09 April 2019

Hey, Mister


by Paul D. Marks

Say, mister. Will you stake a fellow American to a meal?

            —Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Yes, it's very pretty. I heard a story once – as a matter of fact, I've heard a lot of stories in my time. They went along with the sound of a tinny piano playing in the parlor downstairs. “Mister, I met a man once when I was a kid,” it always began.

            —Rick Blaine (Bogart again, in Casablanca)


Okay, to be honest, I’m not really sure how apropos these quotes are for the following piece. But hey, mister (and Ms.), why not look for an opportunity to get Bogart into a piece?

I get the equivalent of “Hey, mister” sometimes when people that I know and sometimes people I don’t really know tell me they’ve got the greatest idea since the Moviola (remember those, Larry Maddox?) was invented. And if I write it for them we’ll both be rich. Or if I write it for them, they’ll take half of the gobs of profits and I can have the whole other half. So like Dobbs in Treasure of Sierra Madre, they want me to stake them to a completed script or manuscript from their original, fabulous, never-been-done-before, get rich quick, idea.

I have a friend, let’s call him Friend, who is a non-stop idea machine. Not just for writing projects (both film and prose) but for pretty much every other thing under the sun. If he could just get one done he might actually make that million bucks. But he never does. He’s all talk and no sit-down-and-do-it. Re: writing he wants me to sit down and do it and split the billions we’ll make. He’s enthusiastic and the ideas fly out of him at a million miles an hour. Some ideas better than others, but nothing that makes me want to pull out a contract and say “Yeah, let’s do it.” He’s a fount of ideas, but I’ve been approached by others as well. They don’t seem to realize that I have ideas of my own.

Moviola
On another occasion, an old girlfriend and I got back in touch for a short time – let’s call her Girlfriend. It was nice catching up with her. But right off the bat she said her husband wanted to talk with me. He liked film noir. He had friends who liked film noir. When she originally put me in touch with him I think I naively thought that he’d want to shoot the breeze about noir films or books…….or God-forbid even one of my books. But nope. Right away, he asked me to read a couple scripts by his friends and see what I could do with them. Well, both for legal and other reasons, I never even downloaded the scripts he sent me. Therefore, never looked at them. They, too, might have been the greatest thing since the Moviola, but I’ll never know. And I thought it was odd that he had the chutzpah as to ask something like that right out of the gate of someone he didn’t know, had never talked to, etc. But then, he’s a lawyer, so maybe it’s to be expected…

I’m approached fairly often with these fabulous offers, which I take about as seriously as the fabulous offers I see on late-night TV or hear from telemarketers. I try to help people whenever I can, as I’ve been helped by others. But one thing I don’t necessarily want to do is work on someone else’s idea at this point in my life. I’ve done that in the past. But that’s not where I’m at now. I don’t need the headaches of working with someone else, especially someone who wants it done their way but wants someone else to do it their way. And I have plenty of ideas of my own. Several hundred written down in a couple files on my computer.

So when someone gives me the equivalent of “Hey, mister, can you stake a fellow American to a script or manuscript or whatever,” I try to politely turn them down.

What about you?


~.~.~
And now for the usual BSP:

The Anthonys. Well, from the BSP Department and since Anthony voting is still in progress, I hope you'll consider voting for Broken Windows in the Best Paperback Original Department.



The third story in my Ghosts of Bunker Hill series, Fade Out on Bunker Hill, appears in the March/April 2019 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. If you like the movie Sunset Boulevard, I think you'll enjoy this story. In bookstores and on newstands now:



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

08 April 2019

Every Blog Has Its Day


by Steve Hockensmith

When I first started blogging way back in 2006, I really only had one thing to say: "I am now a published author. Please enjoy my verbal tap dancing while I try to entice you to buy my book."

Thirteen years later, I'm still tap dancing...and I think it's time to stop. Or at least try a different kind of dancing. The electric boogaloo, perhaps?

Looking back over my (holy crap!) 160 or so blog posts both on my website and, for the past year, here, I can think of a few things I had to say other than "Buy my newest book." But it's nothing that required 160-ish blog posts -- adding up to (HOLY CRAP!!!) 100,000-ish words -- to say. The salient message points:


I wrote variations on that last one a lot, particularly here on SleuthSayers. For which I apologize. I have a lot of respect for the writers who blog here, all of whom find fresh new things to say without resorting to punts like "Writing is hard."

Week after week, another author/blogger I admire, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, makes it obvious why I need to stop. Kris has been blogging about the writing biz since, I believe, the late 1890s, and she always has a lot to say. When I read one of her lengthy "Business Musings" posts, it's plain to me she possesses three qualities I lack: expertise, confidence and the ability to produce large volumes of high-quality copy quickly and easily.

I can do the "high-quality copy" part. It's the "quickly and easily" I have trouble with. Because for me -- all together now! -- writing is hard. Which is why it's gotten to be a monthly bummer to stop working on my latest book or short story so I can agonize over what to blog.

So at long last I'm bowing out. Blogging was fun and useful for a while, but that time has passed. This will be my final post for SleuthSayers as a regular contributor, and I'm having my website redesigned so it's not built around a blog. The good news for my readers: The extra five or so hours a month that saves me will go into producing more fiction. The good news for SleuthSayers visitors: No more "writing is hard."

Thank you, Leigh Lundin, Rob Lopresti and everyone else who made me feel so welcome here. It was an honor to be a SleuthSayer...and I hope you'll let me come back when it's time for me to say "Buy my newest book" again....


07 April 2019

Professional Tips, and/or
Exceptions to the Rules


by Leigh Lundin

Often I turn to mystery writers for professional tips, but my friend, editor, writer, teacher Sharon sent me a Paris Review article by Benjamin Dreyer, author of Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. He presents a sensible, literate, and wonderfully enjoyable defense of bending, even breaking the rules.

The Village Explainer

The ‘4 Cs’ represent the real axioms of good writing, convention, consensus, clarity, comprehension. I suspect even these rules can be carefully broken, but not with impunity. Dreyer uses an example of ‘not only x but y’, but he didn’t extend the explanation to its conclusion. I’d back into one more in his C list, logiC.

I just single-handedly Crumpled my Credibility, but writing requires a certain logic, not merely plot, not merely sensible characterization, but how we string words together. Logic, for example, might include arguments for the Oxford comma, that clarity demands all items in a list should be separated by commas.

To Be and Not to Be (Schrödinger’s Last Meow)

Writers understand the difference between ‘and’ and ‘or’, but is ‘and/or’ a legitimate construction? One of my esteemed colleagues chided me for using it in an email, arguing it’s redundant. Use one or the other, he said, preferably ‘or’. He pointed out the persistent bugger has been criticized for at least a century. Even Strunk and White weighed in The Elements of Style. The manual says, ‘and/or’ “damages a sentence and often leads to confusion or ambiguity.”

What does the phrase “Abel, Baker and/or Charlie” mean in a contract or a bank check? My favorite YouTube attorney, Steve Lehto, recorded a lecture on the topic. Courts have had to decide the meaning of ‘and/or’ in legal cases, where they usually, but not always, arrive at a consensus of any or all.

While the awkward phrase should never appear in professional writing, I disagree ‘and/or’ can simply be replaced with one conjunction or the other. As I prepared this article, I looked up the combination to see if anyone else felt similarly. To my surprise, I came across a number of articles including a Wikipedia entry.

In a case of being wrong but right, I discovered ‘and/or’ can’t be simply reduced to ‘and’ or ‘or’. This has led grammarians to propose using the most appropriate of three constructs:
  • x or y or both
  • either x or y
  • x and any y
While the first has its proponents, especially amid legal circles, Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl, argues the third example can have its uses. She contends the first recommendation is awkward, through perhaps not quite as awful as the original ‘and/or’ phrase. She further suggests that if one insists upon using ‘and/or’, then treat the sentence as if the subject is plural, not singular.

Meanwhile, Back at the ProVerbial Ranch…

Check out Dreyer’s Non-Rules. Students have read others discussing the topics before, all basic rules, but not with this light-touch analysis you shouldn’t miss.
  1. Never Begin a Sentence with ‘And’ or ‘But’
  2. Never Split an Infinitive
  3. Never End a Sentence with a Preposition
As Dreyer points out, there’s more than meets the eye.

Rules, love ’em, hate ’em. What are your (dis)favorites?

TidByts for Grammar Geeks

[TL;DR] But wait! There’s more!

06 April 2019

Dreyer's English



by John M. Floyd



The other day I discovered, while piddling around on Amazon, a book called Dreyer's English--An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. At first I didn't pay it much attention--I already own a lot of books about language and style. Some are worthwhile and some are not.

Then I remembered my wife telling me about a recent NPR interview with the author, Benjamin Dreyer, who is vice president, executive managing editor, and copy chief of Random House. I looked up the broadcast online and listened to it, and that made up my mind. This book sounded different from most of the others. I ordered it, received it in two days, and read it in one evening. (The book is no small, stick-it-in-your-pocket volume like The Elements of Style; it's almost 300 pages.)


As it turned out, it was delightful. Or as close to it as that subject can be. Literary style--grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure, paragraph structure, word choice, word usage--can be a dry (Dreyer?) topic. But this book was not only informative, it was fun.

Here are just a few of the (mostly paraphrased) pointers and observations I found interesting in Dreyer's English.



- You don't always have to precede a sentence-ending "too" with a comma. It's okay to write "Me too."

- Feel free to end a sentence shaped like a question with a period instead of a question mark. It makes a statement, doesn't it.

- Always use the series (or serial, or Oxford) comma. You know this already, but the second comma in "red, white, and blue" is the series comma. Its use can prevent the following disasters:

Dreyer's example: Highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector. (Which implies that Mandela might've been older than we thought, and had an odd hobby.)

My example: Attending the party were two hookers, Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer. (Which implies two people instead of four.)

- Limit your use of words like very, rather, really, quite, just, pretty, and surely.

- Ignore the Big Three grammar/style "rules":
1. Never Begin a Sentence with And or But
2. Never Split an Infinitive
3. Never End a Sentence with a Preposition

(I happily break them all the time, but it's good to hear an expert say it's okay.)

- Never use an apostrophe to pluralize a word. This also holds true for abbreviations: CDs, ATMs, IDs, SASEs.

- When a possessive apostrophe is used with a word ending in "s," put another "s" after the apostrophe. (Strunk and White agree with this.) Mr. Jones's tractor, Colonel Sanders's recipe, the boss's wife.

- If the title of a work starts with "The," include it in a possessive construction:

Incorrect: Carson McCullers's Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Correct: Carson McCullers's The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

If you don't follow this rule, you could end up with something like this:

James Joyce's Dead
(Which Dreyer says sounds more like a tragic headline.)

- Cut back on exclamation points. He says, "Some writers recommend that you should use no more than a dozen exclamation points per book; others insist that you should use no more than a dozen exclamation points in a lifetime."

- Always use a comma if there's any question of clarity.

His example: In June Truman's secretary of state flew to Moscow.
My example: In time travel will become less frustrating.

- Hyphenate multiple-word adjectives:

first-rate movie
fifth-floor apartment
all-you-can-eat buffet

- Merge prefixes with main words hyphenlessly:

antiwar
extracurricular
hyperactive
interdepartmental
preexisiting

(Unless such a combination looks confusing or awkward, like recreate or coworker.)

- Don't use "hissed" if what is spoken contains no "s" sounds. "Take your hand off me, you brute," she hissed.

- A tip for recognizing passive voice vs. active voice: If you can append "by zombies" to the end of a sentence, you've written a sentence in the passive voice. The floor was swept (by zombies).

- "Blond" is an adjective: He has blond hair; she has blond hair. Both "blond" and "blonde" are nouns: A man with blond hair is a blond; a woman with blond hair is a blonde.

Examples of our evolving language:

"light bulb" became "light-bulb" and then "lightbulb"
"Web site" became "Web-site" and then "website"

- Dreyer's view on internal monologue (or what he calls "articulated rumination"):

In the old days, authors said: "What is to become of me?" Estelle thought.
This eventually became: What is to become of me? Estelle thought.
And now we're more likely to see: What is to become of me? Estelle thought.

A final piece of advice:

- Sometimes it's better to just reword a sentence than to struggle with what's right or wrong or politically correct.

His example:
Instead of saying "It is I who am late" or "It is I who is late," say "I'm late."

My example:
Instead of saying "Everyone take their seats" or "Everyone take his seat" or "Everyone take his/her seat" or Everyone take his or her seat," say "Sit down."




Some of his advice I didn't agree with. I prefer a.m. and p.m., he prefers A.M. and P.M.; he prefers "mind-racking" to "mind-wracking"; he doesn't like the word actually and I wouldn't be able to live without my actuallys, etc. (But my wife was kind enough to remind me that he works for Random House and my major was electrical engineering, so . . .)

The book also clarifies dozens of often-misused words and phrases: breach/breech, continual/continuous, discreet/discrete, everyday/every day, evoke/invoke, loath/loathe, mantel/mantle, onboard/on board, peak/peek/pique, underway/under way, workout/work out

And it lists (as a sort of bonus) many often-misspelled or mispunctuated people names, place names, and brand names. A few examples: Anjelica Huston, Katharine Hepburn, Ann-Margret, T.S. Eliot, Nicolas Cage, Bleecker Street, Caesars Palace, Fontainebleau, Savile Row, Dr Pepper, Froot Loops, JCPenney, Plexiglas, Reddi Wip



To sum all this up, I haven't enjoyed a book about language this much since Eats, Shoots & Leaves, and that was sixteen years ago.

Give Dreyer's English a try.







05 April 2019

Crime Scene Comix Case 2019-04-003, Slot Plot


by Velma

After rummaging through the dust bin of Future Thought channel of YouTube, I bet you’ll enjoy this little gem. Check it out.

Reintroducing Shifty, a none-too-bright crook who looks like a Minion in zebra stripes. This time he tries his hand at gambling. As W.C. Fields might say, “A game of chance? Not the way I play it.”


That’s crime cinema. Hope you enjoyed the show. Be sure to visit Future Thought channel on YouTube.

04 April 2019

Takeaways From Left Coast Crime


by Brian Thornton

So Left Coast Crime happened last weekend.

This year Vancouver was the host city. And the crime fiction folks from Vancouver did not fail to put on one hell of a con!



For those of you who missed it, here are some takeaways from this year's Left Coast Crime:

1. Vancouver is a lovely, walkable city full of gracious, beautiful, charming people.

2. The Liar's Panel this year was full of truth-tellers.

3. Jim Ziskin once again brought "The Flask"(tm).

4. Simon Wood's annual "Bar Stories" panel once again had everyone in stitches (this year with Catriona MacPherson, David Corbett, Tim Hallinan, Robin Burcell and David B. Schlosser!). If you missed it, ask Simon about the Danish king Cnut.

5. The MWA NorCal/SoCal/NW chapter mixer at Grain was a rocking good time!

6. That Go-Gos anthology is for real!

7. Buffalo Trace makes the poker better at one of these things (Just ask Craig Faustus Buck!), and vodka ought not be allowed in the room (Looking at you, Stacy Robinson!).

8. The downtown Vancouver Hyatt is a great venue, with wonderful staff, comfortable accommodations, and an omelet bar which made their breakfast worth the price of admission.

9. Left Coast is a great place to have an anthology signing party (Miss you Cornelia!)!

The "Die Behind The Wheel" Line-Up, L to R: Bill Fitzhugh, Nick Feldman, Stacy Robinson, James W. Ziskin, R. T. Lawton, David B. Schlosser, Simon Wood, and Linda Hull, with Yours Truly and David Corbett seated down in front

10. This year's panels included a mix of the usual and the innovative. Yes, there was still a sex panel. Yes, there was a cozy panel. There was also a panel addressing gender in crime fiction and (for me) the most memorable one: "Three Dyslexics and an Aphantasiac"–ably moderated by Jacque Ben-Zekry–where Josh Stallings, Simon Wood and Jay Stringer movingly discussed the challenges associated with writing crime fiction while suffering from dyslexia (as well as the advantages afforded those with the condition), and Jamie Mason helped educate the members of the audience as to just what aphantasia actually is, and how she doesn't necessarily see it as a disability.

L to R: Jacque Ben-Zekry, Jamie Mason, Jay Stringer, Josh Stallings, and Simon Wood.
I want more panels like that.

And that's it for this year's edition. See you all in two weeks, and already looking forward to LCC next year in San Diego!


03 April 2019

To Catch A Map Thief


by Robert Lopresti

Back in 2008 I wrote at Criminal Brief (here and here) about a massive theft that my library experienced.  I retired last year but I was invited to come back and talk about it in February.  The Map Collection had just moved to a new, more accessible, space in the Libraries and I was sort of a guinea pig, being the first speaker in the new space.  Everything worked out (and we will filled the area).

The talk was videoed and you can see watch it by clicking here.



And here are the answers to the movie quotations quiz from last time.

POPCORN PROVERBS 4


Remember you're old. - Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) American Animals

You said to me this is a family secret, and you gave it up to me, boom just like that. You spill the secret family recipe today, maybe you spill a little something about me tomorrow, hm? -Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) Black Mass

-Aren't you worried?
-Would it help?  -James Donovan (Tom Hanks) / Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) Bridge of Spies

When they send for you, you go in alive, you come out dead, and it's your best friend that does it. -Lefty (Al Pacino) Donnie Brasco


-You can't give back what you've taken from me.
-OK, then... Plan B, why don't we just kill each other?  -Sean Archer (Nicholas Cage)/ Castor Troy (John Travolta)  Face/Off

-I didn't kill my wife!
-I don't care! -Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford / Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones The Fugitive

-In this family, we do not solve our problems by hitting people!
-No, in this family, we shoot them! - Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) / Jack Stall (Ashton Holmes) A History of Violence

The competitor is our friend and the customer is our enemy.  - Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) The Informant!




How did you ever rob a bank? When you robbed banks, did you forget where your car was then too? No wonder you went to jail. -Melanie (Brigit Finda) Jackie Brown

It takes more than a few firecrackers to kill Danny Greene!  - Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson ) Kill the Irishman

Men would pay $200 for me, and here you are turning down a freebie. You could get a perfectly good dishwasher for that. -Bree Daniel (Jane Fonda) Klute

A man abandoned his family and wrote his son a story. He wouldn't be the first to cloak his cowardice in a flag of sacrifice. -Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) Mr. Holmes

You can add Sebastian's name to my list of playmates. - Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) Notorious


-There's a ninety-five pound Chinese man with a hundred sixty million dollars behind this door.
-Let's get him out.  - Danny (George Clooney) / Linus (Matt Damon) Ocean's Eleven

We should all be clowns, Milly. -Jim Wormold (Alec Guinness) Our Man in Havana

You get four guys all fighting over who's gonna be Mr. Black, but they don't know each other, so nobody wants to back down. No way. I pick. You're Mr. Pink. Be thankful you're not Mr. Yellow. -Joe (Lawrence Tierney) Reservoir Dogs


- I am a moral outcast.
-  Well, it's always nice to meet a writer.  -Dante (Klaus Maria Brandauer) / Barley Scott Blair (Sean Connery) The Russia House

Frank, let's face it. Who can trust a cop who don't take money? -Tom Keough (Jack Kehoe) Serpico


-Looks like trouble. -Looks like Christmas.  -Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) / Marv (Mickey Rourke) Sin City 2: A Dame to Die For


If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one. -Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) Spotlight



- I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.

- It's not true.  He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.  - Nora Charles (Myrna Loy)/Nick Charles (William Powell)/  The Thin Man.


To protect the sheep you have to catch the wolves and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.  -Alonzo (Denzel Washington) Training Day

-Not everyone loves us, Rex. -Save the punditry for someone whose paid to have an opinion.
-I'm cool with censorship, I know the American people love that.

-Angie Jones (Zoe Saldana) / Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver) Vantage Point


I do favors for people and in return, they give me gifts. So, what can I do for you? -Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) A Walk Among The Tombstones



-Man, I get so mad I want to fight the whole world.  You got any idea what that feels like?
-I do.  I decided to fight the feeling instead.  Cause I figured the world would win. - Chip (Martin Sensmeier) / Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) Wind River




02 April 2019

The Genesis of Guns + Tacos


with Trey R. Barker and Frank Zafiro

Writers are often asked where they get their ideas, but no one ever asks anthology editors where they get theirs.

In my October 16, 2018, SleuthSayers post “The Obstacle Ahead is a Mirror,” I alluded to a project conceived at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida, that had me excited about writing again. Season One of that project—a novella anthology series named Guns + Tacos—premieres in July, with an episode appearing each month through December and a second season already scheduled for July–December 2020.

The story of how Trey R. Barker and I conceived of Guns + Tacos, and how it evolved from a joke to an anthology series, begins back in February 2017. That’s when I pitched The Eyes of Texas, an anthology of private eye stories set in Texas that will release in fall 2019 (near the same time as the Dallas Bouchercon) to Eric Campbell at Down & Out Books. (More about that anthology closer to the release date.)

Trey, a Texas native now living in Illinois, submitted a story, which I accepted, and in the process of working on that anthology, we swapped several emails. I don’t think we’d ever crossed paths before, but we seemed to know several of the same people. So, we—Trey and his wife Kathy, me and my wife Temple—made plans to meet for lunch at the 2018 Bouchercon in St. Petersburg.

Here, of course, is where the story gets hazy, and I suspect each of us remembers things differently. But what I remember is this: Among the many things we discussed during lunch were guns and tacos, and at some point Trey said they were his two favorite things. A little later—I think it was after lunch as we were returning to the main part of the Vinoy—the subject came up again and Temple suggested that guns and tacos sounded like a good premise for an anthology. Off and on during the next several hours, Trey and I batted the idea around.

That evening, we found ourselves on the Vinoy’s veranda, hanging out with a revolving group of editors and writers affiliated with Down & Out Books, and we pitched the idea to Eric. Several of the people present made comments and suggestions, but the most significant contribution to the conversation came from Frank Zafiro when he described what he was doing with A Grifter’s Song, a novella anthology series he created for D&O.

A novella anthology series is much like a Netflix series, with a new episode (a novella) released each month over the course of a six-month season. A Grifter’s Song was already set for a January 2019 debut, was committed to a two-season arc, and Eric was looking for a series that could run the last six months of 2019. He asked if Trey and I could turn our anthology idea into a novella anthology series.

Trey and I met several times during the balance of the convention, and we made notes and a list of writers we wanted to approach. By the time we left for home, we had a good handle on the project.

I had successfully (and unsuccessfully) pitched anthologies, so I knew the fundamentals of writing a proposal, but a novella anthology series was a new beast entirely. We asked Frank to share his proposal for A Grifter’s Song, which he did, and we later wrote a formal proposal for Guns + Tacos using Frank’s proposal as a blueprint.

And Trey and I weren’t the only people excited by the concept behind Guns + Tacos. While Temple and I were sitting at the airport awaiting our flight home, I received an email from Frank containing a scene from the story he wanted to write wherein his protagonist visits the taco truck and gets a gun.

But Trey R. Barker and Frank Zafiro may remember things differently, so I’ve asked them to join me today and share their memories of how the project came together.

TREY R. BARKER

What a load of horseshit.

Here’s what happened…as best I remember, some of it’s kinda fuzzy….

Michael Bracken, Frank Zafiro, and Trey R. Barker
at Bouchercon 2018
I was at the Titty Twister. Remember that place, yeah? In Mexico? Rodriguez made a documentary about it awhile back. Anyway, I was banging straight up bottom-shelf tequila and Kathy was dancing on a table. Hot…HAWT!

So I’m doing my thang with the tequila and part of a worm and leering at Kathy. Mostly, I’m waiting for the Federales to quit sniffing all up in my business, just chilling to get back to San Angelo (home of Los Lonely Boys, don’cha know) and thinking I’m getting hungry.

In walks Michael and his little number and they’re waffling about tacos and I’m all like, “Yeah, I dig me some tacos,” but the Twister kitchen was closed ’cause the band was about to play or some crap…that part’s kinda fuzzy.

Me and my gun sat down with them, kinda freaked them out ’cause I ain’t never met them before and they ain’t been married long so they wanted to boom boom their own thang but I was down for tacos now they’d got mentioned so it wasn’t really my fault when the bottle got smashed open and the tequila went everywhere.

Damned waste of good agava juice.

So the band—Tito and Tarantula—started playing and it’s smoking hot; greasy guitar and thumping drums and Kathy’s dancing and now this cat Michael challenges some big, hairy dude to single-bullet poker and slams a gun right down on the table…that part’s kinda fuzzy.

Kathy said, “Hey, man, vegetarian tacos and guns…that’s a good night,” while Michael licked a bullet and eye-boned the hairy guy.

Vegetarian tacos? Man, this place is a trip.

Temple is all like “What the F ever, Michael,” like she’s done this scene before and is straight up bored. Kathy’s banging back some sweet Riesling while she’s dancing and now the joint is full like a damned reunion of freak show wannabes all stank-sweaty and drinking like Sweet Baby Jesus was coming back tomorrow and bringing Prohibition with him.

The hairy guy holds his hands up, passive scared looks like to me, and leaves while Michael snorts aggressive and gives Temple some big ass Bad Daddy kiss and some new dude comes in.

Waving guns like a cheap stripper with spinning tassels. Got a gun in each hand, four or five more on his hips, strapped X across his chest with bullets like some old line Bandido, screaming he wants some damn tacos now or the Twister Armadillo gets it hard.

Scared the shit outta the armadillo. Poor damn thing running back and forth in that cage. Barkeep had to put a bowl of tequila in there to calm it down.

So Gunboy starts gassing about how he’s had tacos before, a plate of 12 or some crap, and he wants more tacos and I said “Guns and tacos…mmmmmmmm,” and Temple said something like “Guns and tacos…that’s the best you can do?” and Kathy said “Vegetarian guns and tacos,” which I took to mean vegetarian tacos, not guns, but I don’t know…that part’s kinda fuzzy.

And so that’s how Michael and me and Gunboy bought a taco truck in Sausalito.

But it’s all kinda fuzzy.

FRANK ZAFIRO

I just happened to be walking past Michael and Trey, huddled together over drinks in the lobby area, when they spotted me and called me over. They asked about a project of mine called A Grifter’s Song. Now, this was about a month away from the official announcement from Down & Out Books. Nonetheless, I swore them to secrecy, and then proceeded to lay it all out for them.

[I can keep secrets. Really.]

I explained the artistic and logistical set up for A Grifter’s Song, which features a pair of grifters who love two things: each other, and the game. The series runs twelve episodes across two six-episode seasons. I wrote the first and last episodes and ten other authors penned the rest. Each is self-contained. Subscribers to the series get a price break, automated delivery and a bonus, subscriber-only episode.

When I finished, one of them asked a little hesitantly, “Do you think we could get a copy of the treatment you sent Eric for the series?”

“Of course,” I said.

Why wouldn’t I? The dirty little not-really-a-secret was that my original plan was to write the series myself and release quarterly, but then Gary Phillips invited me to submit to a series he was working on. His format? Every episode written by a different author, and a once-a-month release schedule. It was a great idea, and I quickly realized it was the right model for A Grifter’s Song. I put together a treatment for the series and pitched it to D&O, who came up with the subscription model.

Now, while I wouldn’t call it theft, I most certainly felt a debt to Gary Phillips. So not only do I acknowledge the inspiration, I offered him a slot in season one. He graciously contributed Episode 4: The Movie Makers.

So you can see how it was my pay-it-forward duty to share a preview of this project with Michael and Trey. In this tribe, that’s how it works, at least most of the time. We take care of each other.

They seemed to dig the idea, and as you’ll surely read, things took off from there. Seeing that success is satisfying enough, but I got something else out of the deal, too—an invitation to submit.

I started my story at the airport on the way home from Bouchercon.

Fittingly, Gary Phillips is in this one, too.

THE END RESULT

Joining us on this adventure are Gary Phillips, William Dylan Powell, and James A. Hearn. Though they weren’t there at the conception, they’ve certainly helped make the first season a success, and were great to work with as Trey and I figured out how to turn Guns + Tacos into a reality.

Read the official press release announcing Guns + Tacos but note that it leaves out one important bit of news. Even before the first episode drops, Guns + Tacos has been picked up for a second season!

In other news: My story “The Maltese Terrier” appears in the latest issue of Black Mask.

01 April 2019

Cats and Writing


by Steve Liskow

I've had a few weeks to adjust to Daylight Savings Time now. I like driving to and maybe even home from an open mic with some light in the sky. At my age and with cataract surgery several years behind me, night vision isn't one of my strengths. And getting up in the morning isn't an issue because our bedroom isn't on the sunny side of our condo.

Besides, the time on the clock isn't an issue. We arrange our lives around our cat.

Ernie came to us as a rescue nearly ten years ago, along with his adopted sister Jewel. Ernie was just over a year old--he'll be eleven in April--and Jewel was seven months older. They were a bonded couple and amused each other--and us--constantly with their telepathy. Unfortunately, as often happens, they both had health issues. Jewel died about sixteen months ago and Ernie, who had been with her since he was eight weeks old, was even more devastated than we were. He's a Maine coon, which means he pretty resilient, but he needed about a month to reinvent his bearings. Fortunately, he's also creative and social.

Now, even more than before, Ernie decides when it's time to get up. During the night, he'll knock my alarm clock off my nightstand because it's redundant, and he walks across me and chirps when he wants attention. He doesn't need that clock or sunlight to know when it's time for breakfast because his stomach is more accurate than the Naval Observatory. At 6:45, he tells me he's hungry, even though it's not true.
He munches on prescription dry food all night so the dish is practically empty when I go downstairs. I'll refill it and put out prescription canned food (He has stage two kidney disease, which he's held at bay for two years now), but he won't come downstairs until my wife does so he can help her read the newspaper. Since he's a guy, he prefers the sports section, but he'll settle for the comics.

 After that, he wants me at my desk writing.

That's not negotiable. An hour later, he wants me to run a cup of water for him in the bathroom. Yes, he has a fountain downstairs, but now's not the time for that. He wants me at my desk for between 60 and 90 minutes, then he want either me or Barb to lie on the bed so he can cuddle for about 15 minutes. It recharges both of us.

In the afternoon, if I'm typing, he'll try to crawl into my lap between 1:50 and 2:10 because that's snack time. No argument. He may not have even been downstairs all morning, but now we put out dry food. He wants his non-prescription canned food (Which contains the cleverly-crushed blood pressure pill) at 4:30, but we try to stall until 5:00.

After that feeding, we get by without further guidance or supervision. He'll hang out in the office if one of us is at the computer, or he may come down to join us if we're watching TV (He doesn't get the point of women's basketball at all), but the evening is basically our own.

The plus side of this, besides having a very affectionate cat who likes to take care of us, is that we've learned to work in increments of 75 to 90 minute and then take a short break to replenish the energy. Granted, if I'm in the middle of a scene, I don't want to stop, but he's trained me to keep thinking about what I'm writing while he walks across me, and sometimes that few extra minutes gives me time to think of that snappy comeback that you always think of after losing the argument. If I'm not going to the health club or an open mic or shopping that day, I can do five or six 60-to-90 minute stretches of writing. Getting out of the chair to move helps my less than pristine back, too.

When Barb is rehearsing lines for a play (She averages about five productions a year), he's willing to sit and listen to her. He never gives her direction, but if she can't hold his interest, he'll curl up, tuck his tail over his nose, and go to sleep. Tough critics, cats.

But they train us well.

I know O'Neil has a cat or cats, and I think other writers on this blog have dogs, cats, or both. How many of them help you write?