13 September 2018

Politically Profitable Predators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

             

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

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

But at least they weren't Chinese:

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

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

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

     HortonWillie.jpg

Sounds familiar to me.



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

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

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

12 September 2018

In The Corner

David Edgerley Gates


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



11 September 2018

The Broken Windows Tour of L.A.

by Paul D. Marks

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

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

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

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

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

View from behind the Hollywood sign (1)

The Hollywood Sign:

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

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


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


The Santa Monica Pier:

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

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

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

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

Venice and the Venice Beach Boardwalk:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man on Venice Boardwalk (4)
The Café Noir:

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

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


The Cafe Noir


Smuggler’s Gulch:

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

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


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


***

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

***



And now for the usual BSP:

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



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

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

www.thestuphfile.com

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

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


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


____________________

Photo attributions:

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

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

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

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

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




10 September 2018

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

by Steve Hockensmith

Warning: This post is for writers. Not only that, it's for aspiring writers. Not only that, it's for aspiring writers who write slowly. Not only that, it's for aspiring writers who write slowly and are named Gladys and live in Cleveland with a husband named Mike and two border collies named Orson and Welles. If you're an aspiring writer named Gladys and you live in Cleveland with a husband named Mike and two border collies named Orson and Bean STOP READING RIGHT NOW!!! THIS IS NOT FOR YOU!!!

On second thought, strike that last caveat. You don't have to be a Gladys in Cleveland to read this. But the rest of the warning stays. This is writer talk -- an extremely specific kind that'll probably hit non-writers like a double dose of NyQuil with a vodka chaser.

I'm going to talk word counts. Specifically, my word counts. Which don't require a ton of counting, because they're usually so low.

Recently-ish on this very site, the über-productive writer Michael Bracken declared himself to be a slacker because in his "worst year" he only averaged 387 words a day. Yet in that same year he finished 32 short stories. 32! See what I mean by über-productive?

Michael was responding to an earlier post about productivity by my old Bouchercon buddy Brian Thornton. Brian had mentioned 1,000 words a day as "a healthy goal" for "working writers." And I agree, I agree...with another caveat: that we define "working writers" as "people who make their living by writing."

That was me, once upon a time, and 1,000 words a day was what I shot for. I usually made it, too, with plenty of bonus words ladled on as gravy. (Still awake, Gladys?)

But then I became a different kind of working writer: one who worked in order to write. (It's hard to write when you're starving, you know.) At my busiest as a pro, I had contracts for three different series at once. Yet though I was producing lots and lots and lots of words, that didn't mean I was making lots and lots and lots of money. I wasn't even making lots and lots, at that point. Or even just lots. It was just money -- barely enough to pay for crappy health insurance for my family with the occasional run to Pizza Hut to celebrate the fact that none of us had to use it.

Then some of us did have to use it, and there wasn't enough left over for one of those soppy slices from 7-11, let alone a trip to Pizza Hut. Long story short (don't tell me it's too late for that, Gladys -- nobody likes a smart-ass), it was time to become the kind of working writer who's not usually working on writing.

Sidenote: It was nice to see so many people on the Internet rally around actor Geoffrey Owens last week when certain websites did the Simpsons kid "Ha ha!" at him for bagging groceries at Trader Joe's. I came sooooooooo close to bagging groceries at Trader Joe's. Hell, life is weird. I could still end up bagging groceries at Trader Joe's. So could you, Gladys. Don't be the Simpsons kid. Until it's Alex Jones. Then pointing, laughing and going to the produce section for tomatoes to throw is heartily encouraged.

Hmm...where was I?

Oh, yeah. Long story short (and this time I mean it): day job blah blah blah long commute blah blah blah life. All of which has left me with about one hour of free time a day. An hour in which, when I'm really cranking, I produce maybe 350 words. Though it's usually more like 300. Closer to 250 when it's one of my "Holmes on the Range" stories. (Those are a little tougher, for some reason.) Sometimes, when I'm really stuck on something, it can be as little as 100.

Can you imagine that? Getting up at 5:30 in the freakin' morning to write and sitting there for an hour and only having 100 usable new words when you drag yourself away from the keyboard to get the kids ready for school?

Yes, Gladys. I know you can imagine that. Because I wrote this for you.

I'm not a math guy, but this much I understand: even 100 + 100 + 100, if repeated often enough, will eventually = 75,000. Book length. So don't let this talk of 1,000 words a day intimidate you: 100 or 200 or 300 will do the trick if you stick with it.

That's what makes you not just an aspiring writer but a working writer, Gladys. The sticking with it. Not the length of time it takes to get something done.

Now get back to your keyboard -- and tell Mike, Orson and whatever-his-name-is I said hi!

09 September 2018

He Had Plans For Her: Part Two 




by Mary Fernando

When Eve escaped, she took her children and went into hiding. She remained nervous and constantly vigilant. He had resources. He was cunning. He could show up at any time. She tried to shrug these fears off, but they haunted her. 

Four months later, Eve was in her kitchen. The children were in their rooms. The lights were low. It was night. As she emerged from the kitchen, she saw the end of his gun highlighted in the moonlight. It was pointed at her.

A ten inch cast iron skillet was in reach. She grabbed it and held it at by her side. As she walked up to him, with the gun pointed at her throat, she hit him in the head with all her strength and he went down. She looked at him and thought: I could hit him again and end this threat.

She suddenly saw her young son, looking at her from the hallway. Her eldest. He was his son too. She didn't kill him that night. She couldn’t. She called the police. 

This is not the end of this story. There is no happy ending with police stepping up and protecting Eve.

After being in jail for a little over a week, he bailed himself out and then went to a neighbouring county and filed charges of assault against Eve. Yes. That is the nature of abusers: they feel that they can manipulate the world into allowing them to abuse and kill. They have no shame. They are – in their own minds – the one who is the real victim, forced to hurt this woman because, above all else, she deserves it.

Even now, after many years have passed, Eve remains vigilant. Eve remains in danger: over half of all the murders of women in the United States are related to intimate partner violence.

The most pervasive danger Eve faces, despite the safe life for herself and her children, is that reality can’t protect her. Whether asleep or awake, without warning, she is right back there, in his clutches, being abused and beaten, with fear flooding her and making her unable to breathe. At any moment, something can remind her of a terrifying moment and adrenaline floods her brain and sends her heart racing. At times she is numb. At times she is frightened. At times she simply withdraws and hides.

This was his plan for her: to never let her go, to never let her live her life without his presence forging her into a fearful compliance. 

Eve is now both free of him and yet haunted by him. This in-between place is what we call PTSD.

Eve has said, unequivocally, that you can’t talk about domestic violence without talking about PTSD. Eve is not alone in drowning in her past: of the 1 in 3 women and 1 in four men who have been victims of domestic violence, over half experience PTSD.

His plans for Eve was to forever keep her fearful of him. PTSD allows him to haunt her.

Treating PTSD is a critical part of fighting domestic violence. A specialist told me: PTSD treatment is long, hard and of variable effectiveness. We need investment in more research on methods of treatment and more investment in making treatment available for patients.

The best protection for women and men in situations of domestic violence is to give them a safe haven and to prosecute their abusers. The best vengeance against domestic abusers is something altogether different: it is for their ex-partners to finally and decisively put them in the rear view mirror and watch them get smaller and less important as they move forward with life.


08 September 2018

Some Updates

by Libby Cudmore

Libby Cudmore
I wanted to update you all on a couple of cases I wrote about back in January. It’s been a quiet year at the paper with only a few tragedies and both of them accidents – a teenager drowned after his boat capsized in a storm and a toddler drowned in a lake after getting away from his family during a picnic. They’re a different kind of heartbreak. But the summer, thankfully, has been murder-free, thankfully. It’s a considerable upgrade from where I was this time last year.

In August, Tobias Rundstrom-Wooding, one of the two men accused of raping and killing 11 year old Jacelyn O’Connor, plead guilty and got 20-to-life, likely life. “He showed no remorse,” Chenango County District Attorney Joseph McBride told me in an interview after the sentencing. “I asked the judge to recommend that he never be released.”

(I am writing this to Warren Zevon’s “Play it All Night Long,” on the 15th anniversary of Zevon’s death. There ain’t much to country living/sweat, piss, jizz and blood. I listened to this song a lot in the days following her death)

07 September 2018

Bye Bye Burt... the lesson of a good bad example.

by Thomas Pluck

Bye, Burt.

Not commemorating his role as a human being, but on film he was inescapable during my formative years. My father admired him, probably saw himself in him. His Gator McClusky from White Lightning was an inspiration from Jay Desmarteaux, and the abrupt change in character and quality from that first movie, pre-mustache, to the abysmal sequel Gator, where he chewed gum and cackled the entire time, is a warning to us all of the dangerous power of fame and hubris.


He became a joke in his later years after a string of overindulgent stinkers, and was roundly mocked by comics Robert Wuhl and Norm MacDonald. He had a comeback in Boogie Nights, under the direction of Paul Thomas Anderson. But one wonders if he needed to have a comeback at all, if he hadn't let his fame and Playgirl centerfold go to his head. See, I had to watch a lot of those stinkers. He was saved very often by his friends, such as Jackie Gleason in the Smokey & the Bandit movies, and the ensemble casts in The Cannonball Run films. I liked him, mimicking my father, until I watched the "blooper reel" credits of Cannonball Run 2 where he constantly abuses his co-star Dom DeLuise for flubbing his lines, smacking him in the face.

 


I guess that was okay because Dom was fat? DeLuise was more of an icon and hero to me after that than Burt ever was. Burt could act when he wanted to, but he never really accomplished anything other than being there in the era of his career when I first saw him. When I was old enough to watch Deliverance and White Lightning I saw some of his promise, but it never erased the smart-ass full of himself jerk that he was in Smokey, Gator, "The End," Stroker Ace, and countless other turkeys I was forced to endure on Sunday afternoons with Dad. I mean, I wanted to like him. He was irresistibly, effortlessly cool. What young boy doesn't want that? I'm thankful those blooper reels showed me what an ass he was, because those two things became inextricably linked in my young mind: People who are full of themselves turn out to be full of shit.


I think it's fitting that most young people today remember him being mocked on Celebrity Jeopardy on Saturday Night Live by Norm MacDonald than for his iconic roles. Let's face it, in the drive-in days of the '70s, we had a lot of auteur masterpieces but also a whole manure load of overly long celluloid excretions meant to keep kids off the streets and in movie theaters. I spent a year rewatching some of my old favorites and while many hold up, a hell of a lot of them don't. I think we'll find the same thing with a lot of these three hour long computer video game movies with spandex superheroes punching each other for twenty minutes straight. They're a novelty now, but looking back, some will be intolerable. (I think some, like Black Panther and Wonder Woman will hold up).

Most of Burt's prime years were wasted on crap like Gator, which is like watching a home movie of Burt on a swamp air boat for 120 minutes. But that doesn't mean his life is wasted. He made some memorable films and posing in that centerfold was daring. One of my favorite lines in fiction was written by Christopher Moore in his second novel, Coyote Blue, about an aging trickster: "Don't underestimate the value of a good bad example."

Burt was Mr. Bad Example. Don't let his regrets be in vain.

RIP, Mr. Reynolds. Thanks for the grins and the lessons in feet of clay.

06 September 2018

Hearing and Listening and the Difference Between Them

by Brian Thornton

– G. K. Chesterton

I've written before about my struggles with the scourge of tinnitus (if you're curious, you can find a discussion of it here). And for those of you who regularly follow this blog, I've found an ambient noise link that masks my tinnitus even more effectively than my previous favorite: a twenty-four hour loop of the noise made by the warp engines of the U.S.S. Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation. This new link is (supposedly) "10 Hours on Mars with Delta Waves and White Noise Sounds for Relaxation and Sleep."

Whatever you call it, it works. Cuts my tinnitus down to nothing. A true boon while I'm working.

That update aside, I have no intention of using this turn in the Sleuthsayers rotation to rehash the challenges that suffering from tinnitus raise in my professional and personal life. Instead, I'm going to do my best to speak to what my life with tinnitus has given to me, not what it has taken away.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying there is anything good about having tinnitus. There isn't. It's a plague. I don't actually know what silence sounds like. And in addition to the ringing, I have significant hearing loss in my left ear.

So when I talk about the positives which my life with tinnitus has brought me, I am speaking directly to the benefits accrued as a result of my struggle to live as normally as possible when living with a constant distraction.

Think of it as training to listen.

Quick reminder: my day gig is teaching. Wanna know what makes an effective teacher? An effective listener.

And that's the upshot.

You see, I can't hear unless I listen. In order to follow a speaker, a conversation, a concert, a baseball game, what have you, I have to be focused, locked in, attentive, listening, or, frankly, the old one-two punch of tinnitus and hearing loss will simply drown out what a person with normal hearing might well pick up on with little or no effort.

Imagine spending most of your waking hours with a certain set of muscles constantly flexed. That's my day every day. Except the flexed muscle is my attention span.

And like any over-worked muscle, my attention span has been known to cramp up!

This is especially true when dealing with large groups of teenagers.

Why?

Because teenagers (and stop me if you've heard this before) are loud. Get them together and they tend to prattle and jabber and carry on like a regular murder of crows. Imagine that sort of background noise and the hell it plays with an already loud ringing ever-present in one of your ears.

It's exhausting.

Listening, that is. Going through your day doing it.

Frustrating, too.

Because to "listen" is to be "attentive," to "pay attention" (in French, the verb "attendre" literally means "to listen"). And in a world rife with constant distractions (social media, video games, texting, smart phones, etc.), to be a "listener" is sometimes a lonely thing indeed.

But there is power in attentiveness; a strength not readily apparent to those caught in a postmodern half-life where distraction is the reality. My disability has forced me to pay attention to others in ways I am not inclined by nature to do.

And my life is so much the richer for it. Nuance and subtlety are difficult things to focus on when you've got a constant claNging in your ear. In order to grasp them, to understand them and to celebrate them requires the ability, the discipline to focus. That doesn't just happen and it sure doesn't come easy. Being attentive forces choices on a person, and yet for all that it pays handsome dividends to those who embrace it.

I am a better husband, father, son, brother, friend, colleague, teacher, and yes, writer, not because of my tinnitus, but because of my efforts to manage, and where possible, to transcend it.

I didn't ask for this burden, and I am not above complaining about it.

But I'll be damned if I'm going to let it isolate me.

No matter the cost.

No matter how exhausting.

No matter how maddening.

No matter how trying the sheer effort required to focus becomes.

I'll be damned if I'm going to let it beat me.

See you in two weeks!

05 September 2018

Lost in the Stacks for 41 Years


by Robert Lopresti

Gonna get a little off the main track here today.  I hope you forgive me.  You see, as of the first of September I am retired. I am going to tell you about some of my most memorable moments in forty-one years in the library mines.  Most have nothing to do with crime or writing.  So indulge me or go read something else.  I hear they have a lot of terrific stuff at MySpace.

                                                                         
When I was getting my Masters in Library Service degree the school urged us to call them as soon as we got our first jobs and tell them the salary.  So when I did I called them and gave them the big number: $10,300 a year.

"That's great," said the clerk.  "It will bring up the class average."



That first job was at a public library.   I was the government documents librarian but occasionally  I worked in the children's room.  I was at the desk there one day and two women walked in.  Obviously mother and grown daughter.  The mother marched up with a determined expression that said: I am going to get the answer if it takes all day.  Librarians love that look.

She fixed me with her steely gaze (why aren't gazes ever aluminumy?) and said "There's this book."

"Okay," I said.

"It's about a tree."  

 And that was clearly all she had.  No author, no title. Just a subject, a memory, and a burning desire to share it with her daughter.

I stood up.  "Follow me."  We marched to the Easy Readers.  I pulled out The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein.

Her eyes went wide.  "That's it!  How did you know?"

I shrugged.  "I'm a librarian."




My assistant was Sue.  Between us sat a file cabinet and by the time I left every drawer had been neatly labeled with a misspelling of my name she had clipped from an envelope received in the mail: Robert Lopreski, Roberta Lopresti, Robert LoPresti, Robert Loparesti...

When my first short story was published I brought the magazine in and plopped it down in front of her open to the right page and pointed to my name.  "That's by me."

She tossed it back on my desk.  "No, it isn't."

Oh ye of little faith.

                                           

One day at the reference desk I got a phone call from a woman who wanted to know if we had The Power of Positive Thinking by Phyllis Schaeffer.

Now, a librarian is supposed to rely on sources.  If you ask me to spell cat I am supposed to check the dictionary.  But in this case I said "The Power of Positive Thinking  is by Norman Vincent Peale."

"No," she said with complete confidence.  "Phyllis Schaeffer."

So I checked the card catalog.  (Yup, that's what we had back then.)  Peale, yes.  Schaeffer, no.

Then the penny dropped.  The Power of the Positive Woman, by Phyllis Schlafly.  Well, the woman had been positive, all right.

                                                     

One of the longest-running science fiction fan organizations in the country used to meet at that library.  They held a special event to celebrate an anniversary and I graciously volunteered to be the library's representative.  Possibly this was because the guest speaker was Isaac Asimov.

He was, naturally, great.  His subject was a recent editorial in the New York Times saying that setting up a system to watch out for asteroids was a waste of money because, as I recall, no huge meteor hit the earth for many thousands of years, and therefore another wouldn't hit for thousands more.  Follow that logic?

Asimov gleefully reported on past NYT editorials on science.  One was an announcement that rockets wouldn't work in outer space because there was a vacuum.

This library was the largest in our part of the county and when one of the small libraries had a reference question they couldn't answer they bounced it to us.  One of those smaller institutions had a director named Miss D.  Her main characteristic, as far as I could tell, was that she was terrified of the members of her library board.

One day she called up and asked for the government documents librarian.  It seemed one of her  board members was looking for some government statistics about drug abuse.

I wrote the questions down. "Some of these I can answer," I told her.  "Some of the data I don't think is available."

"Well, do what you can."

I did.  This was long before the Internet and I had to dig through a whole lot of books.  Finally, after several hours of toil I called her up.

"I was able to find most of your answers, but not all of them."

"Oh," she said.  "Then never mind."  And hung up.



One day a patron (that's what librarians call customers, by the way) wanted to know what the phrase "the beast with two backs" meant.  I knew but I damn well wasn't going to tell her off the top of my head.  Fortunately Shakespeare's Bawdy by the brilliant Eric Partridge was at hand.



My next job was at a college library.  It was there that I found a report from the government of New Jersey that mentioned that the name of a small community in the southern part of the state, Mauricetown, was pronounced the same as a larger city in the northern half, Morristown.

Hmm...  That's the sort of thing my Atlantic City private eye Marty Crow would definitely know.  The result was "The Federal Case," Marty's first appearance in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

                                                           

Each librarian worked as a liaison for an academic department.  The acquisitions librarian told me there were several openings.  Naturally I chose English.  An hour later she was back with a file the size of a phone book.  "Read it and tell me if you still want the English Department."

Turned out two professors had come almost to the point of suing each other over an argument that involved the library.  One had written to the school paper complaining about the library and his colleague had written back, as I recall:  "Pay no attention to him.  We in the department have all had to hear him banging his spoon on his high chair before."  They eventually signed a joint statement agreeing that academic disagreements should be settled out of court.

I did take on the responsibilities for the English Department.  Didn't get sued.


                                                   
One night a college student came up to the reference desk and asked: "Is Nicaragua in Europe?"  This was during the Reagan administration when it looked like we might be invading that country any day.

I think I kept a straight face.  "No, Nicaragua is in Central America."

"Oh," she said.  "Is Central America in Europe?"

                                            
It was my Sunday to work at the reference desk.  It was snowing like crazy.

I was thinking about the next day.  I was the head of the search committee and we had a candidate coming in for a job interview.  In fact she should be flying in around now.  I hoped that the driver sent to pick her up got to the airport on time.

Then I remembered who had been given the job of arranging her transport.  Uh oh.
 
                                           
Speaking of search committees, I once went to lunch with a candidate.  He asked who was paying for the meal.  When I told him it was the college he ordered the most expensive thing on the menu.

I told the search committee: "Don't offer him the job.  He won't take it."

They did.  He turned it down.  We lost the position.

Nobody likes Cassandra.



One day the boss called me and another librarian into his office.  "I've been thinking about that meeting we had on Monday," he said.  "I want you two to run the project."  And then he spoke for several minutes about what he wanted, while we nodded solemnly.

Outside his office I turned to my colleague.  "Boy, I hope you were at that meeting on Monday, because I have no idea what he was talking about."

She said: "I was hoping you knew."

We went to the assistant boss who was outraged.  We soon got an apology for the confusion.  I never did find out what the project was about. 
                                                          

This was the time when computerized databases were first trickling into libraries.  One of the first we got (on a free-standing computer) was a list of all doctorate dissertations.  Another librarian, Barbara, and I both wanted to check out our father's PhDs.

"My father always insisted on people calling him 'doctor,'" I said.

Barbara is African-American.  "My father never cared whether people called him 'doctor' as long as they called him 'mister.'"

Which rather  put things in perspective.

                                                          


Most computer databases were expensive and you paid by the search.  Therefore only librarians were allowed to do the searches.  I remember one student asking me to search PsycInfo for peer-reviewed research articles that tested the theory that mental illness was caused by demonic possession.

I didn't have much luck.                            

One day I was at the reference desk and the president of the college walked in.  I had never seen him in the library.  He looked around, spotted me at the desk, and walked over.

I sat up straight, ready for action.

"Do you have a waste basket?"  By gosh, I knew the answer to that one.


The first computerized databases (i.e. periodical indexes) we got came from a company called Silver Platter and were literally on shiny discs, larger than LP records.  One day I was showing them to a group of adults (i.e. not college students) who seemed quite awed by the new technology.

The database froze.  I knew what that meant; a static electricity build up.  I also knew how to fix it.

While they watched I opened the case, took out the disc (by the edges!) and shook it vigorously.

"Do you know why I am doing this?"  Head shakes.

"I'm chasing off the evil spirits."  Nods.




The director of that library was Dr. Robert L. Goldberg.  He could be insanely frustrating but I learned more from him than any other boss.  For example, he told me approximately this:

"A good manager shares credit and hoards blame.  If the college president tells me he likes something in the library I always tell him who  did it, because it's important he doesn't think  this is a one-man operation.  But if he hates something and wants to know who is responsible, the only answer he gets is: me.  Because whoever did it, I am responsible."
                   

And that was the first ten years of my career. Tune in on September 19th when we will cover the remaining thirty-one years.

In the mean time, please save your files as the computers turn off automatically.  Please bring material to the circulation desk to borrow.  Safe travels.

04 September 2018

Prolific Slacker

by Michael Bracken

When Brian Thornton described one project for which he wrote an average of 1,425 words/day (“La Joie de l’Écriture,” my heart palpitated with anxiety. That’s almost 2.5 times greater than my production rate during the best year for which I have records.

In 2009 I wrote 216,310 words, an average of 593 words/day. In 2017, my worst recorded year, I produced only 130,600 words, an average of 387 words/day. Neither average comes close to Brian’s assertion that “most of the working writers” he knows “cite a thousand words per day as a healthy goal.” My writing production isn’t healthy; it’s anemic.

That’s because I’m a slacker, never producing near as many words on any given day as I know I’m capable of producing. I allow myself to get sidetracked—by research, by other story ideas, by Twitter tweets, by Facebook posts, by blog posts, by new online forms of solitaire—and I look up later to discover I’ve only produced a paragraph or two.

And yet, I wrote 75 short stories in 2009 and 32 in 2017, so even my least productive year resulted in a significant number of completed works.

SKEWED NUMBERS

Maybe the way I track word counts skews my numbers. I don’t track words as I produce them; I only count the words in completed, submission-ready manuscripts.

In any given year I produce an ungodly number of partial manuscripts, stories I’ll finish one of these days, if I live long enough.

I set the stories aside for a variety of reasons. Some are beginnings without endings. Some are story doughnuts, missing the all-important middle that gets readers from beginning to end. Some are rough outlines. Some are stories beyond my current ability to write. Many, though, are stories without markets. For example, I continue generating story ideas for confessions, even though the last two confession magazines ceased publication more than a year ago.

SETTING GOALS

As a short-story writer (and, likely, as with any other kind of writer), what matters most are finished manuscripts, so I’ve never set writing goals that involve number of words or number of pages or amount of time spent at the keyboard.

My annual goals, ever since setting them many years ago, are 52 acceptances and 52 new stories each year, or an average of one of each per week. Reprints carry the same weight as originals when counting acceptances, so the six reprints I placed a few weeks ago brought my total acceptances for the year to 32, which put me exactly on schedule as I write this. My production of new stories this year to date totals a paltry 13.

I have several stories near completion, but even were I to complete them all before month end, I would remain behind schedule. There are several reasons for the reduction in output, some of them, perhaps, the subjects of future posts, but the net result is that I am unlikely to meet my writing goals this year.

As a prolific slacker, I don’t chide myself for failing to meet my productivity goals nor do I allow myself to slip into a woe-is-me funk that further erodes my productivity. Instead, I do my best to deal with the things that sap my creativity or keep me away from the keyboard. Then, like now, when I am at the keyboard, I spend a little less time playing solitaire and a little more time stringing words together.

I may never join the ranks of the thousand-words-a-day working writers Brian cited—heck, this post won’t even reach a thousand words!—but I’ve found that my slacker’s approach allows me to produce an ever-growing body of work.

So, no matter how you set your goals—by the word, by the page, by the manuscript, or by the length of time at the keyboard—realize that you may not always meet those goals.

Whether you do or you don’t, the most important thing you can do is to keep pressing forward. As my youngest son recently said, you don’t fail until you quit.

Released at the end of August, Blood Work (Down & Out Books), edited by Rick Ollerman, celebrates the life of Mystery Writers of America Raven Award-winning Gary Shulze, long-time owner of the legendary Once Upon A Crime bookstore in Minneapolis. Gary left an indelible mark on the crime fiction community across the world before he passed away in 2016 due to complications from leukemia. The anthology includes my story “Backlit.”

If you’ll be at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg this week, stop in on “This Ain’t Your Mama’s Orange Juice—Writing Pulp,” a panel in which I’ll join Frank De Blase, Kate Pilarcik, and moderator Steven Torres. We’ll start squeezing oranges at 4:00 p.m., Saturday, September 8.

And I’ll be speaking about “Short Stories: From Concept to Sale, How This Form Can Satisfy,” at the noon MWA-Southwest luncheon, September 15, at Carraba’s, 1399 South Voss, Houston, Texas.

03 September 2018

Write What THEY Know

by Steve Liskow

One of the time-worn chestnuts about getting ideas is "write what you know," and many people point out that staying on familiar ground will limit you. Obviously, it depends on what you know. It certainly didn't hurt Tom Clancy, did it? Or maybe Xaviera Hollander. If you have the right experience, you're golden.

The shared experiences some people think are mundane will be fresh if you put YOUR slant on them. And if they're shared experiences, you already touch a shared nerve that will affect many readers.

Everyone has a first job, first day of school, first date, first heartbreak and dozens of other rites of passage. One of the great literary themes is loss of innocence, which fills a lot of the high school literature reading list. "The Girl in the Red Bandanna," which I published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine last spring, revisits a summer job I only held for one night.

I've played guitar since the mid-sixties and one of my favorite stories was inspired by seeing the
Muddy Waters Blues Band when I was still heavily into the Monkees and Paul Revere & The Raiders. My musical world changed that night, but the story has had over 20 rejections and I've run out of places to send it. Oh, well...

Most of my titles are also song titles because Woody Guthrie, my wannabe rock & roller PI, came from meeting a classmate at my high school reunion. She was now a full-time session musician in Detroit. Blood On the Tracks, Woody's first adventure, was a long time coming, but he now appears in four novels and a few short stories, all of which take their names from songs.

My wife insists that Hell is really middle school. WE all have nightmares about it except the kids whose voices never changed, never had a growth spurt, or never went through puberty. Judy Blume is one of many writers who turned the angst into a gold mine. My own Postcards of the Hanging grew out of a scandal that rocked my school senior year.

Bel Kaufman had a huge bestseller recounting a first year of teaching in Up the Down Staircase, and Braithwaite fared nearly as well with To Sir With Love. My own Run Straight Down comes from my teaching, too, but has a little darker perspective.

Several of my friends (well, two. I don't have many) ask when I'm going to write a story revolving around theater. Well, Linda Barnes wrote an amateur sleuth series featuring Michael Sprague as an actor who solved mysteries. She gave the series up because, as she pointed out, if people got killed in every production Sprague joined, eventually nobody would cast the guy anymore. Barnes and I both grew up in Southern Michigan, moved to New England, and taught English and theater. She's younger and taller than I am, and much nicer. She also went back to theater for her standalone The Perfect Ghost a few years ago. If you have any familiarity with Hamlet, you might check it out.

Three days ago, I finished a first draft of my first attempt to use theater as a background for a story. I  only had to look up one detail that I no longer remembered after several years. It was fun to write, too, a refreshing break from my usual rock and blues.
My favorite poster from when I was directing...

Everybody knows something nobody else does. And maybe it's so obvious we don't even know we know it.

Now for the BSP. John Floyd and I both have stories in the newest issue of Mystery Weekly, now available at your favorite website.

02 September 2018

Women in Peril

by Leigh Lundin

Janice Law’s article inspired today’s column…

Just the facts, ma’am.

Nancy Drew’s fan base loved women in peril. Encouraged by old man Stratemeyer, Mildred Wirt Benson (aka Carolyn Keene) wrote Nancy as an independent, impulsive, and headstrong 1930s girl. I'm not sure how this factors in, but when Edward Stratemeyer’s daughters took over in the 1960s, Harriet rewrote the first three dozen novels making Nancy less impetuous, less independent, and women-in-peril continued to attract readers. Why?

Evidence suggests we become more engaged and outraged when a pretty girl is killed. Outrage sells movies. It sells books. It stirs our emotions. Could The Virgin Suicides have been written about five brothers?

M-F homicide deaths 7:2
Besides violence toward women tearing at our hearts, we may take extra notice because, despite a plethora of movies and television shows to the contrary, female homicide victims are considerably less common. Of every nine people murdered, seven will be male. [2010] Perhaps it isn't fair to suggest Poe’s and Clark’s women-in-peril stories ramp up violence or actual homicide.

Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Higgins Clark apparently scored emotional bullseyes. They knew how to play upon our fears, male and female. Protectiveness of loved ones is hard-wired in male DNA. So often when one gender feels strongly about something, the opposite sex experiences the mirror image.

What if political, patriarchal, anger-against-women motives don’t drive the industry? Could something deeper be going on?

Our Inner Cave(wo)man

An explanation offered by psychologist Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, offers spellbinding insight. She asserts the innermost mind is anything but politically correct. She articulates it in talks and texts better than I, but she says the secret pleasures that turn us on at night are the same we protest during the day.

Perel’s field centers upon our hidden, primitive, self-subversive psychology. When the lights go out, we change. We revert.

Biological components have been recognized since forever. Danger… fear… jeopardy fuel concupiscence. The underlying theory goes that great risk of life ignites a need to procreate, to ensure survival of the species.

Once in an agony column, a husband wrote in, worried about his wife. Immediately following a car accident, she wanted to rush home and make love– cuts and scrapes be damned. Had the accident damaged her mentally? Of course not. Faced with mortality, her survival instinct kicked into gear, a strong, healthy response.

Wars embody the most frightening fears. They’re irrational, society has gone mad, the rules have shattered. Death could arrive in an instant. Population figures show a leveling of growth when heading into a war, but once existence is somewhat assured, survivors mate— often. The term ‘Baby Boomers’ wasn’t idly selected.

US population growth chart

Movie makers discovered early on a simplistic formula: fear=aphrodisiac. Teens didn’t flock to drive-in horror movies for the production qualities, but reproduction qualities.

My friend Crystal Mary, the staunchest feminist I know, loves slasher films, flicks I, God help me, can barely watch between my fingers. Her eyes brighten, her neck flushes, and she bounces home in an ebullient mood. Never for a second would she approve of violence toward women. What’s happening? Me, a diet of slasher movies would give me nightmares, but Crystal Mary’s able to connect with an uncomplicated, elemental part of her being. The premises of Mary Higgins Clark and Edgar Allan Poe she could understand.

What is your take? Could Clark and Poe have stumbled upon the secret that our fears drive the most rousing plots? Can you stomach blood-n-guts horror films better than Leigh? Are you able to serve as designated driver?

01 September 2018

POSTed, STRANDed, and BCMMed


by John M. Floyd



Situation report: It's been a pretty good summer, writingwise. I worked with my publisher to finish the manuscript of my new story collection coming later this year, I participated in two panels--and moderated one--at our annual Mississippi Book Festival (6400 people attended panels that day), and I've written some short stories, sold some, and had some published. At the moment, I have stories in the current issues of three publications: The Saturday Evening Post, The Strand Magazine, and Black Cat Mystery Magazine. And since I couldn't come up with another topic for my column today, I decided to give you a few "stories behind the stories" for these three shorts.

Of these three, my story in The Saturday Evening Post (the September/October 2018 issue) is the only one that's not a mystery. It's probably more of a drama/romance. It's also the only one that was inspired by actual events. It's called "The Music of Angels," the meaning of which will become clear if/when you read it, and it's short--about 2000 words. (The print edition of the SEP features one piece of fiction in each two-month issue, and so far my stories there have ranged from about 1500 to about 5500 words.)

The first half of this story is boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and many years pass. What happens next I won't reveal, here, but since I've told you it's essentially a romance you can probably figure it out. What I hope is entertaining about it is the process, and a surprise or two. I will say that the opening scene, which features two college students who meet at the information desk of their Student Union, happens almost exactly the way it happened to me, in real life. The rest is fictional, but the final part of the story is based closely on my mother, who's 92 and still lives in the house where I grew up.

Another unique thing about this story is that I once promised our oldest son's three children, who all love to read, that I would one day include characters with their names in one of my stories. So the main characters in this one are named Lillian, Anna, and Gabe. It's a small and silly thing, but I think those three kids'll get a kick out of that when they read it.

My story in The Strand Magazine (the June-October 2018 issue) is called "Foreverglow"--original title "The Foreverglow Case"--and was one that I dreamed up while sitting in our backyard swing a few months ago, before the temperature and the humidity and the mosquito population rose high enough to send everyone screaming into their houses. I must've been in a noirish frame of mind that day because the idea that popped into my head was of a blue-collar guy who lets his smarter girlfriend talk him into robbing the jewelry section of the department store where she works. They devise a plan by which she can smuggle a display case of samples of their new Foreverglow collection out of the store to him while she remains inside, and then they can make their getaway the following day after things have calmed down. I hope what happens will be a surprise to the reader, but you probably already suspect that things don't work out exactly as planned. Do they ever?

The third story I have out right now is "Diversions," which appears in Issue #3 of Black Cat Mystery Magazine, alongside stories by my SleuthSayers colleagues Eve Fisher and Michael Bracken. This one is also a mystery/crime story, but it's a western (how could I not want to write a western after watching all those episodes of Have Gun--Will Travel?), and features a bank robber who's been caught in the act and is now in custody in a temporary jail and under guard by a female (and also temporary) deputy. The most unusual thing about the story is that the entire plot takes place in less that an hour's time and inside those four walls, and the fact that the inspiration for one of the characters' names came from a road sign on State Highway 25, about forty miles northeast of where I live. On the sign were--and still are--the names of two Mississippi towns, one above the other: LENA, with an arrow pointing west, and MORTON, with an arrow pointing east. One day when my wife and I were driving past on the way to visit my mother, I noticed the words on that sign, and made a mental note. Now, about a year later, the deputy's name in this story is Lena Morton.

I find myself doing that kind of thing occasionally just because it's (1) fun, and (2) different. Which, now that I think about it, is a good way to describe (1) writing, and (2) writers.

So those are my current publications, and a few facts about how they came to be. Upcoming are stories in AHMM, EQMM, BCMM, Woman's World, Mystery Weekly, Flash Bang Mysteries, The Best American Mystery Stories 2018, and nine anthologies, including one that also features my heroes Joe Lansdale, Bill Pronzini, and Max Allan Collins. Here's the cover of that anthology, Pop the Clutch, which'll be released on November 1.


Do any of you have stories out, or coming up soon, in magazines or collections or anthologies? Any novels recently released, or scheduled? If so, let me know what they are--and keep up the good work. I hope your story ideas--and mine--keep coming.

See you in two weeks.