17 January 2020

The Chet Baker Conspiracy


Chet Baker in Bruce Weber's Let's Get Lost.
Rumors that jazz legend Chet Baker was murdered started shortly after his death.

Filmmaker Bruce Weber was still in post production on his Chet Baker documentary Lets' Get Lost when he got the news that the jazz trumpeter had fallen to his death from a hotel window in Amsterdam. "...it wasn't really Chet's style to jump," Weber told the Los Angeles Times in 1988, seventh months after Baker's death. "He was always getting into trouble with drug dealers. He called me a month-and-a-half before his death and said, 'Something might happen. This cocaine dealer is after me.'"

If drug dealers were after Chet Baker, it wouldn't be the first time.  According to John Wooley in "What Happened, Man," Chet Baker was attacked in 1966 by multiple assailants outside a San Francisco jazz club. "Whatever its motivation," Wooley writes, "it had cost Baker several teeth." Wooley guesses it was drug related. Jeroen De Valk's Chet Baker: His Life and Music affirms this, describing five thugs sent by a drug dealer to beat Chet.  Born to Be Blue, starring Ethan Hawke as Baker, chronicles the same beating, and how the damage knocked Chet, along with his teeth, out of the jazz game.

Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker.
Drummer Artt Frank, who started playing with Baker in the '60s, writes about Chet's attempted comeback in his 2013 memoir  Chet Baker: The Missing Years.  Frank discussed his book in a radio interview with James Paris, and he made some provocative statements about Baker's end. He claimed that Baker contacted him before he died and said he was being followed. Frank said that Chet's widow also believed her wayward hubby was murdered. Speaking for Chet's widow is mere hearsay. Claiming Baker told him he was being followed the night before his death, especially since it echoes Bruce Webers statement, is more convincing

Robert Budreau, the director of Born to Be Blue, also made The Deaths of Chet Baker, a short film about Baker's final moments.  It depicts a drug dealer knocking a very high Baker out the hotel window. It's total conjecture. There's a brilliant three second moment that captures Chet right after doing heroin as he experiences the highest of highs. I was inclined to believe that Budreau got us as close as we'll get to the truth of Chet Baker's end. Case closed. Cue up the album Playboys (made with fellow hardcore junkie Art Pepper) and lament the days when smooth was in and distortion was seen as a mistake.

Tom Schnabel's Rhythm Planet.
Then I read Tom Schnabel's article for KCRW's Music Notes, "How Chet Baker Really Died." Schnabel was the music director for KCRW (he's largely responsible for making Morning Becomes Eclectic a drive time juggernaut). Here's what Schnabel has to say about Chet's fall:

I got a call from a patron at Santa Monica's now-deceased music store, Hear Music, and was told that he knew what happened. He was there at Amsterdam at the same hotel. He said that Chet was chatting up a woman in the lobby, went upstairs to get some cigarettes or keys, and found he had locked himself out of his hotel room. The door to the room next door was open. He entered, went out onto the balcony and tried to get over to his own balcony. He lost his footing, fell and died. The caller told me, "Ask Little Jimmy Scott, he was there at the hotel and remembers."

Little Jimmy Scott
A few months after Schnabel spoke with the caller, he met with singer Little Jimmy Scott. Schnabel writes that the jazz vocalist "corroborated every detail the caller told me about Chet's accidental death."

Schnabel's version lacks intrigue, and if it wasn't for the tragic outcome, is really pretty silly. This only makes it more believable to me. Chet had drugs in his system when he died. Trying to cross from balcony to balcony like Errol Flynn seems like the impulsive move that someone high would pull. Especially if a hotel hook-up was at stake.

What's interesting is that the Chet Baker murder rumors lingered unabated after Schnabel's article was published in 2012. It was like it was written in a vacuum. Wikipedia didn't notice until 2019. The Chet Baker murder rumors live on to this day, though Schanbel's article should probably lay them to rest.

I think "How Chet Baker Really Died" proves two contradictory things about conspiracy theories.

First, it shows that sometimes the answer isn't some complicated plot or deep cover up. Sometimes things happen. It's hard to believe that someone revered, worshipped, viewed as special, out of the ordinary, could meet their end like the rest of us jokers.

Stephen King's  11/22/63:
 Time Traveller vs Lone Gunman
Take the Chet Baker murder rumors, multiply them by what ever number that the hopes and dreams of America equals, and you have the JFK conspiracy theories. Stephen King begins his 11.22.63, his tale of time travel and the JFK assassination, with this quote from Norman Mailer:

It is virtually not assimilable to our reason that a small lonely man felled a giant in the midst of his limousines, his legions, his throng, and his security. If such a non-entity destroyed the leader of the most powerful nation on earth, then a world of disproportion engulfs us, and we live in a universe that is absurd.

Occam's Razor tells us that if there are two explanation for something, take the easiest one with the least assumptions. The Warren Commission concluded that Oswald acted alone. Tom Schnabel proved that Chet Baker slipped and fell. It's an absurd world, folks. Don't make things more difficult than they need be.

Yet there is a second, and very different, conclusion to be drawn: Sometimes the truth is ignored. Or worse.

A series of fateful deaths that defy the odds.
You wouldn't think that the JFK assassination and the purported cover-up that followed would make good stand up material, but I saw Richard Belzer (standup veteran and TV's Detective John Munch) deliver a hilarious set on exactly that. He was at West Hollywood's Book Soup presenting Hit List:An In-Depth Investigation Into the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination. Maybe you had to be there. Anyway, I won't recite the litany of people who claimed to have special knowledge of the assassination and then died shortly after. To quote Belzer:

An actuary engaged by the London Times calculated the probability that at least eighteen witnesses would die of any cause within 3 years of the JFK assassination as 1 in 100,000 trillion.

I've heard people say that the assassination of a president is too big to cover up; if there was something there, it would've come out by now. Belzer argues that it did, and it was stepped on.

Schnabel's little essay for KCRW was ignored, but eventually it did change Chet Baker's Wiki page. If you hear the murder rumors now, all you have to do is check Wiki. We all do that. In a way, Schnabel got to rewrite the ending. Richard Belzer is just one in a long line of researchers and crusaders trying rewrite an ending, to reach the tipping point on another Wiki page. The truth is out there, the X-Files tells us. The implication is, you have to find it. 

I'm Lawrence Maddox.


My travels are taking me away from Sleuthsayers for a few months. If during that time you need your fix of Yours Truly, check out my novel Fast Bang Booze, available from DownAndOutBooks.Com.

Madxbooks@gmail.com.

Tweets are welcome: Lawrence Maddox@Madxbooks

Cheers!




16 January 2020

Fearless Predictions for 2020


All right, all right, I'm late to the party, but what the hey.  I got distracted, which is at least better than lured.

Last weekend I spent at an AVP workshop at the penitentiary - one of our best, actually, which may or may not have been because the temperature outside was 10 degrees for the high, which meant that in the chapel (where we were assigned) it hovered around 55-60 degrees.  I've read before that it was the Ice Ages that made us humans cooperative, compassionate, and creative - so maybe the weather did the same for us.

Then, when the weekend was over, we came back home to a house that was at 55-60 degrees.  The furnace had died.  We got it repaired on Monday, and then went promptly out to hock our valuables to buy a new one, which will be installed before the next Ice Age. Which looks like it's going to be tonight.  So, before the woolly mammoths come over the rise,

Fearless predictions for 2020!

Between House, Senate, gubernatorial, and presidential races, the 2020 elections will surpass the $1.6 billion on advertising, polling, etc., spent in 2016.  This leads me to predict:
  1. The media will make out like a bandit.
  2. Someone will figure out that $1.6 billion is the GDP of a number of smaller countries, and make memes about that.
  3. Someone will figure out that $1.6 billion could be better used elsewhere.
  4. Nothing will change.  
Whether or not violence increases in our cities, nation, or worldwide, most people will believe that we live in an incredibly dangerous age, mostly because the media talisman is "if it bleeds it leads" and that's what we see.  This despite the fact that, in 1340s, the homicide rate was around 110 per 100,000, whereas today, in the US, it's 5 per 100,000.  And there were a lot fewer people around in the 1340s (and about to get fewer in 1347, thanks to the Black Death).

Woolly mammoths will be cloned, and will become the hot new pet of 2025.  (The last woolly mammoths were on St. Paul Island, Alaska, and were pgymies - they stood 5'6" - and I want one!)

President Trump will continue to tweet at the same rate most of us breathe.

There will be new record fires in California, and new record flooding all along the US Atlantic and Gulf coasts.  Climate change will continue to be considered a radical theory of why such things are happening by some.

Sloths will become the hot 2020 Christmas toy / doll / sling purse / baby carrier.

© The Far Side cartoon Imbeciles of the World Unite
© The Far Side
The anti-vaxxers will continue to spread complete bulls***. My "favorite" is this meme: "Let's bring back chicken-pox playdates to stave off shingles!"

Uh, shingles is a reactivation of the chicken-pox virus. No chicken-pox, no shingles… But by all means, make sure to give your children a virus that could very well cause them chronic pain, neuropathy, and even blindness, if not in childhood then as an adult.

To continue raging/ragging on the above, old teachers cannot stop fighting against deliberate ignorance, and the amount of time I spend trying to combat it is a major reason why I will never write enough fiction to satisfy my inner taskmaster.

Most people will go for popcorn, bathroom break, or a quick nap through the following Oscar categories:  make-up, costumes, sound, and short-film (animated and live action). Some will start streaming something on Netflix until the next "big" award.

The winners of the Super Bowl LIV (2020) will be PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg's, Mars, Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, and the Pabst Brewing Company.  Yes, and a team will actually win the game.

Axe throwing will remain a popular activity at many bars here in the Upper Midwest, because the winters are long, and nothing could possibly go wrong,

Xi Jinping will remain President for Life of China.  Vladimir Putin will make himself President for Life of Russia.  (Russian government resigns)  Major pissing contest follows.

Antonio Banderas will indeed get sexier with age.

Brexit will happen.  Almost no one, including Brexiters, will like it.
UK location in the EU 2016.svg
Brexit/Celtexit map
(Wikipedia)
Future quote: "It isn't what I expected it to be. I thought everything would be cheaper, we'd have more freedom, and all those foreigners would be gone."
Speaking of Brexit, even money that:
  • Scotland will vote for independence.
  • Northern Ireland will vote to join the Republic of Ireland. 
  • Scotland will join Northern Ireland and Wales in a Celtexit from Great Britain.  
    • Normandy and Brittany will consider joining them.  The beginning of the Great Celtexit from Europe will begin.  Catalonia will try to join, but will be told to cabrear.  
American troops will remain in the Middle East, mostly wherever Saudi Arabia wants them.

Anthony Trollope will become the hot new Victorian author in print, Kindle/Nook, movies, and television.  (And with 70 novels / short stories, there's a lot to mine.)  Speaking of Trollope, join the rest of us fanatics at https://trollope.groups.io/g/main.

Fake news and deepfakes will receive their own category at the Grammys, Emmys, Tonys, and Oscars.  No one will ever know who truly wins.

Ford v. Ferrari will not win Best Picture Award.

15 January 2020

Today in Mystery History: January 15


by Robert Lopresti

This is the fourth installment in my occasional march through the history of our field.  Make sure you have your comfortable shoes on.

January 15, 1924.  Dennis Lynds was born on this date.    He wrote under the name Michael Collins, and won the Edgar award for his first novel, Act of Fear.  It featured one-armed private eye named Dan Fortune, who is often described as a transitional figure between the Hammett/Chandler school of private eyes and the Parker/Muller/Paretsky clan.  Besides almost twenty other books, Fortune starred in "Scream All The Way," a story in the August 1969 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  I know that because it is the earliest story I can be certain I read in that magazine.  The tale and its illustration have stayed in my mind.

Under the name William Arden, Lynds also wrote fourteen books in The Three Investigators series, which I always enjoyed much more than the Hardy Boys.

January 15, 1924.  And speaking of Dashiell Hammett, he celebrated the birth of Dennis Lynds by publishing "The Man Who Killed Dan Odams" in Black Mask Magazine.  It's a suspenseful tale of a murderer in Montana who escapes from jail and runs into an innocent woman...

January 15, 1945.  On this date the Alfred Knopf publishing house started the Black Widow Thrillers, series.  It was perhaps the first attempt to canonize mystery fiction, creating a set of standard issue reprints of classic novels.  The first to arrive were Hammett's Maltese Falcon, Chandler's Big Sleep, and Ambler's Coffin for Dimitros.    Hey, Hammett is in three entries in a row.  Is that a trend?

January 15, 1948.  Sorry, no Hammett.  On this date Columbia Pictures released I Love Trouble, a noir movie written by Roy Huggins and starring Franchot Tone and Janet Blair.  If it is memorable today it is probably because Tone played a character named Stuart Bailey. You may remember that name from the classic TV show 77 Sunset Strip.  The movie and TV show were both based on Huggins' books/stories about that private eye.

January 15, 1965.  On this date  a certain famous person rang a certain famous doorbell...

January 15, 1973.  This was the year ABC gave up on trying to find a talk show host who could compete with Johnny Carson.  They chose instead to fill their late night slot with ABC's Wide World of Entertainment.  On this night they introduced one segment of it, a  series of 90-minute movies called Wide World of Mystery. 

I learned about this in a very entertaining article by Michael Mallory in the latest issue of Mystery Scene Magazine. (You do subscribe, don't you?  If not, why ever not?)  The first night's movie was called "An Echo of Theresa," but I want to tell you about a movie that appeared in the series later.  With Mike's permission, I repeat part of his description here:

While many of the stories bordered on the bizarre, none were stranger than "The Werewolf of Woodstock," which aired January 24, 1975.  Set in 1969 (obviously) it concerns a bitter, alcoholic farmer who loathes the younger generation, particularly those who attended Woodstock, which was staged near his property and left the place trashed.  During a freak electrical storm he takes a direct hit from a lightning bolt; instead of killing him... it turns him into a werewolf!  In his new bestial form he goes on a rampage against anyone he deems a "hippie," chiefly the members of a garage band who come to the site to record their own album (so they can claim it was "recorded at Woodstock").

If this makes you desperate to see the movie (produced by Dick Clark!) there are excerpts available here and here.  Perhaps that is as much as a human being can stand.  The series ended in 1976, and personally I don't miss it a bit.


January 15, 1981.  I remember exactly where I was that evening: watching the premiere of a great cop show on TV.  Remember Hill Street Blues?  It received 98 Emmy nominations.  Hell, even its theme song was a hit.

January 15, 1993.  This day saw the publication of Generous Death, Nancy Pickard's first novel.  (Well, her first published one.  She wrote one before this but, as she said, it "just sat there like a dead trout.")  Since then she has won multiple awards including the Shamus, Macavity, Anthony, and Agatha

January 15, 2008.  This date witnessed the Broadway premiere of Alfred Hitchcock's Thirty-nine Steps, a hilarious version of the great movie based on John Buchan's novel which essentially invented the genre in which the hero is being chased both by the cops and the bad guys.  The play is performed by one man playing the hero, a woman who takes most of the female parts, and two other actors who take on the rest of the roles, including a swamp and a forest.  I recommend it.



14 January 2020

Copyediting tips


A lot of editors wear one hat or another. They do developmental editing or copyediting. Not both. But not me. While I prefer developmental work, I also happily do copyediting. Helping make a manuscript consistent appeals to the anal-retentive side of my personality. (And while we're on it, yes, I know, that looks wrong: copyediting. It should be copy editing, don't you think? But the Chicago Manual of Style is what most (all?) publishers rely upon for fiction, and Chicago says to use copyediting and copyeditor. So I will here, even as I shiver while doing it.

Anyway ... it's late and I'm short on time tonight, so I'm going to quickly talk about two copyediting problems I spot all the time, not just in fiction, but on blogs and Facebook and, basically, everywhere. Both issues deal with when it's appropriate to set words or word phrases off by commas.

You think you know the answer? Let's see. I'm going to post some example sentences and you decide which ones are properly punctuated.

Example 1

A) My short story "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" was published in 2018.
OR
B) My short story, "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast," was published in 2018.

Example 2

A) My newest short story "Alex's Choice" was published in Crime Travel.
OR
B) My newest short story, "Alex's Choice," was published in Crime Travel.

So what do you think? In each example, was (A) or (B) correctly punctuated? Based on a mistake I see often, I'll bet most of you (including you writers out there) said (B) for both. And I say to that ...

Buzz!

You lose that round. In Example 1, the correct answer is (A). But in Example 2, the correct answer is (B). Why? It all has to do with whether the story titles are necessary for the sentence to be clear.
A pot roast dinner because ... why not?


You set a story title (or any information) off with commas when that information is not necessary for the sentence to be clear. So let's look at Example 1. If I wrote it without the story title it would say: My short story was published in 2018. That would probably leave you thinking, "Which story are you talking about? You've had a lot of stories published. You even had more than one published in 2018." And you would be right, which is why you need to know the story title for that sentence to be clear. Since the story title is required, you don't set it off with commas. So the correct punctuation for the sentence in Example 1 is: My short story "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" was published in 2018.

Turning to Example 2, here's how it would read without the story title: My newest story was published in Crime Travel. Assuming again that you're familiar with my work, do you need the story title to know what story I'm talking about? Nope. I only have one newest story, so I don't need to say its name for you to know which story I'm talking about. Since the story title isn't necessary in that sentence, if I were to add it, the title should be set off with commas, as such: My newest story, "Alex's Choice," was published in Crime Travel.

Think you've got it? Let's try again.

Example 3:

It's 2006, and I call my sister and say, "My short story was nominated for an award." She would congratulate me and know exactly which story I'm talking about because at that time I only had one story published. As such, if I'd included the story title in the sentence, it would have been  unnecessary detail, so it would have been set off by commas: My short story, "Murder at Sleuthfest," was nominated for an award.

But let's say I had two stories published in 2005. If I called my sister a few months later and said, "My short story was nominated for an award," she would ask, "Which one?" She can't tell which story I'm talking about because it could have been my first story published in 2005 or my second one. So I have to revise my sentence to make it clear: My short story "Murder at Sleuthfest" was nominated for an award. Since the story title is necessary for the sentence to be clear, it's not set off by commas.


Paul Rudd
Here's another example, just to be sure you've got it. Assume I'm not a bigamist and I'm married. Which is correct?

A) My husband Paul Rudd reads more than I do.
OR
B) My husband, Paul Rudd, reads more than I do.

If I had just one husband (and if I have to make one up, Paul Rudd is a good choice), his name would be set off by commas because you wouldn't need to know his name for this sentence to be clear. If I had simply said "My husband reads more than I do," you'd know I'm talking about Paul Rudd.

But what if I were a bigamist? Then if I said, "My husband reads more than I do," you would rightly say, "Which husband? Paul Rudd or Robert Downey Jr.?" (If I'm going to be a bigamist, I might as well do it right.) So for that sentence to be clear, I'd have to say: "My husband Paul Rudd reads more than I do." You'll notice there are no commas in that sentence because dear Paul's name was necessary for the sentence to be clear.

More Paul Rudd
Let's move on to something related: Which versus That. I see the word "which" used so often when the correct word in a particular situation is "that." When do you use "which" and when do you use "that"? If information is necessary to a sentence, you use "that" and no commas. If information is unnecessary to a sentence, you use "which" and commas.

Example:

I've just gone shopping and come home with one new blouse. I put it on and show it to my husband, Paul Rudd. (Set off by a comma because I'm no bigamist!) And he says, "Your new top is pretty." And I smile, pleased that he liked my new top. There was no confusion in our conversation. He could have said, "Your new top, which is blue, is pretty." But he didn't have to mention the color because I only bought one new top, so I know which top he's referring to. Since the color wasn't necessary for the sentence to be clear, the information was set off by commas and the word "which" was used.

You can never have
enough Paul Rudd
But what if I'd come home with two new blouses? I model both of them for Paul and say, "What do you think?" He replies, "Your new top is pretty." Instead of smiling, I say back, "Which one are you talking about? The red one or the blue one? You don't think they're both pretty? I spent hours looking for two tops I thought you would like, and you can't even bother to have a kind word for both of them, you son of a ..."

Oh, wait, sorry, back to grammar. So you see, Paul's declaration that my new top was pretty was ambiguous because I hadn't bought just one top. So I calmly ask Paul which one he's referring to, and he says, "Sorry, I should have been clear. Your new top that's blue is pretty. The red one's ugly as sin." Since the color blue was necessary for me to know which blouse he liked, the information was not set off by commas and the word "that" was used.

And now I'm off to therapy since I can't even have a happy marriage with an imaginary husband.

13 January 2020

2020 Writing Worksheet



It’s a new year. 2020. Already 12 days have passed. I’m hoping to attack new projects this year and finish up a few old ones and put them out into the world. For years I used daily writing and project tracking sheet to keep myself focused. I wrote about my struggles to keep up with my daily routine back in August 2019.

The good news is that towards the end of the year, I seemed to get some motivation back. I also went back to my spreadsheet again and I'm using it again in the new year. I’m offering it on my website to anybody who wants it at: http://www.tsrichardson.com/2020/01/12/2020-writing-and-project-tracking/ 

The spreadsheet has two tabs. The first is tracking daily word counts that are added into monthly and yearly totals. I also have categories for monthly editing, submissions, agent queries, promotional acts, and novel and short story reading. The writing goals are set for 250 words a day, but the users can change that goal along with any other category.  Also feel free to add your own categories.

The second tab is for tracking projects. This is especially helpful if you are working on several projects at the same time. On the spreadsheet, you name each project, identify the type of story, dates it started and ended, the word count, percentage complete, any relevant notes, where the project was sent, whether it has been accepted or published, if rejected were there any notes, and finally, were there any payments. Something that I do with the projects is to highlight any rows is blue when they are out for submission. If they are rejected the highlights

That's it for now. This something that has helped me with focus and organization in the past and I hope it can help you too. Best of luck in 2020!



Travis Richardson is originally from Oklahoma and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. He has been a finalist and nominee for the Macavity, Anthony, and Derringer short story awards. He has two novellas and his short story collection, BLOODSHOT AND BRUISED, came out in late 2018. He reviewed Anton Chekhov short stories in the public domain at www.chekhovshorts.com. Find more at www.tsrichardson.com

12 January 2020

Airbnbs, Gangs and Pimps.



My hometown of Ottawa is the capital of Canada. Most of us who live here consider it a small, friendly town disguised as a large city.

On January 8th, Ottawa had our first murder of the year. Four young people (ages 20, 19, 18 and 15) were shot inside a home and the 18 year old was killed.

On November 2019, the Ottawa City Council ‘endorsed new rules that will restrict short-term rentals on Airbnb and other similar platforms to primary residences in a bid to crack down on so-called “ghost hotels” run by absentee owners.’

These two things are related. The young men were shot in a ‘ghost’ Airbnb.

These Airbnb ‘ghost hotels’ are “…becoming havens for criminal activity.
Unlike traditional hotels that come with security video cameras, high traffic and paid security guards on the premises, ghost hotels are often cheaper to book and come with less eyes on what’s happening inside, police say. City police are finding that in instances where violence breaks out, the person booking the rental is rarely at the home and there is a degree of anonymity in the booking. Adding to the situation is that homes are often owned by people who don’t live in the neighbourhood, or are rented by property managers. Police say they find there is little allegiance to the communities in which they are situated. It’s a “perfect scenario,” says one officer.”

When I interviewed a Crown Prosecutor for an article, he had informed me that gangs in Ottawa are mobile and change locations often weekly to avoid detection. These ghost hotels are a perfect opportunity for gangs to move every few weeks with little or no scrutiny.

I only rented an Airbnb once. My family was going to an award dinner in Toronto and I was looking for a hotel near the venue. My children argued that we should get an Airbnb. My daughter is a vegan and wanted access to a kitchen. I said I wouldn’t cook. She said I wouldn’t have to but she wanted to at least have access to the means to cook and a place to put her vegan supplies, like oat milk. This went on for a bit and I gave in, which you would only understand if you’ve had the pleasure of arguing with my children.

My daughter carefully examined reviews of Airbnbs and found one that was close to the venue and had excellent reviews. When we pulled up to the place, it was a condo building in a shady area of town. Not deterred, we went in. I found I couldn’t breathe. This makes staying at a place difficult. My asthma only gets this bad when there is mold, so I went outside with my husband to get some fresh air.

The fresh air and a puffer somewhat resolved my breathing problem but presented a new one. Pulling up to the condo were a string a large cars decanting rough looking men, wearing street clothing and women in what looked like scanty clubwear.

Since I couldn’t breathe in the apartment, and I didn’t feel safe outside of the apartment, my husband booked a hotel.

I often wondered about that odd Airbnb experience, but writing this article clarified a few things: “Investigators have noticed an uptick in pimps using Airbnb rentals in recent years. That’s likely because they’re more anonymous, and it’s more challenging for police to get information about them, compared to traditional hotels and motels, said Det.-Sgt. Nunzio Tramontozzi.”

This makes sense of our unusual experience. If I wasn’t so breathless, I might have realized that the rough looking men might have been pimps. They certainly were frightening.

So, back to Airbnbs. They are a boon for many people - both the guests and those who rent them out. My children have had wonderful experiences in Europe, the United States and Australia. It is the modern version of the student hostels that were popular when I was traveling on the cheap in other countries.

It is unfortunate that Airbnbs are being used by gangs and pimps. I hope that limits on 'ghost' Airbnbs, similar to ones Ottawa is using will curbs this. 








11 January 2020

Crime Fiction and Comedy.


In addition to publishing short form humor, Bill Rodgers writes action-filled thrillers with an element of mystery. His initial foray into crime fiction, Killer Set: Drop the Mic, a Bullet Book, debuted in Fall 2019. Bill has written for Jay Leno for over twenty years, and his material has been used in Jay’s monologues and comedy routines around the world. Bill’s writing has taken many other forms, including sitcom scripts, stage plays, and action-comedy screenplays.

 
CRIME FICTION AND COMEDY

by Bill Rodgers

Writing comedy and writing crime fiction share a number of common elements, though they may be used in different ways. Two interesting elements are voice and the release of tension.

When writing jokes for Jay Leno, I write in Jay’s voice. I write the way Jay talks - the way he delivers. I write on topics Jay likes to use in his act. I use the same attitude Jay exudes while performing.

Recently, I co-authored my first crime fiction book with Manning Wolfe. Killer Set: Drop the Mic, is the story of a road comic, Beau Maxwell, who travels the country performing his standup comedy. While in Boston, he’s accused of murdering the comedy club owner where he is headlining. Although the main character is a comedian, he has to navigate through serious and sometimes dangerous circumstances. It was a challenge to develop a voice for Beau that allowed him to be both funny and fearful when in danger.

The idea of comic relief has been around since the beginning of storytelling and involves the buildup and release of tension. A comedian develops the setup of a joke, leading the audience or reader along a certain direction, building interest or tension along the way. Then he takes a sharp and unexpected turn for the punchline. The release of tension results in a laugh.

In crime fiction, the story carries the reader along as conflict and tension build. This tension can be released in a number of ways. There could be a fight, either verbal or physical. Or murder, which then leads to more conflict.

There could be an escape, or a surprise revelation. Sometimes, conflict in crime fiction can be released with humor. Turns out, Beau is a bit of a smartass, which allowed us to use humor to release conflict before starting to re-build it – akin to riding a roller coaster – up and down. I hope you find time to read Killer Set: Drop the Mic soon, and that you enjoy the ride!

10 January 2020

Politeness, a short lesson


Perusing the previous SleuthSayer blogs, I see great advice and writing tips from so many writers. I'd like to add a comment or two about writer politeness.

I was fortunate to learn from writers who mentored me the importance of a writer being polite when dealing with publishers, editors, agents, people who open manuscripts and slip them into the slush pile – anyone a writer deals with on a proefssional basis. It's hard sometimes but politeness is the best way to handle interactions, especially idiotic remarks from those same professionals who may be having a bad day.

An agent once told me if I insist on writing police procedural novels, I should do more research on police procedures, especially homicide investigations. The agent went on to say my detectives cursed too much, drank too much coffee and didn't beat up prisoners who deserved to be beat up and did not shoot enough bad guys.

"You watch TV, don't you?" the agent asked.

I did not remind the agent I was a homicide detective, although it was in my submission letter and we'd discussed it before the agent started reading my book. I just moved on. Just as I did when another agent said I needed to have my main character's new, pretty wife – murdered – to add more conflict in his life. As if trying to solve multiple murder wasn't enough conflict.

It takes will power not to talk back. I did that in grammar school and got rulers across my knuckles. Yes, I went to Catholic schools and there were nuns. That was grammar school.

My Sicilian temper rose often but it has no place in dealing with agents, publishers, editors, etc. We all cannot be Harlan Ellison, who mailed a dead gopher to a publisher.

During my short stint as an assistant editor, I opened the mail, including all submissions and witnessed a number of writers criticizing our editor for previous rejections. How many of them do you think got published in the magazine? One submitter kept concluding his new submission letter with – "I hope you read my ENTIRE submission this time."

If an agent, editor, publisher, etc. pisses you off, go ahead and chew them out in your mind. Curse them when you are alone in your office. Don't put in in writing. It is so easy today with text messaging, email and the dreaded twitter, facebook and other social networks. Don't bad mouth a publication in public, even if they deserve it, unless they are stealing. Just don't send them any more submissions and quietly tell your writer friends about them.

Vincent Anthony Francis Micheal Joseph De Noux, age 3

Some editors just don't like your writing. Move on.

LINK to Harlan Ellison mailing a dead gopher to a publisher here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MB_hekYXWiw

Thats all for now –
http://www.oneildenoux.com

09 January 2020

Goals


So, Happy New Year, etc.!

I don't know about you guys, but for me, the end of 2019 was memorable in all of the right ways. Two big publishing projects saw the light of day this year, and in the wee hours of New Years' Day, I closed the book (literally) on a third one on which I'd been way behind, and about which I'm not quite ready to talk (more on it later).

Which leads me to 2020.

So far, and I know we're only one week in, but so good on the writing front for me, this new year. How can I make a determination this early? Simple.

It's all about goals.

Everyone comes up with New Year's resolutions, even if they don't call them that. The end of the calendar year is a perfect spot at which to recalibrate, to take stock, to shed what's not working for you and embrace what is. To try new things and see how they work as well.

If you're like me, your wake is littered with the detritus of previous failed resolutions, and for many of us, this year will likely be no different. Want to achieve your goals, specifically your writing goals, this year?

That's simple.

(Note I did not say "easy.")

How to do this?

Incrementally. Seriously, it's all about scale.

Instead of saying, "This year I finish my novel," or "This year I sell my novel," or "I'm going to get one thousand words down every day," break that goal down.

If the goal is productivity ("I'm gonna write every day," etc.) then try this: "I am going to try to write every week. If I can get in a couple of days of writing, even for an hour, then the next week I'm going to try to work in three days/three hours, and so on, up to a realistic goal of getting five days/five hours per week."

Give yourself time to adjust to your new goals, and keep checking in with yourself and see how you're doing. One way to do that is to keep a writing journal wherein your get record your progress and record your thoughts, reactions to how you're doing, etc.

This approach works. And as I said, it's completely scaleable.

If that turns out to be too much, scale it back. If you get discouraged and can't keep up with your goals, ratchet back that word count/day commitment until life is no longer in the way (I have a seven year-old at home and a demanding day gig which requires navigating, so I feel your pain, believe me.).

And that's another thing you can do to help stick with your writing goals: plot out the coming year. If you have a day job (which, as I mentioned, I do), and the stresses and demands of said job are cyclical, then plan for that. For example, in my day gig, September and early October are my highest impact times, so I allow that not much word count gets done during those days.

So if you know you're not going to be terribly productive during a certain time of the year, build that in to your schedule, and cut yourself a break. In fact, cut yourself a whole bunch.

Build downtime in to your writing schedule. Creativity is stealthy. It tends to sneak up you. Grinding things out is what powers outlining and rewrites. But giving your brain a break can really boost your creativity. Google it. There's a ton of neuroscience research on the importance of play in the creative process.

The bottom line, though: make sure however you do it, however you schedule it (or don't), however you structure it (or don't). Keep your goals realistic, attainable, and remember to celebrate the HELL out of them when you hit them!

And on that note, with several recent writing goals more than hit and a few milestones under my belt, I'm off to do precisely that!

Got New Year's Resolutions/Writing Goals? Feel free to weigh in and broadcast them in the Comments section.

See you in two weeks!

08 January 2020

The Rap Sheet



An uncertain year, 2019, but a lot of good books came out. Plenty of brand names, Bob Crais and John leCarre, Alan Furst and Steve Hunter. Here's a completely arbitrary list of my own.



Laura Lippman, Lady in the Lake.

A smart, tart, penetrating story about race and class, memory and regret, self-absorption, self-awareness, and the limits of transparency.



Chuck Greaves, Church of the Graveyard Saints.

If not exactly an eco-thriller, at least second cousin to Edward Abbey. A completely Western novel, and a meditation on how landscape inhabits us.



Lara Prescott, The Secrets We Kept.

Irresistible. A spy story, a history, a corrective to romance. The deep moans round with many voices. A book of echoes, unspoken sorrows, hope.



Don Winslow, The Border.

A fierce, furious, savage novel, a wounded lion dragging himself through a desolate waste, failing in everything but nerve. An absolute shocker.



Philip Kerr, Metropolis.

Bernie Gunther takes his curtain call. A look behind, the uncertain shadows before, a sense of irredeemable loss, and the hinges of horror creaking open under his feet.


A couple of books that weren't new this past year, but that I came on late. Mick Herron's Slow Horses and John Lawton's Black Out, both exemplars of why to start a series at the beginning. I also stumbled across Val McDermid's Forensics (2014), which is utterly indispensable, I kid you not.


Speaking of which, there was still nothing to beat the austere and windswept Shetland, all gorse and moody weather, or the sturdy and engaging Douglas Henshall as Jimmy Perez.



And best picture? Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. (I know, I don't like him either, but fair is fair.)

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!