06 August 2019

The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods



by Michael Bracken

A few minutes ago, as I write this, I finished checking proofs for The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods and, as soon as I have the answer to a question posed to one of the seventeen contributors, I’ll be sending everything back to the publisher. Scheduled for October 21, 2019, release from Down & Out Books, The Eyes of Texas will be my sixth published anthology.

I edited the first five—Fedora, Fedora II, Fedora III, Hardbroiled, and Small Crimes—(all of which were released in hardback and which will soon be released in trade paperback and as ebooks)—in the early 2000s, so there’s been a bit of a gap in my anthology output. This wasn’t by choice. In the interim I pitched anthology ideas to several publishers, received some positive feedback and encouragement, but finalized no deals.

THE BACKSTORY

One of those ideas—a collection of private eye stories set in Texas—had a positive reception at a regional publisher, but, like many other pitches before and since, ultimately led nowhere. (On the positive side, it did lead to cowriting “Snowbird” with Tom Sweeney, the first sale either of us made to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.)

The idea languished in my file of anthology pitches until February 2017 when I learned that Bouchercon was coming to Texas. I dusted off The Eyes of Texas, revised the proposal, and, in my pitch to Eric Campbell at Down & Out Books, suggested releasing it to coincide with the Dallas Bouchercon. Three days later I had a commitment from Eric and work began.

I soon issued an open call for submissions and set the submission deadline for November 30, 2017. Submissions drifted in during the coming months, from new writers and well-established writers, from writers I had worked with previously, writers I had shared space with in various anthologies and periodicals, and writers with whom I had no previous experience.

(For those who like to see stats: I received forty-three stories from thirty-nine writers. I accepted seventeen. I received submissions from twenty-nine writers who appear to be male; I accepted fifteen. I received submissions from ten writers who appear to be female; I accepted two. I did not include my own work.)

Though I rejected stories throughout the process, I did not send acceptances until the tail-end of December 2017, and I spent the next several months editing and working with the contributors, finally delivering the full manuscript to D&O in early July 2018, more than a year before the scheduled publication date.

One of the stories I accepted was the author’s first sale, submitted after he saw me on a panel of anthology editors at Armadillocon. One of the stories was submitted following a conversation I had with the author at the Toronto Bouchercon in which we discussed an aspect of Texas history that no submission had addressed, and which the author incorporated into his submission. One story’s protagonist first appeared in a story published years earlier in Fedora III, and one story’s protagonist will be featured in a forthcoming novel.

Unfortunately, one contributor has passed away.

And those stories I didn’t select? At least two have found other homes: One recently appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and another will appear in an anthology edited by Maxim Jakubowski.

THE NEW OPPORTUNITIES

Editing The Eyes of Texas led, directly or indirectly, to several new opportunities. I recently turned in the manuscript for Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, the first in an annual anthology series, and I will begin reading submissions for Mickey Finn 2 in September. (For guidelines, visit http://www.crimefictionwriter.com/submissions.html.) I co-created and am co-editing, with one of the anthology contributors, the Guns + Tacos serial novella anthology series. With one of the anthology’s contributors, I co-authored and sold two stories. With another contributor, I co-authored a story that is currently making the rounds, and I’ve placed stories in two anthologies edited by yet another contributor.

All of these unexpected opportunities remind me how interconnected we are as writers and editors, and they remind me how important it is not to give up. If I had stopped pitching anthologies during my decade-plus drought, it is likely that none of these new opportunities would have fallen into my lap.

THE EYES OF TEXAS

Texas has it all, from bustling big cities to sleepy small towns, and law enforcement alone can’t solve every crime. That’s where private eyes come in. They take the cases law enforcement can’t—or won’t. Private eyes may walk the mean streets of Dallas and Houston, but they also stroll through small West Texas towns where the secrets are sometimes more dangerous. Whether driving a Mustang or riding a Mustang, a private eye in Texas is unlike any other in the world.

The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods features seventeen original tales of Lone Star State private eyes from Trey R. Barker, Chuck Brownman, Michael Chandos, John M. Floyd, Debra H. Goldstein, James A. Hearn, Richard Helms, Robert S. Levinson, Scott Montgomery, Sandra Murphy, Josh Pachter, Michael Pool, Graham Powell, William Dylan Powell, Stephen D. Rogers, Mark Troy, and Bev Vincent.

Preorder now at https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/bracken-eyes-texas/.



Three Brisket Tacos and a Sig Sauer, my contribution to and the second episode of the Guns + Tacos serial novella anthology series Trey R. Barker and I created and edit, released August 1.

Joseph “Joey D” Garrett owes everything to his Aunt Sylvia, including a stint in the Stateville Correctional Center. When he’s released, Joey returns to the only life he knows, and he soon becomes an instrumental part of his aunt’s plan to rob four banks in a single day.

Before that can happen, though, Joey meets Gloria Sanchez, and she turns his life upside down. Gloria’s everything his aunt isn’t, and their developing relationship makes him think about how life could be if he weren’t so dependent on Sylvia. When he’s forced to choose between the two most important women in his life, Joey finds the answer in a take-out bag from a taco truck.

Order here: https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/bracken-three-brisket-tacos/.

Or order the entire first season here: https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/guns-tacos-s1-subscription/.

Also, I’m reading my story “Oystermen” from the July/August issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in episode 118 of EQMM’s podcast. Recorded at this year's Malice Domestic, my voice had grown a bit horse before Jackie Sherbow began recording. Listen here.

05 August 2019

Bending The Bar


by Steve Liskow

I attended high school so long ago that my class used Roman Numerals. My ninth-grade English teacher was the sister of Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Theodore Roethke, and she was one of the best--and toughest--teachers I ever had. Because of her, I finished what was then called Junior High School with a better understanding of grammar than any healthy person should have to admit. I earned a "B" from her and was put into the honors English classes in high school because nobody else had earned a "B" from her since the Korean Conflict.


The honors classes all took a diagnostic grammar and usage test the first day, we all scored 177 of a possible 177, and the teacher called that our grammar for the year. We read lots of books, of course, and we did lots of writing, which was graded on our grammar, spelling, punctuation and general usage.

My senior class demanded a research paper of 1000 words, and we had to put footnotes at the bottom of the page and include a bibliography. The teacher promised us she would check our form carefully. I don't remember now whether we had six weeks to complete the assignment, or maybe even eight.

Six weeks, maybe eight, to complete a 1000-word essay. It works out to about 170 words a week, roughly 25 words a day. And we were graded on "correctness," with not a word about style or creativity. I don't remember anything changing in English classes until the 1980s.

In the mid 80s, I found several books that changed my teaching landscape. Peter Elbow's Writing Without Teachers brought the free-writing idea to daylight. Rico's Writing the Natural Way gave students stylistic models to emulate. Klauser's Writing on Both Sides of the Brain amplified both Elbow and Rico. Adams's The Care and Feeding of Ideas and Csikszentmihalyi's Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience set up the ground rules for how this stuff all worked.

Nobody else in my school seemed to notice these books, but they actually taught writing the way writers write: Say something, THEN worry about saying it more effectively or even "correctly."
Clarity and voice came first. For decades, we'd been trying to teach kids to say it right the first time, when we know that doesn't really happen.

Most of the English teachers I know are poor writers because they know grammar and punctuation so well that it gets in their way. When I retired from teaching, it took me about three years to accept that sometimes a sentence fragment works better than being correct.

One of the popular in-jokes was a facsimile lesson plan about teaching children how to walk. It buried the topic in medical jargon and psycho-babble and evaluation buzzwords until it became incoherent and impenetrable. The point was that if we taught kids basic life skills the way we taught them lessons in school, the human race would have died out long ago. (I'm carefully avoiding any mention of sex education here, maybe the only class that should be a performance-based subject...)

Back when I was in high school, golfers Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer both said that when they were learning the game, they were encouraged to hit the ball hard and concentrate on distance. They learned control and finesse later, and their records prove that it was the best way to learn.

That's how it should be with writing. Until you produce enough words to say something, don't worry about spelling or grammar.

Today, I expect to write 1000 words in an hour or so. My personal record for one day, back on an electric typewriter in 1981, is 42 pages, or about 10,000 words. I only had three weeks between the end of a summer grad school class and the beginning of my teaching year, so I just got stuff down on paper to fix later. The book was terrible and I later scrapped it, but that was ten times as many words as I'd done years before in eight weeks.

My second high, done to finish the first draft of a novel before I entered the hospital for surgery, was 7000 words.

If you're a writer, this probably doesn't shock you. I know many writers who set a 2000-word-a-day goal. If we'd asked that of kids in my generation, they would have all joined the Foreign Legion. That's because we were attacking the project from the wrong side. It's like pumping in the water before you dig the swimming pool.

Maybe this is why so many people say they don't write because they can't find a good idea. They may have perfectly good ideas, but they're afraid to begin because they fear doing it "wrong." It's the age old false equivalency over priorities: is it a candy mint or a breath mint?

If you think of your story, even in general terms with very little worked out yet, and start typing, the ideas will come. You may have to do lots of revision, but that's easy when you have material to work with. You can't fix what isn't there. The only document I get right the first time is a check because all I have to do is fill in the blanks. I take three drafts for the average grocery list.

Writing CAN be taught, but we have to teach the right stuff in the right order. It's no good obsessing abut correctness until you have something to "correct." We teach all the skills and have all the standards, but they're in the wrong sequence.

Don't raise the bar, bend it.

Teach kids the fun parts faster. I still remember teachers reading us stories in elementary school or the excitement of sharing our adventures in show-and-tell. Maybe if we kept the story first and worried about the finesse later, kids would grow into adults with more and better stories to share in the first place.

THEN you worry about style. There are dozens of books on grammar and usage--I've mentioned several of them before--but there are only two books I can mention about style, and Strunk and White is only really good for expository essays and academic subjects.

The other would be a required text in any class I taught. If you haven't read this, find a copy. I'm not going to discuss it because that could be another blog all by itself.

When I see kids reading on their screens or tablets instead of books, and watch them text with their thumbs, I have a few seconds of concern. But then I see how quickly they can type and the worry goes away. If they can produce communication that quickly, they can produce many short works quickly to make a longer one, and they can connect with each other. The phone abbreviations and emojis solve many of the concerns we obsessed over, too, like spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

04 August 2019

Sorry, Sorry Night


by Leigh Lundin

Vincent van Gogh, self-portrait with bandaged ear
Vincent van Gogh
self-portrait, bandaged ear
Everyone knows the story of Vincent van Gogh. In desolation and desperation, he sliced off his ear and gave it to a love interest, a local prostitute.

Much of that tale is problematic, even outright false. I have a simpler theory:

He missed.

Wait, wait… I’ll explain.

First, let’s correct one fact right off. Not every one who works in a church is a priest, pastor, or parson. Likewise, not every one who works in a whorehouse is a prostitute. Van Gogh presented the ear to young Gabrielle Berlatier who worked not as une fille de joie, but as a maid, serving, sewing, sudsing the laundry.

Women were the least of Vincent’s problems. His trip to the south of France hadn’t worked out, his paintings weren’t selling, and he was dependent upon his younger brother Theo for a small monthly stipend. Naturally, when a person pays money to another, they feel entitled to offer advice.
Sunflowers
van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1 in a series
van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1 in a series
van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1 in a series
van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1 in a series
“Vinnie, Vinnie. What am I going to do with you? Sunflowers? Who cares about sunflowers. In my dreams, I hear a voice chanting, ’Take a leaf from O’Keeffe.’ Don’t know what the dream means, but there you go.”

“But Theo…”

“And that weird thing, Drunken Fireworks on Bastille Day, title it Starry Night. Listen, I’m an art dealer. I know these things. You with me, bro?”

“But Theo…”

“Look, a healthy guy ought to paint nekked women. Look at Manet, look at Georgione, Gérôme, and hey, your buddy Gauguin. Naked people, now that sells; flowers not so much. Try to be more, well, like Toulouse.”

“Too loose for what?”

“Vinnie, Vinnie. Check out other artists, man, keep your ear to the ground. You so got that Dutch yardstick-up-your-klootzak thing. That peasant who models for you, what’s his name?”

“Er, something with Zach, maybe Balzac, Shadrach, Mezach, Prozach, I dunno.”

“That’s enough to depress anyone. Gotta go, bro. That argument with Paul, get over it. Gauguin’s a good guy. Tell him to send me some work. See ya, Vin.”
Van Gogh was one down-and-out dude. No luck selling his works, no luck with women, no job, no money, no friends– Van Gogh found himself beset with problems, especially depression.

On the 23rd of December 1888, he underwent a nasty row with his roommate, Paul Gauguin. Hours before Christmas, Van Gogh found himself abandoned, alone except for a bottle, actually a case of bottles.

He drank. He drank a lot. He followed Gauguin and waggled a straight razor at him. Gauguin sensibly fled to a hotel.

Vincent, truly alone, a man and his bottle… and a device commonly called a cutthroat razor.

The very drunk, very depressed artist decided to take his own life. He unfolded the blade. Intending to deliver a huge, decisive stroke, he raised the razor high above his shoulder, above his head. He hesitated, then whipped the blade down in a dramatic slash toward his quivering throat and…

Gaugin - Fatata te Miti (By the Sea)
Paul Gauguin - Fatata te Miti
Missed.

Gashed his ear, slicing it nearly off. Momentum lost, the blade glanced off his neck.

The inebriated artist botched his suicide.

The shock of blood and pain brought Van Gogh partially back to his senses. Woozy, he wrapped the ear and staggered to the brothel. There he unsuccessfully begged the teenage seamstress to sew it back on for him, a job too much for the girl.

Vincent van Gogh hadn’t deliberately cut off his ear. He’d intended to cut his throat and bungled his suicide.

So says my hypothesis. What’s your take?

03 August 2019

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Very Long Titles



by John M. Floyd



I've always been fascinated by titles. It's usually a case of Whoa, what a great title, and then Why couldn't I have thought of one like that? And, thankfully less often, What was the author thinking?--I could've done better than that. The truth is, the titles of movies, novels, and stories come in all categories--good, bad, and ugly.

The good

I think some are so well done they're worth mentioning: The Guns of Navarone, Atlas Shrugged, The Eagle Has Landed, The High and the Mighty, The Caine Mutiny, Watership Down, To Kill a Mockingbird, "The Tin Star," Something Wicked This Way Comes, Jurassic Park, Lonesome Dove, The Grapes of Wrath, The Silence of the Lambs, Blazing Saddles, The Princess Bride, The Maltese Falcon, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, "The Gift of the Magi," Ben-Hur, Sands of the Kalahari, Dances With Wolves, East of Eden, Back to the Future, A Fish Called Wanda, The Seven-Year Itch, Our Man Flint, The Usual Suspects, An Officer and a Gentleman, The Gypsy Moths, No Country for Old Men, The Sand Pebbles, Fail-Safe, Gone With the Wind, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and so on. The one thing all these have in common is that they are unique--each is one of a kind.

An aside, here. I also love the way some authors of fiction have used their titles almost as marketing trademarks: Janet Evanovich's numbers: One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly; James Patterson's nursery rhymes: Jack and Jill, Three Blind Mice, Along Came a Spider; Sue Grafton's alphabet: A Is for Alibi, B Is for Burglar, C Is for Corpse; Martha Grimes's English pubs: The Old Silent, The Dirty Duck, Jerusalem Inn; John D. MacDonald's colors: The Green Ripper, The Deep Blue Good-by, A Purple Place for Dying; Robert Ludlum's three-word titles: The Bourne Identity, The Matarese Circle, The Rhinemann Exchange; James Michener's one-word titles: Centennial, Chesapeake, Hawaii; John Sandford's "prey" titles: Night Prey, Winter Prey, Mind Prey; etc.

Does length matter?

A question I've often heard writers ask is, "Does my title need to be short?" Or, in other words, "Is a long title a disadvantage?" I don't know the answer. Looking back at my own short stories, I've found that almost all my titles are short--between one and three words. But I don't remember making a conscious effort to keep them short. I just try to come up with something appropriate and--if possible--intriguing. I'm not always successful at that, but I try. And I love titles that turn out to have double meanings, or meanings that are revealed only in the course of the story. Like my one-to-three-word titles, I have far too many four-word titles to list, but here are some of mine that are five words or more: ""On the Road With Mary Jo," "The Red-Eye to Boston," "A Nice Little Place in the Country," "Debbie and Bernie and Belle," "The Moon and Marcie Wade," "Take the Money and Ron," "The Early Death of Pinto Bishop," "Turn Right at the Light," "A Message for Private Kirby," "Can You Hear Me Now?" "The Browns and the Grays," "A Surprise for Digger Wade."

One thing that I find interesting is that there are a LOT of movie and novel titles that are long--some of them extremely long. And some of those titles are surprisingly good. Another thing that's interesting, at least to me, is that some of the longest titles aren't that hard to remember; they're just long. In fact I can recall some titles that aren't very long but are hard to remember, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, etc.

Title contenders

As you might've expected, I've put together a list of some very long movie titles. They're in no particular order, but my favorites are at the top of the list. As you also might've expected, some of the titles farther down the line are bad and some are ugly. I'll leave it to you to decide which are which.

Note: Only titles of eight words or more are included. (I hated to leave out It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and, yes, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but I had to draw the line somewhere.) I also didn't include any documentary titles or any titles containing colons, parentheses, or "or." Examples:
- Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
- Shoot First and Pray You Live (Because Luck Has Nothing to Do With It)
- Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
- Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, or How I Flew From London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes

Here, then, after my lame disclaimers, is my lineup:



A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain (1995)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Seeking a Friend at the End of the World (2012)

Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (1995)

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967)

At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1991)

Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)

Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? (1971)

Can Heironymous Merkin Ever Forgive Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969)

The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989)

Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mom's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad (1967)

Went to Coney Island on a Mission from God . . . Be Back by Five (1998)

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask (1972)

Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996)

Quackster Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx (1970)

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972)

The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968)

To Woo Fong, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995)

The Ranger, the Cook, and the Hole in the Sky (1995)

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest (2002)

A Quiet Little Neighborhood, a Perfect Little Murder (1990)

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You (2011)

The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (1993)

It's Better to Be Wanted for Murder Than Not to Be Wanted at All (2003)

I Could Never Have Sex With a Man Who Had Such Little Regard for My Husband (1973)

The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (1957)

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (1991)

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2013)

Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (1973)

What They Don't Talk About When They Talk About Love (2013)

The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charente Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (1967)

The Fable of the Kid Who Shifted His Ideals to Golf and Finally Became a Baseball Fan and Took the Only Known Cure (1916)

What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer's Body? (1972)

The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Super Bad About It (2010)

I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meathook, and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at Disney (1993)

You Gotta Walk It If You Like to Talk It or You'll Lost That Beat (1971)

The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Green Grasshopper and the Vampire Lady From Outer Space (1965)

The Heart of a Lady as Pure as a Full Moon Over the Place of Medical Salvation (1955)

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014)

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)



Since I've neglected them so far, here are some long-titled novels and children's books:


Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flagg

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, Matt Bell

Grab Onto Me Tightly as if I Knew the Way, Bryan Charles

The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship, Charles Bukowski

The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It, Lisa Shanahan

The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow Into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle, Edgardo Vega Yunque

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon

And to My Nephew Albert I Leave the Island What I Won Off Fatty Hagan in a Poker Game, David Forrest

Sheila Devine Is Dead and Living in New York, Gail Parent

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson

Fame, Glory, and Other Things on My To Do List, Janette Rallison

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judie Viorst

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente


Okay, back to the movies

The best (in my opinion) one-word movie titles: Vertigo, Giant, Shane, Fargo, Goldfinger, Tombstone, M*A*S*H, Goodfellas, Unforgiven, Psycho, Nashville, Crash, Rocky, Papillon, Casino, Platoon, Holes, Ghostbusters, Splash, Memento, Twister, Witness, Deliverance, Seabiscuit, Chinatown, Sideways, Titanic, Hondo, Flashdance, Poltergeist, Network, Spartacus, Jaws, Signs, Aliens, Misery, Casablanca.

And, last AND least, some two-letter and one-letter titles: Pi, Go, RV, It, Up, If . . ., F/X, I. Q., Da, E.T., M, G, W., Z, O, $.




Had enough of this? Good, because those are all I can think of. As always, please let me know of any I've missed, and maybe some of the titles of your own stories and novels. Do your titles tend to be long or short--or does it matter? Do you have any that are very long or very short?

I'll close with the longest movie title of them all (I think). Brace yourself:

Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh-Eating, Hellbound, Zombified Living Dead, Part 2 (1991).


Don't you wish you'd thought of that one?






02 August 2019

Dark Duet, Eric Beetner's Deadly Double Feature + Interview


by Lawrence Maddox

Eric Beetner's Dark Duet (released last month by All Due Respect) is a two-novelette excursion to Bishop, a small midwestern town where the strong prey on the weak and violence erupts without warning.  It's John Mellencamp's Small Town re-imagined by GG Allin. It's Mayberry with Sam Peckinpah at the helm.

The first novelette, the previously published White Hot Pistol, veers from dark to pitch black. It's a superbly written tale of small town dystopia and family chaos, where the violence careens from gunplay to sexual mayhem.

Prodigal son Nash has come back to Bishop, "a speck on a map, a town full of dead ends," to rescue his teenaged stepsister Jacy from a horribly abusive home. Their stepfather Brian Thorpe is a sociopathic sexual predator who happens to be the town Sheriff.  On their way out of town, Nash and Jacy have a deadly encounter with a meth head that, like nuclear fallout, spreads menacingly fast. Soon the town's psycho drug lord wants them dead.  Brian will stop at nothing to keep his dirty secrets hidden, but his step children prove remarkably resilient. The body count is high, and the action sequences are dynamite. Everything builds to a bullet-riddled showdown where the outcome is always in doubt.

Author Eric Beetner
Photo by Mark Krajnak
We're back in Bishop for the suspenseful Blood on Their HandsThree high school friends, Garret, Trip and Kyle, break into the local Smart Mart to steal beer and junk food. When the owners, brothers Rafael and Troy, show up unexpectedly, juvenile hijinks turn into a deadly game of cat and mouse. Garret's dad Hank Sutherland is the new Sheriff (he was a well-meaning deputy in White Hot Pistol), but he's too preoccupied with spying on his cheating wife to be much help. Garret decides to turn the tables on his attackers, but things spin out of control for the Sutherland family.

Bishop is Beetner country. When Eric's not prowling its dangerous streets he (along with Steve Lauden) is promoting other writers via the Writer Types podcast, as well as the LA chapter of Noir at the Bar. Eric also designs book covers. Did I mention he edits TV shows too?  I felt guilty for drawing Eric away from his many endeavors to answer a few questions, but he happily obliged.

Lawrence Maddox: Your last novel All the Way Down is a tale of big city crime, while Bishop in Dark Duet is "a speck on a map." How does setting dictate what kind of story you write?

Eric Beetner: I tend to write more about fictional places than real ones. I don't like to be bogged down by getting all the specifics right or deal with the readers who will tell you when you got it wrong, even if it was in service of the story. So I make up places or set stories in totally unnamed places, like in All the Way Down.

Now rural or urban I don't differentiate much between. It does dictate the characters in the story and the characters set the tone. Different people live in a small midwestern town versus a big city. You don't need to look any further than our increasingly divided country to see the stark difference. So I think setting will set the tone for who populates the book you're willing to write and everything else flows from there.

LM: I love Bill Crider's quote about you, saying that if you were writing in the '50s you "could've had a nice career writing for Gold Medal or Dell First Editiion." I remember spotting you buying paperbacks at Glendale's Vintage Paperback Collector's Show a few years back. Are you influenced by the prolific paperback crime and adventure novelists of the '50s through the '80s?

EB: That quote from Bill is my favorite, and man, I miss him. But yes, I try to read a fair amount of classic or vintage books each year. I don't love everything, just as I don't love everything contemporary I read, but I've found some of my absolute favorite books in vintage reads. Some of those writers were so inventive. Look at a writer like Lionel White and you see such a diversity in his plot lines and every one of them works. I've never read a book of his I haven't really loved. Same with Charles Williams. If your a fan of crime fiction I think Hell Hath No Fury (later renamed Hot Spot after the movie) is a must-read. Then he wrote a bunch about his passion for boats and came out with stone classics Dead CalmAground, and Scorpion Reef.

Too many people only know the run-of-the-mill detective novels from the past and series like Perry Mason or The Saint, which aren't that inventive and not that different from contemporary mysteries. But if you think writers in the '40s and the '50s didn't do edgy hardboiled you clearly haven't read something like Fool's Gold by Delores Hutchins, or Do Evil in Return by Margaret Millar.

LM: Chris Rhatigan recently wrote a piece about your ability to create great action sequences. I find your action very cinematic. Do movies influence the way you think about writing?

I was so flattered when Chris chose one of my scenes for that piece. Movies are the basis for my writing DNA. I never set out to write novels. I wrote screenplays for years and went to film school, work in the biz, all that stuff that feeds how my brain is hardwired to a cinematic story sense. It's why I tend to write shorter novels, why I tend to read shorter novels too.

Just a sampling of Eric Beetner's original
screenplays. Are you reading this, Netflix?
We've all seen stories told in two hours or under that are fully realized and resonant stories that stuck with people for years and in many ways change their lives. Movies have shown that a story can be efficient and tight and still have a deep impact. I try to bring that to my novels. And if you're writing action your job as a novelist is to get the reader to see it in their heads. That's a movie! All you're doing is writing it with enough detail and clear, easy to follow action that the reader can play director.

And get out of here with that tired old "the book was better" crap. They're different. And frankly if you love a book I don't know why you'd go see the movie anyway. You already know the story and you know it all can't be in there. So let's let that old trope die out, can we?

Since you and I are both editors we know how important clarity and good geography are. Knowing who is where and who is talking and not interrupting the flow by writing a line or leaving out a detail that trips up the reader even for a second or the spell is broken. It's why what we do is such a valuable skill for writing. We're all about maintaining pace and knowing when to speed up or slow down, when to inject some humor to diffuse tension. We know how to work the difference between shock and suspense.

All those skills I use in my day job I find incredibly useful when I'm writing, and especially in action scenes. And with editing, I think one really valuable lesson is that sometimes the best way to fix a problem with a scene is to eliminate something. A little judicious trimming can work wonders.

LM: As a fellow TV editor I can attest to the long hours and the mental drain that can be a part of the gig. How have you made it compatible with writing?

Eric Beetner at work. Without Eric's expert editing, Fear Factor 
would've been just another show about eating bugs.
EB: People often ask me how I can be so prolific with a full-time job and two kids and the podcast, and, and...

It's true that our job uses so much of the same parts of the brain that it's not like we're on the assembly line all day and waiting to get home and use our right brain when we write.  We're draining those batteries all day long. It does impact the way I write. When I sit down I have about an hour to 90 minutes in me. I usually start around 11 at night. So there's also physical fatigue in there as well.

But you make yourself do it. It's like an athlete at that point. You gotta get in the gym, no excuses. But I've found that even when I have time off and can write during the day and get to pretend what it would be like if I were a full-time writer, I can go about 60-90 minutes and then I'm drained. I can get up, walk away for a few hours and come back and do it again and then again at night and get a ton written in a day, but I marvel at those people who say they sit for 5-6 hours at a stretch. I couldn't do that. Part of me also doubts if they're really writing that whole time.

LM: What's next for Eric Beetner?

EB: I have another novel, Two in The Head, out next January and it's a wild one. Very different. Very Hollywood ready, if anyone is out there taking pitches. I also have a novella in the Grifter's Song series that will be out next year and a novella in the Guns & Tacos also out in 2020. A few short stories in anthologies. Beyond that I might lay low for awhile. I'm on the hunt for a new agent (call me!) and looking to see what I can do to switch thing sup since I've been poised for a breakout for years now and it hasn't happened yet.

It's hard to talk about the set backs in a writing career without seeming like you're complaining, but it has been a rough few years of one step forward, two steps back. There have been incredible artistically satisfying moments for me and I've been proud of all the work I've done, but facts are facts and I just don't sell very many books. So I'm working on what that next step is because if I hear one more time I'm "on the verge" or that this "next one is the breakout" or if I end up on another list of "best writers you've never heard of" I'll drive off a cliff.

All that said, I have about a dozen ideas fleshed out and outlined that I want to write. I've written three TV pilots I'd love to get into some hands. I'll continue to do the podcast, Writer Types. I'm sure my version of slowing down will seem odd to others.

Care to catch the last Greyhound to Bishop? Book your one way ticket at www.EricBeetner.com. 



I'm Lawrence Maddox and my latest novella is Fast Bang Booze. My Name is Earl creator Greg Garcia liked Fast Bang Booze's "incredible attention to detail and humor." Our resident Sleuthsayer Paul Marks called Fast Bang Booze "a noir fever dream that shoots out of the station like a bullet."  Publishers Weekly said "Fans of offbeat noir will have fun." I'm currently working on the sequel. Available from Shogun Honey.

I thought Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was great, maybe Tarantino's best.  Care to discuss? Find me on Twitter, LawrenceMaddox@madxbooks; Facebook.com/lmaddox; or drop me a line at lawrencemddx@yahoo.com.

01 August 2019

Little Shrimp on the Prairie


by Eve Fisher

I realize it's been a while since I've updated everyone on South Dakota's own particular band of crazy, and there's a lot of it.  So much, that I'm going to have to do this over a couple of postings.  Today:

LITTLE SHRIMP ON THE PRAIRIE

Sadly, the Great Cultivated Shrimp will not be roaming the aquatic halls of Madison, South Dakota, any time soon.  Some of you may have forgotten that the idea of raising shrimp in tanks was first floated by Tru Shrimp to be built in Luverne, MN.  But then things went mysteriously sour, and Madison, SD leadership grabbed the project for themselves.

TruShrimp
Tru-Shrimp supplied photo at Argus Leader
But why?  How?  Well, according to the Argus Leader (HERE)
"Luverne officials say they didn't know it, but concerns expressed in late 2018 with the city's wastewater facility had effectively driven away Tru Shrimp.  A big pork producer was also planning to open in the city, adding its own significant amount of volume to Luverne's wastewater system.  Documents obtained by the Argus Leader show that regulators wondered about they system's capacity with two new businesses coming to town. Luverne's wastewater plant had already failed two tests measuring the quality of water it was releasing into the environment.  Even if the city's plant could treat Tru Shrimp's wastewater, state pollution control officials worried the fluid would still be too salty to discharge and eventually flow into the nearby Rock River, endangering fish, wildlife and downstream agriculture.  Luverne met with pollution regulators in November, also inviting representatives from Tru Shrimp to the meeting at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s office in Marshall, Minnesota.  Minnesota’s pollution control officials never got a clear understanding about what to expect from the Tru Shrimp facility despite multiple requests for information, wrote ex-MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine in a letter to Luverne officials, sent after the company's decision to build in Madison." 
Another version, floating around Madison, is that when  a certain member of the Madison task force asked why they thought of Madison, the Tru Shrimp representative said, "God told us to come here."

But apparently God has other plans, because now the Tru Shrimp ground-breaking in Madison has been cancelled, and "No new ground-breaking date is currently set for the [Madison] facility."  (Madison Daily Leader)

But why?  How?

The whiteleg shrimp (juvenile shown),
the preferred species for shrimp farming. - Wikipedia
Because, while "[SD] State and local officials committed $6.5 million in taxpayer dollars for a low-interest loan for the Tru Shrimp project this winter, including $5.5 million directly from the governor’s Future Fund... [that] money has not been enough to justify starting. It will help Tru Shrimp prepare for the Madison site, and is being used to help cover research and development costs at Tru Shrimp’s Balaton, Minnesota-based facility." (emphasis mine)  (Argus Leader)

In other words, millions of South Dakota, Lake County, and Madison tax payer backed $$$ are currently going to their "research and development center" in Balaton, MN.
Purely informational:  The dictionary definition of Ponzi scheme is "a form of fraud in which belief in the success of a nonexistent enterprise is fostered by the payment of quick returns to the first investors from money invested by later investors."  
Anyway, all of this intrigued me to no end, so I made a road trip to Balaton, MN, with my trusty sidekick and best friend - "Ally - Dark Ally" - because this whole thing was increasingly feeling like The Hunting of the Snark, and I had to have someone to snark with.

The Hunting of the Snark (cover).jpgBalaton, MN, home of Tru Shrimp R&D, is a shady, old-fashioned little town of 640 people.  If that strikes you as being kind of small to host the headquarters of a multi-million dollar research and development center, you're not alone, and was one of the reasons I had to go see the place.  Balaton does have a beautiful lake on the outskirts of town which would presumably take care of their water needs.  The old Balaton school is being used as the administration building.  The large concrete building (built in 2017-18) in the back with no windows and a barbed wire fence (which reminds me, some day I'll have to tell you about Cheneyville on the outskirts of Sioux Falls) is where the R&D is done.  In other words, where the tanks are.

Dark Ally and I stood around, discussing the place, and watched as various people - all men, dressed in office casual - went inside.  So we walked across the street and tried the door.  It was open, and in we went, too.

The lobby has not been renovated from its old school days.  There was a generic pop machine (with a variety of religious quotes and verses posted on it), a sign that the gym could be rented out for special occasions, but was otherwise private, and a standard-sized aquarium, complete with aquarium tchotchke and 5-6 shrimp bobbing along the bottom.  A few people came and went, but to go past the lobby area, you needed a computerized chip card, and I wasn't even going to try that.  Besides, there was a camera watching our every move.

"Shrimp Girl" by Hogarth
Wikipedia
Someone must have seen us on camera, because a man came out of the back and asked if we needed help.   Now remember the first Argus Leader quote above.  I said, "I'm from Sioux Falls, and I heard about Tru Shrimp and wanted to see what it was about."  His instant reaction was to tell us that "The Argus Leader article was all wrong; we don't dump salt water anywhere. We pay for that salt. We don't dump it, it's expensive."  Then he asked - pointing at the aquarium - if we'd seen the shrimp.  We said yes.  (Later, Dark Ally said we should have asked if we could buy some, and I replied yeah, we could ask if they sold by the pound or by the piece.)  I asked if he had any handouts and he went back down the locked hallway and returned, eventually, with a large postcard style flyer saying they're a subsidiary of Ralco Agriculture (out of Marshall, MN).  And strongly sent out a vibe that it was time for us to go.  So we went.

BTW, if you want to check out the Tru Shrimp website - it's HERE.  Pretty boiler-plate, stock photos, lots of color, little actual text, and no maps or pricing.  And a hint - "consumers confirmed that products raised in a trū Shrimp facility," and "Advanced water filtration systems are implemented for each and every trū Shrimp location" - that there are multiple facilities, when so far the only facility is in Balaton.

Anyway, later someone asked me if I thought there was any "there" there, and I replied that I think there's just enough "there" there to cover taking $6.5 million in South Dakota money.  Especially if we just give it to them.  Which South Dakota did.

EB-5, Gear Up, Tru Shrimp - we keep this standard up, and someone might start to think we're easy.


STOP THE PRESSES!!!!  HOT HEADLINES FROM MADISON!!!!

Last night's headlines in the Madison Daily Leader (Click headline for complete article):

Tru Shrimp is committed to building Madison Bay Harbor


My notes after reading the article:

Initially, Tru Shrimp planned to harvest 4.5 million pounds of shrimp annually; that has been increased to 8 million pounds annually.  
  • BTW, the first shrimp for sale were offered 3/27/19 - in Balaton.  "About 300 pounds of shrimp was harvested for Tuesday’s sale, and more will be available fresh on Thursday."  300 pounds x 365 days = 106,900 pounds a year. (Link)  Wherever their next harbor is built, it would have to be VERY big indeed.  
The Balaton Bay Reef in Minnesota cost $11 million. 
The Luverne Bay Reef was expected to cost $45 million.  (Star Tribune)  
The Madison Bay Harbor is expected to cost around $350 million. 
Ziebell hopes the necessary capital will be raised by the end of the year.  The company currently has 24 investors and "a very engaged investment bank."
  • From $11 million to $350 million is a heck of a leap.
  • From $45 million to $350 million is a heck of a leap.
  • $350 million is half of the State of South Dakota's entire education budget, and one-fifth of the state's entire revenues.  
  • It's going to take some very rich people or a very large number of investors to pull this one off.  
WaynoVision Comic Strip for July 31, 2019


And now for some BLATANT SELF PROMOTION!!!!
Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology by [Zelvin, Elizabeth]
Check out Me Too Short Stories:  An Anthology, edited by our own Liz Zelvin!  I am honored to be part of the company with a story in it - "Pentecost" ("The minister worries about her parishioners" - and she should.  Or maybe they should worry about her...  Darla's a firecracker!) - along with a whole host of wonderful authors.  It's now available for pre-order
HERE Amazon.com Kindle and
HERE for Amazon.com paperback. The official release date is September 3, and there will be a launch party at the Mysterious Bookshop in the Big Apple on Tuesday September 24.

And my latest short story will appear in the September/October issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  On a cruise ship, a trophy wife in pursuit of a country-western singer seems like an obvious case of "The Seven Day Itch".  But it's never that simple...

Best to all, and more craziness coming soon!



31 July 2019

Today in Mystery History: July 31


by Robert Lopresti

This is the third installment in my occasional stroll through the calendar.  Enjoy.

July 31, 1904.  David Dresser was born on this date.  You probably remember him as Brett Halliday, the creator of Miami private eye Mike Shayne.  His first novel was rejected more than 20 times, but he went on to write 30 books, which were adapted for radio, TV, and a series of movies.  He stopped writing in 1958 but authors labelled "Brett Halliday" went on to write many more books about Shayne.  Until I was researching this I had no idea that the excellent movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was inspired by one of his books.

July 31, 1930.  The Detective Story Magazine Hour began broadcasting on radio today. This is mainly significant because of the show's announcer, a sinister presence played by an actor whose identity was kept firmly hidden.  He was known only as The Shadow and proved so popular that he spawned his own show, a magazine, and tons of novels written by Walter B. Gibson.  Bwaa ha ha!

July 31, 1940.  The British magazine The Sketch published "The Case of the Drunken Socrates" on this date.  It was part of a series of stories about a Czech refugee detective which Eric Ambler wrote while waiting to be drafted into the army. (Notice the title of the book that collected the tales.)  Of course, Ambler was much better known for his espionage thrillers.

July 31, 1948.  The issue of Saturday Evening Post with this date featured the first installment of The D.A. Takes A Chance, the next to last novel Erle Stanley Gardner wrote about district attorney Doug Selby.  Alas, the prosecutor was never as popular as that other lawyer Gardner created, the defense attorney whose clients always turned out to be innocent.

July 31, 1951.  On this date Mr. and Mrs. Rackell came to Nero Wolfe to seek the murderer of their nephew.  "Home to Roost" is probably the high point of Rex Stout's literary attacks on American Communists.  You can find it in his collection Triple Jeopardy.


July 31, 1975.  On this date the movie Bank Shot was released.  It starred George C. Scott in the unlikely role of Donald E. Westlake's hapless burglar John Dortmunder.  (Okay, his name was changed to protect the guilty.)    

 July 31, 1986.  Stanley Ellin died on this date.  He was one of the greatest author's of mystery short stories ever.  If you don't believe me, try "The Specialty of the House," "The Payoff," or "You Can't be a Little Girl All Your Life."

July 31, 2001. This date saw the publication of Nightmare in Shining Armor, part of Tamar Myers' series about a shop called the Den of Antiquity.  I haven't read it, but I'm guessing it's a cozy.

30 July 2019

Living in a Writing Rain Forest


by Barb Goffman

Recently Michael Bracken wrote here on SleuthSayers about living in a writing desert. He doesn't have a lot of authors who live near him in Texas. So he doesn't have author friends he can easily meet up with for lunch or a drink or a plotting session. In response to my comment that a friend once said that here in the Washington, DC, area, you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a mystery author, Michael said:

"I often wonder, Barb, how much being part of a thriving writing community or being in a writing desert impacts how our writing and our writing career develops. I sometimes think that if I moved somewhere where one can't swing a dead cat without hitting a mystery writer I might get too excited. I'd have too much fun being a writer and not enough time actually writing."

Well, I'm here today to say that I know with certainty that if I were living in a writing desert instead of the opposite (which I'm guessing is a writing rain forest--all that water, right?) I would not be writing these words on this blog, and I wouldn't be writing fiction at all.
A real rain forest

I remember when I first got the hankering to try to write crime fiction. It was in my first or second year of law school, and I had an idea for a book. I thought I would start writing it in my spare time (ha!), perhaps over the summer. But summer came and went, as did the rest of law school and my first year of practice as an attorney. And guess what? I didn't write that book. Not even one page. 

One day I was thinking about the book. I wanted to write it, but three years (or so) had passed. Why hadn't I started writing? And I realized it was because I didn't know how to write a book. Legal briefs and memoranda, yes, those I knew how to write. Newspaper articles, yes, I could write those too. (I was a reporter before I went to law school.) But I wasn't trained in writing fiction. It was a mystery to me. (Ha again.) I knew there were rules I didn't know. I couldn't imagine how to start. Looking back, I realize I could have bought any number of how-to books, but I didn't. Instead, I decided that I didn't know how to write fiction, so I should just give up that dream.

But the dream wouldn't give up on me. Perhaps a week later, I saw an ad for an eight-week course starting in just a few weeks at a place called The Writers Center in Bethesda, Maryland. They were offering an introductory course on writing a mystery novel. The class would be on Saturday mornings, which fit into my schedule. The Writers Center was just a mile from my apartment. And I could afford the course. It was like fate was calling to me, "Don't give up!" 

So I signed up for the course, and here I am, nearly two decades later, with 32 crime short stories published, four more accepted and awaiting publication, wins for the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards under my belt, as well as 27 nominations for national crime-writing awards. As for that first book, the one that prompted all of this ... I stopped writing it after chapter 12 or so. But I wrote another novel after it, and that one I finished. It sits in a drawer, awaiting one last polish. I may get to it someday ... or not because I've realized I love short stories, and when I get time to write, that's what I want to work on. So I do.

I never would have learned all of that and done all of that and accomplished all of that if I had been living in a writing desert. Without that first class at The Writers Center, I wouldn't have started writing fiction. I also wouldn't have been introduced to Sisters in Crime, specifically to members of the Chesapeake Chapter. I wouldn't have heard about mystery fan conventions Malice Domestic and Bouchercon. I wouldn't have started writing short stories. (I started down my short-story path because the Chessie Chapter had a call for stories for its anthology Chesapeake Crimes II.) Boiling it all down, if I were living in a writing desert, I wouldn't be me, not the me I've become. I'd probably still be working as an attorney instead of working full-time as a freelance crime fiction editor. (The pay is worse but the work suits me so much more.)

Living in this rain forest also has affected my life in other ways. My closest friends these days are all writers. When I lived in the Reston area, four other mystery authors lived within two miles of me. Other close friends lived less than a half hour away. We would go to lunches and dinners, talk about writing and plotting and life. Now that I live a little farther away, those meals happen a little less frequently, but they still happen. And thanks to Facebook, I'm never far from my writing tribe. It is the modern-day water cooler. I also talk to my pals on the phone regularly. (Yes, I'm a throwback!)

So I am utterly grateful I don't live in a writing desert. I can't imagine who I'd be if I did. And while I hope no one ever actually swings a dead cat my way, if that were the price I'd have to pay, I'd pay it. But who would swing a dead cat anyway? Mystery lovers are animal lovers, and we like our cats--and dogs--alive and slobbery. But that's a blog for another day.
***

And now for a little BSP: I'm delighted to share that a few days ago my story "Bug Appétit" was named a finalist for the Macavity Award for best mystery/crime short story of 2018. And I'm doubly happy to share this Macavity honor with my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor, along with four other talented writers, Craig Faustus Buck, Leslie Budewitz, Barry Lancet, and Gigi Pandian. The winner will be announced on October 31st during Bouchercon. If you'd like to read "Bug Appétit" it's available on my website here. Or if you'd like to hear me read it to you, you can listen to it here. Once you reach the podcast page, click on my story title (Episode 114). Enjoy!

29 July 2019

From The Seeds of a Writer



by Travis Richardson

Listening to the Mueller hearings a few days ago, I have to wonder how our current world of reality is absolutely crazy and how can fiction match the nuttiness that keeps happening by the hour? I imagine it must be a difficult time to write a current-day political thriller that can keep up with the chaos. In David Edgerly Gates’s piece about Phillip Kerr’s Metropolis, he wrote the line:

“The future of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, as frightening as it is, can't begin to conjure up the waiting chaos, and the terror.”

Which is to say how could Fritz Lang (or anybody) have envisioned the atrocities that lay around the corner by Nazi Germany. We now know with history in hindsight what happened, but how much do we know about what is happening today and the future consequences?

I’m currently writing a story with the premise that Al Gore became the US president in 2000. How much of our world would be the different and how much would be the same today if had occupied the office? We'll never know. My focus is about the 9/11 terrorist attack. While I don’t know if it still would have happened, I’m fairly certain Gore would not have ignored the memo titled "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S.” Doing research (which is an infinite rabbit hole) I see a naïve United States at the turn of the century, fresh from a victory in the Cold War and an Iraqi butt-kicking. Americans (including me) felt invulnerable to anybody and believed that everybody loved their concept of democracy, capitalism, and non-secular government.

Simultaneously radical religious fanatics from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere looked at the state of affairs of their own countries (and perhaps their own personal weaknesses) and blamed the largest, richest country on earth for spreading misery via the above-mentioned qualities that American’s cherish. While one of Osama bin Laden’s biggest beefs against the US was that the non-Muslim infidels kept bases in Saudi Arabia after the first Iraq war, the reality is that America had been a target of hatred by radical sects since the 1950s. 

A large part of this hatred directed at the US started way back in the 1940s when Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian intellectual and future Muslim Brotherhood lead theorist, came to America on a teaching scholarship from his home country. He was appalled at what he saw in America including individualism, women with the power to divorce, mix-sex dancing, and prosperous Jewish Americans. Some of his critiques like institutional racism and a national obsession with materialism have merit, but overall Qutb came to this country with strong prejudices and then he doubled down on his beliefs upon returning to Egypt. He wrote volumes of work, many while in prison awaiting execution for trying to overthrow the Egyptian government. Although he hung in 1966 his writings became the cornerstone of jihadi terrorism for groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS about thirty years later and all the bloodshed that followed.  

All of this is a setup to ask, is there anything currently being planted in our current national discord that will have deadly consequences later? I can’t help but think that the “Deep State” allegations being hustled around by certain media personalities of a certain political persuasion are seeds for future violence. Will these seeds of political gamesmanship lead to a militia-like assault on a government agency and their defenseless employees? Perhaps another Murray building bombing? Maybe this will happen in a year or maybe twenty-plus years from now (or hopefully never).  I can see people believing the lie after being repeated enough to become “truth” compounded with a feeling of victimization that leads to an awful reaction.

Since facts and well-reasoned arguments no longer mtter as each side no longer listens to the other (or so it seems), is there a way to reach out with fiction to change our sideways direction and possibly prevent tragedy? I would hope so, but as Paul Marks mentioned a few days ago, there seem to be fewer readers in the world as a handheld digital obsession of temporal moments has taken hold.  Yet, I hold hope that there may be something that can reverse this trajectory. Something that nobody has figured it out yet. (Perhaps reading will be required by doctors for future mental health purposes.) I also hope for a unifying, zeitgeisty story(ies) that can penetrate through the noise and make a resonating, cross-generational impact on the world. Works like Les Miserables, 1984, To Kill A Mockingbird, On The Road, or “The Lottery” made an impact at their time and are still inspiring readers today. 

Unfortunately, I can't think of any books in the past few decades that are used as cultural reference points. History seems to work in cycles, but not sure how it works with reading. I'm hoping there will be another wave of reading fiction and those stories can net positive outcomes, unlike Qutb's bloody vision theocratic rule. 

What do you think?


(I want to give source credit to The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright as well as Wikipedia, The Guardian and other digital platforms of endless amounts of information.)  


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