07 January 2020

MGM: More Stars Than There Are in Heaven


On New Year’s Turner Classic Movies ran all the That’s Entertainment movies. Amy and I caught a few minutes of them. The host appearances were largely filmed on the MGM backlot, or what was left of it at the time. And that got me thinking about some of my own experiences there and an interview I did with Steve Bingen, one of the authors of the highly acclaimed book: MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot. The interview is from a while back but hopefully still of interest. This is part one of two.

Only one studio in the golden days of Hollywood could claim as its motto "more stars than there are in heaven" and actually mean it: MGM – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Not only did MGM have more stars than in heaven it also had more backlots—the place where dreams were made.  In Culver City, CA, besides the main studio lot, were eight backlots, depending on how one counts them.  I have the distinction of being one of the last people to have shot a film on MGM Backlot #2, one of the two main backlots, which is an interesting story in itself, but for another time.

Because of that, I was contacted by Steven Bingen, an archivist at Warner Brothers, who, along with Mike Troyan and Steve Sylvester have authored a book called MGM: HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST BACKLOT—with a foreword by Debbie Reynolds.

Unfortunately MGM ain't what it used to be and, in fact, the main lot, the only lot left, is now owned by Sony.  All the backlots met with the wrecker's ball and made way for condos or houses.  "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot," as Joanie Mitchell once sang.  Luckily the photos, memories and stories of people who remember the backlots have been collected in this book.

What follows is Part I of my interview with Steve Bingen about the book and the backlots.  Please note that the interview was done before the book was finalized and released so that is reflected in the interview's wording.

Paul: Thank you for dropping by, Steve. What gave you the idea for this book—what was your inspiration?

Steve: There have been books written about MGM before, and I recommend them all.  But there was always a major part of the equation, maybe the major part of that equation missing on each and every one of them. All of these books would inevitably contain one aerial shot of the lot—usually the same one—and a single paragraph, maybe, about soundstages and backlots at the studio. And that would be it!

This struck all three of us as mysterious.  It always seemed to us that if you were writing about a place, and MGM was indeed an actual physical place, then why would an author choose to tell us what amounted to virtually nothing about that place?  People always describe Hollywood's studios as "dream factories." Well that phrase isn't bad for what it is, and anyone who was there will tell you that life in those dream factories was if anything, even more interesting than the product the factory was producing.  Yet no one had ever talked about that factory.  Ever.

What we wanted to do with our book was to zoom in on that single aerial photo in everyone else's book, to climb the fences of one of those dream factories and look around a bit.

More stars than there are in heaven.

Tell us about the book and what makes it unique.

Let me just say that the book is formatted as a "virtual tour" of MGM Studios.  The text mostly consists of a walk around the lot, circa 1960, with every major set and department described and illustrated.  We've included hundreds of unseen photos of the place as well, many of which were saved from catacombs and basements and archives which no living person has accessed in decades.  I'm not sure about the "not living" people.

MGM Backlot #2

What did you learn about MGM and/or the various backlots that was new or really interesting?

I thought it was fascinating and haunting how many famous movies and television shows shot on that lot for which no one ever suspected that what they were watching was a backlot at all.  Even if audiences were watching a set they had already seen in hundreds, thousands of other films, people seemed to accept that a curved European street was Paris one week and Transylvania the next just because a visual cue, a street sign or an establishing shot told them it was. Something like a fifth of all the movies made in the United States, historically were made somewhere on the MGM backlot!  Sadly, and decades after the fact, this only proves how successfully these facades were at doing what they were designed to do.

Even today in an era of wide-spread location shooting and so-called digital backlots, Hollywood's few surviving actual backlots manage to succeed in constantly fooling today's "sophisticated" audiences time after time.  I recall watching the Super Bowl on TV recently, and counting at least 4 commercials during the broadcast which replicated real locations using current LA backlot sets which every single person in that game's vast worldwide audience had seen hundreds of times before. I can't help but wonder how many of those people, besides me, have ever suspected that was the case?

What were some of the movies shot on them?

In the book we came up with a list of every major backlot set with the titles of films shot on that set listed underneath.  I'm not sure how much of that list is going to be published, and in what form, but as  it stands now those lists alone, in reduced print, equal over 40 pages of text, and frankly are not even close to being comprehensive!  It amuses me that people write books about, and make pilgrimages to, locations where their favorite scenes from their favorite films were shot.  You know, Griffith Observatory in the Hollywood hills where a single scene in "Rebel Without a Cause" was recorded for example. Well, that location pales in significance to any single inch of any single movie studio—which has probably hosted hundreds, thousands, of films across the decades.  I sometimes drive though those vast anonymous subdivisions which were built where MGM's Lot Two once stood, and I can't help but wonder if the people in those tract homes on that land, know, or care, how historic their property really is. Movie-wise that real estate is more important than any single block of Hollywood Boulevard ever was!

Anyway, I think it's kind of fun to hopscotch through these lists and realize how versatile these sets were, and how much of our shared movie memories were created on them.


How and why did you hook up with me?

Now that's an interesting story.  I don't know if readers of this blog are aware of this but Paul directed one of the last movies ever made on the MGM backlot.  That 40 page chronological list I mentioned of films shot at the studio ends with his name on it.

I didn't know any of this.  I had noticed that there were a few very tantalizing stills floating around on the internet of the studio in its very decrepit very last days.  I couldn't figure out what film these stills were from or what movie was seen in production in them.  I started asking around on the sites where these "holy grail" shots had been posted and that finally led Paul and I to a meeting where he was good enough to loan me some of these same stills and describe the strange production history of his picture.  I'm not going to tell that story here because I can't do so as well as he can, but needless to say it is in my book, and hopefully some of those pictures will appear there as well.  (The photo selection is still being assembled [at the time of the interview]). Let me just say that the history of Paul's movie quite a tale.  Ask him to tell it to you…

MGM: HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST BACKLOT is available in bookstores and at Amazon.  Click here.

In Part II find out about more about MGM. Stay tuned.

***

And now for a little BSP:  I’m running a free promotion for people who subscribe to my newsletter. You can get a FREE e-copy of my novel Vortex. Just subscribe. And if you’re already a subscriber and want the novel contact me via my website or e-mail and I’ll send you the link for the download.


***

I'm also excited to announce that I've got a new book coming out in 2020: The Blues Don't Care. It's a little different for me. It's set in 1940s Los Angeles jazz scene during World War II. I hope you'll keep checking in for more news on this exciting new release.

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

06 January 2020

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda...


Most of my titles come from songs, generally rock and blues, because I originally saw the PI who became Woody Guthrie as a wannabe guitarist. He and Megan Traine, a former session musician, would solve mysteries with a musical slant to them. The band in an early version of the first book was inspired by a few real bands I knew that never quite made it. Some people remember The Electric Prunes and their one big hit. More people remember the Buffalo Springfield, probably because Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Richie Furay and Jim Messina all went on to further success.

But do you remember Moby Grape?

Five solid gigging musicians joined forces in San Francisco late in 1966. Skip Spence wanted to play guitar with Jefferson Airplane, but they already had Jorma Kaukonen and Paul Kantner, so Marty Balin turned him into a drummer. Spence played on the band's first LP and wrote several songs they didn't use. They replaced him with Spencer Dryden, whom they stole from The Peanut Butter Conspiracy (remember them?).

Peter Lewis, a skilled finger-picking guitarist, was the son of Loretta Young. He, Spence, and Jerry Miller created a three-way guitar whirlwind with zest to rival the Buffalo Springfield. Bob Mosley played bass and Don Stevenson played drums, but all five sang, and their harmonies will give you chills. All five composed, too.

Producer David Rubinson recorded their first album for Columbia over the course of FIVE OR SIX DAYS in March and April 1967. That's demos, arrangements, backing tracks, instrumental overlays, vocals, everything. They were live performers, so they only needed a few takes in a studio with then state-of-the-art 8-track machines.

Columbia released the album in June, about two weeks after the Beatles released Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and three months after the Airplane released Surrealistic Pillow (Which included a song by Spence). The songs ranged from acoustic folk-rock to country-tinged ballads to sparkly pop to blues to weird psychedelia, and every song was a gem.

The first LP cover shot,
with Stevenson's notorious
 finger later air-brushed out
Moby Grape had local fame and fortune, and now world-conquering success was only a tour away.

Then it all went to hell.

Jefferson Airplane had fired manager Matthew Katz (along with Skip Spence), and when he took over the Grape, he conned the members into signing a contract that gave HIM the right to the band name. The legal battles continued into the 21st century and blocked the release of many songs. It also prohibited the band from reunion performances under that name. Katz is why the Grape's set never appeared on the film or recorded versions of Monterey Pop, too. He demanded a million dollars for the rights...in 1967.

Columbia, still basically an "old people's label," dropped every ball they could in promoting the band and the album. The release party at the Avalon Ballroom had garish pink velvet press kits with teeny-bopper bios of the band and all the album's singles--more about THAT in a minute. Thousands of orchids were dropped from the ceiling, and dancers slipped on them and fell all over the dance floor. Columbia supplied 700 bottles of wine labeled "Moby Grape" for the dignitaries, but nobody thought to provide corkscrews. At the end of the evening, police busted three members of the band on their way home...with marijuana and three under-age girls in the car.

What could get worse? Glad you asked.

Columbia, in a fit of stupidity no one has yet explained, released five singles--ten songs from the 13-song album--on the same day. They were all in the press kits. DJs didn't know which songs to play and they cancelled each other out on the airwaves. Local fans thought the band was tying for the big bucks, which cost them their local San Francisco hippie base.

Columbia wanted a second LP to recoup the losses, and brought in a different producer to "shape the band up." Remember, Rubinson got the first album out of these guys in six days.

The band sank into drug use, and Skip Spence, who everyone admitted was a genius but always a bit strange, eventually went after Don Stevenson with a fire ax. He and Bob Mosley underwent treatment for schizophrenia. The other members drifted into marital problems, money problems, and music problems. Mosley was so distraught he quit the band and joined the Marines...in 1969!

Spence died in 1999, two days before his 53rd birthday. Stevenson no longer performs, but the other remaining members have appeared with Spence's son Omar under various names, including--wait for it--The Melvilles.

There are people who will tell you the first LP was one of the great debut albums in rock history. I'm one of them.

But don't take my word for it. Find it and listen to what might have been.

05 January 2020

New Year's Punch


It’s been a weird New Year from the go. Before digging into Floridians shooting one another, I present a shooting puzzle you will likely know, but stumped the director of the Father Brown mystery series.

In Season 5, Episode 6 (S05E06), ’The Eagle and the Daw’, Inspector Mallory picks up a revolver and sniffs it. He pronounces it recently fired. He flips open the cylinder to the scene here and says, “One shot fired.”

Father Brown (S05E06) revolver scene
Father Brown (S05E06) revolver inspection scene

What, pray tell, is wrong with this picture? Find the answer below.

Getting a Bang out of Holiday Celebrations

I thought I lived in a reasonably safe neighborhood, but in Florida, guns, alcohol, and celebrations don’t mix. I can’t get used to Floridians firing off guns and firecrackers to honor the birth of the Christ child.
42 Lo, in the East, rose a light.  43 Three wise men gazed at the brightness in the sky.  44 One said, “My comrades, hark! Shooting stars!”

45 “Nay,” said the second Maji.   46 “Tis shooting.”

47 “Verily. Let us ride,” said the third man.  48 “Let us take our gold and thou that… that… that weird stuff you have and let us celebrate peace and holiness by shooting lots of guns and ammo as we eat, drink, and be merry.”
Many years ago, a Floridian died from a bullet fired into the air. Do people learn? At midnight, a bullet took out a sizeable chunk of plaster above the television a neighbor was watching. Nothing rings in Sunshine State holidays like celebratory shooting.

Maximum Bang

As for current Florida New Year weirdness, another contributing factor has been a double murder bare hours into the year at a nightclub a mere stroll from my house. Did I say I thought my neighborhood safe?

And More…

A close scrape rattled me. I agreed to install a laser sight on an automatic pistol for friends. When I pulled it from its holster, I was chilled to find both Phoenix Arms safeties off. I set the safeties, removed the magazine, and installed the sight.

I grew up with revolvers and rifles, not automatics. We were strictly taught to leave the revolver slot under the hammer empty to avoid accidents. Don’t chamber a cartridge unless you intend to shoot. And always unload when not in use. As R.T. and I once discussed… guns are tools, not toys.

I suddenly realized that in my surprise when handed a ready-to-fire weapon, I hadn’t checked the breech. The hair on my neck rose.

I belatedly inspected. Damn, there lay a chambered cartridge. I said some strong words, including a lecture of how many Americans get themselves killed. My words meant zilch: Common knowledge has it bad guys with disdain for safeties always carry fully chambered rounds.

O’Neil wrote me about his police training. His conservative instincts were similar to mine, but NOPD policing is not a casual profession. New Orleans police were taught to always be ready to shoot.

My uncle believed that. His young son put a bullet through their dining room ceiling.

Still Puzzled?

closeup of revolver cylinder
Closeup of revolver cylinder (Father Brown)

As you already spotted, no shots had been fired. The inspector, or rather the episode director, mistook the empty chamber (deliberately left vacant for safety reasons described above) for a fired chamber.

cartridges with live and fired caps
unfired round — fired cartridge
As shown in the photos here, ammunition contain ‘caps’ that hold a primer charge. When the hammer strikes the cap, the primer explodes causing the powder to discharge. The hammer leaves a dent in the fired cap, unique to each gun.

The inspector could have said one bullet was missing, but he couldn’t say one bullet had been fired.

Please, have a safe new year!

04 January 2020

Short Memories: 2019 in Review




Happy New Year, everybody! Since this is my first post for 2020, I figured I'd use it for a review and wrapup of my writing in 2019. For some reason I wrote fewer stories, and published fewer stories, than I did the previous year--but it was still fun.

I won't bore you with a long list of what I read this past year--I did consume just as many novels and stories as I did in 2018--but I want to mention a few books that stood out. I truly enjoyed The Deserter (Nelson DeMille), Cari Mora (Thomas Harris), Blue Moon (Lee Child), The Institute (Stephen King), Cemetery Road (Greg Iles), The Boar (Joe R. Lansdale), and Full Throttle (a collection of shorts by Joe Hill).

On the writing side, I wrote 22 new short stories in 2019 (about half the number I produced the year before). The only things notable about that is that most of them this year were much longer stories--I haven't been writing as many mini-mysteries as I used to--and that not as many had local, southern settings. I'm not sure why, on either count; the stories just took a little longer to tell, and the settings happened to be the ones that popped into my head and stayed there.


Statistics 

I had 26 stories published in 2019--eight appeared in anthologies (some by invitation, some by open-call
submission) and 18 in magazines. Of those 26, 19 were to paying markets, 13 to repeat markets, and 13 to new markets. And, if it matters, 22 were to print publications and four to online pubs. Genrewise, two were fantasy stories, one was science fiction, three were about deception not connected to a crime (what do you call that?), and the other 20 were mysteries--although a few of those could be considered cross-genre. Of the 26 total, 18 were original stories and eight were reprints. Settingwise, 12 took place in my home state of Mississippi and the rest were set elsewhere, including the Middle East, Alaska, Texas, Wyoming, and the South Pacific. And I still seem to be publishing a few series stories: nine of this year's stories were installments in two different series and 17 were standalones.

One other story was released in mid-December 2019 ("Crow's Nest," in EQMM) but I didn't count it since that issue's date is Jan/Feb 2020.

On the nonfiction side, my not-so-short article "Short and Sweet" appeared in a book called How I Got Published and What I Learned Along the Way by Camden Park Press in September, and I wrote 26 columns here at SleuthSayers.

As for rejections, I had 24 this past year. That was actually low, for me. Over my so-called career, I've had more rejections from more different places than Carter had little pills, and I remain unable to predict which stories will fly and which will crash. What can I say? You buy your ticket and you take your chances . . .


2020 vision

In the "upcoming" category, 16 more of my stories have been accepted but not yet published, and 21 have been submitted and have not yet received a response (in other words, I hope they're upcoming). Already-accepted stories are waiting backstage at AHMM, EQMMBlack Cat Mystery MagazineToughSherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, etc., and several anthologies. No genre-diversity here; all of those forthcoming stories are mysteries.
On the subject of other genres, my eighth book is scheduled for release in April, and it's far different from anything I've done before, or that my publisher's done. Stay tuned for more on that in my next SleuthSayers post, in two weeks.

One of my stories was also optioned to a movie production company in L.A. last year. Fingers are crossed.


How about you?

Was 2019 a good year, writingwise? What are some of your success stories? What and where did you publish this year? Novels? Shorts? Other projects? Mostly magazines? Mostly anthologies? What's forthcoming?


One more thing. To any of you who've read my stories, and to the editors who acquired them, please accept my sincere thanks. To be allowed to continue to do something that's this much fun is a true blessing.

May all of you have a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2020!







03 January 2020

What I Really Think About Sensitivity Reading


I've been a mental health professional and psychotherapist for 35 years, a published writer of novels and short stories for 13. I live in New York with its kaleidoscopic population. For almost 20 years, I've conducted my therapy practice in cyberspace, ie all over the world. Either personally or in one role or another, I've known a vast variety of people intimately. I've heard the secrets and the candid thoughts and feelings of people of every race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic background, from homeless to celebrity, from nun to murderer, from serving military to self-proclaimed anarchist, from survivor of child molestation to convicted pedophile. I've worked with prostitutes and flashers and gamblers as well as the whole spectrum of sex and gender. I've heard from dozens of cops how 911 really felt to them. I've helped hundreds of alcoholics and drug addicts get clean and sober.

Empathy and imagination are the tools of my trade-—or let's call them my superpowers. My body of work attests to my high degree of competence at my trade, indeed, both my trades. If I were a surgeon setting your broken leg, would you insist I couldn't do it without instruction from you because I'd never had a broken leg myself? If you don't like that analogy, consider this: I've spent my whole personal and professional life living with, interacting with, working with, treating, writing about, loving, and in one case raising successfully the ultimate aliens: men. And male writers have been doing the same with women, with varying success. [Pause while I resist the temptation to name names.]

How those who haven't walked the walk, especially of the marginalized, can possibly write authentically about such characters has become one of the burning questions of our time. I don't think censorship by the thought police, aka sensitivity reading, is the answer. Redaction in the name of reverence is the enemy of creativity and pure poison to art itself.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when I worked as a clinical social worker in and later directed alcoholism treatment programs in New York, many staff were recovering alcoholics who used their own experience as an integral part of their treatment technique, much like sponsorship in AA. Credentialing for counselors was in its youth. Many clients in treatment also went to AA, where they were told that "only an alcoholic can help another alcoholic." (At the time of AA's founding, no effective treatment for alcoholism existed.)

I made a conscious decision not to "confirm or deny" when asked if I was an alcoholic myself. Rather than using that stuffy expression, I told them they would have to find another way to decide whether or not to trust me. My professional experience taught me that some clients wanted to hear I was just like them, but others wanted to be assured I wasn't as damaged as they were. Some of my clients were the deeply hurt or angry partners and family members of alcoholics, who wanted to hear I was not another alcoholic. And how about the bipolar clients, the ex-prostitutes, the survivors of child abuse and sexual trauma I treated? Did every one of them need to hear I was like them-—or not like them? Once I lost control of disclosure about myself, it would be gone forever. The only solution was not to disclose anything about my personal experience.

When my first novel about recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler was published, I knew that I'd be asked the same question: "Are you an alcoholic?" I made the same decision again. By then, 2008, readers were looking authors up on the Internet and so were potential clients for the online therapy practice I was now engaged in. One mention on Facebook of what I was or wasn't, and once again, I'd lose control over who knew what about me. And it would unquestionably affect people's judgment about whether I was qualified to write what I wrote, treat whom I treated, or know what I knew I knew. As I've learned over and over, people believe what they want to believe. So I had and have no intention of making myself vulnerable to their judgment.

It's not only online that people continually try to break the boundaries I've set for myself. I wish they wouldn't, although I'm no longer amazed at the way people think they have a right to personal information about someone they don't know. Unfortunately, one of the "family rules" of our society is that it's okay. I've had AA members who've read and enjoyed my book tell me so on the street, which is lovely, and then ask if I'm in the program myself-—demonstrating their imperfect grasp of the concept of anonymity. I've given a reading from my story in Me Too Short Stories and had someone come up, tell me it was wonderful and they're going to buy the anthology, then say, "Was it based on personal experience?"-—oblivious to the fact that they've just asked a perfect stranger in a crowded public place, "Were you molested as a child?"

I'm no longer flustered by such questions. I have a standard way of dealing with them firmly but kindly. I say, "I don't disclose that information." If more is needed, I say it's a policy that I apply to everyone. I may even explain it as a matter of my being a mental health professional. But it's really about my right to myself as my own intellectual property, which is akin to my integrity as a therapist and my creative material as a writer. Only I control what anyone knows about my personal experience. Anonymity means that a person in 12-step recovery has the sole right to share that information outside a meeting room. Confidentiality means that only the client has the right to decide who knows what he or she tells a therapist. And intellectual freedom mean that only I as a writer have the right to decide what I write. Short of hate speech, anything else would be kowtowing to the thought police. I'd give up writing rather than settle for appeasement to such an Orwellian distortion of the concept of freedom of speech and creativity.

Elizabeth Zelvin is the author of the Bruce Kohler Mysteries, the Mendoza Family Saga, and three dozen short stories. Most recently, she edited the anthology Me Too Short Stories. Liz's stories have been nominated three times each for the Derringer and Agatha Awards and appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. In 2020 so far, her stories will be published in AHMM and Jewish Noir 2.

02 January 2020

Words to Live By


by Eve Fisher

I don't believe in New Year's resolutions, because I can think of no finer way to make sure you disappoint yourselves and others than to announce how this year you are going to make yourself perfect.  "No, really, this time it's going to work!"  Yeah, and I am going to take up brain surgery as a hobby.  Besides, I saw the Peloton commercial, and I agree - it was horrible.

But I do believe in sharing the wisdom of the ages so that we can all mull things over together.  These quotes come from a variety of authors, articles, etc., and I hope you enjoy them.


Gibson promoting the French release of Spook Country in Paris, March 17, 2008
William Gibson,
Wikipedia Link
"In writing “The Peripheral,” [William Gibson had] been able to bring himself to believe in the reality of an ongoing slow-motion apocalypse called “the jackpot.” A character describes the jackpot as “multi-causal”—“more a climate than an event.” The world eases into it gradually, as all the bad things we worry about—rising oceans, crop failures, drug-resistant diseases, resource wars, and so on—happen, here and there, to varying degrees, over the better part of the twenty-first century, adding up to “androgenic, systemic, multiplex, seriously bad shit” that eventually kills eighty per cent of the human race. It’s a Gibsonian apocalypse: the end of the world is already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed."
NOTE:  Sounds right on the money to me.  The only thing I'd add to it is the one-word sentence, "Yet." - (Link)
"Accept in your mind that anything which can happen, can happen to you."
- Pythagoras

"Everything I've ever said will be credited to Dorothy Parker."
- George S. Kaufman, as quoted in George S. Kaufman and His Friends (1974) by Scott Meredith

"Unhappiness can be classified under five main heads — no more, I assure you. Once you know the cause of a malady, the remedy should not be impossible."
- Mr. Parker Pyne, "Parker Pyne Investigates"

"A desire to have all the fun is nine-tenths of the law of chivalry."
- Lord Peter Wimsey, "Gaudy Night"

"If there is anything that a study of history tells us, it's that things can get worse, and also that when people thought they were in the end times, they weren't."
- Neil Gaiman

Holmes (in deerstalker hat) talking to Watson (in a bowler hat) in a railway compartment“It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful country-side."
- Sherlock Holmes, "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"

"Oh, my friend, consider. 'Very nice people.' That has been, before now, a motive for muder."
- Hercule Poirot, "Mrs. McGinty's Dead"

“The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.”
― Flannery O'Connor

"You've heard of animals chewing off a leg to escape a trap? There's an animal kind of trick. A human would remain in the trap, endure the pain, feigning death that he might kill the trapper and remove a threat to his kind."
- Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, "Dune"

"Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free"
- Leonard Cohen
NOTE:  Kris Kristofferson once said that he wanted those lines of Leonard Cohen's to be his epitaph.  (Link)
"Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong."
- H. L. Mencken, "The Divine Afflatus" in New York Evening Mail (16 November 1917)

"Hollywood is wonderful. Anyone who doesn't like it is either crazy or sober."
- Raymond Chandler

"She keeps trying and you’ve got to be careful or you’ll find yourself believing her, not because she seems to be telling the truth, but simply because you’re tired of disbelieving her."
- Nick Charles, "The Thin Man"

Rex Stout
"I think the detective story is by far the best upholder of the democratic doctrine in literature. I mean, there couldn't have been detective stories until there were democracies, because the very foundation of the detective story is the thesis that if you're guilty you'll get it in the neck and if you're innocent you can't possibly be harmed. No matter who you are."
- Rex Stout, "Invitation to Learning"

"If you cannot or will not imagine the results of your actions, there's no way you can act morally or responsibly. Little kids can't do it; babies are morally monsters—completely greedy. Their imagination has to be trained into foresight and empathy."
- Ursula Le Guin, "The Magician Interview in The Guardian."


"All the things I really like to do are either illegal, immoral, or fattening."
- Alexander Woollcott

"Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man. Yes? Well socialism is exactly the reverse."
-Czech joke, quoted in "Funeral in Berlin" by Len Deighton

“There is nothing perhaps so generally consoling to a man as a well-established grievance; a feeling of having been injured, on which his mind can brood from hour to hour, allowing him to plead his own cause in his own court, within his own heart, — and always to plead it successfully.”
- Anthony Trollope, "Orley Farm"

"Beauty may stop the sun and the sea, but dreams are the language of time."
- Eve Fisher

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought."
- Gandalf, "The Fellowship of the Ring"

01 January 2020

2020 Foresight


Congratulations!  If you are reading this you successfully navigated into the year 2020!  We hope the champagne hangover is not too painful.

One of the great traditions of New Year's Day is making predictions for the year to come.  Another is mocking the idiotic predictions people made last year.  Maybe we can try the latter in 2021, but for today a bunch of SleuthSayers and some of our favorite mystery writers have pulled out our Ouija boards and tried to tell you where to invest the rent money.  Or at least give you something to ponder until the Alka-Seltzer kicks in.  Enjoy.

S.J. Rozan: My prediction for crime writing in 2020: the field will continue healthy, getting a new jolt of energy with the continued erosion of the white male as the default character and writer around whom women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and disabled people orbit. We're a long from there but the field will continue to move along the path of everyone's stories being equally valuable and equally interesting. 

For my prediction for myself I turned to that 21st century Magic 8 Ball, the iPhone's predictive text. I typed in "In 2020 my career" and let the phone finish the sentence. Uh-oh. "In 2020 my career is in my mind and I’m not going on the right side because I have a plan."

Marilyn Todd: 
What’s ahead, you want to know.
Noir? Thriller? Short storio?
I predict that from PIs to history
To a nice cozy mystery
Publishers still make all the dough.

Melodie Campbell: 2020 will be a year of great vision.

Josh Pachter: I predict that, truth being stranger than fiction, 2020 will see a whole lot of true-crime books detailing the antics of current and former members of the Trump administration, plus a lot of nasty name-calling during the months leading up to Election Day.

Steve Liskow: First, the traditional publishing industry will double down on what it sees as winners and ignore everything else. Established writers with a large following won’t be affected, but newbies wanting to break in will either write those genres or go indie.

As bookstores need the discount from big houses, they will be less and less inclined to carry work by unknowns or indie writers.  That will drive more Indie writers to publish strictly in digital format. Readers who want more choice than the trads and bookstores offer will push the digital model even farther.

Kenneth Wishnia: I predict that JEWISH NOIR 2 will come out in September!

Steve Hockensmith: I boldly predict that 2020 will be a year of corruption, scandal, zealotry, lies, hyperbole, hypocrisy, vapidity, vulgarity, outrage, spin and animus. In related news, I predict that I will drink a lot.

Gary Phillips: As "Watchmen," "Mr. Robot," and "The Daily Show," have demonstrated, the wall between fantasy and reality will melt completely and only the misguided and misunderstood in crime fiction will be able to point the way out.

John M. Floyd: In 2020 I’ll be publishing a book that’s far from anything I’ve ever done.  More on that later.

Robert Mangeot: 1.We’re living in a glorious age of crime fiction. The genre has never been more diverse and talent-rich. Great authors are treating us to their best work, and in 2020 I’ll read a steady stream of amazing stuff.  2. Much Diet Coke will summon a first draft should actual ideas fail me. 3. I’ve recently bought a working Bat Signal for the writing office. It’s even money that I’ll need it.

Paul D. Marks: Instead of novels about cats and cupcakes, the next new trend in publishing will be slumgullion. The Cat Who Ate the Slumgullion. The Missionary Who Drowned in the Slumgullion. Girl Gone Slumgullion. The Slumgullion in Cabin10. The Slumgullion on the Train. The Slumgullion On the Blue Dress

I also predict that there will be a surge in reading. People will throw away their cell phones in favor of paperback books – about slumgullion. People will stand about staring at paperback books, not looking at the Rembrandt hanging behind them. Not looking at each other. They’ll go to dinner and be reading madly instead of talking to each other.

Rabbi Ilene Schneider: On April 1, 2015, I posted on Facebook: “I was sworn to secrecy until April 1, but I can now announce my Rabbi Aviva Cohen books have been optioned as a movie by Spielberg, as a series by HBO, and as a musical by Sondheim. Bette Midler will star in all 3 productions. And Mel Brooks is teaming up with Gene Wilder and Carl Reiner to adapt my Talk Dirty Yiddish as a PBS special.” I predict that in 2020, my announcement will go from April Fool’s joke to reality.

Travis Richardson: I'm not sure what to predict that's not politically dire. Maybe, due to AI, hacking, and electronic invasion of privacy 2020 will see a surprising demand in typewriters and stationery.

Charles Salzberg: As a kid, when my parents were otherwise engaged—in other words, paying no attention to me--I’d tune into the Tonight Show. One of Johnny Carson’s favorite bits was Karnak who, wearing a garishly bejeweled turban, held a sealed envelope to his temple and mysteriously divined the contents. For some reason, perhaps it’s the alliteration, the one that sticks with me was his prediction of “Tics in Tennessee.”  Knowing there’s no way I can top that one, I can only offer this: as successful as I will be avoiding work in every creative way possible, I will still manage to complete a new novel and it will probably, once again, piss off mystery reader purists.

Mary Fernando: Sex in the New Year:
*Women have spoken out in #MeToo and #TimesUp. Women leaders like New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern have redefined what women do on the world stage: they are strong and they are compassionate. New leaders like Greta Thunberg are showing us what women will do in the future.
*These changes impact men too in the growing #HeforShe movements, where men admire this new, strong and compassionate woman.
*How will this change writing? I suspect that some old roles women and men played in fiction will go the way of ‘Blackface’ portrayals, as a different type of woman and man are written.


Michael Mallory:  I predict the widespread trend of setting mysteries and thrillers in the past will continue, and for one reason: it circumvents the cell phone problem. Who today can disappear, be abducted, or even face danger when all they have to do is call 911 on their cell, or be called by others? What detective needs to follow clues when all he/she has to do is Google information on their smartphone? Cell phones are a hindrance to mystery plotting, and rather than struggling to explain why a character doesn’t use one, it’s just easier to set the story in pre-cellphone times.

Signora Eva di Vesey di Neroni (AKA Eve Fisher): As the definition of what is criminal behavior becomes increasingly elastic, the fiction market will primarily be:
(1) hardcore noir, where everyone knows everyone is rotten;
(2) Amish and Heartland detectives, all male, whose purity and probity are incontestable.  They always catch the criminal, win all the hearts, and then go home to Sarah;
(3) More Presidential vampire / zombie slayers.
(4) More Presidential vampires / zombies, being slain by others

T.K. Thorne:
Bookstores will thrive again as people reconnect with the tactile experience of ‘real’ books. Digital offerings will give more choices for the paths of plot. As for murder, I predict it will continue.

Stephen Ross: I predict for 2020 that I will, once again, fail to come up with an ending for a long-time resident in my short story WIP folder. It's a science fiction story I wrote a couple of years ago. It's a really cool, funny story, with a couple of great characters... but it has no ending.

Kate Thornton: I think we are going to see much in the way of public rebellion against the dismantling of the rule of law which will be reflected in fiery discourse, massive public engagement, and a triumph of reason over mindless greed. This will be a field of dreams for writers of both crime fiction and chroniclers of true crime. The field will sprout with book after successful book, delighting us with engaging characters who may have been deemed boring in the past, villains who would have seemed extreme a few scant years ago, and crimes more complex and insidious than the usual whodunit. I urge my fellow writers to get ready for an explosion of creative crime, as we do what we have always done: use our art to right the world, our words to restore the balance once more.

Craig Faustus Buck: I predict no new books from Agatha Christie in 2020. Once again, the Grand Dame shall be resting on her laurels. The same can most likely be said for my lazy self.

Jan Grape:  I predict, there will be another 392 new authors in the Mystery genre in 2020 that I won't know.  I predict that Harlan Coben, Lee Child, & Michael Connelly all will have block buster thrillers and new movies out on various mediums in 2020. I predict our SleuthSayers authors will have more award wins. Finally, I predict, and this better be in your column, Rob or I might have to call you a Texan, I predict I'll finally learn how to use my new 4 month old laptop and my printer/copier/scanner/ dishwasher/microwave/laundry duo so I may get a short story written, be nominated and win an award in 2020 myself.

James Lincoln Warren: I predict that all the predictions I make about 2020 will be wrong.  And when they all are, the fact that this particular prediction will turn out to be true will result the complete breakdown of causality, and time will cease to exist.  After that, either the universe will explode, or I will win the Oscar for Best Prognostication.

Robert Lopresti: The Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Awards committees will continue to demonstrate their  shameful prejudice against mystery writers who happen to be left-handed Italian-American librarians.

Brendan Dubois: 1. The popularity of novels involving vampires will finally wane, 15 years after I first predicted it.  2. Novels featuring windows, girls, and trains will no longer be popular.  However, novels featuring doors, boys, and Greyhound buses will see an upswing. 3. If you thought the presidential election of 2016 was wild, 2020 will say, "Hold my beer."

31 December 2019

The End is Near


As I write this, 2020 is only a few days away. As you read this, it likely is only a matter of hours. Tomorrow will be about looking forward, and Robert Lopresti will share prognostications from our fellow SleuthSayers. Today, though, is about looking backward.

I’ve had an unusual year, for several reasons, and following is my year-end wrap-up.

COLLABORATION

If 2019 had a theme, it was collaboration.

I collaborated on stories with four writers this year, saw one collaboration published (“Gracie Saves the World,” written with Sandra Murphy, was published in Maxim Jakubowski’s The Book of Extraordinary Historical Mystery Stories [Mango Publishing]) and had three more accepted. Two stories are making the rounds, and two more are still in progress.

I also collaborated as an editor. Trey R. Barker and I co-created and co-edited the Guns + Tacos serial novella anthology series, saw the first six episodes released as ebooks, one each month for the last six months of 2019, and the novellas will be collected in a pair of paperbacks scheduled for release in early 2020. Trey and I are currently editing six novellas for the second season, due out the last half of 2020.

Early in the year I joined Black Cat Mystery Magazine as co-editor and, though my name is listed in the masthead of issue 5, my first real impact on the publication will be the special issue Black Cat Mystery Magazine Presents Private Eyes, due out soon.

And Gary Phillips and I began work on an anthology scheduled for publication in spring of 2021.

NEW WRITING

Following a trend that began a few years ago, my output again dropped. I completed only 14 stories (including the collaborations), down from 19 last year, and that was down from 32 the year before, a huge drop from 56 in 2016.

I wrote (or co-wrote) 67,200 finished words of fiction. The shortest story was 1,600 words; the longest was 17,300 words.

Four stories were written in response to invitations. The rest were written for open-call anthologies, for markets where I’ve previously placed stories, or for no particular market at all.

ACCEPTED, PUBLISHED, AND RECOGNIZED

I had 15 stories accepted for publication. One was horror, one science fiction, one erotica, one a crime fiction/horror mashup, and the rest were various subgenres of crime fiction. Three were reprints; the rest were originals.

I had 22 stories published. One was fantasy, one science fiction, six erotica, and the rest various subgenres of crime fiction. Seven (including all six erotica stories) were reprints; the rest were originals.

My story “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” first published in Tough, was recognized as one of the “Other Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2018” in The Best American Mystery Stories 2019.

REJECTIONS

I received 13 rejections this year, and any year in which acceptances outnumber rejections is a good year.

EDITORIAL PROJECTS

One of the reasons I’ve written less the past two years may be my involvement with various editorial projects.

The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods was released by Down & Out Books just in time for Bouchercon, and the first season of Guns + Tacos was released the last six months of the year.

Edited this year (mostly) and scheduled for 2020 publication: Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir and the second season of Guns + Tacos.

Begun this year and scheduled for 2021 release: Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir 2 and an anthology I’m co-editing with Gary Phillips.

Additionally, as mentioned above, I joined Black Cat Mystery Magazine as co-editor.

UPCOMING

I ended my review of 2018 with a note that “2019 will be the year I just roll with it. I’ll try to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way and see what happens.”

That worked out well, so I’m going to approach 2020 the same way. A year from now I’ll let you know how it worked out.

30 December 2019

Trouble and Strife - Cockney Rhyming Slang


Several months ago author Simon Woods asked me if I could write a story for an upcoming collection of stories, Trouble and Strife. The concept is to take a word or 2-word combination from cockney slang and write a story about it. The Cockney slang was developed in East London back around the 1850s for criminals and street merchants to communicate to each other in a code that others wouldn’t understand. For example they would use the words “bacon and eggs” for the words legs. And then to make it more confusing they might only refer to the first word instead of the complete words. So a phrase might go something like: “Check out those bacons over there.” 

Here is a video explaining the rhyming scheme better than I can:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=La7Tg5e547g  And you can find a list with several slangs here: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Cockney_rhyming_slang 

Editor Simon Wood explained the following rationale for creating the anthology:

“Cockney rhyming slang is something that’s engrained in everyday British speech.  It’s distorted our mother tongue to the point that half the time people don’t realize they’re using it.  Even Americans don’t realize it.  “Chewing the fat” is pretty common in the US but it’s rhyming slang for “chat.” My mum is technically a cockney but my dad tossed around the odd gobbet of cockney rhyming slang all the time which baffled me as a kid until he taught me.  I love rhyming slang.  I love its creativity and imaginativeness.  I like that it keeps you on your toes when you’re having to decode a conversation while you’re having it.  I especially love the colorful phrases rhyming slang kicks up.  They paint a picture—and that was how I wanted my writers to feel.” 



Once I understood what Simon was asking for my mind shot over to a particular scene in the 1990s Scottish film Trainspotting when the characters are actually watching trains and not shooting up heroin. One character (John Lee Miller’s Sick Boy, I believe) turns to Ewan McGregor and says he’s “fuckin’ Lee Marvin.” 

Image result for trainspotting
My odd inspiration

I’ve maybe seen the movie twice and probably not in 15- 20 years, but somehow I recalled the moment when I heard a cockney rhyme and knew what it meant. So I wrote a revenge action story called “Lee Marvin” that would fit within the famous actor’s repertoire. The story kicks off with a tall, white haired protagonist who has been double-crossed, shot, and is starv…very, very hungry.  

Image result for lee marvin
Smilin' and Starvin'
Here are a few more stories featured in the collection as described by their authors. 

Babbling Brook (for “crook”) was one of the first Cockney phrases Simon mentioned when recruiting a story from me. I immediately thought, what if Brook was a person...

When I put a list of Cockney slang in front of me, Dicky Dirt jumped out at me. I didn’t know what it meant, but it sounded like the nickname of a buddy back home. Gweez, Bucket, Kirch, Nuts, Dong, and Snout are all people I grew up with. Dicky Dirt would fit right in. When I learned that it was the slang for shirt, that was cool, because a couple of my friends wear shirts. You know, if there’s a funeral or wedding.

My story "Barnet Fair" is set in a hairdresser's salon called . . . Barnet Fair. Two reasons. First, my favourite Cockney rhyming slang is the stuff I've heard and even used my whole life and didn't know was Cockney rhyming slang. I never wondered why a hairdo was called a barnet (and me a linguistics graduate!) [[just like I always thought "brassick" was the word people were saying when they had no money, because money = brass and it's sickening to have none. In my defence, how could anyone get "boracic" = boracic lint = skint = broke]]. The other reason for the story was my swooning in delight after reading Renee James' Seven Suspsects, whose protagonist is a hairdresser (note: this is not a cozy) and the way it brought back memories of my own days as a Saturday shampoo girl. 

When Simon told me he wanted a short story for his anthology, Trouble & Strife my first thought was, Wife. That quickly morphed into Wife Beater and I knew that Trouble and Strife was the story for me. Trouble was, that title had already been taken so I muttered a few choice Anglo Saxon words and tried to choose something else from the list of available slang terms. But I couldn’t shake Wife Beater, which is somebody who beats up his wife in England but a sleeveless vest in America. Then Trouble and Strife became available again and I had my story. Now all I had to do was write it. The proof being, you’re reading it now.

My story is “Pleasure and Pain.” I travelled that March with my son through Germany’s Black Forest and we came upon many small towns, with people who seemed guarded. They were friendly but there seemed to be something hidden. With the gray and the rain it added to the shroud. So I said to my son, this would be a great setting for a story about a town hiding secrets.

I selected “Tea Leaf” which means thief. The phrase instantly evoked a burglary for me, and allowed me to explore a question I’ve always pondered. What would I do, if I were caught in a store robbery, and I suddenly realize that one of the robbers is someone I know?



Other stories in the collection are:

Angel Luis Colón's "Bunson Burner"
Paul Finch's "Mr. Kipper"
Jay Stringer's "Half Inch"
Sam Wiebe's  "Lady from Bristol"

You can get your copy of Trouble and Strife directly from Down and Out Books, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other upstanding vendors. 


Wishing everybody a happy New Years along with extra reading and writing!





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

29 December 2019

Season to Taste




Just for fun, let's use the premise that the act of writing stories is similar to the art of cooking fine foods. We'll skip any images of hopping from the frying pan and into the fire as far as plots and scenes go. No, what I'm referring to here is adding a little extra flavor specifically to a particular story or its series. Just like every chef prefers to season various foods with certain flavors to add more richness to the taste, I think stories should be flavored with a little extra seasoning to enrich the consumer's enjoyment. So, pick your own condiment: mustard, ketchup, salt, pepper, curry... I have one series where Buddha Soy Sauce comes to mind, therefore, I'll start with that one.

Paperback cover - coming in 2021
Tales from the Golden Triangle

When I came back to the world from Nam in '68, I brought back a brown, rough-cast glass bottle of Buddha Soy Sauce. Over there, we put it on cooked white rice and the Vietnamese version of sub sandwiches. Seems the French had had a large influence in that country for a while and had introduced the Annamese to long, narrow loaves of French bread.

As a young lad fresh from Kansas, I found that part of the Orient to be a fascinating and exotic land. Many years later, I went on to write fiction about the Golden Triangle, an area contained in Burma, Laos and Thailand, right next door to the conflict in Nam. My story protagonist was a pure-blood Chinese young man raised in the British school system of Hong Kong. His father was an old White Nationalist Chinese soldier turned opium warlord who had taken his younger son (the protagonist) out of the civilized world and placed him in the jungle camps to learn the family business. The protagonist's elder brother who was half-Chinese and half-Shan hill tribe was raised in the savage environment of the jungle and wants no obstacle between him and inheriting their warlord father's opium empire. Plots and counter-plots begin.

For extra seasoning in this series, I added at least one Chinese proverb to the mix in every story. Not only did one of the characters recite the proverb in the story dialogue, it was said in the appropriate place in the story to foreshadow the action about to happen or to explain what had already happened. For instance: "He who reckons without his host must reckon again." Roughly translates to: Some people think only of the advantages they can get in a relationship and yet make no allowances for any potential disadvantages that could happen. In the story, Elder Brother has made a nefarious deal with a rival opium group, but the rival double-crosses him. Bad reckoning on the part of older brother. Then, after the protagonist rescues Elder Brother from the rival group, Elder Brother thinks he is still in a position to be one up on his rescuer, but in the end, he hasn't reckoned with his new host, his younger half-brother.

E-book cover, also in Paperback
as of 2019

Twin Brothers Bail Bond series

Here, I think the heat of curry is appropriate. The proprietor of the Twin Brothers Bail firm has reluctantly hired a new Executive Secretary. Seems all the other candidates have died in accidents, committed suicide, moved, disappeared or were otherwise no longer available for the job. The new hire is a cadaverous Hindu later reputed to have come from an old-time family of Thuggees in India. In this series, to match the action in an appropriate place, the Secretary/Thuggee will utter a saying from the pacifist Mahatma Gandhi. But, when the Secretary says the same words, they end up with a sinister meaning. Example:

     Late the following morning, Theodore entered the outer office and found the swarthy man sitting behind the executive Secretary's desk.

     "What are you doing here?"

     The Hindu fixed his unblinking gaze on Theodore.

     "The divine law is that man must earn his bread by laboring with his own hands."

    Moklal Feringheea then stretched his outstretched fingers.

     Theodore watched the sinuous movement of the muscular hands and took a step sideways.

(NOTE: Thuggees usually strangled their victims. Not quite what Gandhi had in mind for use of  hands.)
E-book cover, also in paperback as of 2019

Holiday Burglars series

For this series, I think sweet and sour sauce, two opposite or different flavors in one. Here, the title of each story has more than one meaning. In "Click, Click, Click," a Christmas season burglary, Beaumont and Yarnell are breaking into the house of Antoine, a drug dealer who hides his illicit proceeds in gift boxes under the Christmas tree. Normally, the "Click, Click, Click" would put one to thinking of the Christmas song where the line goes: Up on the rooftop, click, click, click... referring to the sound of reindeer hooves. However, in this case, our boys have counted houses from the wrong corner and have now broken into a house belonging to a member of the NRA. So, what noise does a revolver make when it's being cocked before firing? Right. And so it goes with the other titles, such as "Labor Day" where the burglars are escaping from the scene of the crime in an ancient elevator when it stops for a pregnant female headed to the hospital..

Anyway, these are just a few examples of how I try to spice up my stories and put a little something extra in them to differentiate my stories from all the other good stories out there.

How about you?

Got any tricks of the trade you would care to share?

All this talk of food made me hungry. I'll go make a sandwich while we're waiting for your answer.


28 December 2019

The Event Was a Success – Nobody Died. (A fun post to welcome the new year.)


Above is the motto of marketing and public relations professionals when describing an event they managed.  You think I’m kidding.  Hah!

A lot of people in the crime writing world know me through my committee involvement in Bouchercon 2016, and the semi-annual Bloody Words mystery con in Toronto.  There’s a reason why I was on those committees.  It has to do with my real job.

I’ve been a professional event and conference planner since the 1980s, when I was part of the Bell Canada Golf Tournament committee.  That’s a lot of years.  In that time, I’ve arranged corporate promotional gigs, entire conferences, and classy fundraising dos.  The key to event planning is the second word:  PLANNING.  We try to anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong, and plan for it.  Probably, we are the most anal, list-making people you would ever come across.  Even so, and even with a ton of experience, I’ve found you can’t plan for everything.  What can go wrong, you say?

Just wait.

You can have water…and well, water.

Note to self: never trust your new staff with critical functions, like – for instance – the bar at a reception for 500.  She took care of the liquor license.  The cocktail food.  The entertainment.  The security.  The insurance.  Everything, in fact, except actually hiring the bars plus bartenders plus spirits.  One hour before the event-start, we were frantically on the phone with a nearby hotel, working a deal to borrow all the staff and spirits they could muster.  They came through, bless their extremely expensive hearts.  As conference-goers waited in the two interminable bar lineups, senior management sashayed up and down the line with lavish finger food to stall the riots.  “It’s so nice to see all the executives get involved like this,” said happy munchers, blissfully unaware of their near-dry event.

Said senior managers took turns slurping the bottle behind the stage.

Lesson learned: ALWAYS put booze and the serving of which at the top of your checklist.  People will forgive most everything.  But not that.

But I thought Moose Factory was in the Prairies…

In Newfoundland, they have a nifty way to make a little extra money.  Moose insurance.  No, really.  I used to work for a really big health care association that had conferences across Canada.  The national conference was in St. John’s one year.  It took a lot of organizing to get the main sponsor’s huge demonstration truck across to the island of Newfoundland.  This was a million dollar vehicle filled with the latest scientific and medical equipment, for demonstrating to the lab manager attendees.  Not a shabby enterprise, and the highlight of our nerdy conference, seeing all those state of the art goodies.  That truck rocked.

Until it was totalled by a Moose on the highway. 

Lesson learned:  ALWAYS get moose insurance.  Yes, this is a thing.

Bus 54, where ARE you?
 

Wine tour.  Yes, those words should never be allowed together.  People who go on wine tours invariably like to drink.  As you might expect, so do their bus drivers. 

It takes 45 minutes to get from Hamilton to Niagara Falls.  A convoy of six buses started out.  Three hours later, five buses made it for the dinner theatre.  The sixth made a slight detour to a winery and never got out of the tasting room.  Nobody there minded.  They had a kick-ass time in the attached resto.  I’m told everyone forgot about the dinner theatre in Niagara.  We tried to reach them.  But the ribald singing made it hard for people to hear their phones. 

Lesson learned:  Never *start* your event at a winery.

Dogs and dragons…it will never work.

Twenty years ago, I joined the PR staff of a major urban teaching hospital.  Anxious to show our commitment to multiculturalism, we scheduled several ethnic lunch days in the cafeteria, complete with food and entertainment.  You can imagine our excitement when the local Chinese community agreed to bring costumed dancers with elaborate twelve foot dragon into our facility.

So it was with great pride and a certain amount of smugness that we had news media standing by.  Not only that, the local television station agreed to film the event.  All good.  Hundreds of people crowded in.  The music started up.  The dancers came on stage. The twelve foot long colourful paper undulating dragon was magnificent.  Cameras rolled.

Cut scene to our blind physiotherapist on staff, who came into the cafeteria with his seeing eye dog Mack.  Mack took one look at the huge dragon and took off, knocking over his master and a table full of thoughtfully provided multicultural food.  Dog went crashing into dragon:  Rips, screams, people running, tables falling, and all this thoughtfully caught on camera for the six o’clock news.  “Hamilton Hospital celebrates Multiculturalism”

We called in every favour we had banked from every media person in town, to keep this off the news.

Lesson learned:  The event was a success.  Only the dragon died.