04 July 2019

Happy Fourth of July!


by Eve Fisher

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!!!!

In between barbecues and fireworks, sports and speeches, beer and brats, there's going to be time for some movies.  Here's a few:

Smith goes.jpgMr. Smith Goes to Washington:  Can you believe that this movie was controversial when it came out in 1939?  Because it actually dared to talk about corruption in politics?  (Pearls clutched across the nation!)  Only Jimmy Stewart could have played this part - and what a great one it is.  The filibuster scene alone is worth watching.

"I guess this is just another lost cause Mr. Paine. All you people don't know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for and he fought for them once. For the only reason any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain simple rule. Love thy neighbor. And in this world today of great hatred a man who knows that rule has a great trust. You know that rule Mr. Paine and I loved you for it just as my father did. And you know that you fight harder for the lost causes than for any others. Yes you'd even die for them. Like a man we both knew Mr. Paine. You think I'm licked. You all think I'm licked. Well I'm not licked. And I'm gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause. Even if this room gets filled with lies like these. And the Taylors and all their armies come marching into this place. Somebody will listen to me."

Advise-&-Consent-(1).jpg
And speaking of corruption in politics, another great movie is 1962's Advise & Consent, starring Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon, Gene Tierney, and a host of other Hollywood celebrities.  Communism, homosexuality, and womanizing all feature in the various forms of blackmail, backbiting, demagoguery and political intrigue that revolve around the President's choice of Secretary of State.

Fred Van Ackerman:  [sniveling over being shunned]  What I did was for the good of the country.
Bob Munson:  Fortunately, our country always manages to survive patriots like you.

Of course, the Fourth of July is about the birth of our country - but strangely enough, I find most movies about the American Revolution pretty... bad...  (Think about Mel Gibson's The Patriot and Al Pacino's Revolution.)  So how about watching 1776?  A musical take on the Revolution and the Convention, it'll have to do until Hamilton comes out.
"I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress! And by God, I have had this Congress! For ten years, King George and his Parliament have gulled, cullied, and diddled these colonies with their illegal taxes! Stamp Acts, Townshend Acts, Sugar Acts, Tea Acts! And when we dared stand up like men, they have stopped our trade, seized our ships, blockaded our ports, burned our towns, and spilled our BLOOD! And still, this Congress refuses to grant ANY of my proposals on independence, even so much as the courtesty of open debate! Good God, what in hell are you waiting for?" 
            - John Adams in 1776

But July 4th is also about war.  

From above a flat. and dry desert floor, a person in a green military uniform with heavy padding holds red wires attached to seven pill-shaped bomb canisters scattered around him. At the top of the poster are three critics' favorable opinions: "A near-perfect movie", "A full-tilt action picture", and "Ferociously suspenseful". Below the quotes is the title "THE HURT LOCKER" and the tagline, "You don't have to be a hero to do this job. But it helps."
America has been making up for some time for the way Vietnam veterans were treated when they came back from the war.  But wars haven't stopped; if anything, conditions continue to degrade, and a soldier's lot has become one of perpetual deployments, wars with no exit strategy or even long-term goals, devastating injuries to mind and body, and a Congress that never seems to want to spend money on them once they're home.  There are a few "fun" movies about war - but here are a few movies that keep in mind the real price:

Black Hawk Down
Born on the Fourth of July


Full Metal Jacket
The Hurt Locker
Johnny Got His Gun
Platoon

“I do not say that children at war do not die like men, if they have to die. To their everlasting honor and our everlasting shame, they do die like men, thus making possible the manly jubilation of patriotic holidays. But they are murdered children all the same.” 
― Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle

“Society can give its young men almost any job and they'll figure how to do it. They'll suffer for it and die for it and watch their friends die for it, but in the end, it will get done. That only means that society should be careful about what it asks for. ... Soldiers themselves are reluctant to evaluate the costs of war, but someone must. That evaluation, ongoing and unadulterated by politics, may be the one thing a country absolutely owes the soldiers who defend its borders.”
― Sebastian Junger, War

Graves at Arlington on Memorial Day.JPG

BUT let's get back to fireworks and fun.  And if it's fun you want, then you need Presidents and aliens:

Dave poster.jpgMost fun movies about Presidents, from Dave to Independence Day, and, of course, Mars Attacks!  

Fun quiz:  Which quote is from which movie?

(1)  President:  I don't understand, where does all this come from? How do you get funding for something like this?
       "You don't actually think they spend $20,000 on a hammer, $30,000 on a toilet seat, do you?"

(2)  What is with [the] President lately? I mean has this guy been having too many "Happy Meals"? I mean geez!

   (3) I'll tell you one thing, they ain't gettin' the TV.

   (4) President:  What? Oh, you mean the press conference. I had a couple of ideas that I wanted to share with the country.

   (5) President: I want the people to know that they still have 2 out of 3 branches of the government working for them, and that ain't bad.


There's also Seven Days in May, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, and Dr. Strangelove.

Or you could do the Lincoln cycle - Raymond Massey's Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Henry Fonda's Young Mr. Lincoln, and Daniel Day Lewis' pitch-perfect Lincoln:
An iconic photograph of a bearded Abraham Lincoln showing his head and shoulders.Lincoln: Abolishing slavery by constitutional provisions settles the fate for all coming time. Not only of the millions now in bondage, but of unborn millions to come. Two votes stand in its way. These votes must be procured.
Seward:  We need two yeses. Three abstentions. Four yeses and one more abstention and the amendment will pass.
Lincoln:  You've got a night and a day and a night; several perfectly good hours! Now get the hell out of here and get them!
Ashley:  Yes. But how?
Lincoln:  Buzzard's guts, man! I am the President of the United States of America! Clothed in immense power! You will procure me these votes.
It's a shame that there haven't been nearly as many good movies about the other Presidents on Mount Rushmore.  The best are probably Ken Burns' documentary on Thomas Jefferson, the first 3 episodes of The Roosevelts:  An Intimate History for Teddy Roosevelt, and the 1984 miniseries George Washington (starring Barry Bostwick).

Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington.jpg“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
― George Washington

“As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality.” 
― George Washington
Official Presidential portrait of Thomas Jefferson (by Rembrandt Peale, 1800)(cropped).jpg
“We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”
― Thomas Jefferson
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
― Thomas Jefferson
President Roosevelt - Pach Bros.jpg“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

“Politeness [is] a sign of dignity, not subservience.” 
― Theodore Roosevelt

“Jazz is democracy in music.”
― Wynton Marsalis

Happy Fourth of July from South Dakota!


Image result for fireworks over mount rushmore

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
-- John F. Kennedy

03 July 2019

Rushing Mount Rushmore


by Robert Lopresti

An author out standing in his field
If you have time for only one blog in your busy life obviously it should be SleuthSayers.  But if you can fit in more, you might want to consider Something Is Going To Happen, the blog of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.*

They recently featured an interesting piece by Dave Zeltserman in which he described his "personal Mount Rushmore of crime fiction writers."

It's a fun concept.  Can you reduce the pantheon of the greats down to four?

I'm not going to reveal Mr. Z's choices, because you should definitely go read his piece for yourself, but I will list my own and invite you to do the same in the comments.  You will find that I overlap with his, but we are not identical.

My monument is arranged in the order I discovered the writers.

Rex Stout.  The first adult mystery writer I found after Conan Doyle.  He was the pusher who got me hooked.  Stout is all about character and voice.

Especially voice.

Nero Wolfe: "Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth."

Archie Goodwin: “When the day finally comes that I tie Wolfe to a stake and shoot him, one of the fundamental reasons will be his theory that the less I know the more I can help, or to put it another way, that everything inside my head shows on my face. It only makes it worse that he doesn’t really believe it.

Occasionally Stout has moments of plotting excellence (e.g. Too Many Cooks) but more often Wolfe and Archie have to carry him over bumps in the road.

Donald E. Westlake.  I first read his story "Come Back, Come Back," in one of those Alfred Hitchcock paperbacks.  It was a dead serious story about a cop suffering from a possibly fatal heart condition trying to convince a wealthy, perfectly healthy business executive not to commit suicide.

In high school I discovered his early comic classics, what David Bratman  called "the nephew books," in which some luckless schmuck finds himself in deep doodoo (The Spy in the Ointment, God Save the Mark, etc.)  By the time Dortmunder tried (and tried and tried...) to steal The Hot Rock I was hooked.   Westlake was the master of chaos, crisply described.  Movies based on his books usually failed because they couldn't capture his narrative tone.


Dashiell Hammett.  I confess I am not a fan of most of his novels (the exception being you-know-what).  But the Continental Op is everything the private eye story wants to be.  And could that man write an ending!  I'd give several toes to write a last paragraph as good as the one in "The Gutting of Couffignal."

Stanley Ellin.  Like Hammett, he had one great novel.  Stronghold is about a young man who grew up bitter on the outskirts of a community of modern Quakers (Ellin was one).  As a full-fledged adult psycho he brings back a gang to kidnap all of their women, yearning for either ransom or a bloody shootout with the cops.  But the Quakers won't cooperate with violence, even by calling the police.

Ellin's genius was for the short story.  "You Can't Be A Little Girl All Your Life" was a story about rape a decade before its time.  "The Question" is a quiet reflection by an executioner that turns into a stunning social comment.  And "The Payoff," well, the ending is just a punch in the gut.

So, while I brush away the stone scraps and clean off my carving tools: Who would you put on your mountain, and why?

*Also, Trace Evidence, from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

02 July 2019

Tess Gerritsen: What Makes Books Fail?


by Paul D. Marks


In my last post for SleuthSayers I briefly mentioned Tess Gerritsen and her keynote speech at the California Crime Writers Conference. Leigh asked if I could talk a little more about what she said, so here goes:

I really enjoyed her speech, it was funny and relatively short—about twenty minutes. And it kept my interest. Much of what I say here is quoted or paraphrased closely from her speech. But I think I misstated her premise in my last piece, saying she talked about What Not to Do. More accurately her speech was about What Makes Books Fail. She started with some anecdotes and wound her way around to that topic.

She opened talking about how happy she was to be in sunny SoCal. Though it hasn’t been as sunny here as it normally is. But I guess coming from Maine anything above 50 is sunny.

She segued into Delia Owens and her phenomenal success with Where the Crawdads Sing. She also talked about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece  Annie Barrows which spent many weeks on the NY Times best seller list. Delia Owens was 70 when her debut novel came out. Shaffer, author of Potato Peel was 74 …and died before it came out. The point was it doesn’t matter how old you are or what you look like. You just have to do it. And you don’t even have to be alive to be a debut novelist!

Delia Owens
Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece Annie Barrows
She moved on to talk about something we can all relate to. One day, while in her local grocery store, the butcher smiled at her over the meat counter. Then came running out after her—hopefully not with a butcher knife raised over his head.

“I knew you’d be in here eventually,” he said. “I want to give you this.”

Three guesses as to what he wanted to give her. Okay, time’s up.

He brandished a manuscript—what else? She took it. And to cut to the chase it never got published, at least not traditionally.

Another time she was in a restaurant. A man across from her jumped out of his chair, dashing out of the restaurant. He returned 20 minutes later with a briefcase…holding, well, you know what it was holding.

And then she talked about love, at least Shakespeare in Love. But rather than try to retell what she said, this, from her website, pretty much covers it:

“Young Shakespeare writes ‘Romeo and Juliet’, falls in love, and tries to stay one step ahead of the Queen’s guard. The scene that had me laughing hardest? When a ferryman finds out that Shakespeare’s a writer and asks him, ‘Will you read my manuscript?’”

Do you notice a theme here?

But the real theme of her talk was why some novels get published and others don’t. Why didn’t the butcher’s novel get published? The real theme was:


What Makes Books Fail

Ms. Gerritsen said that there are certain mistakes that are made often that keep one from breaking out or getting a traditional contract. By way of illustration, she talked about Uncle Harry. We all have one, right?

Uncle Harry and Aunt Maude both experienced the same earth shattering event. Harry will talk your ear off, telling you everything that happened, blow by blow, and bore you to death. Maude will tell you the same story and keep you on the edge of your seat. What’s the difference? Maude gives you the high points of the story.

Tess says we need to identify where the emotional high points are. It’s not that Harry isn’t intelligent, but he needs to get a sense of the dramatic. That’s why Maude’s version is better.

She told the story of Michael Palmer’s agent taking him on, even though the agent didn’t like the book, because they thought he had a sense of the dramatic. And when she and Palmer, both doctors, taught a course in writing for other docs who wanted to be novelists, they discovered that most of them, intelligent as they are, and as understanding of all the tech aspects, couldn’t tell a good story because they didn’t have that sense of the dramatic.

Tess Gerritsen at the 2019 California Crime Writers Conference
And her heart dropped when an attorney-friend of hers wrote a book and wanted to talk to her about it. But, she thought, he does interesting stuff so maybe it would be okay, and agreed to meet for lunch. And this is what she said:

“His book was about a man who comes of age in the turbulent 60s and moves to Maine. ‘And what happens,’ I asked. ‘It’s about self-discovery, about the journey, about coming to grips with life,’ he said. ‘But what happens,’ I said, ‘where’s the conflict? Where’s the struggle?’ And he said, ‘life is a/the struggle.’ And I thought okay, we’re in trouble. So the more I pressed him on the plot and the characters, the more I heard about actualization and personal journeys and maximizing relationships. And in a fit of frustration, I finally just said, ‘you’re thinking too hard. You should be feeling the story,’ and that’s what I’ve come to conclude, is that what makes most stories fail is that people are thinking too hard and they’re not feeling their way. In a nutshell, writers really shouldn’t be cerebral, shouldn’t be logical. We should be thinking about the dramatic points in our lives, the emotional centers in our lives.”

And one more example: Another man wrote a scene about a family preparing a BBQ. He wrote it in great detail, the cooking, the salads, every little thing. And then his grown child telling the dad that “we’re going to have a baby.” That’s great, the dying dad says, congratulations, and they go in and have dinner. But the author didn’t let the characters chew on that. Didn’t play off the emotional core of the scene, the dying man becoming a grandfather. It was just glossed over.

Tess said she remembers the day she was told she was going to have her first grandchild. Her son, who has a flair for the dramatic, showed her a sonogram on the rim of the Grand Canyon. She and her husband started sobbing. She doesn’t remember the hike or how she got to the rim. She only remembers about the baby, now her five year old granddaughter. So, she told the man writing about the BBQ he shouldn’t pass over the emotional center so quickly and spend so much time on the steaks being medium rare. She couldn’t remember the trip to the Grand Canyon. Every bit about the salad or how the steaks were cooked wasn’t what was important.

How a book fails, she said, is that we fail to remember that we’re human beings. It’s all about emotions, not about telling. And a large part of our skill is choosing the scenes—which scene/s are you going to point out? What are the details that matter to you? And even though we sometimes have to deal with technical aspects of what’s happening, we still need to find the emotional things there.

She used her book Gravity as an example. She had to explain the technical aspects of a spacewalk. But she didn’t have the heart of her story until she read Into Thin Air, where one of the climbers, who knew he was doomed to die on the mountain, called his wife to say goodbye. That brought Tess to tears and gave her the spark for the emotional center for Gravity. What is your last goodbye going to be like? Make your story interesting by bringing in your emotions.

So, even when you do need to tell, as we sometimes do, you need to find the emotions of the scene. Show something from the point of view of what you and your characters are feeling.


The bottom line:

What she’s learned is: trust your heart. That’s where your story needs to be. Don’t tell, but show. Choose the scenes that have the highest amount of gravitas and angst, and maybe we’ll all be Delia Owens someday.
~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

My story Past is Prologue is out in the new July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Available now at bookstores and newstands as well as online at: https://www.alfredhitchcockmysterymagazine.com/. Also in this issue are fellow SleuthSayers Janice Law, R.T. Lawton and B.K. Stevens. Hope you'll check it out.



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

01 July 2019

The Pitfalls of Being First





by Travis Richardson 


Today I am going to leap into the shark-infested waters of controversy. I’m crossing my fingers (which makes it difficult to type, BTW) and hoping that I won’t get banned from Sleuthsayers or unfriended (in real life and on social media) by longtime colleagues that I admire or challenged to a fist fight in the parking lot at the next Bouchercon or Left Coast Crime. It is a critique on a point of view used by many of the masters of the crime genre with names no less than Edgar Allen Poe, Dashiell Hammett, Sir Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Raymond Chandler as well as over half of current crime fiction and a large percentage of “literary” works as well. And, I might add, that I have used this popular contrivance myself. 

Itchin' for a fight
So here is my critique. Ahem, first person point of view in past tense fiction is contrived and rife with pitfalls. Yep, I said that. I’ll duck under this desk for the next few minutes while everybody throws tomatoes and rocks at me. 

Whew, glad that is over. 

Crime fiction is built on the above-mentioned forebears' groundbreaking works. (For what it's worth, according to Ranker those forebearers represent 5 of the top 6 crime writers of all time.) It is hard to think of a PI novel that’s not in first person. Several cozy/traditional mysteries also use this POV too. Of the crime books I’ve read this year, the first-person narrative holds a slight 7-6 edge over the third. (Not including short story anthologies, the books are Under A Dark Sky, House. Tree. Person., Cut You Down, Weight of Blood, Revenge is a Redhead, Get Carter, Silent City vs. I-5, Negro and an OfayKnow Me From Smoke, Don’t Speak, The Big NowhereThe Drop.) 

I asked Terri Bishoff, Senior Acquisitions Editor at Crooked Lane Books, and Chris Rhatigan of All Due Respect Books whether they have more first or third person POV titles in their lineup. Terri believes she has helped publish about 60% first person POV titles. Chris said he used to publish more first person, but the trend has shifted to third person recently to the point they are about 50/50. 

While I prefer to write in third, there are times when first is necessary and I’ve embraced that world as each story dictates the best POV. Below, I'll give a few arguments regarding the issues and pitfalls of the first-person narrative.


Total Recall

The biggest problem is the suspension of disbelief. Stories told in first person are often full of dialogue and minute details while taking place of over several days—as we’ve come to expect. The problem/contrivance with that setup is that every narrator from Dr. Watson to Kinsey Milhone has hyperthymesia, also known as superior autobiographical memory. This incredibly rare and not well-understood anomaly in the brain allows certain people to recall every detail that happened to them in the past. Few people have this super-power and from what I can tell it is usually a burden for them to the point that they are depressed and inactive as they are living in the past too much. While depression is a firmly established trope in the crime fiction, inactivity would not make for a great protagonist so I doubt many of the protagonists have hyperthymesia. 

In the real world, people often talk about conversations they had with others, they might remember their lines well (or enhance with retrospective distance) and paraphrase the other person’s dialogue unless it concerns a line or two that created a tangible emotional response. Like an offensive phrase or an enlightening piece of wisdom. A person relaying a personal crime story might recall a specific lie they heard from a suspect or a threat that burned a permanent impression in their brain cells. In fiction, an enormous amount of details usually go into a first-person story. It’s what readers have expected over the years and an overlooked contrivance, but if I were to listen to somebody relate story like we read in fiction, I would believe they are unreliable unless they convinced me they had hyperthymesia. 

A Narrator’s Ultimate Peril

Another problem is that the protagonist in question, while possibly in peril, will probably not die at the end of the story regardless of their opponent’s evil intent. Of course, this expected for series characters. (Why kill your golden goose, right?) I’d argue that after the first self-narrating pronoun of “I” or “me” in the past tense, an indirect signal goes to the reader that the protagonist will live in the end. Maybe there won’t be much more than brainwaves, a heartbeat, and oxygen filling the narrator's lungs, but the retelling of events almost guarantees this at minimum. In some ways that lessens the threats made against the protagonist life.

That’s not to say that surprises can still happen in first person past tense. The narrator can relate the story while dying in a pool of blood (aka Walter Neff) or being lead to the gallows/gas chamber/electric chair, but that’s the exception. 

Dictation before dying.

One way to get past the ultimate peril problem is to put the story in the present tense. There is no past. What is happening on the page happens in real time. While I know some readers and writers don’t like this approach, I’d argued that is used in visual media—movies, video games, comics—to great success. And let’s be honest, we are getting our butts kicked by them. Also, by writing in the present tense there are fewer letters in use thereby creating a slightly more efficient read. Any flashback would be in past, not past perfect and pacing can be increased. (Of course, how a narrator can shoot a gun and tell a story at the same time is another contrivance.)  

Protagonist Loathing

Part of the allure and strength of first-person narration is the immediacy of knowing the intimate thoughts and motivations of a character. The reader gets a window into the soul of the narrator as they make choices and feel events happen on the page. This easier to do in first person and even though there is a considerable amount of telling over showing, it is couched as thoughts and philosophies that seem conversational. 

But those pluses can be a negative too. It is easier for me to read about an a-hole in third person doing less-than-ethical things or acting erratically than a narrator in first person trying to get me to sympathize with them. It feels like pandering. 

Reading from the POV of a dour malcontent gets old, especially for 300 pages. I am not (get ready for controversy) a Phillip Marlowe fan. Chandler’s writing is AMAZING (although I am often too aware of the stylized prose which takes focus away from the story). Whenever Phillip finds himself in peril, I want him to get his ass kicked hard. He’ll complain either way he comes out of the fight and I have to read about it. In David Simon’s The Wire, Jimmy McNulty felt like a Phillip Marlowe prototype—a knight errant with personal flaws trying to go up against overwhelming, evil powers. But I liked Jimmy over Phillip because I watched him through action and if he ever philosophized it was through dialogue and his views could get countered by other characters.

The Wire Jimmy McNulty.jpg
Sometimes an update is better than the original.

Evangelism Fatigue 

Too much evangelizing from a character’s POV about certain philosophies or political issues can also turn me off if it is repeated like a drumbeat. This problem happens in both first and third, but I think it is easier to fall into the trap in first because the narrator is thinking about a certain issue. I don’t mind a character having political or religious beliefs that they discuss every so often, but when they try to convince the reader to convert to their ways through repetition, I get turned off. 

I took 3 required philosophy classes in college and I hated them (which I didn’t expect). Either I disagreed with the philosopher and had to read a book of arguments I didn’t care for. Or I agreed, but still had to read a book of something I already supported since page 10. This happens in fiction sometimes too. A statement here or there is fine and showing hypocrisy, corruption, power of faith, etc. is fine, just don’t bog the book down trying to convert me. 


So there are a few of my critiques on the first person POV. Thank you to Terri and Chris for a quick turn around on my percentage question. (BTW All Due Respect is open for submissions if you write "lowlife literature.") Let me know what you think. If things look bad I might have to carry around a pair of brass knuckles for the rest of the year. 





Travis Richardson is originally from Oklahoma and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. He has been a finalist and nominee for the Macavity, Anthony, and Derringer short story awards. He has two novellas and his short story collection, BLOODSHOT AND BRUISED, came out in late 2018. He reviewed Anton Chekhov short stories in the public domain at www.chekhovshorts.com. Find more at www.tsrichardson.com





30 June 2019

My Writing World as I See It


by R.T. Lawton

A few weeks ago, Michael Bracken wrote a blog piece, "With Malice Aforethought," which discussed writer motivation, motivation in general, short stories versus novels, not shooting the horse you rode in on, dopamine rush, and risky behavior. Love it. At the end of his article, Michael expressed an interest in the how's and why's of writer motivation and the hope that research will come up with some of the answers. Several of our fellow Sleuth Sayer bloggers then responded with their own personal experiences.

So, here's another view on those topics. Naturally, one subject's story is an anecdote, and it takes lots of data or anecdotes from several subject's to put together a research project. Towards that end, here's some more anecdotes, plus a few thoughts on the topic.

From Kindergarten to Senior year in high school, I went to eleven different schools. Yeah, we moved a lot. Other than immediate family, the main constant in my life was taking refuge in books. Oddly enough, a parallel existed there, because the world in the book being read changed with every new book I started, just like my world changed with every move to a new place. All that starting over may have resulted in my short attention span when it came to writing, thus my leaning towards a short story career. Hey, it could happen that way.

Massive reading eventually led to the inclination to write my own stories. Especially when I would read a not-so-good-story, and then tell myself that I could do a better job. Sad to say, the latter part of that declaration did not happen right away, else I'd have better stats now.

This issue of AHMM contains "The Horse,"
8th in my Armenian series set in Chechnya.
People make plans and yet life has a habit of getting in the way. Sure enough, Uncle Sam decided he couldn't quite pull it off alone, so he sent me a nice letter requesting my assistance with his SE Asian program. I gave him two years, nine months and twenty-nine days, to include my one year in-country working on his program. In return, he graciously paid the rest of my college fees and tuition.

Guess now we get to the dopamine and risky behavior part that Michael mentioned. As Ernest Hemingway once said, "In order to write about life first you must live it." Since dopamine and adrenaline are first cousins, I ventured out to live life after finishing college. Twenty-five years on the street working risky people made good fodder for stories. All I had to do was learn how to write these stories down. I'd already tried a creative writing course in college. Couldn't relate to it. Seems I wasn't cut out to be a literary author. Time to reboot.

At the end of most working days, vice cops and federal agents, in the 70's through the 90's, had the habit of stopping at some neighborhood bar to wind down, let off the tension. Inevitably, stories would be told around the table about that night's happenings, or even favorite stories from past raids, arrests, surveillance or undercover incidents. The best stories got the most laughs. That's when I found I was a  storyteller. Time to think commercial market. Just needed to learn how to put words on paper in the proper format. Seems that, for me, is an ongoing process with occasional speed bumps.

I finally found my niche in the mystery genre, writing short stories about the criminals, cons and scams I'd run into on the streets. In my writing world, achieving the big-time market, after small press magazines and ten-dollar payments, started when Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine's writer's guidelines on their web page said they were looking for stories set in an exotic location. Conveniently, I had one set in the Golden Triangle of SE Asia. Cathleen Jordan, the editor of AHMM at that time, bought my story and I got one foot in the door. After that, it was put everything I could think of into a story and don't hold back on material. So far, it's been a good run.

my spurs
To date, I've sold 44 short stories to AHMM, with an acceptance rate of 72.13%. On the other hand, my acceptance rate at their sister magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, can never get any lower than it is right now. HUH ! But, if I had a third hand, so I could once again say "on the other hand,"  I'd say that anthologies have become a sometimes lucrative market.

Since my numbers for published novels is zero, I, much like Michael, am not going to shoot the short story horse I rode in on. Me  and that particular horse are currently on very good terms. I've even taken off my spurs after all those years in the saddle and retired them to my writing desk. The horse knows they're off my boots, but he can see them still there in case they become necessary again.

I know I won't live long enough to catch up with Ed Hoch's record of 450-some short stories in EQMM, and his 60+ short stories in AHMM, but I will hopefully continue to plug along, until my vision fails.

In the meantime, fare thee well and keep on writing.

R.T. out.


29 June 2019

Am I Saying It Right?



by John M. Floyd



A couple of months ago I posted a column here at SleuthSayers about a book I'd discovered called Dreyer's English, written by Random House executive Benjamin Dreyer. That book offered what I thought were great tips on literary style, with sections on how to use, capitalize, and spell certain difficult words. As a stylebook, what it of course didn't offer was advice on how to pronounce those words. But . . . I have since discovered some other resources, including a bunch of YouTube videos and a delightful book by Ross Petras and Kathryn Petras called You're Saying It Wrong. And I found that I was indeed often saying things wrong. (Which was nothing new, for me; I can remember when I first learned that calliope and Penelope weren't KALLY-ope and PENNA-lope. (I think that was last week.)

Anyhow, the following are some examples I've stumbled onto, of how to pronounce--and how not to pronounce--certain words. I've even included a few people and place names. I hope you might be as surprised as I was, by some of these:



forte -- It's pronounced FORT. Not fore-TAY.

pathos -- PAY-thoss. Not PATH-oss.

comptroller -- con-TROLL-er. Not COMP-troll-er.

Porsche -- POR-sha. Not PORSH.

dais -- DAY-is or DYE-is.

Gillian Flynn -- GILL-ee-an (with a hard G). Not JILL-ee-an.

J. K. Rowling -- ROE-ling (rhymes with GO). Not ROW-ling (rhymes with COW).

Jodi Picoult -- PEE-ko.

O'Neil De Noux -- da-NEW.

Leigh Lundin -- lun-DEEN. Not LUN-din.

Brendan Dubois -- du-BOYS. Not du-BWAH.

Herschel Cozine -- KO-zyne. Not KO-zeen.

Andrew Gulli -- GOO-lee. Not GULL-ee.

Dr. Seuss -- SOYSS (rhymes with voice). Not SOOS.

often -- AWF-un. Not AWF-tun.

segue -- SEG-way.

banal -- ba-NAL. Not BAY-nul.

kibosh -- KYE-bosh. Not ki-BOSH.

nuclear -- NOOK-lee-ur. Not NOOK-yew-ler.

chimera -- ky-MEE-rah. Not ka-MERR-ah.

alumnae -- ah-LUM-nee. Not ah-LUM-nay.

Celtic -- KEL-tick. (Unless it's a Boston basketball team.)

Hermes -- AIR-mez.

Christian Lacroix -- luh-KWAH.

Yves Saint-Laurent -- eev sahn-LOR-un.

espresso -- ess-PRESS-o. Not ex-PRESS-o.

salmon -- SAM-un. Not SAL-mun. (This one I knew.)

almond -- AH-mund. Not AHL-mund. (This one I didn't.)

electoral -- e-LECK-toe-ral. Not e-leck-TOE-ral.

Pete Buttigieg -- BOOT-ah-judge.

lambast -- lam-BAYSTE. Not lam-BAST.

hegemony -- heh-JEM-ah-nee. (As in hegemony cricket.)

Seamus -- SHAY-mus.

Siobhan -- shih-VAWN.

biegnet -- ben-YAY.

oeuvre -- OOV-ruh.

Charlize Theron -- THERE-in.

Gal Godot -- gah-DOTE. Not gah-DOE or gah-DOT.

Jake Gyllenhaal -- yee-len-HAY-la.

John Huston -- HEWS-tun, Not HUSS-ton.

Houston Street, in NYC -- HOUSE-tun. Not HEWS-tun.

Qatar -- GUT-tar.

Oaxaca -- wa-HAH-ka.

Cairo, Illinois -- KAY-ro. Not KYE-ro.

Versailles, Kentucky -- ver-SAYLES. Not ver-SYE.

Louisville, Kentucky -- LOO-ah-vul. Certainly not LEWIS-vul.

Kissimmee, Florida -- ka-SIMM-ee. Not KISS-ah-mee.

Lake Tohopekaliga, Florida -- lake TO-ho. (According to locals, the pekaliga is silent.)

Peabody, Massachusetts -- PEE-buh-dee (Almost like puberty.)

Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan -- soo saint ma-REE.

Pierre, South Dakota -- PEER. Not pee-EHR.

Terre Haute, Indiana -- terra-HOTE.

Biloxi, Mississippi -- ba-LUCK-see. Not ba-LOCK-see.

Arkansas River -- ar-KAN-sas in Kansas, AR-kan-saw in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Pago Pago -- PANG-o PANG-o.

Curacao -- KURE-ah-sow. (What the vet does for a female pig.)

St. Lucia -- LOO-shah.

Worcester -- WOO-ster.

Leicester -- LESS-ter.

boatswain -- BOSS-un.

forecastle -- FOKE-sul.

gunwale -- GUNN-el.

quay -- KEE.

Nguyen -- WEN.

Joaquin -- wah-KEEN.

gyro -- YEE-ro. Not JYE-ro.

plethora -- PLETH-o-rah. Not pleh-THOR-ah.



To tell you the truth, the words I most want to pronounce correctly are the people and place names. I can't remember ever using "oeuvre" or "plethora" in a conversation, and I hope I never feel the urge to. But if I ever meet Nikolaj Coster-Waldau or win a trip to Phuket, Thailand, I'd rather not say something that makes me sound like an idiot (or gets me arrested).

NOTE 1: From Leigh Lundin: The THERE-in for Charlize Theron was suggested by her agent, but the TH is actually a hard T, as in Thomas. The name is probably Afrikaans, and would be pronounced something like T'rawn, where the first vowel is barely heard and the H not at all.  (Thanks, Leigh! My reply: It's almost like Game of Therons, but not quite. THERE-in lies the difference.)

NOTE 2: The pronunciation shown above for Jake Gyllenhaal's name is the way he says it, but almost everyone else--even interviewers--seems to say GILL-en-hall. The burden folks with uncommon names have to bear.

What are some of your most difficult words to pronounce? What are some that you hate to hear others mispronounce? Do you have one of those names that make strangers blink when they see it written, or that could be said several different ways? (My wife's sister married a Schnegelberger, so this is familiar ground.) And how many of you live in or near cities or towns or counties with names that might not be pronounced the way they look? Inquiring travelers want to know.

(Any time this subject comes up, I'm reminded of a joke I heard about a lady who stopped for an ice-cream cone in my hometown of Kosciusko, Mississippi. "I'm not from here," she told the girl behind the counter. "How do you pronounce the name of this place?" The girl, speaking very slowly and carefully, said, "Dai-ree Queen." And yes, I know, you've probably heard that one before.)

Quick note: In your future endeavors, may all your references to creative techniques like onomatopoeia and synecdoche and chiaroscuro be written and never spoken. It's just easier that way. And let's not even think about medical terms.

I'll leave you with one of my own poems on this topic, which is (unfortunately) a good indicator of my literary talents. It's called "Incontinent Consonants":


I never seem to understand
Our neighbors overseas;
A city named Vrnjyzkryleszka
Makes me say. "Oh, please."

The problem is pronunciation,
Not mere nouns and verbs;
Hawaiians should delete some vowels
And give them to the Serbs.


(Eat your heart out, Carl Sandburg.)

See you next Saturday.







28 June 2019

When the Gorilla Takes Over


Pamela Beason wrote a piece for us not long ago and I wasn't expecting to have her back so quickly but when I read her novel THE ONLY WITNESS I loved it so much I invited her to write about it ASAP.  And here she is.  I think you will see why this unique idea appealed to me so much.                                                                                                                                   - Robert Lopresti


When the Gorilla Takes Over

by Pamela Beason

When I began to write my novel The Only Witness, I didn’t plan for it to be a series. Nor did I plan for Neema the gorilla to be the protagonist of the book.

I was working as a private investigator at the time, and I’d worked on several cases where small children testified as witnesses. Now anyone who has worked with young children, especially in a legal context, knows that they often have limited understanding of the reality of what is happening to them or around them, and we also know how easily they can be persuaded to say the things that the adults want them to say. So, I had done a lot of thinking about who can be a credible witness.

In addition to my interest in investigation and legal issues, I’ve had a lifelong fascination with animals of all kinds, and I’ve been especially curious about animal intelligence. I always wondered why humans think we’re so superior just because we can talk and write. All animals have their own languages and talents. As a scuba diver, I’m amazed to see so many sea creatures that can synthesize their own homes (shells) out of the sea water that surrounds them, and I’m positively astounded to see an octopus or a chameleon change the colors and patterns of their skins. My cats can easily jump to the top of a wall that is seven times their height. Tiny hummingbirds can hover in mid-air and survive the winters along our coastlines. Animals make me feel inferior a lot of the time.

But I digress… Getting back to the point, I’ve read all the books and articles about teaching apes American sign language so we humans can communicate in the only language we understand: The Education of Koko and the films and National Geographic articles about the famous gorillas, Roger Fouts’ Next of Kin, and some others.

So naturally my investigator brain got together with my animal-loving side and cooked up the idea of having a gorilla, who supposedly has the IQ of a five-year-old, be the only witness to a baby’s kidnapping. Cool idea, right? But I resolved to keep the whole story plausible, so I had to work with an ape’s limitations. A gorilla is never going to say, “You know, when we were in town at 3 p.m. yesterday, I saw the most curious incident when a shaggy-haired man…” So Neema’s clues had to be more along the line of “Snake arm make baby cry. Give banana now.”

I thought readers would sympathize more with beleaguered Detective Matthew Finn, who initially cannot find any witness to what actually happened when an infant vanishes from a car, and then, when he finally deduces that he does have a witness, she’s a gorilla. How can he find out what she actually knows? And what does he do with the clues when he finally figures them out? No court is going to accept the “testimony” of an ape who constantly bargains to trade questionable descriptions like “skin bracelet” for yogurt and lollipops (aka “tree candy” in Neema-speak).

Readers fell in love with Neema the gorilla and wanted more of her. I’m not sure anyone even remembered my poor detective’s name, nor that of the scientist (Grace McKenna) who teaches Neema, or even of the teen mom (Brittany Morgan) whose infant was kidnapped. So then pressure from readers forced me to write a sequel with gorillas—The Only Clue, in which Neema, her mate Gumu, and her baby Kanoni all disappear after a public event. And then, because any author knows that two books do not a “series” make, I had to rack my brains to come up with a third. But just how long can an author invent realistic mysteries involving signing apes? It’s a challenge, let me tell you.

The Only One Left has sort of a nebulous connection to a crime, because the gorillas discover evidence in their barn that Detective Finn eventually deduces may have something to do with a current case he’s assigned to. But readers don’t seem to care too much about the premise. The gorillas are back! I like to think that Koko, the real signing gorilla who passed away not so long ago, lives on through my books.

Gorilla mysteries are also a marketing challenge. When asked for other mysteries that are similar to my Neema series, my response is generally, “Uh…” Likewise, when asked what the next Neema mystery will be about, I’m clueless as to whether there could even be another.

So, if anyone has any ideas on either of those subjects, please send them to me right away. In the meantime, I’ll be working on the next novel in my Sam Westin wilderness series. It’s so much easier to solve crimes on public lands than to determine what the heck three gorillas might be up to these days.

27 June 2019

A Letter From Middle School


by Brian Thornton

As I've written before, my day gig is teaching middle school history. As a middle school teacher (or as a public school teacher at any level, for that matter), I can attest to the importance of the month of June as both a signpost and a destination: a door into another year, another phase of life.

This is especially true for kids moving from middle to high school.

This year the mother of one of my students informed me that every year since her son was in kindergarten she had asked his teacher to write a letter to him at the end of the year. This year he had SIX different teachers (remember, it's middle school): and she chose to ask me because he had told her many times that I was his favorite teacher.

Phew.

Of course I said yes. No small obligation, because (as any teacher can tell you, the end of the school year is BUSY!

I've posted what I came up with below. Not least because we live in a cynical age, and I find the people I work with, the current generation currently coming into their late teens so heartening to be around. I honestly believe these kids are going to save the planet.

Dear XXXX-

I was honored when your mom told me about your family’s tradition of having a teacher write you a letter for every year of school in your life, and asked that I write this year's letter. Not surprising, I guess, that a history teacher would have an appreciation for tradition, right?

One of the reasons I so enjoy teaching 8th grade is that I get to meet young people on the cusp of adulthood–literally in the act of becoming who they are going to be for the rest of their lives. And I am so happy to have met YOU this year. You, Mr. XXXX, are a fine young man. And it has been my pleasure and my honor to serve as your teacher.

You have so much great stuff ahead of you–not just high school, but your entire life–just remember that this journey you’re on is a marathon (the race, not the Greco-Roman battle! HA! Ancient History joke!), not a sprint, and it’s very important that you take a moment every now and again to look around and take it all in. The memories you make this summer, and in high school, will stay with you, and inform and influence the choices you make and the paths you take in the years to come.

With that in mind, try to surround yourself with good people. We meet all kinds of folks in life- those who fill you up? Try to keep them around. Those who wear you out? Let them go. You’re possessed of a giving nature and a good heart, XXXX- and you deserve to get that back from the people in your life.

Most of all, please remember to be as good to yourself as you are to others. And like I said before, take the time to enjoy this life while you’re living it!

Nearly lastly, please thank your parents for me. First, for sending you to us here at XXXXXXXX, and second for asking that I write you this letter.

And lastly, THANK YOU for everything you’ve done this year. I always end the school year feeling as if my students have taught me more than I have them. After all these years I am still so very grateful for the education. 

I am a better person for having known you, XXXX. Thanks for being one of the people who “filled me up” this year!

No longer your teacher, so I’ll just close this as-


Your Friend-

Brian Thornton

****

That's it for now. See you all in two weeks!

26 June 2019

The Art of Memory


David Edgerley Gates


My pal Keith McIntosh was thinking out loud the other day, that when you're in the library, or a brick-and-mortar bookstore, and you go looking for something, you often find something associated - or even unassociated - by accident. He's not the only one to remark on this, of course, but Keith was wondering why virtual shopping can't be organized in a similar way. Amazon will show you other stuff you've shopped for or searched out recently, or stuff their algorithm suggests based on your purchase history, but it's market-driven. What about serendipity? You could be looking up the Tudors in the European history section, and stumble on some little-known thing about the Mongols, two shelves over. Same goes for learning basic crochet techniques, or high-altitude baking. It is possible to use the Dewey decimal system, say, to replicate the physical feel of shelves in digital. Or a visual, an imaginary bookstore that somehow leaves room for the accidental. I'm sure someone's thought of it before, and the question is execution: How do you design for the random, or peripheral vision? Engineering logic is linear, it's designed to filter out, to recognize pattern limits, not intuit a whole greater than the sum of its parts.


As it happens, I was re-reading yet again the John Crowley novel Little, Big, first published in 1981 and just as heartbreaking the fourth or fifth time around. Actually, this is one of those books I read all or part of every couple of years, like Mary Renault's Last of the Wine or Len Deighton's Bomber. As if shrugging into a familiar garment, yes, but always finding some new astonishment. I might be reading for technique - how, exactly, did they pull off such-and-such an effect? - but I invariably wind up getting sucked into the story, and I'm not looking for tips and tricks, I'm steering into the next tight turn. The grace and felicity is all.

Crowley develops an elaborate conceit in his book, the Art of Memory. This is in fact a real thing, the study of mnemonics, going back at least to Pythagoras, and later refined by Giordano Bruno. (Crowley has a long fascination with Bruno.) More recently still, there's the Frances Yates book titled The Art of Memory. I'm giving a sort of potted version of this, but the way Crowley explains it, you build a memory house, and people it with artifacts or avatars. You might set aside a room for Youth, a faded rose or a broken mirror to represent a path not taken, but the objects don't require literal consistency, they don't have to be an actual objective representation, they need only conjure up some specific smell, a taste or a time, a character of something, a suggestion, if only a sketch or a gesture.


Now, supposing this house has many rooms, which you've added as needed, and some of those rooms left behind and the memory objects in them gathering dust - let's imagine we turn an unexpected corner and open a different door into that particular gallery, and see those memory objects back to front, a reversed perspective. Would we catch them unawares, surprised to see us, in a state of undress, so to speak? 

In other words, what's two shelves over? Memory tends to repeat. Once we start down a train of thought, if it's well-traveled, we stop at the same stations. It may not be a straight line, but we ricochet off the same surfaces. It's almost certainly a hard-wired function. Maybe it's a protective mechanism. It's an almost impossible habit to break. Not only can we not change our personal history, we can't change how we think about it, or escape.


I'm fascinated by the mechanics Crowley imagines, going into the house of memory by the back stairs, and finding a different way to the front. And as you pass by them, things not quite where they're supposed to be, or not how you thought you left them. The truth is, it's not that we pass this way but once, but that we pass this way again and again, and each time we tell ourselves the same story.

25 June 2019

If I Should Die Before I Wake


by Michael Bracken

The recent passing of Sandra Seamans, whose blog “My Little Corner” was a must-visit for every mystery short story writer seeking publication, reminds me once again of how important it is to ensure that our families are aware of our writing lives. They often know little about our on-line and off-line publishing activities, the organizations of which we are members, the editors and publishers with whom we engage, and the many friends—some of whom we have never met outside of social media, blog posts, and email—we have in the writing community.

Sandra Seamans
Obituaries are often written in haste by family members who are grieving, and the literary endeavors of the departed are often of little concern to those mourning the death of a spouse, parent, or child. If mentioned at all, these endeavors are likely glossed over.

Certainly, immediate family members, close friends, and employers get notified. Families of those who were members of churches, synagogues, and mosques likely notify the deceased’s religious leaders and their worship community. But who ensures that the writing community learns of the writer’s passing?

Some of us are lucky. We have spouses who are active participants in our writing lives. They attend conventions with us, invite fellow writers into our homes, have met some of our editors, know to which group blogs we contribute, and know of which professional organizations we are members. Not all of us are so lucky.

Especially for those whose family members are not active participants in our writing lives, but also as an aid to those who are, we should prepare a few important documents. The obvious are a medical power of attorney, a will with a named executor familiar with our literary endeavors (some writers more knowledgeable than I recommend a literary executor in addition to the regular executor), and funeral instructions.

May I also suggest a draft of one’s obituary? I just updated mine, ensuring that my writing life is documented appropriately.

Family members will likely remember to notify employers—for those of us with day jobs—but will they know to notify professional organizations such as the Mystery Writers of America and Private Eye Writers of America? May I suggest a list of organizations in which one is a member, including contact information.

Those left behind will likely not understand our record-keeping systems, so an explanation of how to determine what projects are due and will remain undelivered, what submissions are outstanding, what stories have been accepted for publication but have not yet been published, and what might still be required of accepted stories (copyedits, reviews of page proofs, writing of author bios, and so on).

And then there’s the money. We don’t just receive checks in the mail. We also have regular royalty payments deposited directly into our bank accounts, and we receive both one-time and regular royalty payments via PayPal. Can those left behind access our accounts after our demise, and do they understand the financial loss if they close accounts without ensuring that all regular royalty payments and one-time payments are rerouted to the estate’s accounts?

I’m certain there is much more our families need to know about our writing lives, so forgive me if I’ve failed to mention something important. But just looking at what I’ve already outlined lets me know that I have much to do to prepare my family—and I’m one of the lucky writers whose spouse plays an active role in my writing life.

Guns + Tacos launches next month, and y’all don’t want to miss even a single episode of this killer new serial novella anthology series, created by me and Trey R. Barker and published by Down & Out Books. First up: Gary Phillips with Tacos de Cazuela con Smith & Wesson. Then in August comes my novella Three Brisket Tacos and a Sig Sauer, followed each month thereafter by novellas by Frank Zafiro, Trey R. Barker, William Dylan Powell, and James A. Hearn.

24 June 2019

The Times, They Are A-changing


by Steve Liskow

Some time ago, I pointed out that writers have to change with the industry, especially if they're self-pubbed.

About ten years ago, I attended a conference where an agent warned the audience that he and his colleagues wouldn't even look at submissions from writers who had self-published. At that time, prevailing wisdom said writers were self-pubbed because their work couldn't meet industry standards.

Mystery writer Joe Konrath and others disputed that claim, saying they were treated badly by the traditional monopoly and could make more money on their own. That argument gained weight when NYT bestseller Barry Eisler turned down a half-million-dollar advance from his traditional house and began publishing his books himself. It's worth noting that because of his successful track record, Eisler had thousands of followers, an advantage the average writer can't claim.

Everything influences everything else, and sometimes that's not a good thing. Self-publishing continues to grow, and it takes a substantial bite out of traditional sales. Last year, nearly a million self-published books appeared. Even if they each only sold one copy, that's a million books that the Big Five didn't sell, and it affects their bottom line.

Traditional markets have consolidated or disappeared. Since there are fewer paying markets, the remaining ones are swamped, for short stories as well as novels. Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine receives over 1000 submissions a week. Even if you read only the first page, 1000 minutes is over 16 hours, which means the slush pile grows more quickly than the rejection letters can go out.

The numbers hamper novelists, too. There are five independent book stores within thirty miles of my condo, and while they all say they support local writers, they do it by charging fees for shelf space and offering consignment splits that range from generous to usurious. They have two reasons for this.



First, self-pubbed authors won't offer the same 60% discount and free shipping and returns for a full refund that traditional publishers do. Bookstores need that break...unless they can stage an event that guarantees lots of sales. If it rains, snows, is too hot, or another event nearby falls on the same day, audience may not show up. a large audience doesn't mean large sales anyway.

Second, traditional publishers take manuscripts that have already been vetted by an agent and will edit them professionally, maybe more than once. It's no longer true that all self-pubbed books are terrible (see Eisler, above), but the only way to find the good ones is to read them. How long would you need to read one million pages to make your choice?

Most libraries follow the same reasoning. I offer a discount and free delivery for libraries that order several of my books, but few accept my offer because their guidelines in the face of annual budget cuts insist they focus on Lee Child and Stephen King because they know the demand is there. It makes sense, but it deprives the patrons of finding new authors to enjoy.

I suggest to those libraries that they buy digital copies of my work because the price is lower and people can borrow several copies simultaneously. That's not making headway either, but I'm trying to offer more options so my work gets read. Besides, if more people read my stuff, I might get more workshop gigs. Those have tapered off because of those same budget cuts.  I'm finding new venues and splitting fees, but nobody is making out like Charlie Sheen here.

If your book is on a shelf somewhere, it needs an eye-catching cover. My cover designer does brilliant work. He's also my largest set expense, and I'm not selling enough books at events to break even.

More change...More adjustments...

My next novel, due out at the end of this year, will probably be my last paper book.

I have four stories at various markets and four more in progress. By the end of the year, I may be releasing the unsold stories in digital format. I'm studying GIMP so I can design my own covers.

When you're a writer, you always live in interesting times.

What are you doing differently now?