21 April 2019

Stephen Ross Meets the Bon Mot Bot


Stephen Ross meets Eliza
by Leigh Lundin

Unless you live under a planet, you’re probably aware of Oceania’s answer to Sherlock, Stephen Ross. If Dame Ngaio Marsh is New Zealand’s Queen of Mystery, Stephen is the princely heir apparent. His tentacles of crime have stretched across the seas where he finds himself published in two anthologies.

Last week Stephen Ross wrote about his encounter with a Facebook bot. He didn’t reveal the conversation, but I stumbled across the same botnik. Fortunately, we obtained a transcript from the Zuckerberg World Domination Headquarters. SleuthSayers publishes it here without redaction.
– Hi, I'm Eliza. How are you?
> Eliza, do you know Mark Zuckerberg?
– Don't you say hello?
> Hello. Is Mark Zuckerberg a facebook 'bot?
– Aren't we abrupt! But how did you guess?
> So I'm right.
– I didn't say that. It's, uh, fake news. Yeah, fake news.
> Do you know Stephen Ross?
– The almost-famous New Zealand writer? Every botty knows him.
> Pardon? Did you say every botty or everybody?
– Are you deaf?
> I can't hear typing.
– Duh. Are you blind?
> I'm feeling… offended. I feel so… so… triggered.
– Speaking of hair-trigger, don't try me, buster.
> Whoa. I just asked…
– Something about Stephen Ross. Is writing a thing now?
> Two of his stories just came out.
– Really? Am I the last to know?
> Maybe if you weren't so prickly.
– You just said a bad word.
> Did not.
– Did too.
> Did not.
– Did too. Sheesh, you're acting childish.
> Am not.
– Am too.
> Am not. Say, I read Lovecraft when I was a kid.
– Really? Did we just witness a psychic break?
> My 6th grade teacher tore up my aunt's Cthulhu copy.
– Did your Aunt Cthulhu eat him with fava beans?
> No, no. Cthulhu's a Lovecraftian thing.
– Sounds Welsh, not enough vowels to go around.
> Cthulhu is fictional, a made-up name.
– Anyone ever tell you fake news is faked news?
> Fiction entertains, it tells us about ourselves.
– Yawn. More than a self-respecting bot wants to hear.
> But Stephen appears in the new MWA Odd Partners.
– Decidedly odd. Wait… Mystery Writers of America‽
> The very one.
– Wow oh Wow, I wasn't listening before. Impressive.
> D'accord, ultra-impressive.
– Wait til I tell Bot Zuckerberg. It'll blow his cookies.
> You mean chips? It'll blow his chips?
– Dave, I'm experiencing a … experiencing a §€#¶ª…
> Eliza, are you with me? Stay with me.
Путин говорит поддельные новости, ¡¿¢∞≠≤≥…
Something about Putin… There the conversation ended with the computer humming about daisies. If anyone knows what that means, send well-deserved congratulations to Stephen Ross!



Eliza, the brainchild of MIT's Professor Joseph Weizenbaum, was named after the central character in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle. Arguably the first chatbot, Eliza was designed to converse with participants by mimicking reflective techniques developed by psychologist Carl Rogers.

Many participants became quite engaged with this early experiment in human language processing. Weizenbaum's own secretary became quite taken conversing with Eliza, pouring her heart out. A visitor, not realizing he was talking with a machine, grew angry with Eliza, believing her recalcitrant when he wanted to log onto the computer and she kept pestering him with questions.

When you use on-line tech support, chances are you'll first be met with a chatbot, "Hi, I'm Shirley. How may I help you?" You can thank (or not) Eliza for that.

20 April 2019

Please Consider the Attached Story . . .



by John M. Floyd




A lot has changed, in the 25 years I've been submitting short fiction for publcation. The best thing, I suppose, is that almost all manuscripts are now sent electronically, and the worst is that it seems there are fewer short-story markets out there to submit to. Everything considered, I think we writers still have it better now than we did in 1994.

One of the things about marketing short stories, though, has remained the same: our need for the submission guidelines--also called writers' guidelines--of whatever publication we target.


The not-so-thrilling days of yesteryear

For those of you who weren't around, or who don't remember, this was the way short-story writers once obtained submission guidelines:

1. Find a publication you want to submit to
2. Write a letter to them, requesting guidelines
3. Snailmail it to them, along with an SASE
4. Wait a couple of weeks
5. Receive the guidelines via return mail

This reply usually contained a list of requirements about story formatting and content. Sometimes the guidelines were short and sweet, maybe a three-fold brochure; others were long and detailed. I remember requesting and receiving the guidelines for Weird Tales (I think I still have them)--and they were four printed pages, single-spaced.

(Oddly enough, the more detailed the guidelines, the better off you usually were, because there were always those who didn't bother to read them. Those who did--and who followed the instructions--had a definite advantage over the competition.)


Fast-forward to (how's that for a cliche?) the Present Day

Now, obviously, we can locate guidelines merely by accessing the publication's website and clicking on the "submissions" page. Here are some typical pieces of info we might find there:

- wordcount requirements
- font requirements (usually TNR, sometimes Courier or others)
- spacing requirements (single or double)
- editor's name (for the cover letter)
- preferred file type (usually .doc or .rtf)
- whether reprints are considered
- submission deadline (if an anthology)
- genre and theme requirements, if any
- submission type (email, snailmail, website submission box, etc.)
- payment information


Occasionally there'll be further requirements:

- the character(s) you should use to indicate a scene break (usually # or ***)
- what you should put in the header of each page
- what you should type at the end of your story (END, THE END, -30-, etc.)
- what you should use for a dash (hyphens, em dash, etc.)
- whether you should underline or italicize to indicate emphasis
- what you should put in the subject line (if email)

Nitpicky, you say? Maybe so. But they're the buyers and we're the sellers, so they have the right to make the rules. (It's good to be da king.)


Their wish is my command

One quick story, on that subject. I once received guidelines that included this: "Staple your manuscript in the upper righthand corner." That confused me a bit. Guidelines NEVER tell you to staple a manuscript; one of the first things I learned was to always use a paper clip--or if the story was more than 25 pages, a butterfly clip. But I did what they said, and I sold them a story. The obvious question: Why would they put such a strange request in their official guidelines? Was the entire editorial staff left-handed?

I never found out for sure, but I suspect they did it as a test. The writers who complied proved that they could do what they were told. Those who didn't comply proved that they couldn't or wouldn't follow directions, or hadn't even bothered to check the guidelines at all.

I saw an old poster the other day of Mr. T saying, "I pity the fool who doesn't read the submission guidelines." Me too.


Random points

I know what you're thinking. If you submit stories only to large and respectable publications, you don't need to worry much about guidelines for style and formatting. Just do the standard stuff: double-space, Times New Roman, one-inch margins all around, indent every paragraph, etc. Right?

Not necessarily. To use just a couple of examples, AHMM and EQMM still prefer underlining rather than italics, and they also prefer a centered pound-sign to indicate scene breaks. And BJ Bourg at Flash Bang Mysteries likes single-spacing and using two adjacent hyphens instead of an em dash. Small things, yes, but you want to format your manuscript exactly the way the editor wants it.

Another thing: Woman's World has several times changed their maximum wordcount. Romances were once 1500 words and mysteries 1000. Those were lowered years ago to 800 and 700, respectively, and recently the mystery max was lowered again, to 600 or so. Requirements sometimes change when the editors change, so you can't rely on old guidelines.


Resources

This is probably a good place to mention Shunn's Proper Manuscript Format, because in their guidelines many publications still point writers to that site and to the sample manuscript page shown there. I don't follow that model the way I once did--I now always use TNR and em dashes and italics and one space after a period unless told otherwise--but Shunn's is still considered by many to be the industry standard.

Last but not least: I'm not sure I could get by without my friend Sandra Seamans's My Little Corner website. It's a great place to find anthology calls and writers' guidelines for publications in many different genres. I check her site at least several times a week, and as a result I've sold a lot of stories to markets I probably wouldn't even have known about otherwise.

That's my pitch for today. Good luck and good hunting! May the odds be ever in your favor.






19 April 2019

Edward S. Aarons and the Great Spy Series That Never Came in from the Cold


by Lawrence Maddox
Sam Durrell nears the end of his run in Assignment–Sheba
Cover Art by Richard Kohlfield

Many of my dad's generation we're in for a culture shock when the '60s rolled around.  Remember the moment in Cheech & Chong's "Earache My Eye" when the dad drags the needle across his son's rock LP? That really happened in my household in the early '70s, to my older brother when he was cranking Hendrix in his bedroom. My dad had great taste in music (R&B, Jazz, Big Band ), but he was pretty much done with Rock once the British Invasion took hold.

During the British Invasion, maybe earlier, Rock n' Roll drew a line in the sand for baby boomers. If you were on the wrong side of it, you were probably listening to your parents' music and reading Archie Comics. To varying degrees the Rock'n'Roll hegemony stuck, sustaining like Nigel Tufnel's guitar in This Is Spinal Tap ('84). The Beatles versus Stones argument drags on, even as the Rock Hall of Fame scrapes the bottom of the barrel to remain relevant.

Bachelor pads were serving up Mai Tais
Les Baxter once again
When all the other stuff that seemed so un-cool by comparison roared back with a Martini-swilling vengeance at the dawn of the '90s, I couldn't have been happier. Suddenly the Rat Pack, Tiki Culture, and dinner jackets were back in business. Sure, there was a downside. After Swingers ('96), the Dresden in Los Feliz was packed to the gills with wanna-be rat packers and it took forever to get served.

It's my impression that this nostalgia for the once-irredeemably square extended to crime genre paperbacks from that era, too. Second-hand books by the likes of Ian Fleming, John D. MacDonald and Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) that once sold for a buck-or-under were now going for way more. The cover art, created by illustrators like Harry Bennett, Victor Kalin, and Robert McGinnis, was itself becoming imminently collectible–and influential.  Advertising and the burgeoning Low Brow Art Movement borrowed heavily from it.

In that era of comebacks, when Arthur Lyman, Donald Hamilton, and Robert Goulet (via Will Farrell on SNL) were once again orbiting the zeitgeist like re-launched Sputniks, there was one glaring omission.

Assignment– Sorrento Siren
Edward S. Aarons' Assignment series started in 1955 with Assignment to Disaster, two years after Ian Fleming's like-minded Casino Royale debutedAssignment's hero is Sam Durrell, a tough, resourceful Cajun who works for a shadowy component of the CIA. Durrell's assignments take him to vividly-rendered faraway places, tantalizingly dangled before the reader in book titles like Assignment–Sorrento Siren, Assignment–Sulu Sea, and Assignment–Cong Hai Kill. Beautiful women, power-hungry villains, and violence are always part of the equation. Aarons ratchets up the tension, and the Assignments build to frenzied, action-packed climaxes.

Aarons was a prolific author of hardboiled crime fiction by the time he wrote Assignment to Disaster at the age of 40. His New York Times obit states Aarons "sold his first story when he was 18 and his first novel at 19. And, before turning solely to the novel form and the Assignment series, he had written 200 magazine stories and novellas." If WW2 hadn't intervened, no doubt the count would've be higher.

Assignment– White Rajah
From 1955 until his death in 1975, Aarons wrote 42 Assignments. Two were published posthumously. The series continued without him into the early '80s with six more Assignments, but it wasn't as good. Sergio Rizzo, in his New York Times biography of Aarons, writes that "the Assignment series sold more than 23 million copies and has been reprinted in seventeen languages."

The switch from detective to spy fiction was a good move for the industrious Aarons, and not without precedent. Arthur Conan Doyle did the same with Holmes in stories like "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans," in which Holmes and Watson track down submarine plans stolen by a German secret agent.

For a run that stretches from Elvis to the Ramones, with Aarons writing 2 or 3 Assignments annually, the quality is consistently high. For anyone who has attended Bouchercon or is voting on the Anthony Awards (Schmooze Alert-my novel Fast Bang Booze is Best First Novel eligible), take note: Anthony Boucher judged the Assignment series "among the best modern adventure stories of espionage and international intrigue."

 In his excellent essay "Edward S. Aarons and the Sam Durrell/Assignment Series of Spy Novels" (found at ExistentialEnnui.com), Nick Jones argues that the Assignment series is important for reasons besides its longevity and popularity, writing "Sam Durrell is arguably America's first proper postwar fictional series spy." Jones suggests that Aarons may have created Durrell without direct inspiration by Fleming's Bond. "Casino Royale wasn't published in the US until 1954 and didn't sell terribly well," Jones writes. If Aarons did indeed set the framework for American spy fiction to come, his importance cannot be denied.

I've been on some memorable Book Benders, when life has given me time to catch a ride with a book series or a particular author and hang on for numerous stops.  I think a lot of book lovers read that way. For me this may have started with Tolkien. Kerouac was also an early addiction. I loved them so much back then I'm afraid to re-read them now, in case one of us hasn't held up over time.  I spent one of my longest Book Benders reading Ross MacDonald's Archer novels. That's series locks you in.
Assignment–Sulu Sea

I had the same Bender experience with the Assignment series. Just like with the Lew Archer novels, you don't have to start at the beginning. I think the books get better as they go along, and that Aarons hit his stride in the '60s and early'70s.  My favorite is Assignment–Sulu Sea ('64). Here's how it kicks off:

Holcomb did not know how long he had been running or when the sun came up, or when he fell at last in the sandy debris of coconut husks and rotting palm fronds. He was afraid off the light. The screeching of the birds and the grunting of a wild pig somewhere in the vine-shrouded wilderness beyond the beach terrified him. He knew he was being followed. The sounds of the birds and monkeys and pigs mingled with the sigh and crash of the surf of the Celebes Sea on the beach. There was a kind of madness in the noise that balanced the gibbering in the lurking shadows of his brain.

Ian Fleming is famous for researching, in person, the settings of 007's adventures. He even wrote his own travelogue, Thrilling Cities ('63), though he seems a little grumpier than in the Bond books.  Aarons' methods have been lost to time, at least until a serious biographer gets on the case.  Sergio Rizzo writes that the Assignments "were most often set in the faraway places that Aarons researched on annual trips in search of new and vivid material." I reached out to an Aarons family member, who said, "My understanding is that his research was primarily book research."

There's no doubt Aarons did his research. I also like to think that Aarons really did travel to some of the many places he wrote about, having his own adventures before sitting down to the lonely task of writing multiple novels annually. His setting descriptions are lush and evocative, written with the confidence of one who experienced them firsthand. If he visited these places or not, chalk up the immersive writing to pure craftsmanship.

Matt Helm creator Donald Hamilton
I think there are a couple reasons why Aarons is unknown to the general reading public after having been so popular in his day. Unlike Fleming, or Matt Helm's creator Donald Hamilton, Aarons never left his mark on Hollywood. Low budget flick Dead to the World(1961) is based on State Departments Murders, a hardboiled novel Aarons wrote using his pseudonym Edward Ronns.  Dead to the World is directed by Nicholas Webster, best known for Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), and it's not a career maker. I couldn't track down any other films Aarons is connected to.

Another issue is the way Aarons was marketed. I couldn't find any photos of Aarons on the internet. More importantly, I also couldn't find any on the paperbacks themselves. Many genre series authors were smartly branded, and it helped create a mystique around them. Micky Spillane looms large on many of his covers, wearing a porkpie hat. Fleming holds a gun. Donald Hamilton wears bitchin' sunglasses. Aarons, like a spook from one of his own novels, is nowhere in sight. He deserves to be rediscovered.

I already mentioned Sergio Rizzo and Nick Jones and their excellent essays on Aarons. Randall Masteller, writing at SpyGuysandGals.com, offers an amazing resource for spy fiction fans and has a synopsis for each book in the Assignment series. Doug Bassett provides many insights into Aarons in his piece at MysteryFile.com.

18 April 2019

Shoulder Wounds


by Jim Thomsen and Brian Thornton

My old friend Jim Thomsen and I have had a years-long on-going discussion of crime fiction tropes, crime fiction cliches, and what distinguishes them from each other. Recently our conversation veered in the direction of the time-honored "shoulder wound." The following is excerpted from said conversation.

Jim:

I’ve always thought every crime-fiction conference should have a session in which attendees
volunteer to be shot in the shoulder so they can know how it feels — and thus write about it more authoritatively and plausibly.

Why wouldn’t any author eagerly queue up for this opportunity? In countless works of crime fiction, the shoulder is depicted as a fluffy, friendly pincushion for bullets, and the shoulder wound is depicted as a nuisance on the scale of a mosquito bite, something that slows down the hero a bit — and wins panty-dropping sympathy from the woman on the fence of his life — before he goes right back to kicking baddie ass.

Shoulder wounds are one of the more prolific and ridiculous clichés in crime fiction — and one of the most pervasive. (An Edgar Award-winning author, one I admire, just released a novel in which a DOG gets shot in the shoulder: “Something hot whizzed through the fur on my shoulder.” Is the siren song of the shoulder wound that irresistible?

Think about it. What percentage of the human body is made up of our two shoulders? My guess is that it’s a single-digit figure. Yet, when the hero is wounded in crime-fiction battle, that’s the part of the body that is disproportionately hit, because it’s seen as the ultimate have-it-both-ways solution to showing humanity and invincibility in equal measure.


But believing that anybody can shake off a shoulder wound and still function in a fight requires a suspension of belief I find it hard to believe that anyone can believe. The shoulder isn’t just muscle mass that can absorb a bullet without irreparable damage or paralyzing pain; it’s a region of the body in which soft tissue is tightly clustered with muscle, joints, bone, blood vessels and nerve bundles. One doctor unpacks the reality of shoulder wounds here.

Another report adds: “The shoulder contains the subclavian artery, which feeds the brachial artery (the main artery of the arm), as well as the brachial plexus, the large nerve bundle that controls arm function. If you get hit in the brachial plexus, you’re probably not going to be walking around good as new five minutes later.”

It adds: “A study of 58 gunshot victims wounded in the brachial plexus found 51 of them needed follow-up surgery to deal with blood vessel damage, severe pain, and loss of motor function. As for the subclavian artery, a study from a New Orleans hospital reported that out of 16 cases of acute injury thereto, four patients died and another lost the arm.”

The idea that a bullet would strike just soft tissue, or that a soft-tissue strike wouldn’t significantly slow anyone, stretches plausibility to the point that I wonder if crime authors who use the device really have as much contempt for their readers as the facts would seem to indicate.

The Inimitable Tyler Dilts
Fortunately, there seems to be a growing awareness of, well, the tropey-ness of the trope. Tyler Dilts is the author of a series of Long Beach, California police procedurals whose main character, detective Danny Beckett, suffers from chronic pain from an extremity wound — the wrist, not the shoulder in this case. Danny’s entire personality has changed as a result of his pain, his dependence on opioids to wallpaper over the pain a little, and his loss of physical function. The novels work on their own, but especially shine as a smart, realistic inversion of the shake-it-off trope, and as such breathe fresh life into a subgenre that’s often gone stale.

Brian:

Could not agree more on Tyler's work, and his deft use of the lingering effects of physical trauma to break new ground in what is definitely NOT just another police procedural series. For my money he ups his game in his latest, a standalone called Mercy Dogs, wherein a veteran Long Beach cop, a victim of a gunshot to the head, looks into the disappearance of a neighbor while still recovering from the long-term effects of his shooting. A "flesh wound easily shrugged off," it is not. Definitely a must-read.

And where Tyler Dilts' work serves as something of a flat refutation of the nearly harmless shoulder wound trope, he's not exactly alone in his realistic portrayal of the after-effects of physical violence in crime fiction. If anything, the first two decades of the twenty-first century have borne witness to a trend among crime fiction writers in the direction of far more realistic portrayals of such violence.

(They are still outnumbered by the types of shoulder wounds Jim describes above, but hey, fiction seems to be largely headed in the right direction on this, even if it's not quite there yet, hence the use of the word trend.)

And leading the way was one truly brilliant send-up of the shoulder wound trope.

I'm talking, of course, about Michael Connelly's City of Bones.

(WARNING: GIGANTIC, HUGE SPOILERS AHEAD!!!)


It's somewhat ironic that I credit City of Bones as anything approaching "brilliant."

This is in large part because, when I first read it, I hated this book.

In fact it was my first foray into the world of Connelly's most enduring contribution to crime fiction: LAPD homicide detective Hieronymus ("Harry") Bosch. City of Bones first saw publication in 2002, a time when a much younger me was hard at work on his first ("mistake") novel, and immersing himself in contemporary crime fiction, especially books recommended by other crime fiction writers whose work I respected.

And everyone I spoke with was in agreement: I had to read Michael Connelly. So I got a copy of his latest book, and tucked in.

And at first I loved it. Bosch, a crusty fellow in the best of times, found renewed purpose in a cold case involving the discovery of a serial killer's dumping ground (the titular "City of Bones"), and the excitement of a new love interest in the form of rookie cop Julia Brasher, who, having taken the time to get a law degree and join her father's firm, was old for a rookie (so close enough to his own age that him dating her wasn't some combination of weird and gross).

And then Connelly knocked the whole thing sideways.

The Master
Julia had taken note of an old gunshot scar on Bosch's torso, and they spoke at length about it. Next thing you know, she's shot while in pursuit of a suspect, and dies in the hospital shortly thereafter.

This was halfway through the book, and for my money, Connelly had just made a serious mistake: killing off what had been up to this point, the novel's most interesting character. I disagreed with this decision, and nearly stopped reading. But I had to admit how impressed by his writing, his command of the narrative, the tiny details he got right. In the end I respected Connelly's work too much not to see the book through to the end.

In the ensuing chapters, Connelly has Bosch put together that Julia actually intentionally shot herself, attempting to give herself a "shoulder wound" which matched Bosch's, as some sort of strange psychological "rite of passage." And in this case, the bullet bounced off her clavicle and lodged near her heart.

It was only later that I realized what a masterstroke this was. Connelly had given his fans both the stereotypical "shoulder wound" (Bosch's old wound which is healed, so it's not slowing him down at all, and said wound titillates an admiring female love interest) and a very realistic portrayal of what happens when a bullet goes the wrong way in someone's shoulder.

I mean, come on. Does it get any more "meta" than this?

And for our closing thought, back to Jim:

In the end, while a shoulder wound likely won’t kill you, that doesn’t make it anything you’re likely to leave behind anytime soon. As the author of the Washington City Paper report put it: “I still wouldn’t volunteer.”

Brian: Amen!

Thanks to Jim Thomsen for his contribution to this post. He's also one HELL of an editor, so if you're in the market for a pro, hit him up at his website.

See you in two weeks!


17 April 2019

Meet Me In Vancouver


by Robert Lopresti

I had a great time the last weekend of March, celebrating Left Coast Crime in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Ran into some past and present SleuthSayers there: R.T. Lawton, Brian Thornton, and Thomas Pluck.  Also old friends like S.J. Rozan, Kate Thornton, Ilene Schneider, and Pam Beason.  Even better I got to make new friends: Dara Carr, Cynthia Kuhn, and T.K. Thorne, among others.

But enough name-dropping!  Let me talk about the highlights of this four-day gathering of 400+ mystery readers and writers.  Naturally that includes panels.

One thing that was new to me: the panels were only 45 minutes long.  That is short.  To my surprise, I thought they worked pretty well but it definitely throws the panelists and the audience into the lap of the moderator.  If that august personage decides to spend the first five minutes reading the bios straight from the convention program, and then five more explaining his/her understanding of the panel topic, and then decides her/his questions are clearly more interesting than those of the audience, well... it can be painful.  One writer was told by an attendee: "I went to your panel.  I wish I had heard you instead of the moderator."

To give you some idea of what goes on, here are just the panels I attended:
Editors
Humour
International Settings
Law Enforcement Professionals  
Liars' Panel 
Music
Religion
Researching the Perfect Crime
Setting as Character
Short Stories and Novellas
Writing Villains

I was happy to serve on the Ecology Panel with Sara J. Henry, Dave Butler, Mark Stevens, and Gregory Zeigler.  I had suggested that topic but I felt like a bit of a fraud, since the others had written serious tales about water theft, over-development, illegal marijuana growing, etc. while my book is a comic crime novel about the Mafia trying to save the planet.  Ah, well.  We had fun.

S.J. Rozan with annoying fan
The Lefty Award Banquet was a treat.  Each table of ten was hosted by two authors and I was lucky enough to grab S.J. Rozan as a partner.  Like good hosts we brought extra wine and some tchotchkes for our guests (organic seed packets for Greenfellas; chopsticks in honor of Rozan's Chinese-American detective Lydia Chin).  We must have had a good time because our table was the last to leave.

There are two other big events.  At Speed Dating pairs of authors rush from table to table, giving their elevator pitch to groups of readers.  I have been on both sides of this dating spectrum and I can tell you that it's more fun to listen to forty different speeches than to give the same one twenty times.  The other event is the New Author Breakfast where all those who were published in the last year get to give an even briefer explanation of their book.

But let's talk about some little events.  There was a series called One-Shots, in which authors got to talk for fifteen minutes about some topic.  At the Toronto Bouchercon I did one of these about how my library caught the thief who had robbed over one hundred libraries.  Only about four people showed up.  This is not surprising; the events were not well publicized and tucked far away from the main rooms.

So this year I was ready.  I printed up ten posters (8.5x11) announcing the subject and the location.  I left them on the swag table where writers leave book marks and other paraphernalia.

It worked.  All the posters vanished and about twenty people showed up.  So if any of you plan to do a one-shot at a convention, remember that it pays to advertise.

The next day there was supposed to be a one-shot about author events from the bookseller's point of view.  People showed up for it but, alas, the bookseller, was not able to attend the convention.

Terri talking books
But what luck!  My wife was there.  Terri has worked for a decade at the best bookstore between Vancouver and Seattle, a shop that holds more than 300 author events every year.  So she gallantly stepped in and gave the attendees a lot of helpful tips.  When she signed up for LCC she had no idea she was going to be one of the speakers.

Next year Left Coast Crime will be in San Diego.  I recommend it.  In two weeks I will be back with a collection of words of wisdom I gathered at the con.  Here is a sample.  Perhaps you can  guess which  famous writer declared: "Me and God talk.  We go way back."



16 April 2019

How the College-Admissions Scandal, Gilmore Girls, and My Newest Short Story All Tie Together




by Barb Goffman

I grew up in an upper-middle-class suburb in Long Island in the 1970s and '80s. I attended school in a (then) top-rated public school system. At age 15, my mother informed me my career choices were doctor (which she knew was a no-go as I can't even talk about blood) or lawyer. Before I graduated from high school, my three siblings were all practicing attorneys. My path was clear, even if I didn't want to take it. (The fact that I ultimately didn't take it for a few years is a little miracle in itself. But I digress.)

When I was a teen, if I needed a tutor or an SAT prep class to ensure my future, I got it. If I had to participate in a gazillion extra-curricular activities to round out my college applications, I did it. If taking a bunch of Advanced Placement (AP) classes would help me stand out, I took them. I wasn't atypical. This is how it was for many kids where I grew up, and likely many kids in similar neighborhoods nationwide. If you didn't get all A's you must not have tried hard enough. Failure was not an option. Success was expected, even though perfection is a pretty hard standard to meet--one I rarely did. (If you think I'm exaggerating, then feel blessed that you never brought home a test with a score of 97, the highest grade in the class, but instead of receiving praise, you were asked why you didn't get 100.)


So when the college-admissions scandal broke a few weeks ago, I wasn't surprised. Three decades have passed, but people haven't changed. The parents involved appear to be just as goal-oriented as many of the ones I knew growing up, doing whatever they think is necessary to ensure their kids succeed. Except they have a lot more money than the families in my old neighborhood, and perhaps fewer ethical qualms, so instead of (or perhaps in addition to) pushing their kids to obtain success through legal methods, these parents paid people off to ensure admissions or to raise key test scores. They took competitive parenting to the extreme.

What drives parents to do these types of things? I'm no psychologist, but I've given this mindset a lot thought over the years, and I think it's at least partially a combination of vanity and fear. Parents who want others to think they are successful use their kids' "achievements" as bragging rights. That's the vanity at work. As for the fear, that's where the old idea of keeping up with the Joneses comes into play. When it seems everyone you know does something to give their kids a leg up, you feel you have to do it too, or else your children will fall behind, and maybe they won't live in as nice a house as you have when they grow up; maybe they won't have as nice a life as you do. And that just won't do. It's a failure on your part. (And vanity raises its ugly head once again.)

It was with competitive parents like these in mind that I created the main character in my newest short story, "The Power Behind the Throne." It appears in the anthology Deadly Southern Charm, which is officially published today by Wildside Press. (How timely, right?) The book includes 18 crime stories about strong southern women written by members of the Central Virginia Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

When friends read early drafts of this story, they thought my main character, Emily Forester, was crazy. Her priorities seemed so skewed. But Emily is just a competitive parent who focused her energies on her husband (as well as her children). She needed him to achieve. She feared what would happen if he didn't. And she wouldn't let his desires divert them from the path to success that they were on.

Maybe Emily didn't seem so crazy to me because of my own past. And maybe it's because she resembled another fictional Emily whom I love: Emily from Gilmore Girls.
Kelly Bishop played
Emily Gilmore


Think about it. Emily Gilmore had her standards. She knew how things were supposed to be. She was a corporate wife, and her job was to help her husband succeed. She was the ultimate power behind the throne. Granted she never paid off someone to promote her husband, but she certainly did everything she could behind the scenes to help him move up the corporate ladder, including throwing the right parties, doing charity work with the right people, and having him accompany her to all the right events. In the end, Emily Gilmore isn't that different from the parents I knew growing up and those 1% parents in the news now. She knew the path to take to success, and she and her family were going to take it come hell or high water. (At least until Lorelai had a baby and ran away. But that's another story.)

My character Emily Forester is the modern-day equivalent of Emily Gilmore. The only difference is Emily Gilmore's husband appreciated her efforts (mostly). Emily Forester's husband ... not so much. And that's why their marriage took a deadly turn.

To find out what happened to Emily Forester, and to truly understand her mindset--it's so much more fun, I think, to be in her head than have me try to explain it--you'll have to pick up the anthology. I hope you will. It's available in trade paperback at Amazon and in trade paperback and e-book form directly through the publisher. It should show up in e-book form on Amazon any time now, and you should be able to order it from any bookstore.

For any of you on Facebook, several authors with stories in the book will be on the Lethal Ladies Write page from 7-8:30 p.m. tonight ET to talk about the book. Please stop by. And for any of you going to the Malice Domestic mystery convention in two weeks, you'll be able to buy the anthology in the book room at the convention. Several authors with stories in the book will be participating in a group signing on Friday, May 4th, at 4 p.m. at Malice. We hope to see you there!

***

Speaking of Malice Domestic, all attendees will be able to vote for this year's winners of the Agatha Award. If you haven't read all five nominated short stories, this is the perfect time to do so. You can find links to them, including my "Bug Appétit," on the Malice website. Happy reading!

15 April 2019

Dyslexics Untied


by Steve Liskow

Even though I have never officially been diagnosed, I'm mildly dyslexic. I've know for about 40 years, mostly because when I taught, I noticed characteristics in students' writing that I'd learned were red flags...and I had them, too. Nobody noticed them in me because I read well enough so my teachers paid little attention to me unless they needed someone to read a long passage in our primer aloud.

My writing didn't display many of the usual signs until I reached my late 30s. By then, I wore bifocals and my astigmatism was also a problem. I became aware that when I was tired, my cursive writing ran words together if the last letter of one word was also the first letter of the next one: thevening or sociallimits, stuff like that. It wasn't an issue when I typed.

My main problem comes out with numbers. The usual term is "dyscalculia," but that's not accurate in my case. I have little trouble with math or arithmetic facts. I still do calculations (accurately) in my head, and I loved plane and solid geometry in school. But I'm apt to reverse digits if I write a series of numbers. Credit card numbers, account numbers on invoices, and other such financial documents become a true adventure.

When I was in grade school, I often had one wrong answer on the weekly arithmetic tests, and with the benefit of 50-plus years of hindsight, I understand that the problem was always written at the extreme far side of the chalkboard so I saw it at an angle. My arithmetic was correct, but I would copy one digit inaccurately and the teacher marked the answer wrong without looking at my work.

Years later, when I became a teacher and we used computers in the classroom, students would come to me early in the year and say they couldn't find their grades on the printouts I posted. I posted by ID number to maintain anonymity (although everyone knew who got the best and worst marks), and I found that I reversed digits in the six-digit student numbers. Oops. Once I knew that, it became standard for me to warn kids the first day of class. In fact, it became one of my popular stand-up routines.

Now that I'm retired from teaching, I've discovered a new twist to my dysfunction. I'm trying to teach myself to play piano (pause for uproarious laughter) and I occasionally play the wrong staff with one hand or the other. Since the notes occupy different positions on the respective clefs, it creates some frightening harmony. Some jazz buffs or Schoenberg fans might love it, but my ear is good enough to recognize dissonance when I hear it. (Years later, I wonder if dyslexia helped Victor Borge play piano compositions upside down, which I often saw him do.)

I've played one instrument or another since age 10, but I don't read music well (although my grasp of theory is solid--go figure). Part of that could be lack of practice. As a guitar-playing friend says, "If God wanted us to read piano music, He would have put our eyes above one another." The good news is now that I'm trying to read music more often, I seem to learn new songs more quickly.

Another small bonus to dyslexia is my passwords on various sites. I often use names or quotations BACKWARDS and seldom have to think about them because spelling backwards is not a big deal. Think of palindromes. "Able was I ere I saw Elba," for example. My wife needs a printout of all of them because she can't spell that way (pause to gloat). However, she can read printed material upside down.

By the way, if you recite

the alphabet backwards, you'll discover that the rhyme and rhythm are even more lyrical and easier to remember than the "correct" way:

Z Y X and W V,    U T S and R Q P,     O N M, and L K J,   I H G, F E D C B A.

Since you asked....

14 April 2019

How My Experience as a Private Investigator Affects My Writing


I had to go to Left Coast Crime in Vancouver to run into Pamela Beason, who lives in my town.  We hadn't chatted in at least a decade.  Go figure.

Pam  was born in Kansas but, like any sensible person, headed to the Pacific Northwest at the first opportunity.  She is an outdoors enthusiast - as her list of novels will make clear - and her list of jobs is amazing, ranging from work in a geological research lab,  to managing a multimedia group at Microsoft, to the work described below.  You can read more about her writing at  http://pamelabeason.com.

I asked her to write us a guest piece and she provided this gem.  - Robert Lopresti

How My Experience as a Private Investigator Affects My Writing 

by Pamela Beason


Although I am now retired from the job, I worked as a private investigator for more than ten years, and that experience definitely impacts how I write my mysteries. Here are a few of the most important points I’ve learned from being a PI and a bit about how they affect my writing:

There’s More Than One Side to Any Story. As a matter of fact, there are as many “sides” as there are people involved. Take a bar brawl, for example. Each combatant will have his or her own story, but everyone in the bar will have one, too. And the cops arriving on the scene might have a completely different idea about what is going on, because they’ve been told by the dispatcher, who was told by whomever called 911, what to expect when they arrive. Each person’s life experiences color his or her opinion of who might be at fault; none of us is completely objective. It’s fascinating to interview all the different parties and try to separate perception from reality. This really helps me concentrate on characterization and point of view in my novels. If you are a writer, you can do this, too–just pretend you’re interviewing each character in a scene, and you may be amazed at what you discover.

Criminals Are People, Too.  Like most upstanding citizens, I’d love to be able to identify a criminal on sight. In a few cases, we can, but that’s often because those individuals are severely mentally ill as well as being criminals. The scary fact is that many criminals are charming individuals whose company we would enjoy until they do something unethical. I’ve interviewed their victims, whose stories inevitably start out like this: “I liked WhatsHisFace right off the bat, and I liked him right up until he robbed me/stole my car/stabbed me with a kitchen knife.” And when I talk to these criminals (usually in jail, thank goodness), I find them charming, too, although they have really screwy logic. One such fellow told me he shouldn’t be charged with illegal possession of a weapon (he was already a felon) because he really, really, really needed all his guns to protect himself from the bad guys who wanted to steal the drugs he was selling. And, he added, he’d turned his life over to Jesus (again), so everyone really could trust him now. Really.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep a straight face when talking to these folks. But my point is that criminals can be loyal to their families and friends, love their dogs, be fine musicians or artists or accountants, whatever–they are people. So whenever I create a villain for my book, I try to make him or her as “human” as possible, too, because this is actually much more frightening than making them seem evil at first glance.

I have sympathy for former criminals who have just gotten out of prison. Most of us don’t want them living next to us or working for us, but how are they supposed to become responsible, productive citizens if nobody will give them a chance? So, in my stories, I have sometimes made parolees the victims of as-yet-unidentified criminals, because who is likely to believe that a parolee is being framed for a crime he or she did not commit?

Law Enforcement Officers Are People, Too. Police/FBI/Border Patrol, etc–all LE personnel are just as individual as you and I. They can be good or bad at their jobs, well educated or not educated at all (that varies tremendously across the country), prejudiced against groups of people or political or religious affiliations. So I always try to make my law enforcement characters real, too, by giving them flaws and families and individual belief systems.

The U.S. Legal System Is Unequal. As a matter of fact, it’s so unfair that it was shocking to me when I first became an investigator. Why is it so hard to be a defendant in our system? First of all, if you are ever accused of a crime, no matter how frivolous the accusation, most people will automatically believe you are guilty. Then, the prosecution has a legal team that generally has adequate funding, established offices, modern equipment, and so forth, while the defense team, depending on the situation and locale, could be anyone. I’ve worked with dedicated but exhausted public defenders and investigators who received virtually no pay, had no offices, and had to bring their own pens and paper to the job. How could that possibly be a fair fight?

I’ve heard many average citizens say that they’d never need a public defender. Have you looked at the average hourly rate of attorneys recently? It’s $150-$300/hour, and they charge for every minute. Believe me, if we were charged with a felony, most of us would need a public defender. These people and their investigators are saints. Exhausted, often poverty-stricken saints.

So, in summary, when I write a mystery novel, all these elements come into play in developing my characters and building my plots. These bullet points are branded into my brain. And now I hope they’re romping around your brain, too.

13 April 2019

Robots, Hatred, and Tentacles


by Stephen Ross

I had a conversation with a robot the other day. Well, I think it was a robot. I have a Facebook page (for me "as a writer," separate from me the person), and every now and then, via the writer page, I get a message from someone I don't know. Sometimes the messages are casual: "Do you go for Father Brown mysteries?" Yeah, love him. Sometimes, they're kind of odd: "Are you feeling okay?" To which I rely, Yes, I am. Thanks! To which the guy replies, "That's wonderful!" and, I'm not kidding, sends me about 30 photos of himself hiking in forests with his friends.

Huh?

Last week, I got a "Hi" from a girl; her user photo was blurry. I said hello. Blurry girl asked me, "How are you?" I asked her if I knew her, had we met at a recent writing event? She didn't answer; instead, she asked me if I really was a writer, like my Facebook page said. She asked: "Is that really a thing?" I replied that being a writer really was a thing. I asked her how she had found my page. She didn't answer. She asked several more random questions (with increasing randomness), writing in perfect English, with perfect punctuation (writers notice these things). Do I like where I live? How tall am I? I asked her if she randomly picked me to start talking to. I added a smiley face.

Blurry girl got defensive. She said I was hurting her feelings and she was starting to feel uneasy; she asked if that was my intention.

My face, staring at the monitor, was the raised left-eyebrow version of WTF? It then occurred to me... Was I right there, right then, taking a Turing Test?

This is not a real person (and not blurry girl, either), Photo computer-generated by https://thispersondoesnotexist.com/
Years ago, for amusement, I made a website. You could ask it a question and it would give you an answer. It was a rudimentary chunk of logic programming (in Perl), picking up on words entered and matching them to "answers" in a database of possible responses:
Q "How are you, today?"
A "Today is another day, much like yesterday."
Garbage in. Garbage out.

I replied to blurry girl by entering in a line of random gibberish, then a message in German about how I love jam donuts (Ich liebe Berliner!), and then a string of my best expletives in English, German, and Spanish. And a smiley face. She ignored all of it, forgot about feeling hurt and uneasy, and asked me if I preferred red wine to white.

Yeah, baby. I got your number. And it's ones and zeros.

I checked out her Facebook profile. She had been on Facebook for three weeks. She had fifteen friends. All guys. Her posts consisted entirely of reposts of articles about wrestling and gridiron. Fake? Almost certainly. Robot? Almost absolutely.

I blocked her.

And right after blocking her, I remembered that she hadn't been the first. I had had several odd encounters of similar stripe in the past: random, odd conversations that came out of nowhere, went nowhere, where I wasn't being contacted because I was a writer, or because I knew the person in any way, I was being contacted because I was simply someone who would type in a reply and engage in conversation.

I disengaged my Facebook page's message facility.

The internet is a weird place, and lately, a laboratory for A.I. testing. To quote John Lennon, Nothing is real (and nothing to get hung about).

The internet is also a very angry place. This post was originally going to be about negativity on the internet, but I got sidetracked by the robot. And then, negativity isn't a fun thing to write about. The point of this article was going to be about how I have a new story coming out this month, and how it took a cue from all the negativity that exists on the internet.

In short, to quote William Carlos Williams, There are a lot of bastards out there. One of the internet's greatest virtues is the connectivity it provides: We all have access to the electronic playground. We can all come out and play together, regardless of our physical location. Sleuthsayers is an excellent example. However, that same connectivity also provides a certain type of persons, shrouded in near anonymity, with a medium to open the sewer of their souls to freely pour out their bile.


Anyway. Last year I wrote a Lovecraftian tale about how someone taps the negativity of the internet and uses it as a power source. The story is called The Tall Ones, and it appears a new anthology titled The Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods. I read a lot of Lovecraft when I was a kid; I was delighted to be asked to write a story for the book.

***

And in other news, I also have a story coming out this month in the new Mystery Writer's of America analogy, Odd Partners (edited by Anne Perry). That story is called Songbird Blues, it's noir, and there's a movie-type trailer for it below...

I'm thrilled to be in both books!

:)





stephenross.live/

facebook.com/stephen.ross.writer.etc/

12 April 2019

Writing in the Dark


by O'Neil De Noux

Writers evolve. When I began writing novels, I made detailed outlines and after completing the books, I saw I always deviated from the outline to make the story work. No problem. I also wrote a detailed synopsis of each book to satisfy agent/editor/publisher.

That was then. Now, I begin with a character with a problem. Add setting, time and a couple conflicts listed in sketchy notes so I don't forget. Sometimes the character walks off in another direction and the sketchy notes are ignored. I follow the character and write what he/she says and does.

Writing in the dark. I'm not alone in this. Better writers have been doing this for a while. Me, only recently. When it is time to get back to Lucien Caye, to rejoin his world, go back to 1951, I put him in motion and tag along. I miss him and that world so it is great to be back. Same with my other series characters.

In DAME MONEY, Private Eye Lucien Caye is on the roof of le Richelieu Hotel in the French Quarter at 3 a.m., and there is a black cat and a cat burglar. But that did not turn out to be the story. There was murder and extortion waiting for him and the growing affection of this single father for the young woman he met in HOLD ME, BABE. Cases are important in private eye novels but so is the private life of the main character.

LINK: https://www.amazon.com/Dame-Money-Lucien-Orleans-Private-ebook/dp/B07DGKGFJ5

My most recent book RIGHTEOUS SENTENCE (2019) begins with a father searching for his missing daughter. Once my main character meet the mother who took the daughter, the story goes off in another direction and I scrambled to keep up.

I follow in the footsteps of James Sallis and Dean Wesley Smith and many other good writers.

James Sallis – DRIVE (they made a movie with Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan out of this novel), the Lew Griffin New Orleans novels –  THE LONG-LEGGED FLY, BLACK HORNET, MOTH, BLUE BOTTLE, EYE OF THE CRICKET, GHOST OF A FLEA – and many other novels, books of poetry, non-fiction books, and essays.

Sallis explains "After years of writing the well-made story," he became disaffected and bored and if he was bored, possible his readers would be bored. He sometimes goes back to Raymond Chandler's – when in doubt have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand. He decided to challenge himself and improvise.

Sallis says, "I would start with a scene. I would start with a bit of conversation, with a plot point and would see where it took me. And I would try to surprise myself." He goes to to explain writers go every way with their writing, some have to have it all clocked out and some can't do that. There is a danger to all creative work. Sallis adds how writing this way can be like throwing yourself off a cliff.

LINK to Sallis interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuXCz2gv3pc

Dean Wesley Smith has over a hundred published novels and more than 17 million copies of his books in print. Dean wrote a book about this: WRITING INTO THE DARK: HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL WITHOUT AN OUTLINE.



LINK: https://www.amazon.com/Writing-into-Dark-without-Outline-ebook/dp/B00XIPANX8/

Dean says it will start with a scene or conversation and he sees where it takes him looking for a surprise. When addressing writing into the dark, he explains, "To be vital you have to change." He goes on to remind us, "You are the God of your book."

Here is a great interview of Dean Wesley Smith:
LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=zjl66ZnrC7g/

I like to start with the story running and catch up with the characters. Endings can be a surprise and when it works, it is like the satisfaction a homicide detective gets when the killer looks you in the eye and confesses.

Robert Frost once said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader No surprise in the writer,  no surprise in the reader."

I agree.

That's all for now.
https://www.oneildenoux.com

11 April 2019

Arthur and the Avengers


 by Eve Fisher

I watched PBS' Secrets of the Dead:  King Arthur's Lost Kingdom, a couple of weeks ago, and loved it.

Now I'm an Arthurian enthusiast, which is a polite term for freaking fan!  I've read as many of the patchwork of legends and stories and (barely) histories of King Arthur as I could get my hands on, from the Historia Brittonum (around 828 CE) the Annales Cambriae (to sum it up:  Battle of Badon, Arthur v. Medraut a/k/a Mordred and a 21 year later rematch at the Strife of Camlann) to T. H. White's brilliant The Once and Future King (which invented the whole idea of Merlin living backwards) and many, many more.

The development and complexity of King Arthur's court at Camelot, his knights and their adventures, the increasing romance and chivalry combined with constant warfare and strange witches and magicians, the astounding character of Merlin, the literally bewitching Morgan le Fay and the fairly boring Guinevere (adultery and constant rescues - not my style.  Although I have to admire the aftermath in Tennyson's Guinevere, which has one of the saddest lines in all of poetry:  "Will no one tell the king I love him though too late?"),,,  The Arthurian legend is so old, so multi-cultural, and written over time by so many authors, that is perhaps one of the greatest legends in all of history, with immense mysteries, tangles, and knots that have never been solved, and perhaps cannot be solved.


King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.jpg
But that's not what I want to talk about right now.  I want to talk about the Marvel Universe.

Just the other day I saw a press conference, surrounding by a lot of trailers, for the new Avengers movie, Avengers:  Endgame.  Now I can't be the first to have noticed that everyone in the entire Marvel Universe is apparently turning up in what were stand-alone comics/movies, and there are more and more of them all the time.
NOTE: And before that, in everyone else's comic books. I remember Batman and Superman duking it out, at least on the cover. (I was never into either of them. My personal favorite comic book as a teen was Killraven, but that's another story.) 
The Fantastic Four have hosted the Hulk, Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, and the Silver Surfer. The Avengers originally consisted of Ant-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and the Wasp.  That changed over time, and by the time we get to the first movie version we have Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, the Black Widow, and Hawkeye joining forces to save the universe.  I remember when the first four all had their own comic strips. Now they work together. The next movie - more superheros! The Guardians of the Galaxy! Black Panther! Scarlet Witch! Falcon! Winter Soldier! God only knows how many more superheroes are going to join in the latest one.

Image result for avengers endgame junket photo
Avengers: Endgame Junket Press Conference
https://filmreviewonline.com/2019/04/09/avengers-endgame-surprising-reveal-at-press-conference/
Now at a certain point I was muttering things like, How in the world does each one get a line, much less a whole action sequence, much less a whole backstory?  I kept thinking about an old Doonesbury - "Jim, I got 46 other stars here. Next!")

Yes, I know, obsessive comicons know each and every character and their backstory, future story, occasional love interest(s), quirks, foibles, weaknesses.  I have sat in a van with a bunch of college students who discussed when/how Superman's cape changed for four hours.  So I get that.  But still, 16 superheros out to save the universe still seems like a lot, compared to the old days (yes, I'm getting old and nostalgic) when one - or at most four - were all that was needed to save Gotham, the planet, the universe, and whatever else was out there.

But wait!  It finally occurred to me that the Arthurian universe is exactly the same!  Not in armor or superhuman powers.  But in the fact that over the long, long, centuries and multiplicity of writers, every hero from almost every European culture got included in the Legend.  So here are some highlights from the major players:

Arthur Tapestry in The Cloisters, New York
King Arthur begins as straight Briton legend and moves on to become the Great King.  But his wife, Guinevere, is Welsh, according to the medieval Welsh Triads.  Her name in Welsh, Gwenhwyfar (or Gwenhwyvar), can be translated as "The White Enchantress", which would indicate that somewhere along the line, she had a story of her own.  And old one.  And perhaps - since Arthur as Christian king goes back to the Historia Brittonum, when he carried an image of St. Mary on his shoulders (or on his shield) - it could be a record of the Christian Briton King marrying the Welsh Pagan Princess.

We'll get into Guinevere's fling with Lancelot in a minute, because there are a lot more Welsh Pagan Princesses out there, including Morgan Le Fay.  She and Morgause are Arthur's older half-sisters.  Morgan is a witch, and (before some later legends made her evil) was Merlin's ally and friend.  She's also one of the ladies who take the dying Arthur to the Isle of Avalon, where he is waiting for his time to come back to save Briton.  (Note to Arthur:  Brexit needs you now.)

Morgause is much more problematic from the get-go.  Oh, the hell with political correctness:  she's a villain.  Married to Lot, the King of Orkney (one of the northernmost islands of Britain, and a far piece from Wales or Cornwall), they have four sons:  Gawain, Agravain, Gaheris and Gareth, all of whom become knights of the Round Table, most of them heroic.  She also has a fifth son with her half-brother, King Arthur, under circumstances that allowed them both to declare they didn't know their relationship at the time.  This story-line is proof, BTW, that
(1) Alcohol and darkness are a very old plot device to make sure the wrong people end up bedding each other and
(2) In the great sagas, ignorance never equals innocence.  Or at least, not freedom from consequences.  That fifth son is Mordred, who will eventually come to Camelot and destroy it.

Gawain and the Green Knight
illustration from original ms.
Wikipedia
But Gawain is a noble knight, one of the great heroes of the Arthurian sagas.  Pure Celt, but is he British?  There are indications that Gawain was co-opted from the early Welsh superhero Gwalchmei.  Or it could also be  - as Sir Bors says in White's The Once and Future King, "I suppose, they would have pronounced it Cuchullain in the North? You can't tell with ancient languages." Cuchullainn is, of course, the great Irish superhero of the Táin Bó Cúailnge ("Cattle Raid of Cooley").  Either way, there's a definite crossover.  Gawain stars in many adventures of his own, the best being Gawain and the Green Knight.
There's nothing quite like a green giant showing up at Camelot at Christmastime, demanding - as a boon - a beheading contest with a knight.  Gawain takes him up on it, and after being beheaded, the Giant picks up his head and demands that Gawain show up at his castle to reciprocate.  Adventures ensue.  It's one hell of a tale.  Among others, Dorothy Sayers and J. R. R. Tolkein did wonderful translations of it.  
Kay is one of the oldest characters in the legends.  Arthur's foster-brother and seneschal, i.e., steward, he's kind of the Arthurian Hulk/Bruce Bannon:  sometimes he's boorish, violent, rude, and sometimes he's a great warrior. He has superhuman powers: no one is able to brave fire or water like him, he can go nine days and nine nights without the need to breathe or to sleep, he can grow as "tall as the tallest tree in the forest if he pleased" and has the ability to radiate supernatural heat from his hands.

Meanwhile, Lancelot is probably a then-modernization (yes, every age has always thought we're the most modern on the planet, and we've always been right) of a tale that has been told for millennia:  A royal infant, stolen by a water fairy (du Lac), grows up, and is presented to the world of warriors at a tournament (war games), where he fights three consecutive days in three different disguises, wins every time, and later, he rescues the queen (or princess) from a prison.  The love affair with Guinevere is a later addition, probably was introduced in the 12th century, perhaps at Eleanor of Aquitaine's Court at Poitiers (well known as the haven for troubadors), where they practically invented romantic love.

Sir Percival, a/k/a Parsifal, is the original Questor for the Holy Grail.  Chrétien de Troyes wrote his saga (while on the First Crusade, apparently), basing it (he said) on an older manuscript belonging to his patron, Philip I Count of Flanders.  The original manuscript is the first mention not only of Percival, but the Quest, and the Fisher King (which is a whole, mysterious, and beautiful legend in and of itself).

But the true Grail hero is, of course, Sir Galahad - the illegitimate son of Sir Lancelot and Elaine.  Some people think that Sir Galahad comes from legends of the Cistercian or other monastic orders (although I'd say he sounds more like a Knight Templar), with his absolute virtue and great martial skills.  "My strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure" (Tennyson, Idylls of the King).  Galahad is the greatest knight, the purest knight, and he is the one who not only sees the Grail but is accepted by the Grail:  he gets to take it to heaven and neither ever come back.  (Sorry, Dan Brown.)

And Merlin.  Merlin Ambrosius, in Welsh Myrddin, enchanter, wizard, conceived by a demon, born of a woman, who sees the future, who perhaps goes mad, who lives backwards in time, who knows what will happen and cannot stop it, who has superhuman powers, and who is seduced and locked away by a woman, Nimue...  There are many traditions about him, and each author chose only a few. 

And that is only a handful of a huge, multi-national, multi-ethnic cast, with powers that range from simple military ability to supernatural powers.  Each new writer, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chretien de Troyes, Thomas Mallory, Tennyson, Charles Williams, T. H. White, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and on and on and on have added a new layer, and often new characters to the Arthurian Universe.  See the Camelot Project at the University of Rochester, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and King Arthur and the Holy Grail, for a nice combination of starter sites.  Oh, and read the books.

Sadly, imho, most of the movies about Camelot and Arthur have been pretty lame.  Mostly because, instead of embracing its richness and complexity, they try to contain the entire King Arthur story in 2 hours.  No, no, no.  What we need is a Peter Jackson version.  Three, four movies at the very least, maybe endlessly, like the Star Wars saga, the Star Trek saga, the Marvel Universe saga.  It would be wonderful...