof that our beloved protagonist didn't do it.

2.  The protagonist and/or sidekick is held hostage.
This is the second plot trope that has me screaming Italian curse words at the screen.  This month, it was Don Matteo and Rosewood.  You can name others.  And again, this is boring. If they are all killed and don't get out, end of show.  But there are more episodes, so they obviously get away.  If we know the ending at the beginning, what's the pleasure in watching?

3.  The police officer protagonist is hated by his immediate superior.
One of the reasons I like Endeavor is because Morse's boss Thursday is such a good guy to young Morse.  In so many shows, including the original Morse, the detective superintendent or chief constable behaves like an out-of-control teen, lambasting our hero with manic fury.  He hates the protagonist, for no good reason we can see.  Or is it that he is so insecure, he can't stand someone who makes him and his department look good?  How demeaning.  By all that's holy, make this stop. 

4.  Young female sargeant has affair with older boss.
Okay, we all learned in the 80s and 90s: you don't have an affair with your boss.  It's stupid. It's career-killing.  It's also unethical, if he's married or you're married.  And yet, time after time we see this on the screen.  STILL.  IN 2018.

I cringe, because it perpetuates the ancient stereotype that young female police officers are not serious about their jobs.  They are slaves to their emotions.  They are willing to risk all for romance.  Writers, DON'T take me back to the seventies.  Just don't.

5.  The male Detective Inspector invites prime female suspect/witness to a romantic dinner.
Similar to the 'affair with the boss' above, this scenario gives high-ranking police officers I've talked to apoplexy.  No police officer is that idiotic.

Look, we all understand that tension is ramped up if there is personal involvement.  But come on, writers!  Don't make our extremely professional boys (and girls) in blue look adolescent.  It's insulting.

Just do the right thing.  Tell us a damn good story. And wrap things up before you sink to these tropes.

Melodie Campbell writes seriously wild comedy. You can find her latest crime books (The Bootlegger's Goddaughter and The B-Team) at all the usual suspects.  See this latest ad in Mystery Scene Magazine.   www.melodiecampbell.com




23 November 2018

Two Gentlemen of London

by Stephen Ross

As I've mentioned before, my favorite art gallery in the world is the National Portrait Gallery in London. I like it because it's full of faces. Sure, I love strolling around any art gallery, and will take an interest in any Marcel Duchamp bicycle wheel, Goya lithograph, Turner seascape, or Hockney swimming pool, but it is to the gallery of faces I've returned most often. Faces are "characters," and I'm in the business of creating characters; albeit on paper, and in words, as I can't draw to save myself.

The double portrait below (a diptych painted on vellum) caught my eye the first time I visited the NPG. It's a Tudor-era work; the costuming and the date of 1554 (it's inscribed on it) are the big giveaway. But the most immediate thing about the work is its size; it's only 100 mm tall (4 inches). It's one of the smallest oil paintings in the gallery (depending on your monitor/phone screen configuration, you may even be viewing it larger than it really is).


It's an odd painting; very simple, very small, and somewhat engaging. This is not a double portrait of two kings, two dukes, or even two wealthy merchants; the plainness of their attire, and the minimalism of the work speaks to that. But there is a discernible sense of dignity about these two gentlemen.

The man to the left holds an artist's palette, the man to the right, a lute. This says:

This is how we wish to be known: Art and Music. 

Above each of the men, finely inscribed, are lines of text. Above the artist are two lines of Latin. Above the musician are two lines of English. Unless you are fluent in Latin, you immediately head to the English:

"Strangwish, thus strangely depicted is One prisoner, for thother, hath done this/ Gerlin, hath garnisht, for his delight This woorck whiche you se, before youre sight."
The key takeaways in this humorous, punning slice of ye olde English are the words "prisoner" and "garnisht." The later is Tudor-era slang for "giving something to your prison warden to obtain the conveniences of life." So, to paraphrase the inscription: The man with the lute is Strangwish (Henry Strangways). He is a prisoner, and this "which you see before you" was done to buy a little comfort for his life.

The Latin inscription is in a different mood.

"Such was the face of Gerlach Flicke when he was a painter in the City of London. This he himself painted from a looking-glass for his dear friends. That they might have something by which to remember him after his death."
Somber, huh?

The man with the artist's palette is Gerlach Flicke, a German portrait painter known for his work in the Tudor court at London. It's a self portrait, and to paraphrase his inscription: He thought he was going to die.

Flicke and Strangways were prisoners in the Tower of London. Friends and companions, or simply comrades in captivity? We will probably never know. Strangways was a "gentleman" pirate (it was a narrow channel between pirate and privateer). History never recorded why Flicke was jailed (maybe the Queen (Mary (Bloody)) didn't like something he said on Twitter?). And neither did die. Not in the Tower, anyway. Flicke in 1558, Strangways in 1562.

Could Strangways play the lute? History didn't record that either, but as a pirate, he probably enjoyed a bit of wine, women, and song. But history did record that he wanted to steal an island from Philip II of Spain; yes, an island. I like this man. Flicke is noted, but never became notable as an artist. He is, sadly, more of a footnote. This painting is his most famous piece. It's good, but really, it's well known more because it's recognized as the first ever self portrait painted in oils in England.

And knowing the conditions it was painted in explains its starkness. I've never visited the Tower of London, and I doubt I ever will. I know way too much about the abject horrors that took place within its walls, and there are frankly better things to visit when in London.

This is how we wish to be remembered: This is all we have left. 


I am reminded of Henry Purcell's When I am laid in earth, and its haunting lyric:
"Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate."



http://www.stephenross.live/
https://www.facebook.com/stephen.ross.writer.etc/



22 November 2018

The Macbeth Murder Mystery

by Eve Fisher

UPDATE:  It has been borne in upon me that my copying of The Macbeth Murder Mystery from another site may infringe upon copyright.  So I have deleted it here, but here is the original New  Yorker link:  New Yorker 1
and New Yorker Folio

And it can also be read in its entirety Here.

I have had a cold I can't shake and spent the weekend at the pen, so, for your Thanksgiving entertainment, enjoy a trip down memory lane - and murder - with James Thurber!
Thurber First Wife

Thurber Big Animal
https://jimsworldandwelcometoit.com/2012/12/07/thurbers-cartoons/

https://jimsworldandwelcometoit.com/2012/12/07/thurbers-cartoons/#jp-carousel-2168
Thurber, James 1943 The Thurber Carnival Harper and Brothers, NY pp. 60-63
Submitted by Caryl for our enjoyment!!!!
http://userhome.brook...
Image result for JAmes Thurber cartoons
https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/60-minutes-favorite-new-yorker-cartoons/42/

21 November 2018

Meeting Some Old Friends

by Robert Lopresti

I had an odd and  interesting experience today.

I am working on the seventeenth story in my series about mystery writer Leopold Longshanks.  This one will include several characters who have been mentioned before and I realized I needed a scorecard, so to speak. So I skimmed through all the previous stories to see what I have already mentioned about any characters who have, or are likely to, appear more than once.

And am I glad I did.  It turns out that the woman I have been referring to in my draft as Meghan McDonough is really Megan McKenzie.  Oops.

More annoying is the fact that another character I wanted to bring back is Fiona Makem.  It is an absolute grudge of mine about authors who confuse their readers by giving characters similar names.  If you have five people in your story why name them Pete, Pat, Paul, Polly, and Thusnelda?  There are so  many initial letters to choose from!

But in my case Makem and McKenzie had appeared in separate stories so I hadn't noticed the similarity before.  So in my current tale I got them on a first name basis immediately.

Another reason to make careful notes is that Fiona is attempting to write a mystery novel set in each county in Ireland.  I need to remember that she has already covered Death in Donegal, Whacked in Wicklow, and (my favorite) Plugged in Cork.  God only knows how she is going to handle Fermanagh and Laios.

My list of characters also set my fevered brain to work. What if straight-laced Officer Dereske met eccentric philanthropist Dixie Traynor?  That might provide some fun.

I always make character lists before starting a novel (for one reason, to avoid multiple use of the same initial, of course).  But this is the first time I have had to do it with a series of stories.

And I guess that's a good thing.  I like a series with a large supporting cast.  Think of Nero Wolfe or Amelia Peabody.

Now I had better get back to story #17.  Our hero is just about to reveal the solution...

20 November 2018

Putting the Happy in Happy Thanksgiving

by Barb Goffman

It's two days until Thanksgiving, and I bet some of you are stressed. Maybe it's because you're cooking and ... it's the first time you're hosting, and you want it to be perfect. Or your mother-in-law is coming, and your turkey never lives up to hers. Or the weatherman is predicting snow on Thanksgiving and you're afraid that your relatives won't show up ... or maybe that they will.

Or maybe your stress stems from being a guest. Are you an introvert, dreading a day of small talk with the extended family? A picky eater, going to the home of a gourmet who makes food way to fancy for your tastes? Or are you a dieter, going to the home of someone who likes to push food and you're likely to spend the day going, "no thanks, no rolls for me," "no thanks, no candied yams for me," "no thanks, no cookies for me," ... "dear lord, lady, what part of no thanks don't you get?"

No matter who you are, or what your situation, Thanksgiving can cause stress. The best way to deal with stress is laughter. And that's where I come in. So set down that baster and get ready to smile, because I've got some fictional characters who've had a worse Thanksgiving than you.

Paul and Jamie Buchman from Mad About You
 

They tried so hard to make the perfect dinner ... only to have their dog, Murray, eat the turkey.


Rachel Green from Friends


All she wanted was to cook a nice dessert for her friends ... only to learn too late that she wasn't supposed to put beef in the trifle. It did not taste good.


The Gang from Cheers 


Those poor Thanksgiving orphans. They waited hours for a turkey that just wouldn't cook ... only to then suffer the indignity of being involved in a food fight. (For anyone who's ever read my story "Biscuits, Carats, and Gravy," this Cheers episode was the inspiration.)


Debra Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond


She was determined to have a happy Thanksgiving despite her overly critical mother-in-law ... only to drop her uncooked turkey on the floor three times before flinging it into the oven. Yum.



Arthur Carlson from WKRP in Cincinnati




He wanted to create the greatest promotion ever, inviting the public to a shopping mall and providing free turkeys ... live ones ... only to learn too late that turkeys don't fly so when you toss them out of a helicopter from 2,000 feet in the air they hit the ground like sacks of wet cement.


Garner Duffy from "Bug Appétit"


All this con man wanted for Thanksgiving was to eat some good food at his mark's home before stealing her jewelry ... only to learn too late that her mother is an ... inventive cook. ("Bug Appétit" is my story in the current (November/December) issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. I'm so pleased to have heard from several readers who enjoyed it, including one who called it "hilarious.")

So, dear readers, I hope you're smiling and feeling less stressed. If you'd like to read my story, you could pick up a copy of the current EQMM, available in some Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million bookstores, as well as in an electronic version. You can find more information about getting the magazine here. The issue also has a story from SleuthSayer alum David Dean that I'm sure you'll enjoy.) As to the TV episodes mentioned above, I bet you can find them all online.

Until next time, please share your favorite funny turkey day story (fictional or real) in the comments. Happy Thanksgiving!

19 November 2018

The Watts Riots, Rodney King and Me

by Paul D. Marks

I cannot tell a lie, this piece has been published before in a couple of different places. Nonetheless, it has a lot of personal meaning for me, as well the larger societal context. My novel White Heat was partly inspired by the Rodney King riots and both that and the Watts Riots have helped to shape L.A. as it is today.

*          *          *

When people think of Watts they think of the Watts Towers—and the Watts Riots of August, 1965. That year, while the Beatles sang about Yesterday, another chant went up in South Central Los Angeles.
*          *          *

1965: "Burn, baby, burn!" is the anthem that many remember the Watts Riots by. It is the chant shouted by people as the city burns. The spark that sets off the riots is a black man being stopped for a traffic ticket. Long-simmering frustration boils over and the city ignites. Thirty-four people are killed, a thousand-plus are wounded and almost four thousand arrested. Tensions in Los Angeles are as high as the smoke rising from the smoldering city streets.

Los Angeles is burning.

*          *          *

1991: Another motorist is stopped for speeding and evading the police. His beatdown is caught on video:

1992: The cops accused of beating Rodney King are acquitted. People pour into the streets. Looting.
Assault. Arson. Murder. Fifty-three dead. Twenty-three hundred injured and sixteen-hundred buildings damaged or destroyed.

Los Angeles is burning.

*          *          *

I was in Los Angeles in both ’65 and ’92. I remember the smoke, the fear permeating every quarter of the city.

During the Watts Riots, we were lucky to be able to watch it on TV and not be in the middle of it. My then-girlfriend's cousin was a National Guardsman assigned to patrol Watts during the riots and what he saw was so horrible he would never talk about it.

But I have a different memory of Watts. It isn't of the riots, but occurred during another hot summer, not long after.

I met a boy named Walter in class. Unlike everyone else in the class and just about everyone in the school, he was black. And he wasn't a local, but was on some kind of student exchange program from Jordan High in Watts.

I'm sure we were as much a curiosity to him as he was to us. After all, we were the privileged white kids and he was the angry young black man. Only he didn't seem angry. He seemed like just another nice guy with glasses. He invited a group of us to come down and see where he lived: Watts. A word that sent shivers down a lot of Angelinos' spines in those days.

We were a little apprehensive about going down there, especially as Walter had told us to come in the crappiest cars we had. No shiny new cars. There were six or eight teenaged boys and girls in our little caravan of two crappy cars. But crappy in our neighborhood meant something different than it did in Walter's.

Our caravan weaved its way through the Los Angeles streets until we were just about the only white faces to be seen. We finally came to Will Rogers Park (known today as Ted Watkins Park). Mind you, this is not the Will Rogers Park on Sunset where the polo ponies play on Sundays. This park is in the heart of South Central and I can say that all of our hearts were beating faster than normal.

Watts Riots - 1965

We parked nearby and walked as a unit to the park, as if we were a military outfit. People looked at us—we didn't look at them. But maybe because we looked like hippies and we were young nobody bothered us.

We met Walter in Will Rogers Park in South Central Los Angeles and sat under a shady tree, a bunch
of white kids and one black guy. We sat, just rapping—in the vernacular of the time—talking about music and houses and politics. We stood out like the proverbial sore thumb and people started coming over. Big dudes, little dudes. Cool dudes. Girls. No one seemed to resent our being there. In fact, they seemed glad to have us. Glad to be able to share with us and have us share with them. There was no sense of rancor or resentment. Just curiosity—a curiosity that went both ways. This was a time when people wanted to come together, not be separated. None of them knew Walter and they certainly didn't know us. But they joined our group and we rapped on.

After a while we got up and played a game of pickup basketball—try doing that in a pair of cowboy boots.

Then Walter said, "You want to see where I live?"
Jordan Downs Housing Project

Of course we did. So he took us to the projects—Jordan Downs. We drove past burned out buildings and vacant lots that not so long ago had had buildings on them. And we saw how the other half lived.

"It's not the best place in the world to live," Walter said. "But it could be a whole lot worse."

Watts Towers

Our last stop was a trip to the Watts Towers, those soaring spires of glass, steel and concrete built by Simon Rodia. They are a monument to what anyone can do if they put their mind to it.

We finally returned to our cars and, to our relief, they hadn't been stolen. And, corny as it might sound, I think we all learned that we're more alike than different, with the same aspirations, hopes and fears.

That day was one of the most memorable experiences of my life—one that I wouldn't trade for anything. It was a wonderful day and we all went home full of hope for the future. We just wanted to get to know each other. Ultimately I think Rodney King had it right when he said, "Can we all get along?"

Why the hell can't we?

###

18 November 2018

Bullies I — Blood on the Hands

by Leigh Lundin

trenchcoat mafia
Long ago, Criminal Brief and more recently SleuthSayers discussed bullies and the havoc their trail of tears wreak. I was weighing national stories that made the news, when I stumbled upon terrible, untold instances of bullying of people close to me, stories that never made the light of day.

Virtually all states now carry explicit laws that can be construed as anti-bullying. Most also require school policies of one sort or another. A majority of states outright outlaw cyberbullying and more than a dozen states criminalize other aspects of child bullying.

Denial of the problem has become harder to defend as are the ‘right of passage’ claims, Darwinist ‘It toughens you if it doesn’t kill you’ theory, and the related aphorism, ‘We survived, what’s wrong with you?’ A pocket of Central Northwest States– Montana and the Dakotas, have lagged behind the rest of the country, but the notion it’s strictly a political issue is fading in the realization that bullying policies and legislation can save lives.

Up Close and Personal

Nearly as bad as bullying is the imputation targets are cowards. Taller, older, more massive tormentors typically travel in packs. The unspoken irony of intimidation reduces to one question:
How cowardly is a gang of bigger, thicker, towering bullies compared to a victim a fraction of their size?
Today I bring you a unique sketch of an abused kid about to blaze headlines in all the wrong ways.

One Less School Shooter
trenchcoat mafia
Focus… focus…

Hoss.

Ogre.

No bombs, no Columbine.

Marty’s not furious with the whole school, just the tormentors, big bastards they. The boy folds an air rifle under his trenchcoat followed by a machete.

The knot in his gut, not anger, not rage, but agony and despair, accretions packed and rolled like an iceball. Layer by layer, it’s basted like a poisonous black pearl. Like rings in a tree trunk– that one the kick that dropped him to his knees, here the slug that blackened his left eye, there the kidney punch that left him gasping on the restroom floor.

Him or them, he feels no choice, survival, he can take no more.

Book bag, glasses, look normal. Nothing to see here folks, move along. No parents on deck, no one sees him leave the house, no folks kiss him good morning and goodbye. No mother, no father spots the bulges under his duster. Win or lose, on his own, it comes down to him.

School hall. The boy nods to his two friends in the world, Chip, Dale, never mind the jokes. At the lockers, they try to converse, small talk, trash talk– girls, cars, sports, rat prick jocks, Old Lady Tucker’s Eng lit class, screw it, and damn, the girl with the cute butt– she’s hot.

Not today, please, Marty’s not having it. Not rude, but distracted, focused, Marty blows them off, intent on the task at hand. He touches the blade under his coat, confidence, he’s not powerless now.

The big one, Ogre, strides down the hall. Him, bring him down first, element of surprise. The machete, cut him down to size, sever hamstrings, drop him to his knees, on his god damn knees like he forced Marty half his size. Cut his throat, hack, sever, decapitate, slice ‘n’ dice the ’tard.

Then Hoss, he stares at the rifle, sunken barrel shotgun wide, doesn’t grasp it’s only a .177, the calibre growing bigger along with his eyes. Control him at a distance, once up close, the machete, sabre slash, hack the cretin, moments count before Marty’s arrested or killed by cops, the Hoss won’t die, damn him, épée stab, cutlass kill.

Then police. Weapons down. He’s not upset with cops. Prosecutors try him as an adult, maybe life, sick-o but not too mental for the death penalty, say authorities, send a message, say authorities… violence won’t be tolerated in schools.

Except for bullies.
If he couldn’t save himself, maybe he could save others. That’s how Marty planned it a hundred times. ‘Ideate’ shrinks called it.

The boy meticulously worked his way through the first few steps, but he hadn’t counted on friends he could count on. Dale spotted the rifle under his coat, then the machete.

“Oh shit. Chip! Grab him.”

They hustled Marty into the restroom, kicked open doors to make sure they’re alone. They refused to let go of their friend. Machete, then rifle, they disarmed him.

“Marty, what the hell are you thinking?” asked Chip.

Dale said, “I know what you’re up to and it’s not going to work.”

“Leave me alone. Let me go, let me at them. Now or never, I can’t take one minute more.”

Chip leaned close. “Your head’s not on straight, man. You can’t win this, not this way.”

“Listen to us,” Dale said. “Their karma will come, but you can’t bring it on.”

“No, I…”

“Marty, you idiot. You think prison’s any better? Eternity with Bubba Butts and the lifers? Forget it, man.”

Gradually his friends coached the kid back to reality. They hurried him away, smuggling the weapons out, aware they’d helped Marty and the bullies dodge a bullet.

Over time as Marty grew muscular, bullies backed off. The boy and his friends graduated. He worked hard, often teaching himself. He married a wonderful woman, fathered three kids, children now much older than he was that long ago day. He put into practice the best revenge– living well.

Years after the near-fatal confrontation, he heard his name called in a store. Instantly he recognized Ogre. Marty’s nails bit into the palms of his hand. The pain, the anger, the frustration came rushing back.

“Marty? Hey, how are you doing? Where are you working? You married now?” Ogre hesitated. “Listen, man. I’m sorry for treating you like crap. We took things too far, I was an ass. I’m sorry, so damn sorry.”

Thoughts jousted– old hurt, torments, and anger, and yet Ogre had the guts to apologize. He hadn’t expected that. He nodded.

“Marty, I heard a rumor.”

“Yeah?”

“I, uh, heard you planned to kill me. Is that true?”

Marty nodded. “Absolutely planned to. I would have done it, if I hadn’t been stopped at the last moment.”

“Oh Jesus. I never realized how much I hurt you. Christ, I feel awful what we did to you. I’m sorry, really, really sorry.”

Marty accepted his apology. He understood he had one asset other school shooters didn’t have– two best friends.

Lifelong friends, you don’t forget an experience like that. Decades later, the boys still get together, shoot the breeze– girls, cars, sports, rat-prick jocks. Not the girl with the cute butt… Marty married her.

The boys, they chat and sometimes pontificate, but they never talk about the day they stopped a school killing.

17 November 2018

Strike Up the Band: Stories and Music


by John M. Floyd



As a movie lover and a music lover, I've always been intrigued by scores and soundtracks. I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the movies I like to watch over and over again are the ones that have what I think is good music. Maybe it's not of vital importance, but it sure helps. Italian director Sergio Leone once said, "It is the music that elevates a movie to greatness."


Masters and commanders

Like many of you, when I walk into a bookstore or go to Amazon.com, I find myself looking first for books by writers I'm already familiar with, writers I know I'll like reading. For me it's novelists like Nelson DeMille, Joe Lansdale, Carl Hiaasen, Greg Iles, Martin Cruz Smith, Lee Child, Nevada Barr, Stephen King, and several others. I have such confidence in those authors I know I'll probably enjoy whatever they write.

It's almost the same with film directors. There are some I like and respect, and when I see one of their names beside a movie, I'll usually watch it. Scorsese, Spielberg, Hitchcock, Carpenter, Joel and Ethan Coen, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, J. J. Abrams, Richard Donner, Frank Darabont, John McTiernan, and--believe it or not--Quentin Tarantino. Sometimes I'm disappointed, but not usually. I'm also especially fond of some composers: John Barry, John Williams, Carter Burwell, James Newton Howard, James Horner, Lalo Schifrin, Mancini, Zimmer, Herrmann, Morricone, Goldsmith, etc., etc.

Creative teamwork

If you're strange enough to be interested in that kind of thing, I'm sure you've noticed that some--if not most--directors choose to work with the same composers, again and again. And because I honestly couldn't think of anything else to write about today . . . here's a list of sixty of those collaborations, along with some of their resulting movies.

First, my top-ten favorite director/composer combinations:


1. Steven Spielberg / John Williams -- E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind

2. Sergio Leone / Ennio Morricone -- A Fistful of Dollars; A Few Dollars More; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Once Upon a Time in the West; Once Upon a Time in America

3. Robert Zemeckis / Alan Silvestri -- Forrest Gump, Romancing the Stone, Contact, The Polar Express, Cast Away, Back to the Future

4. Alfred Hitchcock / Bernard Herrmann -- Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Wrong Man, Torn Curtain, Marnie, Psycho

5. David Lean / Maurice Jarre -- Doctor Zhivago, Ryan's Daughter, Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India

6. Blake Edwards / Henry Mancini -- The Pink Panther, A Shot in the Dark, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Peter Gunn, 10, The Great Race, Days of Wine and Roses

7. John Carpenter / John Carpenter -- Escape From New York. Dark Star, The Fog, Vampires, Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween

8. M. Night Shyamalan / James Newton Howard -- Signs, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Lady in the Water, The Village

9. The Coen Brothers / Carter Burwell -- The Big Lebowski, Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, True Grit, Miller's Crossing, Fargo

10. Ron Howard / James Horner -- Apollo 13, Cocoon, Willow, Ransom, The Missing, A Beautiful 
Mind

If you're not fed up with all this by now, here are fifty more director/composer teams that might be familiar:

Tim Burton / Danny Elfman -- Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish, Beetlejuice, Batman
Michael Curtiz / Max Steiner -- Virginia City, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Mildred Pierce, Casablanca
Alfred Hitchcock / Dmitri Tiomkin -- Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder
Frank Capra / Dmitri Tiomkin -- It's a Wonderful Life, Lost Horizon, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Howard Hawks / Dmitri Tiomkin -- Red River, Only Angels Have Wings, Rio Bravo
Joel Shumacher / James Newton Howard -- Falling Down, Flatliners, Dying Young
Lawrence Kasdan / James Newton Howard -- Wyatt Earp, Grand Canyon, French Kiss, Mumford
John Huston / Alex North -- The Misfits, Under the Volcano, Prizzi's Honor
Sam Peckinpah / Jerry Fielding -- The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, The Getaway
James Cameron / James Horner -- Avatar, Titanic, Aliens
Edward Zwick / James Horner -- Glory, Legends of the Fall, Courage Under Fire
Sydney Pollack / Dave Grusin -- Three Days of the Condor, Absence of Malice, The Firm, Tootsie
Stanley Cramer / Ernest Gold -- On the Beach, Inherit the Wind, Ship of Fools
Tony Scott / Hans Zimmer -- Days of Thunder, True Romance, The Fan, Crimson Tide
Christopher Nolan / Hans Zimmer -- The Dark Knight, Inception, The Man of Steel, Dunkirk
Ron Howard / Hans Zimmer -- Backdraft, The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, Inferno
Ridley Scott / Hans Zimmer -- Thelma and Louise, Hannibal, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator
Penny Marshall / Hans Zimmer -- A League of Their Own, Renaissance Man, The Preacher's Wife
Gary Marshall / John Debney -- The Princess Diaries, Valentine's Day, Raising Helen
Paul Mazursky / Bill Conti -- An Unmarried Woman, Blume in Love, Harry and Tonto
John G. Avildson / Bill Conti -- Rocky, The Karate Kid, Lean on Me, 8 Seconds
Clint Eastwood / Lennie Neihaus -- Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven
Peter Jackson / Howard Shore -- the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Hobbitt trilogy
David Cronenberg / Howard Shore -- The Fly, Crash, A History of Violence
Martin Scorcese / Howard Shore -- Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Hugo
Martin Scorcese / Elmer Bernstein -- The Grifters, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence
Robert Mulligan / Elmer Bernstein -- To Kill a Mockingbird, Love With the Proper Stranger
Evan Reitman / Elmer Bernstein -- Ghostbusters, Stripes, Animal House
George Roy Hill / Elmer Bernstein -- Hawaii, Slap Shot, Funny Farm. Thoroughly Modern Millie
J. J. Abrams / Michael Giacchino -- Lost, Fringe, Alias, Star Trek, Super 8
Billy Wilder / Andre Previn -- Irma La Douce; Kiss Me, Stupid; The Fortune Cookie
Billy Wilder / Miklos Rozsa -- Double Indemnity, Five Graves to Cairo, The Lost Weekend
Don Siegel / Lalo Schifrin -- Dirty Harry, Coogan's Bluff, The Beguiled, Charley Varrick
Kenneth Branagh / Patrick Doyle -- Hamlet, Henry V, Sleuth, Dead Again
Mel Brooks / John Morris -- Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, Young Frankenstein
Cameron Crowe / Nancy Wilson -- Almost Famous, Elizabethtown, Jerry Maguire
John Milius / Basil Poledouris -- Red Dawn, Flight of the Intruder, Conan the Barbarian
Franklin J. Schaffner / Jerry Goldsmith -- Planet of the Apes, Patton, Lionheart, Papillon
Joe Dante / Jerry Goldsmith -- Gremlins, The Burbs, Innerspace
Robert Aldrich / Frank De Vol -- The Flight of the Phoenix, The Longest Yard, The Dirty Dozen
Bryan Singer / John Ottman -- The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns, Jack the Giant Slayer
Mark Rydell / John Williams -- The Reivers, The Cowboys, The River, Cinderella Liberty
Oliver Stone / John Williams -- JFK, Nixon, Born on the Fourth of July
Irwin Allen / John Williams -- The Towering Inferno. Lost in Space, The Poseidon Adventure
George Lucas / John Williams -- Star Wars episodes I, II, III, and IV
Sam Mendes / Thomas Newman -- Skyfall, American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead
Steven Soderbergh / David Holmes -- Ocean's Eleven, Out of Sight, Haywire, Logan Lucky
Peter Weir / Maurice Jarre -- Witness, Dead Poets Society, The Year of Living Dangerously
Anthony Harvey / John Barry -- The Lion in Winter, They Might be Giants. The Glass Menagerie

And #50: I'm cheating here, but composer John Barry teamed with four different directors (Guy Hamilton, Terence Young. Lewis Gilbert, and John Glen) for the following James Bond scores: Goldfinger, Thunderball, From Russia With Love, You Only Live Twice, Moonraker, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, Diamonds Are Forever, and The Man With the Golden Gun.

There are of course many other collaborations, both foreign and here at home, but these are the ones that came to mind.

Trivial matters 

In looking around for this director/composer information, I found the following little-known (to me, at least) facts:

For Sergio Leone's movies, his former schoolmate Ennio Morricone usually wrote the score first and then Leone shot the film to fit the music, rather than doing it the other way around.

Besides John Carpenter, several directors have served the double-duty of also composing the music for some of their films. Among them are Clint Eastwood and Anthony Hopkins.

When John Williams first played the Jaws theme on his piano, Spielberg burst into laughter and thought it sounded ridiculous. Two years later, Williams went through 300 versions of the five-note Close Encounters theme before Spielberg was happy.  (Mostly, though, they seem to agree: They've made 28 movies together.)

Bernard Herrmann served as "sound consultant" on Hitchcock's The Birds, which used electronic bird noises instead of music. (More on this in a minute.)

Danny Elfman composed the music for Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas AND sang Jack Skellington's singing parts.

Max Steiner composed 11 other film scores the same year he scored Gone With the Wind.

Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard shared composing duties for some of The Dark Knight. Zimmer wrote the themes for the Joker, and Howard wrote the themes for Batman.

Henry Mancini composed the music for 38 movies and TV series for director Blake Edwards.

Robert Zemeckis and Alan Silvestri decided not to have any music at all during the entire time Tom Hanks was stranded on the island in Cast Away. The score begins only when the castaway sails away. (Other well-known films had no music: Rope, Fail-Safe, Dog Day Afternoon, etc.)

John Williams is the most Oscar-nominated person alive today (51 nominations). His 1977 Star Wars score remains the highest-grossing instrumental-only soundtrack of all time.

James Horner said, about his score for Titanic, "I probably wrote all the material in about three hours. The themes literally came to me in twenty minutes."



Questions

What are your favorite story/music collaborations? Do you ever choose movies based on the director, or even the composer? If so, does that ever backfire? I can think of a few big mistakes I've made, using that approach (Exorcist II, Batman & Robin, The Last Airbender, etc.). Are you a film-score fan, or does the music in a movie not matter that much to you? Do you ever find yourself humming theme music instead of "real" songs?

Wait--is that a fin I see in the water? DUMdumDUMdumDUMdum . . .





16 November 2018

Show ... without a lot of telling

by O'Neil De Noux

An excellent example of this is the final scene in Stanley Kubrick's movie about World War I, PATHS OF GLORY (1957). A movie about war and pain and suffering, destruction and the unfairness of death.



The final scene involves a group of war-weary French soldiers in a cafe where a German girl is brought up on stage. She is terrified. Is she going to be molested? Made to take off her clothes? Killed? No. She is told to sing.

She stands in front of the crowd and sings through tears and trembling lips and as she sings, the racous crowd grows quiet, tears well in the eyes of these hard, lonely, distraught soldiers. Kubrick shows us what the men are thinking through their faces.



No one molests her because she is not seen as a sex object, but a woman, their girlfriend, their wife, their mother, someone to treasure. She is no longer the hated Bosche, no longer German, no longer the enemy. She is – a woman. For a brief moment, she brings beauty and music into the lives of these men.



The genius of the scene is how Kubrick shows us this without telling us. No one explains what's happening. No one says anything. We know without explanation. Sometimes, when I view this scene, I get a little choked up and I wasn't in WWI.

This is what showing instead of telling is about.

SIDE NOTES:

The actress who plays the singing German girl is Christine Harlan. Stanley Kubrick marries her and she remains his life-long companion until his death in 1999.

For its anti-war message and damning portrait of the French officer class, PATHS OF GLORY was banned in France for twenty years.

The scene described above can be seen on YouTube. Check it out here.

www.oneildenoux.com