10 January 2019

A Dream of Justice


by Eve Fisher
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” - G. K. Chesterton
Of course, that was back in the days when dragons were dangerous, fire-snorting monsters who ate everyone who came near them.  When they were evil.  Now, dragons are fun and cuddly and cute and everyone wants one.  Or they're your soul mate and enhance your sex life, as in Anne McCaffrey.

NOTE:  I loved Dragonflight and Dragonquest, so no, I'm not a dragon hater!

But what I want to point out is that you can't understand what Chesterton was talking about if you don't understand that dragons were once a mortal terror.  When dragons were, indeed, a very good analogy for the monsters and terrors that eat through childhood.

And it's not just dragons, it's fairy tales as well.  Revisionist histories of the Wicked Witch or the Evil Stepmother or the Big Bad Wolf as misunderstood victims may be intriguing to adults, but I don't think they're good for children.  Children know there is evil in the world, evil that the adults may or may not be shielding them from, evil that is threatening to their very core, evil that they can't always name (in some families, that's too dangerous) or define (some evil starts before we even have words for it).  And they need - at a young age, before they're old enough to read about Voldemort or Sauron - to have examples of evil being fought and conquered.  I did.  I desperately needed the hope that someday all evil would fall.  I needed justice.  And, imho, without a firm grasp of right and wrong, of goodness and evil, there is no real sense of justice.
“Detective stories contain a dream of justice. They project a vision of a world in which wrongs are righted, and villains are betrayed by clues that they did not know they were leaving. A world in which murderers are caught and hanged, and innocent victims are avenged, and future murder is deterred...  Detective stories keep alive a view of the world which ought to be true. Of course people read them for fun, for diversion, as they do crossword puzzles. But underneath they feed a hunger for justice, and heaven help us if ordinary people cease to feel that.”
Thrones, Dominations - Dorothy L. Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh
In other words, we don't really want a Casablanca where Rick refuses to stick out his neck, and settles down to another bottle while the fascists take Victor Laszlo and Ilsa away to a concentration camp.  Or a Maltese Falcon where Sam Spade goes off with the Fat Man and Cairo to find the loot.    

Black-and-white film screenshot of several people in a nightclub. A man on the far left is wearing a suit and has a woman standing next to him wearing a hat and dress. A man at the center is looking at the man on the left. A man on the far right is wearing a suit and looking to the other people.

Which is why I've been bothered for a long time about the shift from a hunger for justice to a hunger for personal gain.  A great enthusiasm for evading the law.  A grand revival of the seven deadly sins:  pride, envy, greed, gluttony, lust, wrath, and sloth (a/k/a apathy).  A celebration of them.  A sense that everyone does it, you're a fool if you don't, and compassion (for the downtrodden, the victims, the poor conned bastards) is weakness.  That noir - which I admit is entertaining on screen - is a place you'd actually want to live.
This really struck home when I read the SCOTUS blog about Nielsen v. Preap.  This is a case about "whether the federal authorities must detain immigrants who had committed crimes, often minor ones, no matter how long ago they were released from criminal custody... [T]he sticking point appeared to be how to define what would be a reasonable period of time for immigration agents to detain a person whose criminal sentence is completed.”  (Currently waiting on SCOTUS' decision.)  SCOTUS Blog

Now what really interested me about this was reading the comments (on other websites) - always a mistake - where a large number of people stopped at the word "immigrants" (or "aliens", depending on which article you read) and said, "They're illegal - boot them out."  (Cleaned up for extreme profanity, and in some cases, death threats.)  

And by saying that, they missed the most obvious thing in the world:

Everyone has legal rights, and should have legal rights, including an attorney and a hearing after an arrest for one simple reason:  Quid pro quo.  Some day an American citizen might be arrested in a foreign country (it has been known to happen; like in Russia; like right now), and they may model their legal behavior on ours, and deny an American citizen their right to a hearing, whether it's for something as minor as a parking ticket to as major as murder.

It’s also why we have:

(1) Diplomatic Immunity – not because their diplomats are so charming, but because we want to protect our own overseas from reprisal (political or otherwise) such as arrests, imprisonment, torture, and "death in custody";
NOTE:  This is also why the case of Jamal Khashoggi was/is important.  A United States resident, brutally murdered by a Saudi Arabian hit squad in the Saudi embassy in Turkey.  So far the main objections to pursuing this from our current administration is money.  As the TV Evangelist Pat Robertson said, "You’ve got $100 billion worth of arms sales...we cannot alienate our biggest player in the Middle East.”  (Citation)  
NOTE 2:  The arms deal is so far only "letters of intent," and a suspiciously timed 100 million dollar payment - not for arms, but "to support U.S. stabilization efforts in northeastern Syria."  Granted, the price has gone up from 30 pieces of silver, but I still object.  
NOTE 3:  And Khashoggi's murder isn't about a journalist, per se. It's about the fact that Saudi Arabia felt free to kill someone in their embassy on foreign soil, in the same way that Russia felt free to kill at least six people on British soil, and both countries are getting away with it.  Murder is murder.  And when it's allowed to happen without consequences - Well, we're going to see more of them. And they will happen here. What will we do when Americans are killed on American soil with nerve agents like A-234 or radioactive polonium?   
(2) The Geneva Conventions for humanitarian treatment of soldiers and other POWs – to protect our own soldiers and civilians. And, BTW, why calling enemy soldiers “unlawful enemy combatants” and thus evading the Geneva Conventions is a very dangerous precedent that will, undoubtedly, come back to haunt us some day.  Which leads directly to


Guantanamo Bay, where the imprisonment of "unlawful enemy combatants" is currently ongoing (40 prisoners are still there, having been imprisoned for 16 years and counting), without trial for years, subject to extraordinary rendition (i.e., transfer to a cooperative foreign country for enhanced interrogation, i.e., torture) - and with no exit in sight for those who remain.  Simply put, precedent is a dangerous thing:  again, some day captured American soldiers and civilians may find themselves on foreign soil in similar prisons.

Humans have worked hard for years, decades, centuries, to create a world in which the weak are protected from the strong, where might does not automatically make right, and where we live under the rule of law.  Where democracies make it possible for everyone to have a say as to how they are governed.  Where civil and human rights are granted to everyone (because otherwise, there are no rights, just privilege, and capricious privilege at that).  Where peace is pursued on a national and international basis.

But maybe it's been too long since World War 1 and World War 2.  Because apparently there's a strong temptation, these days, to Dehiscence.  Deconstruction.  Destruction.  
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity....
   - W. B. Yeats, first stanza of "The Second Coming"
   Donne painted by Isaac Oliver

In other words, every man for himself.  But it's not true.  John Donne had a better take, from a time that was no more war-ridden, and much more plague-ridden, short-lived, and less comfortable than ours: 
"No man is an island, entire of itself; 
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. 
If a clod be washed away by the sea, 
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, 
as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: 
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, 
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
John Donne Meditation XVII



And the best take of all is from 750 BC, from a time of civil war, evil kings, obscene wealth in the midst overwhelming poverty, and a terrible need for social justice:

"But let justice roll down like waters 
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Amos 5:24


NOTE:  For those who are wondering what I'm doing with 2 blog posts in a row, I'm filling in for my old pal Brian Thornton, who's sick with the crud.  GET WELL SOON, BRIAN!!!

09 January 2019

A Killing in Wartime


David Edgerley Gates


A decorated soldier, a former Special Forces captain in Afghanistan, is being charged with murder by the U.S. Army - not a domestic, or Crazy Guy Shoots Up Walmart, but combat-related, a violation of the Rules of Engagement. Matthew Golsteyn was deployed to Marjah, in Helmand Province, in 2010. The area is a major producer of poppy and a primary revenue source for the Taliban. Two of Golsteyn's troops were blown up by booby-traps, on patrol, and not long after, Golsteyn got custody of a suspected Afghan bomb-maker. The guy didn't talk, and Golsteyn was required to release him. In a CIA job interview a year later, however, Golsteyn said he knew that if he let the guy go, it was a death warrant for Afghans working with U.S. forces, and for other GI's. Golsteyn took the guy out past the wire and shot him.

That's one version, anyway. The initial investigation came up, if not empty, inconclusive. But in 2016, Golsteyn did something deeply stupid. He shot his mouth off to Fox News, and said he killed the guy. At which point, the Army reopens the case. This time, they bring capital charges.

Regardless of the merits, the case has now caught the attention of Our National Joke. Trump thinks an injustice is being perpetrated, and he's promised to look into it. "I will be reviewing the case of a U.S. military hero.... He could face the death penalty from our own government after he admitted killing a terrorist bomb maker while overseas." Trump, of course, doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground around the UCMJ - the Universal Code of Military Justice - and he's blithely unaware that what he's doing could compromise the case, one way or the other.

It's called Unlawful Command Influence. For example, Pres. Obama said heatedly that sex offenders in the military should be "prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged." This was later interpreted as prejudicial, and there was in fact one Navy judge who ruled out a punitive discharge at court-martial because of Obama's statement. (Trump said inflammatory things during the campaign about Bowe Bergdahl, and although the judge in that case acknowledged Trump's remarks were inappropriate, he gave Bergdahl a DD anyway.) In the Golsteyn case, we're talking about influencing a favorable verdict, or asking for dismissal. It ain't gonna happen, but we'll see if the fat lady can carry a tune.

*

Return with us now, through the mists of time, to that unlovely year 1969. Nha Trang. A suspected Vietnamese informer named Thai Khac Chuyen is taken on a boat ride out into the South China Sea, shot twice in the back of the head, and dumped over the side. Project GAMMA was a spook show, run out of 5th Special Forces under CIA discipline, and CIA signed off on Chuyen's termination  (although they'd pretend otherwise, when the shit hit the fan.) Six of the Green Berets in the unit, along with 5th SPG's commanding officer, Col. Robert Rheault, wind up in the stockade, waiting on an Article 32, preliminary hearing for a general court-martial, charged with murder.

You have to understand the politics, here. Abe Abrams had taken over from Westmoreland the year before. Abrams was a tank guy. He didn't have any patience with Spec Ops, and he especially didn't want his boys, GI's, carrying water for CIA. It was all about accountability. Abrams also thought Col. Rheault had lied to him, but this is a little tricky, because Rheault was new on the job, and may not have been fully briefed. GAMMA was restricted access, Need-to-Know. Rheault could have easily repeated the CIA cover story to Abrams, without realizing it was fabricated. Either way, the damage was done. Abrams was in a fury.

Abrams is in no way mollified by the press coverage, which reports the Green Berets are being scapegoated, first to take the heat off CIA, and secondly, when evidence surfaces that Chuyen was in fact a spy, to ask why they were charged in the first place. Killing the enemy is a soldier's first order of business. The defense asks to depose both Abrams himself, and the CIA station chief in Saigon. This hot potato goes all the way up the chain of command. Nixon instructs Haldeman to put the kibosh on the whole thing, and CIA falls in line, refusing on national security grounds to cooperate with the court-martial authorities at all. The secretary of the Army vacates the charges. Rheault asks for reinstatement. Abrams turns him down. Rheault resigns his commission and quits the Army.

Now that's what you call Unlawful Command Influence. And that's why the protocols and procedures are in place, to guard against malice, against too-easy resolutions, and against simple-minded blowhards with too much time on their hands. More honored in the breach than in the observance.

*

I've written myself about GI's, and spooks, who puts the fix in and who gets squeezed in the middle, and I'm now happy to report I've discovered somebody else working that turf, a sort of DMZ, between the wild and the sown. Martin Limón is new to me, but that's soon remedied.

Thirteen novels and counting, beginning with Jade Lady Burning and Slicky Boys, and a story collection, Nightmare Range. So far as I know, his first published appearance was in Hitchcock, in 1991. He's mixed it up a little, but for our purposes, it's the George Sueño and Ernie Bascom series that's center ring. George and Ernie are U.S. Army CID investigators in Korea, in the 1970's. They work the street, on the edge of the rackets and the black market, at the exotic and familiar overlap of Korean and American GI culture. Not so much American, mind, as American military, itself both an exotic and familiar creature.

These are terrific books, not least because the environment is a bubble off of plumb. And they're dark, no getting around it. I'm reminded not a little of Sarah Bird's wonderful novel about a career U.S. Air Force family in Japan, The Yokota Officers Club. Her book isn't a crime story, even if in part it's about secrets, but it inhabits a sort of Twilight Zone, because the world she describes is foreign, with its cadences and rigidity, and its very own vocabulary. Martin Limón gets this cold, and he does it in a similar way, by treating it as matter-of-fact.

There's a lot to be said for turning the conventions backwards. If you accept a structure, a template, the characteristics of a Western, or a Gothic, the elements of noir, it doesn't tie your hands. It can be invigorating. Martin Limón takes the police procedural and folds it in on itself, and hands it back to you with the pin pulled out.


08 January 2019

Looking Backward, Looking Forward


by Michael Bracken

To steal and mangle some other writer’s most famous opening line: My dual career in 2018 was the best of times and the worst of times.

I received 47 short story acceptances and had 34 stories published, including one in The Best American Mystery Stories 2018. I became editor of a regional gardening magazine; turned in The Eyes of Texas, an anthology of Texas private eye stories to be released by Down & Out Books in fall 2019; selected the stories for Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, the first in an annual anthology series to be released each fall beginning in 2020; with co-creator/co-editor Trey R. Barker began work on the serial novella anthology series Guns & Tacos; and was approached about writing a novel, something I haven’t done in near-on twenty years.

On the other hand, my productivity fell through the floor, and I completed only 19 new stories, including one co-authored with Sandra Murphy that will be published in a Maxim Jakubowski-edited anthology in 2019.

I previously discussed two of the reasons for the decrease in output, one psychological (“The Obstacle Ahead is a Mirror”) and one the time-consuming side-effect of increased sales (“Do You Want Cheese with That Whine?”). Not mentioned in either post are my increased editing responsibilities, both crime fiction anthologies and magazine non-fiction.

THE WRITTEN

I write a fair amount in any given year, but I only track the word counts of completed short fiction, and in 2018 I wrote 19 stories totaling 68,250 words. Unfortunately, this is the worst year since I started keeping track in 2009. (In 2009, my best year, I wrote 75 short stories totaling 216,310 words.)

The shortest story was 250 words, the longest story was 13,500 words, and the average length was 3,592 words.

Four stories were written by invitation. The rest were for open-call anthologies, for markets where I’ve previously placed stories, or for no particular market at all.

Seventeen of the stories are crime fiction of one sub-genre or another, one is a cross-genre mix of science fiction and crime fiction, and one is horror.

THE PUBLISHED

I had 34 stories published in 2018. Eighteen are crime fiction, 11 are erotica, one is fantasy, and four are romances.

Sixteen stories appeared in print publications, seven in web-based or electronic publications, and one appeared on the web and in print. Ten were released in audio format.

Twenty-nine of the stories are originals and the rest are reprints (“Smoked” in The Best American Mystery Stories 2018) or audio releases of previously published stories.

THE SOLD

Forty-seven stories were accepted for publication. Twenty-three are crime fiction, 20 are erotica, three romance, and one fantasy. A few counted as erotica are cross-genre (erotic crime fiction, erotic fantasy, etc.).

Thirty-six stories are originals and 11 are reprints or audio rights of previously published stories.

Two pieces of crime fiction were “accepted” by anthologies I am either editing or co-editing, perhaps proving that sometimes it is who you know.

Note that I wrote no erotica, fantasy, or romance in 2018, yet I placed original stories in all three genres.

THE REJECTIONS

I received 39 rejections in 2018, and any year in which acceptances outnumber rejections is a good year.

I received one unacceptance. An anthology that accepted a story in 2016 was cancelled in 2018, and my story—which had been paid for—was returned. The story sold to the next editor who saw it, resulting in a second check.

I also received my first-ever unrejection. A magazine rejected one of my stories and six weeks later contacted me and asked if the story was still available. It was. Read more about what happened at “The Rejection Reversal with Michael Bracken.”

THE FUTURE

For the past several years, my annual goals were to complete and submit an average of one short story per week and to receive an average of one acceptance per week. At the beginning of 2018, following the 2017 collapse of two of my primary markets, I realized these goals were no longer realistic. So, my primary goals in 2018 were to rebuild and re-establish myself as I moved into new markets and/or new genres.

During 2018, I placed work in several new or new-to-me markets but made no significant progress in cracking new genres. Though I did sell one fantasy short story, saw another published, and wrote one horror story, I made no other efforts to expand my genre palette. Instead, I concentrated on writing various sub-genres of crime fiction, including some not previously part of my oeuvre.

As I look forward to 2019, I’ve decided not to set concrete goals. The past year was filled with so much change that I’m unable to envision how things might shake out. More editing opportunities? More submission invitations? That novel I was approached about?

I’ve no clue.

So, I think 2019 will be the year I just roll with it. I’ll try to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way and see what happens. Maybe by the end of 2019 I’ll once again have a clear view of the future and can set concrete goals for 2020.

Until then, I’m prepared for a wild ride.


The tail-end of 2018 and beginning of 2019 saw several stories published: “Little Bubba Visits the Roadhouse” in EconoClash Review #3, “The Fishmonger’s Wife” in the Winter 2019 issue of Pulp Literature, “Split Decision” in the January 2019 issue of The Digest Enthusiast, and “Wishing Tree” in the January/February 2019 Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

07 January 2019

Changing All Them Changes


by Steve Liskow

As the year winds down and I still wait for the last microscopic royalty check, I can't help noticing how quickly the publishing landscape changes. Axioms from a few years ago are now irrelevant and all you can do is try to keep up. My one concrete takeaway from 2018 is that I finished in the black for the first time since 2015. As usual, it's not because of book sales, but from events. About 47% of the income associated with my writing comes from workshops and panels.



Self-publishing means you do lots of promotion, which takes away from actual writing time. Tomorrow night, I will join a Sisters in Crime panel on promotion, but I'm not sure I really know anything to pass on. As things change, there's a good chance that I will guess wrong. I  hope that I learn from those mistakes.

My only core beliefs are (1) a good book is your best marketing tool. People will tell other people about it. (2) That same word of mouth is still your best advertising method. That means that you have to write a good book and behave yourself. Don't be a jerk because word gets around, and people don't buy stuff from jerks.

How do you get news of your book out there? That's a tough one. More and more "experts" agree that social media does little unless you're already well-known. Lee Child, Stephen King, Laura Lippmann and a handful of other writers can tweet about their new book and watch it fly off the shelves, but it doesn't work for mere mortals like me.

Every writer I know has a website and most of us have a Facebook page and maybe other accounts like Twitter or Instagram. Even though I post events and invite people on Facebook, they will only buy the same book once, so I can only invite a person to an event once or twice a year unless they like to stalk me (Hey, there's another plot idea!).

I no longer do a "reading" because they don't return much. I used to sell a book for every seven or eight people who attended, and often had fewer than seven attendees. Conducting a workshop means I actually get PAID, and I used to sell a book for about every three attendees. Maybe they felt they owed me because I gave them something back. Maybe they enjoyed the presentation. Maybe I wasn't a jerk (See above). Whatever the case, that number no longer holds true, either.

I used to charge libraries a flat rate for the workshops and draw ten to twelve people. I also used to conduct six or eight workshops a year. Unfortunately, library budgets in Connecticut have been slashed over the last three years, so in 2017 and 2018, I did a TOTAL of two workshops in libraries.


How have I kept up with the changes? Truthfully, I'm still struggling. The Storyteller's Cottage, about twenty miles from my condo, opened late in 2017 and does events almost daily. They promote local writers and do lots of events, including both workshops and signings. The staff is great and they promote like mad. They're worth their weight in uncut cocaine. BUT the Victorian house built in the 1890s has tiny rooms, with a capacity of about six people and my ego. I've done eight workshops there in the last year, but we split the tuition. That means a packed workshop nets me less than half what I made at libraries, and I seldom sell more than one book.

Last November, the cottage began selling local author's books on consignment at a generous split. It's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. I have several workshops set for next year already, so it's a little something. The good news is that people show up and feel I'm worth having back.

Plan C:

Last spring, O'Neil De Noux invited me to join an eBook package with nine other writers. I sold a lot of eBooks because people had to buy mine to get the Lawrence Block or Dean Wesley Smith book. I've never done that before, and it worked out well. Thanks, O'Neil.

Five short stories were to appear this year, my personal best (I hear several other Sleuthsayers snickering because that's a decent week for them). Four of them are to markets that didn't exist two years ago, which is good because many of the older markets have disappeared. Less advertising revenue is going to print media now, so both Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock, reliable markets since the late 1940s, have scaled back to six issues a year from their original ten (two double issues, Christmas and Summer). That means they buy fewer stories. Two of the five stories went to quarterly magazines that are still finding their way. One last appeared in May and the other in July, but they both told me their next issues would be out "in about two weeks." That was before Veteran's Day. I like to promote magazines that publish my stuff, but when they don't come out as promised, I look bad and can't help them.

Plan D:

Since June, three indie book stores have opened in my area. I've visited them to discuss consignment sales or events. I've met with with nice people who are still figuring out how things are going to work, so nothing is settled yet, but it's another way to go.

Create Space has become Kindle Direct. The mechanics of publishing Back Door Man were mostly the same, but the few changes were all to my advantage. I received proofs more quickly, so I could OK them and order copies more quickly, too. I can navigate the new site a little more easily to track my sales, too. Someone who understands computers and marketing could do far more than I can, but I'm a little less ignorant than before.

Plan E:

My cover artist didn't like the name of a band that appeared in Back Door Man, so I posted a "Name the Band" contest on my website and Facebook page and with Sisters in Crime. The person who gave me the best new name for the band (I ended up using two because they were both great) became a minor character in the book (not a victim) and received a signed copy. One recipient has already posted a five-star review. The other reviews on a website I had never heard of before...and she has over 1000 followers. As Herman's Hermits said, "somethin' tells me I'm into somethin' good..."

2019 will be different, and differently.

I have sold stories to two anthologies that will appear in late 2019 or early 2020, and I'm about 75% through the first draft of another Woody Guthrie novel. Five short stories are under consideration with various editors now and I have two more in progress. I have six events planned and I'm waiting to hear from those indie book stores.
Next week, I will be pitching another workshop at another venue.

If you aren't changing, you're falling behind.

06 January 2019

Chasing Pennies


by Leigh Lundin

bank vault
I've written about exploits in banking and brokerage fraud with further articles to follow. Bad banking practices don’t feature well in my write-ups. Institutions change only when they’re forced to.

Recently my fraud expertise touched upon the personal. A good friend fell victim to gaping holes in one of New York’s largest financial institutions, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

Lily is smart, pretty, and unattached. Two out of three is pretty good, but she means to win the trifecta. She doesn’t advertise, but merely hopes to attract the right kind of guy. She appears on social media: Facebook, Pinterist, and a singles’ site that’s been around some thirteen years, MeetMe.com where she met an interesting fellow.

Telling the good from the bad isn’t always easy. By the time our malefactor (male factor or dirtbag are also suitable) stepped into the light, he already knew critical pieces of information about Lily: her real name (thanks to odious Facebook requirements), where she’s lived, family relationships, and importantly– her birthday.

MeetMe.com
For a few weeks, ‘Antonio Sanchez’ from ‘New Jersey’ wooed our lass on MeetMe. He didn’t do anything crass like ask her bank account number or credit card information; thanks to Chase’s security ‘features’, he didn’t need to.

As Thanksgiving approached, Lily traveled across the country, stopping to visit relatives in Greenfield, Indiana, home of another Lilly, the famed pharmaceuticals company. Our heroine happened to check her bank account and found it unexpectedly fourteen hundred fifty dollars richer.

Lily, not only smart but honest, sought clarification at the Greenfield branch of Chase. Greenfield couldn’t fathom the problem.

bogus check 1 (808869)
check 1 of 6 #808869
“You put money into your account in the early hours of the morning. Looks like you needed it. What’s the problem?”

“I didn’t deposit anything.”

“But you did.” Greenfield regarded her suspiciously. “You’re saying you didn’t?”

“Exactly. I didn’t do any such thing.”

“Well, lucky you. Someone likes you well enough to put coins in your account.”

*click* Instantly Lily knew who’d made the deposit.

A couple of hours later, the situation reached me. By then, other deposits had appeared. Curiously, monies were rapidly shifting among Lily’s three accounts. My fraud alert alarms clanged.

“If you make a withdrawal,” I advised, “calculate only what you own to the penny and not a cent more.”

“What’s the problem?” friends asked. “A handsome guy sending Lily money? Does he have any brothers?”

I spoke adamantly. “There is no money, no boyfriend in New Jersey, no gold at the end of the rainbow.” When I explained the con, Lily agreed to join me for a visit to the Indiana State Police.

Indiana State Police
The man manning the reception desk told us all detectives were out of the office and wouldn’t return until the next day. Lily asked if she could file a report.

The grizzled trooper brought forms out to us in the lobby. He stood by as Lily tried to explain the situation.

He interrupted her. “A guy giving you money is no crime. No crime, you can’t file a report.”

I said, “There is no money. It’s a con…”

The trooper threw up his palm in a ‘Talk to the hand’ gesture. Cops are trained to seize and maintain control, even when counterproductive. He went on to lecture Lily, not so much accusing her of wasting police time, but of being silly.

“May I explain?” I said as levelly as I could. “There is no money, only fake deposits. He will use that false balance to pay himself.”

The cop paused, considering. “Wouldn’t work,” he said. “If I deposit a check, I have to wait a few days to withdraw funds.”

“That’s why he’s moving money around her accounts. Some banks, perhaps including Chase, lose track of new deposits as they’re moved around. The technique is called seasoning, losing the new deposit tag and making the money look like it’s aged on account.”

“I’m a road warrior,” said the trooper. “I’m not up on these things. Yeah, I’ll have a detective phone you.”

Virtually next door to State Police Headquarters, we’d noticed a Chase branch. Lily made the wisest decision of the day, visiting the bank for an update.

The young woman listened attentively. She quickly grasped the situation. “Oh my God,” she said. “I received a notice exactly like yours of a deposit early in the morning. I need to check my own account before I go home today.”

Together, the three of us discovered additional deposits and further shifting around of money. By then, funds had been used to buy the first Western Union money order made out to an unknown and very foreign name.

“Let me guess,” I said. “The money’s sent to Nigeria?”

“If Lily didn’t give this jerk her personal information,” the young lady said, “how did he get into her account?”

I explained one hypothesis. I’m a vocal critic of the so-called security questions routinely forced upon on-line customers. “What city were you born in?” “What was the name of your first pet?” “What’s your favorite team?” “What’s your favorite color?”

With the slightest information, bad guys find it ludicrously easy to guess the answers. The favorite color question often includes a helpful drop-down menu of eight colors. No one chooses black or white, so a malefactor can guess the answer in six tries or less.

The young branch manager rang the fraud department. She posed the same question to them, who replied “There are so many ways to breach an account…”

bogus check 2 (808870)
check 2 of 6 #808870
The bank gave us copies of the checks. One peculiarity came to light. Chase said it appeared the Nigerian repeatedly deposited the same two checks over and over, fooling Chase and highlighting another flaw in their security, a defective filter for detecting duplicate deposits.

Chase froze Lily’s accounts, leaving her stranded without travel money in the midst of a cross-country trip. But wait, we’re not done.

Lily awoke the next morning, finding her accounts unlocked and a half dozen or so deposits burgeoning her balances.

Lily phoned Chase to let them know further monkey business was afoot in her reactivated accounts. They quickly closed the window and her accounts, again cutting off her funds.



Big banks and little people, comes now the pathetic part. Instead of expressing gratitude for Lily’s quick action of notifying them of fraud, Chase blames Lily for the leaking of money from the bank. Their stance is that Lily either worked with the malfeasant Nigerian to defraud Chase, or at the very least handed over her account information to the bad guy. As you now know, that doesn’t have to happen. All it takes is sloppy banking.

Besides seizing Lily’s bank balance, Chase now demands another $600 in compensation for their losses. Good move, Chase: encourage honest citizens to rush in to report fraud made possible by your own shortcomings.

It’s a great day for banking. Have you had similar experiences?

05 January 2019

Short Memories: 2018 in Review


by John M. Floyd


Happy New Year! I realize I'm a little late, and that the new year's almost a week old now--but since it's my duty here at the SleuthSayers office to post a column every first, third, and fifth Saturday, and since December had five Saturdays, well, here I am again, and I'm finding that I'm not yet in a 2019 frame of mind.

Looking back, 2018 had its ups and downs, but on the literary front things held pretty steady. Readingwise, I consumed several good novels: Past Tense, Lee Child; The Reckoning, John Grisham; Bluff, Michael Kardos; The Outsider, Stephen King; Gravesend, William Boyle; Escape to the Biltmore, Patricia Gaddis; Blind Spot, Reed Farrell Coleman; Give-A-Damn Jones, Bill Pronzini; Elevation, Stephen King; and eleven books in the Hap & Leonard series by Joe R. Lansdale (I really like Joe Lansdale). Writingwise, I produced no novels of my own, just more short stories--and, as I did at the beginning of last year, I've put together some statistics on those.


The 2018 story board

According to my hi-tech method of recordkeeping (a three-ring binder I rescued from the office trashcan when I retired from IBM years ago), I had 32 stories published in magazines and anthologies this past year and 30 more appeared in a collection from my publisher Joe Lee, of Dogwood Press, in October. And if you're interested in short-story markets--especially mystery markets--I've also noted the publications that these stories appeared in. Here's my list:


"Scavenger Hunt"--Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Jan/Feb 2018 issue
"Lights Out"--Flash Bang Mysteries, Jan 2018
"Molly's Plan" (translation)--Inostrannaya Literatura, Jan 2018
"Two in the Bush"--Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Issue #2. 2018
"While You Were Out"--Flash Bang Mysteries, Spring 2018
"True Colors"--Kings River Life, April 14, 2018
"Mockingbird Thief"--Woman's World, April 18, 2018
"Cornbread Cookoff"--Woman's World, May 21, 2018
"Fun and Games"--Woman's World, June 11, 2018
"Runaway Bouquet"--Woman's World, June 25, 2018
"A Musical Clue"--Flash Bang Mysteries, Summer 2018
"Too Good to Be True"--Woman's World, July 16. 2018
"Diversions"--Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Issue #3, 2018
"The Blue Delta"--Sanctuary anthology, Darkhouse Books, July 2018
"Foreverglow"--The Strand Magazine, June-Oct 2018
"Easy as Pie"--Woman's World, August 8, 2018
"Lucy's Gold"--Saddlebag Dispatches, Spring/Summer 2018
"The Winslow Tunnel"--Bewildering Stories (serialized, Issues 767-768), 2018
"According to Luke"--Children of the Sky anthology, Aug 2018
"Home Delivery"--Woman's World, Aug 20, 2018
"The Music of Angels"--The Saturday Evening Post, Sep/Oct 2018
"Lightning"--Mystery Weekly, Sep 2018
"Frontier Justice"--Florida Happens (Bouchercon anthology), Sep 2018
"Half-Baked Plan"--Woman's World, Oct 1, 2018
"Gun Work"--The Best American Mystery Stories 2018, Oct 2, 2018
"Ye Olde Crime Scene"--Flash Bang Mysteries, Fall 2018
"Lucifer"--Under the Full Moon's Light anthology, Owl Hollow Press, Oct 2018
"Lucian's Cadillac"--The Strand Magazine, Oct 2018-Jan 2019
"Getting Out Alive"--Landfall anthology, Level Best Books, Nov 2018
"Cracking the Code"--Woman's World, Nov 19, 2018
"Annabelle"--Deep South Magazine, Nov 2018
"Disorganized Crime"--Woman's World, Nov 26, 2018

And . . .

The Barrens--a hardcover collection released Oct 30, 2018, by Dogwood Press. It includes two of my original stories ("Dawson's Curse" and "The Barrens") and 28 of my previously published stories.


NOTE: I also had two stories published in December--"On the Road With Mary Jo" in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and "Poetic Justice" in Woman's World--but I didn't count them here because the issue dates are Jan/Feb 2019 (EQMM) and January 7, 2019 (WW).


Behind-the-scenes numbers

Of my 62 stories that were published in 2018, 19 appeared in print magazines, 6 in print anthologies, 7 in online publications, and 30 in the collection mentioned above. Of the 32 stories published outside the collection, 28 went to paying markets, 24 to repeat markets, and 8 to new markets. One was selected for inclusion in Best American Mystery Stories and all the rest were unsolicited submissions. Genrewise, one story was a western, one was science fiction, one was fantasy, one was a romance, and 28 were mysteries (although some were cross-genre--mystery/western, mystery/fantasy, mystery/romance, etc.). Of those 32, 25 were original stories and 7 were reprints. As for settings, 17 took place in my home state of Mississippi and 15 were set elsewhere, and 16 were installments in a series (five different series, actually) and 16 were standalone stories. POVwise, 29 were third-person and 3 were first-person. Finally, 14 of the stories were less than 1000 words, 9 were between 1000 and 4000, and 9 were more than 4000.

As of this moment, 15 other stories have been accepted and will be published shortly and 36 more have been submitted and are sitting in various to-be-read queues and slush piles, awaiting a decision.

In the "alas and alack" department, I also received 28 rejections last year, from 17 different markets. Sad but true.


Questions

To any writer friends who might still be reading this post, how was 2018 for you? Did you sell a novel or a collection or a short story, or have one (or more) published? What great stories/novels did you read? Do you write an ongoing series, in either novels or stories? Do you have specific writing projects in progress, or upcoming in 2019? If you're a short-story writer, did you try to target only markets that pay professional rates?

Also, and selfishly: Do any of you know about mystery markets that I'm overlooking? As always, I try to check Sandra Seamans's wonderful blog My Little Corner regularly to find targets for my submissions. If you don't use that resource, you should!


That's it for this column, and for my literary memories of 2018. Best of luck to all of you, and may this new year be your best ever!

04 January 2019

Stop Meddling in My Genre - Part 1


by Lawrence Maddox


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

03 January 2019

The Spy Who Loved Me


by Eve Fisher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The quick answer:  look at the photos:

Maria Butina, Washington Post




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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

02 January 2019

Spy TV


by Robert Lopresti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder what Burnside would make of that.

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neil Burnside would not be amused, but I was.


01 January 2019

The Power of Tenacity


by Barb Goffman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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