04 September 2019

Think Green



Meeting an old friend in Galway Cathedral.
by Robert Lopresti

In August my family spent three weeks in Ireland, the ancestral home of one-eighth of my genes.  I wish I could tie it to mysteries or writing, but I really can't (except for the ending of this piece, as you will see).  I suppose I should just be grateful I have no crimes to report.  But, in any case, here are my random  observations from the Rocky Road to Dublin.

* Speaking of crime, we were warned in advance that "People there are so friendly you will think they are trying to get something from you."  We found that to be an exaggeration, but in Galway, where we spent the first week, some people did go above and beyond. The same woman helped us in two different neighborhoods, making me wonder if she was following us.

* In Galway (but not Dublin) every supermarket sold packages of pancakes, just like you might buy tortillas or naans here.  They often said "American style!" although I have never seen them sold that way in America.

* And speaking of food oddities, This photo shows a combination I never expected to see:

*One more food thing!  Pizzerias in Dublin don't seem to believe that basil goes on a Margherita pizza.  It was invented to honor the queen of Italy and has the colors of the national flag.  Red (tomato sauce), white (mozzarella), and green (basil).  You guys are apparently honoring Switzerland. 

* Every shop in Dublin bragged of "Ireland's Best Coffee!" or "Dublin's Favorite Burger!" or "Best Ice Cream!"  If someone had promised "Temple Bar's Third-Best Tea!" I would have purchased some just out of gratitude for the change.

* By coincidence we arrived the week of the Galway Races, which is a Big Thing in the horsey world.  Every day one of the main streets was stuffed with buses taking people off to the track.  Thursday was Ladies Day and it looked like prom night, with the city full of young women in fancy dresses, wobbling along on five inch heels.

* One of the highlights of our trip was taking the ferry to Inis Mor, largest of the Aran Islands off the west coast.  They say there are three thousand miles of stone walls on the three islands, and I believe them.  We rented bikes and peddled our way to Dun Aonghasa, a fort that is at least 2,500 years old.  When I put this photo up on Facebook one my friends asked: "Is that blood on the gateposts?"  Could be, could be.

* My favorite living Irish non-mystery author is Roddy Doyle.  (You may have seen The Commtments, based on his first novel.)  A few years ago he created a Twitter account as research for a novel.  Doyle filled it with conversations between two imaginary friends in a pub and this proved so popular that he turned it into a play, which has been performed in pubs in the British Isles for a few years.  Two Pints just premiered at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.  We got to see it, and it is hilarious.  I hear it is coming to America  next year, so be on the look-out.

* Being archaeology nuts we made a special trip to Newgrange, a 5,000-old-passage tomb in County Meath.  What you see in this photo is a man-made hill. On the winter solstice the sunrise shines straight through the passage into the tomb.  You can enter a raffle to be one of the lucky people inside to watch it happen, but be warned that, this being Ireland in December, you may see nothing but fog and rain.

*We also visited Tara, the famed home of Celtic history.  Unfortunately, it is much more interesting from the air.  On the ground you see mostly rolling hills and can't detect much of the ancient patterns.  Not surprisingly, there are signs warning that drones are not permitted.

* If you know your Irish history you know that the General Post Office in Dublin was the center of the Easter uprising in 1916.  (So legendary did it become it that the joke goes that "thirty brave men marched into the post office and ten thousand heroes marched out.")  You can visit the GPO now and see a terrific exhibit that tries to explain the whole event with its bloody background and bloody aftermath.

* The National Library of Ireland currently has an excellent exhibit on W.B. Yeats.  It is definitely worth an hour of your time featuring recordings of his poetry, rare copies of his books, and art connected to his life.   (His brother and the unrequited love who was his muse were both fine painters.)  What struck me as weird was I did not see a single mention of what I think of as his most famous poem.  

Also on display was a survey Yeats received from some university on the subject of creativity.  One question asked: what did he do in the fallow periods when he was waiting for inspiration to strike?  His answer: read detective stories.  Good man!

The reason we scheduled our trip for August was to coincide with the World Science Fiction Convention, which was held in Dublin.  Some of you may remember that I reported here about an earlier Worldcon.  This one was also plenty interesting and I'll tell you about it in two weeks.  In the mean time have a cup of third-best tea, or something..





















03 September 2019

Negotiating Writing Contracts

by Paul D. Marks and Jacqueline Seewald

A couple of months ago I read a blog post by Jacqueline Seewald that I really liked and thought contained a lot of good advice. So I asked Jacqueline if I could re-post it here at SleuthSayers as I thought our readers would also find it interesting and useful. She updated it a bit and gave me permission to share it.

A little about Jacqueline:


picture of author, Jacqueline Seewald
Jacqueline Seewald
Multiple award-winning author, Jacqueline Seewald, has taught creative, expository and technical writing at Rutgers University as well as high school English. She also worked as both an academic librarian and an educational media specialist. Nineteen of her books of fiction have been published to critical praise including books for adults, teens and children. Her most recent novels are Death Promise and Witch Wish. Her short stories, poems, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in hundreds of diverse publications and numerous anthologies such as: The Writer, L.A. Times, Reader’s Digest, Pedestal, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Over My Dead Body!, Gumshoe Review, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. Her writer’s blog can be found at: http://jacquelineseewald.blogspot.com

Take it away, Jacqueline:


How to Negotiate Writing Contracts

Recently I signed contracts with two different publishers for two separate novels, one a mystery novel in the continuing Kim Reynolds series, the other a stand-alone historical romance set during the American Revolution. Each contract involved negotiations resulting in compromises from both myself and the publishers. I was reminded that I might have some ideas that could be helpful to other authors who also don’t work with agent representation. I hope what I share with you will prove helpful.

Let us say you have written and rewritten until you’ve finally completed the best work of which you are capable. At last, you find a publisher who appears to recognize your accomplishment and achievement. And now you are offered a contract. There are perhaps a few things that you should understand about contracts.

First of all, publishers use contracts to protect their own interests. Writers need to be savvy enough to do the same. Even if you have the benefit of being represented by a literary agent, you should not be ignorant in this regard. Let's say you've been offered a contract for a work of writing you've created. What should you expect to be included?

If you can afford it, I would recommend that you have an attorney look over your contract. But let's assume that the publication is a small one and the amount of money offered is less than impressive. Obviously, it will cost you more than you would earn to have an attorney examine your contract. Also, it’s not likely that an agent will want to bother with it either.

When you need to act as your own attorney and agent, the best thing to do is read up on contracts for writers before you sign. Here's where books like Writer's Market can be helpful. Writer's magazines often carry helpful articles. Writer's organizations like: The Author's Guild (www.authorsguild.org), National Writer's Union (www.nwu.org), American Society of Journalists and Authors (www.asja.org), Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (http://www.sfwa.org/contracts/) all carry valuable information.

In regard to newspapers and magazines, there are a wide variety of agreements. Some editors work by verbal agreement (the proverbial handshake) while others insist on detailed written contracts. I’ve had both types of contracts work out well--but sometimes not so well. It all depends on the integrity of the publisher.

Writers are usually asked to sell first serial rights or one time rights. This is preferred by authors. If you sell "all rights" to a specific work then you will be unable to sell reprint rights later. And many smaller publications are quite happy to purchase reprints. At times I’ve sold reprint rights to short fiction and novels for more money than I received for selling first rights. So avoid selling “all rights” if at all possible. Of course, you can request that reprint rights are returned to you at a later date, but be aware that the publisher is not obligated to return them. My suggestion: always negotiate. I have turned down several well-paying publications for both nonfiction and fiction because I refused to sell all rights. I don’t regret it.

Payment should be specified and agreed upon. It shouldn’t be left vague. Request payment on acceptance. You might not get it, but it's best to ask. Getting paid upon publication can lead to all sorts of problems. Not every publisher is honest or has integrity. Remember that contracts are negotiable. There's nothing wrong with asking for changes that benefit you.

Ideally, a kill fee should be specified. This means that if the publication does not use your work, it still has to pay you a percentage of the original fee.

If you do have a written contract—and that’s always best—request that a specific date for publication be included. Some publishers will hold your work indefinitely otherwise. And yes, this has happened to me as well.

Book contracts are much more complicated to negotiate. If possible, once you are offered a book contract, obtain the services of an agent or attorney. True you will be giving away a percentage of your earnings on a contract you have gotten for yourself. However, if a good agent will now agree to represent your future work, then you are doing quite well. An agent can often get concessions from a publisher that you cannot. Here are a few examples: a higher advance, higher percentage of royalties, more free advance review copies and/or final copies of your book. Also, a good agent can deal with the publicity department of the publishing house on your behalf. Well-connected agents can get your work seen by top editors at the major publishing houses. They network and know what particular editors are buying at a given time.

 Assuming you are offered too little of a payment to make this practical and interest a first-rate agent, then you should read up on contracts for authors before you make a decision to sign on the dotted line.

What should you insist be included in your book contract? You ought to insist on an advance. The advance is based on a formula that projects the book's first year profits. Many small or independent publishers claim they do not and cannot offer authors advances against royalties. However, the publisher hopefully can be made to see that an advance, even a small one, is viewed as "good faith" money by the author. If no advance whatever is offered, this is a sign that the publisher does not expect the book to sell well or doesn't plan to put much or any money in marketing and publicizing your work once the book is published. A nonrefundable advance is what the author should be requesting. As to royalties, request that they be based on the retail price or gross and not the net proceeds which often turn out to be quite small. Publishers generally want only to give you a net percentage which ends up as very little, especially when they claim that there are “returns” of your book. Creative accounting by publishers is quite a common practice and hard to prove. Hiring a forensic accountant simply isn’t practical for a majority of writers.

Publishers generally ask for every kind of rights possible. You may want, for instance, to insist that movie and theatrical rights be removed. Publishers often include option clauses in their contracts insisting that they be offered first rights to your next book. This can be a problem if your work is successful but you are still offered the payment terms of the previous contract. Worse still is the publisher's right to last refusal.

A time range for publication should also be included in the contract. Two years is acceptable; past that, all rights should revert to the author.

Another matter of importance: find out in advance if the publisher will be sending your book out for reviews. If possible, have this specified in the contract. Without reviews from major publications the majority of readers will not know your book exists. Your sales will be highly limited.

Above all else, accept no contract in which you are expected to pay for anything. I cannot emphasize this enough! Any request for fees is a clear indication of a disreputable publisher. Alarm bells should go off. Run, don't walk away! Be suspicious, because there are plenty of scam artists around. Check out writing scams via the internet. There are lists of so-called agents and publishers to avoid on many of the legitimate writer's sites. Check out, for instance, SFWA's Writer Beware: http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware. This website offers valuable information.

My advice is to be patient. Take your time and consider your options carefully. Respect yourself and the integrity of your hard work. And don’t settle for less from a publisher.

If you disagree on some of what I’ve written or can offer your own helpful advice and information, please do so. Your comments most welcome to be shared!

***

Thanks for joining us at SleuthSayers and for the great advice, Jacqueline.


~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Don't forget to check out Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus award-winning novel, White Heat. Betty Webb at Mystery Scene magazine says: "Broken Windows is extraordinary."


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

02 September 2019

Taking Stock

by Steve Liskow

When I was in kindergarten, we started school the day after Labor Day, and somewhere in the next few years, we backed off a day until Wednesday. when I was teaching, we retreated to the week before Labor Day. Now, most of the kids in Connecticut have been back anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.

For most of my life, the first day of school was my "real" New Year. After grad school, summer became sort of mental hibernation until early August when I practiced cursive writing on vertical surfaces again and thought about updating my reading lists. I still consider autumn a new beginning and tend to take stock of the year up to this point.

Other people have shared less than radiant news about how the writing landscape is becoming more barren and challenging. Climate change, indeed.

Me, too.

Over the last several years, I have conducted eight to ten writing workshops a year. This year, I have done five and have two more scheduled. But one slated for this coming weekend with three other writers needs several more people to sign up or it will be cancelled tomorrow. I've already had three events cancelled this year because of low attendance. My only previous cancellation was in 2010, and it was because of a blizzard.

I've published stories since 2006, but the bulk of my income (cue the laughter) has never come from sales. It has been from workshops and editing. I haven't had a new editing client in about 18 months, and I'm reading more and more work online that tells me I'm probably not the only editor who is increasingly idle.

I've published three stories this year, one of which sold last fall. True to my New Year's resolution (the real new year), I have submitted five others to various markets and will send two more out in the next few weeks. Four of the five submissions have been out five months and several would appear in anthologies, which means my fee would be a share of the royalties.

Four independent bookstores have opened in the state within the last two years--three of them in the last year--but they all favor traditional authors. The one that will carry self-pubbed and indie writers charges a fee for shelf space and takes a 45% consignment cut.

What is on the horizon?

Well, I will publish a novel around the end of this year when my beta readers and I agree that's it's ready. The cover is complete, but I have regretfully told my designer that even though I love his work--which is true--I can't afford to pay him after this book. I have no novel in any stage of development: research, outline, drafts. The last time that was true was 2003 before I retired from teaching.

Because of Draconian budget cuts, I have conducted only two workshops at a library since 2017. I used to sell a book for about every three attendees, but sold two books TOTAl at workshops in the last two years. Significantly--and more about this in a minute--my digital sales are climbing.

That upcoming novel is the last work I expect to publish on paper. If I write other novels, they will go directly to digital format. Maybe because of the new year's resolution, or maybe because my attention span is shrinking, I'm thinking much more in short story mode. But as deteriorating advertising revenue, rising print costs, and sagging subscription sales decimate the print markets, I look seriously at going straight to digital for short stories, too. I'll submit them to those vanishing markets, but the increasingly long wait for a response means I have time to find stock photos and learn to design covers...at a fraction of the cost of my designer.

I'm not a presence in bookstores, and while I may not make much on the digital sales, it costs nothing to upload material, so selling one or two copies puts me in the black. Now that's depressing.

It's easy to assign blame for this state of affairs, but it's pointless. Everything changes, and sometimes progress comes with unexpected costs. You can only figure out how to work with them.

At my health club a few days ago, a woman wore a tee shirt that captured the situation perfectly. It wasn't about writing, but it applies to almost every aspect of life that I can name.

Science doesn't care what you believe.

01 September 2019

Helpful Hurricane Guide

by Leigh Lundin

At times I live my life around hurricanes, which is far better than dying by hurricane and not quite the same as living with a certain Gale. For the moment, powerful Dorian is presently confounding predictions but, with luck, may spare Florida and most of the North American east coast.

In honor of the moment, I promise not to be long-winded. For those who suffer mere tornadoes, here are actual tracking maps followed by what the hurricane categories mean.

Hurricane Tracking Charts
Hurricane v Florida size comparison
Florida Hurricane tracks
‘Smallish’ Hurricane Fran Hurricane Tracking Example

Hurricane Meanings and Actions
Category 1     119kmph • 74mph • 64knots
When cooking on the grill, you switch from paper plates to weightier melamine. You’re careful your new drone doesn't drift too far off course.

Category 2     154kmph • 96mph • 83knots
You bring beach towels in from the clothes line, assuming you live in a community that permits clothes lines. Peculiarly, many Florida towns and homeowners associations ban drying laundry outdoors in the Sunshine State.

Category 3     178kmph • 111mph • 96knots
Mow the yard. Think briefly about purchasing extra water, food, propane, and gas for your generator and your car… then decide to buy if the storm makes Cat 4. Chuckle about your timid neighbor who packs his SUV full of supplies and family and heads for Georgia or Alabama.

Category 4     209kmph • 130mph • 113knots
Reluctantly head to Costco for 400 gallons of water and discover the wretch before you bought the last three litres. Decide queue for gasoline looks too long. Buy beer.

Category 5     252kmph • 157mph • 137knots
Damn. Governor calls for evacuation. Your car’s tank reads ⅜ and your wife’s Volvo reads a quarter. Find the lawnmower where you left it in the back yard. Empty the fuel cans for mowing and then the mower’s tank itself into your car. Drain fuel from your motorcycle, your kid’s go-kart, weed-whacker, and chainsaw. Siphon wife’s vehicle. Your gas gauge now reads ¾, thanks to discovery of a gas can your neighbor left when they packed up and ran two days ago. Whoops! Electrical power goes out. You scramble to find your flashlights and then realize why batteries were on the shopping list. By candlelight, you grab a forgotten bottle of Zephyrhills someone opened and stuck in the fridge. Way in the back your wife retrieves a can of Tab she’s been hoarding. You load the unrefrigerated beer and depart with wife and child. The gate at the guard shack has blown shut, wrapping itself around a post. You squeeze past as it scrapes your car. Child wants to stop for restroom and food. Thanks to buffeting headwinds, your mileage drops to 14mpg. Every gas station has closed. Screaming child wants McBurgers. No restaurants remain open. Dodging debris, uprooted trees, and a sailboat in the road, you’ll make Gainesville and perhaps a little farther. And then you encounter a flying cow…

Category 6     285kmph • 178mph • 155knots ?
No such thing… yet. However, as climate change accelerates, so does the violence of cyclonic winds. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (actually a peculiarly numbered damage scale) does not define anything above a Cat 5 storm. Many experts believe it’s merely a matter of time before meteorologists are forced to include at least a Category 6 and possibly 7 if not switch to another scale entirely.
Stay safe!

31 August 2019

A Guide in a Strange Land


by John M. Floyd



That's what a good agent can be. And if you don't believe publishing is a strange land, you probably haven't been wandering around in it very long.

I'll start this discussion with four questions and answers:

1. What kind of writing do I do more than any other?
    Short stories.

2. Do I have a literary agent? 
    Yes.

3. Has my agent sold any short stories for me? 
    Yes.

4. Do most short-story writers need an agent?
    No.

Number four doesn't make sense, right? If an agent can help you market your short stories, why shouldn't you try to find one to represent you?

The answer has two parts: First, very few agents (including my own) specialize in short stories. There's not a lot of money to be made writing shorts--and 15% of not a lot is even less. Second, most short-story writers can easily find and approach story publishers (magazines, anthologies, etc.) on their own. There's no need for a middleman.

Getting there from a different direction

So why do I have an agent? That's pretty simple. I acquired an agent to try to market my novels. I've written three novels, two of which are out with my agent now; I think they're pretty good and he does too--but they haven't sold. I suspect that's more my fault than his, but that's another matter. Meanwhile, my current novel agent wound up selling some of my short stories to places that I would've had trouble finding and approaching, and that's been a good thing--but, again, I wouldn't have had those stories represented at all if I hadn't already had that agent for my novels.

Bottom line is, I've wound up making some money for my agent from my shorts, and he's wound up making some for me--but I have a feeling those short-story successes wouldn't have been enough to entice him to take me on as a client. We already had a relationship, he saw some potential places to send my stories that I didn't know about, and as a result I've sold stories that helped both of us (me more than him).


My background

I've actually had three agents in the 25 years I've been writing. The first was one of those rare folks who DID represent mostly short-story writers. I found out about him from a fellow writer back in the late '90s, queried the agent, got a response that he'd like to see some of my work, and he eventually signed me on. Over the next several years he sold some stories for me and I learned a LOT from him--about writing, editing, and publishing--so I considered our relationship a positive experience all the way around. He was an elderly gentleman and died in 1999, and I then inherited agent #2 because he had been the junior partner of agent #1.

That second agent I kept for a few years, but he made it clear that he specialized in novels only. He helped me to make my first novel better and was truly excited about it, but alas, it never sold and we eventually parted company. I'm the one who asked to end our relationship, but I also suspect he wasn't sorry to see me go. After a certain point we both knew we were probably wasting each other's time.

My current situation

My third and present agent was also suggested to me via another writer, several years ago. This agent too represents mostly novels, and despite his enthusiasm for the two novels I have with him now, both of us know my passion is short stories. Like many of my writer friends, I tend to write more shorts than anything else, and like a very few of my writer friends (R.T. Lawton is one) I write almost ONLY shorts. I simply love 'em.

So, you might be asking yourself, are those few short story sales that my agent handles enough for me to want to stay on at that agency, and for him to want to keep me on? Until recently, yes, that was enough, for me and for him--and then something else happened, early this year, to make me even happier that I'm still under his tent. I was contacted by a producer in L.A. who had seen one of my published stories and was interested in optioning it for film. I referred him immediately to my agent, who handled all the negotiations--some of them complicated--and we finally signed the contracts in June. He was so helpful I will always be confident that I received a much better deal by not trying to handle everything on my own. He didn't find the project, but he efficiently steered the ship on my behalf once the project presented itself.

More questions

As you can see from all the above, I'm not the best person to try to discuss whether most writers should seek out literary agents. I've seen only one end of things, from the POV of a short-story writer and a so-far-unsuccessful novel writer. Do any of you other shorts writers have agents? For those of you who write novels, what's your opinion? Must you have an agent to get the best deal? Should you try to secure an agent before ever looking for a publisher? Should you forget the whole traditional-publishing thing and self-publish via Amazon? Have any of you used an agent to option stories or novels for film? Does anyone out there have an agent who deals only in shorts? Bermudas? Boxers?

I welcome all your comments and insights. And whether you choose to comment or not, keep writing, keep submitting, and keep publishing, whatever route you take to get there.

See you again in one week.




30 August 2019

"Hi, this is Jim from Uber..."

by Jim Winter

A couple of years back, I got into rideshare as a side hustle. Since 2017, I've gotten married, bought a house, a new car, and had my wife stop working for health reasons. So life's gotten expensive (but so worth it.)

Uber logo
A couple of people have asked me if driving for Uber (or Lyft, for that matter) provides me with any fodder for crime stories.

Like the man once said, "Boy, howdy!" Let me tell ya, brudda!

A frequent conversation I have with passengers is what the job is like. Most of the time, it's fun. But they ask me about problem passengers, which actually only make up about 5% of my business. I tell them that 5% can serve as entertainment for the other 95%. Even then, Uber drivers rate their passengers as well as getting rated by them. I've only 1-starred maybe 5 people out of nearly 2000 rides in two years.

There are certain things you just don't do in my car. Most of them could go sideways into a crime story, and I may just spin a few of those out. Why don't you play along and consider these story prompts if you're so inclined.

The first thing you don't want to do in my car is hurl racist insults at… Well… Anyone. As a majority of my passengers after 8 PM on a Saturday night are drunk, I cut just a little slack, which four college girls came close to using up one night in Cincinnati's Banks district. I picked them up on Freedom Way, the main drag through the Banks to take them all to the Hilton up in the Business District. A couple was pushing a baby stroller across the street as we started to move.

The one girl, clearly approaching the pass-out stage of drunkenness, said, "Oh, my God! Who does that in this neighborhood?" (Incidentally, the Banks is considered rather safe compared to even my neighborhood, and I live in the suburbs.) "Oh, my God. They're black people. Black people are so stupid."

The knee-jerk reaction, which I would not fault any other driver for going with, is to slam on the brakes, kick them out of the car, and reset for the next passenger(s). I took a different tact. I simply said, "One!"

The girl missed the hint and continued. "No, seriously. Black people always…"

Lyft logo
"Two!"

Ladies and gentlemen, we do not get to three. Instead, I pull the car over, inform everyone that the ride has ended, and report the occupants to Uber. (Yes, Uber and Lyft allow us to do that.) Pray we are not in the wilds of Clermont County or on the Brent Spence Bridge (which has no berm. You would be left on I-75 in traffic) if this is you, because the ride ends now.

Instead, one of the other girls said, "Dude, shut up. You're pissing him off."

We enjoyed the rest of the ride in silence. They got a one-star for being disrespectful.

Other things that will get you kicked out that may not be good story fodder: messing with my dashboard while I'm driving (A teenager did this to me last weekend), give me bad directions (after midnight, I just ignore them anyway as I assume people are drunk), backseat driving, and being abusive to other people in the car or, if you're calling ahead to get an ETA, being abusive after I clearly inform you that (1) I'm with a passenger and (2) you're on speaker because I'm still driving. I have a 2% cancel rate from my end, so this is not usually a problem.

But one thing the rideshare services want us to be on the lookout for is whether someone is in the car of their own free will. I've had a couple of gentlemen get in the car with their girlfriends and start talking smack (to me) about them. As you can imagine, Uber Support got an earful. I'm not shy about that. It's also a story I generally don't regale passengers with. Drunken stupidity is funny, even when you're the drunk. Abuse is not. I'll shame a racist. I don't think a woman with a bad boyfriend needs that story spread for the entertainment of strangers.

But what is the absolute worst thing you can do in my car that might get turned into a crime story?

Go ahead. Yell at the cops, as one passenger did one night. Already, as you can imagine, there are probably a dozen or so stories you can spin from that. After this incident, it's an automatic end to the ride and an invitation to the friendly (well, friendly before the passenger opens his mouth) officer to whip out the handcuffs.

ride share car sketch
The incident that spawned this policy began with a pickup at my stepsons' favorite bar. (Bad move. Everyone there knows the twins, and I talk to the twins often.) These boys wanted to hit Waffle House for some after-hours grub. I'm all for that. I very nearly went there myself. However…

We drove by a really bad accident with at least four vehicles in various states of disrepair parked on the grass, three cruisers surrounding them keeping traffic out of the way. One of the passengers rolls his window down and starts screaming obscenities at the officers. I pull the car over.

"You do that again," I said, "and I turn around and let you pull them out of the car. I'm not going to jail for you. If anything, I'll drive you there myself."

They shut up. But from that point on, the ride ends automatically.

"So, Jim," you ask, "why do it if you have to put up with these people? Or people getting sick in your car?"

They're memorable because they are rare. And as for getting sick, there are ways to manage that if you know what to look for. Most of my passengers and I forget each other after we part ways. A lot of the rides are fun. On Saturday nights, many of them bring the party to my car. Others just want to ride in silence. One couple…

Well, this is a crime blog. Maybe I'll send that story over to an erotica blog.

It's not as gross as you think. But very, very strange.

Besides, you get to see humanity at their best and their worst and everywhere in between. It's a writer's dream job.

29 August 2019

Time Management & Other Myths

by Eve Fisher

I have, as so many others throughout history, considered the problem of the inelasticity of time on my terms.  Time seems to gallop only when I want it to slow down so I can enjoy the moment more.  On the other hand, when I want time to pick up its trailing skirts and race out the door - largely because the current situation sucks - it sits right down and prepares to do nothing, apparently, forever, with me.

This is also the main problem with the whole mindfulness movement.  You know.  Always stay present in the moment.  Savor everything, because now is all we have.  Even if your emotions are rioting like a sack of baboons, do the mantra, calm down, and enjoy the moment:

"Breathing in, I calm myself; 
Breathing out, I smile."  (Thich Nhat Hahn)

(1) This works very well when I'm already happy on a sunny day, preferably outdoors.  It's not nearly as much fun at 4 AM and I'm lying awake, listening to either the baboons chatter or the humming of the universe.
(2) There are some things it's hard to want to be in the moment with, like pain, grief, bad trouble, etc.  All of which take up 99% of your thoughts and slow time down to the pace of a snail on a molasses highway.

Back when I was getting ready for my hernia operation, I blocked off 2 weeks for recovery.  And I had such plans as to what to do with the time!  I was going to read, write, revise, sit out on the porch, loll, and generally make wonderful use of some unexpected free time.

HAH!  

The realistic time schedule for surgery:

  • Week before surgery:  Prepare.  Do laundry, grocery shopping, errands, extra blog posts, etc.  In other words, do anything you'd do to prep for vacation, only this time there won't be any fun at the end. 
  • Morning of surgery:  Experience ever-increasing apprehension as a variety of people in scrubs poke, prod, and stick you with needles.  There's also the little discussions with them as they do these things - have you every experienced any problems with having a long hose stuck down your throat and left there for an hour or two?  (I'm having problems just hearing about it right now.)  Personally, I think this is their way of getting you so fed up that you are actually relieved when they start wheeling you into the operating room, because you know you'll finally get knocked out and you don't have to hear all the grotty details.
  • Day of surgery:  I Am A Zombie.  
  • Day after surgery:  I Am A Zombie, but things hurt more.  
  • Week after surgery:  I am going to be able to stand up straight again, aren't I?  Without it feeling like I might spill something, like my guts?  Will this glue really hold until everything heals?  Oh, and why does eating wear me out?  What happened to my energy?  I'm going to take another nap now.  What happened to my back and my neck?  Why am I having more pain there than at my incision?  Hal, would you open the pod-bay doors now?   
  • (Visit to chiropractor to get adjustment, along with the information that, once the anesthesiologist knocks you out, they not only put the tube down your throat but they move you around to make their access to your body easier, irrespective of whether your back/neck naturally move like that.) 
  • NOTE:  At no point, from the day of surgery until about the end of the 2nd week, did I truly want to practice mindfulness for more than 5 minutes.  All I wanted was to escape.
  • 2nd week after surgery:  Recovery, recovery, recovery.  Reading, eating, sleeping, walking.  Laundry recurs.  So do groceries.  Do blog post.  
  • 3rd week after surgery:  I finally reopen a story and start working on it.  

Now, here's the remarkable thing.  The schedule for vacation is remarkably similar:
  • Week before vacation:  Prepare.  Do laundry, grocery shopping, errands, extra blog posts, etc.  
  • Day leaving for vacation:  Experience ever-increasing apprehension as you crowd into the economy section of a plane with a variety of people and only wish you had some sort of sedative to get you through this oxygen-free trip.  Mindfulness is not helpful.
  • First night of vacation:  I Am A Zombie.  
  • First week of vacation:  Hugely enjoyable, overwhelming, walking, reading, eating, drinking, sightseeing, sleeping, sometimes all at once.
  • Second week of vacation:  Man, that went quick.  Obviously, I did not practice mindfulness for more than 5 minutes, because it's all just a blur.  
  • Return from vacation:  Recovery, recovery, recovery.  Mail, laundry, groceries.  Strangely tired, sorry to see that mail, laundry, and groceries all require attention and energy.  Do blog post.  
  • 3rd week after vacation:  I finally reopen a story and start working on it.  

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 Elizabeth Zelvin!  I am honored to be part of the company with "Pentecost".  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.

MORE ON "PENTECOST" NEXT BLOG POST!

AHM_SepOct2019_400x570


Also, my latest short story (along with stories by our own Angela Zeman and Janice Law) is 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”, and there’s nothing that an irate husband, a jealous partner, or disgusted coworkers can do about it. But maybe there is – especially when there’s too many Brides at a costume party and a trail of blood on the deck…"
Check out a preview HERE.


28 August 2019

Red Dawn

David Edgerley Gates


Red Dawn was released 35 years ago this August. I think it's aged pretty well. The silly stuff is just as silly as it was back then, and the good parts still hold up.

If you don't know the premise, here it is: Russia invades the U.S. Proxy forces from Cuba and Nicaragua come boiling up the middle of the country, between the Rockies and the Mississippi, the Soviets reinforce across the Bering Strait and down into the Great Plains. Caught by surprise, small pockets of resistance spring up, and in a small Colorado town, a bunch of high school kids learn evasion and ambush techniques, and take the fight to the occupying troops. If it all sounds faintly ridiculous, it is.


The writer/director John Milius got raked over the coals for what was widely seen as a Red-baiting, loony Right fantasy, but in spite of the fact that Gen. Al Haig loved it, Red Dawn is deeper than it seems, at first blush. It's not really about Colorado teenagers at all. To me, it was obvious from the get-go that Milius was making a picture about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the kids were stand-ins for the mujahideen.


Aside from that, or in spite of it, or any and all of the above, I'm always drawn in by the sheer exhilaration of the movie-making. Once you swallow the set-up, the rest of it is inevitable, fated and austere. It's beautifully shot, by Ric Waite, the New Mexico locations framed in wide ratio. The score, Basil Poledouris. The rigorous structure, and the kinetic pacing, but at the same time a sense of natural rhythms, the movement of the seasons, the shape of silence. For an action picture, it's got its fair share of stillness and melancholy.  


And for all that it's about the kids, it's actually the grown-ups who put it in sharper relief. Powers Boothe, the American pilot who bails out over occupied territory. "Shoot straight for once, you Army pukes," has got to be one of the great exit lines. Bill Smith, the Spetsnaz colonel brought in to exterminate the Wolverines. "You need a hunter. I am a hunter." (Bill Smith speaking his own Russian, a bonus.) Ron O'Neal, the Cuban revolutionary who loses his faith. "I can't remember what it was to be warm. It seems a thousand years since I was a small boy in the sun."

Corny? You bet. Affecting? Absolutely.


Red Dawn wears its heart on its sleeve. Its innocence, or lack of guile, is suspect, even embarrassing. But it has an unnervingly specific authenticity. It respects the conventions, and yet - I can't quite put my finger on it. The picture is subversive. It's not about glory, that's for damn sure. It's about loss, although it might be about redemption, too, but it doesn't promise us much comfort.

*

Some years later, I wrote a spy story called The Bone Harvest, set in the early onset of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I have to wonder, the way we do, how much was I influenced by Red Dawn? Which might seem like a dumb question, but let's be honest, we pick up all kinds of stuff, attracted by its texture or reflection, like beach glass or bottle caps. Hemingway once said no decent writer ever copies, we steal.


If in fact I took something away from Red Dawn for my own book, I hope it was a certain naive muscularity, the notion that you can will something to happen. I don't mean this in the meta-sense of getting a book written, I mean that the story I wanted to tell was how raw determination could put boots on the ground. Stubbornness a virtue, not playing well with others. If that's the lesson, it's not just the story arc of Red Dawn, it pretty much defines John Milius' career, but you could have a worse role model.  



27 August 2019

Expanding Our Universe


By Michael Bracken

I recently attended an event in which a speaker attempted to encourage inclusiveness, letting attendees know how welcome they were....except those who weren’t. He essentially told attendees that if you don’t think like us, change or be silent.

This is, unfortunately, the same message presented by proponents of the opposite ideology, and it divides groups into an us and them mentality.

And this ties in neatly with something Temple and I have been discussing lately.

The mystery writing writing community, just like the writing communities of other genres, have struggled in recent years to be more inclusive of people (writers, editors, publishers, booksellers, and fans) who are not like us.

While we, as a community, clearly have a long way to go, we often overlook the realities that some of us experience. For example, the people in my non-writing social and business life are quite a homogeneous group.

Within the writing community, however, I have several friends, many acquaintances, and many professional relationships with people who are not like me. They are different ethnicities, have different sexual orientations, come from different socioeconomic classes, hold (or held) a diverse number of non-writing occupations, represent various levels of formal education, come from different geographic regions and different countries, worship differently, and so on. In short, being a writer has exposed me to far more diversity than I ever have been, or likely ever will be, exposed to in my “real” life.

Do we, as a community, still have far to go to ensure equitable opportunities for and equitable treatment of everyone? Absolutely.

And I, for one, appreciate the diversity to which I have been exposed, and I look forward to growing my circle of friends, acquaintances, and professional relationships as our community expands.

LOOKING FORWARD

But taking a moment to appreciate how being a part of the mystery writing community has enlarged my world isn’t the end of the story. A few days ago, as I write this, I attended a presentation about “Awake to Woke to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture,” a program specifically targeting non-profit organizations that helps them through the “cycle of change as they transform from a white dominant culture to a Race Equity Culture.”

Changing the culture within an organization, according to the program, involves three steps (I am over-simplifying the steps because the hour-plus presentation only skimmed the surface of the topic):

In the Awake stage, organizations concentrate on increasing representation by the under-represented.

In the Woke stage, organizations strive for inclusion, ensuring that everyone is included in the conversation.

In the Work stage, organizations make specific changes to processes, programs, and operations to “ensure integration of a race equity lens into the organization.”

As a community, we face different challenges than formal organizations, but within our community are several organizations that can make changes, among them booksellers, conventions, publishing companies, and writers’ groups. They can implement some version or variation of the Awake to Woke to Work process within their organizations, and the changes they make will ultimately impact our entire community.

I hope someday soon we will no longer separate ourselves into us and them, because we will all be us—readers, writers, editors, publishers, and fans, all brought together by our love of crime fiction and its many sub-genres.


My private eye story “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” which first appeared in the online edition of Tough, now appears in issue two of the print edition. Order a copy here.

26 August 2019

Mojo Lost

by Travis Richardson

There was a time when I was writing 700 words a day before work 5 days a week and then another 1500-2000 each weekend day. I tracked everything on a spreadsheet and pushed myself to hit and exceed goals. Those days weren’t too long ago, somewhere between 2010 to early 2016. I had this weird magical drive where I wrote those 700 words every morning before work. In the peak period, I even did a sun salutation yoga routine before writing. I produced several near finished/unpublished novels and short stories that I never took the time to edit because I had fresher ideas to write that were even better than the older material. 

Then things changed. Not suddenly, but gradually until it seemed that I was barely writing anything at all. The biggest change was having a child. The awesome responsibility of caring for another human cannot be understated enough. My heart and attention focused on her. I altered my schedule to drop her off at daycare then to go to work, taking away some of the morning writing time. I started making up for it by writing during my lunch break. In the early part of my daughter’s life I was mostly able to make the goals, but not with ease. Then parts of my daytime job started to shift. I was pushed out of my office and into a general bullpen area, which deflated my ego and interrupted my workflow. Then my boss retired and his job split into two. My workload doubled for a while and I was skipping lunch breaks for weeks at a time. I wasn’t writing much at all. Somewhere in November 2016, depression started to hover over me. I’d have writing streaks now and again, but nothing with a sustained output like I had had.

Things bottomed out around the beginning of 2018. I worked things out with my wife so that either on a Saturday or Sunday, she takes my daughter out for the day and I get to write. I started a new writing spreadsheet with a modest 200 words a day goals. It worked great for a while. But then stupid things like Chrome not working on my desktop stopped me from tracking word count which meant I pushed myself less (even though I could look on a laptop, the desktop is sort of the writing hub…and I still haven’t fixed the problem.) 

Even with my family out, I’m not always hitting those 2000 words a weekend like I used to. My attention gets too scattered and that zone where my fingers try to keep up with my thoughts and I forget about time and food doesn’t happen as much. At times, I feel like a former high school athlete dwelling on the glory days that will never happen again because of age and bad knees. 

But that is BS. 

Writing is a craft that one can continue to improve on regardless of how old you are. I look at authors like the recently departed Robert S. Levinson who wrote into his 90s, keeping a constant creative output all the way through the end. (RIP Bob.) 

And while having a full-time job and kid is a partial excuse, is not the ultimate excuse. Writers such as Rob Hart, Angel Luis Colon, S.W. Lauden, Eric Beetner, and Matt Phillips have jobs, children, and tremendous output. So what is my problem?

I’m not sure. 

I’m not the same person I was five years ago and I wonder if my desire has lessened. I remember when I started going to MWA and Sisters in Crime meetings and listening to midlist authors complaining about the publishing industry, and I wished that I could be in a position like that to complain someday. I never made it that far, but I feel cynical at times and I hate it. I’m still dreaming the impossible dream, for better or worse. I need to believe in it again on a more intense scale. 
In July, I changed jobs, and now I have a bit of a longer commute (on foot) with an earlier start time. I’m trying to get to work a little early and write for a few minutes before the workday begins. That has worked for a few paragraphs, but not pages. I write on most of my lunch breaks too, but that has also been a limited chunks. And I haven’t opened my spreadsheet in months.  

Perhaps I might need to re-transform myself into the night writer I used to be in the unpublished 90s and early 2000s. The problem is that I’m so tired and stupid by 9-10pmish when my daughter falls asleep that I feel I can’t write anything coherent. 

I might also go back to an early carrot trick when I used to reward myself anytime I got a story published. I stopped after a while because I had a decent amount of publications and it seemed indulgent… but maybe it’s worth looking at it again.
Reward 1
Reward 2

In some ways, I feel bad for everybody at Sleuthsayers. You got me at low period. I’m not as interactive as I’d like to be and while I’d like to write a poignant blog that would shake up the writing community (in a good way), I can’t seem to knock that ball out of the infield.

On the positive front, next month I’m going to a writing retreat and I’m hoping that besides creating some output, I’ll have renewed energy to take me through the rest of 2019 and into the upcoming twenties. 

Have you had/have any writing productivity issues? For those who got past it, what did you do to overcome it?

Thanks for reading this!


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

                                                                              

25 August 2019

My Small Business Plan

by R.T. Lawton


I'm not getting rich from my writing sales, so I'm grateful I don't have to rely on writing for my main income, otherwise my office would be a cardboard box in some alley with a long extension cord running up to someone's outside electrical outlet. You know, for a coffee pot and a computer.  In any case, regardless how you look at your writing, it's probably best in the long run if you have a business plan. For one thing, you want to keep track of your income and expenses (lots of expenses) so as to avoid paying too much to the tax man. Seems he always has one hand in your pocket.

So, having said that, here's the accounts receivable part of My Small Business Plan. It's got to be a small plan, you see, because I only write short stories, which don't pay much over any one year period, and the occasional cowboy poem, which doesn't pay at all. The important thing is, I have a plan and I'm finally using that Business Degree which Uncle Sam paid for after I responded to that nice letter draft he sent me way back in 1966.

Mine is a three-part plan

Part 1 - Short Stories
     I write short stories for paying markets. First submissions go to the higher paying publications. In case of a rejection, I work my submissions down the payment ladder until the story sells or goes into inventory. All of this is common sense and most writers already know this part. Moving on.

Part 2 - Reprints & Other Secondary Markets

   I was surprised one day to read about a market call from a company named Great Jones Street for reprints. This was a startup venture to put short stories on cell phones where readers paid a subscription to read the stories. I sold them seven reprints for $500 while they were collecting a base inventory. Ultimately, they got on the wrong side of the ledger and went out of business.
     In a different situation, Otto Penzler paid me $250 to use one of my reprints in one of his many anthologies. Since then, I've seen other markets for reprints. It's like found money.

     Another good use of short stories, whether they were previously published or not, is putting them into e-collections. So, after I had a list of previously published stories, plus an inventory of unpublished short stories, I started looking at Amazon for Kindle and Smashwords for other e-readers. Both of them are free to setup your e-books, all you need is to figure out how to format e-books. It is a different setup for each of the two companies, but due to advances in software, it is now easier than it used to be. Fortunately for me, I had a Huey pilot friend who made the mistake of saying, "I can figure that out." And he did. In 2011, we turned some of my short stories into four e-collections: 9 Historical Mysteries, 9 Twin Brothers Bail Bond Mysteries, 9 Chronicles of Crime and 9 Deadly Tales. Kindle paid royalties by EFT and Smashwords paid via PayPal. Then in 2018, we added two more e-collections: 9 Holiday Burglars Mysteries and 31 Mini-Mysteries. These last two led to Part 3.

Part 3 - Paperbacks
     Kindle Direct Publishing recently acquired Create Space, which published paperback books. It was while uploading one of my last two e-books that I was faced with a new situation at the end of the upload. The Kindle software inquired if I wanted to also publish my e-book as a paperback. What the heck, one more form in which to offer potential buyers a choice to spend money on my books? I immediately checked yes only to discover that I needed my cover in a different format for this option. After all, an e-book only needs a front cover, while a paperback needs a front cover, a spine and a rear cover.

I went back to my Huey pilot friend. He is now figuring out the requirements for a paperback and we are working on the final details. The paperback has a fixed charge, plus a very small charge for every page, none of which the author pays upfront. It's all covered by the buyer when he purchases the book. First, you need to decide what size of book you want and the size of font you prefer. Those two items and the length of your manuscript will determine how many pages your book will have. Then, KDP has a program where you enter the number of pages your book will have and the program will tell you the minimum price you have to put on your book, which is also the cost to KDP for printing your book. Naturally, you want to make a profit, so you also enter the price you want to charge and the program will tell you your royalty profit. Simple, huh?

Well, we'll see. Seems there's a bleed factor on the cover when it comes to cover size. My friend says he's got it figured out, and while he did teach me how to fly OH-6 and OH-58 observation helicopters, I think this cover and formatting thing is over my head. It's nice to have friends.

QUICK UPDATE: A week and a half ago, the 1st paperback went live. We are now working on the conversion of the other five from e-book to paperback.

You've now heard about My Small Business Plan. Do you have your own plan? Feel free to share. Or are you still working on one? We'd like to hear about that too.

24 August 2019

VEGAS, BABY! In which Bad Girl explains how an imaginary Vegas hotel rocks the latest Goddaughter

by Melodie Campbell

Whether to use a real setting or make one up? That is the question.

Butchering Shakespeare aside (which I do cheerfully, if not cleverly) all authors have to decide whether to set their novel in a real place or not. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.

In the Goddaughter series, I set the books in a real place – Hamilton Ontario, also known as Steeltown, or The Hammer. Everyone who has ever been over the Skyway bridge on the way to Toronto (one hour from Buffalo) will experience a taste of Hamilton.

“I live in The Hammer. Our skyline includes steel plants. We consider smog a condiment,” says Gina Gallo, the mob goddaughter of the series.

I don’t have to describe much to put you in that setting. It’s sort of like New York or Paris. Give a few landmarks we all know, plus in this case assault your mouth and nose with metallic fumes, and the author has put you there without endless sleep-inducing description.

The problem with using a real setting is you need to know the place well, because if you make an innocent error, like forgetting that some streets are one way, you will get hundreds of irate emails from readers who know the place better than you do.

Luckily, I know Hamilton. I know where to buy the best cannoli (always my test re how well you know a place.)

I use real settings whenever I can. Readers who live in the place love to see their town highlighted. You can often get local media interested in your book. And people new to the location often get a kick out of coming to know it, in a literal way.

So when I moved book 6 of the Goddaughter series to Vegas, I had a dilemma. Here’s the thing. So many people have been to Vegas, that you have to be very careful to ‘get it right.’ I was there a few years ago, and am very aware that things change.

It takes about 6 months for me to write a Goddaughter book. Off it goes to the publisher, who takes about 15-18 months to get it out to stores. That’s the thing about books. Anything on the shelves right now was probably written two years ago.

In two years, things in Vegas change. Hotels redecorate, and maybe change ownership. It became clear to me, that while I wanted this book to be clearly ‘Vegas,’ I needed to be careful. I’ve stayed at the Mirage. I could have used that as a base. But when writing the book, I couldn’t predict how things would look there two years from now.

The answer? Create a new hotel! Make it the newest and hippest thing, so of course no one has seen it before. And that’s where I had fun. What hasn’t been done, I thought? What theme would present a whole lot of fun, yet be completely whacky, in keeping with the Goddaughter series?

Whoot! It came to me immediately. Hotel name: The Necropolis! Theme: Morticia meets The Walking Dead. We could ramp up the loopiness by throwing a Zombie convention. And then add a Viking Valhalla casino, a bar called Embalmed, the Crematorium Grill steakhouse…

da book, on AMAZON
So The Goddaughter Does Vegas is a hybrid. The setting is the Vegas you know. The hotel is a new concoction, but fitting with the fantasy atmosphere that Vegas is famous for.

I got away with it this time. I think.

How about you? Do you use real settings or do you make them up? When reading, which do you prefer?

23 August 2019

The Heart of Hollywood is in....Pasadena?

by Lawrence Maddox
Pasadena Playhouse alumnus Charles Bronson

I've always felt that the stars on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame are the biggest sightseer scam ever. I see the tourists get excited about finding their favorite celebrity's name on the sidewalk and all I can think is: rubes. Perhaps the best thing about the Walk of Fame is the Kinks' song Celluloid Heroes. It's a little maudlin, but Ray Davies gets to the hollowed-out heart of stardom in his infectious way.

The foot and handprints at Grauman's Chinese Theater, located near Hollywood and La Brea, make more sense as a tourist draw. They're an actual artifact of the glory days of Hollywood, like those cigarette lighter ports in cars (now used as power sockets) are remnants of the glory days of smoking.   You place your hand in the cement print of Humphrey Bogart or Judy Garland, and with enough imagination and movie magic, you're shaking hands with yesterday.  It's kind of neat, but it's a half hour diversion, tops. A bigger diversion are the "actors" dressed up as action heroes or old time movie stars that hang around the Chinese, offering to pose for photos. If you snap a selfie with one in the vicinity, they will hunt you down until you fork over some cash.

Besides Grauman's, what else does Hollywood have to offer? Paramount is on Melrose, southeast of of Grauman's. If you're a tourist hoping to hang out on a movie set, good luck getting past the gate. Disney, Universal and Warners are all out in the San Fernando Valley, north of Hollywood. Fox and Sony (formerly MGM) are a traffic-jammed trip to the westside. Besides the Universal Tour, the studios are busy places of hustling crews working long hours. Editors are locked in their windowless rooms pouring over hours of dailies. Gawking tourists looking for selfies aren't welcome.

The original Brown Derby ca 1968. RIP. 
The powers that run Hollywood-land  have gleefully torn down its past in favor of strip malls and parking lots. The Hollywood Hotel, built in 1902, stood at Hollywood and Highland. It was demolished fifty years later. It's said the stars on its ballroom ceiling were the inspiration for the Walk of Fame. The Garden of Allah Hotel, party central for writers like Fitzgerald & Hemingway, and actors like Bogart & Bacall, was torn down in '59.  The iconic Brown Derby, south of Hollywood on Wilshire, was a world-famous tinsel town symbol. Lucy met William Holden there in an I Love Lucy episode. It bit the dust in 1980. Schwab's Drugstore, where Lana Turner was supposedly discovered, was leveled in the late '80s. The Cinerama Dome and the Hollywood sign have been on the chopping block, but both we're saved by massive public campaigns.

An original postcard from The Formosa Cafe.
The Maddox Archives.
Greed wins out over history in Hollywood, and it burns those of us who grew up loving not only the movies, but also the historical hang-outs that catered to show biz. I used to frequent  the Formosa Cafe on Santa Monica Boulevard in the '90s. The Formosa was a cozy asian-themed bar that officially dates back to 1939, but the owner claimed pre-dated prohibition. A bartender named Lindy Brewerton had worked there since the 1950s, and he regaled patrons with tales of the drinking habits of movie stars. He told us of John Wayne's whiskey binges, and how Dean Martin would deliver his alimony checks there. Elvis tipped a Formosa waitress with a Cadillac.  When the original owner died, the place was gutted. A tacky second story was added, along with a techno vibe.  It was a typically short-sighted Hollywood move that failed. After that it pained me just to drive by the place.

Twelve miles east of the hype is Pasadena. When Hollywood Boulevard was a dirt street and America's only movie studio was in New Jersey,  Pasadena was a vacation spot for wealthy east-coasters who wanted to soak up some rays during the winter. With them came vast vainglorious mansions and a deep turn-of-the-century thirst for culture.

The Pasadena Playhouse was built in 1925, two years before the Chinese Theater. It was such a big hit that Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw called the Playhouse the "Athens of the West."  Authors such as Eugene O'Neil and Tennessee Williams had world premieres there. When talkies became the rage in the 1920s, Hollywood needed a place where actors could learn to "speak." Twenty-four students enrolled in the first class in 1928.

The Pasadena Playhouse awaits.
The Pasadena Playhouse really hit its stride when it became a college of theatre arts. Tyrone Power took classes there in 1932.  TV Superman George Reeves was a local kid who interned at the Playhouse before his supporting role on Gone With the Wind.  Dana Andrews hitchhiked from Texas to California to become a star. He was a Playhouse darling before hitting it big in films like Laura. Carolyn Jones, another Texan, dreamed of joining the Playhouse when in high school. She made it in 1947, and went on to become a unique screen presence in films such as The Big Heat and Career. Most remember her as Morticia Addams in TV's The Addams Family.

Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman became fast friends while studying at the Playhouse in 1957. Hackman was voted least likely to succeed, and he moved to New York to prove the Playhouse wrong. Hoffman soon followed, as did Robert Duvall, who moved to New York to study with Randall Meisner after serving in the Army. The trio became the epicenter of a group of actors who were just a few years away from taking Hollywood by storm.

The Mechanic-Bronson at his detached best.
Perhaps my favorite Playhouse alum is Charles Bronson. After serving in the Air Force during World War Two (he earned a Purple Heart), Bronson moved to upstate New York. He picked onions, studied art, and even joined the local bakers union. Nothing seemed to fit, so he moved to NYC to study acting. When Roger Ebert asked Bronson why he chose acting, he said, "It seemed like an easy way to make money...I had nothing to lose."

Bronson left New York for the Pasadena Playhouse, where he took classes and acted in several plays. Steady work soon followed. In 1951 he landed a role in the Gary Cooper film You're in the Navy Now.  Two years later he joined fellow Playhouse alum Carolyn Jones in the Vincent Price horror-hit  House of Wax. Bronson starred in a slew of classic movies, including The Dirty DozenOnce Upon a Time in the West, and Hard Times. My favorite Bronson film might be The Mechanic, where he plays an expert hit man who takes on an apprentice.

Inside the Pasadena Playhouse.
If I mentioned that Eve Arden, Leonard Nimoy and Nick Nolte were also Playhouse players, I'd still be scratching the surface. Okay, William Holden was one too. Still surface scratching. The Pasadena Playhouse went bankrupt in 1975 and was shuttered. You're probably thinking, "What a bummer. I bet they tore it down to build a plush new parking lot." Dig this. The city of Pasadena bought the building and held onto it for seventeen years until in reopened in 1986. Unlike Hollywood, Pasadena takes pains to protect its history. It's not perfect, but it tries. Pasadena is a mecca for lovers of old-time LA, Greene and Greene architecture, and craftsman bungalows. The Pasadena Playhouse is a thriving part of Pasadena today.

If you find yourself standing over John Tesh's star on Hollywood Boulevard and you have that cold clammy feeling that you've been scammed, jump on the 134 East towards Pasadena and its famous Playhouse. There's plenty of street parking. Across the street from the Playhouse is Vroman's Bookstore, where I've had the good fortune to attend readings held by literary heavyweights like Frank McCourt and James Ellroy.  On the way to Pasadena is Eagle Rock, where Dragnet's Frank Gannon fictionally lived, and where some of the action of Fast Bang Booze goes down. Stop at the family-owned Casa Bianca for pizza. Steve McQueen ate there.

My latest novel is Fast Bang Booze, from Down & Out Books. The sequel is coming soon.