28 April 2019

Left Coast Traveler

by R.T. Lawton


A Steely Dan anthology, available June 24, 2019
Old Saying: Getting there is half the fun.

Visiting places like Canada and Mexico used to be so simple. You merely went. To get back, you might have to show a driver's license or a birth certificate and declare what you bought or otherwise acquired in that country, but life was easy. Sure, going to Europe was all passport and customs officials, but that was another continent, another world away, and to be expected.

And then came the Left Coast Crime Conference being held at the end of last March in the nice Canadian port city of Vancouver. Since Canada considers itself to be our trading partner ( as opposed to being some third world country like several islands in the Caribbean), they prefer that we southern cousins spend Canadian currency when we make purchases in their country. After all, we don't accept their money in our country. Fair is fair. Plus, there is a fee to exchange money if it's not that particular country's currency. So, we went to Wells Fargo Bank in advance of our trip and acquired $200 Canadian. Fortunately, most of our expenses could go on our credit card, one which charged no fee for the conversion.

Author book signing for Steely Dan anthology at LCCC
Continuing. The last time we renewed our passports, we forked over the extra $35 each to also get the credit card sized passport which is allegedly valid for Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean islands. We were quickly all packed and ready. Then we found we could not use our home computer to print out our airline tickets. Since our flight was designated as an International flight, we had to show a passport to get our tickets. Okay, so we drove to the airport on the morning of our trip to acquire the tickets and catch our plane.

Law Enforcement Panel at Left Coast Crime Conference
Whoops, the credit card sized passports did not work in the ticket kiosk. They only take the paper booklet passports, which we were just paranoid enough to have with us anyway. Got tickets. Flew to Denver to change planes for the second leg of the journey. In Denver, had to show tickets AND passports in order to board the aircraft. Landed in Vancouver. Beautiful and very modern airport, but had a long walk high in the air to an area where we found machines that read our passports, asked a series of questions and took our photos. The machine then printed out a receipt with our photo on it which we gave to the non-uniform man guarding that area. (NOTE: if you are wearing a hat or glasses, those items must come off for your photo, and again for the man guarding that exit.) We proceeded through a long roped-off maze and descended to the ground transportation exits.

The harbour (their spelling) three blocks from conference hotel
For those of you who have taken a taxi from La Guardia Airport to mid-Manhattan in New York, you already know your life is not your own.. Those drivers all consume quarts of Red Bull and train on dirt tracks somewhere in the Appalachians. Our driver in Vancouver had evidently won several trophies on that same dirt track. We paid him in Canadian dollars, along with a hefty tip, glad to have arrived unscathed. Turned out, it was a $31 Canadian flat fee from airport to our hotel. As the proverb says: Time is Money. I assume that our driver was merely trying to maximize his ratio of dollars per minute. During our running conversation darting through the streets, I also learned he is the one who is teaching his teenage children how to drive so they can get their drivers licenses. I expect there will soon be more racing trophies on the family mantel.

One end of the sea plane docks
The LCC Conference was excellent, many good panels, great people to converse with, much good info acquired, lots of laughs, fine food, nice beer, discovered several local bakeries for pastries and morning coffee, walked down to the harbor sea wall, watched sea planes take off and land, saw the steam clock operate in Gas Town, and had a very great time.

Sunday morning, we caught a cab to the airport. Did better at the ticket kiosk, got tickets and found we were TSA Pre-Approved. Yay! Finally managed to find where they had located the security lines. Could not find the TSA Pre-Approved line. Turns out that TSA Pre-Approved doesn't mean anything in Canada. Nice security man put us in a line anyway which used the metal detector arch, instead of the giant x-ray after which they always want to pat me down for some reason. Can't be my good looks. Got dressed again and walked a long maze to a different passport reading machine area. Inserted passports, answered questions for the machine, took my hat off and it took my photo. Presented my photo receipt and passport to a uniformed guard at the area exit. Told my wife later that I thought the guard had a U.S. Customs badge on his uniform. Turned out, we had gone through U.S. Customs while still in Canada. Walked another long maze to the departure gate. Had to show ticket AND passport to board the aircraft.

Made it home.

Now what do I do with the $20 in Canadian bills, the Toonies, the Loonies and the other coins we didn't spend?

Guess we'll just have to go back to Canada for another writers conference.

27 April 2019

Murder at the Crime Writing Awards (With the usual 'pee first' warning - see bottom)

By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Someone slipped up and made me a finalist in two categories for the Arthur Ellis Awards for Crime Writing this year (The B-Team, Novella, and A Ship Called Pandora, short story.)  Naturally, I’m up against some of the best (here’s looking at you, yet again, Twist Phalen.) 

By strange coincidence, I’m also emceeing the awards on May 23.  Which goes to show how truly confusing we can be in Canada.  Because you see, in days of yore (ten to three years ago) I was the one organizing the gala, along with a team of truly wonderful but sweetly innocent individuals who had no idea what they were signing up for. 

The short list announcement yesterday got me thinking about my first time organizing the event.  I believe this may have also been my first post on Sleuthsayers.  Yes, that many years ago.  Time for a revisit.  Warning: This is nonfiction. I swear. 

MURDER AT THE CRIME WRITING AWARDS
Okay, I haven’t done it yet.  But I may soon.

I’m the Executive Director of a well-known crime writing association.  This means I am also responsible for the Arthur Ellis Awards, Canada’s annual crime writing awards night, and the resulting banquet.

I’ve planned hundreds of special events in my career as a marketing professional.  I’ve managed conferences with 1000 people attending, scarfing down three meals a day.  Usually, we offer a few choices, and people choose what they want.  They’re pretty good about that.  People sit where they want.  Simple.

Granted, most of my events have been with lab techs, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. 

It is not the same with authors.  Nothing is simple with authors. 

THE SEATING ARRANGEMENT
A can’t sit with B, because A is in competition with B for Best Novel.  C can’t sit with D because C is currently outselling D.  E can’t sit with F because they had an affair (which nobody knows about.  Except they do.  At least, the seven people who contacted me to warn me about this knew.) G can’t sit with H because G’s former agent is at that table and they might kill each other.  And everyone wants to sit with J.

THE MENU
The damned meal is chicken.  This is because we are allowed two choices and we have to provide for the vegetarians.  We can’t have the specialty of the house, lamb, because not everyone eats lamb.  We can’t have salmon as the vegetarian choice, because some vegetarians won’t eat fish.

So we’re stuck with chicken again.

P writes that her daughter is lactose intolerant.  Can she have a different dessert?

K writes that she is vegetarian, but can’t eat peppers.  Every damned vegetarian choice has green or red pepper in it.

L writes that she wants the chicken, but is allergic to onion and garlic.  Can we make hers without?

M writes that her daughter is a vegan, so no egg or cheese, thanks.  Not a single vegetarian choice comes that way.

I am quickly moving to the “you’re getting chicken if I have to shove it down your freaking throat” phase.

Chef is currently threatening the catering manager with a butcher’s knife.  I am already slugging back the cooking wine.  And by the time people get here, this may be a Murder Mystery dinner.

Postscript:
Nobody got murdered, but a few got hammered.  


Melodie Campbell’s caper novella The B-Team has been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award.  You can pick it up for a steal (sic) at Amazon, B&N, Chapters, and all the usual suspects.  Even Walmart, because we’re a class act.  Sometimes even Zehrs.  I’ll stop now.

 The 'pee first' warning is given when humorous material follows.  'Nuf said.
 

26 April 2019

Thornes and Roses – The World of TK Thorne

Ladies and gentlemen, meet author T.K. Thorne.

T.K. Thorne, a retired police captain, woke up one morning and decided to wildly depart from her previous writings to explore murder, mayhem, and magic in her newest novel, House of Rose, where Birmingham Police Officer Rose Brighton discovers she is a witch of an ancient line. Set in the Deep South, House of Rose is the first book in the Magic City trilogy. T.K.’s previous works include award-winning historical novels— Noah’s Wife and Angels at the Gate— and nonfiction. Last Chance For Justice, detailing the 1963 Birmingham church-bombing case. She writes from her Alabama mountaintop, often with two dogs and a cat vying for her lap.

— Velma

Crime Meets Magic

by T.K. Thorne

The first thing most people say to me when they learn I was a career cop is, “Oh? You don’t look like a policeman.”

This is a good thing because I’m a woman.

Perhaps at 5’3”, I don’t fit the stereotype in their minds. That’s not worrisome to my self-image because during my 20+ years in the Birmingham (Alabama) Police Department, it never occurred to me that I was too small … other than the annoying fact that my hands couldn’t fit properly around the gun’s grip. Not only did I have to figure out an alternate way to shoot, there were other challenges.

In those early academy days, we had to carry the fifty bullets needed for the firearms qualification tests in our pants pocket and dig them out to reload with one hand (the other held the gun). Tight time constraints for firing and reloading were in place to try to replicate some of the stress of being under fire. If I pulled more than six bullets at a time out of my pocket, it overwhelmed my hand’s capacity to manipulate them into position to reload. Bullets tumbled to the ground, making it impossible to reload in time. With practice, I developed the ability to blindly grab exactly six bullets at a time. I’m inordinately proud of that now useless skill.

Since Joseph Wambaugh’s controversial Choir Boys appeared in 1975, the number of law enforcement authors has grown, but they’re still an anomaly, and so I get to surprise with the double whammy of being a retired cop and a writer. I’ve learned to deal with the “You don’t look like a policeman,” reaction with a smile and a simple, “Thank you.” And when I explain my latest novel is about a young police woman in Birmingham, Alabama who discovers she’s a witch, I get an even more fun reaction—“Is it autobiographical?” And an even more fun answer—“Yes.”

Ironically, my new novel, House of Rose, is the first one to pull from my law enforcement background. Previous writing adventures took me to the ancient past with two historical novels about women in the Bible who get no name and one line (Noah’s wife and Lot’s wife) and to my city’s civil rights days as nonfiction.

Then Rose came into my life. Rose Brighton is a rookie police officer, a somewhat prickly loner, surprised that she loves the job and determined to make it despite the challenges. She is also is a young me—only taller, with adequate-sized hands, exotically beautiful … and a witch.

It was love at first write.

Magic is not an element to introduce into a story without serious contemplation. It must exist within the fictional world as a “realistic” element within the story structure. The rules of how it works must be internally consistent. Also, it needs to match the voice of the story’s narration. A light-hearted, humorous approach, such as a fairy story or a comic book-based type of story (think Once Upon A Time or Dr. Strange) can get away with more loosey-goosey magic. That said, any story can include humorous elements. I had a great time playing the traditional broomstick-and-potion concept of witches against the real-(story)world powers of three ancient Houses whose members derive their magic from the three ores used to make Birmingham steel—coal, iron ore and limestone.

Orson Scott Card says magic must have a cost. I would add that all power, to include magic, needs to have limits. Frodo’s ring in The Fellowship of the Ring allowed him to be invisible, but at the same time, exposed him to Sauron's deadly wraiths. Harry Potter had to learn to use his wand and get the memorized spells exactly right or bad things could happen. Even Superman has to avoid kryptonite.

The rules of magic within the world you’ve created must be obeyed. Additionally, the use of magic needs to play a role in moving the character and plot forward. At the same time, it can’t substitute for the character’s need to make choices and face consequences. Merlin mustn’t show up and save the day (unless your character has worked and sacrificed to free him from his ice prison). In House of Rose, the ability to see the future is not something Rose controls and when it happens, she is left with a debilitating headache and serious complications in her life, not to mention her job as a police officer.

Magic Checklist
  • Are the “rules” consistent and consistently applied?
  • Does the “shade” of magic correspond to the narrative tone?
  • Does the magic have a cost? Does your reader understand what it is?
  • Does the magic move the plot forward and/or character development?
  • Does the magic supersede the character’s need to make choices and grow?
As a writer, I want to be as intrigued and entranced as my readers. Writing a novel is a long term commitment. Despite the challenges, magic—used well—can add spice and depth. For me, weaving magic “realistically” into a crime story was a bit like learning to blindly pull exactly six from a pocket full of bullets. It seemed improbable at first, but maybe learning that skill was not such worthless endeavor after all. Maybe it was a reminder that anything is possible.

Even a police-witch.

25 April 2019

"The Retort Courteous to One You Have Forgotten"

By Eve Fisher
(with necessary help from Dorothy Parker)

I have collected, over the years, a lovely large library which is just eclectic enough that I can find some information about almost anything.  I have everything from history (of all kinds/eras) to potboilers, plus a few weird volumes that I just read and don't try to explain to anybody.  One of the many things I prize is my 1926 edition of Emily Post's Etiquette, which was happily for us all reviewed by Dorothy Parker in the December 23, 1927 edition of The New Yorker

Let's let Dorothy speak for a while, because she can certainly review it better than I can:

Young Dorothy Parker.jpg"Emily Post’s “Etiquette” is out again, this time in a new and an enlarged edition, and so the question of what to do with my evenings has been all fixed up for me. There will be an empty chair at the deal table at Tony’s, when the youngsters gather to discuss life, sex, literature, the drama, what is a gentleman, and whether or not to go on to Helen Morgan’s Club when the place closes; for I shall be at home among my book. I am going in for a course of study at the knee of Mrs. Post. Maybe, some time in the misty future, I shall be Asked Out, and I shall be ready. You won’t catch me being intentionally haughty to subordinates or refusing to be a pallbearer for any reason except serious ill-health. I shall live down the old days, and with the help of Mrs. Post and God (always mention a lady’s name first) there will come a time when you will be perfectly safe in inviting me to your house, which should never be called a residence except in printing or engraving.

"It will not be a gruelling study, for the sprightliness of Mrs. Post’s style makes the text-book as fascinating as it is instructive. Her characters, introduced for the sake of example, are called by no such unimaginative titles as Mrs. A., or Miss Z., or Mr. X.; they are Mrs. Worldly, Mr. Bachelor, the Gildings, Mrs. Oldname, Mrs. Neighbor, Mrs. Stranger, Mrs. Kindhart, and Mr. and Mrs. Nono Better. This gives the work all the force and the application of a morality play.

"It is true that occasionally the author’s invention plucks at the coverlet, and she can do no better by her brainchildren than to name them Mr. Jones and Mrs. Smith. But it must be said, in fairness, that the Joneses and the Smiths are the horrible examples, the confirmed pullers of social boners. They deserve no more...  Mr. Jones, no matter how expensively he is dressed, always gives the effect of being in his shirt-sleeves, while Mrs. Smith is so unmistakably the daughter of a hundred Elks. Let them be dismissed by somebody’s phrase (I wish to heaven it were mine)—“the sort of people who buy their silver.”  These people in Mrs. Post’s book live and breathe; as Heywood Broun once said of the characters in a play, “they have souls and elbows.” Take Mrs. Worldly, for instance, Mrs. Post’s heroine. The woman will live in American letters. I know of no character in the literature of the last quarter-century who is such a complete pain in the neck."  (D.P.)

Mrs. Emily Post painted by Fuchs
Brooklyn Museum
Personally, I believe that Mrs. Worldly is Mrs. Post, in her upbringing and determination to be the arbiter for generations on the subject of Polite Society.  Daughter of Bruce Price, the architect of (among other things) Tuxedo Park, Emily Post was born with enough wealth, beauty, and position to enable her to divorce her banker husband, Edwin Main Post, when he took up chorus girls and was blackmailed.  No wonder Mrs. Worldly freezes occasionally at the sight of young women.

Again, from Dorothy Parker:  "See her at that moment when a younger woman seeks to introduce herself. Says the young woman: “ ‘Aren’t you Mrs. Worldly?’ Mrs. Worldly, with rather freezing politeness, says ‘Yes,’ and waits.” And the young woman, who is evidently a glutton for punishment, neither lets her wait from then on nor replies, “Well, Mrs. Worldly, and how would you like a good sock in the nose, you old meat-axe?” Instead she flounders along with some cock-and-bull story about being a sister of Millicent Manners, at which Mrs. Worldly says, “I want very much to hear you sing some time,” which marks her peak of enthusiasm throughout the entire book."  

Mrs. Post got out of the divorce with her money and position intact.  It was after her children grew up that she decided to become the Petronia Arbiter of her day, with Etiquette.  It was an immediate, and long-lasting hit.  She covered everything from how to write notes and letters, deliver calling cards, dress, balls, luncheons, teas, and dinners, as well as formal occasions like weddings and funerals.  There are chapters on "The Kindergarten of Etiquette" (you need good nannies, nurses, and servants for this one) and "Every Day Manners at Home" (behave yourself at all times, and never "dress down").  

My personal favorite is "The House Party in Camp", when Mr. and Mrs. Worldly, along with the Normans, the Lovejoys, the "Bobo" Gildings, the Littlehouses, Constance Style, Jim Smartlington and his bride, Clubwin Doe and young Struthers all accept Mr. and Mrs. Kindheart's invitation to spend a few weeks at the Mountain Summit Camp. There they all rough it, with only dozens of servants in forest-green livery to bring them hot water and breakfast in their rustic cabins, build their fires, and cook their meals from food shipped in from the Big City, and struggling to survive on only one cloth napkin a day to remind them of their former glories. Granted, Mr. Worldly does bring his valet, Ernest, because "He has never in the twenty years since he left college been twenty-four hours away from Ernest." [Doesn't that sound a little... strange... today?] And Mrs. Worldly spends the entire time "wearing a squirrel fur cap in the evening as well as the daytime; she said it was because it was so warm and comfortable. It was really because she could not do her hair!"  (Etiquette at Gutenberg)

Saint-Simon portrait officiel 1728 détail.png
Of course, it's not just the Gilded Age that combined power, money, position, and domestic helplessness.  The Duc de Saint-Simon (1675-1755) was in the exact same boat back at Versailles, whenever he and his fellow nobility had to go to one of the lesser manors or war.  They brought their valets and they couldn't do their own hair, either.  But the Duc's memoirs are soaked in an etiquette that surpasses anything Mrs. Post could have dreamed of, rigidly enforced (and totally exemplified, to give him credit) by the Sun King himself.  

But it is important to remember that the Sun King had crammed every nobleman in France into Versailles, where they were kept virtual prisoners because of their greed and his charisma.  And they were all touchy, proud, easily insulted, and armed with swords.  Etiquette kept the endless arguments (about who could sit, and when, and where, and who could go to Marly and who couldn't, and who could be a mistress, and who couldn't, etc.) down to a minimum of violence.

Which is a large part of the original reason for etiquette.  Humans living in close proximity to each other need some kind of a code of behavior.  Hunter-gatherer societies have as much etiquette as anyone else, although theirs is based more on spreading the wealth (food) than exhibiting it.  And writing down the rules started a long time ago.  

The earliest book of social rules we have is Ptahhotep's Maxims, which I have not read.  Confucius' Analects could also be considered a work of etiquette as well as philosophy, since under the name of filial piety, he covered not only government, but topics like dress, meals, funerals, and music.  My favorite story is that of a philosopher who, upon being told of disorders in the countryside, had the emperor stand, facing the South, and, as he performed certain rites, all disorder ceased. 

In the Renaissance, Castiglione wrote The Book of the Courtier, which has been overshadowed by Machiavelli's The Prince.  Both tell a person how to get on in society, but the first is a book of manners in order to rise, and the second is how to use those manners to keep power by any means necessary.
NOTE:  This is not the first time that either approach was or would be written, but perhaps the best example of combining both in the same book is Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence.  The fictional devastation of Newland Archer - or of Lily Bart in The House of Mirth - is a masterclass in how to wield absolute power by speech and ceremony without a sword drawn or shot fired.  And this, my dear readers, is the world in which Emily Post was raised.   
During the Age of Enlightenment, in England, the Fourth Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773) wrote Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman.  A sample from Wikipedia: 
The Fourth Earl of
Chesterfield
"I would heartily wish that you may often be seen to smile, but never heard to laugh while you live. Frequent and loud laughter is the characteristic of folly and ill-manners; it is the manner in which the mob express their silly joy at silly things; and they call it being merry. In my mind there is nothing so illiberal, and so ill-bred, as audible laughter. I am neither of a melancholy nor a cynical disposition, and am as willing and as apt to be pleased as anybody; but I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason nobody has ever heard me laugh."  (Wikipedia)
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), who believed more in the necessity of etiquette than the practice of it, said that Chesterfield's letters taught "the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing master."  No, it was not a compliment.  But what Johnson objected to was that Chesterfield made it plain that he had to teach his son manners, when they were supposed to come from the heart.

There is a tendency today to downplay, mock, or get rid of etiquette, manners, civility.  The phrase "political correctness" has become an excuse to say an amazing number of rude things, although I've noticed that the people who do practice being politically incorrect, generally demand the other party be surprisingly politically correct - i.e., polite, if not absolutely silent - back.  But Mrs. Post would not approve:

Etiquette, Chapter 29:

THE FUNDAMENTALS OF GOOD BEHAVIOR

Far more important than any mere dictum of etiquette is the fundamental code of honor, without strict observance of which no man, no matter how "polished," can be considered a gentleman. The honor of a gentleman demands the inviolability of his word, and the incorruptibility of his principles; he is the descendant of the knight, the crusader; he is the defender of the defenseless, and the champion of justice—or he is not a gentleman.
Decencies Of Behavior
A gentleman does not, and a man who aspires to be one must not, ever borrow money from a woman, nor should he, except in unexpected circumstances, borrow money from a man. Money borrowed without security is a debt of honor which must be paid without fail and promptly as possible. The debts incurred by a deceased parent, brother, sister, or grown child, are assumed by honorable men and women, as debts of honor.
A gentleman never takes advantage of a woman in a business dealing, nor of the poor or the helpless.
One who is not well off does not "sponge," but pays his own way to the utmost of his ability.
One who is rich does not make a display of his money or his possessions. Only a vulgarian talks ceaselessly about how much this or that cost him.
A very well-bred man intensely dislikes the mention of money, and never speaks of it (out of business hours) if he can avoid it....
A gentleman does not lose control of his temper. In fact, in his own self-control under difficult or dangerous circumstances, lies his chief ascendancy over others who impulsively betray every emotion which animates them. Exhibitions of anger, fear, hatred, embarrassment, ardor or hilarity, are all bad form in public. And bad form is merely an action which "jars" the sensibilities of others... 
A man whose social position is self-made is apt to be detected by his continual cataloguing of prominent names. Mr. Parvenu invariably interlards his conversation with, "When I was dining at the Bobo Gilding's"; or even "at Lucy Gilding's," and quite often accentuates, in his ignorance, those of rather second-rate, though conspicuous position. "I was spending last week-end with the Richan Vulgars," or "My great friends, the Gotta Crusts." When a so-called gentleman insists on imparting information, interesting only to the Social Register, shun him!
A gentleman's manners are an integral part of him and are the same whether in his dressing-room or in a ballroom, whether in talking to Mrs. Worldly or to the laundress bringing in his clothes. He whose manners are only put on in company is a veneered gentleman, not a real one.
A man of breeding does not slap strangers on the back nor so much as lay his finger-tips on a lady. Nor does he punctuate his conversation by pushing or nudging or patting people, nor take his conversation out of the drawing-room! Notwithstanding the advertisements in the most dignified magazines, a discussion of underwear and toilet articles and their merit or their use, is unpleasant in polite conversation.
All thoroughbred people are considerate of the feelings of others no matter what the station of the others may be. Thackeray's climber who "licks the boots of those above him and kicks the faces of those below him on the social ladder," is a, very good illustration of what a gentleman is not.
A gentleman never takes advantage of another's helplessness or ignorance, and assumes that no gentleman will take advantage of him...
The Instincts Of A Lady
The instincts of a lady are much the same as those of a gentleman. She is equally punctilious about her debts, equally averse to pressing her advantage; especially if her adversary is helpless or poor.
The Hall-Mark Of The Climber
...All thoroughbred women, and men, are considerate of others less fortunately placed, especially of those in their employ. One of the tests by which to distinguish between the woman of breeding and the woman merely of wealth, is to notice the way she speaks to dependents. Queen Victoria's duchesses, those great ladies of grand manner, were the very ones who, on entering the house of a close friend, said "How do you do, Hawkins?" to a butler; and to a sister duchess's maid, "Good morning, Jenkins." A Maryland lady, still living on the estate granted to her family three generations before the Revolution, is quite as polite to her friends' servants as to her friends themselves. When you see a woman in silks and sables and diamonds speak to a little errand girl or a footman or a scullery maid as though they were the dirt under her feet, you may be sure of one thing; she hasn't come a very long way from the ground herself.
*****
Not much more that I can add to that.

PS - What is "The Retort Courteous to One You Have Forgotten"?  Well, Dorothy Parker has one answer (check out the link back at the beginning, and go down to the end of the review).
And then there's classic "I'm sorry, but I didn't recognize you with your clothes on."  But I don't think Mrs. Post would approve.  




24 April 2019

Notre Dame de Paris

David Edgerley Gates

I lived in Paris too short a while, but it's still vivid. It was a lucky time, for me, even if the ferment and fever of that unquiet age didn't give us much breathing room, the political furies, the war. That spring the French decided to shut their own country down, and late in the summer, the Warsaw Pact dropped a heavy hammer on Prague. The larger world intruded, and I certainly wasn't indifferent, but all the same, I was under a protective enchantment.

I know what Hemingway says. I think he works it too hard, but he's right. Paris is completely magical. We of course bring a great deal with us, all that excess baggage - the Lost Generation the least of it. Be that as it may, you can shed your skin there, you're not confined by previous incarnations. I imagine we all discover our own Paris. I know that isn't a terrifically original observation, but my Paris was my own discovery.

Paris at night is hugely different from Paris during the day, just as Paris in the rain is completely different from Paris in sunshine (think black-and-white as opposed to color, Rififi instead of Gene Kelly, the photographs of Brassai, the streetlights and dive bars). I used to take the Metro down to Notre Dame at two or three in the morning, it surely being the mark of a great capital - New York, Berlin, Paris - that the subways run all night. This is back when Les Halles were still in the middle of town, now it's Place Pompidou, and the wholesale markets are out in the sticks, Les Halles were two enormous metal buildings, like giant Quonset huts, with arched girders inside, forty or fifty feet high at the peak. One was for meats, poultry, fish, the other for produce, flowers, and fruit. The vendors had stalls, and there were cobbled alleys in between. Birds nested in the upper eaves, All the Paris restaurants shopped there. getting an early start. Close by were the bars for the working stiffs, in their blue coveralls, knocking back black coffee and an anisette. I took a lot of pictures, color transparencies but usually black-and-white, Tri-X at 400 ASA, which at the time was fastest film readily available.

Just as often I didn't take a camera at all. Another big difference, between documenting an event, self-consciously a witness, and simply absorbing it. I loved coming into the square below Notre Dame and looking up at it in the dark. I'd been during the day, and climbed it. At night, you felt something else altogether. The face wasn't lit, the rose window was in shadow, the stone was cold.

Time for a black coffee and a Ricard, un petit verre, standing at the zinc bar, scrubbing your hands together for warmth.


Here's a heartening thing. The bees on the roof outlasted the fire. Rooftop bee-keeping is big in Paris. Notre Dame, l'Opera, the d'Orsay, the Grand Palais. It's a small reward, but reassuring.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/19/bees-survive-notre-dame-fire

23 April 2019

Writer in a Raincoat

by Michael Bracken

As Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character Rod Tidwell repeatedly shouted in Jerry Maguire, “Show me the exposure!”

Too warm for a raincoat.
But is “exposure” enough? There is an on-going discussion among writers—and, perhaps, among creatives of all artistic genres—about whether one should ever create art without compensation.

Staunch proponents at either end of the spectrum—from those who advocate that we never write for free to those who advocate that publication is itself sufficient reward—hold firm to their beliefs, but the reality for most of us falls somewhere in the middle.

FOR THE LOVE

Many of us saw our first publications in high school literary magazines, student newspapers, church bulletins, company newsletters, and small-town newspapers. We wrote whatever we could and saw it published wherever we could.

I know I did, working my way along a trajectory that included junior high school literary magazine, high school literary magazine, high school newspaper, underground newspaper, college newspaper, and science fiction fanzines. I wrote fiction for semi-prozines (publications that paid fractions of a cent per word) and fillers for well-known consumer publications.

Over time, I sold longer work to better-paying publications, yet I never stopped writing for non-paying publications. The more I earned from sales at the upper end of the pay scale, the more I could afford to place work at the lower end of the pay scale. One, in a sense, subsidized the other.

FOR THE MONEY

I am amused by the number of writers who claim to only write for paying publications and who make the claim in blog posts for which they were not paid.

Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective. Perhaps fiction is an art form and blog posting isn’t.

Or maybe it’s a knowledge of what is and is not marketable. Regularly placing short stories with top markets might make one less inclined to consider non-paying short story markets. Similarly, other than copy intended to promote myself or my work, I do not write advertising and public relations material for free.

But a short story?

If I wrote fiction only for paying publications, my office would be ass deep in unpublished manuscripts.

FOR THE EXPOSURE

Any editor who offers to publish my work “for exposure” and hopes to “someday” offer payment to contributors is clearly delusional, and I want no part of their unrealistic business model. But an editor who admits to producing a small-press publication as a hobby, financed with pocket change and no real hope of ever turning a buck, has my respect.

In one form or another, I’ve been them.

As a teenager, and continuing into my twenties, I published a science fiction fanzine, printed initially on a spirit duplicator, then for many issues on a mimeograph, and the last few issues on an offset press. The quality—the writing, the art, the production values—all improved as I learned about printing and publishing, and my experience with the fanzine helped me land my first real employment.

Along the way, I published the work of many great science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers who provided articles and columns without pay (among them: Robert Bloch, Algis Budrys, Grant Carrington, Don D’Ammassa, David Gerrold, Charles L. Grant, Thomas F. Monteleone, Larry Niven, and Jerry Pournelle) or wrote letters published in my fanzine’s letter column (including Richard A. Lupoff, Barry N. Malzberg, Christopher Priest, William Rotsler, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Robert Silverberg, Bob Tucker, Ted White, and Gene Wolf).

It seems as if I’m humble-bragging, but the point is that these writers, and many others like them, wrote without pay when they could have blown me off when I asked.

These writers were my role models, and if they were willing to occasionally write without pay, who am I to behave otherwise?

FOR THE HELL OF IT

So, I do sometimes contribute to non-paying publications—if I like the editor, or the theme appeals to me, or, in the case of non-fiction (such as SleuthSayer posts), I feel I have something to say or can use the forum to pay it forward.

But asking me to write something for “exposure” is an insult.

Don’t insult me. Don’t insult other writers.

If I really want exposure, I’ll wear a raincoat and stand on a street corner, whipping it open every so often to show passersby my short . . . stories.

Coming in May: The Book of Extraordinary Historical Mystery Stories (Mango), edited by Maxim Jakubowski, which contains my collaboration with Sandra Murphy, “Gracie Saves the World.”

22 April 2019

DNA Testing for Crimes by Twins

by Mary Fernando

Science is on the verge of distinguishing between identical twins. Consider cases of crimes where DNA material leads not to one person, but two: identical twins. Until now, no one could say with certainty which twin might be guilty. Here's why.

Each twin comes from the same egg, split into two, creating two eggs with identical DNA. Old DNA testing was unable to distinguish between identical twins, but there are two fascinating options on the horizon that might just help.

The first difference between identical twins begins immediately. Although each is endowed with the same DNA - “When a fertilized egg starts dividing, there’s a small chance each new cell will gain a new mutation. When the cells separate into twin embryos, one gets some of the mutant cells and the other gets the rest. Unique mutations will end up in cells throughout each twin’s body.”

“Such a test would be difficult, then — but it would also be definitive. Just a single mutation, confirmed by multiple analyses, would be enough to implicate one twin and exonerate the other.”

“It’s not something that’s going to happen every day in every laboratory,” said Dr. Krawczak (a geneticist who now teaches at Kiel University in Germany). “But once people become aware of this, there may be a lot of cold cases that come back to life.”

However, this testing is in its infancy and is both expensive and time consuming.

The next set of DNA changes are called epigenetic changes and happen during embryonic development and continues for the rest of our lives.

Dia Rahman, a PhD student in Public Health at University of Waterloo has a special interest in social impacts on health and, therefore, is fascinated with epigenetics. “We are born with our DNA but what is impacted by the environment is the dance between active and inactive genes,” Dia says. “That is what is impacted by our upbringing and experiences. That is epigenetics.”

“A common analogy used to describe the epigenome is to consider genes as instruments in the “symphony” of life. But they don’t play themselves. They need musicians. Epigenetics would be the musicians that help express (or silence) the performance of our genes. Exercise, sleep, trauma, aging, stress, disease, and diet have all shown significant effects on the epigenome.”

Detecting epigenetic changes is faster and cheaper than looking for mutations. Graham Williams at the University of Huddersfield, UK, has found that epigenetic changes alter the melting point of DNA. “When the team heated up the twins’ DNA samples, they found the melting points were different – allowing them to tell the twins apart genetically. The test was also much quicker than whole genome sequencing, says Williams. “It can be done in just a few hours.”

So, essentially, we are born with our DNA - an entwined gift from our mother and father. This is not immutable. Some of our DNA can be altered by mutations. Parts of our DNA is also turned off and on by how our life impacts us. As our DNA testing improves, we can distinguish between identical twins.

Perhaps the most important part of all this has nothing to do with crime. It show that our DNA we once thought never changed is actually impacted by the life we live. And that is fascinating.

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.