04 January 2019

Stop Meddling in My Genre - Part 1

by Lawrence Maddox


Dean Martin, actor, singer,
Post Modernist?
From the 1950s through the 70s, Variety shows were TV's shining jewels. Seen as quaint, corny, and conspicuously dopey by today's standards, elaborately produced offerings like The Ed Sullivan ShowPerry Como's Kraft Music Hall, and The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour were hugely popular. The majority of Americans would tune in to see not just cultural shifts, like the Beatles' American debut or Nat King Cole breaking racial barriers, but also to catch the icons of the day step out of the roles they were associated with.  You could watch Orson Welles and Jimmy Stewart sing "Personality" with Dean Martin; marvel at the ultimate cross generational Christmas mash-up of Bing Crosby and David Bowie dueting on "The Little Drummer Boy"; gasp at eternally square Richard Nixon trying his hand at comedy on the televised height of Hippy-dom, Laugh-In.

Though now viewed as old-fashioned, by allowing the famous to escape their prescribed boxes and take part in the equivalent of modern-day mash-ups, these shows could also be seen as doing something new and inventive, all in the name of fun.  In Smoke and Mirrors, John Leonard wrote that "We've a more pretentious word today for such radical juxtapositions of the silly and sublime, random conjectures of blank incredulity and dreadful apprehension (nostalgia laced with contempt) an absurd snippet (Rise Stevens singing "Cement Mixer, Putty Putty"). Instead of novelty, we have post-modernism."

When the same approach is taken with literary genres like crime fiction, feathers can get ruffled. As John Leonard implies, mixing genres can be seen as a post-modernistic reshuffling of the deck.   I'd like to make the case that crossing genres was right there at the beginning, when 20th century American crime fiction was taking shape in the widely read and cheaply made pages of pulp magazines. After cajoling you with my cross-genre calculations, we'll talk with genre bending daredevil Earl Javorsky, author of the multi-faceted and endlessly riveting PI Charlie Miner series.

Fans of Quentin Tarantino's game-changing crime drama Pulp Fiction might be mislead into thinking that pulp fiction itself is synonymous with crime fiction.  Pulp magazines, and the novels they spawned,  weren't actually genre specific at all.  Pulp magazines were named for wood pulp, the inexpensive main component of their pages, and they were cheaper to buy than their highbrowed antecedents, the pricier "slicks." Popular from roughly 1900 until TV began rotting America's mind in earnest in the early '50s, the pulps dabbled in fantasy, sci-fi, horror, westerns, crime, and adventure. Populism ran rampant in the pulps, and literary merit took a backseat to entertainment, no matter how tawdry or fantastic. Want tales of a flying ace that fights zombies? Here's G-8 and His Battle Aces. How about a Los Angeles socialite who wears a backless dress and a domino mask to rob from criminals a la Robin Hood? Look no farther than Saucy Romantic Adventures for tales of the Domino Lady. There were few sacred cows, and popular elements would be plucked from different genres and scattered about, all in the name of commerce.

Using cheaper paper wasn't the only way pulps kept the cost down; they also paid writers less than what other markets offered. This allowed the pulps to catch some luminaries-to-be at the start of their literary trajectories.  Perhaps the first pulp superstar was Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose "Tarzan of the Apes," published in All Story in 1912, was a national phenomenon. It not only helped kick off Burroughs' influential career but was a fillip to all the pulps in general.  Many other notable fantasy authors took the pulp plunge, including Conan creator Robert E. Howard, and the brilliant sci-fi subversive Philip K. Dick.

Pulp also provided the means for many burgeoning crime authors to gate crash the zeitgeist. Though Dashiell Hammett first published in the much tonier Smart Set magazine, his Continental Op tales became an early staple of the uber pulp Black Mask starting in 1923.  The Continental Op was a detective for a Pinkerton-esque agency (Hammett himself had been a Pinkerton) , and he was the proverbial joker in the deck.   The Op was a master manipulator who cast a cold, calculating eye on his fellow man. The Big Sleep author Raymond Chandler, one of many hard-boiled authors who followed Hammett into the pulps, famously said that Hammett "wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before." David Goodis, whose Shoot the Piano Player became a New Wave masterpiece under Truffaut, prolifically contributed Western stories to the pulps as well as crime stories.

The pulps were like a cheap hotel, and with that many different genres checking in, there were bound to be some illicit hook-ups. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the so-called pulp adventure stories, and there were none more popular or cross-pollinated than The Shadow.  The Shadow character began life in 1930 as the eerie omnipotent narrator for the radio show Detective Story Hour,  which in turn was a product of Detective Story Magazine. Like Tarzan eighteen years earlier, The Shadow character grabbed America by the imagination and wouldn't let go. The Shadow Magazine began less than a year later. Popular novels, a radio show, and movies followed. Orson Welles, thirty years prior to joining Dean Martin's wobbly orbit, voiced an early version of The Shadow on the radio.

Author Walter B. Gibson was tasked with turning the sinister Shadow into a fleshed out character who could lead his own adventures. Since Gibson was writing for a detective pulp, The Shadow was placed in the world of crime, gangs, and murder. The Shadow operated like a detective, but also a vigilante. Many of his characteristics, like taking justice into his own hands and manipulating others like pawns, came directly from pulp characters like Hammett's Continental Op. Yet The Shadow was also a figure of horror who had the supernatural ability to cloud men's minds, though actual invisibility happened  only on the radio show.  Gibson said Bram Stoker's Dracula was an influence.  Sci-fi elements were also included when The Shadow would occasionally battle mad scientists and their inventions.  The influence of The Shadow can't be overstatedThe Shadow may also be unfortunately responsible for what I'll call "The Scooby-Doo Effect"; stories where the bad guys dress up as something spooky in order to scare away intruders, and would've gotten away with it if it wasn't for those meddling kids. The Shadow was a smorgasbord of genre elements, and so were the "hero pulps," such as Doc Savage, that it paved the way for.

Really, so much of what entertains us today began with pulp.  Bill Finger, who along with Bob Kane developed Batman, said "my first Batman story was a take-off of a Shadow story." Superman was inspired by Doc Savage. Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (aka Blade Runner) is sci-fi at its finest, but it's also a hard-boiled detective novel. Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter, the basest of Private Dicks. He's got a gun, a list, and police bureaucracy up the wazoo.  It's as if the other Burroughs (Beatnik William) used  his cutup technique, clipping at one story from Analog and another from Black Mask and pasting together this dystopic hybrid

Charlie Huston carries on the fine tradition of genre mixing in his thrilling Joe Pitt series. Starting with Already Dead in 2005, Huston's Pitt is a private detective working the mean streets of New York. Pitt is also a vampire who must negotiate his way among cops and dangerous vampire clans while solving cases. Huston has said he prefers to be called a pulp writer.

I'm fortunate to have author Earl Javorsky's take on mixing genres, among other topics, in my next installment.  His Charlie Miner books, Down Solo (2014) and Down to No Good (2017), are my latest hobby. Miner is an insurance fraud investigator who keeps getting killed, but that doesn't stop him from playing detective in his own deaths, or from helping Homicide Detective Dave Putnam with his cases.  Join Earl Javorsky and myself outside the box for part two.

Note: A technical issue isn't letting me respond to comments to my blog. This is a real bummer. Please continue to comment. I'll be reading what you have to say and yelling my appreciative responses at my computer screen until this glitch is resolved. Thank you and Happy New Year!

03 January 2019

The Spy Who Loved Me

by Eve Fisher

Dusty Johnson's July 15, 2015 tweet praising Maria Butina.
https://kelo.com/news/articles/2018/jul/18/
congressional-candidate-dusty-johnson-
praised-maria-butina-in-2015/
Some of you might remember - not that long ago! - when I did a couple of blog posts  (Mata Hari in South Dakota) about Russian spy Maria Butina and her paramour, South Dakota's own GOP operative, Paul Erickson.  They lived here in Sioux Falls and Ms. Butina did the South Dakota speaking tour, representing her own [Russian] Right to Bear Arms organization.  The tour - all about God, Guns and Let's Be Friends With Russia! - included SDSU, USD, and the Teenage Republicans Camp in the Black Hills.  The last was an interesting example of how you should be careful who you bring in as a guest speaker, considering the number of past and current South Dakota legislators (including recently elected US Representative Dusty Johnson!) were counselors, attendees, or just there for the party.  Bet Dusty's banging his head every day over this little tweet:

Well, now Maria's pled guilty to conspiring to be a foreign agent in the U.S., and is cooperating with authorities.

Her partner, in more ways than one, was Paul Erickson - whose resume includes:
  • National political director / campaign manager for the 1992 Pat Buchanan presidential campaign, 
  • Advisor to both of Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns. 
  • Former board member of the American Conservative Union, the group that organizes the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).[5] 
  • South Dakota Trump campaign, claimed he was on the Trump presidential transition team. and during the 2016 NRA convention sent an e-mail to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump (via Trump's campaign advisor Rick Dearborn and then-Senator Jeff Sessions) with the subtle subject line: "Kremlin Connection."  
Mr. Erickson has been hiding in Virginia, and has recently "lawyered up", which is the best idea he's had in years. For one thing, he's "Person 1" who, according to the Statement of Offence, "agreed and conspired, with a Russian government official [that’s Alexander Torshin, Russian billionaire and close personal friend of Vladimir Putin] and at least one other person [ooo! a new mystery player!] for Butina to act in the United States under the direction of [Torshin] without prior notification to the Attorney General.” The purpose of this conspiracy was for Butina to “establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. policies… for the benefit of the Russian Federation.” Butina acknowledges that she used the National Rifle Association to forward the Russian Plan, because she believed the NRA "had influence over" the Republican Party.  (Thanks, Cory Heidelberger, for the summation)

NOTE:  The NRA is STILL staying silent as a tomb about Ms. Butina, despite the fact that there are pictures out the wazoo of her at various NRA functions (see below),
even though both Ms. Butina and the missing Mr. Torshin were made lifetime members of the NRA.
AND former NRA president David Keene visited Moscow at Mr. Torshin's behest.
AND the NRA spent a lot of money on Donald Trump's campaign.  $30 million, to be specific.  All of this is currently being investigated.  

Ms. Butina in 2014 with James W. Porter II, then president of the N.R.A.; Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice president; and Rick Santorum, the former senator.
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/04/us/politics/maria-butina-nra-russia-influence.html
NOTE: Russian President Vladimir Putin - who was eager for her release while she was first arrested - currently says he never heard of her.  Considering that Alexander Torshin has gone missing and is rumored murdered, Ms. Butina may want to try to stay in the US after trial, rather than be deported back home.

Image result for paul erickson south dakota
Meanwhile, though, a lot of people have asked me the simple question:  why South Dakota?  Why did she come here, other than for Paul Erickson's rugged good looks?  

Well, South Dakota is a large rural state with a very small population (under 900,000).  Our politicians are extremely, notoriously frugal - i.e., cheap.  Our current assets are $3.13 trillion (yes, you read that right) in commercial and savings bank assets.  We have the weakest reporting regulations you can imagine.  The FBI recently busted a major New York auto theft ring using South Dakota because, "South Dakota, a state that lets people register out-of-state vehicles by mail and wasn’t thoroughly checking to see if they were stolen, the FBI said." (Citation)  We also have (among?) the most pro-business laws regarding credit cards, payday loans, and setting up LLCs and their like in the country.  In my last blog I mentioned that Butina and Erickson formed a couple of LLCs here in Sioux Falls - which, it turns out, may have been laundering money from Torshin and from an as-yet unidentified Russian oligarch (perhaps the anonymous person cited above?) who has a net worth Forbes estimates to be about $1.2 billion.  (This Vox article is still pretty darned good on the ins and outs of the whole thing.)

Anybody can form a shell corporation in South Dakota for $50 per year, without requiring a physical presence and a minimum of personal information.  We have had at least two major scandals - EB-5 and Gear Up! - in which suicide (?) and/or murder-suicide and/or plain old murder followed on millions of federal dollars going missing (and still unfound).  (For that matter, we haven't yet found the Westerhuis safe.)  We are ranked 3rd in the country for corruption, because of single-party government, lack of transparency, backdoor decisions, and we got an "F" in executive and legislative accountability, as well as next to last in lobbying disclosure.  

In other words, you can could get away with a lot in South Dakota, and nobody would notice.  It was the perfect place for a red-haired, gun-toting, freedom-loving, handy Russian to be.

Which leads me to the second obvious question:  why did everyone fall so hard for, and buy so completely into, Maria Butina, and her story about her pro-gun rights Russian organization, Right To Bear Arms?  In Vladimir Putin's Russia?  HAH!  But buy it they did.

The quick answer:  look at the photos:

Maria Butina, Washington Post




  Image result for maria butina instagram  Image result for Maria Butina sexy photo with gun

I wrote back in April of 2015 that "As societies show greater respect for "the interests and values of women" things get better, more peaceful, more prosperous, as a whole.  Ironically, we're currently trying to masculinize women both in business and entertainment, where the ideal woman is now presented as a slim, beautiful, brilliant, athletic ninja warrior."  (The Better Angels...)  Meet Maria Butina.  Or at least her photographs.

"Maria Butina was the ultimate NRA Cool Girl" says a Washington Post article, and goes on to add, "But is there a surfeit of highly intelligent, hot, bilingual Eastern European graduate students who love Jesus, cooking, guns, big-game hunting, bourbon, lipstick, cowboys and tenderly repairing the hearts of damaged men?"

Maybe.  At least, that appears to have been the general conservative male hope.  And, according to Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl, THE male hope.  Read all about the Cool Girl HERE.

Back to WaPo:  "The fact that Butina became so popular in conservative circles so quickly seems to point in the other direction: There aren’t a lot of (real) women like her. “She was like a novelty,” a former Michigan GOP chair told The Washington Post last week. “Friendly, curious and flirtatious,” described another anonymous source, who met her through the Conservative Political Action Conference.  The men who championed her were so pleased to meet a woman who fit an ideal mold, they never stopped to think that maybe she was an ideal mole."  Washington Post

Red Sparrow came to South Dakota, [Grateful] Deadheaded the NRA, was invited to and attended the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast, CPAC, and everything else she could find.  Even John Bolton made a video for her in 2103. (YouTube.)   Hell, she even interviewed Candidate Trump, who was happy to take her question and answer freely (and exceptionally eloquently):  You Tube Video.

Everyone loved her.  No one could get enough of her.  But they're being awfully quiet about it now.




"What is the right to life, ingrained in our constitution, if you don’t have the right to bear arms?" says group founder Maria Butina.
Maria in Moscow,
2012
PS:  A lot of Russians also bought Maria's story and her organization.  The Right to Bear Arms united almost all the gun rights' organizations in Russia, largely thanks to her personality. Butina was the "battery that ignited everyone" and "things started to decline" after she left, said the improbably named co-founder Muslim Sheikhov.

But Vladimir Milov, a veteran Russian opposition politician, said he noticed at the time how "well technically equipped" Butina's group appeared to be and the quality of the merchandise at their rallies. "There was a clear idea from the beginning that somebody is behind them." But, at the time, "Butina's associates... believed that Right To Bear Arms was being funded mainly thanks largely to member fees and the sale of several furniture stores she owned in her Siberian hometown of Barnaul." Radio Free Europe

Instead, it was Russian billionaires Alexander Torshin and Konstantin Nikolayev, both friends of Putin.  And with that knowledge comes the fear that the charismatic Butina had "founded" an organization whose chief purpose was to infiltrate Russian opposition groups and, later, the NRA.  And which succeeded in doing both.

In other words, Putin managed to find a way to kill two birds - in two countries - with one stone.  

02 January 2019

Spy TV

by Robert Lopresti

I recently had an experience that carried me off on a cheerful wave of nostalgia.  Our current TV package provides access to an obscure channel called TubiTV.  And on it I was able to make my reacquaintance with The Sandbaggers, a spy series from Britain's ITV.  I had watched it on PBS back around 1980 when it premiered.  I was surprised at how much I remembered and how well it held up.  (It also seems to be available on Youtube.)

The series revolves around the Secret Intelligence Service (never called MI6 in the show), and it's Director of Operations, Neil Burnside (played by Roy Marsden, before he became better known as Adam Dalgleish).  Burnside is in charge of all the British agents in foreign countries around the world, but his first love is the Special Operations Section, known as the Sandbaggers.  These are the smash-and-grab boys, the ones who get sent to perform an extraction or an assassination (or prevent one). Please don't compare them to James Bond or Burnside will slit your throat.  He hates Ian Fleming's famous creation.

And as for slitting your throat, he is himself a former Sandbagger, and as ruthless as they come.  And yes, this crowd is pretty ruthless.  In the 20 episodes you will see virtually all the characters lying to each other, and often doublecrossing their superiors and allies.  Burnside would defend himself by saying he is true to the service and to his ultimate goal: destroying the KGB.  And he is willing to destroy his own career to do it.

An example of Burnside's charming personality.  In one episode he is in a restaurant and someone informs him: "I just saw your ex-wife out on the street."

"Best place for her."  Like I said, charming.

One thing I love about the show is the title.  I like to imagine it made John Le Carre, the master of fictional spy jargon, terribly jealous.  His name for the same type of group was the Scalphunters, but Sandbaggers is so much better.  "To sandbag" means "to launch a sneak attack" but it also means "to build emergency defenses."  Clever, eh?

The show had its flaws, of course.  The SIS is seen to be strangled with personnel shortages but it felt like that had more to do with TV budgets than anything else.  The inside sets look like a high school drama club production.  So many of the international crises take place in Malta that one can only assume ITV had a deal with the local tourist board.  And the last episode of the show only makes sense if you forgot everything that happened four episodes earlier.

None the less, it has been called one of the best spy shows of all time, and I'm not arguing.

The show was created, and most episodes were written, by Ian MacKintosh, a former naval officer.  Because of the series' sense of realism there was speculation that he had been involved in the spy world, but he played coy about it.  The series ends with a (hell of a) cliffhanger, because MacKintosh died unexpectedly and the network decided no one else could do it justice.

But I oversimplified when I said MacKintosh died.  In reality he and his girlfriend disappeared in a small airplane over the Pacific Ocean after radioing for help. The plane disappeared in a small area where neither U.S. nor Soviet radar reached.

I wonder what Burnside would make of that.

Oh, the show also has a great musical theme (just about the only music ever used in the program). Listen all the way to the last note.



But wait, there's more!  In the midst of my Sandbaggery I discovered a very different spy show which is, curiously, both older and newer than The Sandbaggers.  Available on Netflix A Very Secret Service (Au Service de la France) was created in 2015, but is set in 1960. And now let's give Grandpa a moment to marvel here over the fact that The Sandbaggers is set closer in time to 1960 than to 2015.

The series (in French, with subtitles) tells the story of Andre Merlaux, a naive young man who is forcibly recruited into the French Secret Service, which promptly makes it clear that they don't much want him.   It is a rather peculiar agency where doing your job is much less important than turning in proper receipts and wearing suits from the correct tailors.

On his first day on the job Merlaux gets in trouble for committing the incredible faux pas - I know you will be stunned by this blunder -- of answering the ringing phone on his desk. Quel imbécile!

This show is wildly and wickedly funny.  In one episode Merlaux assumes that a suspect cannot be a terrorist because she is a woman  His tutor firmly instructs him: "In cases of terrorism women must be considered humans!"

In another episode the French capture a German on his way from Argentina and suspect he is a Nazi. Fortunately they have a scientific survey which allows them to detect such barbarians.  (Sample question: "Adolf Hitler: pleasant or unpleasant?")

The best spy in the bunch is Clayborn, who will never get promoted because she is a woman.  All her operations are described as "courtesy missions," which means they involve getting naked with someone, but don't think that means they don't also involve theft, blackmail, and murder.

At one point Merlaux pours out all his troubles to Clayborn. She is, of course, sympathetic: "You feel out of place.  I understand.  This is the women's bathroom."

Neil Burnside would not be amused, but I was.


01 January 2019

Crime Scene Comix Case 2019-01, SleepWalker

by Velma

Sometimes crime turns funny, especially when dumb criminals are involved. Sometimes creative minds view crime in skewed ways. Today, experience two minutes of mad mayhem.

Meet Shifty, a crook who looks like a Minion in zebra stripes. Although he always wears his mask and prisoner jersey, no member of the public pays him the least attention.

Shifty can be found in the Future Thought channel of YouTube– please visit. Here's an example of Shifty in action.


How's that for crime cinema? Hope you enjoyed the show.

The Power of Tenacity

by Barb Goffman

I planned to title this column the Power of Persistence and to write about writing goals. It seemed perfect for January 1st, when so many people make resolutions for the new year. And I do love alliteration. But then I thought, maybe "tenacity" would be a better word than "persistence." The Power of Tenacity might not have the same cadence as the Power of Persuasion, but is it more on point? I had always treated the words as synonyms, but maybe they aren't, I began to think. Maybe I should check. So I did, and it turns out there's an important difference between the two words.

Persistence means trying repeatedly to reach a goal through the same method, figuring eventually you'll succeed. Tenacity means trying to reach a goal through varying methods, learning from each failure and trying different approaches. For anyone with goals for 2019, tenacity seems the better approach.

How does this apply to writing? First, let's talk about getting writing done. Everyone has their own method. Some people write every morning before daybreak. Others write at night. Some people say they will write for a set number of hours each day. Others say they'll write as long as it takes to meet a daily quota. Some people plot out what they're going to write. Others write by the seat of their pants. It doesn't matter what your approach is, as long as it works for you. So with the new year here, perhaps this is a good time to take stock of your approach. Is your approach working for you? Are you getting enough writing done? Enough revision done? Are you making the best use of your time?

I have a friend (and editing client) who used to be a pantser. But she found that after finishing every draft, she had so many loose ends to address and problems to fix, it took her much longer to revise than she'd like. So she started forcing herself to plot before she began writing each book. Not detailed outlines, but she figures out who kills whom, how, and why, what her subplot will be (again, just the basics), and what her theme is. These changes in her approach have enabled her to be so much more productive. She writes faster now, and she needs less time for revision. That's tenacity in action.

Moving on to a finished product, how do you react to rejection? If you have a rejected short story, for instance, after you finish cursing the universe, do you find another venue and send that story out immediately? Or do you re-read it and look for ways to improve it? And if a story has been rejected several times (there's no shame here; we've all been there), do you keep sending it out anyway or put it in a drawer to let it cool off for a few months or years until perhaps the market has changed or your skills have improved?

If sending a story out a few times without revising after each rejection usually results in a sale for you, great. Then your persistence works, and it means you have more time for other projects. But if it doesn't, if you find yourself sending a story out a dozen times without success, then perhaps you should consider a new approach. After a story is rejected, say, three times, maybe you should give it a hard look and see how it can be changed. Maybe you should let it sit in a drawer for a while first, so when you review it, you'll have a fresh take.

And if you're getting a lot of rejections, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate your markets or what you write. I know some writers who started their careers writing science fiction, but it turned out that they were much better suited to writing mysteries. Once they let their true selves out on the page, they started making sales. I know a writer who's been working on a novel for years, but she can't seem to finish it. Yet she's had a lot of success with short stories. If she were to decide to only write short stories and let the novel lie fallow, that wouldn't be a failure; it would be tenacity in action: finding what works for her.

I was about to write that the one thing you shouldn't do is give up, but there might be value in letting go. If your goal is to write a novel or short story, but you never seem to finish your project, and the mere thought of working on it feels like drudgery instead of joy, then maybe being a professional writer isn't for you. There's no shame in that. Not every person is suited to every task. When I was a kid I loved swimming, but I was never going to make a swim team. I wasn't fast enough. Maybe with a lot of practice and other changes I could have gotten there, but I didn't want to take those steps. And that's okay. I enjoyed swimming for the fun of it, and that was enough for me. Maybe writing for yourself, without the pressure of getting to write "The End," is what gives you joy. If so, more power to you. And maybe it turns out you don't want to finish that book or story you started writing. That's okay too, even if you did tell everyone that you were writing it. You're allowed to try things and stop if it turns out they aren't the right fit for you.

But if you believe writing is the right fit, yet your writing isn't as productive as you want it to be, or your sales aren't as good as you want them to be, then be tenacious. Evaluate your approaches to getting writing done, to editing your work, to seeking publication. Maybe you need to revise how you're doing things. Are you writing in the morning but are more alert in the evening? Change when you write. Is your work typically ready to be sent out into the world as soon as you finish? If you get a lot of rejections, maybe it's not. Maybe you need to force yourself to let your work sit for a while after you finish, so you can review it again with fresh eyes before you start submitting. Do you have a contract, but your books aren't selling as well as you'd like? Perhaps you should find someone you trust who can try to help you improve. No matter how successful you are, there's always something new to learn. The key is to figure out what works for you and keep doing it, and also figure out what isn't working for you and change it.

That, my fellow writers, is my advice for 2019. Be tenacious. Evaluate what you want, and evaluate your methods for getting there. If your methods aren't working, change them. And if in six months your new methods aren't working, change them again. Work hard. Work smart. And be sure to enjoy yourself along the way, because if you're not enjoying writing, why bother doing it?

***

And now for a little BSP: I usually have one or two of my short stories up on my website so folks can get a feel for my fiction writing style. I just changed those stories. Now you can read "Bug Appétit" (which was published in the November/December 2018 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine) and "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" (from the 2018 Bouchercon Anthology, Florida Happens). For "Bug Appétit"click here, and for "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" click here. Happy reading. And I hope you have a wonderful new year.

31 December 2018

The World Revolved and We Resolved

Happy New Year!  To celebrate the occasion some of the regular mob here decided to offer a resolution for you to ponder.  Feel free to contribute your own in the comments.

It has been an interesting year  at SleuthSayers and we hope it has been one for you as well.  We wish you a prosperous and criminous 2019.

Steve Hockensmith. My new year's resolution is to write the kind of book that I would really enjoy reading but which will also have a decent chance of finding an enthusiastic publisher...which might be the equivalent of resolving to lose 30 pounds by only eating your favorite pizza.

Eve Fisher. Mine is to break my addiction to distracting myself on the internet.  


John M. Floyd.  
1. Read more new authors.
2. Write more in different genres.  
3. Let my manuscripts “cool off” longer before sending them in. 
4. Read more classics.
5. Search out some new markets. 
6. Cut back on semicolons.
7. Go to more conferences.
8. Go to more writers’ meetings.  
9. Get a Twitter account.
10. Try submitting to a contest now and then.  This one’s low on my list—I avoid contests like I avoid blue cheese—but I probably should give it a try. (Contests, not blue cheese.)   

Paul D. Marks. I resolve to watch fewer murder shows on Discovery ID and murder more people on paper.

Barb Goffman.  My new year's resolution is to finish all my projects early. Anyone who knows me is likely rolling with laughter now because finishing on time is usually a push for me. Heck I'm often writing my SleuthSayers column right before the deadline, and I'm probably sending in this resolution later than desired too. But at least I'm consistent!

Janice Law. I resolve to start reading a lot of books- and only finish the good ones.

Stephen Ross.  My New Year resolution is to FINALLY finish a science fiction short story I started two years ago, but have yet to think of a decent ending!

Steve Liskow.  I love short stories but find them very difficult to write. I've resolved that I will write and submit four new short stories in 2019.  My other resolution is to lose 15 pounds. That will be tricky since I don't know an English bookie...

Art Taylor. My resolutions are pretty regular—by which I mean not just ordinary but recurrent; for example, I’m redoubling my resolution to write first and to finish projects—keeping on track with some stories and a novel currently in the works. I fell short on my big reading resolution of 2018 (reading aloud the complete Continental Op stories—still working on it!) but I did keep up with reading a list of novels, stories, and essays set in boarding schools (related to my novel-in-progress) and that’s a resolution that’s continuing into 2019 as well, with several books recently added to the list, including The Night of the Twelfth by Michael Gilbert and A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake. I know these might seem more like “things to do” than “resolutions” but that’s how I plan, I guess! For a real resolution, how about this one? Be nicer to our cats. (They’re demanding.) 

Robert Lopresti.  Back in 2012 I won the Black Orchid Novella Award for a story about a beat poet named Delgardo, set in October 1958.  I am currently editing his next adventure, which takes place in November 1958.  In 2019 I want to write "Christmas Dinner," which will be set in... oh, you guessed.

Melodie Campbell. This fall, we found out my husband has widespread cancer.  He isn't yet retirement age, so this has been a shocking plot twist.  In the book of our lives together, we have entered a new chapter.

That metaphor has become my new resolution, in that it is a new way of looking at life in all its beauty and sorrow.  I am a writer.  I have come to view my life as a book.  There are many chapters...growing up, meeting one's mate, raising children, seeing them fly the nest.  Even the different careers I've tried have become chapters in this continuing book.  Some chapters are wonderful, like the last five years of my life.  We don't want them to end.  Others are more difficult, but even those will lead to new chapters, hopefully brighter ones. 
May your book be filled with many chapters, and the comforting knowledge that many more are to come.

Leigh Lundin.  Each year my resolution is to make no resolutions.  A logical fallacy probably is involved.

R.T. Lawton.  I tend not to make New Year’s resolutions anymore. Why? So as to not disappoint myself. At my age, there are fewer things I feel driven to change, and for those circumstances I do feel driven about, I make that decision and attempt regardless of the time of year.

For instance, there is the ongoing weight concern, but I hate dieting or restricting myself from temptation. Other than working out, my idea of a dieting program these days is not using Coke in my evening cocktails. Instead, I’ll merely sip the Jack Daniels or Vanilla Crown Royal straight or on the rocks. Not many calories in ice. On the days I gain a pound (weigh-ins every morning), I can usually guess why. On the days I lose weight, I have no idea why. My best weight loss (usually five pounds at a crack), mostly comes from some health problem I did not anticipate and which involved minimal eating for a few days. Naturally, I’m eating well these days, so we’re back to the temptation thing.

As for any writing and getting published resolutions, that’s a constantly renewable action, however, I can only control the writing and submitting part. The getting published part is up to other people and beyond my control, except for e-publishing.

For those of you making New Year’s resolutions, I wish you much success and hope you meet your goal. And, to spur you on with your commitment, let me know in June how well you did.

Have a great New Year!

30 December 2018

Stealing Christmas?

by R.T. Lawton

     T'was the night before Christmas, and all through the casa,
     not a creature is stirring, Caramba, que pasa?
     The stockings are hanging, con mucho cuidado,
     in hopes that St. Nick will feel obligado.
                   *          *          *
     But Santa esta at the corner saloon,
     muy borrachito since mid-afternoon.
     ............


Whoops wrong version. I use to hear the above poem on the radio at Christmas time when I was a kid in New Mexico. Guess it was so different that parts of it stuck with me. Allegedly, that version of the poem was written by Robie, Anita and Juan LNU (Last Name Unknown) in 1930 for a Spanish class at Indiana University. I rediscovered it recently through the power of the internet and found that several versions of it have been recorded by various Latin musicians.

Of course, you probably know the English version rather than the Spanglish one. And this brings us to the original Christmas Eve poem. "Twas the Night before Christnas," originally known as "Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas," first published in 1823 in a New York newspaper. At the time, the author for the English version was that infamous guy known as Anonymous. Seems that in those days, "great gentlemen" considered it beneath themselves to publish in newspapers, so they used the byline of Anonymous.

Within two decades after first publication, the English version had been reprinted several times and received great popularity with the American public. At this point in its rising popularity, two different camps stepped forward to claim authorship. There are facts to to support both claimants, so you can take your pick.

If you find yourself as more of a traditional person and being resistant to change, then you will probably go with the original claimant, Clement Clarke Moore, a bible professor of German extraction. If you are a fan of technological advances, then you will probably go with Major Henry Livingston Jr., a gentleman poet of Dutch extraction. Both were New Yorkers and Livingston was distantly related to Moore's wife.

No original document of the poem has surfaced, and Moore later explained that he was too embarrassed at the time to acknowledge what he considered to be a trifle. Supposedly, a friend of his was the one who submitted the poem to the newspaper. In 1844, at the request of his family, Moore finally took credit as the author, however, it is alleged that before he took the credit, he first wrote to the newspaper to inquire if anyone there knew who the original author was. By that time, those who knew the real name of the author were dead.

When the poem was first published, two of Santa's reindeer were named as "Dunder" (Thunder) and "Blixem" (Lightning), which is Dutch. Years later, when Moore hand wrote some copies of the poem, he named the same reindeer as "Donder" and "Blitzen," which is German. Moore spoke German, but not Dutch. Livingston spoke Dutch.

The Livingston family claimed that Major Livingston wrote the poem, but they had no physical proof to their claim. In recent years, the family sought the help of Don Foster, an English professor at Vassar University. He is also a scholar of authorial attribution. Foster made comparisons between the Christmas poem and Moore's body of works, beliefs and personality. He also made comparisons between the poem and Livingston's body of works, beliefs and personality. The end result was that Forster said Livingston was the author. Critics claimed that a bible man such as Moore would never make such a false claim. Foster countered with an incident of Moore hand-writing in the front of a sheep farming manual that he had translated this book from French into English, however, a small copyright in the back of the book gave that credit to someone else.

Then, in 2016, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of New Auckland McDonald P. Jackson published a book in which he analyzed the opposing arguments. Jackson used modern computational stylistics and statistical analysis of phonemes. His conclusion was that Livingston wrote the Christmas poem.

So, in short, there you are. You can dig deeper into the various arguments, comparisons and what facts do exist, or you can just choose a side and enjoy the poem regardless. The original claimants and their witnesses are all deceased, so we can't polygraph any of them now to see who is telling the truth. Bottom line: Somebody tried to steal Christmas, but which claimant is the original author and which is the Grinch?

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

That's another thing. One claimant said Happy Christmas instead of Merry Christmas.

Just make sure your works get a copyright, even those you may consider to be a trifle. Who knew?


29 December 2018

Grand (?) Openings


by John M. Floyd



Earlier this month my old (or maybe I should say long-time) friend O'Neil De Noux wrote an interesting column here at SleuthSayers about his best, worst, and favorite opening lines of stories and novels that he himself has written. That set me to thinking: since I admire O'Neil and since one of the best things a writer can do is try to copy other writers he admires . . .

Here are some opening lines of my own short stories, lines that might not be grand but that I hope are at least--how should I put it?--effective.


First, a quick note. I've always heard that ideal openings should (1) introduce your lead character and/or (2) establish the setting (time, place) and/or (3) introduce conflict. A fourth goal is to make the reader curious about what might happen next. I tried to do some of those things in these openings:


Jason Plumm lay on the beach for five hours before he was found.
--"The Blue Wolf," AHMM, Feb 2000

All things considered, Jerry thought, it wasn't a bad day to die.
--"The Last Sunset," Listen Magazine, Dec 2005

Ed Parrott was cleaning his gun by the campfire, a hundred yards south of the herd, when the stranger stepped from the shadows.
--"The Pony Creek Gang," Reader's Break, Vol. VII, 1998

"If he's sick," O'Neal said, "maybe he'll die on his own."
--"Flu Season," The Norwegian American, Nov 2016

The dead woman lay in a pecan orchard fifty yards from the road.
--"Oversight," Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, Winter 2003

Terry Gibbs could remember a thousand unpleasant duties in the course of his twelve years on the police force.
--"200 Feet," Strand Magazine, Feb-May 2014

The two brothers lived together in the city at the end of the valley at the foot of the great blue mountains.
--"Custom Design," Lines in the Sand, May/June 1994

Lou Rosewood stepped into the laboratory, closed the door behind him, and locked it.
--"A Place in History," T-Zero, July 2003

I met Jenny Bartlett two days ago, when she rang my doorbell at six in the morning.
--"Rainbow's End," Woman's World, July 27, 1999

At first Eddie thought he'd been carjacked.
--"Wheels of Fortune," Heist Magazine, April 2002

Joe Higby stomped into the ice cream shop, leaned his axe against the wall, and took a seat at the counter.
--"In the Wee Hours," Over My Dead Body, April 2012

"Is he still out there?" Patty asked.
--"Knights of the Court," Red Herring Mystery Magazine, Vol. 3, #3.5, 1996

The bank stood on the west end of Palmetto Street, an old and gray lump of a building in an old and gray part of town.
--"Molly's Plan," Strand Magazine, June-Sep 2014

It was quiet at the edge of the woods.
--"The Blue Delta," Blood on the Bayou (Bouchercon anthology), Sep 2016

"What I can't figure out," Nate said, as he lay in the dirt behind a clump of cactus near Rosie Hapwell's house, "is why you married that idiot in the first place."
--"Saving Mrs. Hapwell," Dogwood Tales Magazine, March/April 1997

Two dozen people stood in a group around the hanging tree.
--"Sand Hill," Gathering Storm Magazine, April 2017

Hank Stegall saw her as soon as she stepped out of the building.
--"Ladies of the North," Phoebe, Spring/Fall 2002

Ames and his driver sat in the black Lincoln outside Ross Vardeman's apartment building, in a parking space as far as they could get from a streetlight.
--"Watched," Untreed Reads, Oct 2011

Around nine a.m., Billy Roland saw the water tower and the first cluster of buildings in the distance, steered his rented Ford to the shoulder of the road, and stopped.
--"Saving Grace," The Saturday Evening Post, July/Aug 2015

"Driver?" the senator's wife said. "Where exactly are we?"
--"Driver," Strand Magazine, Feb-May 2015

Angela Potts noticed, as she plopped down on the park bench beside Sheriff Jones, that he looked grumpy--but that was nothing unusual.
--"Picture This," Woman's World, July 22, 2013

At 8:40 on a clear Friday night in July, Jesse Pratt escaped from Crow Mountain State Penitentiary, stole a pickup from the staff parking lot, and promptly drove it into a lake some fifty yards away.
--"Weekend Getaway," Pages of Stories, Summer 2010

George Tate had fed his cousin's livestock and was trudging back from the barn when he heard the woman scream.
--"Tomboy," Prairie Times, Nov 2010

The scariest day of my life--and the most wonderful--happened when I was ten years old.
--"The Winslow Tunnel," Amazon Shorts, March 2006

Dave Cotten sat on his back porch with a .38 revolver in his lap, staring at nothing in particular.
--"Blackjack Road," Strand Magazine, June-Sep 2012

The old man was popping the last of the breakfast biscuits into his mouth when the door crashed open.
--"Newton's Law," Western Digest, Oct 1998

Milo Stinson thought it would be quiet in the jungle.
--"Two in the Bush," Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Issue #2, 2018

The car was waiting in the alley, with Eddie Stark at the wheel and half a dozen cigarette butts littering the pavement below the driver's-side door.
--"Frontier Justice," Florida Happens (Bouchercon anthology), Sep 2018

Charlie Hunter sat stiff and cramped in the fake leather chair in his back office, watching the clock on the paneled wall.
--"Hunters," AHMM, May 2014

"So if he dies," Niles said, "I get everything. Right?"
--"Silent Partner," Crimestalker Casebook, Spring 2004

Amos Garrett had switched off his dashboard radio, ejected Willie Nelson, and plugged in Tammy Wynette when he looked up and saw the little white car pulled over on the grassy shoulder of the road just ahead.
--"Crow's Nest," EQMM, upcoming in 2019

Susan Weeks had never seen a monster before.
--"The Wading Pool," Spinetingler Magazine, 2006


I know, I probably included about twenty too many of these. But hang in there--here are some more, from writers a bit more famous and talented than I am, that I think are among the best opening lines ever:


We were about to give up and call it a night when someone dropped the girl off the bridge.
--Darker Than Amber, John D. MacDonald

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.
--The Gunslinger, Stephen King

The last camel collapsed at noon.
--The Key to Rebecca, Ken Follett

It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.
--"The Short Happy Life of Francis McComber," Ernest Hemingway

I'm pretty much fucked.
--The Martian, Andy Weir

Every time they got a call from the leper hospital to pick up a body, Jack Delaney would feel himself coming down with the flu or something.
--Bandits, Elmore Leonard

The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida.
--"A Good Man Is Hard to Find," Flannery O'Connor

The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house.
--Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, Tom Franklin

What was the worst thing you've ever done?
--Ghost Story, Peter Straub

At the stroke of eleven on a cool April night, a woman named Joey Perrone went overboard from the luxury deck of the cruise liner Sun Duchess.
--Skinny Dip, Carl Hiaasen

You better not never tell nobody but God.
--The Color Purple, Alice Walker

I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex downs, and nearly stepped on him.
--The Beekeeper's Apprentice, Laurie R. King

There was a desert wind blowing that night.
--"Red Wind," Raymond Chandler

I turned the Chrysler onto the Florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer's headless body in the trunk, and all the time I'm thinking I should've put some plastic down.
--Gun Monkeys, Victor Gischler

He rode into our valley in the summer of '89.
--Shane, Jack Schaefer


Remember any of those? I love 'em. To wind this up, here's something I found in Secret Windows, Stephen King's often-overlooked, 400-page book of essays on writing. The chapter about story and novel openings that hook the reader is called "Great Hookers I Have Known," and King says the granddaddy of all hookers is this one:

"In the beginning, God created heaven and earth."


It's hard to top that.



28 December 2018

Pronunciations

Pronunciations
by O'Neil De Noux

After reading an interesting article on why we pronounce Arkansas and Kansas differently, my mind moved home to our unique pronunciations in New Orleans. Many are secret handshakes – pronouncing a word correctly shows you are a New Orleanian, not a tourist or an ex-patriot American who moved here from Cleveland and never left. (that's a joke fellas).

Some of our secret handshakes are:



Burgundy Street is pronounced is not pronounced Bur-gun-dy like the wine – but is Bur-gun-dy.
Milan Street is not pronounced like the city in Italy but My-lin.
Beaucaire is Bo-care.
Chalmette is Chal-met.
Chartres Street is Char-ters.
Calliope Street is Cal-ee-ope.
Farbourg Marigny is Fa-berg Mare-a-nee.
Metairie is Met-a-ree.
Palquemines is Plack-a-mins.
Pontchartrain is Ponch-a-train.

There are two proper ways to pronounce our city's name. New Awlins (sometimes New Awlun) or New Aw-lee-uns, although Orleans Avenue is pronounced Or-leens. It is acceptable to call the city New Or-leens in a song or in a poem in order to match a rhyme as in "Do you know what it means to miss New Or-leens?"

Uptown dillitantes are known to pronounce the city's name as New Aw-al-yuns and Tulane University as Ta-lane instead of the proper Too-lane.

Here is a link to how the fat man pronounced the city. In my generation, Fat Domino was the Man. Here is his wonderful WALKING TO NEW ORLEANS:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1z45jVlM34

In north Louisiana (we never call it upstate), our state name is often pronounced Looziana, where down here in the south we call it what most people call it - Louise-e-ana. It was named after King Louis XIV, the Sun King.

Article about Arkansas and Kansas can be found here:

https://www.businessinsider.com/why-we-pronounce-kansas-and-arkansas-differently-2014-2?fbclid=IwAR3Rxitax_xF7Y6leBDk2MQBRVXrHCVmOeezCoHeXy5d7WesJobtffIctBk

When we read books, it is not important we pronounce things correctly but if we read them aloud or if we writers have our books on audio, the narrator has to know colloquial pronunciations or you get your audio book to have a "Street Charles Avenue" instead of "Saint Charles Avenue" because the narrator thought St. Charles Avenue was ... you get the drift.

Happy New Year, y'all.
www.oneildenoux.com

27 December 2018

Writing-Related Goals for 2019

by Brian Thornton

So here I was, sitting on an "Origins of Boxing Day" post, all pleased with myself that I had something cued up well in advance of my next post, when I see that:

1. My post drops the day after Boxing Day.

AND

2. My predecessor in our little rotation, David Edgerley Gates, already nailed a Boxing Day background post right here.

S'okay. I'm fifty-three, with a six-year-old kid. I'm nothing if not adaptable.

So rather than fall back on an "end of year" list (Already did that here.), I'm gonna share my writing resolutions (following in the footsteps of my old friend Steve Hockensmith, who announced his here. Congrats on getting that new book out there for sale, Steve. I just went to Amazon and bought my copy!).

Writing-wise 2018 for me was a lot like a duck paddling across a placid pond. Nothing much happening on the surface, but a ton of frenetic movement just out of sight, below the waterline.

I have three projects scheduled to drop in 2019: two volumes of crime fiction inspired by the music of jazz-rock legends Steely Dan (I wrote a story and am curating the project.) and a volume of three thematically-linked novellas.

Their pub dates are: June 1 (first volume of the anthology), late September/early October (for both the second anthology volume and the novella collection– well in time for Bouchercon).

The relevance of this? Well, it leads to my first writing resolution for 2019:

Have a Plan.

I spent the last half-decade keeping my hand in, as it were, but really, my son and other family concerns demanded a fair amount of available time and head space (that not already taken up by my day gig and other professional obligations). As I've documented elsewhere in this blog, I never stopped writing, I just stopped finishing things. I'm sure the writers out there actually reading this (both of you!) know exactly what I'm talking about.

I knew I was going to have time/headspace again someday, and because I'm married to someone a lot smarter than I am, I talked to her about making a plan to ramp up the production with my writing. Anyone who knows me knows that planning is not something I come by naturally.

Luckily (told you I married up) I'm hitched to someone for whom planning short and long-term is second nature. Robyn helped me lay plans for my return to productive work in 2019.

We laid those plans in the Autumn months of 2017.

That's publishing for you, folks.

And because I want to continue to be productive well past 2019, I am already setting up a multiple project schedule for 2019 which ought to help keep me productive into 2020 and beyond. (More on what I'm planning to work on next in my first post of the New Year.)

Be More Visible.

Marketing yourself and your work is part of the gig, always has been and the smart folks have always known that. My goals on this front for 2019 include attending Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon (Oh, I know, work, work, work. I'm sure I won't have any fun at either LCC or B'con!), launch a brand-new author's page, up the number of author's events I do (and agree to do with other authors coming through town, and so on.), teach some seminars, stuff like that.

My wife, the planner in the family as well as my PR flack/major domo/brand manager, is already laying out specifics on that front.

Listen to Maya Angelou.

The anthologies were originally intended to come out as a single volume, but as it turns out, I am fortunate enough to know and be liked by a ton of writers who also feel passionately (hey, hatred is a passion, too!) about the music of Steely Dan. The response I got to my call for submissions by this fantastic crop of scribes was both humbling and challenging.

My publisher (Down & Out Books) has been nothing but supportive on the notion of expanding the anthology out to two, so there we were. Done deal. Let the pros work, and sit back and savor the great writing as it comes in over the transom. Right?

Heh.

Once I'd committed to two volumes I was, well committed to two volumes. Now, obviously readers of my blog (BOTH of you!) know that my normal approach to life is both pretty sunny, and relatively light-hearted. I don't take too many things too seriously.

My marriage, my kid's well-being, my friendships and my writing are exceptions to this world-view.

I take them all deadly seriously.

I also like to think that Life has given me enough lessons (read: "humiliations") where I've honed my ability to judge the character of those around me (occupational hazard for my day gig!).

So you'd think I'd expect at least one of the folks who obligated to work on the aforementioned anthologies with me to flake in some way, shape or form, wouldn't you?

Nope.

I knew things would come up. I knew people would need to drop out. That's to be expected. Life, after all, happens.

I was, and am, good with that.

And sure enough, one potential contributor had a situation arise in her family which required her traveling out of state several times over a three-month period to care for an ailing family member. Between that and her commitments on the home front, she was stretched as thin as government issue tissue paper, and I recognized that.

She's a pro, so we discussed it. She was relieved when I suggested the sensible thing to do was to drop out. She and her family have come (mostly) through that dark patch and are the better for it.

Win-win.

What I didn't expect to happen was to have more than one person turn all Charlize Theron to my Sean Penn (Google it: "ghosting".).

And in retrospect, I ought to have. In doing so, I would have been following the advice of the sagacious Maya Angelou, who once famously said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."

I had some people miss deadlines. When I reached out, got nothing. Heard nothing.

I have since gleaned from the writing grapevine that one of them may have been battling health problems of his own. In such a case, of course I understand, and wish for every good thing for this person.

Another one submitted something so rough I could have used it as a belt sander. I sent him notes and asked for a redraft.

Crickets.

What renders the above all the more galling is that this particular writer, possessed of a solid reputation in the indie world, begged and pleaded to be considered for inclusion in this project.

I suppose it's possible I'll get an updated draft from him (Hope so!) before my beginning-of-the-new-year deadline. I'm not holding my breath.

The last of these "ghosts" hinted that he wouldn't produce anything. He's a long-time friend and a vastly talented writer. I read his first novel and cursed him for being more gifted than the likes of me can ever hope to be.

When we spoke about the project he seemed excited, and sent me a start: ten pages of dialogue without a plot, but it was good dialogue. In need of some bending and shaping, but a start, nonetheless.

We spoke several times after that, leading up to the last occasion when we touched base, in which conversation he alluded to how working on this project had become "torture" for him.

Now, bear in mind that I put out feelers about this project over a year before my deadline.

A. Year. (Mid-October of 2017, to be exact).

Wanna know what I had by the beginning of November, 2017?

FOUR completed drafts of short stories from four different authors (all of which have gone on to be included in this collection). Ya think that reminded me all over again about the importance of being a professional, and ratcheted up the already high esteem in which I held all of the "pros" out there?

You BETCHA.

Back to my friend, and his talk of "torture," I think we both screwed up at that point.

I'm a fan of his talent. I've believed in him for years. I know he's a superb writer.

So I did what I always do: I encouraged him. Told him I was looking forward to reading the finished product and said I wouldn't give him an updated deadline, because I didn't want to give him an excuse to quit if he didn't meet it.

What I didn't do was listen to him.

(This was just ONE reason for mentioning in my most recent previous post here at Sleuthsayers how the most important lesson I learned during 2018 was that "I can never work too hard at listening to people.")

In hindsight I ought to have let him off the hook, the way I did my other friend whose relative had all of those health issues. I certainly regret not doing that.

BUT

I'm not perfect, and I'm certainly no mind-reader. And while I will shoulder my portion of the blame for our communication breakdown on this issue, my friend is also an adult, and more than capable of taking care of himself.

After all, it's a five-minute (at most) conversation. Absent the stomach for a phone call, it's a two-line email.

Instead, he went silent. I haven't heard from him in months.

Now, like I said, we're friends. I am positive that, although we have not spoken about this yet, we will, one day. I'm sure we can and hope that we will put it behind us.

Some day.

And I'm already laughing about being left in the proverbial lurch and putting out last-minute, short-deadline feelers to other writers I know who might feel like stepping up and taking a stab at the subject matter. Ya gotta laugh about stuff like this.

Or at least I do.

It's the only way I know of to avoid staying bitter when someone leaves you in this kind of tight spot. And I plan on leaving my bitterness over this bit of multiple "ghosting" in my wake, languishing in the waning days of 2018 when we turn the calendar page next week and ring in 2019!

Which leads to my final 2019 writing resolution:

Finish Stuff.

Plans are only effective if you act on them, and that includes finishing the things you start. I've got several projects in mid-works intended to wrap during 2019, including two novels (one in collaboration with another author) another novella collection and several short stories.

Crazy thing about me and short stories. I take forever to write them, but when they get finished, they tend to sell. I only have two completed shorts I've never sold, with several others in various stages of drafting which I am confident will someday see publication.

I just have to finish them!

And speaking of finishing, the intros to my two anthology projects aren't gonna write themselves, and I've got a deadline on the horizon!

Happy New Year, and see you in two weeks!

26 December 2018

Boxing Day

David Edgerley Gates


Back when I lived in Provincetown, my pals Skip and Katrina celebrated Boxing Day. Skip hailed from one of the border states, and Katrina was a Scot. He'd once made it to the semi-final tables of the World Series of Poker, which is one of those things you can only marvel at, it seems so far beyond the orbit of mere mortals, but that's a different story. When they invited me to their Boxing Day party, I'd never heard of such an event. And when I hastened down to their house on a chilly winter's eve, her dad was waiting just inside the door, kilted up in full tartans and playing the bagpipes. It was epic.

The day after Christmas is a feast day in the liturgical calendar, St. Stephen's. This somehow got transmuted into a general alms-giving, when "post-men, errand-boys, and servants expect to receive a Christmas-box." (Hyphens in the original, from the OED, 1830's.) An earlier tradition is apparently that servants in a wealthy household, working over Christmas, got the next day off to spend with their families. The etymology is that you were often given a box of party favors to take with you.

Snopes goes the conventional wisdom one better. They say the common thread is charity to somebody lower on the social scale than you are. Equals exchange gifts on Christmas Day. Tradesmen, employees, the less fortunate, get theirs the day after; neither do they reciprocate, which would presume an equivalency. In other words, Boxing Day reinforces the class system.  

Be that as it may, and there are competing theories, it's a big deal in Great Britain and the Commonwealth. Retailers schedule annual sales around it. Sports leagues schedule test matches. The common folk schedule industrial drinking. The estimable Ali Karim, of Shots magazine, a confirmed gin man, suggests that an Asian pear or three eaten beforehand will increase your stamina, and give you less of a thick head the day after. I can't speak to this. If he's proved right, I bow to genius.

Oh, and lest we forget. Good king Wenceslas looks out, on the Feast of Stephen, when the snow lay round about. And sees a poor man, gathering wood for a fire. The king puts together a gift box. Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither. He and his page go out into the weather, food and drink and wood, to warm the peasant's hut. The lesson of the story is, Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

Raise a glass. Be of good purpose. Bless us, every one. 

25 December 2018

A Stay at Home Christmas

by Paul D. Marks

Well, since my post falls on Christmas Day this year, I thought I should do something Christmassy. I thought I might preach but that would get preachy. I thought I could make snowballs, but I don’t have any snow, though we do get it here sometimes. So instead I thought I’d make a list of Christmas or holiday movies that I like. You probably have your own, which I hope you’ll add in the comments. And then, with Janet Rudolph’s kind permission, after the movies is a list of Christmas mysteries. So, even though by the time you read this the actual holiday will be half over, the season is good at least until the first week of the New Year, so catch up on some good movies or good mysteries and have a very HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON AND NEW YEAR! (Oh, and if you want to get a last minute gift for yourself or someone you’re a little late with…Broken Windows deals with things in the news this past week, immigration, and no one gets off unscathed.)

So, here we go:

Bishop's Wife, The

Black Christmas…

Christmas Carol, A (Reginald Owen version)

Christmas Carole, A (Alistair Sim version) – This is probably the best version. A paranormal Christmas, along the lines of The Blair Witch Project (well, not really). Amy’s (the wife) favorite Christmas movie. Every year she wants to watch it. Every year I balk. And every year I end up enjoying it. One year, in the days of VHS, I bought her tapes of every version of A Christmas Carole that I could find, including Mr. Magoo’s version, the Muppets and everything and anything else.


Christmas Holiday – With Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly

Christmas in Connecticut – Barbara Stanwyck, SZ Sakall, Reginald Gardiner, Sydney Greenstreet and Robert Shayne, who played Inspector Henderson on Superman – how can you go wrong? Oh, and the premise is funny, too.


Christmas Story, A – Gotta watch this at least once each year. But sometimes we just put on Turner when they’re running it 24 hours and catch bits and pieces here and there.

Comfort and Joy

Cover Up

Die Hard – There’s an argument as to whether or not this is actually a Christmas movie, but since they play Let It Snow that’s good enough for me.

Four Christmases

Holiday Affair – Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh.

Holiday Inn – The movie that introduced White Christmas. That’s enough.

Holiday, The



Home Alone

It Happened on Fifth Avenue

It’s a Wonderful Life – It’s got Gloria Grahame, if no other reason that would get it included. But it’s good on all those other levels too.

LA Confidential – You know, Bloody Christmas, thus a Christmas movie.


Lady in the Lake

Love Actually – I figured I’d get shot if I didn’t include this. But, hey, I do like it.

Meet Me in St. Louis 

Miracle on 34th Street – The original, of course. My favorite Christmas movie because it proves that Santa Claus is for real. What more do you want?


Remember the Night – Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray pre their Double Indemnity teaming. Hard not to like anything with Stanwyck. And written by the great Preston Sturges. I really like this one.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians – Amy has fond memories of this from when she was a kid. Go figure kids’ tastes... If you like cheesy sleazy with terrific production values (is my nose growing?) this is the movie for you. And let’s not forget it was Pia Zadora’s debut as Girmar.

Scrooged

Shop Around the Corner, The – A charming, wonderful movie. I even like the remake, You’ve Got Mail, but not so much the musical version, In the Good Old Summertime.


White Christmas

And every Hallmark holiday movie ever made… ;-)  (Actually, I’ve never seen any, but I understand they’re very popular.)


And here’s Janet Rudolph’s lists of Christmas Crime Fiction:

A-E
https://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2018/12/christmas-crime-fiction-authors-e.html


F-L
https://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2018/12/christmas-crime-fiction-authors-f-l.html


M-Z
https://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2018/12/christmas-mysteries-authors-m-z.html


CHRISTMAS MYSTERY SHORT STORY ANTHOLOGIES & NOVELLAS
https://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2018/12/christmas-mystery-short-stories.html


Thank you, Janet.

~.~.~.~



And now for the usual BSP:

I’m thrilled by the great reviews that Broken Windows has been receiving. Here’s a small sampling:

Betty Webb, Mystery Scene Magazine:  "Broken Windows is extraordinary."

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

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

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



And I’m honored and thrilled – more than I can say – that my story Windward appears in The Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler I wrote a blog on that on SleuthSayers if you want to check it out: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2018/10/the-impossible-dream.html

I’m doubly thrilled to say that Windward won the 2018 Macavity Award.





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