14 October 2018

The High Passion of a Woman: Men Are Victims Too

by Mary Fernando


“I’m embarrassed. I’m supposed to be the man of the house, and these things don't happen to a man.”

I’ll call him James because he doesn't want his real name to be used. However, James wants his story to be told: it is a story about a woman he was living with.

“She was charming. Sexy. Everyone wanted to be friends with her. My parents loved her, but her own mother was a nightmare. I felt sorry for her.”

The escalations were small, each a little more violent. Each incident was followed by abject apology. At first, her abuse was just verbal, then it became physical. She was a mean drunk. She would put away a litre of wine and then scream, throw things and hit and kick. Once she drove her car into James.

Out of his depth, he determined to leave, but each time, piteous tears and wretched apologies reopened his heart. One day at work, for example, he found a note from her with a little cartoon that said “Every child deserves love, especially when they don't deserve it.” His heart broke for her; it would be quite a long time before he recognised manipulation.

At first, James felt he could put his own needs on hold, compensate for her terrible mother and lend her some of his strength. He soon realized that the violent escalations were too much for him: “The constant dripping of water creates a gorge.”

One day he watched a T.V. show with a woman talking about her husband’s abuse. She said he had a dead look in his eyes when he would start abusing her. Afterwards, he would promise never to do it again.

“I understood that,” said James. “A dead look would come into her eyes and I would think that this was going to be one of those nights… Like the girl on the parapet, I'm convinced a kind of self-deluding madness overtakes the perpetrator. Like in a Russian novel, they can't change their behaviour no matter how mutually destructive their actions are… The language of perpetrators indicate they're at the mercy of outside forces– this or that event 'made' them do it.”

The next time she turned physically violent, James called the police. “She was in such a rage that she took it out on the cops. They warned her that this was a warning and there would be consequences.”

James found that there was no place in domestic abuse shelters for men. He started to spend time away from home. Eventually, she departed.

Looking back on this relationship, and one with a similarly needy and violent woman in college, James said, “I felt I was bigger, tougher and could outlast the hardships. But the difficulties didn't go away and, instead, became emotional black holes. My sympathy for her turned into my own misery.”

Once, in response to an email request by a research student on assault, he answered the questionnaire but had trouble with some of the questions because they were geared to women, such as “Who was the first man who assaulted you?” When James explained that he was a man and had been assaulted by a woman, the student said “Women don’t assault men. You’ve got to be lying.”

In fact, studies estimate that about 2 in 5 victims of domestic violence are men. They are less likely to report than women and less likely to be believed.

“Does stuff that happens in childhood affect what happens later in life?” asks James. He points to his parents, who loved him but also believed in physical discipline.

Raised by a extremely strict parents, James’ mother would use a switch to punish him, which is a branch with the leaves removed. It was painful and left large welts. This history of harsh corporal punishment in childhood is strongly linked with developing relationships in later life that involve domestic violence.

To date, 53 countries have banned corporal punishment because of the lasting impacts on children. I know this is a contentious issue for many who believe in corporal punishment, however, the evidence is unequivocal.

I am deeply moved that James told his story. It is a story that shows that men can be victims of domestic violence. Men are less likely to come forward and more likely to be dismissed when they do. Let’s change that.

I’ll leave you with another story about James. He met a very intriguing woman. She was sexy, smart and funny. She swore at him a few times. He asked her never to speak to him like that. She continued. She tried to sleep with him but he had concerns, so he refused to sleep with her. When he left her after she swore at him yet again, she said “If you slept with me, you wouldn't be leaving me now.”

James said “She was right. It’s easy to get sexually besotted and then emotionally unable to walk away. Enticing as she was, I realized she wasn't going to change. I felt I had grown up just a little. It is the high passion of a woman that draws me in, but that highly charged, highly sexual passion can be a cover for a whole lot of problems.”

Yes it can.

13 October 2018

The Fire, Baby....

by Libby Cudmore

Libby Cudmore
I came of age as a writer in a brief and beautiful era of crime writing—fiction, cinema and television—during the terror that was the Bush years and the War in Iraq.  Many of the films are considered modern classics, Inside Man and Children of Men, The Departed and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. But the one I continually come back to, from the soundtrack  on my laptop to the print hanging over my desk as I write this, is Sin City.

Based panel-by-panel on Frank Miller’s 1991-92 Dark Horse comic series, the 2005 Robert Rodriguez adaptation was the third piece of the trifecta that put me on my life of crime (fiction writing). Starring modern-noir veterans Mickey Rourke, Benicio del Toro, Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Powers Boothe and Rutger Hauer, as well as Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy, Carla Gugino and a whole host of others, populating the fictional Basin City with corrupt cops, gold-hearted monsters, hardware-slinging hookers, crooked politicians and a cannibal or two.

12 October 2018

Maintaining EQuilibrium

Josh Pachter
Josh Pachter
Introducing mystery guest Josh Pachter

    Josh Pachter has contributed crime fiction to EQMM, AHMM, and many other publications since 1968. He regularly translates Dutch and Belgian authors for EQMM’s “Passport to Crime” department and is the editor of The Man Who Read Mysteries: The Short Fiction of William Brittain (Crippen & Landru, 2018) and the co-editor of The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (Wildside Press, 2018) and Amsterdam Noir (Akashic Books, 2019).
    Besides writing and editing, Josh enjoys other arts including film, theater, music, and photography, as seen in his official web bio. He is a popular professor with the endearing and justifiable habit of endlessly bragging about his wife, Laurie, and daughter, Becca.
— Velma

Maintaining EQuilibrium
by Josh Pachter

When it comes to Ellery Queen, I suppose I have a fair amount of street cred.

I’ve been publishing in the magazine for half a century. Fred Dannay — who, with his cousin Manny Lee, was Ellery Queen — was the closest thing to a grandfather I’ve ever had. I’ve been on EQ-related panels at Bouchercon and other crime-fiction conferences, and was a panelist at the symposium celebrating EQMM’s seventy-fifth anniversary at Columbia University in 2016. I co-edited (with Dale C. Andrews, a former SleuthSayer) The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (Wildside, 2018), a collection of pastiches, parodies, and other fiction inspired by Dannay and Lee’s famous detective. And I am one of only eight honorary members of the West 87th Street Irregulars, “a band of established EQ experts and fans who collectively have committed themselves to the preservation and revival of Ellery Queen.”

This year, I embarked on another connection with Ellery’s world. Leigh Lundin has invited me to share with you about it here.

When Dale and I began work on Misadventures, I decided I ought to brush up on the available nonfiction material regarding EQ’s collaborative authors and their creation. So I read Mike Nevins’ monumental The Art of Detection (currently available in paperback on Amazon for a mere $899.99!), and Joe Goodrich’s fascinating Blood Relations: The Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, 1947-1950 (which you can find for as little as $6, and which is absolutely worth six times that amount or more!), Dannay’s second wife Rose’s My Life With Ellery Queen: A Love Story (a steal at $112.99 on Amazon, although I was able to dig up a Kindle edition cheap), and, ultimately, an unusual volume titled The Tragedy of Errors (Crippen & Landru, 1999), which consists of three very different sections.

The book opens with Fred Dannay’s detailed forty-page outline for what was to have been a new Ellery Queen novel, a novel that was never written (and thus, of course, never published), and closes with over a hundred pages of “essays, tributes, and reminiscences” about Queen the author, Queen the character, and Queen the editor, two dozen of them, contributed by such luminaries as Peter Lovesey, Michael Gilbert, H.R.F. Keating, EQMM editor Janet Hutchings, and many others.

It is the middle section of The Tragedy of Errors that I’ve been leading up to: six short stories which had never before been anthologized, five by Dannay and Lee, one (“The Reindeer Clue”) by Edward D. Hoch but published as by Ellery Queen (in The National Enquirer, of all places!) … and three cases for something Ellery Queen called the Puzzle Club.

There were five Puzzle Club stories in all. The three collected in Tragedy of Errors were first published in 1971, “The Three Students” and “The Odd Man” in Playboy and “The Honest Swindler” in The Saturday Evening Post. (The other two were older, first published in 1965 — “The Little Spy” in Cavalier and “The President Regrets” in Diners’ Club Magazine — and reprinted in 1968 in Q.E.D.: Queen’s Experiments in Detection.)

As I read the three included in the Crippen & Landru volume, steeped as I was at the time in all things Queenian, I found myself itching to write a new Puzzle Club story of my own.

So I did.

The central concept of the five-story EQ miniseries — which Isaac Asimov later co-opted for his much longer run of Black Widowers stories — was that six friends gathered at irregular intervals for a gourmet dinner, but before sitting down to eat one member of the group was ensconced in what was called “the Puzzle Chair,” and the other five presented an invented mystery for the evening’s designated solver to tackle. The group consisted of Syres (a wealthy oilman, whose Park Avenue penthouse was the setting for the club’s meetings), Darnell (a criminal attorney, known as “the rich man’s Clarence Darrow”), Dr. Vreeland (a noted psychiatrist), Emmy Wandermere (the Pulitzer Prize winning poet), Dr. Arkavy (the Nobel-winning biochemist) … and, of course, Ellery Queen (the famous novelist and sleuth). The five stories share several common elements: Dr. Arkavy is always absent (off lecturing at an assortment of international conferences and symposia), it’s always Ellery’s turn to sit in the Puzzle Chair, and each story is interrupted by the classic Queen “Challenge to the Reader,” in which we mere mortals are given the opportunity to match our wits with Ellery’s.

My first thought was to pick up where Dannay and Lee left off and set my own Puzzle Club story in 1972. But at the same time I was working on this story, I was also writing one to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the appearance of my own first contribution to EQMM, in which the protagonist of my first story is now fifty years older and challenged by the memory of a murder he failed to solve fifty years previously.

With that in mind, I decided to set my Puzzle Club story in the present day, too, making the regular characters fifty years older than they were when last we saw them. And I also decided that it was about time Dr. Arkavy put in an appearance.

I’d had an idea for a brief puzzle story rattling around in my head for some time — in fact, I’d recently asked my friend John Floyd for advice about crafting a short-short for Woman’s World, to which he has made umpty-eleven sales over the last decade or so. That idea seemed well suited for the Puzzle Club, so I wrote it up, titled it “A Study in Scarlett!” and submitted it to EQMM. Janet Hutchings liked it, but, because it featured the Ellery Queen character, she had to run it by the Dannay and Lee heirs for their approval. They agreed, and Janet bought the story, which should be appearing in the magazine in 2019.

I had so much fun writing “A Study in Scarlett!” that I found myself thinking I ought to write four more Puzzle Club pastiches, with the idea that they could appear in EQMM first and then, after they’d all been published there, perhaps the original five and my new five could be collected in a single volume: The Puzzle Club, by Ellery Queen and Josh Pachter. Janet liked the idea in principle, and Richard Dannay, who represents the heirs, was enthusiastic, so I set right to work on number two.

Over the years, I have more often than not begun my stories with a title — a phrase catches my eye, and I think, “Aha, that’s a story title!” So, before I began writing or even plotting a second Puzzle Club story, I began thinking about what to call it.

There’s no connection whatsoever between the titles of the five original stories, other than the (what I consider to be coincidental) fact that all five of them begin with the word “The” and follow it with another two words. Nowadays, though, it seems that a series will usually feature titles that relate to each other in some very obvious way, such as Sue Grafton’s alphabet novels and John Sanford’s “Prey” books.

Since my first Puzzle Club story’s title is a Sherlock Holmes pun (on, for the uninitiated, A Study in Scarlet), I thought it might be fun to use Holmesian puns for the subsequent stories in the series — and, since the first one puns on a Holmes title that involves a color, I thought it might be extra fun to continue in that vein.

So my second Puzzle Club story, which Janet has already purchased for EQMM, is called “The Adventure of the Red Circles” (punning on “The Adventure of the Red Circle”), and the third, which I’m working on now, will be called “The Adventure of the Black-and-Blue Carbuncle” (from “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”).

I’m not sure what I’ll call the fourth one, although I’m thinking about other Sherlockian color titles, such as “The Five Orange Pips,” “The Adventure of the Yellow Face,” and “The Adventure of Black Peter.” (“The Five Orange Pipsqueaks”? “The Adventure of the Yellow Facebook”? “The Adventure of Black Paul and Black Mary”? Okay, maybe not any of those…)

For my fifth and final pastiche, I want to make it impossible for anyone ever to write another one. No, I’m not going to kill Ellery — I wouldn’t want to have his death on my conscience, and the heirs and Janet would never let me do it, even if I did want to. But something’s going to happen that will bring the series to a logical and inevitable conclusion.

And, for that last story, I’m going to use one more Sherlock Holmes pun, but this time without a color. In 1917, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a Holmes story called “His Last Bow,” and I plan to call my fifth Puzzle Club story “Their Last Bow.”

As mentioned earlier, “A Study in Scarlett!” should be appearing sometime next year, and I’m hopeful that Janet will schedule “The Adventure of the Red Circles” for the January/February 2020 issue — which would, as far as I can tell, make me the first person ever to publish new fiction in EQMM in seven consecutive decades.

I’m having fun bringing Ellery Queen’s Puzzle Club back to life after its forty-seven-year absence, and I very much hope you’ll have fun reading their new adventures!

11 October 2018

Quick Decisions

by Eve Fisher

I've talked before about my volunteer work with the Alternatives to Violence Project (Link here).  Here in South Dakota, we continue to do at least one workshop every month at the Sioux Falls penitentiary (both units) and they are always fascinating, revealing, illuminating, exhausting, rewarding, etc.  Not to mention fun, timely, and very, very, very needed.  For all of us.

One set of exercises we do almost every time is called "Quick Decisions".  We break our participants into small groups of 4, give them a scenario, and then have them come up with a group solution - preferably a non-violent solution - within 2 or 3 minutes.

Over time, I've noticed the difference between old and young inmates re using violence.  The old timers know there just isn't that much worth getting bunged up for (fights don't always work one way) or going to the SHU for.  The young ones are still very concerned about their reputations, and will provide all sorts of rationalizations as to why - this time - they have to go to the mat.

The other thing I've noticed is that, with scenarios that occur outside prison walls, it never occurs to any of the inmates to call the cops.  No matter what.  Someone robbing you, someone raping your sister, someone attacking, someone stealing - you don't call the cops.  You figure out another way of dealing with it.  It's understandable.  A lot of them are Native American, and have seen stuff on the reservation that would make you never want law enforcement near you again.  Racism is real.  Sexism is real.  And sometimes they combine in unpleasant ways.

So, here are some examples, and some common answers.  What do you think?

(1) You're standing in the mess hall line with your friend.  Someone walks up and cuts right in front of him.  Your friend tells him to move.  At first, the other guy just ignores him.  This makes your friend hot and soon he's yelling and cursing the guy out.  The guy turns around and asks what the hell's your problem?  What do you do?
Most common answer:  Tell the friend to chill out.  The food's not that good.  It's not worth going to the SHU for.  (I totally agree.) 
(2) You're walking alone along the street when you see three teenage boys grab another and shove him up against a building.  He and their actions are blocked by their bodies.  There's no policeman in sight.  What do you do?
Most common answer:  Keep on walking.  "You just don't know what he's done to bring it on."  But, change it to three teenage boys grab a teenage girl, and they'd come to her rescue, which is nice to know.  (And more than some people in politics would ever do...)
(3) You're on parole.  You and a group of friends enter a small local store to buy something, and while you're there the police come in to make a raid.  Turns out that the store is selling drugs out the back.  What does your group do?
Most common answer from the young ones:  Run like hell.
Most common answer from the lifers:  Stay put and explain, with everything you've got, that you knew nothing about it.  (I'm with the lifers)
(4) You're at a party standing at the bar area.  The sister of your best friend is there with a guy.  He comes to where you're standing, and gets 2 drinks.  Just as he leaves, he puts something into one of the glasses.  You watch as he crosses the room and offers that glass to her.  What do you do?
Most common answer:  Variations on the theme of stop him now.  Some would make him drink the drugged drink himself.  Some would shove him out of the bar, and "explain" things to him outside.  (We try for nonviolence, we don't always succeed.  And sometimes you can understand why.  And, again, it's nice to know they'd have her back, which is more than some people would...)  
(5) Your group is made up of parolees gathered together in an apartment.  Suddenly, the apartment owner's parole officer comes to the door to make a surprise visit.  The apartment has no back door and is ten stories up.  What does your group do?  NOTE:  for those of you who don't know, it's illegal for parolees to gather together socially.
Most common answer:  Panic heavily, and see what lie might stick.
Best answer:  Start holding an AA meeting.  Or a prayer meeting.  "Always keep a Big Book and a Bible wherever you live.  You never know when they'll come in handy."  (I thought I would die laughing at this one.)
(6) You're talking with your wife/girlfriend/baby mamma in the visit room.  Another inmate in the visit room starts flirting with her.  What do you do?
Most common answer:  Tell your woman that you'll won't see her for a while, because as soon as you get out of the visit room, you're going to take the guy down, and you'll be in the SHU for a while.  (SHU - Segregated Housing Unit, a/k/a "the hole", a/k/a solitary.)
On the last one, after all the groups were done explaining how they hated to do it, but if they didn't beat the guy up they'd lose all cred and credibility, and that's just the way it is, I raised my hand and asked, "Did it ever occur to you to let your lady handle it?  I mean, the obvious thing to me, if I'm visiting my husband and someone else is coming on to me is to go 'Ewww!  What are you thinking?  Get out of here!'"  Everyone laughed their head off.  And agreed that laughing at Flirt Guy would be far more effective at shriveling him than even beating him up.  I also pointed out that if she flirted back with the guy, they were with the wrong woman.  That got them thinking a bit, too.  
There are pages more of these, and they always bring up some great discussion.  And you just never know what the answers will be, which means it's never boring.

So, what were your answers?  Got any questions?

10 October 2018

XPD

David Edgerley Gates


XPD is a usage coined by Len Deighton, in his terrific 1981 thriller of that title, an acronym for Expedient Demise.



A week ago Wednesday, the Russian Prosecutor General's Office confirmed that senior deputy prosecutor Saak Karapetyan had been killed in a helicopter crash outside of Kostroma. A town on the Volga, dating back to the 12th century, if not earlier, Kostroma is one of the so-called Golden Ring cities, a favored retreat of the Grand Dukes of Moscow, the Romanovs, and Soviet nomenklatura. There are conflicting reports. Local officials said at first it was an unauthorized flight, this was contradicted by Moscow. Stanislav Mikhnov, an "experienced" pilot, apparently took off under "adverse" conditions. The third man aboard was also killed. Aviation emergency services are investigating the incident.

Russians are of course total gluttons for conspiracy theories, hidden protocols, and labyrinthine paranoia, so they're all over this one, faster than you can say Vince Foster, but maybe they know something we don't. This guy's handwriting covers a good many pages.

Saak Albertovich Karapetyan was a member of the security apparat. He made his bones in Rostov, as a state prosecutor, and after serving in parliament, he was appointed to the office of Prosecutor General. He headed the Main Directorate for International Legal Cooperation for ten years, and it was in this capacity that he ran interference on at least two major criminal investigations, the Magnitsky case and the Litvinenko poisoning.

The which? you ask. As well you might.

Sergei Magnitsky was a tax auditor, representing an investment firm, Hermitage Capital. Investigating financial irregularities, Magnitsky exposed a widespread fraud, involving the police, the courts, tax agents, bankers, and the Russian mob. Although his accusations later proved out, the immediate result of his going public was his own arrest. He was held for eleven months, and died in custody, under what might be called clouded circumstances. It's a complicated story, and not least because the official Russian version is completely contrary to the known facts.

In the U.S., the eponymous Magnitsky Act was passed to allow for sanctioning individuals responsible for human rights violations. Putin has been working to overturn the Act for the past six years, and it was apparently part of the conversation with Michael Flynn and at the Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Veselnitskaya - wait for it - wrote the supporting brief for her then-boss, senior prosecutor Saak Karapetyan, when he stonewalled U.S. inquiries into the money-laundering case against the Russian real estate company Prevezon. Another complex financial tangle, but it leads back to the tax fraud Magnitsky blew open, and the dirty money that was never recovered.

A footnote, here. Magnitsky's boss at Hermitage, the American entrepreneur Bill Browder, has been continually targeted by the Prosecutor General's Office, through Interpol arrest warrants. Most jurisdictions seem to hold the warrants without merit. Browder was instrumental in getting the Magnitsky Act onto the books. A second footnote. Nikolai Gorokhov, a Magnitsky family lawyer who was scheduled as a witness in the Prevezon case, fell out a Moscow window before he could testify.

Alexander Litvinenko. If you're reading this, you probably know who he was. The polonium poisoning? London. 2006. Scotland Yard sent a team to Moscow, the Russians welcoming transparency and all that, but the British cops got sick - they thought somebody slipped them a Mickey - and guess who was in the room? Our senior prosecutor, Saak Karapetyan.

He more recently went out of his way to accuse the Brits of yet more Russia-bashing, in reference to the Novichok attack. Karapetyan put Sergei Skripal, Litvinenko, and Boris Berezovksy (another latterly dead Putin critic) in the same sentence, calling them provocations, which in this context means a false allegation for political gain.

The connection between Karapetyan and Veselnitskaya came out of the closet because of a blown recruitment, this past year. They've been close for a long time, Karapetyan her mentor - The Daily Beast, for one, has been using the more suggestive term handler. Anyway, the two of them had actively compromised a senior Swiss official, whose day job was monitoring the Swiss accounts of Russian oligarchs and mob guys. You notice how, more often than not, it seems to be about the money?

All of this is no more than a chain of circumstance. There's nothing to indicate Karapetyan was less than a loyal soldier, no reason to think he'd be better off dead. There is, however, a later and uncorroborated story that the helicopter pilot, Mikhnov, had two bullet holes in him. The question you have to ask is, Cui Bono - Who Benefits? I don't have a ready answer. It could simply be one of those weird juxtapositions, where the sinister meets the convenient. It could be an untidy intrigue, something domestic, a private grudge. But maybe the guy had sold his soul to the Devil, and it came time to collect. 

*

Best American Mystery Stories 2018, edited by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler, is out from Houghton, Mifflin.  Included are SleuthSayer authors Michael Bracken, John Floyd, David Edgerley Gates, and Paul D. Marks. 


09 October 2018

Some Reasons Short Stories Get Rejected

by Barb Goffman

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

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

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

And yet ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08 October 2018

Who Goes There?

by Steve Hockensmith

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

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

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

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

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

You.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's find out…

07 October 2018

Talking Turkey

by Velma

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chorus    

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

vintage post card children, turkey, pumpkin

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

06 October 2018

A Whole Town--Imagine That

by John M. Floyd



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

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

A Peyton Place to call home

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


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

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

We got trouble, right here in River City

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

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

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

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



Bus stops on the make-believe map:

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

And my all-time favorite:

Bikini Bottom -- Spongebob Squarepants



Questions:

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

Or do you give a Hootie Hoot?

See you again in two weeks …

05 October 2018

The Korean War

by O'Neil De Noux

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


This is a damn good book.

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

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

That's all for now.

http://www.oneildenoux.com

04 October 2018

More Fun & Games With Victorian English Slang

by Brian Thornton

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you in two weeks!

03 October 2018

Following in Marlowe's Footnotes

Courtesy Western Libraries
by Robert Lopresti

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

Oh,  you already have?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

02 October 2018

The Impossible Dream

by Paul D. Marks

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Kristin Centorcelli, Criminal Element

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

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

John Dwaine McKenna, Mysterious Book Report:

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

Betty Webb, Mystery Scene Magazine:

"Broken Windows is extraordinary."

01 October 2018

Doing It Right

by Steve Liskow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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