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


24 December 2018

The Christmas Spirit

by Steve Liskow    



"Brown Eyes Crying in the Rain," my take on the Ghostly Hitchhiker legends, appears in the upcoming issue of Occult Detective Quarterly. It didn't occur to me until a few days ago how appropriate that is. Tomorrow is, of course, Christmas Day.


The British have told ghost stories as part of the holiday celebration for centuries, apparently because the winter solstice is only a few days earlier and the Christians co-opted December 25th to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth and overshadow the Pagan Saturnalia. Ghosts presumably walk more freely on the longest night of the year, which celebrates the death and re-birth of the sun.

Oliver Cromwell, never the life of the party, didn't want Christmas celebrated as a holiday. He wanted the workers to labor for another long and underpaid shift. During his tenure as ruler of the Commonwealth, he even banned Christmas carols. Barrel of laughs, that Ollie.

But the ghost story is still alive and well (Is that an oxymoron?), and it may have reached its peak of popularity in the Victorian era, when Charles Dickens published short novels for the season, many of them ghostly tales. His most famous is A Christmas Carol. Does anyone even know how many films and theatrical adaptations of that one work exist? My wife and I attended a stage version at the Hartford Stage Company this year, where it has been an annual event for twenty years. It still sells out the thirty performances.

Other British writers have offered ghost stories, too. In Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale (1611), Prince Mamillius says, "A sad tale's best for winter. I have one/ Of sprites and goblins." We never hear the tale because Mamillius dies before intermission. Mary Shelly Wrote Frankenstein when Byron challenged her and others to write a ghost story, and she dated the beginning of the book in mid-December. Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell revived the faltering tradition along with Dickens. Algernon Blackwood, Conan Doyle and M. R. James carried it on.

I don't remember Poe setting any of his stories at Christmas (I can't find my copy of "The Devil in the Belfry" on my shelf. Is that set at yuletide?), but Henry James sets the telling of The Turn of the Screw around the fire during a Christmas celebration.

Remember the popular (Well, in my day...) Andy Williams song, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?" The third verse ends with "...There'll be scary ghost stories/ And tales of the glories..."

I seldom set stories around a holiday, the only exception being "Santa and the Shortstop," which appeared in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine a few years ago.

But who knows? A little more eggnog and maybe I'll be in the spirit to write another ghost story for next year...

In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good fright.

23 December 2018

A War on Christmas?

by Leigh Lundin

When I was a wee lad with a jolly red nose (‘jolly’ = ‘drippy’), radio evangelists fumed that Xmas was disrespectful and probably blasphemous. Campaigns raged: “Help keep the Christ in Christmas.”

Good Sunday school teachers like Barbara Ritchie, Phyllis Miller, and my own mother quietly debunked the notion Xmas was sacrilegious. A War against Christmas sold radio spots and little more. But wait… Xmas? It does sound irreligious.

X, symbolically used by early Christians, referred to the first Greek letter of Χριστός or Christós, ‘the anointed’. See how easily you can read Greek?

Christ(os) in Greek
Ch Χ chi
r ρ rho
i ι iota
s σ sigma
t τ tau
o ό omikron
s ς sigma

Baby, It's Cold Outside record
And yet…

A battle against Christmas may not be waging at the city gates, but a war against up to a dozen Christmas songs comes as no hoax. This present day problem derives from humor-deficient, history-challenged, literal-minded Scrooges bereft of feeling of an era. Such misery misers seem prone to misconstrue meanings of phrases used at the time they were written… and understood.

A current target is the Academy Award winning ‘Baby, It's Cold Outside,’ overshadowed by the spectre of rape. Peculiar because Frank Loesser wrote the song to sing with his wife, Lynn Garland, to wrap up at parties in their flat in New York City’s Navarro Hotel, and suggest to guests it was time to depart into the night.

Once upon a time, it was de rigueur for a lady to protest. It wasn’t becoming for a woman to openly desire s-e-x. As World War II entered its final awful year in 1944, audiences understood the playful ‘call and response’ nature of the song, dialogue that would guide modern couples through a relatively repressive era, and help society understand sensuality, passion, and sexuality are healthful and natural. Loesser and Garland sang the song to hint they’d like romance time alone. The song made it into the 1949 MGM movie, Neptune’s Daughter.

I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus record
The so-called date-rape drug slipped into her drink? Eleven years after Prohibition, it’s almost certainly whiskey in the eggnog, Irish in the coffee. Sheesh, get a life.

While we’re on the topic, let’s deal with another maligned song. The ‘Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ isn’t carrying on an affair with Father Christmas. He’s the daddy, see, her husband who… Oh, never mind. If one has to explain it…

And yet…

Speaking of songs on the hitlist, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ offends some people with claims of sexism and animal cruelty and, according to at least one blog, slavery.

The lyrics published in England date back to 1780. They probably derived from a considerably earlier composition in France. The arrangement we hear today, including the drawn-out “five gold rings,” was written in 1909 by British composer and baritone Frederic Austin.

Twelve Days of Christmas record (Como)
The ballad tells us a few things seemingly forgotten in an urban world. For one thing, a-milking is not the same as a-lactating. C’mon, get a life. Households often kept chickens or geese, and a cow, goat, or even sheep.

The song reminds us Christmas once encompassed twelve days plus the Feast of the Epiphany. I’ve discussed this before: The twelve days doesn’t culminate on December 25th, it commences. In other words, the 25th of December begins the twelve days of Christmas, which ends on the 5th of January. ‘Little Christmas’ follows on 6 January, also called Three Kings Day. Yay! That means it’s okay to leave your decorations up until at least the 6th of January.

The Twelve Days of Christmas
date day gift per day totals
Dec 25 1 st 1 partridge pear tree 1 1
26 2 nd 2 turtle doves 3 4
27 3 rd 3 French hens 6 10
28 4 th 4 calling birds 10 20
29 5 th 5 gold rings 15 35
30 6 th 6 geese a-laying 21 56
31 7 th 7 swans a-swimming 28 84
Jan 01 8 th 8 maids a-milking 36 120
02 9 th 9 ladies dancing 45 165
03 10 th 10 lords a-leaping 55 220
04 11 th 11 pipers piping 66 286
05 12 th 12 drummers drumming 78 364
06
Feast of the Epiphany 364 total

Victorian angel
The Twelve Days carol includes a little mathematical curiosity. The count of gifts each day is cumulative. The recipient doesn’t merely receive two turtledoves on the second day, but two doves plus an additional partridge. On the third day, six presents arrive– 3 hens, 2 doves, and 1 more partridge. Thus for the season, a total of twelve partridges are handed over, as are twenty-two doves, thirty French hens, etc.

When all the gifts are counted, the grand total comes to 364… one for every day of the year minus one. What day came up short? I have no idea.

A war on Christmas? Tis a season of giving, a season of sharing, and a season of singing. Christmas can be enjoyed by anyone, no matter your religion.

Help keep the ❤︎ in Christmas.

22 December 2018

Why I could never be a Modern Fiction Novel Heroine
(back to humour for Bad Girl. Tis the season for frivolity, after all)


by Melodie Campbell

Let’s call her Tiffany.  Nah, too twee.  How about Jen.  Meet our fiction heroine, Jen.  She’s a modern girl. Has her own condo. Drives a car. Lives in the city. Has a meaningful job.  All in all, a typical    
modern heroine of a fiction novel.

Sounds reasonable, but I couldn’t be her.  I’m all for ‘suspension of disbelief’ in fantasy, but my world requires more human elements.  To wit:

THINGS THAT BUG ME ABOUT MODERN FICTIONAL HEROINES

1.  They look great all the time.
By this I mean: she gets up in the morning, perfect coiffed.  (Not quaffed. Except maybe in my loopy Goddaughter books.)  She dons clothes for her work day.  Maybe goes for a jog.  And spends absolutely no time in front of the mirror swabbing on makeup or doing her hair.  Did you ever notice fiction novel heroines look great in the morning without doing anything?  They may have a shit-load of angst about their personal lives, but apparently, they have Barbie doll hair.

As of immediately, name of heroine is changed to Barbie.

2.  They never eat.
Oh, they got out to dinner a lot.  You may even hear them order food.  But when it comes, do they ever eat it?  No! Barbie is far too busy arguing with her dinner companion, and then getting upset.

So many books, so many meals where our intrepid plucky heroine says, “oh my, I’m so upset, I couldn’t eat a thing.”

What is it with these feeble women who can’t eat?  Who the hell are they?  What do they exist on? 
When I’m upset, I eat, dammit.  Gotta fuel up for the famine that’s going to come sometime in the next 400 years.

If I hear another TSTL (too stupid to live) heroine say she’s too upset to eat, I’m going to shove the virtual dinner in her vapid virtual face and watch her choke to death.  Oh.  But then someone would have to rescue her.

EAT THE DAMN MEAL.

3.  They never go to the bathroom.
Twenty-four hours a day, we’re with this dame.  Does she ever go to the loo?  I mean, for other than a quick swipe of lipstick and a gabfest with friends?

Do none of these women have periods?
Do they not have to offload some by-products?  EVER?

Oh right.  Barbie is always too upset to eat a thing.  Therefore, nothing to offload. What was I thinking?


4.  They run into the haunted house.

“Oh, a haunted house!” says our plucky heroine. (Note use of the word ‘plucky’ to demonstrate she’s not a chicken <sic>)  “I’ll just pop in there and see what the fuss is all about, shall I?”
WHOMP
(Plucky heroines taste good with ketchup, in my parodies.)

Listen up, modern day heroines! Do NOT be so stupid as to walk into an abandoned place where you know someone was murdered, or even stupider, confront the murderer, all by your little selves! 

Let it be known: when I am pretty sure I know who the killer is, I do NOT confront him all on my own in an isolated location.  Instead, I pretty much run like hell in the opposite direction.  ‘Cause experience has taught me (apparently, I do this a lot) that if someone has killed once, they won’t hesitate to bop my bean.  Even Barbie with half a brain can figure out it ain’t a smart move. 

Modern day heroines, rise up! Rebel against these tired tropes!  Fight back against the lazy mucks who make you appear as dumb as dough.

GO ON STRIKE AGAINST YOUR AUTHORS!  Or alternatively, strike your authors.
I’ll leave now.

Author disclosure:  Just so you know, Gina Gallo of The Goddaughter series loves her food.  You’ll see her eat it.  She sneaks off to the bathroom (offstage, so don’t freak.)  She looks like shit in the morning. Just like me.  Even Rowena of my fantasy books goes to the outhouse and enjoys her meals.  (Not at the same time.)

HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!