12 March 2019

It Isn’t You


by Michael Bracken

There’s a fiction writers tell one another, though the advice is aimed squarely at newcomers: Editors aren’t rejecting you, they’re rejecting your manuscript.

The editor's toolkit.
While mostly true, it isn’t the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Sometimes editors are rejecting you, but they aren’t likely to admit it.

I’ve edited a handful of crime fiction anthologies, a consumer magazine, a tabloid newspaper, and several newsletters, and I’ve held various non-editorial positions in book publishing companies.

So, I have my personal list of writers I’m likely to reject even if they send me brilliant manuscripts that exactly match my calls for submissions or publications’ guidelines, and I’ve overheard a bit of behind-the-scenes gossip as well.

WELL, MAYBE IT IS YOU

Several years ago, I caught a writer plagiarizing. When confronted, the writer provided several excuses but no apology. Had I heard, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake. I’ll be more careful in the future,” I might have given that writer a second chance. I heard no apology and sensed no remorse, so that writer’s work will never again appear in anything I edit.

Many writers serve double-duty as editors. A few years ago an editor included one of my stories in an anthology and, despite a contract and the knowledge that the publisher paid the editor (side note to new writers: sometimes the publisher pays writers directly for anthology contributions; sometimes publishers pay the editors and the editors pay the writers), neither I nor other contributors of my acquaintance were ever paid. If I ever receive a submission from that editor/writer, I’ll boomerang it back.

Ready? Go.
Writing may be a solitary act, but publishing is a group effort. There are writers I’ll likely not work with again because they lack professionalism. The process—revisions, copyediting, etc.— was a colossal fustercluck, and timely responses at each step of the process were nonexistent, causing me to work harder than should be necessary. I’m an editor, not a babysitter, and I’ve no desire to again babysit these writers.

There are other reasons writers get on editors’ shit lists, but among the most common seems to be inappropriate behavior. Writers who trash editors in public forums, especially those who identify editors by name or by easily identifiable traits, burn bridges at an alarming rate. Even if those writers never say an unkind word about me, I wonder what will happen when their attention turns my direction, and I’d rather not find myself in their crosshairs.

(Note: If you think you’re one of the writers alluded to above, you’re likely not. The fact that you think you might be, though, is a sure sign you should reevaluate your professional relationships.)

YOU, I WANT YOU

Another fiction writers tell one another, and again this is aimed at new writers more than the rest of us, is that good work will always rise to the top of the slush pile.

What's that word?
While mostly true, it isn’t the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Sometimes the best manuscripts don’t have a chance because editors develop stables, whether consciously or unconsciously.

The more time I spend on the editorial side of the desk, the more I appreciate writers who deliver manuscripts on time and on subject, and the more I appreciate writers who respond promptly and professionally.

If I’m assigning work or if I’m editing an invitation-only project, there are a handful of writers who will always be at the top of my list. These writers have proven themselves time and again. Not only will they deliver what I need when I need it, they are also sufficiently self-aware of their skill and their commitments to decline opportunities outside their comfort zone or which conflict with other projects.

When I’m editing an open-call anthology, I want to discover new writers, so I try not to rely on my unofficial stable. Everything else being equal, though, there’s less risk selecting work by writers with whom I have developed strong working relationships than selecting work by writers with whom I’ve never worked. So, new writers must be just a little bit better, a little bit more imaginative, and a little bit more professional than the writers with whom I’m already familiar. New writers must give me a reason to want to work with them.

OK, LET’S BE HONEST. IT ISN’T YOU, IT’S ME

I know what I want, and the editor side of me puts the writer side of me at the top of the list of writers in my unofficial stable. But the editor side of me is a heartless bastard. I’ve twice rejected my own work for open-call anthologies because it wasn’t as good as what I found in the slush piles.

The bottle was full when I started.
The writer side of me has some choice words to say about the editor side of me, and this is the perfect forum to tell everyone what a tasteless, good-for-nothing, S.O.—

Wait. What? Did I just trash an editor in a public forum?

I guess I’ll never work with me again.

And that’s a fiction none of us can believe.

During the first half of my writing career, I wrote a great deal of erotic fiction—erotic crime fiction, erotic science fiction, erotic horror, and regular erotica—and recently some of those stories have resurfaced as audiobooks. Andrews UK/House of Erotica has released 14 of them since late 2018 and several more are in the pipeline for 2019. I won’t list titles, but if you’re interested, they aren’t difficult to find.

11 March 2019

Dark Destiny


By Steve Hockensmith

I love movies, but I don't bother watching them in movie theaters much anymore. Who wants to shell out 10 bucks to see something you may or may not like while sitting beside people who may or may not get a call from their bestie in the middle of the big twist...and you can't even pause the damn thing when you've gotta go to the bathroom?

But there is a series I'm willing to risk rude row-mates and a busted bladder for: the Marvel movies. I've seen every one in a theater from Iron Man on. Some were weaker than others (hello, Iron Man 2!) but even the less-than-stellar outings were worth a trip to the cineplex.

So you might assume I've spent the past month giddy with anticipation. The newest entry in the series, Captain Marvel, opened this weekend, and surely it's going to be the most marvel-ous Marvel movie of them all. I mean, hey -- it's got "Marvel" right there in the title, right?

Instead I've waffled on whether I'd see it at all. In the theater, I mean. It'll probably be streaming by August, so why not wait till I can watch it with a cold beer in one hand and a remote control (and its pause button) in the other?

Part of the problem: I have zero connection to the Marvel Captain Marvel. (I'm kinda fond of DC's Big Red Cheese.) Marvel's Marvel may as well be The Astounding Generic-Gal as far as I know. Then again I had zero connection to the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, too, and I happily stood in line for (and enjoyed) their movies. So a lack of familiarity shouldn't stop me.

But there's an addendum to the problem: the trailers. The ones I saw really did look like they were advertising The Astounding Generic-Gal: The Motion Picture. I'm not sure if it was truly an outgrowth of the film or a symptom of incipient Marvel movie burnout, but they gave me a strong case of the Been-There-Done-Thats.

I get the same feeling sometimes when I browse the shelves at a book store or library. I understand why the marketing department wants your new thriller to have one of those titles that's designed to sound like a million others -- Dark DestinyDon't Look Back, Adjective Noun, Punchy Ominous Directive -- but, wow, it can feel cookie cutter.

I know that's nothing new, of course. Back in the day, every other mystery novel seems to have been called The Fill-in-the-Blank Murder Case, which is even more rote and unimaginative than Hushed Fear: A Thriller. (Aside: I know Hushed Fear is actually pretty bad, but every time I tried coming up with a decent generic Adjective Noun title I'd go to Amazon and see that seven authors had already used it.) Still, I don't think "But S.S. Van Dine did it!" is a good defense for naming your book The Mysterious Murder Murder Case or whatever.

The other day I got an email from a reader asking me to rank my own books from best to worst, and being (A) an egomaniac and (B) a masochist (both of which probably go without saying since I'm a writer) I obliged him. I won't bore you with the resulting list, but the gist I'll subject you to: The top was a mix from my "Holmes on the Range" and "White Magic Five & Dime" series, and the bottom was dominated by projects I'd taken on to appeal to specific organizational entities and, in the process, pay bills. (Yes, I'm being vague.) Put another way, at the top were the most Steve Hockensmith-y books, and at the bottom were the least.

Which makes sense, since "Steve Hockensmith" is a brand I enjoy, for the most part. (I wish it had straighter teeth and weighed five pounds less.) But it goes beyond that. I'm proud of my stuff that feels the most unique, but I also sincerely believe it's my best stuff. Writing to please myself, not to fit a particular niche or market, resulted in the highest quality. And, I'll add, more reader loyalty. Nobody -- and I mean nobody -- writes to ask me what's up with Project X: The Series That Shall Not Be Named. But I hear from readers eager for more "Holmes on the Range" and "White Magic Five & Dime" sequels all the time.

A few months ago, I was wrestling here with what my next writing project should be. I finally made up my mind...and now I'm changing it again. I spent some time working up a title and plot and pitch designed to appeal to a specific market, and the end result was probably sell-able and most definitely dull. Dull dull dull. It was going to be my version of Dark Destiny or Hushed Fear. There'd be no me in it, which would make writing it a chore and the end result forgettable.

Now that would be a dark destiny. Fortunately, it's one I've learned enough to avoid...even if it does mean going back to the ol' drawing board....

Postscript: I just bought tickets for myself and my 15-year-old son for a Captain Marvel matinee. The reviews have been pretty good, and I don't like the incel fanboy pushback against the film. Will my bladder take a beating? Absolutely. Will the people around us annoy me? Probably. Will the movie feel fresh and original enough to make those first two factors worth tolerating? Stay tuned.

10 March 2019

Canadian police are very good at NOT shooting people:
A Conversation with Darren Laur


by Mary Fernando

Like the rest of the world, I watched the events that unfolded in Toronto in April of 2018.

“There has been worldwide amazement that Toronto Police did not shoot the suspect in Monday’s vehicular attack.

He had left a street strewn with bodies and was wielding an object that he claimed was a firearm. Nevertheless, Const. Ken Lam not only arrested him without using lethal force, but did it without waiting for backup.

Seven months ago, when a 30-year-old man perpetrated a similar vehicular attack in downtown Edmonton — which injured four, in addition to the stabbing of a police officer — he too was apprehended without a single shot being fired.

Both events speak to a pattern: Canadian police are very good at not shooting people.

“Policing in Canada is not policing in America … the police in Canada use force with incredible infrequency,” said Joel Johnston, a veteran Vancouver Police officer and former use-of-force co-ordinator for the province of British Columbia.

The statistics back this up: The rate of police shooting in Canada is 11 times lower than in the U.S.

Another account of the incident in Toronto of April 2018:  “From the video, it appears the suspect was yelling for the police officer to shoot him. He dropped his arm to his side and brought it back up again as if pointing a weapon at the police officer. Again, it was not a typical shooting stance. This officer clearly had de-escalation in mind. He recognized his car siren was on and went back to turn it off. This shows that he did not have tunnel vision or hearing. With the siren off, clearer communications were possible.

With a good visual of the subject, the actions of the suspect, his calls to be shot and the artificial manner in which he was standing and threatening, the police officer clearly made a decision that the use of deadly force, while authorized, was not immediately needed.”



This story fascinated me and brought up a lot of questions. Why are Canadian police so good at not shooting people? So, when I was interviewing Darren Laur, a 30 year veteran of the Victoria police force, I asked him why Canadian police are so good at not shooting people. 


His answer surprised me: “My best weapon is tongue-fu”

“If I can get them to talk, in most cases I can get them to walk,” says Darren. “Unfortunately in some rare cases officers may have to resort to using deadly force to protect themselves and/or other form death or grievous bodily injury. However, what makes Canadian policing stand out is our humanistic approach. I spent most of my career in the downtown city core of Victoria where I built rapport so I could de-escalate situations.”

Instead of looking at the rougher inhabitants of the street as potential problems, he always saw them as people. Darren explains, “I have never met a drug addict who said ‘I want to be a drug addict for the rest of my life.’  They all got there somehow and I like to get to know them.”

This is the core of the humanistic approach: everyone was once young and full of dreams. They got to where they are by taking a path they hadn’t envisioned.


There are a few interesting facts about the Canadian police that also help explain some differences from the police force in the United Staes. First, the “biggest difference between American and Canadian police is that Canadian police enact the single Canadian federal criminal code, whereas in the United States different states have their own criminal code, which in some cases differs from the American federal criminal code. In Canada the enforcement of the federal criminal code is the same throughout all provinces and territories. Therefore police training, police practices, and investigative policies are standardized regardless of a police officer’s location in the country.”

Finally, police in Canada are public servants and “Americans are used to hearing about a "police force" being called out to deal with an emergency, catch a robber or track a suspect. Canadians, however, are protected by a "police service."


Perhaps the best summary of what happened was the now famous tweet by Inspector Chris Boddy of the Toronto Police:

09 March 2019

A Parade of Poirots


I read today that Albert Finney died (7 Feb 2019; yes, I wrote this a month ago). Finney was a brilliant actor. I won't list his credits (it's a long list); suffice to say that the first movie I ever saw him in was the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express. This was also my introduction to Agatha Christie (and movies directed by Sydney Lumet, which could be another whole article itself).

Anyway, I was a child, it was a winter's night, and my parents decided on a night out: Dinner in the city, and then a few blocks walk in the rain to one of the many cinemas that used to line Queen Street; the main street in Auckland City, NZ (think Regent Street, or Broadway).

Finney played Hercule Poirot; Agatha Christie's master Belgian detective (a character who appeared in 33 of her novels, 50 short stories, and one play). Poirot is her most famous character, and Murder on the Orient Express (1934) is probably her most famous book.

Albert Finney
I was hooked. The movie, Poirot & Christie, were my gateway drug into mystery fiction, i.e., proper adult crime mysteries, and away from the watered-down child readers I had been privy to up until that point. You know what I mean: Jimmy and Johnny, and their dog, go in search of a missing pocket watch, or plate of muffins. No, nice and juicy murders were now on my immediate horizon. And I hoovered up all the mysteries on my parent's bookshelf: Christie, Earle Stanley Gardner, Ngaio Marsh, and many others.

Two years later (1976), Death on the Nile came to the movie theaters. Poirot was back on the screen, and I took a train into the city to go catch a Saturday matinee. Poirot, this time, was played by Peter Ustinov, who couldn't have been more different in his portrayal of the character to that of Albert Finney than a buffalo impersonating a bicycle.

Actors interpret their role and bring their own uniqueness to it, which is fine, and it's the way it should be. But, as much as I like Peter Ustinov's movies, I always feel he was mostly interpreting himself.

Peter Ustinov
Fast forward to the 1990s, and a third Poirot entered my frame; the small frame, this time. Every Tuesday night at 8:30, David Suchet appeared on the TV in the role of Hercule Poirot. By sheer weight of volume (the Poirot TV series ran from 1989 until 2013, and adapted almost all of the short stories and novels), Suchet became the definitive Poirot in my mind, and those of many others. It helped, also, that he's a superb actor (and meticulous in his method).

Actors interpret, and they can research.

Many have argued that, of all the actors who've taken on the role, Suchet's interpretation of Poirot is the closest to what's on the page in the books: the appearance, the mannerisms, the attention to detail.  So, having read a large chunk of the books for myself, he always felt right when watching him.

Part of the Poirot TV series included a feature-length adaption of Murder on the Orient Express (2010). I thought it was excellent; as good as the 1974 adaption. I think the murder scene was better staged, too. It had more bite. It felt vicious (and rightly so).

David Suchet
I've not seen the 2017 movie adaption of Murder on the Orient Express staring (and directed by) Sir Kenneth Branagh. I was put off by the mustache. Poirot is fussy, persnickety, refined, monumentally anal. His mustache should reflect that. Branagh's choice of mustache makes him look ridiculous; a Colonel Blimp, or a pantomime villain. Seriously, the only thing an actor could do with that mustache is twirl the ends of it and cackle.

Kenneth Branagh (he's just tied someone to the railroad track)
Actor interpretation. Yeah. Whatever.

I hear that Branagh is next going to tackle Death on the Nile (which is probably Christie's second most famous book). I'll pass. David Suchet did a version of that in 2004, and it worked fine for me.

Finney, Ustinov, Suchet, and Branagh are not the only actors to have portrayed Hercule Poirot on film, TV, or in audio adaptations. Wikipedia lists 24 other actors (everyone from Tony Randall, to Charles Laughton, to Orson Welles), the latest being John Malkovich, who appears in the 2018 three-part adaption (Amazon Prime) of the ABC Murders (one of my favorite Christie books). Malkovich sports not just a mustache, but a full, gray circle beard. AND a bald head. I've not seen the miniseries, but the trailer is intriguing, and Malkovich's take on a Belgium accent is interesting. I will definitely make a point to watch this one.

John Malkovich
I can report that the Wikipedia list is missing a name: Hugh Fraser. Yes, the actor played Poirot's sidekick Arthur Hastings in the long running TV series, but he has also recorded audio book versions of many of the Poirot novels, in which he has voiced both himself, well, Hastings... and Poirot. And since I've wandered down a trail of trivia, I can also report that Fraser has lately become a writer of mystery novels. I hear he's good.

Hercule Poirot has been portrayed by Englishmen, Irishmen, Americans, a Russian, a Puerto Rican, and two men from Japan (and even his sidekick). I'm not aware that he has ever, in fact, been played by an actor from Belgium. Funny that.

So, who is your favorite Poirot?



www.StephenRoss.net

08 March 2019

My Dinner With Lawrence Tierney - Part 1


Lawrence Tierney's break-out role
There's an irresistible draw to crime fiction authors whose lives resemble the dark, edgy characters they've created. The extra thrill of reading the likes of Chester Himes, Iceberg Slim and Edward Bunker is that some of the blood spilled in their books may have coursed through real veins.

I met Edward Bunker at a 2000 signing of his autobiography Education of a Felon. It's a harrowing, exciting read that covers his criminal career, his 18 years of incarceration, and his redemptive plunge into writing. Like his fiction, it's not for the squeamish.

Edward Bunker
I grew up in the same part of Northeast Los Angeles that Bunker had decades earlier, walked the same off-limits train trestle, and we talked about the neighborhood. At one point I asked him an innocent question that he took exception to. Bunker looked at me in a way that made me understand why he'd once been declared criminally insane. Spooky.

With Bunker's literary fame came the occasional acting gig, and he landed the role of ill-fated Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs (1992)Bunker wasn't the only ex-con in front of the camera in that film. Playing crime family patriarch Joe Cabot was Lawrence Tierney, an actor whose legendary–and violent– collisions with law enforcement mirrored the bad guys he played on the big screen.  Quentin Tarantino gave Lawrence Tierney a fitting bookend to his career with Reservoir. It seems even more fitting that Tierney punched Tarantino for his efforts and got himself fired off the film.

Probably the most famous example of Lawrence Tierney's bad boy shenanigans is the Seinfeld knife incident. In the season two episode "The Jacket," Tierney plays Elaine's dad, a tough, imposing vet who is also a successful novelist that Jerry and George admire. It's hilarious. Tierney delivers, intimidating the daylights out of Jerry and George yet believable as an intelligent writer. It's a rare comedic turn for Tierney, and he pulls it off.
Elaine-benes-3707.jpg
Not a Lawrence Tierney fan

Sometime during shooting, Tierney apparently stole a butcher knife from the set of Jerry's apartment. "Hey Lawrence, what do you got there in your jacket?" Seinfeld asked him. Seeing he was busted, Tierney tried to play it off as a joke and started waving the knife around.  What was supposed to be a recurring character for Tierney on one of TV's all-time sitcoms turned into a one-off right there on the spot. "I'll tell you something about Lawrence Tierney," Julia Louis-Dreyfus said. "He was a total nut job."  It was typical Tierney, snatching defeat from the jaws of success. Crazy as the knife incident sounds, it wasn't close to the violence that marred Tierney's early career.

Lawrence Tierney was just another RKO contract player when the studio loaned him out to Monogram to play the eponymous bank-job king in Dillinger (1945). It didn't matter that Dillinger played fast and loose with the facts. What mattered was how Tierney embodied low-budget noir bad-assery. Dillinger was a hit. Crime flicks followed, including Robert Wise's Born to Kill (1947), and the cult-classic The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947). I don't remember the first time I saw The Devil Thumbs a Ride or why it made such a big impression on me, but it did.

The Devil Thumbs a ride DVD cover.jpgDogging Tierney's legit shot at stardom was a growing rap sheet for booze fueled fights and assaults. Here are some headlines he generated: "Actor Taken Away in Straight Jacket." "Actor Tierney Must Sleep on Jail Floor." "Tierney Goes to Jail Again." Tierney brawled up and down the Sunset Strip, dusting it up at the legendary Mocambo, and at the home of original Hollywood Hellfire Club member John Decker. When in Hollywood, or New York, or Paris, or anywhere he went, Tierney got drunk, violent and incarcerated.

It's tough to call Tierney a bully, because he got into too many fights with those who stood a reasonable chance of kicking his ass. In 1953 he duked it out with a professional welterweight on the corner of Broadway and 53rd Street. Back in New York in 1958, Tierney was arrested for brawling with cops outside a Manhattan bar.

One of Tierney's prime targets was often the police. I can only imagine what the police would do to you in those days, in the back of a police car or in a lonely holding cell, after they'd arrested you for trying to beat them up. Tierney's career did a slow fade in the1950s, and his comeback didn't happen until he found work on the small screen in the '80s. A turn as Ryan O'Neal's dad in Norman Mailer's Tough Guys Don't Dance (1987) didn't hurt. Since were talking fighting and film, Mailer can be seen in a disturbing real-life fight with actor Rip Torn in Mailer's Maidstone (1970).

In an earlier blog (guesting for Paul D. Marks - thanks again Paul!) I wrote about my day job as a film and TV editor and how those skills helped me with my novel Fast Bang Booze. In 1991 I hadn't cut anything but a short film or two. My first screenwriting credit, a martial arts flick, was four years away. Published crime fiction was still a Hail Mary pass that wouldn't be caught for years. Times were lean. AM PM was fine dining.

That year I often assisted filmmaker Steve Barkett, an actor/writer/director who was tying-up loose ends on his self-produced horror film Empire of the Dark. Steve has a genuine love of film history (I consulted with him before writing this piece, and he remains a fount of celluloid knowledge), and we'd sometimes discuss our favorite eras of movies. Obscure poverty-row film noir was a passion of mine. I loved films like Detour (starring Tom Neal, whose own off-screen violence lead to a murder rap), and Tierney's The Devil Thumbs a Ride. Back in '91 when Steve asked me if I'd like to join him and Lawrence Tierney for dinner, I almost hit the roof.

I met Steve at his place in Tarzana, the San Fernando Valley neighborhood once owned by pulp icon Edgar Rice Burroughs. "I don't want to scare you," Steve said as we drove to Hamburger Hamlet. "Lawrence can be a little weird. Sometimes he likes to mess with people." Steve said that when he first befriended Tierney at the previous years' CineCon, held at Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel, Tierney was on probation and was living at a halfway house. "He shot up his nephew's apartment," Steve explained.

Hamburger Hamlet was bustling. I brought one of my favorite books, The Devil Thumbs a Ride and Other Unforgettable Movies by Barry Gifford, hoping Tierney would sign it. The cover depicts a prototypical 1940s dashing Tierney-esque tough guy, driving at night. Next to him sits a prototypical noir blonde, dropping a flask of booze as she looks frantically over her shoulder. And no wonder, for they're being pursued by the devil himself.

"Larry, you found us," Steve said, rising to his feet.  "Sit down. You don't have to get up for me," Lawrence Tierney said in a gravelly voice. Tierney was a big guy, his face fixed in a scowl. He was wearing a t-shirt, and I couldn't help but notice he was using a thin piece of rope for a belt.

Steve introduced me as another Lawrence, and Tierney and I shook hands. Tierney had a strong grip and I could tell he was sizing me up. I had a few inches on him and age was definitely on my side, but you never know. Tierney saw the book I'd brought and launched into a discussion about the making of Thumbs a Ride (not a great experience according to Tierney), and about the merits and shortcomings of some of the directors he'd worked with. He was charming, holding court. Out of nowhere he recited random lines of poetry. I wish I recalled what they were.

When the waitress arrived to take our drink orders, Tierney did not order alcohol, but opted for a soda. Steve looked relieved. I was tempted to get one of the Hamlet's renowned Schooners of Ale,  but Steve and I both followed Tierney's example. Tierney flirted with the waitress, asking her questions in pretty good French. I don't think she spoke French and she was getting irritated. Tierney was keeping her at the table longer than she appeared to appreciate. "Okay Larry," Steve said. "I think she needs to go do her job now."

Tierney laughed good-naturedly as the waitress walked away. I felt since booze wasn't going to be a factor, there was nothing to worry about. I'd get to hang out with a screen legend and learn about an industry I was just breaking into. Then Tierney threw a punch at me.

Stay tuned for Part 2, dropping March 29. Only here at Sleuthsayers.org. You can also visit me on twitter, Lawrence Maddox @Madxbooks.



07 March 2019

Some All-Time Great Crime Fiction Twists


by Brian Thornton

I recently read an article at Crime Reads with the provocative title: "The Art of the Twist Ending: 15 of the Greatest 'Twist' Endings Ever Written", by British poet and crime fiction writer Sophie Hannah.

I commented on this article in a recent call to friends to come up with a better, more comprehensive list:

"Her list is incredibly disappointing. Had she entitled it '15 of the Greatest Twists Ever Written in Domestic Thrillers and Literary Novels With Unreliable Narrators,' I feel like her list would have been more complete."

I wouldn't have even minded so much if she had made it, "15 of my FAVORITE novels with twist endings," because, as I said, this list is HIGHLY subjective.

I found her list doubly disappointing once I put it together that Ms. Hannah is the author selected by the estate of Agatha Christie to continue the Hercule Poirot series of novels (and not ONE of Christie's novels made her list. Not. ONE.), but it DOES mention The Woman in the Wind by the now-seeming colossal fraud A.J. Finn (Google it if you don't know what I'm talking about).

So I decided to make up my own list and use it as my next rotation post here at the Sleuthsayers blog.  But these wouldn't be my choices (well, not solely). I crowdsourced the question to my friends on Facebook.

The resulting list of titles is below. And while it's more comprehensive than Ms. Hannah's, it is by no means definitive. Also, I can't vouch for all of these titles, as I haven't (YET) read several of them.

That said, I trust the tastes of the friends who suggested this list. and so I offer them as fodder for those of you who love a good literary twist, and might be in the market for something to read.

Only one of Ms. Hannah's choices (Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca) would come close to cracking my personal list, with another two (Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl and Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island) qualifying based on being mentioned by the aforementioned friends whose collective taste I so trust.

So here they are, in no particular order: 

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The Cartel by Don Winslow

Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow

Cutter and Bone by Newton Thornburg

The Yellow Room by Mary Rhinehart

The Chill by Ross MacDonald

The Pick-Up by Charles Willeford

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Defending Jacob by William Landay

The Beast in View by Margaret Millar

The Ax by Donald Westlake

The Dramatist by Ken Bruen

And You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

In the Best Families by Rex Stout

The Servant's Tale by Margaret Frazer

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Killing Time by Donald E. Westlake

The Poet by Michael Connelly

A Family Affair by Rex Stout

A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett

Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham

The Collector by John Fowles

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

Jack's Return Home (Better known as Get Carter) by Ted Lewis

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

And of course no such list would be complete without this suggestion by our own Rob Lopresti. The hilariously titled Bimbos of the Death Sun, by Sharyn McCrumb!









A Heartfelt Thanks (Also in No Particular Order) To Our Contributors: 

James W. Ziskin

Paula Munier

Leslie Budewitz

David Corbett

J. D. Rhoades

Richie Narvaez

Jim Thomsen

Sam Wiebe

Scotti Andrews

Travis Richardson

Catriona MacPherson

Robert Lopresti

Eve Fisher

Kat Richardson

Simon Wood

Donna Moore

Nickolas Furr

Lita Weissman

Fleur Bradley

Steve Hockensmith

Karin Montin

***************

So many books, so little time! Hope you found some new titles to interest you! Thanks for reading, and see you in two weeks!

06 March 2019

A Textbook Case: Advice For Fiction Writers


Courtesy Western Libraries
You can call this my good deed for the day, or an act of flagrant narcissism.  Possibly it is both.

A while back a friend asked if I had ever written any tips on writing short stories and I had to answer yes and no.  Or rather, no and yes.  I had never written any formal advice on that subject but in ten years of blogging I had covered a lot of related topics.

So here is my informal textbook, selected from several different blogs.  It leans heavily toward mystery fiction, naturally, and some of it is about novels rather than short stories.  But hey, you can't beat the price.  New pieces from 2019 appear in red.  New in 2020 are in blue. New in 2021 are in orange.

 I hope some of you find it useful.  Enjoy.



CHAPTER 1: THE WRITER'S MIND

How It Works.  Creativity requires two parts of your brain.

How to Make It Work.  Getting the parts of your brain to cooperate.

From The Shiny New Desk.  Applying the thoughts above to some advice from Ken Rand.

The Four Seasons.  An author's mental year.


CHAPTER  2: THE WRITING HABIT

Dominating the Submission.  Five tips for people about to submit stories for the first time.

A Page A Day. Finding time to write.

Working Vacation.  Time off gives you a chance to think about your work habits.

Have Suitcase, Will Plot.  More about writing on the road.


CHAPTER 3: INSPIRATION

Time to Accessorize. Five sources for story ideas.

The Devil You Don't Know.  An exercise to develop story ideas.

Missed Connections. Getting (or not) story ideas.

Seventeen Minutes.  Do something with that idea!

Light Bulbs, A Dime A Dozen.  A great idea is not enough.

Gutter Dwellers and Chair Thieves.  When is plagiarism legitimate?


CHAPTER 4: PLOTTING

The Hole Truth. Creating conflict.

Telling Fiction From Fact. Stories based on true events.

Two Plots, No Waiting. A complicated entwined plot.

The Rising Island Method.  Writing a long story out of order.

Unlikely Story.  The power of foreshadowing. 

Unreal Estate.  Should you use a real place as a setting or fictionalize it?



CHAPTER 5: PLOT PROBLEMS

New Choice! Avoiding plot cliches.

Get Off The Premises.  An unbelievable premise can kill your story.

Time Warp.  What year do you think you are writing about?

http://criminalbrief.com/?p=1061Refrigerator Questions.  Which plot problems don't need fixing?

Enter the Villain.  One way to ruin a mystery novel.

It's so Crazy it Might Just... be Crazy.  How to deal with an unlikely plot element.

How to Kill Your Story.  Some easy problems to solve.


CHAPTER 6: STYLE

Suddenly I Got A Buzz.  Words to avoid.

There's Only One Rule. How experimental or mainstream should you be?

See If I Care.  How do you make the reader care what happens?

Good Cop Story, Bad Cop Story.  The old rule: show, don't tell.

Would You Rather Be Framed or Flashed?  Structural devices.

Salute To The Unknown Narrator.  A method of creating suspense.

Filling In The Landscape.  Use a real place, make one up, or compromise?

The Pain of Others.  Great stories tend to have at least one of these three characteristics.  (I have since added a fourth.)


CHAPTER  7: CHARACTERS

The Motive Motif.  About characters and their motivation.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Want Something.  Every character needs a motive.

The First Two Pages: The Chair Thief.  Using dialog to establish personality.

Naming the Detectives.  Selecting names for your characters.

Backtalk.  Taking advice from your characters.

Necessary Evils.  Turn a plot necessity into a great character.

Who Do You Trust?  Unreliable narrators.

Who is Guarding Your Threshold? Reaching back to the classics for a character type.

The Man Who Almost Wasn't There.  Matching a protagonist to your plot.

CHAPTER 8: TITLES

Insert Clever Title Here.  How to choose one.

Title Fight.  Examples of great titles and what makes them so.

Beat Cop.  A long title should scan.


CHAPTER 9: BEGINNINGS, ENDINGS

Opening Bottles and Books. The purpose of opening lines.

The First Two Pages: Greenfellas.  Introducing many characters early. (PDF)

With A Twist.  The power of twist endings.

By Way of No Explanation.  How much explanation does a twist ending need?

Right Way To Do The Wrong Thing.  Good and bad endings.

CHAPTER 10: SERIES

The Story I Said I Would Never Write.  About writing a sequel to a (supposed) standalone.

But I've Told You This Before.  How to deal with backstory in a series.

I Need A Scorecard.  Keeping track of series characters.

A Plea For Unity.  In what ways do a series of stories need unity?


CHAPTER 11: EDITING

Get Me Rewrite! The joys and pains of editing.

Flunking the Oral Exam.  Why you should read your work out loud.

Send Me In, Coach!  Working with a first reader.

The Joy of Rewriting.  No, Revision.  No...  How to polish your work without killing it.

Last Rites.  The final edit.



CHAPTER 12: IF YOU CAN MEET WITH TRIUMPH AND DISASTER...

Ten Things I Learned Writing Short Stories:  Nine, actually.  See below.

The Last Lesson: Comparing Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines

 An Hour In Purgatory.  It can't be said too often.  It can't be said too often.

 Lost Weekend. The inevitable.

Beautiful Day.  The preferable.

Smile!  Your Story Has Been Rejected.  Ten doses of lemonade.

05 March 2019

Who needs oysters? Pumpkin pie will get your libido pumping!


I have a secret. ... I spend too much time on the Internet.
Okay, fine. Anyone who's my Facebook friend already knows that about me. But since admitting the problem is the first step to conquering the problem ...

Wait a minute. Who says spending a lot of time on the Internet is a problem? If I hadn't done that, I might not have read some articles that helped me write "Bug Appetit," which is my short story that became my first sale to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and is a current finalist for the Agatha Award. It's not like you just inherently know that pumpkin pie is an aphrodisiac. No, sir. I had to read an article in the New York Daily News about it and then remember that great tidbit when the right time came.

What, you say? Pumpkin pie? An aphrodisiac? Tell me more.

Okay.

According to the Daily News, researchers say the sweet, spicy scent of pumpkin pie increases men's sexual desire. And cooking the pie with pumpkin seeds can be even more useful for getting your man in the mood. The seeds are full of zinc, which increases testosterone and thus also increases desire.

Another helpful article on the Internet says that the smell of pumpkin pie can increase blood flow to the penis by forty percent. Thank you, https://science.howstuffworks.com. Pumpkin pie can influence women's arousal too, though blood-flow numbers weren't offered.

This all may explain why you know a lot of folks born at the end of August. Yep, they're likely Thanksgiving babies, thanks (pun intended) to the pumpkin pie served as holiday dessert. 

So if you want to entice your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend or even someone you met the prior night at a speed-dating event (this idea is from my story--not my real life--honest), bake some pumpkin pie with the seeds in it. You could end up having a story-worthy tale, if you're the kind to kiss and tell.

How does this play out in "Bug Appetit"? You can read it yourself to find out. The story's right here online for your reading pleasure. The folks at Ellery Queen called it "twisty, humorous, and creepy." What more could you want?

And don't worry if you're spending too much time on the Internet. My experience is that it can really pay off. Happy reading!

04 March 2019

Support Your Starving Writer


Friday morning, I came to my PC intending to put the final touches on a blog post, but I checked my email first.
A reader who lives in my home town apologized for not attending an event featuring me at a local bookstore and said he'd ordered the first three Zach Barnes books on Kindle. He especially liked figuring out where Barnes had his office (he was right, by the way) and plans to read more of my books. He hopes he can attend a writing workshop I'm conducting in April, too.

As it happens, I ended up not attending the author event for reasons I discussed a few weeks ago. One of the other writers cancelled for the same reasons. But a stranger liked my books enough to buy more of them and tell me about it.

Over the last two weeks, I've had three rejections for various stories, been fighting a cold that seems to last forever and made me stay away from several open mic gigs, and replaced a computer that went down for the Big One.

Someone saying they really liked me made my entire day, and I replied within minutes.

If you're selling hundreds of copies a week, maybe this doesn't mean much to you. But my royalties in a given month won't feed Ernie, our Maine coon, so this was a great boost. Of course I replied to the man. I told him he'd correctly identified Zach Barnes's office site and that I'll make a point of bringing copies of the more recent books to the April workshop.

People talk about supporting their favorite writers, but...I have dozens of former theater friends, many of whom who read, and I know exactly one who has reviewed one of my books. Another gave me technical advice for a novel and a short story, but I'm pretty sure he hasn't read the free copies of either one that I gave him when they appeared. A woman I know bought two of my books at an event last May and hasn't opened either one yet.

Really, people. I know a lot of the reviews on Amazon are bogus. I also know Amazon is trying to crack down on the problem, often throwing out the baby with the bathwater. But give a try, OK?

What else can you do? Well, if you read a book and like it, maybe tell your local library and ask if they will order other books by that author (I offer a discount to libraries in my area, and maybe other authors do, too). Tell your friends about the book. Show it to them. Show them anything else you have, which, in my case, means bookmarks.

Go to the author's website and leave a message saying you liked the book. Like his or her Facebook page. Look for events in your area. Comment on them.

Does it help sales? It certainly doesn't hurt them. And it means a lot.

It's almost as good as the former student who came back to visit me after her freshman year of college and said, "I always thought you were a pain in the butt, but I had a four-point-oh in English this year. Thank you."

Little things keep us going.

03 March 2019

The President is What?


by Leigh Lundin

Patterson, Clinton: The President is Missing
Political Stew

A Patterson–Clinton recipe, serves 300-million or so:
  • Mix equal portions of John McCain and Bill Clinton.
  • Fold in dabs of George Bush senior and Barak Obama.
  • Season with Eugene McCarthy and Adlai Stevenson.
  • Add generous dollop of Ike Eisenhower.
  • Minority-whip thoroughly.
  • Press Club roast at 451°.
  • Serve dry, very dry.
Such is the pivotal mash-up in the James Patterson / Bill Clinton concoction titled The President is Missing. Some authors, myself definitely included, craft composite characters, a mix of real people we’ve encountered. President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan seems like someone we almost know. He’s reasonably fleshed out with both personal and poly-political problems.

Those problems translate into dimensions, giving a real feel to the president. Interestingly though, he isn’t the most compelling character in this thriller. That rĂ´le belongs to an assassin.

Sharon Freeman Rugg
My friend Sharon, teacher, editor, writer, selected the hardback edition for my Christmas gift, one I failed to collect until a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t my fault: at well over 500 pages, the thriller seriously weighed down the sleigh.
Kill Me Softly

I have zero patience with those romance novels where the heroine falls in love with a hired killer, a gentle guy at heart, a sensitive mind misunderstood by the world. Hello, lady! He freaking kills people.

That said, Patterson and Clinton did a credible job sketching a dimensional hired gun. In sticking with standard entertainment memes, said psychopath loves classical music, a coded message to normal folks that only bad people listen to great music. However, this writing duo crafted that tired trope in a different, fresh way, using classical music as a balm to soothe the troubled soul.

Suspension Bridge

Early on, the book bids the reader to suspend disbelief in major ways. While a president may not be an action hero, he is human, and the book successfully conveys that.

At first it was difficult to imagine even an ordinary person obtaining private access to a president. Hell, let a dopey candidate win a seat on the town council and suddenly they’re elevated far beyond the reach of the average voter. The authors eventually piece together a more-or-less coherent scenario where a hirsute dude with a gun, no less, can sit with the president. I bought in with reservations.

Traditionally, Patterson employs utilitarian prose, concise, unaffected writing smoothly machined not to distract the reader from the action. Yet one little paragraph caught my attention, a magical musing about a witch in the woods. True, it stopped my reading in its tracks, but it was worth the diversion.

Bridging the Aisle

As for politics, I remain an independent. I freely lambaste parties and politicians according to a view not beholden to any particular sect. (Hey, if one party gives me more to criticize, it’s not my fault!) It’s not possible to read the book without a consciousness of the presidential half of the writing team.

Fears about martial law and seizure of power have troubled Washington waters since at least Nixon. The story turns a bit chilling when these issues arise, albeit in the context of combatting terrorism. You begin to realize it could happen with little effort at all.

Killer App

As for the cyber-terror themes, a background in computer fraud means I can’t help but weigh in with multiple grades or a report card:
  1. A+   Our dependency upon the internet and connectivity the book got spot on. Good job.
  2. C+   As for plausible technical aspects and solution, I generously award a barely-there C+. The piles of hundreds of laptops destroyed by a virus is goofy to the knowledgeable: Simply reformat, reload, and go, little buddy. A program that activates when an attempt is made to delete it suggests some other piece of software is monitoring and has to be killed. It might be kinda, sorta possible to craft a program to disguise active files, but indeed tricky.
  3. C-   The authors don’t treat American computer gurus favorably, although worldwide, American super-programmers are still regarded the best. While the rest of the world is catching up, thanks to US training programs, but I can’t name any one nation superior to our own. Part of the reason is raw talent. Just like music, chess, or any skilled endeavor, designing complex software takes a peculiar brain. Throwing bodies at a problem won’t solve it.
  4. D+   In the discussion of state hackers, the novel places Russia at the top of the list. In the minds of computing professionals, there’s never been doubt Russia manipulated our recent elections. It’s also true that former Soviet satellite states have turned their attention to controlling social sites and pumping out fake news. My concern focuses on North Korea with Chinese support, already raking in millions from ramsomware. We buy a lot of product from China and have no clue what’s embedded in it.

Raucous Caucus

Technical quibbles shouldn’t detract from enjoyment of a story. Frankly, Patterson and Clinton got more right than the average writer.

Overall, the novel successfully entertains, the goal its authors set for it. The President is Missing might even contend for one of Patterson’s best books.

If you’ve read it, what’s your vote? And if you haven’t, give it a try.

02 March 2019

Good Directions


I love movies. All kinds, all genres, short or long, old or new, serious or funny, at home or in a theater. Since I don't much like reality shows or anything else on network television these days, most of what I watch are movies and bingeable TV series via Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. And I own a boatload of DVDs, so if I can't find something else I'll watch one of those again. And again.

I have also decided that there's a definite way to verify your status as a film fanatic. You know you're a hopeless movie addict if and when you choose to watch (or avoid) a movie depending on who directed it. When you start picking movies based on directors' names the same way you would pick novels or short stories based on authors' names . . . well, you're probably ready to check into the Harrison Ford Clinic.

One thing that impresses me about directors (I feel the same way about composers of music)--is that it's a job I admire and respect but would never have the talent to do, myself. I understand how authors do their work, and I can at least make a good try at that--but succesfully directing a film? My hat's off to those who can do it and do it well. I'm even one of those nerds who pay as much attention, during the Oscar telecast, to the Best Director category as I do to the others. Heaven help me.

The following is a list that seems to change from time to time, and it'd be hard to rank them because their movies are so different, but here are my 25 (probably) favorite film directors, living and deceased:


Robert Zemeckis --
Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Flight, Contact, Cast Away, Beowulf, Romancing the Stone

Steven Spielberg --
E.T., Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Duel, Lincoln, Schindler's List, Munich, Amistad, Jurassic Park

The Coen Brothers --
Fargo, Miller's Crossing, The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona, Blood Simple, No Country for Old Men

Sergio Leone --
Once Upon a Time in the West; For a Few Dollars More; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Alfred Hitchcock --
Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest, Marnie, Notorious, Rope, The Birds, Rebecca, Psycho

M. Night Shyalaman --
Signs, Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense, Glass, The Visit, Lady in the Water, Split, The Village

John McTiernan --
Die Hard, Medicine Man, Predator, Rollerball, Nomads, Basic, The Hunt for Red October

Quentin Tarantino --
Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, The Hateful Eight, Death Proof, Planet Terror, Jackie Brown

John Carpenter --
The Fog, Halloween, The Thing, Sin City, Vampires, Starman, Christine, Escape From New York

Martin Scorcese --
Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Departed, Gangs of New York, Mean Streets, Casino, Raging Bull

James Cameron --
Alien, The Terminator, Titanic, Avatar, The Abyss, Aliens, True Lies, Xenogenesis, Terminator 2

Ridley Scott --
Gladiator, Thelma and Louise, Hannibal, Black Rain, The Martian, Black Hawk Down, Blade Runner

Frank Darabont --
The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist, The Majestic, The Woman in the Room, The Green Mile

Ron Howard --
Ransom, Backdraft, A Beautiful Mind, Splash, Far and Away, Cinderella Man, Cocoon, Apollo 13

Sydney Pollack --
The Firm, Tootsie, Three Days of the Condor, Absence of Malice, Jeremiah Johnson, Out of Africa

Sam Peckinpah --
The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, The Getaway, Junior Bonner, Ride the High Country, Major Dundee

John Ford --
The Searchers, The Quiet Man, Rio Grande, Stagecoach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Howard Hawks --
Hatari, Red River, Rio Bravo, To Have and Have Not, The Outlaw, Sergeant York, The Big Sleep

Mel Brooks --
Young Frankenstein, The Producers, High Anxiety, Spaceballs, Silent Movie, Blazing Saddles

Richard Donner --
Superman, The Goonies, The Omen, Ladyhawke, Maverick, Assassins, Scrooged, Lethal Weapon

Don Siegel --
Dirty Harry, The Killers, Charley Varrick, The Shootist, Madigan, Coogan's Bluff, Hell Is for Heroes

Lawrence Kasdan --
Body Heat, Silverado, Wyatt Earp, Grand Canyon, French Kiss, Dreamcatcher, The Big Chill

John Huston --
The African Queen, The Maltese Falcon, The Misfits, Key Largo, Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Sidney Lumet --
Twelve Angry Men, Network, Serpico, The Pawnbroker, Fail-Safe, The Verdict, Dog Day Afternoon

Clint Eastwood --
Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, American Sniper, The Beguiled, Pale Rider, Sully, Mystic River


The list isn't foolproof. Even geniuses (genii?) like Spielberg and Shyamalan occasionally turn out a 1941 or a Last Airbender--but not often. I'm usually pretty confident that movies made by these directors will be worthwhile, and sometimes great. (Runners-up: George Lucas, Nora Ephron, Billy Wilder, Peter Jackson, David Cronenberg, Joel Schumacher, Francis Ford Coppola)

NOTE: If you don't care much about this kind of thing, I completely understand. Not many folks do. If you do notice, and follow, certain directors, let me know who you like, and who you don't. As I said, my list changes regularly.

Meanwhile, keep watching those good movies and reading those good novels and stories. Next time I'll tackle favorite authors, and we'll be on more common ground.

As Colonel Bogey once said, have a great March.




01 March 2019

I Collect Names


by
O'Neil De Noux

I collect names. Fiction writers need names. A lot of names. I have been collecting names since I started writing in the 1970s. Good characters need a good name. Raylan Givens. Hannibal Lecter. Scarlett O'Hara. King Kong. Tarzan. Kazar. Sherlock Holmes. Spade and Marlowe.

The names I chose for my recurring main characters were carefully chosen.

Dino LaStanza. My father was called 'Dino' by friends in the army. 'Dino' short for De Noux. LaStanza was a shopping district in Verona, Italy, I remember from my childhood.

John Raven Beau. I had a brother named John. Raven from Poe. Beau from Beau Geste.

Lucien Caye. Picked that name off the banquette (what we call sidewalks in New Orleans) near the corner of Royal and Toulouse Streets in New Orleans. Embedded in tile. I thought it read Lucien Caye when the last name was 'Gaye'. As you can see, the 'G' is messed up. Lucien Gaye French Restaurant sat at 603 Royal Street until @1941.

At 603 Royal Street 


Long time ago.

Jacques Dugas. We have cousins named Dugas.

Lucifer LeRoux. The fallen angel and Gaston LeRoux.

We all work hard on the names of our main characters and primary supporting characters, but I get a kick out of naming minor characters.

Needed a bad guy for the short story "Erotophobia" and came up with Pipi de Loup (wolf pee). When my son was a toddler, he mispronounced words. Belk for belt. Mianteen debil for Tasmanian devil. My   toddler daughter game me Finkle as in 'Finkle, Finkle, Little star ...' I have a Mianteen Bar, a Ms. Belk and a Finkle's Bicycle Shop.

For years I collected names as a university cop and always get good named during the Olympics. Who knows when you need a name of someone from the Principality of Liechtenstein or Mongolia or even Montana?

Sometimes, no matter how creative we can be, real life gives us great names. In THE BLOODING by Joseph Wambaugh, his non-fiction account of the first use of DNA testing in a murder investigation, the police discovered the killer's name was Colin Pitchfork. Hard to top that name.

Although Stanley Kubrik and Terry Southern came up with some beauties in DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB – Buck Turgidson, Jack D. Ripper, Merkin Muffley, Lionel Mandrake, T. J. 'King' Kong, Bat Guano, Lothar Zogg and Dr. Strangelove.

The names are out there. It's fun to find them.

http://www.oneildenoux.com