30 October 2019

The Last Lesson: Queen vs Hitchcock



Two weeks ago I reported that I had been invited to speak to the Northwest branch of the Mystery Writers of American on the subject: "Ten Things I learned Writing Short Stories."  I listed nine of them and promised to deliver the last one this week.  Here goes!

10.  What's the difference between Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine?  That's the second-most common question I hear about my writing.  (The first is the dreaded WDYGYI?)

For many years my reply was simple: AH buys my stories and EQ doesn't.  But since EQ has surrendered to my dubious charms several times I have to come up with some better distinction.  So here are a few.

Origin stories.  I mean the origins of the magazines themselves.  I think they are useful in thinking about how the editors think: What is in the magazine's DNA, so to speak?  Because as the old saying goes "What's bred in the bone, comes out in the flesh."

EQ was started in 1941 under the editorship of Frederic Dannay, one half of the author Ellery Queen.  Besides being an author and editor, Dannay was an anthologist and a historian of the mystery field.  He was determined to cover all aspects of the field (as opposed to Black Mask Magazine, for example, which had focused on hardboiled) and to stretch the definition of the mystery as well.  Therefore it was not unusual for him to print stories from around the world, stories from "literary" authors who were not considered mystery writers, and reprint stories that had been forgotten or that no one had previously thought of as belonging to the crime field at all.  EQ, for example, was the first American magazine to publish the great Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges.  EQ retains a keen sense of the history of the mystery field, which leads to publishing parodies and pastiches.

AH, on the other hand, was founded in 1956.  The film director had no direct role in the magazine, simply licensing the use of his hame and likeness.  For many years the introduction to each issue was written in his voice.  The magazine was not inspired by his movies as much as by his very popular TV show Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which actually filmed some stories that had originally appeared in the magazine.  Like the TV show, the magazine leaned toward suspense, twist endings, and a macabre sense of humor.  It still does.

Distinctions today.  EQ has regular departments.  Going all the way back to Dannay's day it has featured the Department of First Stories, which has premiered the work of up-and-coming artists who went on to fame such as Harry Kemelman, Henry Slesar, Stanley Ellin, and Thomas Flanagan.  Every issue features Passport to Crime, a story translated from another language.  EQ also owns the rights to the Black Mask name and often features a story in that magazine's hardboiled style.

My description of the beginnings of AH may have left you with the impression that their selection of story types is narrow. In fact, the opposite is true.  You can find examples of westerns and science fiction in its pages, as long as crime is front and center. Fantasy elements  may slip in.  (The rare ghost story can show up in either magazine; for some reason ghosts are the one bit of woowoo that is allowed in the mystery world.)

And some more quick generalizations.

EQ seems to lean more toward the grim, the longer, and the fair-play detection stories.

AH appears to favor the lighter, the shorter, and the twist ending.

It is important to be clear that everything I am saying here is about tendencies, not absolutes.  You can find exceptions in every issue, but if you are trying to decide which magazine to submit a story to first, this might help you.

One thing both seem to insist on, is high quality, which may explain why my overall sale record at AHMM is only about 33% and much worse at EQMM.

Your mileage, needless to say, may vary.


29 October 2019

Bouchercon Bound!


Though I am writing this more than a week before it posts, the day after it posts Temple and I will head to Dallas for Bouchercon 2019, our fourth consecutive Bouchercon, which, as a point of reference, occurs less than a month before our fourth anniversary.

Michael with Rebecca Swope at the 2002 Shamus Awards Banquet.
(Photo courtesy of Rebecca Swope.)
I’ve attended science fiction conventions off-and-on since the first Archon in St. Louis, Mo., forty-three years ago, but the 2002 Bouchercon in Austin, Texas, was my first mystery convention. I was lucky to be a panelist (discussing my private eye novel All White Girls), I met and spent time with several writers I had only known online or via snail mail prior to the convention, and I attended my first Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Awards Banquet that year. Unfortunately, financial constraints prevented me from fully experiencing the convention. I commuted each day from Waco because I could not afford a hotel room, my food budget was negligible, and I had no money to spend in the dealer’s room.

My second mystery convention was the 2011 Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe, N.M., where I participated in a short story panel, met more writers I had only known online, and met one editor to whom I’ve since sold several short stories. Unfortunately, I spent much of my time in Santa Fe suffering from altitude sickness, and I thought my head was going to explode the entire time I was there.

My experience with mystery conventions took a positive turn in 2016, with Bouchercon in New Orleans. Less than a year earlier I had the good fortune to marry a mystery fan born in New Orleans, so I had no difficulty convincing Temple that we could combine a mystery convention with sight-seeing. Receiving a lifetime achievement award at the convention was a bonus.

In addition to meeting many of my writing friends during the convention, Temple had a book signed by Michael Connelly (she claims Connelly’s her second-favorite mystery writer named Michael, but I’ve seen the gleam in her eye every time a new Connelly novel is released or a new season of Bosch airs), and she had a close encounter with Sara Paretsky at the Shamus Awards Banquet. Before the convention ended, Temple was making plans to attend Bouchercon the following year in Toronto.

We added Malice Domestic in North Bethesda, Md., to our convention schedule in 2018 and had hoped to attend Left Coast Crime in Vancouver earlier this year. (Unfortunately, the unexpected need to replace my car saw us using our travel savings for a down payment on a new vehicle, causing us to cancel our trip.)

But Temple fangirling over her favorite mystery writers and us spending time with friends both old and new are only a few of the many benefits of attending mystery conventions together. I’ve walked away from each of the last three Bouchercons and two Malice Domestics with writing or editing opportunities I likely would never have had had I not attended.

At Bouchercon this week, I’ll be participating in “Short and Sweet but Sometimes Dark,” a short story panel at 4:00 p.m. Thursday, moderated by Barb Goffman and featuring panelists Mysti Berry, John M. Floyd, R. T. Lawton, and James Lincoln Warren.

I will also be presenting a brief introduction to Texas private eyes at the Shamus Awards Banquet Friday evening.

And, though there’s no formal event scheduled, Murder By The Book will have copies of The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods (Down & Out Books) available for sale and many of the contributors and I will be wandering around the convention ready and willing to sign copies.

I can’t predict what else may come from this week’s convention or from future mystery conventions, but even before this year’s Bouchercon has begun, Temple and I are already making plans to attend both Bouchercon and Malice Domestic next year.

My story “A Cling of Koalas” appears in A Murder of Crows (Darkhouse Books).

My story “Sex Toys” appears in Knucklehead Noir (Coffin Hop Press).

My essay “Lifecycle of a Fanzine Fan,” about how I now do professionally all the things I did as a teenaged fanzine editor, appears in Portable Storage Two.

28 October 2019

Playing Fair, or the Death of Logic


A few weeks ago, I was reading a novel I'm supposed to review, and I encountered a dialogue exchange that brought me to a screeching halt. The protagonist and his sidekick were talking abut a new discovery in the case, and the sidekick said, "Well, that proves that we've been right all along and X did Y."
I re-read the previous few pages three times because I thought I must have missed something, but no, the passage proved nothing of the kind. That conclusion couldn't possibly come from the information in the scene. It was the third or fourth time that happened in the book, and I'm going to mention it when I post the review. I see this problem and the ever-popular Deus ex Machina more and more in recent novels, and it bothers me.

 What bothers me even more is the frequency with which it's creeping into my own life. And maybe yours, too.

I try to keep my personal politics out of this column even though my leanings are no secret. Last month, a very conservative musician I've known for years made a comment and I disagreed. He brought up a point I'd never heard before and I asked for his source. He replied, "Clinton."

"No," I said. "You say that Clinton did A, but that's not your source. Where did you get the information?" Bad mistake. He went off on a rant that added more information that was so obviously false that I walked out of the open mic without playing. Back home, I browsed for two hours, looking for confirmation of his claim, and the closest I came was a site labelled by Media Bias as "A propaganda site that uses false or misleading data to promote a far-right agenda." The post in question used the key words from the musician's assertion, but didn't make the claim he repeated. And that post was over a year old.

This is the level of discourse we have reached. Large segments of the population no longer treat science, mathematics, history or other intellectual disciplines as valid, and it has damaged--if not eliminated--rational discussion.

When I was in high school, several friends were on the debate team, with an adviser who was respected throughout the region as an exemplary teacher. I didn't take the class because I was so shy, but I learned second-hand about reductio ad absurdum, begging the questions (Which does NOT mean "motivating or giving rise to the question"), ad hominem arguments, false premises, and many other specious rhetorical techniques. Years later, I presented those techniques in my composition classes as faulty was to support a thesis.

I even used to tell my kids that the best class I ever had in learning to support an argument was plane geometry. We used axioms to prove theorems and theorems to solve equations, and we could support every statement we made. We also learned how to build the sequence concisely and clearly.

All that is fading. Too many people now invent data or facts on the spot to win an argument that may not even be worth having. It has infected fiction writing, too. More and more, I see language used poorly by major writers, and they can't build a logical argument/plot to lead to the solution of their mystery. Rex Stout used to drive me crazy with Nero Wolfe's passionate love of inductive instead of deductive reasoning, but it was a supportable discipline. Now, far too often, I know you walk to school because the tissue paper is orange on Tuesday.

We need to go back to teaching rhetoric and insisting that our students say what they mean, mean what they say, and understand the difference. Dreyer's English, Garner's Modern American Usage, a good dictionary and a good grammar book should be on every writer's desk. When Humpty Dumpty said he used a word to mean what he wanted it to mean, it used to be a joke. Now it's a fact of life.

And it's dangerous. Ask Greta Thunberg.

27 October 2019

Nice Body You Got There


Sorry, but this article has nothing to do with 6-pack abs, working out regularly, nor plastic surgeons, although it does involve doctors. So, in the spirit of Halloween, ghouls, skeletons and the walking dead (well, these corpses do get around, even if it's not under their own power), here's the not so distant past.

At the beginning of the 19th Century (that's the early 1800's for those of you who like to convert), there was a high demand by surgeons for cadavers to dissect in order to figure out what the heck was really inside the human body and how all those systems were connected. Most of these fresh cadavers came from murderers who had been hanged.

Unfortunately, at the period of time we are concerned with, only 55 murderers took the trip to the scaffold, whereas 500 cadavers were needed to teach new surgeons how to best operate. Since good money was being paid for fresh corpses, local entrepreneurs, known as resurrectionists, soon stepped forward to fill the gap. Fresh holes began to pop up in cemeteries where the recently deceased had been buried. More on this in a minute.

SIDE NOTE: While most resurrectionists plied their trade in the church graveyard, there was one grim pair of partners who took the occupation to a new level. In Edinburgh, Scotland, William Burke and William Hare became best known for their innovation of creating their own fresh corpses via the lure and murder method. Their system for increasing inventory was quickly adopted by a group later known as the London Burkers. Poor Mister Hare, even though equally as infamous as was Mister Burke, did not get equal billing with the London Burkers. I guess that the London Burkers as a name had a better sound bite in the media than the London Hares would have had. In any case, Burke was hanged for his crimes, subsequently dissected (nice of him to have provided one last fresh cadaver on his way out), and his skeleton preserved in the Anatomical Museum at the Edinburgh Medical School. Hare, who had turned Queen's evidence, got a walk. After testifying in Burke's trial, Hare left town under duress (sticks, stones and several different angry mobs). He then disappeared into the world at large. Unless of course, a more surreptitious mob found him walking on the road to England.

Mort safes in a Scottish cemetery
We now return to the problem of fresh cadavers who couldn't seem to remain in their graves. The solution for the more affluent relatives and loved ones of the recently deceased was to have some way to guard the body from body-snatchers. This led to hired watchmen, mort safes and mort houses.

A mort safe was a contraption of various designs built over the grave to deter anyone from digging up and removing the coffin. The so-called safe was usually constructed from thick interlocking metal rods or bands in an accumulative weight so heavy as to make it too difficult  for a grave robber to get at the coffin while trying to work in quiet secrecy during the dead of night. Several examples of these mort safes still exist in some Scottish graveyards.

Udny Mort House
One example of a mort house can be found in the old kirkyard at Udny Green, Aberdeenshire, in northeast Scotland. This house was built in 1832. Its construction costs were intended to be paid for by subscription, however, not enough people signed up, as a result of which the services of the mort house could then be purchased on a body by body basis. The house itself was a circular building with a conical roof covered with slate. The outside door was made of heavy oak and the inside door was iron. Inside the building, and using the same general concept of a lazy-Susan, was a revolving, wooden floor about three feet above the ground. When someone died, their coffin constructed of 7/8ths inch fir boards would be placed on the revolving wood floor, along with any other coffins in the mort house, to set for approximately 90 days each. At the end of this time, the body was considered to have decomposed sufficiently to be safe from body-snatchers. The floor was then rotated, the proper coffin removed and the remains were interred in the appropriate church graveyard. As security for the mort house, four of the initial subscribers were designated as holders for the door keys. All four key holders were required to be present any time the doors were to be unlocked and opened.

The use of mort safes and mort houses gradually fell into disuse a few years after The Anatomy Act of 1832 when other methods of obtaining fresh cadavers, other than grave robbing or executed murderers, became legal. The Udny Mort House itself ceased business in 1836 after its last meeting of the board.

Since grave robbing as an occupation these days has taken a great decline, you can probably now rest in peace, assured that your remains are not likely to be sold at a back alley door to some cutup in the dark of night.

So, sleep well and pleasant dreams this Halloween.

Although, you might want to lock all the doors and turn on the security cameras just to be sure.

26 October 2019

Writing as Salvation (a serious post just to prove that Bad Girl isn't always flaky


This year has been a test of anyone's sanity. In the winter, my beloved husband died painfully of cancer. I want to roar like a bear in fury just thinking about it. He wasn't retirement age yet. This kick to our life plan put my own life at risk. Was it worth it? Was anything in this world worth living for now?

The first three months were like walking through a stage play, where everyone had a script but me. I was haunted by the way he had died and my helplessness to make much of a difference. Guilt can be tied to helplessness in a strange and not exactly rational way. I was alive, where he wasn't given the chance. And I didn't appreciate it, this life. I felt guilty for that.

My two grown-up daughters kept me going during this time.

About month four, I had a strange feeling. I'd been through this before. Not the exact situation. But the quite similar emotion of things being out of control, overwhelming, too much to handle.

When I was a young girl, my sweet little brother was sick. Or so we called it. Later, they gave it the label of autism. Our house was one of sadness, and at times, fear. I sought ways to escape. And the very best way, I found, was through creating stories.

The characters in my stories did what I said. I gave them wonderful adventures. But at the end of the day, they were under my control. That was it - pure, unfettered control, where in my own life, I had none.

As a kid, I started writing as a way to cope with an unstable home life. Could things be any more unstable than they were now?

I had no idea what to do with the rest of my life. No idea where to live. And with that, intense loneliness that had settled deep in my bones.

SALVATION: deliverance from harm, ruin or loss.

Writing - back then as now - has been my salvation. But not perhaps in the way that most people think. It's not that my prose allows me to reflect and write about my feelings as some form of therapy (although this does work in wondrous ways for some people.) Instead, it does the opposite. It takes me out of myself.

On those days where there doesn't seem to be much point to sticking around, this calling pokes at me. Get writing, it says. Write for other people - not yourself. Don't yield to the temptation to make this about you. Enough about you. Write for them.

I write humorous heists, epic fantasy and romantic comedy. Many of my books have been used in the ESL and literacy market, here and overseas. It took a long time, several months, for me to pull out of my grief to remember that. But the memories are starting to come back. In the back of my mind, a voice pokes through. That of a large man in his mid-thirties at a literacy event, saying to me, "If you hadn't written the Goddaughter books, I wouldn't be able to read now."

I'm making this year about him. Enough about me.

What about you, fellow writers and Sleuthsayers? Is writing crucial to maintaining sanity in difficult times?

No BSP this time. May we all touch someone with our writing.

25 October 2019

Spooky Writers, Forgotten Graves, and Vengeance from Beyond the Tomb




It's that time of year, when Pumpkin Spice becomes a thing, and sketchy Halloween costume shops take over even sketchier strip malls.  As the fall chill settles, one starts to wonder: Are those spookiest of writers, Edgar Allen Poe and Ambrose Biercetruly in their final resting places? Like, tucked away, with at least six feet of hallowed earth separating them (the dead) from us (the living)?





I can offer you no such surcease of sorrow.

In this corner, the friendly,
modern-day
Jack O'Lantern...
...and in this corner, a
Samhain-era Jack O'Lantern.
It's made from a turnip, and it
will swallow your soul.
Halloween, based on the Celtic Samhain (which itself is comes from Chthulu-era pagan rituals), is the night when the dead come knocking. Some for treats, some for tricks, and some for righteous beyond-the-tomb payback.








Edgar Allan Poe. I dare you to photo shop
a straw hat onto this.
Edgar Allan Poe and Ambrose Bierce specialized in tales where death wasn't always a sure bet. Both left this mortal coil with scores to settle. And there is grave uncertainty as to where either is interred.  These are three good motives for any unrestful spirit to don a hockey mask (or William Shatner mask, or fedora and sweater combo or, ok, there are a lot of costume options), grab a machete (again, options), and come calling this Halloween. One would hope that enough post-mortem praise has been heaped on Poe and Bierce to put contented smiles on their rotting faces; to sway them to let bygones be bygones.

Don't count on it.

If there's anyone who'd warrant vengeance from beyond the grave, its Edgar Allan Poe. The means are questionable, but the motives are as clear as a gold bug on a black cat.

First, Poe's death is shrouded in mystery. I don't believe he ended up in that Baltimore gutter wearing someone else's clothes just because he was at the tell-tail end of a bender. I like the cooping theory. In those days of rampant voter fraud (not to diminish our own era of Russian meddling), travelers were kidnapped, cooped up in rooms (hence "cooping"), and force-fed booze and drugs. A pretty sweet deal for some, but deadly for others. The blitzed-out saps were coerced into voting repeatedly at different polling stations. Their clothes were switched so they wouldn't be recognized.

Poe was found near a polling station, out of his head. He was wearing farmer's clothes, including a straw hat. There's no way that The Godfather of Goth cavorted amongst the literati of Virginia and New York in a straw hat like some Leatherstocking Tales reject. This man was cooped.

Rufus Griswold wrote a scathing
review of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
(pictured here). Whitman mockingly included
the review in later editions.
Second, Poe's reputation was sunk by Rufus (rhymes with doofus) Griswold, a third-rate literary rival. In popular culture Poe is often seen as a drug addicted outsider who mirrored the creepiness he wrote. Actually, Poe was a respected writer and editor, a literary celebrity who made a lot of his money in live appearances. He is probably the first American writer to live solely off his writing. Rufus Griswold was a hacky "anthologist" and the target of one of Poe's biting you'll-never-live-this-down criticisms. When Poe kicked off, punk Griswold saw his chance for cowardly payback.

Griswold wrote a scathing obit of Poe for the NewYork Tribune that was widely reprinted. Next, Griswold conned his way into being Poe's literary executor. He wrote a fake biography of Poe that appeared in Poe's anthologies.  It portrayed Poe as an addict, gambler and army deserter. This false image of Poe as an evil, pathetic genius stuck.

Edgar Allan Poe's grave marker.
It's likely that Poe is nearby.
Lastly, in 1849, Poe was dumped into an unmarked grave in the Westminster Burial Ground in Baltimore. It wasn't until decades later when a succession of grand headstones attempted to mark the great man's final resting place. In a scene reminiscent of Poe's fiction, the city of Baltimore repatriated Poe's corpse to a more scenic view. The sloppy handling of Poe's remains gave rise to conspiracy theories.

In 1978, the Maryland Historical Magazine published Charles Scarlett, Jr's "A Tale of Ratiocination: The Death and Burial of Edgar Allan Poe." Scarlett proposes that through a series of grave-marker mix-ups, Baltimore botched Poe's reburial. Instead of digging up Poe, Baltimore disinterred the remains of Phillip Mosher, a young fallen soldier from the War of 1812.  Scarlett presents a pretty interesting theory.

George W. Spence, a sexton who oversaw the first exhumation of Poe, said that he lifted up Poe's skull, and "his brain rattled around inside just like a lump of mud." Brains rot pretty quickly. Bullets don't. If Phillip Mosher was killed in the War of 1812 by a shot to the head, the hunt for Poe's corpse continues.

Ambrose Bierce and skull.
Around the time when the search for Poe's grave began, a young soldier and Poe fan was facing real-life horrors that rivaled those that Poe wrote about.

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez
put their own twist on the Ambrose Bierce
legend. Edited by yours truly.
I'm a film and TV editor, and I cut a horror flick that stars Michael Parks (lead on the ultra-cool TV series Then Came Bronson) as cantankerous author Ambrose Bierce. In it, Bierce falls in with outlaws, battles vampires, and eventually joins the ranks of the undead. That's one way to explain Bierce's mysterious disappearance.

Bierce, most famous for The Devil's Dictionary and his short story "An Occurence at Owl's Creek Bridge," was a Civil War vet who saw the bloody horrors of war up close. Bierce hilariously said war was "God's way of teaching American's geography," but he found little humor on the battlefield. He fought on the Union side in hellish battles at Shiloh and Kennesaw Mountain. His writing is imbued with those experiences.  Bierce suffered a head wound at Kennesaw Mountain, which some claim was the cause of his bouts of booziness and unmatched orneriness.

Bierce's most famous story collection, which
includes "An Occurrence at Owl's Creek Bridge."
In his lifetime Bierce was known as a San Francisco journalist, but his lit legend is based on his short horror stories with surprise endings. "An Occurrence at Owl's Creek Bridge" is one of those works of fiction that has been repeated so often, and in so many mediums, that many are unaware of it as the source. It's the story of a Civil War Southerner about to be hung from a bridge. He is dropped off the side, but the rope breaks. The Southerner escapes to his home. As he's running into the arms of his wife he's stopped by a heavy blow to his neck. In the most famous of Bierce's twist endings, we learn the man imagined the escape during the time between his fall from the bridge and the rope breaking his neck.

Pancho Villa: General, Mexican revolutionary,
and maybe one of the last people to see
Ambrose Bierce alive.
In 1913, at the age of seventy-one, Bierce travelled by horseback, first to visit Civil War battle sites, then to Mexico. His stated aim was to report on Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution. Many claim Bierce was running away from old age, seeking a one-way ticket to an adventure that would carry on into the after life. His last postcard was mailed from Chihuahua City, Mexico. Bierce was intending to ride out with Pancho Villa. What happened next is shrouded in mystery, but according to numerous eyewitnesses, Bierce died many deaths.

Bierce was killed at the Battle of Ojinaga, fighting the Federales alongside Villa.

Bierce was only wounded at Ojinaga, but eventually succumbed to his injuries at the Marfa refugee camp.

Bierce was executed by a Federale firing squad at the desert village of Icamole.

Bierce was executed by a Federale firing squad at the desert village of Sierra Mojada.

Others believe Bierce offed himself somewhere in the Grand Canyon, one of his favorite hangouts. There are no eyewitnesses, reliable or otherwise, to support this claim.

At least Poe got a coffin and a handful of mourners. If Bierce died in battle, he was likely dumped in a mass grave and burned. Death by firing squad meant he got his own hole in the ground but none of the other trimmings. There's a small monument for him at Sierra Mojada, but the remains of Bierce are nowhere to be found.

I'd say the best way to placate Poe and Bierce this Halloween is to read their works. You don't even have to read the scary stuff. Poe's tales of ratiocination starring amateur sleuth C. Auguste Dupin are a must for any fan of crime fiction. Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary holds up as a manual of biting-though-meaningful sarcasm.

You may want to read some Shakespeare, too. In 2016, archaeologists examined Shakespeare's grave using GPR scanning. The study showed that the grave was disturbed after Shakespeare was buried. GPR images also revealed that Shakespeare's skull is missing.


Happy Halloween!

I'm Lawrence Maddox. My latest novel Fast Bang Booze is available from Down and Out Books (downandoutbooks.com). You can contact me at Madxbooks@gmail.com.

24 October 2019

Update from the Pen - The Lifer's Group


Up at the pen, everyone's eyeing the upcoming legislative session with great interest.  The hot new issue right now is South Dakota's "possession by ingestion" law, which makes ingestion of any illegal drug - from marijuana to meth to heroin - a felony:
What that means is, whether you smoked marijuana or ingested something else into your system in state or out of state, if you get pulled over and you have a controlled substance in your blood stream, that is considered possession. You could also be charged with a felony depending how much is in your system.  (KOTATV)  
NOTE:  South Dakota is the only state in America in which first offense of possession by ingestion is a felony; in all other states it's a misdemeanor.

There's a legislative committee studying it, which is good.  Of course, we have the split between those who see lowering from a felony to a misdemeanor is just "watering down the drug laws".
Minnehaha County State's Attorney Aaron McGowan agreed that an ingestion misdemeanor would be disastrous. The nature of addiction is "so volatile" that his office typically sees an escalation to more serious crimes, including theft and homicide, he said.   (Argus)
Considering that South Dakota is bordered by states (MN, IA, ND, MT, NE) that have either medical marijuana and/or decriminalized marijuana, I doubt that everyone who caught a buzz in another state is coming home to kill someone.  Granted, meth is a different story - but shouldn't marijuana at least be taken off the list?

The other problem raised by legislators is, as always, cost.  Who's going to pay for treatment for all these addicts if we just "let them go" (although the idea is supervised treatment, folks!), and where is the money going to come from?

Imagine if everyone arrested for their first DUI was charged with a felony with mandatory sentencing in prison? We'd have to build a lot more prisons.  And speaking of prison cells, when legislators talk about the expense of drug and alcohol treatment, and where the money's going to come from - why don't they ever ask where the money's going to come from to pay for the $30,000-$61,000 per year it costs to house one inmate?

South Dakota Pen 2.jpg
South Dakota State Penitentiary - the Hill
Will keep you posted.

I keep tabs on a lot of issues like this, because Allan and I are entering our third year of being the pink tags (outside volunteer supervisors) for the Lifer's Group at the pen.  And yes, we're still working with the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP).

When we tell a lot of people this, their reaction is one of fear, like we're always walking into Con Air or some Mad Max movie.  The truth is, lifers are a pretty nonviolent bunch.  Very few people want to spend the rest of their lives in constant chaos and violence, especially in prison, and so lifers work hard to create as safe a lifestyle as possible for themselves.  And that's the goal of the Lifer's Group.  To improve their lives, their homes - because (once they've moved past denial and anger to acceptance) the prison is their home, and will be for a very, very, very long time.

So the Lifer's Group has committees - legislative, compassionate outreach, daily life.

Legislatively, there's a number of issues that the Lifer's Group is working on, because some of South Dakota's laws are very unique:
(1) Possession by ingestion as a felony.  (see above)
(2) South Dakota and Maine are the only states in America in which a life sentence is always life without parole.
(3) South Dakota and Oklahoma are the only states in America in which you can get a life sentence for manslaughter.  Since manslaughter - read the definition here - means that you did not intend to kill the person, this is pretty outrageous to me.  How can "without any design to cause death" get the same sentence as premeditated murder?

On the other fronts, the Lifer's Group has been:
(1) Doing suicide watches.  (Yes, they're supervised by staff.)  They tag-team this, because they get called out at all hours of the day and night.  They also sit with the dying (usually another lifer) in the hospice room.  Both of these are very important to them.
NOTE:  We also brought in people from Hospice to talk about how to help dying inmates.

(2) Giving orientation talks to the A&Os (Admission and Orientation inmates, i.e., newcomers) to tell people brand-new to prison where things are, what the rules are, what the unwritten rules are, that they don't have to join gangs, and many other things that newbies can't / won't ask the administration about.  (Yes, they're supervised by staff.)

(3) Everyone would really, really, really like to get Restorative Justice (RJ) started.  This is "a system of criminal justice which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large."  But it needs trained mediators.  We're still working on having this happen.

(4) Working on getting better stuff from commissary, from better food to better underwear.  (Let's just say that, without commissary, all an inmate gets is the absolute basics.)

(5) We hosted a Religious Enlightenment Conference that got a huge crowd that sat, respectful and attentive, to hear representatives within and outside of the prison talk about their religious customs, traditions, and practices.  Included were Christianity (representatives from both Catholicism and Protestantism), Asateru, Buddhism, Islam, and Native American traditions.  We're going to do it again in late December.

(6) We hosted a Talent Show which was a ton of fun.  Ear-splitting guitar, magic act, comedians (mostly clean), karaoke, and an audience that ranged from inmates, the COs on duty, to a surprising number of staff and COs who were off duty and just stuck around to watch the show.  Good times were had by all.  I knew that we had a good gig going when one guy put on "Old Town Road", and everyone in the room started singing:

Yeah, I'm gonna take my horse to the old town road
I'm gonna ride 'til I can't no more
I'm gonna take my horse to the old town road
I'm gonna ride 'til I can't no more (Kio, Kio)



We hope to do it again, in the dead of winter, when everyone needs something to sing along to.



23 October 2019

Reversals


Some of you may know that the Brit writer Mark Billingham started out in comedy, and he once remarked there were a lot of similarities between doing stand-up and writing thrillers. Namely, setting up punchlines. E.g., "The pope, the Dalai Lama, and a stripper walk into a bar." I don't know where it's going, but it catches your attention. Jokes, of course, depend on the reversal of expectations, and setting a trap in writing is much the same. Sometimes the punchline gets left out, all the more effectively. The ending of Pet Sematary. You're not turning around.



The twist ending is a time-honored tradition. I got thinking, on the other hand, about twist openings. I just watched Night Train to Munich again, which is a terrific Carol Reed picture from 1940. The set-up is almost completely self-contained, a story all by itself, and Rex Harrison doesn't even show up until 20 minutes in. Not long after, the movie takes a sharp left-hand turn into the Twilight Zone. It's not what you were expecting.



I realized, watching it this time around, that Night Train to Munich puts me in mind of certain of John LeCarre's novels, The Little Drummer Girl in particular. The beginning, the set-up, "Sooner or later, they say in the trade, a man will sign his name," is itself masterful, and then he seems to wander off the beam, into some other story entirely. You're like, Wait, What, Where Are We? He's actually got absolute control, he's simply gathering the reins. Little Drummer Girl is about a deception operation, and the book is an illustration of method, a metafiction.



Metafictions can be said to call attention to themselves. Sometimes it's sleight of hand, sometimes it's done in plain sight. There's a Dutch Leonard book called The Hunted - some years before La Brava made him a household name - and it starts out with a guy in Witness Protection, who's been relocated to Israel, but the mob tracks him down and puts a hit on him. So far, so good. Then maybe a third of the way in, the story goes off at a right angle and all of a sudden, it's not about that guy at all, it's about this other guy, somebody you thought was a supporting character. Well, okay, it's Elmore Leonard, but hello? 



For my money, The Charm School is still Nelson DeMille's best book, not least because he takes what I think is a false and discredited premise and sells it, utterly. Not just that I suspended my disbelief, but that he had me totally convinced. Whether or not the spell wears off is of no consequence; he owns it, and you sign on. Here's the thing. Nelson pulls the same damn trick Dutch does. He starts off in one direction, and puts the pedal to the floor. We got ignition. Then he takes a curve at speed, and snaps your head around. He's got this guy who's only a walk-on, so you think, and suddenly he's center stage.



I don't think this is all that common a narrative device. At least, I haven't run across it that often. David Copperfield begins, famously, with "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else - " but we don't imagine Dickens is going to give Steerforth the lead. Likewise with Scott, no stranger to conventional theatrics, the hero of Old Mortality is your usual generic ingenue, and Scott quite happily loses control of his story to the two contending heavies, Lord Claverhouse and the Covenanter assassin Burley, who basically walks off with the book, but in the end, convention wins out.

Then there's the thing where you shift gears without even meaning to, or because the story requires it. In the first of the bounty hunter stories, for instance, I started out in one direction and veered off unexpectedly in another. I never intended it to be the beginning of a series, the guy himself seemed accidental, I thought I was channeling The Wild Bunch, and it turned out to be Have Gun, Will Travel. Not that I'm complaining, mind, but it took me by surprise.

I think this is where I'm going with this. That we should anticipate the unexpected. In anybody's narrative, but particularly our own. You follow the scent, you follow the story where it leads you, convention be damned.

Oh, and the punchline? "Mustard, custard, and you, you big shit."

22 October 2019

Meet the Finalists for the 2019 Anthony Award - Short Story Category


We have only nine days until the fiftieth annual Bouchercon—the world's largest mystery convention—begins in Dallas, Texas. I know some of my friends started (and finished!) packing weeks ago. Others are taking a more leisurely approach, thinking about what they'll take and planning to pack a couple days before they embark. And then there will be some like me, who with the best of intentions will end up packing the day I leave. But no matter if you're a planner or pantser—oops, wrong column. Take two. But no matter if you're a planner or procrastinator (much better), you likely will need something to read on your travels. That's where today's column comes in.

At Bouchercon, all attendees will be able to vote for the Anthony Award in several categories, including one dear to our hearts here at SleuthSayers: the short story category. Five stories published in 2018 are up for the award. And since short stories can be read quickly, you Bouchercon attendees hopefully will have time to read them all between now and the voting deadline on Saturday, November 2nd, whether it be right now or this upcoming weekend or while you are at the airport. So what are the nominated stories and where can you find them? Follow me …

I'm delighted to host here my four fellow nominees. I've asked them each to answer two questions. First, what is your story about—what's your thirty-second elevator pitch? Second, what do you like best about your story? After each author's answers you'll find a link through which you can read that story online for free. Enjoy! Then those of you at the convention can come hear us talk about the stories at our panel at 4 p.m. on Saturday, November 2nd, in the Pegasus room. The panel will be moderated by Angela Crider. The Anthony Awards presentation will begin that evening at 6 p.m. May the best story win!
—Barb Goffman

"The Grass Beneath My Feet" by S.A. Cosby (published in Tough on 8/20/18)

"The Grass Beneath My Feet" is about an incarcerated man who gets a day pass to pay his respects at a funeral home to the mother who betrayed him.

I think my favorite aspect of the story is the sense of freedom it evoked amid so much loss.

You can read "The Grass Beneath My Feet" by clicking here.


"Bug Appétit" by Barb Goffman (published in the November/December 2018 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine)

"Bug Appétit" is about a con man who flatters his way into Thanksgiving dinner at a rich girl's home, planning on getting away with his stomach full of good food and his pockets full of expensive jewelry. But he's not the only one with secrets—as he learns the hard way.

My favorite part of this story is the humor. I love making people laugh, and I was able to do it in "Bug Appétit" by combining a con man who doesn't pay attention to what he thinks are unimportant details, a grandmother who's not afraid to share her thoughts, and a mother who loves to experiment in the kitchen. Put them all together and you have quite an interesting Thanksgiving dinner.

You can read "Bug Appétit" by clicking here.


"Cold Beer No Flies" by Greg Herren (published in Florida Happens)

"Cold Beer No Flies" is about vengeance, really. My main character is a poor, struggling young gay man trapped in a small Florida panhandle town, who gets an opportunity to not only punish someone who treated him badly but also to get out of town and start a new life.

I think one of the greatest frustrations in life for me is injustice. And while my main character was denied justice originally, he made his own justice. And even though he had to commit a crime of his own to get that justice, I like the idea of him getting away with it. Maybe that's not legitimate, legal justice, but it kind of balanced the scales for me.

You can read "Cold Beer No Flies" by clicking here.



"English 398: Fiction Workshop" by Art Taylor (published in the July/August 2018 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine)

"English 398: Fiction Workshop" charts the secret romantic relationship between a college student and her creative writing professor—a battle of wits and wills unfolding within the student's short story draft for a writing workshop, in the professor's office hours, and then against the backdrop of the larger university.

With "English 398: Fiction Workshop," I really enjoyed experimenting with structure—piecing together a patchwork mosaic with a lot of different elements and even different voices: the draft of the student's story (within the larger story), punctuated by snippets from the professor's lessons about crafting short fiction; the feedback from students within that writing workshop, critiquing both the story and the student herself; and then, later, the voice of another student, writing a column for the school paper about… well, that would be giving away too much. Writing the story, I kept fighting concerns (fears (dread)) that readers might find the whole structure messy and hard to follow, but I’ve felt very relieved with the reception that it’s received—readers putting all those pieces together into a coherent whole, hopefully a satisfying one!

You can read "English 398: Fiction Workshop" by clicking here.


"The Best Laid Plans" by Holly West (published in Florida Happens)

Set in 1948, "The Best Laid Plans" is about Bev Marshall, the driver in a criminal gang run by her boyfriend, Joe Scullion. The crew makes a good living burglarizing affluent neighborhoods on the eastern seaboard, but when Bev learns of Joe's recent infidelity, she decides this job will be her last. The story opens with Bev's foot on the gas pedal, ready to leave the crew high-and-dry after they load the car with stolen treasures. But when she arrives at a run-down Miami motel, ready to fence the goods, things don't work out quite the way she planned.

I really love the story's atmosphere. I worked hard to create the mood, adding small details here and there to add authenticity, and I'm delighted with the result. I actually wrote the bulk of "The Best Laid Plans" many years ago as part of a novel set primarily in 1948 Philadelphia, with action in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Miami, Florida. As sometimes happens, the book never got finished, but after a thorough revision of the first chapters, it ended up making a terrific short story—one that holds a special place in my heart.

You can read "The Best Laid Plans" by clicking here.

21 October 2019

Extreme Editing


On October 15, I finally finished a short story that had been plaguing me for months. I started the story on July 10 after some research. I don’t think I’ve ever taken that long to write a short story without interruption/jumping to another. The story– which I’m being vague about until there is an official announcement– takes real historical people but changes an event in history. 

I loved the concept when asked and immediately knew what I wanted to write, but since I was twisting history that happened in the last twenty years with a decent amount of controversy, I did a lot of research first. I got deep into the weeds bogging down in several areas including government officials and documented “bad guys.” The word count was supposed to be between 5-7k words. It had ballooned to over 13k words in early October. By October 12 I whittled away a lot of obvious excess and got the story down to 10k that had everything I wanted to tell. 

I asked the editor if I could sneak the story in at that word count and to his credit he said no. So I had a lot of cutting to do. Which leads me to this tangent:

Within the short story writing community, it's a common theory that stories should only have four or five characters, that there should be a few scenes so that you don’t confuse the reader and the story doesn’t get watered down. Fundamentally, the reasoning is solid, but I also like to think of the short story as an experimental medium should have limited rules. I would argue that the first and main rule of writing short fiction is to engage and entertain/move the reader. How to do that is up to the writer, not rules. 

As a lover of flash fiction, it seems many stories in the noir world often have 2 or 3 characters, a bar or basement (or some vice-infested locale), a confrontation, and a resolution ending with an act of violence. The format is not bad for a story written in a 1000 words or less, and I’ve written a few this way myself. My hope as a short story writer is not to write just a scene, but a complete story with a middle, beginning and end. Often I try to have multiple scenes with separation of days, hours or flashbacks within a scene to build the suspense/anxiety and create a well-rounded story within a limited amount of words. Sometimes I have a few character and other times I have than what is recommended. I bristle at the idea that short story writers can’t have multiple characters/scenes/periods of time, but high quality investigative reporters with limited word count write engaging stories based on facts. It can be done if it is done right.  

Okay, tangent over. This brings me back to my October 12 problem. I have to cut out 30% of my story in three days (while working a full time job.)  

Here are some things that I did to pare the story down (in no particular order): 

Add contractions

Most people use contractions when speaking. “I don’t want it” instead of “I do not want it.” Every know and then people will make declarative statements like “This outrage will not be tolerated!” So keep it in those instances, and the declarative moments will stand out more. Also, I’d say most people think in contractions as well so combine internal thoughts and possibly the narrative voice if it makes sense. The combinations can cut down dozens to a few hundred words. 

Paragraph reductions 

Take 2 -4 words out of every paragraph. If you have Microsoft Word (or perhaps another word processor) you can see how many paragraphs and lines you have. Go to each paragraph and look at ways you can compress a sentence. Instead of “He walked up the creaky steps and rang the doorbell.” Perhaps "He rang the doorbell" will suffice. Years ago I wrote an article about how 10 authors had their characters enter through doors.   https://writingwranglersandwarriors.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/ten-authors-walk-through-a-door/   One example I use is the following scene from James Elroy’s LA Confidential. 
“Bud went in the back way — through the alley, a fence vault. On the rear porch: a screen door, inside hook and eye. He lipped the catch with his penknife, walked in on tiptoes.”
The screenplay uses more words than Elroy's prose. That is quite an achievement. 

Combine scenes and summarize 

I had written a few bureaucratic meetings to show the inefficiency of siloed government agencies in a time of crisis. While showing is better than telling, I used one meeting to show and explained that several other meetings had been like this and cut two scenes out.  

Kill darlings 

The darlings are the precious scenes that writer loves and does not want to get rid in spite of the scene having no value to the plot. Although killed several scenes that I labored over and enjoyed I managed to keep on less-than-plot-oriented discussion about ice cream and religion. The rest of the darlings, however, were massacred. 

Have another set of eyes 

I've been fortunate to have a writer’s group over these past several years. Sarah M. Chen and Stephen Buehler were on standby to look at the story and offer suggestion for vicious cuts. Since they were not as emotionally attached to the story as I was, their advice bolstered my resolve to kill darlings that I might have internally fought to keep.

Start late and end early

Anton Chekhov once told a fellow writer, “It seems to me that when you write a short story, you have to cut off both the beginning and the end. We writers do most of our lying in those spaces. You must write shorter, to make it as short as possible.” I think Chekhov was advocating for a quick entry and exit to the story so that an excessive, bloated opening and ending wouldn't weight down a story. I had the bloat on both ends of my story.

While I’m not a fan of literary fiction that builds to a moment, but does not offer an ending– which I consider an act of cowardice– there is something to be said about starting in the middle of action/scene without a slow build up and to end at the moment of resolution and not to dwell much on it. My beginning scene got whittled down to 2 sentences and the beloved end scene was chopped off completely. (Another nod to killing darling and motivation from Stephen to take out the 200+ word ending that was fun, but unnecessary.

In the end I whittled the story down to exactly 7,000 words at around 9:10pm on the 15th (aka 12:10a.m. East Coast Time.)   Whew! And in the end I think the story is much better for it.

Have you had to do drastic cuts on your project?





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 TSRichardson.com

20 October 2019

Viola doesn't play the Viola


Nat King Cole
O’Neil wrote about the blah saccharine music of the 1940s and early 50s. I suffered some of the same issues he touched upon. We chatted about his music-loving private eye in that period.

My parents allowed no television, so we didn’t endure dreck as much as some ruining their televisions with Lawrence dullest-of-the-big-bands Welk. At least nuclear families could participate with Sing Along with Mitch Miller.

In the 1940s, the war hit hard. Less than creative but happy, treacly songs helped people feel a bit better. Sadly, many of the best talents were killed off, most notably Glenn Miller. This resulted in the least significant digits surviving awash in bland, washed-out numbers by Lawrence uh-one-uh-two Welk whose claim to fame was outliving all the greats.

One day I started listening to recordings of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. The 1920s were pretty interesting, ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ for example, but the 1930s blew me away. Everyone knows Glenn Miller’s great ‘In the Mood’, but Louis Prima and Benny Goodman’s ‘Sing, Sing, Sing!’ (all 6-zillion versions) blew me away. Arguably, the 1930s proved as creative as the 1960s. Unlike Lawrence God-spare-us Welk, these sounds vibrantly lived.

Chattanooga Choo-Choo’ was written on the cusp of the 1930s/1940s as WW-II geared up. Superficially, it seemed a trivial song with insipid covers and uninspired remakes. But the original, what a tune! Glenn Miller made it playful (as did gorgeous Dorothy Dandridge and the wing-footed Nicholas brothers), but underneath it was musically brilliant, embedding one of the most ingenious transitions ever. I’m grateful Lawrence put-me-out-of-my-misery Welk hadn’t ruined it for me.

As it turns out, the 1940s weren’t at all devoid of good music. Radio fans weren’t looking (or listening) in the right places– Darktown! Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton, Billy Eckstine, Count Basie, Duke Ellington. Thank God they weren’t into the Champagne bubble music of Lawrence just-shoot-me Welk.

And there was Viola Smith. Never has the world seen such a drummer. Tom-toms, snares, kettles… She featured in girl bands, she featured in boy bands. She's amazing. Currently at age 106, she’s even outlived Lawrence gag-me-with-a-pitchfork Welk.


19 October 2019

Who, What, & Where


Okay, put on your thinking hat. It's time for a quiz.

The inspiration for this post came to me some time ago, when a student in one of my fiction-writing classes said, "If my story is ever made into a movie, I wish Steve McQueen could've played the lead." Immediately a young fellow on the other side of the room said, "Who?"

A long silence passed, during which I'm sure most of us in that classroom were thinking the same thing: Are we really THAT old? But sure enough, the King of Cool died almost forty years ago, and there are probably a lot of folks in their teens or twenties who, when they hear the name Steve McQueen, don't think of the Cincinnati Kid or Thomas Crown or the second cowboy in The Magnificent Seven or the guy who blasted through San Francisco in a green Mustang or jumped a prison-camp fence on a motorcycle. They're more likely to think of the other Steve McQueen, the British guy who directed Widows and Shame and 12 Years a Slave.

Hence this quiz. It's not all that hard, but if you haven't seen or revisited some of these old movies via Netflix or Amazon Prime lately, you might be as confused as the young student in my class. At the very least, though, I hope a few of these questions might rekindle some pleasant memories.

NOTES AND DISCLAIMERS: First, any question beginning with "Who" is asking for an actor's name, not a character's name. Second, these are movies, not plays or TV shows, because some of the titles are the same. Third, all movie names refer to the original versions, not remakes.

All set? Grab your popcorn--leave the connoli.


Questions

 1. What were The Searchers searching for?
 2. What made the impact in Deep Impact?
 3. What did Ferris Bueller take a day off from?
 4. What were the signs in Signs?
 5. What was under siege in Under Siege?
 6. What was the book in The Book of Eli?
 7. What was the planet in Planet of the Apes?
 8. What were the passengers riding on in Passengers?
 9. What was natural about The Natural?
10. What kind of animals were The Ghost and the Darkness?
11. What was the dish in The Dish?
12. What made the splash in Splash?
13. What was the museum in Night at the Museum?
14. What was supposed to happen at High Noon?
15. What were the Kramers fighting over in Kramer vs. Kramer?
16. What was the army's reason for Saving Private Ryan?
17. What group dug the holes in Holes?
18. What group had The Right Stuff?
19. What group were the warriors in The Warriors?
20. What group were the 12 Angry Men?
21. What happened to the bridge on the River Kwai?
22. What was the Red October?
23. What was The Pink Panther?
24. What was the Moonraker?
25. What was Porky's?
26. What was Pelham One Two Three?
27. What was Soylent Green?
28. What was The Maltese Falcon?
29. What was The Stand?
30. What was Jumanji?
31. What was Galaxy Quest?
32. What was The Green Mile?
33. What was The Sand Pebbles?
34. What was Sleepless in Seattle?
35. What was The Shining?
36. What was The Big Red One?
37. What was The Blue Max?
38. What was Shawshank?
39. What was The African Queen?
40. What was The Breakfast Club?
41. What was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?
42. What was The China Syndrome?
43. Where was Mystic River?
44. Where was Notting Hill?
45. Where was Lonesome Dove?
46. Where was Chinatown?
47. Where was Snowy River?
48. Where was the waterfront in On The Waterfront?
49. Who got away in The Getaway?
50. Who was the castaway in Cast Away?
51. Who met the parents in Meet the Parents?
52. Who killed Bill in Kill Bill?
53. Whose daughter was taken in Taken?
54. Whose body was guarded in The Bodyguard?
55. Who was the trainer in Training Day?
56. Who was the mama in Mama Mia?
57. Who got stung in The Sting?
58. Who came Back to the Future?
59. Who escaped from New York in Escape from New York?
60. Who was in misery in Misery?
61. Who was the driver in Drive?
62. Who was chased in The Chase?
63. Who came to dinner in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
64. Who was the cowboy in Midnight Cowboy?
65. Who drove Miss Daisy?
66. Who had a close encounter of the third kind?
67. Who was the pilot in Airplane?
68. Who was the pilot in Airport?
69. Who flew the Phoenix in Flight of the Phoenix?
70. Who had Vertigo?
71. Who looked out the Rear Window?
72. Who was Singin' in the Rain?
73. Who ran The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas?
74. Who was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance?
75. Who were The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly?
76. Who got left Home Alone?
77. Who rode a blazing saddle?
78. Who was Jackie Brown?
79. Who was Jerry Maguire?
80. Who was Michael Clayton?
81. Who was Austin Powers?
82. Who was Ace Ventura?
83. Who was Our Man Flint?
84. Who was The Flim-Flam Man?
85. Who was Cat Ballou?
86. Who was Will Penny?
87. Who was Erin Brockovich?
88. Who was Young Frankenstein?
89. Who was The Man with the Golden Gun?
90. Who was The Music Man?
91. Who was The Lady in the Water?
92. Who was Edward Scissorhands?
93. Who was Annie Hall?
94. Who was The Princess Bride?
95. Who led The Dirty Dozen?
96. Who led The Wild Bunch?
97. Who led The Untouchables?
98. Who led the mutiny in Mutiny on the Bounty?
99. Who led the Journey to the Center of the Earth?
100. Who led The Magnificent Seven?


Answers

 1. A little girl kidnapped by Indians
 2. An asteroid
 3. High school
 4. Crop circles
 5. A battleship
 6. The Holy Bible
 7. Earth
 8. A spaceship
 9. A talent for baseball
10. Man-eating lions
11. An Australian satellite station
12. A mermaid
13. The Museum of Natural History in NYC
14. The arrival of four killers, on the train
15. Custody of their son
16. All three of his brothers had been killed in combat
17. Children at a juvenile detention camp
18. The Mercury astronauts
19. A New York street gang
20. A jury in a murder trial
21. It blew up
22. A nuclear submarine
23. A diamond
24. A British spacecraft
25. A nightclub
26. A New York subway train
27. A product manufactured from dead bodies
28. A black statuette
29. The confrontation between good and evil
30. A board game
31. A Star-Trek-like TV series
32. The final walk taken by prisoners on death row
33. The sailors' nickname for the gunboat San Pablo
34. A name given to a caller on a radio talk show
35. Telepathy
36. The First Infantry division, in WWII
37. Germany's highest medal for valor
38. A prison in Maine
39. A boat
40. A group of misfit high-school students
41. A car
42. A nuclear-plant failure, where the meltdown seeps "all the way to China"
43. Boston
44. London
45. Texas
46. Los Angeles
47. Australia
48. Hoboken, New Jersey
49. Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw
50. Tom Hanks
51. Ben Stiller
52. Uma Thurman
53. Liam Neeson's
54. Whitney Houston's
55. Denzel Washington
56. Meryl Streep
57. Robert Shaw
58. Michael J. Fox
59. Kurt Russell and Donald Pleasance
60. James Caan
61. Ryan Gosling
62. Robert Redford
63. Sidney Poitier
64. Jon Voight
65. Morgan Freeman
66. Richard Dreyfuss
67. Peter Graves
68. Dean Martin
69. James Stewart
70. James Stewart
71. James Stewart
72. Gene Kelly
73. Dolly Parton
74. John Wayne
75. Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach
76. McCauley Culkin
77. Cleavon Little
78. Pam Grier
79. Tom Cruise
80. George Clooney
81. Mike Myers
82. Jim Carrey
83. James Coburn
84. George C, Scott
85. Jane Fonda
86. Charlton Heston
87. Julia Roberts
88. Gene Wilder
89. Christoper Lee
90. Robert Preston
91. Bryce Dallas Howard
92. Johnny Depp
93. Diane Keaton
94. Robin Wright
95. Lee Marvin
96. William Holden
97. Kevin Costner
98. Clark Gable
99. James Mason
100. Yul Brynner



How'd you do? Here's my rating chart:
  • If you answered 0 questions correctly, you are either very young or have spent years in solitary confinement.
  • If you answered 1-19 correctly, you are either very old or you're not much of a movie fan.
  • If you answered 20-39 correctly, you probably like movies but you've also missed some good ones.
  • If you answered 40-59 correctly, you are a normal, average, well-rounded U.S. citizen.
  • If you answered 60-79 correctly, you are a definite movie fan and a borderline Netflix addict.
  • If you answered 80-99 correctly, you either have an excellent memory, you have no social life, or you work in the film industry. Possibly all three.
  • If you answered all 100 correctly, you probably should be in solitary confinement. And observed carefully.

Consolation prize

Here are ten more, that might make you feel better about all this:
  • Who was Forrest Gump?
  • Who was Dirty Harry?
  • Who was The Big Lebowski?
  • Who was My Fair Lady?
  • Who was Rain Man?
  • Who was Tootsie?
  • Who was Ben-Hur?
  • Who was Mad Max?
  • Who was Spartacus?

And that's it. Next week I'll try to steer the ship back to mysteries and/or writing.