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!

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."