08 April 2019

Every Blog Has Its Day

by Steve Hockensmith

When I first started blogging way back in 2006, I really only had one thing to say: "I am now a published author. Please enjoy my verbal tap dancing while I try to entice you to buy my book."

Thirteen years later, I'm still tap dancing...and I think it's time to stop. Or at least try a different kind of dancing. The electric boogaloo, perhaps?

Looking back over my (holy crap!) 160 or so blog posts both on my website and, for the past year, here, I can think of a few things I had to say other than "Buy my newest book." But it's nothing that required 160-ish blog posts -- adding up to (HOLY CRAP!!!) 100,000-ish words -- to say. The salient message points:


I wrote variations on that last one a lot, particularly here on SleuthSayers. For which I apologize. I have a lot of respect for the writers who blog here, all of whom find fresh new things to say without resorting to punts like "Writing is hard."

Week after week, another author/blogger I admire, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, makes it obvious why I need to stop. Kris has been blogging about the writing biz since, I believe, the late 1890s, and she always has a lot to say. When I read one of her lengthy "Business Musings" posts, it's plain to me she possesses three qualities I lack: expertise, confidence and the ability to produce large volumes of high-quality copy quickly and easily.

I can do the "high-quality copy" part. It's the "quickly and easily" I have trouble with. Because for me -- all together now! -- writing is hard. Which is why it's gotten to be a monthly bummer to stop working on my latest book or short story so I can agonize over what to blog.

So at long last I'm bowing out. Blogging was fun and useful for a while, but that time has passed. This will be my final post for SleuthSayers as a regular contributor, and I'm having my website redesigned so it's not built around a blog. The good news for my readers: The extra five or so hours a month that saves me will go into producing more fiction. The good news for SleuthSayers visitors: No more "writing is hard."

Thank you, Leigh Lundin, Rob Lopresti and everyone else who made me feel so welcome here. It was an honor to be a SleuthSayer...and I hope you'll let me come back when it's time for me to say "Buy my newest book" again....


07 April 2019

Professional Tips, and/or
Exceptions to the Rules

by Leigh Lundin

Often I turn to mystery writers for professional tips, but my friend, editor, writer, teacher Sharon sent me a Paris Review article by Benjamin Dreyer, author of Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. He presents a sensible, literate, and wonderfully enjoyable defense of bending, even breaking the rules.

The Village Explainer

The ‘4 Cs’ represent the real axioms of good writing, convention, consensus, clarity, comprehension. I suspect even these rules can be carefully broken, but not with impunity. Dreyer uses an example of ‘not only x but y’, but he didn’t extend the explanation to its conclusion. I’d back into one more in his C list, logiC.

I just single-handedly Crumpled my Credibility, but writing requires a certain logic, not merely plot, not merely sensible characterization, but how we string words together. Logic, for example, might include arguments for the Oxford comma, that clarity demands all items in a list should be separated by commas.

To Be and Not to Be (Schrödinger’s Last Meow)

Writers understand the difference between ‘and’ and ‘or’, but is ‘and/or’ a legitimate construction? One of my esteemed colleagues chided me for using it in an email, arguing it’s redundant. Use one or the other, he said, preferably ‘or’. He pointed out the persistent bugger has been criticized for at least a century. Even Strunk and White weighed in The Elements of Style. The manual says, ‘and/or’ “damages a sentence and often leads to confusion or ambiguity.”

What does the phrase “Abel, Baker and/or Charlie” mean in a contract or a bank check? My favorite YouTube attorney, Steve Lehto, recorded a lecture on the topic. Courts have had to decide the meaning of ‘and/or’ in legal cases, where they usually, but not always, arrive at a consensus of any or all.

While the awkward phrase should never appear in professional writing, I disagree ‘and/or’ can simply be replaced with one conjunction or the other. As I prepared this article, I looked up the combination to see if anyone else felt similarly. To my surprise, I came across a number of articles including a Wikipedia entry.

In a case of being wrong but right, I discovered ‘and/or’ can’t be simply reduced to ‘and’ or ‘or’. This has led grammarians to propose using the most appropriate of three constructs:
  • x or y or both
  • either x or y
  • x and any y
While the first has its proponents, especially amid legal circles, Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl, argues the third example can have its uses. She contends the first recommendation is awkward, through perhaps not quite as awful as the original ‘and/or’ phrase. She further suggests that if one insists upon using ‘and/or’, then treat the sentence as if the subject is plural, not singular.

Meanwhile, Back at the ProVerbial Ranch…

Check out Dreyer’s Non-Rules. Students have read others discussing the topics before, all basic rules, but not with this light-touch analysis you shouldn’t miss.
  1. Never Begin a Sentence with ‘And’ or ‘But’
  2. Never Split an Infinitive
  3. Never End a Sentence with a Preposition
As Dreyer points out, there’s more than meets the eye.

Rules, love ’em, hate ’em. What are your (dis)favorites?

TidByts for Grammar Geeks

[TL;DR] But wait! There’s more!

06 April 2019

Dreyer's English


by John M. Floyd



The other day I discovered, while piddling around on Amazon, a book called Dreyer's English--An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. At first I didn't pay it much attention--I already own a lot of books about language and style. Some are worthwhile and some are not.

Then I remembered my wife telling me about a recent NPR interview with the author, Benjamin Dreyer, who is vice president, executive managing editor, and copy chief of Random House. I looked up the broadcast online and listened to it, and that made up my mind. This book sounded different from most of the others. I ordered it, received it in two days, and read it in one evening. (The book is no small, stick-it-in-your-pocket volume like The Elements of Style; it's almost 300 pages.)


As it turned out, it was delightful. Or as close to it as that subject can be. Literary style--grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure, paragraph structure, word choice, word usage--can be a dry (Dreyer?) topic. But this book was not only informative, it was fun.

Here are just a few of the (mostly paraphrased) pointers and observations I found interesting in Dreyer's English.



- You don't always have to precede a sentence-ending "too" with a comma. It's okay to write "Me too."

- Feel free to end a sentence shaped like a question with a period instead of a question mark. It makes a statement, doesn't it.

- Always use the series (or serial, or Oxford) comma. You know this already, but the second comma in "red, white, and blue" is the series comma. Its use can prevent the following disasters:

Dreyer's example: Highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector. (Which implies that Mandela might've been older than we thought, and had an odd hobby.)

My example: Attending the party were two hookers, Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer. (Which implies two people instead of four.)

- Limit your use of words like very, rather, really, quite, just, pretty, and surely.

- Ignore the Big Three grammar/style "rules":
1. Never Begin a Sentence with And or But
2. Never Split an Infinitive
3. Never End a Sentence with a Preposition

(I happily break them all the time, but it's good to hear an expert say it's okay.)

- Never use an apostrophe to pluralize a word. This also holds true for abbreviations: CDs, ATMs, IDs, SASEs.

- When a possessive apostrophe is used with a word ending in "s," put another "s" after the apostrophe. (Strunk and White agree with this.) Mr. Jones's tractor, Colonel Sanders's recipe, the boss's wife.

- If the title of a work starts with "The," include it in a possessive construction:

Incorrect: Carson McCullers's Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Correct: Carson McCullers's The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

If you don't follow this rule, you could end up with something like this:

James Joyce's Dead
(Which Dreyer says sounds more like a tragic headline.)

- Cut back on exclamation points. He says, "Some writers recommend that you should use no more than a dozen exclamation points per book; others insist that you should use no more than a dozen exclamation points in a lifetime."

- Always use a comma if there's any question of clarity.

His example: In June Truman's secretary of state flew to Moscow.
My example: In time travel will become less frustrating.

- Hyphenate multiple-word adjectives:

first-rate movie
fifth-floor apartment
all-you-can-eat buffet

- Merge prefixes with main words hyphenlessly:

antiwar
extracurricular
hyperactive
interdepartmental
preexisiting

(Unless such a combination looks confusing or awkward, like recreate or coworker.)

- Don't use "hissed" if what is spoken contains no "s" sounds. "Take your hand off me, you brute," she hissed.

- A tip for recognizing passive voice vs. active voice: If you can append "by zombies" to the end of a sentence, you've written a sentence in the passive voice. The floor was swept (by zombies).

- "Blond" is an adjective: He has blond hair; she has blond hair. Both "blond" and "blonde" are nouns: A man with blond hair is a blond; a woman with blond hair is a blonde.

Examples of our evolving language:

"light bulb" became "light-bulb" and then "lightbulb"
"Web site" became "Web-site" and then "website"

- Dreyer's view on internal monologue (or what he calls "articulated rumination"):

In the old days, authors said: "What is to become of me?" Estelle thought.
This eventually became: What is to become of me? Estelle thought.
And now we're more likely to see: What is to become of me? Estelle thought.

A final piece of advice:

- Sometimes it's better to just reword a sentence than to struggle with what's right or wrong or politically correct.

His example:
Instead of saying "It is I who am late" or "It is I who is late," say "I'm late."

My example:
Instead of saying "Everyone take their seats" or "Everyone take his seat" or "Everyone take his/her seat" or Everyone take his or her seat," say "Sit down."




Some of his advice I didn't agree with. I prefer a.m. and p.m., he prefers A.M. and P.M.; he prefers "mind-racking" to "mind-wracking"; he doesn't like the word actually and I wouldn't be able to live without my actuallys, etc. (But my wife was kind enough to remind me that he works for Random House and my major was electrical engineering, so . . .)

The book also clarifies dozens of often-misused words and phrases: breach/breech, continual/continuous, discreet/discrete, everyday/every day, evoke/invoke, loath/loathe, mantel/mantle, onboard/on board, peak/peek/pique, underway/under way, workout/work out

And it lists (as a sort of bonus) many often-misspelled or mispunctuated people names, place names, and brand names. A few examples: Anjelica Huston, Katharine Hepburn, Ann-Margret, T.S. Eliot, Nicolas Cage, Bleecker Street, Caesars Palace, Fontainebleau, Savile Row, Dr Pepper, Froot Loops, JCPenney, Plexiglas, Reddi Wip



To sum all this up, I haven't enjoyed a book about language this much since Eats, Shoots & Leaves, and that was sixteen years ago.

Give Dreyer's English a try.







05 April 2019

Crime Scene Comix Case 2019-04-001

by Velma

After rummaging through the dust bin of Future Thought channel of YouTube, I bet you’ll enjoy this little gem. Check it out.

Reintroducing Shifty, a none-too-bright crook who looks like a Minion in zebra stripes. This time he tries his hand at gambling. As W.C. Fields might say, “A game of chance? Not the way I play it.”


That’s crime cinema. Hope you enjoyed the show. Be sure to visit Future Thought channel on YouTube.

04 April 2019

Takeaways From Left Coast Crime

by Brian Thornton

So Left Coast Crime happened last weekend.

This year Vancouver was the host city. And the crime fiction folks from Vancouver did not fail to put on one hell of a con!



For those of you who missed it, here are some takeaways from this year's Left Coast Crime:

1. Vancouver is a lovely, walkable city full of gracious, beautiful, charming people.

2. The Liar's Panel this year was full of truth-tellers.

3. Jim Ziskin once again brought "The Flask"(tm).

4. Simon Wood's annual "Bar Stories" panel once again had everyone in stitches (this year with Catriona MacPherson, David Corbett, Tim Hallinan, Robin Burcell and David B. Schlosser!). If you missed it, ask Simon about the Danish king Cnut.

5. The MWA NorCal/SoCal/NW chapter mixer at Grain was a rocking good time!

6. That Go-Gos anthology is for real!

7. Buffalo Trace makes the poker better at one of these things (Just ask Craig Faustus Buck!), and vodka ought not be allowed in the room (Looking at you, Stacy Robinson!).

8. The downtown Vancouver Hyatt is a great venue, with wonderful staff, comfortable accommodations, and an omelet bar which made their breakfast worth the price of admission.

9. Left Coast is a great place to have an anthology signing party (Miss you Cornelia!)!

The "Die Behind The Wheel" Line-Up, L to R: Bill Fitzhugh, Nick Feldman, Stacy Robinson, James W. Ziskin, R. T. Lawton, David B. Schlosser, Simon Wood, and Linda Hull, with Yours Truly and David Corbett seated down in front

10. This year's panels included a mix of the usual and the innovative. Yes, there was still a sex panel. Yes, there was a cozy panel. There was also a panel addressing gender in crime fiction and (for me) the most memorable one: "Three Dyslexics and an Aphantasiac"–ably moderated by Jacque Ben-Zekry–where Josh Stallings, Simon Wood and Jay Stringer movingly discussed the challenges associated with writing crime fiction while suffering from dyslexia (as well as the advantages afforded those with the condition), and Jamie Mason helped educate the members of the audience as to just what aphantasia actually is, and how she doesn't necessarily see it as a disability.

L to R: Jacque Ben-Zekry, Jamie Mason, Jay Stringer, Josh Stallings, and Simon Wood.
I want more panels like that.

And that's it for this year's edition. See you all in two weeks, and already looking forward to LCC next year in San Diego!


03 April 2019

To Catch A Map Thief

by Robert Lopresti

Back in 2008 I wrote at Criminal Brief (here and here) about a massive theft that my library experienced.  I retired last year but I was invited to come back and talk about it in February.  The Map Collection had just moved to a new, more accessible, space in the Libraries and I was sort of a guinea pig, being the first speaker in the new space.  Everything worked out (and we will filled the area).

The talk was videoed and you can see watch it by clicking here.



And here are the answers to the movie quotations quiz from last time.

POPCORN PROVERBS 4


Remember you're old. - Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) American Animals

You said to me this is a family secret, and you gave it up to me, boom just like that. You spill the secret family recipe today, maybe you spill a little something about me tomorrow, hm? -Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) Black Mass

-Aren't you worried?
-Would it help?  -James Donovan (Tom Hanks) / Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) Bridge of Spies

When they send for you, you go in alive, you come out dead, and it's your best friend that does it. -Lefty (Al Pacino) Donnie Brasco


-You can't give back what you've taken from me.
-OK, then... Plan B, why don't we just kill each other?  -Sean Archer (Nicholas Cage)/ Castor Troy (John Travolta)  Face/Off

-I didn't kill my wife!
-I don't care! -Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford / Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones The Fugitive

-In this family, we do not solve our problems by hitting people!
-No, in this family, we shoot them! - Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) / Jack Stall (Ashton Holmes) A History of Violence

The competitor is our friend and the customer is our enemy.  - Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) The Informant!




How did you ever rob a bank? When you robbed banks, did you forget where your car was then too? No wonder you went to jail. -Melanie (Brigit Finda) Jackie Brown

It takes more than a few firecrackers to kill Danny Greene!  - Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson ) Kill the Irishman

Men would pay $200 for me, and here you are turning down a freebie. You could get a perfectly good dishwasher for that. -Bree Daniel (Jane Fonda) Klute

A man abandoned his family and wrote his son a story. He wouldn't be the first to cloak his cowardice in a flag of sacrifice. -Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) Mr. Holmes

You can add Sebastian's name to my list of playmates. - Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) Notorious


-There's a ninety-five pound Chinese man with a hundred sixty million dollars behind this door.
-Let's get him out.  - Danny (George Clooney) / Linus (Matt Damon) Ocean's Eleven

We should all be clowns, Milly. -Jim Wormold (Alec Guinness) Our Man in Havana

You get four guys all fighting over who's gonna be Mr. Black, but they don't know each other, so nobody wants to back down. No way. I pick. You're Mr. Pink. Be thankful you're not Mr. Yellow. -Joe (Lawrence Tierney) Reservoir Dogs


- I am a moral outcast.
-  Well, it's always nice to meet a writer.  -Dante (Klaus Maria Brandauer) / Barley Scott Blair (Sean Connery) The Russia House

Frank, let's face it. Who can trust a cop who don't take money? -Tom Keough (Jack Kehoe) Serpico


-Looks like trouble. -Looks like Christmas.  -Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) / Marv (Mickey Rourke) Sin City 2: A Dame to Die For


If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one. -Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) Spotlight



- I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.

- It's not true.  He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.  - Nora Charles (Myrna Loy)/Nick Charles (William Powell)/  The Thin Man.


To protect the sheep you have to catch the wolves and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.  -Alonzo (Denzel Washington) Training Day

-Not everyone loves us, Rex. -Save the punditry for someone whose paid to have an opinion.
-I'm cool with censorship, I know the American people love that.

-Angie Jones (Zoe Saldana) / Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver) Vantage Point


I do favors for people and in return, they give me gifts. So, what can I do for you? -Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) A Walk Among The Tombstones



-Man, I get so mad I want to fight the whole world.  You got any idea what that feels like?
-I do.  I decided to fight the feeling instead.  Cause I figured the world would win. - Chip (Martin Sensmeier) / Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) Wind River




02 April 2019

The Genesis of Guns + Tacos

by Michael Bracken
with Trey R. Barker and Frank Zafiro

Writers are often asked where they get their ideas, but no one ever asks anthology editors where they get theirs.

In my October 16, 2018, SleuthSayers post “The Obstacle Ahead is a Mirror,” I alluded to a project conceived at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida, that had me excited about writing again. Season One of that project—a novella anthology series named Guns + Tacos—premieres in July, with an episode appearing each month through December and a second season already scheduled for July–December 2020.

The story of how Trey R. Barker and I conceived of Guns + Tacos, and how it evolved from a joke to an anthology series, begins back in February 2017. That’s when I pitched The Eyes of Texas, an anthology of private eye stories set in Texas that will release in fall 2019 (near the same time as the Dallas Bouchercon) to Eric Campbell at Down & Out Books. (More about that anthology closer to the release date.)

Trey, a Texas native now living in Illinois, submitted a story, which I accepted, and in the process of working on that anthology, we swapped several emails. I don’t think we’d ever crossed paths before, but we seemed to know several of the same people. So, we—Trey and his wife Kathy, me and my wife Temple—made plans to meet for lunch at the 2018 Bouchercon in St. Petersburg.

Here, of course, is where the story gets hazy, and I suspect each of us remembers things differently. But what I remember is this: Among the many things we discussed during lunch were guns and tacos, and at some point Trey said they were his two favorite things. A little later—I think it was after lunch as we were returning to the main part of the Vinoy—the subject came up again and Temple suggested that guns and tacos sounded like a good premise for an anthology. Off and on during the next several hours, Trey and I batted the idea around.

That evening, we found ourselves on the Vinoy’s veranda, hanging out with a revolving group of editors and writers affiliated with Down & Out Books, and we pitched the idea to Eric. Several of the people present made comments and suggestions, but the most significant contribution to the conversation came from Frank Zafiro when he described what he was doing with A Grifter’s Song, a novella anthology series he created for D&O.

A novella anthology series is much like a Netflix series, with a new episode (a novella) released each month over the course of a six-month season. A Grifter’s Song was already set for a January 2019 debut, was committed to a two-season arc, and Eric was looking for a series that could run the last six months of 2019. He asked if Trey and I could turn our anthology idea into a novella anthology series.

Trey and I met several times during the balance of the convention, and we made notes and a list of writers we wanted to approach. By the time we left for home, we had a good handle on the project.

I had successfully (and unsuccessfully) pitched anthologies, so I knew the fundamentals of writing a proposal, but a novella anthology series was a new beast entirely. We asked Frank to share his proposal for A Grifter’s Song, which he did, and we later wrote a formal proposal for Guns + Tacos using Frank’s proposal as a blueprint.

And Trey and I weren’t the only people excited by the concept behind Guns + Tacos. While Temple and I were sitting at the airport awaiting our flight home, I received an email from Frank containing a scene from the story he wanted to write wherein his protagonist visits the taco truck and gets a gun.

But Trey R. Barker and Frank Zafiro may remember things differently, so I’ve asked them to join me today and share their memories of how the project came together.

TREY R. BARKER

What a load of horseshit.

Here’s what happened…as best I remember, some of it’s kinda fuzzy….

Michael Bracken, Frank Zafiro, and Trey R. Barker
at Bouchercon 2018
I was at the Titty Twister. Remember that place, yeah? In Mexico? Rodriguez made a documentary about it awhile back. Anyway, I was banging straight up bottom-shelf tequila and Kathy was dancing on a table. Hot…HAWT!

So I’m doing my thang with the tequila and part of a worm and leering at Kathy. Mostly, I’m waiting for the Federales to quit sniffing all up in my business, just chilling to get back to San Angelo (home of Los Lonely Boys, don’cha know) and thinking I’m getting hungry.

In walks Michael and his little number and they’re waffling about tacos and I’m all like, “Yeah, I dig me some tacos,” but the Twister kitchen was closed ’cause the band was about to play or some crap…that part’s kinda fuzzy.

Me and my gun sat down with them, kinda freaked them out ’cause I ain’t never met them before and they ain’t been married long so they wanted to boom boom their own thang but I was down for tacos now they’d got mentioned so it wasn’t really my fault when the bottle got smashed open and the tequila went everywhere.

Damned waste of good agava juice.

So the band—Tito and Tarantula—started playing and it’s smoking hot; greasy guitar and thumping drums and Kathy’s dancing and now this cat Michael challenges some big, hairy dude to single-bullet poker and slams a gun right down on the table…that part’s kinda fuzzy.

Kathy said, “Hey, man, vegetarian tacos and guns…that’s a good night,” while Michael licked a bullet and eye-boned the hairy guy.

Vegetarian tacos? Man, this place is a trip.

Temple is all like “What the F ever, Michael,” like she’s done this scene before and is straight up bored. Kathy’s banging back some sweet Riesling while she’s dancing and now the joint is full like a damned reunion of freak show wannabes all stank-sweaty and drinking like Sweet Baby Jesus was coming back tomorrow and bringing Prohibition with him.

The hairy guy holds his hands up, passive scared looks like to me, and leaves while Michael snorts aggressive and gives Temple some big ass Bad Daddy kiss and some new dude comes in.

Waving guns like a cheap stripper with spinning tassels. Got a gun in each hand, four or five more on his hips, strapped X across his chest with bullets like some old line Bandido, screaming he wants some damn tacos now or the Twister Armadillo gets it hard.

Scared the shit outta the armadillo. Poor damn thing running back and forth in that cage. Barkeep had to put a bowl of tequila in there to calm it down.

So Gunboy starts gassing about how he’s had tacos before, a plate of 12 or some crap, and he wants more tacos and I said “Guns and tacos…mmmmmmmm,” and Temple said something like “Guns and tacos…that’s the best you can do?” and Kathy said “Vegetarian guns and tacos,” which I took to mean vegetarian tacos, not guns, but I don’t know…that part’s kinda fuzzy.

And so that’s how Michael and me and Gunboy bought a taco truck in Sausalito.

But it’s all kinda fuzzy.

FRANK ZAFIRO

I just happened to be walking past Michael and Trey, huddled together over drinks in the lobby area, when they spotted me and called me over. They asked about a project of mine called A Grifter’s Song. Now, this was about a month away from the official announcement from Down & Out Books. Nonetheless, I swore them to secrecy, and then proceeded to lay it all out for them.

[I can keep secrets. Really.]

I explained the artistic and logistical set up for A Grifter’s Song, which features a pair of grifters who love two things: each other, and the game. The series runs twelve episodes across two six-episode seasons. I wrote the first and last episodes and ten other authors penned the rest. Each is self-contained. Subscribers to the series get a price break, automated delivery and a bonus, subscriber-only episode.

When I finished, one of them asked a little hesitantly, “Do you think we could get a copy of the treatment you sent Eric for the series?”

“Of course,” I said.

Why wouldn’t I? The dirty little not-really-a-secret was that my original plan was to write the series myself and release quarterly, but then Gary Phillips invited me to submit to a series he was working on. His format? Every episode written by a different author, and a once-a-month release schedule. It was a great idea, and I quickly realized it was the right model for A Grifter’s Song. I put together a treatment for the series and pitched it to D&O, who came up with the subscription model.

Now, while I wouldn’t call it theft, I most certainly felt a debt to Gary Phillips. So not only do I acknowledge the inspiration, I offered him a slot in season one. He graciously contributed Episode 4: The Movie Makers.

So you can see how it was my pay-it-forward duty to share a preview of this project with Michael and Trey. In this tribe, that’s how it works, at least most of the time. We take care of each other.

They seemed to dig the idea, and as you’ll surely read, things took off from there. Seeing that success is satisfying enough, but I got something else out of the deal, too—an invitation to submit.

I started my story at the airport on the way home from Bouchercon.

Fittingly, Gary Phillips is in this one, too.

THE END RESULT

Joining us on this adventure are Gary Phillips, William Dylan Powell, and James A. Hearn. Though they weren’t there at the conception, they’ve certainly helped make the first season a success, and were great to work with as Trey and I figured out how to turn Guns + Tacos into a reality.

Read the official press release announcing Guns + Tacos but note that it leaves out one important bit of news. Even before the first episode drops, Guns + Tacos has been picked up for a second season!

In other news: My story “The Maltese Terrier” appears in the latest issue of Black Mask.

01 April 2019

Cats and Writing

by Steve Liskow

I've had a few weeks to adjust to Daylight Savings Time now. I like driving to and maybe even home from an open mic with some light in the sky. At my age and with cataract surgery several years behind me, night vision isn't one of my strengths. And getting up in the morning isn't an issue because our bedroom isn't on the sunny side of our condo.

Besides, the time on the clock isn't an issue. We arrange our lives around our cat.

Ernie came to us as a rescue nearly ten years ago, along with his adopted sister Jewel. Ernie was just over a year old--he'll be eleven in April--and Jewel was seven months older. They were a bonded couple and amused each other--and us--constantly with their telepathy. Unfortunately, as often happens, they both had health issues. Jewel died about sixteen months ago and Ernie, who had been with her since he was eight weeks old, was even more devastated than we were. He's a Maine coon, which means he pretty resilient, but he needed about a month to reinvent his bearings. Fortunately, he's also creative and social.

Now, even more than before, Ernie decides when it's time to get up. During the night, he'll knock my alarm clock off my nightstand because it's redundant, and he walks across me and chirps when he wants attention. He doesn't need that clock or sunlight to know when it's time for breakfast because his stomach is more accurate than the Naval Observatory. At 6:45, he tells me he's hungry, even though it's not true.
He munches on prescription dry food all night so the dish is practically empty when I go downstairs. I'll refill it and put out prescription canned food (He has stage two kidney disease, which he's held at bay for two years now), but he won't come downstairs until my wife does so he can help her read the newspaper. Since he's a guy, he prefers the sports section, but he'll settle for the comics.

 After that, he wants me at my desk writing.

That's not negotiable. An hour later, he wants me to run a cup of water for him in the bathroom. Yes, he has a fountain downstairs, but now's not the time for that. He wants me at my desk for between 60 and 90 minutes, then he want either me or Barb to lie on the bed so he can cuddle for about 15 minutes. It recharges both of us.

In the afternoon, if I'm typing, he'll try to crawl into my lap between 1:50 and 2:10 because that's snack time. No argument. He may not have even been downstairs all morning, but now we put out dry food. He wants his non-prescription canned food (Which contains the cleverly-crushed blood pressure pill) at 4:30, but we try to stall until 5:00.

After that feeding, we get by without further guidance or supervision. He'll hang out in the office if one of us is at the computer, or he may come down to join us if we're watching TV (He doesn't get the point of women's basketball at all), but the evening is basically our own.

The plus side of this, besides having a very affectionate cat who likes to take care of us, is that we've learned to work in increments of 75 to 90 minute and then take a short break to replenish the energy. Granted, if I'm in the middle of a scene, I don't want to stop, but he's trained me to keep thinking about what I'm writing while he walks across me, and sometimes that few extra minutes gives me time to think of that snappy comeback that you always think of after losing the argument. If I'm not going to the health club or an open mic or shopping that day, I can do five or six 60-to-90 minute stretches of writing. Getting out of the chair to move helps my less than pristine back, too.

When Barb is rehearsing lines for a play (She averages about five productions a year), he's willing to sit and listen to her. He never gives her direction, but if she can't hold his interest, he'll curl up, tuck his tail over his nose, and go to sleep. Tough critics, cats.

But they train us well.

I know O'Neil has a cat or cats, and I think other writers on this blog have dogs, cats, or both. How many of them help you write?











31 March 2019

The Grapes of Writing

by R.T. Lawton

There are those, none of whom you fine people know, that would kindly suggest I am a slow learner. That's because it has been fifty years since I took my first creative writing class and yet I have only managed an approximate average of not quite three published short stories per year during those five decades. And due to the multiple rejections in the early stages of my writing infancy, I had to greatly increase the editorial acceptances in my older age to even remotely approach said average. I think this falls under the category of There is Yet Hope For Those Writers Just Beginning.
photo by Dragonflyir in wikipedia

And no, I will not discuss the dismal grade I received in that creative writing course. Suffice it to say that due to sleight-of-mind and the ability to take quick advantage of a developing situation, that particular grade does not appear anywhere on my university transcript. Perhaps it was those surreptitious talents that subsequently led me to a twenty-five year career on the streets as an undercover agent for a certain federal law enforcement group. In any case, said low grade which I received for the class should now give even more hope to beginning writers for their own future success in the field of writing. I.E., if even I can do it, then they surely can.

As for grapes and writing, the analogy goes like this. There are those of us who pick the grapes off the vine (or get them from the grocery store, depending upon where you get your inspiration), wash them, cook them and end up with a tasty homemade jam. We'll call this the John Floyd method of writing. It's done in one day, it's easy to keep your focus on the end product and it's something that almost everybody enjoys as is proven by our esteemed colleague's more than one thousand published short stories, plus some books.

Okay, at this point, we'll skip the fact that John sometimes writes the end of his story before he starts the beginning. We'll skip this because it doesn't fit the tasty grape jam analogy. And for those of you you out there who are overly obsessed with details and have to know if these particular grapes are red, purple, black, green, Concord, or even seedless, just lighten up. Have a cold one and consider all these aspects of the grape to be genres and sub-genres within the analogy.

Moving on.

Now, other people, myself for example, will take those same grapes, wash them, squeeze them and put them in a vat with a quantity of sugar, yeast and water and let the mixture ferment for a while. That's because I have a different vision for the grape. Occasionally, I look in on the process and check the specific gravity, but I'm generally in no hurry. Many, many days later, I filter and bottle my product to age. Fortunately, this ongoing procedure allows me to keep a mature glassful at my elbow while working on my computer, which greatly aids in my development of obscure analogies. We'll call this the R.T. Lawton method of writing. It takes longer, doesn't appeal to everyone (depending upon your personal taste), fits my particular frame of mind, pleases my taste buds and keeps the muse satisfied and talkative. Yet, it too ends up a marketable product.

At this point, someone is sure to say, "Yeah, but don't let it set too long, because it will turn to vinegar." And you know, that someone is right. Regardless of which product you're making, you really should take it off the shelf and try it in the market place to let other people savor the flavor of your creation.

So, whether you are a fast writer or a slow writer, the next time you see a bunch of grapes, you know exactly what to do. Proceed immediately to the kitchen and make yourself some peanut butter and tasty grape jam sandwiches and/or pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine. Then hurry directly to your computer and start writing down those story ideas before they grow old and mildew. And, very importantly, remember to enjoy yourself.

You'll have to excuse me now. It appears that my glass is more than half empty and I'm thinking about a refill.

Ahhhh! I wonder if The Grapes of Wrath was written by one of these methods?

30 March 2019

A Short Line at the Movies


by John M. Floyd



I have often heard that the writers of novels and short stories should be able to sum up their stories in one sentence. For the writers, such a mini-synopsis can be a way to make sure their plot works, and has a central and manageable theme. For editors/publishers/agents, it can tell them something about the story before they start reading it (and help them decide whether they want to read it). When this is done for a movie, it's sometimes called a logline. Examples:

- A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbors in other apartments.
- Man-eating shark terrorizes New England coast.
- Unemployed actor poses as a female in order to find work.
- An army captain is sent on a mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade colonel.

tagline is a little different. Movie taglines are short phrases that set the mood for a film and serve as a "teaser" to pique the interest of viewers. I've most often seen these on posters and DVD boxes.


Some titles are so wordy they could serve as their own taglines--Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, etc.--and some are so extra-long and descriptive a tagline following it would seem silly. Examples: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Can Heironymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? and (my favorite long title) Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?

Okay, I'm rambling. The thing about taglines is, some are informative, others are just funny, and a few have become so familiar you know right away which movies they're "tagging":

- Love means never having to say you're sorry.
- They call me Mister Tibbs.
- What we've got here is . . . failure to communicate.
- An offer you can't refuse.
- Who ya gonna call?
- A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .
- You'll never go in the water again.

I think it's interesting that the first five of those seven taglines were pieces of dialogue straight from the films--and the sixth was written on the screen when the movie started. That's usually not the case. Most often, a tagline is just a clever, catchy, humorous phrase dreamed up by the marketing folks to try to get you into the theater. (Note that I said "catchy," not necessarily "grammatically correct." That tagline for Jaws sounds as if it's telling you not to pee in the pool.)

Catchy or not, here are some of the best taglines I can remember. See if you can match each one with its movie. The answers are below. I think you'll know the first ten--after that, they get harder.


1. An adventure 65 million years in the making.
2. Check in. Relax. Take a shower.
3. To enter the mind of a killer, she must challenge the mind of a madman.
4. He's having the worst day of his life. Over and over.
5. I see dead people.
6. He is afraid. He is alone. He is three million light-years from home.
7. Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond.
8. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water . . .
9. You'll believe a man can fly.
10. There are 3.7 trillion fish in the ocean. They're looking for one.
11. The mob is tough, but it's nothing like show business.
12. They're young, they're in love, and they kill people.
13. A man went looking for America, and couldn't find it anywhere.
14. A nervous romance.
15. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
16. You don't assign him to murder cases. You just turn him loose.
17. Relive the best seven years of your college education.
18. If they hear you, they hunt you.
19. He's the only kid ever to get in trouble before he was born.
20. This is Benjamin. He's a little worried about his future.
21. Even a hit man deserves a second shot.
22. They fought like seven hundred.
23. If these two can learn to stand each other . . . the bad guys don't stand a chance.
24. Nice planet. We'll take it!
25. She brought a small town to its feet and a huge corporation to its knees.
26. Hell, upside down.
27. Before Sam was murdered, he told Molly he'd love and protect her forever.
28. Houston, we have a problem.
29. For anyone who has ever wished upon a star.
30. Where were you in '62?
31. The story of a man who was too proud to run.
32. You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.
33. Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.
34. Whoever wins, we lose.
35. Collide with destiny.
36. His story will touch you, even though he can't.
37. A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere.
38. When he said I do, he never said what he did.
39. Her life was in their hands. Now her toe is in the mail.
40. The longer you wait, the harder it gets.
41. Get ready for rush hour.
42. Same make. Same model. New mission.
43. Never give a saga an even break.
44. The last man on Earth is not alone.
45. Three decades of life in the mafia.
46. This is the weekend they didn't play golf.
47. For Harry and Lloyd, every day is a no-brainer.
48. It will lift you up where you belong.
49. When he pours, he reigns.
50. Man has met his match. Now it's his problem.
51. He took someone else's idea and America ate it up.
52. Anyone can save the galaxy once.
53. Escape or die frying.
54. Terror has no shape.
55. She gets kidnapped. He gets killed. But it all ends up okay.
56. Infiltrate hate.
57. There are no clean getaways.
58. We are not alone.
59. And you thought Earth girls were easy.
60. A tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge, and seafood.
61. The true story of a real fake.
62. Today the pond. Tomorrow the world.
63. The park is gone.
64. Miracles do happen.
65. They'll never get caught. They're on a mission from God.
66. Shoot first. Sightsee later.
67. A major league love story in a minor league town.
68. One man's struggle to take it easy.
69. Invisible. Silent. Stolen.
70. Love is in the hair.
71. The Coast is toast.
72. The world will be watching.
73. The snobs against the slobs.
74. The first casualty of war is innocence.
75. What a glorious feeling.
76. His whole life was a million-to-one shot.
77. Nice guys finish last. Meet the winners.
78. Size does matter.
79. All it takes is a little confidence.
80. Trust me.
81. Eight legs, two fangs, and an attitude.
82. He rules the roads.
83. For three men, the Civil War wasn't hell. It was practice.
84. Don't let go.
85. Work sucks.
86. Five reasons to stay single.
87. A story about love at second sight.
88. They're here.
89. Go ahead . . . make his day.
90. Can two friends sleep together and still love each other in the morning?
91. Vampires. No interviews.
92. On the air. Unaware.
93. Earth. It was fun while it lasted.
94. Good cops. Bad hair.
95. Handcuffed to the girl who double-crossed him.
96. Things are about to get a little hairy.
97. The happiest sound in all the world.
98. Every journey begins with a single move.
99. Life is in their hands. Death is on their minds.
100. In space no one can hear you scream.

And the corresponding movies:

1. Jurassic Park
2. Psycho
3. The Silence of the Lambs
4. Groundhog Day
5. The Sixth Sense
6. E. T.--the Extra-Terrestrial
7. You Only Live Twice
8. Jaws 2
9. Superman
10. Finding Nemo
11. Get Shorty
12. Bonnie and Clyde
13. Easy Rider
14. Annie Hall
15. The Shining
16. Dirty Harry
17. Animal House
18. A Quiet Place
19. Back to the Future
20. The Graduate
21. Grosse Pointe Blank
22. The Magnificent Seven
23. Lethal Weapon
24. Mars Attacks!
25. Erin Brockovich
26. The Poseidon Adventure
27. Ghost
28. Apollo 13
29. Pinocchio
30. American Graffiti
31. High Noon
32. The Social Network
33. The Shawshank Redemption
34. Alien vs. Predator
35. Titanic
36. Edward Scissorhands
37. Fargo
38. True Lies
39. The Big Lebowski
40. The Forty-Year-Old Virgin
41. Speed
42. Terminator 2
43. Blazing Saddles
44. I Am Legend
45. Goodfellas
46. Deliverance
47. Dumb and Dumber
48. An Officer and a Gentleman
49. Cocktail
50. Blade Runner
51. The Founder
52. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
53. Chicken Run
54. The Blob
55. The Princess Bride
56. BlacKkKlansman
57. No Country for Old Men
58. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
59. Bad Girls From Mars
60. A Fish Called Wanda
61. Catch Me If You Can
62. Frogs
63. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
64. The Green Mile
65. The Blues Brothers
66. In Bruges
67. Bull Durham
68. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
69. The Hunt for Red October
70. There's Something About Mary
71. Volcano
72. The Hunger Games
73. Caddyshack
74. Platoon
75. Singin' in the Rain
76. Rocky
77. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
78. Godzilla
79. The Sting
80. Liar, Liar
81. Arachnophobia
82. Mad Max
83. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
84. Gravity
85. Office Space
86. Four Weddings and a Funeral
87. While You Were Sleeping
88. Poltergeist
89. Sudden Impact
90. When Harry Met Sally
91. From Dusk Till Dawn
92. The Truman Show
93. Armageddon
94. Starsky and Hutch
95. The 39 Steps
96. An American Werewolf in Paris
97. The Sound of Music
98. Searching for Bobby Fischer
99. Twelve Angry Men
100. Alien

How'd you do? (Paul Marks, David Edgerley Gates, and Lawrence Maddox, I'm figuring you guys got a lot of them right.)

Anytime I think of this kind of thing, I can't help picturing a bunch of movie folks sitting around a conference table, suggesting and rejecting and finally agreeing on just the right "teaser" to put on the poster. I think that'd be fun.

When all's said and done, though, movies--with or without taglines--are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get . . .