23 January 2021

How to Write a True Italian Character (and not get taken out by the Family...)


Apparently, I have been too serious on here lately. There have been complaints.  So in an effort to lighten things up, I'm settling into a literary pet peeve.

Too often in popular fiction, I find Italian characters who don't make the grade. They seem a little cartoonish, as their creators probably aren't Italian, and don't have a true insight into the Italian nature.  So I'm here as a public service, to rectify that.  (Okay, because my Uncle Vince told me to.)

Yes, I'm Italian.  Yes, I've been a Goddaughter, like the heroine of THE GODDAUGHTER.  Okay, maybe not exactly like.  But close enough that I can easily imagine what it would be like to be a mob goddaughter.  The Christmas presents would be pretty decent, for one thing. Not to mention, I can get my salami and mortadella wholesale in any deli in the Hammer (Hamilton.)

So as I turn in my 17th novel which may or may not feature the Italian mob, I offer this help to all authors everywhere.

Melodia's rules on how to write an Italian Character:

  1. She absolutely cannot talk with her hands held down.  Okay, not entirely true.  She can scream if they try to hold down her hands.  And kick.
  2. He has at least 2 cousins named Tony.  And one uncle.
  3. She considers Pasta a vegetable.  (It's good for you!  Really.  Ask any Italian grandmother.)
  4. He can listen to five conversations at once, in at least two languages, and answer back.
  5. She has four first names (Melodie Lynn Theresa Anne…)
  6. For the Pros. Your Italian character should:

  7. Cry when Pavorotti sings the FIFA soccer anthem.
  8. Ask for Brio and Orangina in restaurants. Gasp loudly if they don't have it.
  9. Kiss everybody all the time.  Left cheek, right cheek (THEIR left cheek, right cheek.)
  10. Always wear designer shoes.  Especially when shopping for shoes.  If you don't have a special wardrobe just for shopping, you are not Italian.
  11. And finally:

  12. Long hair only, ladies.  At least until sixty.
  13. Wine is a major food group.  Like cannoli.
  14. Okay, it gets a little tougher now, but weaving in background is important.  So to really give your character some punch, add the following:

  15. She regularly faked a long penance after confession just so the boys would think she was way hot.  (I hardly ever did this.)
  16. His family does not consider a 'heater' something you turn on in winter.

I hate to end a list at 13.  We Sicilians are suspicious.  So here's one last way you can tell if a character is really Italian:

Bling.  Lots of it.  Last trip back from Rome, the plane nearly came down with the weight of newly purchased gold my aunts were wearing.  Heard in all lines at Customs:  "What, this old thing?"

Melodie Campbell writes mob comedies and other loopy books while avoiding family somewhere south of Toronto.  THE GODDAUGHTER DOES VEGAS, finalist for the Canadian Crime Writing Awards of Excellence, is the latest in the series.  Standard warning:  Pee before you read it.

https://www.amazon.com/Goddaughter-Does-Vegas-Melodie-Campbell-ebook/dp/B07N8FBLJ4/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+goddaughter+does+vegas&qid=1610989262&sr=8-1

22 January 2021

Still Collecting Names


This writer has lifted character names from sidewalks, signs, name tags in grocery stores, the Olympics, and from live television. There's a new source of names for villains and other despicable characters – the Trump Insurrection.

Just as the bad year 2020 was behind us, we started 2021 with more Americans dying each week in a pandemic many still believe is a hoax – "It's just like the flu." And an insurrection. As the investigations continue, the names of people who desecrated the US Capitol building in an attempt to disrupt the orderly transition of power, their names surface.

I have a NAMES document on my computer where I collect names for characters in my fiction. Lot of names of good people to use and many names of bad people from Nazis to murderers and now – insurrectionists. NOTE: I never use their full name so as not to further display their name so I switch first and last names but despicable is despicable.

NOTE: The FBI's postings seeking information for Assault on Federal Officers and Violence at the United States Capitol draws me to faces. So far I've recognized none of my relatives or friends.

flag
Flag above the Battle of New Orleans, Chalmette, Louisiana

I've more names of good people to use than bad.

I've used names of friends after asking them, never using their full name. Most like it and brag about it.  I have a writer friend whose name will remain confidential who has used the last names of his three wives for villains many times.

I've named a few characters from intersections. Julia Street intersects Carondelet in the New Orleans CBD, hence the character Julia Carondelet.Robertson intersects Bartholomew so we have a Bartholomew Robertson. Dante Street intersects Joseph Street, so we have a Joe Dante.

Naming characters is a ritual I relish. I work hard at it. I believe nearly every other writer does as well. Or they should.


That's all for now.

Stay safe, everyone. This pandemic is far from over.

21 January 2021

I'm Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight


 Last go-round I talked about New Years' resolutions and the domestic terror attack on our national capitol

Today I'm writing on another banner day, but this time the occasion is a much happier one: the orderly (can't say "peaceful") transfer of power between one presidential administration and its successor.

A hopeful note sounds in the middle of a world consumed with chaos, disease, and misery.

We have the pandemic, a sluggish economy, three million jobs lost, and millions going hungry, or on the verge of losing their homes. Or both. Or all of the above.

No I'm not...no I'm not...
We've got our work cut out for us. And that's saying something in light of how hard so many of us are already working just to try to hold everything together.

But—with apologies to the Atlanta Rhythm SectionI'm not gonna let it bother to me tonight.

I'm just not. Tonight is for celebrating. In fact (sorry, have to do it) at Casa Thornton it's already shaping up to be an outright Champagne Jam.

On the National Mall. In New York. In Florida. In St. Louis. In Denver. In Chicago. In Los Angeles. All across the nation, and definitely in our living room!

Beginning with my next post in a couple of weeks I will be back to posting strictly about writing (at least for a while). Right now, I am giddy with visions of not waking up to embarrassment tomorrow morning; no more wondering "What did the object of our national shame do or say to humiliate, belittle or scorn whole swaths of our people today?" 

Nope. Tomorrow morning I'm going to wake up and not worry about what the most powerful man in the world is up to. Same the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that...and...and...

Because we have a new president! And a new vice-president! A good and decent man partnered with a good and a formidable woman. And married to a woman better educated than he is (and according to him, the "smart one" in their marriage).

So we have as president a man who respects women. A man who respects traditions. A man who respects precedent. A man who respects alliances (and allies!).

Now, if you'll excuse me, that champagne ain't gonna drink itself!


See you in two weeks!

20 January 2021

2020 Was A Big Improvement


Note: I reivsed this column on February 27th, because I needed to add the story by Thomas Perry, which appeared in a magazine with a 2020 date which I didn't receive until last week. 

I had better explain that title before you send for the nice folks with the strait jackets.  2020 was better than 2019 only in the sense that more stories made my Year's Best list.  Last year, my eleventh, 12 stories made the list.  This year it's 17, a 41% increase.  Am I just feeling generous as the world dips into chaos?  Who knows?

For the second year in a row the big winner was Akashic Press, with three stories.  They send me their anthologies for free, by the way.  Following with two were Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, LB Productions, Mystery Writers of American, and Superior Shores Press.

That last one requires a bit of explanation.  Publisher Judy Penz Sheluk asked if I would read an advance copy of Heartbreaks and Half-Truths and give it a blurb if I thought it worthy.  I did so and was happy to write said blurb but, since I read the stories long before the book came out, I didn't feel I could list one as my Story of the Week.  Therefore this is the first time since I started reviewing at Little Big Crimes that tales make the year's best list without appearing there first.


Eleven stories are by men; six by women.  Five are humorous; four are historical; and two have fantasy elements.  

Ready?  Let's go.

Barlow, Tom, "Honor Guard,"  in Columbus Noir, edited by Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Akashic Press, 2020.

The narrator is the only child of Tommy, a former navy man turned plumber. The old man's dementia is turning him violent, profane, and racist  On Veterans Day there is a violent confrontation with tragic consequences.  Some stunning surprises follow.

Cody, Liza, "My People,"  in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, November/December 2020.

This is Cody's second appearance on my list.

Shareen Manasseh is  a Jewish woman whose family came to Britain from India.  She joined the police force and, without much training, was assigned to infiltrate the climate change activists - she calls them rebels.  Her work her rethinking her allegiance.  Did she become a cop to get "black-and-white certainty" or because it was better "to be with the bullies than against them?"

Dixon, Buzz.  "Tongor of the Elephants." Heartbreaks and Half-Truths, edited by Judy Penz Sheluk, Superior Shores Press, 2020.

Here, lemme show you something you've never seen before.  The nameless narrator has film of an actor called "J. Cecil Revell, the Million Dollar Profile," being smashed to death by a grumpy elephant while filming a very bad serial.  It's a charming tale of villainy, revenge, and, of course, elephants.


Foster, Luke, "Seat 9B,"  in Mystery Weekly Magazine, June 2020.

The narrator  is an investigative journalist, covering true crime for TV news shows.  On a flight from Los Angeles he suddenly realizes that the man he is sitting next to is the unknown serial killer the country's cops have been looking for.  And since he has "the world's worst poker face," the killer immediately knows he knows...

Goldberg, Tod, "Goon #4," in The Darkling Halls of Ivy, edited by Lawrence Block, LB Productions, 2020.

Goon #4 (his mama named him Blake) is an ex-military thug, now specializing in high-risk assignments.  Having made enough money to retire he decides to go to college and winds up, more or less by accident, in a class on radio performing.  He has some abilities there, it turns out, but more important is the attitude he brings from his previous profession.


Grafton, Sue, "If You Want Something Done Right...," in Deadly Anniversaries, edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini, Hanover Square Press, 2020.

Lucy Burgess has reason to think her hubby is planning to get rid of her.  So she plans a preemptive strike, so to speak.  A lucky mistake puts her in touch with a hit man, and this fellow's way with words is a good deal of the charm of the story.

"Keeping my remarks entirely famatory, every matrimonial association is defeasible, am I right?  ...So what I hear you saying is that you and him are engaged in a parcenary relationship of which you'd like to see his participation shifted to the terminus."


Guthrie, C.C., "Cahoots,"  in Cozy Villages of Death, edited by Lyn Worthen, Camden Park Press, 2020.

Alan Peterson is a banker, and son of the wealthiest man in a small East Texas town.  The story opens with him running into Beulah's diner in a panic because his beautiful wife TeriLyn has disappeared.  

But things don't seem to add up.  She's only been gone a few hours.  And isn't Alan supposed to be out of town?  And why is he claiming she has been having mental problems?

Henderson, J.A. "The God Complex," Heartbreaks and Half-Truths, edited by Judy Penz Sheluk, Superior Shores Press, 2020.

Turns out you can't time travel exactly, but you can view time.  The problem is you tend to see what you expect to see.  And quantum physics is right: observation  changes the thing observed.  That means the ideal observer of the past is someone with no emotions. What's the other term for someone with no emotions?  Oh yeah: sociopath...


Hunt, Alaric, "Borrowed Brains,"  in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, May/June 2020.

Daniel McLaren, an aging West Virginian rumrunner, is happy working as a messenger in New York City, but when he gets beaten and robbed of a half-million dollar package the cops decide that the ex-convict is obviously guilty - or at least convenient to blame.

Fortunately McLaren has a buddy in the city, a fellow native of the Mountain State named Clayton Guthrie.  And Guthrie is a private eye.  Together they start to unravel a complicated fraud scheme that is going badly wrong, with possibly deadly consequences.


McCormick, William Burton.  "Night Train to Berlin,"   Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2020. 

This is McCormick's third appearance here.  It is 1939 and Stalin and Hitler are playing footsie.  As part of their nice-making the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany are exchanging prisoners.

Moller is a German-born Communist.  He has lived in the USSR since its origin but is now  being shipped back to his homeland in exchange for some unfortunate Russian the NKVD wants to get their hands on.  He knows that the vehicle he is about to board "might as well be my funeral train."  But there are plots within plots  and an unlikely ally might  help him out.


Moore, Warren, "Alt-AC,"  in The Darkling Halls of Ivy, edited by Lawrence Block, LB Productions, 2020.

This is the second appearance here by Warren Moore.  It ranges between the amusing and startling.

Roger  possesses a newly minted PhD. in medieval English.  He is desperate for work in a crowded  market but he has a plan to avoid teaching at "the Swamp County School of Mortuary Science and Transmission Repair,"

Oltvanji, Oto, "Underneath it all Runs the River of Sadness,"  in Belgrade Noir, edited by  Milorad Ivanovic, Akashic Press, 2020.

Ranko and Kozma are neighbors and old friends.  Kozma is the troublemaker.  As a cop he did little but paperwork and now, in retirement, he is desperate to actually solve a crime for once.  His attempts to find villainy where there may be none has gotten him into hot water with the police and the neighborhood.

But now, just maybe, he could be onto something.  There's a man on the fourth floor who keeps bringing young women to his apartment.  Nothing wrong with that, except they never come out...

Perry, Thomas,  "Katerina Goes to Studio City," in The Strand Magazine, LXII, 2020.

Katerina is a teenager leading a miserable life in Moscow with no hint of a better future.  Then her best friend escapes to the United States and Katerina, a very resourceful girl, arranges to go as well.

Naive as she is, she does not realize why a Russian oligarch ("He's like a king,") would be willing to help a beautiful young girl come to California.  He sends a different man  to her apartment every night and Katerina develops a wide assortment of tricks and games to keep them out of her bed.  Does this begin to sound familiar?  Are you perhaps humming a few bars of Scheherazade?  


Read, Cornelia, "The Cask of Los Alamos," in Santa Fe Noir, edited by Ariel Gore, Akashic Press, 2020.

The thousand injuries of Richard Feynman I had borne as best I could. But when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.

It is World War II.  The Manhattan Project is toiling away in New Mexico and Thurston has taken a deep grudge against his fellow physicist.  Read draws details from Feynman's real life into the fictional  plot which is, of course, modeled on Poe's.  

Rozan, S.J., "Chin Yong-Yun Sets The Date,"  in Deadly Anniversaries, edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini, Hanover Square Press, 2020.

This is the third appearance here by my friend S.J. Rozan and the second by the formidable Chin Yong-Yun, mother of  Rozan's private eye Lydia Chin, and quite a character herself.  She notices that Chu Cai, the son of a friend, seems unhappy, even though he has just gotten engaged.  She cleverly arranges for him to come to her apartment to tell his problem to Lydia -- who, alas, is not there.  Perhaps, Mrs. Chin says, she can do the groundwork, although she is not quite sure what ground has to do with the detection business...


Simon, Clea, "No Body,"  in Shattering Glass, edited by Heather Graham, Nasty Women Press, 2020. 

Before she even spoke she knew her body was gone. It had been a struggle, losing it. 

At first I thought the protagonist was a ghost, but no, she is a person in trauma experiencing, as some people do in such a situation, the sensation of being outside her own body. In fact, she was drugged and is being raped.  This story is so much about style that I was not expecting the very clever ending.                                                          

Wishnia, Kenneth.  "Bride of Torches,"  in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery magazine, March/April 2020.

My friend Ken Wishnia has  retold a story from the Book of Judges.  He does a lovely job of showing the Hebrews at war with an enemy who has superior technology. Ya'el  commits the crime (?) which is the centerpiece of our story.  The main thing Wishnia adds to the Bible tale is giving her a motive.  In fact, he offers two, one of which feels very modern without being anachronistic.

19 January 2021

The Return of the Prodigal Writer


I figured I should do an update post about why I haven’t been on SleuthSayers for over two months now. I have a lot to say but don’t know where to begin. So I’ll start with:

THE BAD:

I guess I’ll begin at the beginning: Towards the end of October, right before Halloween, I was feeling really weird, so fatigued I could barely stand up, as well as other fun symptoms. My wife and personal doctor finally talked me into going to the ER. Long story short, the ER types said I had cancer and if I hadn’t come in when I did I could have been dead by the following weekend. That’ll sober you up. Of course, there might be some out there who like that idea, but hopefully not too many. At least if you want to kill me, kill me in a book not in real life.

So I spent the vast majority of November (and much of December) in the hospital. In and out 3-4 times, but mostly in. Because after the first dose of chemo, which worked well on the cancer but which also sent the rest of my body into the nine circles of Hell. But instead of greed, gluttony and other alliterative layers of Hell, it was more like pain and boredom. And I created my own circle of Hell: anger.

This isn’t my first bout with the Big C. But it’s a much worse experience than last time. My body is rebelling against the treatments. I had to be in the hospital for all kinds of transfusions of blood, platelets, white blood cells, antibiotics, Snickers and more. I was even on dialysis for a while, but luckily my kidney functions have come back.

I’ve been poked and prodded everywhere. It reminds me of this bit from Alice’s Restaurant: “An' I proceeded on down the hall gettin' more injections, inspections, detections, neglections and all kinds of stuff that they as doin' to me at the thing there, and I was there for two hours, three hours, four hours, I was there for a long time going through all kinds of mean nasty ugly things and I was just having a tough time there, and they was inspecting, injecting every single part of me, and they was leaving no part untouched.” Nope, nothin’ untouched or unexamined or undiscovered.

THE UGLY:

Things seem more on track now. I’ve had 2.5 doses of chemo now (maybe 3.5 by the time you read this—a half because they had to stop the first one mid-track. Unfortunately, for a couple of the remaining chemo sessions, because of the special chemo they’ll be using, I’ll have to be checked back into the hospital so they can keep track of my labs again and make sure things aren’t too out of whack. I’m not looking forward to that. Being in the hospital is horrible on so many fronts. Depressing. Being woken at all hours. Stir crazy. Lousy TV choices. Mostly crappy food, though some was surprisingly good. Horrible, uncomfortable beds and more.

Plus these days it’s filled with Covid patients. And because of so many Covid cases I couldn’t have any visitors.

THE GOOD:

Hopefully, things are on a better track now. I’m still having reactions to the treatments, but hopefully my body is responding to them.

And most of the nurses and assistants have been terrific with a couple mildly bad exceptions. But one of the Clinical Partners saved my life when I had a seizure because of all the crap they’re doing to me. I owe him big time!

I asked one of the nurses if the medical shows on TV are accurate and she said they have the doctors doing all the stuff that nurses do in reality. I’ll remember that next time I write something set in a hospital (although I probably won’t want to write anything remotely medical for a while…). And I know it’s cliched but these people are truly heroes. 

I’ve been in life and death situations before, not the slow burn of cancer, immediate, no time to think situations. But now, with plenty of time to think, I can think of all the things that can be done, all the opportunities I missed in life, etc. But hopefully the cancer continues to respond to the treatments and things will get better by and by.

THE TAKEAWAYS:

You know you’re in trouble when you look forward to hospital food, but at least that says you have an appetite, which is a good thing.

One of the first nights I was there 4 or 5 burly security guys were escorting a guy who had tried to escape back to his room. I didn’t understand why he tried to escape then. I do now.

Hoard mustard and ketchup and other condiments. Often, if you order something that requires a condiment you have to order it separately. Sometimes you get what you asked for, sometimes not. If you order 3 mustard packets you’re lucky to get two. If you get three, but don’t use them all, save them for the next time you need mustard and they shortchange you. 

Be nice to nurses. Self explanatory.

~.~.~

I want to thank Rob and Leigh for stepping in and putting up emergency posts to fill my spots. They were terrific.

So that’s my story, kind of short-handed. But hopefully I’ll mostly be back on SleuthSayers, though medical issues might still cause me to miss a post or two. But it’s good to get back to some semblance of normal. And good to “see” you all!

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

The Blues Don’t Care has been chosen by the terrific and well-respected crime magazine, Suspense, as The Best of 2020 Historical Fiction Novel. I’m grateful to the fans, staff and contributors of Suspense for this terrific honor, which came totally out of the blue. And, besides infusions of platelets, as you can imagine I needed an infusion of good news right now… 

And not only did Blues win a Best of 2020 Award from Suspense Magazine, but Coast to Coast: Noir, the third volume in our Coast to Coast crime stories series that I co-edit with Andrew McAleer, also won a Best of 2020 Award from Suspense Magazine in the Anthology category. So I’m thrilled about both of these awards:
And Blues Don’t Care was also on two other best of/favorites of 2020 lists:

DeathBecomesHer, Crime Fiction Lover: Top Five Books of 2020 

and

Aubrey Nye Hamilton, Happiness is a Warm BookFavorite Books of 2020

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

18 January 2021

A Very Good Year


I've heard it said that the music we hear in our teens defines our taste because those are such formative years in our lives, and I won't argue. The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan in my junior year, but for me the biggie was 1966.

After my freshman year of college, I scored a night shift job at a sheet metal plant. My hours were 6:30 pm to 5 am Monday through Thursday and 3:30 pm to midnight on Friday. There were only nine of us, a 31-year-old foreman, four welders, and four machine operators, three of us college kids. I worked a two-man shear with Al, who was missing an upper incisor and smoked a pack a night.

The 52-hour week meant 12-hours of overtime. I still lived with my parents and drove my mother's car to work, so that summer paid for the remaining three years of my undergraduate degree. It put me on "normal" time for the weekend, which meant I could have a social life...except that my midnight lunch break made it hard to call a girl for a date. It let me play golf almost every day, too, and that was the summer I broke 80 for the first time.

Swell, you say. So what?

Well, we played the radio most of the time, but all the metal around us interfered with reception so we could only pick up one local station, WSGW, which had a trasnmitter two miles away. At midnight, the DJ piled singles on the spindle. After they all played, he'd lift them, read the news headlines, and play that same stack again. And again. Between lunch break at midnight and punch out at five, we'd hear the same songs ten or twelve times. That was the year my first girlfriend dumped me and the year I fell in love for the first time, so those singles trigger a lot of emotional baggage.

Were they all great songs? Not by a long shot, but some were. The Rolling Stones released "Paint It, Black" and the Beatles gave us "Paperback Writer/Rain." The Hollies offered "Bus Stop," The Kinks "Dedicated Follower of Fashion," and Paul Revere and the Raiders were "Hungry." The Mamas and the Papas released "Monday, Monday." But the local DJ promoted home-grown groups selling their new single at the Battle of the Bands at Daniel's Den on Saturday night.

The Rationals at Daniel's Den, Saginaw's teen hot spot


Southern Michigan's music picked up the heavy metal thunder of the automotive plants, where Dad could make enough money to buy his kid an electric guitar and amplifier. Those kids formed bands and practiced in their garages, the DIY movement that became the flagship of garage rock, the grandfathers of Punk. It was democratic music, the kids stealing their licks and lines from the songs they heard on the radio, so simple ANYONE COULD DO IT. And if you got a fuzz-tone for your birthday, even better.

? & The Mysterians



That summer, "96 Tears" was huge. ? & The Mysterians, a Saginaw band, played Daniel's Den and the Blue Light constantly. Terry Knight and the Pack (Later to morph into Grand Funk Railroad) had a cover version of "Lady Jane," but it got pulled because the Rolling Stones hadn't released theirs yet. DJ and the Runaways had "Peter Rabbit," featuring the octave riff they lifted from "Wooly Bully." The Bossmen (Never big, but members went on to play with Lou Reed, Meat Loaf, Aerosmith, and Alice Cooper) released "Thanks to You." The Standells from LA had their biggest hit with "Dirty Water" and the 13th Floor Elevators gave us "You're Gonna Miss Me" with the full-bore reverb and an electric jug. Really.
The 13th Floor Elevators, Tom Hall on Jug...



Bob Seger and the Last Heard scored their first single, "East Side Story," recycling the riff from "Gloria" into flash-fiction noir. Seger wouldn't hit nationally for several more years, but he was probably the biggest act in Detroit behind the Motown groups (Where Stevie Wonder was also from Saginaw). He would have several more hits that don't appear on any of his greatest hits collections, too, maybe because they were on the tiny Lucky Eleven label, swallowed up by Cameo Parkway, which submerged in the late sixties.
Young Bob Seger



The Rationals from Flint had the first version I heard of Otis Redding's "Respect." Contrary to local myth, Glenn Frey was NOT a member of the band, but he did hail from Royal Oak, a Detroit suburb. 

The Syndicate of Sound's "Little Girl" came out then, too, along with the Music Machine's "Talk, Talk," and Love's take on "Little Red Book." Composers Bert Bacharach and Hal David preferred Manfred Mann's version of that song and loathed Love's take on it. The Shadows of Knight put out "Oh Yeah," the follow-up to their cover of "Gloria."

Those were the songs I heard while a two-man shear pounded out the rhythm for my summer. I bought my first guitar a few months later. When I look back at these songs, they evoke a very good year, and I can play pretty much all of them now without even thinking about it. The only surprise is that I've never used any of those songs as story titles. 

17 January 2021

The Bank Job


bank vault

In the waning days of my stint at Data Corp, a bank-owned subsidiary in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, security auditors visited the company. These stern-faced men and women differed from bank and financial auditors. They studied physical facilities, detectors, alarms, and personnel. They reminded employees that banking is serious business.

Thus it came to pass, they paid particular attention to me, rogue hired-gun, expert in multiple languages and knowledgeable in the intricate arts of operating systems and the mysterious software void. I had delved deep into the labyrinth of the sacred OS and lo, I not only survived the puzzles of the Minotaur, but my reputation grew, a mark of my shadowy powers and the peril I represented.

Sandman, Matt… how different could we be? Birds of a feather, cut from the same cloth, tarred with the same brush. The auditors were determined to unmask… Danger Man.

Caught between the security professionals and Data Corp’s need to keep me around, the company assigned their top programmer to watch me, to make certain no Harry Potter magical enchantment passed my fingertips to the detriment of the Eastern Seaboard banking community. My transition from legendary hero to potentially a bad, bad boy had the spectacular effect of enhancing my dark reputation amongst the fair sex of the Shenandoah Valley. That’s a story improper for a scholarly work such as this.

“It’s nothing personal,” said the vice president.

“It seems personal,” I said. After the fiascos with Sandman and then Matt, I felt peeved, petulant and perhaps a little petty, those p-offed adjectives. Later, I would become better known for guarding my tongue, but I childishly couldn’t resist showing off. “The auditors are looking in the wrong place. They shouldn’t be suspicious of talent, but of simple vulnerabilities. I bet I can have money out of the bank and on your desk in 24 hours.”

“I don’t believe in gambling.”

“Neither do I. I prefer certainties. Wanna wager?”

“You’re serious?” He sighed. “We have to tell them.” He started to beep the chief auditor but stopped himself. Cogs visibly turned in his head. On the off chance I was right, why reveal weaknesses to the auditors? “How?” he asked.

“The obvious everyone overlooks.”

“It’s obvious you’re presumptuous.” He didn’t say it unkindly. The vice president leaned forward on the edge of his chair, hands braced on his desk. I could see his mind churning, thinking over the computer rooms, an entire floor of programmers’ offices, the banking terminals scattered around the counties. “It doesn’t mean you can’t be right.”

Neither of us believed in gambling, but for different reasons. The VP was a pious man. He said, “I don’t bet, but I will pay you five bucks if you can pull it off.”

I said, “Fair enough. One thing though– keep things as they are– no extra security just because of this, okay?”

He muttered under his breath. If he hadn’t been a religious man, it would probably have sounded something like, “arrogant sodding bastard.”

 A Draft In The House

A few hours remained before my self-imposed night shift, so I visited the banking center off the lobby. I bought a money order to pay my phone bill, watching every move the teller made. Afterwards, I went back to my rooms to sleep a few hours.

The vice president fibbed about not stacking the deck against me. That evening for the first time, a guard searched my flight case as I entered the computer facility. The VP also ordered the data vault closed, a concrete and steel room with a blast-proof door. If I needed a data cartridge, I’d have to ask Nagle, the watchdog programmer they’d hung around my neck, to fetch it.

Like a personal albatross, he watched every move, my every keystroke. As I rolled my chair between consoles, he followed, straining to see if I attempted anything unusual. I simply did my job, asking him to give me breathing space as I studied program code.

We ordered Chinese food. Nagle consumed his with coffee rather than tea, striving to stay alert. I asked what his instructions were and he said he’d been directed to keep a special eye on me. “They think you’re up to something.”

green-bar, fanfold paper
green-bar, fanfold paper

“I am. I’ve got to debug this by morning.”

From time to time I pulled ‘green-bar’ stacks of paper off the big high-speed printers. I had a well-known propensity for leafing through paper listings, giving my eyes a rest from luminescent computer screens. Nagle had wearied from working all day, but occasional requests for tapes or discs kept him awake.

Taking great precautions but overlooking a small, seemingly insignificant but crucial details is only human. Long ago, I’d remarked upon one of these details to the computer room operators who’d forgotten by the next morning. They had stuffed a box of Christmas Club checks on a panel of the control unit next to the printer, handy if they had to make a quick check run. Nothing sinister about printers, right?

I asked Nagle to fetch a data cartridge from the vault as I gathered a listing from the printer, I simply tore off a sheet of three checks and slipped it among the pages of my printout.

An hour after midnight, I dragged manuals and listings into what tellers called the ‘back room’, and spread them out on work tables. To enter the computer room, operators and officials had to pass through a couple of electronically locked anterooms into the data center.

It was also possible to pass from the lobby into the customer area of the banking center where lexan barriers protected the teller area. Behind the glass, trusted employees could pass through the back room to the computer room itself– and vice versa. The computer room contained a photo lab at the back, which the security auditors didn’t like since it gave non-computer people access to the servers.

MICR cheque imprinter
MICR check imprinter

The back room was of special interest to me because it contained a small machine I needed, a MICR imprinter, a shoebox-size device with a simple keyboard used to encode the special magnetic ink numbers along the bottom of a check.

During the day, the back room was used by clerks to spread out reports and by tellers to imprint deposit slips and checks as needed. During the evening, operations bundled and unbundled stacks of checks and imprinted the occasional ‘carrier’, a glassine envelope for damaged checks. By night, I used the same room when I needed an expanded work area. Nagle stopped paying attention to me when I left the main room because the tellers’ back room contained no computers.

I’d never used the imprinter before, but I’d watched the operators. My plan was to key in the account number the bank used to pay me and that’s when I discovered the bank had made my task easier– and an easier crime for anyone else to carry out. When I filched the checks, my famed 007 powers of observation had been running low because I hadn’t inspected them closely. Rather than print individual account numbers on Christmas Club checks, the bank used one general account thoughtfully pre-printed on the checks along with the routing and serial numbers. The check numbers linked a given check to a customer. I didn’t need the MICR imprinter after all.

cheque numbers

I discovered something else. Next to the MICR machine were open boxes of bank drafts and money orders accessible not only to tellers, but any person who strolled in from the computer room. They were sequentially numbered and I had no idea if anyone took note of the number in the mornings. I took samples out of the middle.

Back in the computer room, Nagle was nodding off. He headed for the coffee machine.

Green-bar program listings from large computers were printed on continuous ‘tractor-feed’ fan-fold paper stock that were packed and stacked in a zig-zag fashion. The printer prints one accordion-pleated side only– the back is almost never used and, when fastened in a binder, the back is never seen. In other words, a page was actually two sheets back-to-back attached at the leading edge and bound at the back. It formed a pocket, perfect for nefarious smuggling.

Visit Bob Lemke's
vintage cheques

Cue Mission Impossible theme.

Uncapping a glue stick, I dabbed the drafts and the Christmas Club checks and tucked them within the multi-fold pages. James Bond had nothing on me.

Binder in hand, I told Nagle, “I’m going upstairs for an hour. I’ll be back.” He gratefully closed his eyes in the operations office. The security guard, mystified by the runes of technology, only cursorily glanced at the listings.

I needed time and privacy to duplicate the same type of printing on the draft and the Christmas Club check. From the tractor feed paper and proximity to the printer, it was easy to deduce the Christmas Club checks were printed on the high speed impact printer, a device the size of a roll-top desk capable of churning out hundreds of pages in seconds. I needed to duplicate its distinctive type face, so on one page of the program I had been working in, I’d printed a sample: my name, ‘FIVE AND ***’, and $5.00. All I needed was a way to emulate the printer’s font.

Beating the Draft

The bank draft presented a different problem. The name on the draft I purchased in the afternoon was printed using a monospace sans-serif font, and it wasn’t similar to any I could find on the PCs commonly used in the office. I was surprised– They had almost everything.

I expanded my search. Nothing. I didn’t have access to Illustrator or Photoshop. I couldn’t log onto the Adobe site for a matching font, and it didn’t seem sensible to pay them more than I was going to collect.

But wait; I was overthinking. The vice president expected me to engineer a hi-tech crime, but I’d gone lo-tech. Where had I seen an IBM Selectric? Chase’s secretary’s desk. The office kept a couple of typewriter balls in a junk drawer. I picked the most computerish style and dropped the font ball into the typewriter.

I tweaked the positioning and ran a test copy on plain paper. When I held it up to the light in front of the blank draft, it looked close. I adjusted the margins until I was satisfied and printed one of the drafts made out to me with several zeros in the amount. I repeated the process with one of the Christmas Club checks made out for five dollars.

Leaving the draft in my desk, I set the Christmas Club checks aside. No sense taking them back into the computer center.

I wrapped up early for which Nagle was grateful. The guard glanced in my briefcase. Seeing no wads of bills or bullion, he let us go.


After sleeping until noon, I drove through a branch drive-thru and cashed the $5 Christmas Club check. Back at the office, the security guards perked up. They gave my briefcase a thorough going over. Finding nothing incriminating, they let me pass.

When I casually strolled toward the vice president’s office, he glanced up and waved me in. “Any luck? You’ve just a couple of hours left.”

“Oh, yes. Here’s a bank draft made out to me, all legitimate looking. I didn’t cash it so I wouldn’t screw up the bank’s accounting.”

His lips thinned when he saw the number of zeroes. Pinching it between two fingers, he looked it over carefully with narrowed eyes. He set it aside as if I had handed him a used tissue. “You said you could get money out which I took to be cash.”

I pulled $5 from my pocket and put it on his desk.

“You’re conceding?” he asked.

“No.”

“What’s special about this?”

I put the receipt on top of it. “It’s from the bank’s Christmas Club account.”

Never before had I witnessed a ‘basilisk stare’. For a moment, I worried I’d crossed the line. However, he prided himself being a fair and rational man, and he went from personal offence to realizing I could help plug a hole or two the auditors hadn’t yet spotted.

“How much?”

“How much what?”

He sighed. “How much is this going to cost me?”

“Lunch.” I reconsidered, thinking about his tightwad reputation. “A good lunch.”

In fairness, he made it a very good lunch.

Loose Ends

Management instructed their tellers to lock away the blank drafts at night. The Christmas Club checks they moved into the vault as they should have from the beginning.

Nagle told me he’d been yelled at, but the shouting was only half-hearted. The vice president had merely instructed him to ensure their in-house Robin Hood didn’t attempt a Mission Impossible hi-tech transfer. Instead I had come in under their radar with an old-school lo-tech crime, which made it worse. They found it sobering, but they took comfort the security auditors hadn’t detected the gaffe and the price of one lunch was right.

16 January 2021

What a Character . . .


  

How hard can it be, nonwriters often say, to name your characters?

Well, I can think of easier tasks. It's one thing to name them, but it's another to do it well.


The other day I started writing a new mystery story, and I'm making good progress--but I've come to the point where I need to start assigning names. So far my characters are S for Sheriff, P for Prisoner, O for Old man, W for Waitress, C for Cook, and V for Villain. I usually substitute letters as placeholders until I come up with names I really like. Even after I choose the names, they might change several times during the course of the story as new brainstorms roll in, in which case I make extensive use of (but don't entirely trust) the "Find and Replace" utility. I dread the day when I'll probably submit a story someplace with the hero saying something like "It's over, V. Drop the gun."

As all of you know, the choice of appropriate names can be vitally important, and at the very least can make any story better. I think The Silence of the Lambs would've been a great novel and movie regardless of the characters' names, but making the bad guys Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter sure didn't hurt. And sometimes "appropriate" can have a wide range. I think part of Stephen King's success is due to the fact that he often writes about ordinary characters that everyone can relate to, and the names of his protagonists usually reflect that: Bill Hodges, Luke Ellis, Fran Goldsmith, Tom Cullen, Larry Underwood, Annie Wilkes, Robert Anderson, Paul Sheldon, Carrie White. One of his main characters (the novel was The Dead Zone) was named John Smith. Having said that, King can also get pretty creative with character-naming when it's needed: Roland Deschain, Gordie Lachance, Randall Flagg, Percy Wetmore, etc.

Looking back on the novels I've read and the movies and TV shows I've seen, I can recall character names that seem absolutely perfect for their stories. We all know some of those--Atticus Finch, James Bond, Ebenezer Scrooge, Luke Skywalker, Ichabod Crane, Indiana Jones, Rocky Balboa, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, and so on. A few have become better known than the stories in which they appeared.


Here are plenty more names, categorized but in no particular order, that I think are wonderful. How many of these can you remember?


Lighthearted:

Barney Fife, Stephanie Plum, Forrest Gump, Hedley Lamarr, Buzz Lightyear, Milo Minderbinder, Jack Sparrow, Ace Ventura, Hawkeye Pierce, Walter Mitty, Holly Golightly, Arthur Fonzarelli, Ron Burgundy, Mary Poppins, Gaylord Focker, Hoss Cartwright, Jack Tripper, Buford T. Justice, Maynard G. Krebs, Marty McFly, Ferris Bueller, Bilbo Baggins


Strong:

Frank Bullitt, Sam Spade, Woodrow Call, Will Kane, Ellen Ripley, Jesse Stone, Rick Deckard, Han Solo, Sansa Stark, Thomas Magnum, Dana Scully, Jack Shepherd, Joe Mannix, Philip Marlowe, Nero Wolfe, Peter Gunn, Dan Roman, Rudi Matt, Remington Steele, Thomas Crown, Miranda Priestly, Judah Ben-Hur, Ethan Hunt, Mike Hammer


Mysterious:

Keyser Soze, Victor Laszlo, Axel Foley, Vito Corleone, Imperator Furiosa, Boo Radley, Tony Soprano, Daenerys Targaryen, Jonathan Hemlock, Inigo Montoya, Thorin Oakenshield, Wednesday Addams, Lando Calrissian, V. I. Warschawski, Optimus Prime, Dave Robischeaux, Tyler Durden, Jay Gatsby, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Arkady Renko, Tyrion Lannister


Evil:

Hans Gruber, Gordon Gekko, Francis Dollarhyde, Darth Vader, Uriah Heep, Lord Voldemort, Nurse Ratched, Joffrey Baratheon, Jason Voorhees, Anton Chigurh, Bellatrix Lestrange, Draco Malfoy, Simon Legree, Freddy Krueger, Hector Barbossa, Gyp Rosetti, Black Jack Randall, Amon Goeth, Hannibal Lecter, Kylo Ren, Biff Tannen, Al Swearengen, Lex Luthor


Some of the most interesting names, I think, came from Ian Fleming--

Auric Goldfinger, Hugo Drax, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Emilio Largo, Francisco Scaramanga, Julius No, Rosa Klebb, Irma Bunt, Felix Leiter, Vesper Lynd, Honeychile Ryder, Tatiana Romanova, Tiffany Case, Mary Goodnight, Kissy Suzuki, Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, Pussy Galore, Gala Brand, Solitaire Latrelle, Domino Vitali, Caractacus Potts


--and Quentin Tarantino:

Vincent Vega, Beatrix Kiddo, Marcellus Wallace, Elle Driver, Bridgette von Hammersmark, King Schultz, Hattori Hanzo, Esmeralda Villa Lobos, Perrier LaPadite, Hugo Stiglitz, Broomhilda von Shaft, Drexl Spivey, Santanico Pandemonium


For anyone still with me on this, here are several more, in no particular category. Remember these?

Randle McMurphy, Tom Wingo, Humbert Humbert, Ignatius Reilly, Yuri Zhivago, Sebastian Flyte, Shug Avery, Omar Little, Fast Eddie Felson, Owen Meany, Holden Caulfield, Hester Prynne, Jake Spoon, Lisbeth Salander, Clarice Starling, John Boy Walton, Norman Bates, Chili Palmer


In closing (and in the "I wish I had come up with that one" department), here are my five all-time favorite character names:

Snake Plissken

Apollo Creed

Primrose Everdeen

Cullen Bohannon

Napoleon Solo


For what it's worth, here are some character names from my own stories: Ferguson Quillar, Pinto Bishop, Ward Grummond, Lou Mingo, Spencer E. Spencer, Bitsy Hamilton, Monique LaBont, Jabbo Harris, Gary Ironwood, Karim Valik, Madame Zoufou (Queen of Voodoo), Rufe Dewberry, Delbert Wooten, Ham Grogan, Cole "Shooter" Parrish, Abe Callendar, Solomon Wade, CollieBaby Johnson, Forrest DeWeller, Della Bloodworth, Punk Harris, Jasper Luckett, Panama Joe LaPinto, Woodrow Temple, Twelve Becker, Randolph Goodwynter, "Ducky" Duckworth, Doogie Sistrunk, Ophelia Reardon, Chunky Jones, Henrietta Allgood, Nicodemo Ross, Dexter Holtzhagen. I remember trying to tailor each of these to fit his or her character; whether that was effective or not is another matter.

]
What are some of your favorites, from novels, shorts, movies, TV, etc.? How about character names from your own work?


Now, back to trying to figure out what to call the folks in this latest story of mine.

Any suggestions?



15 January 2021

Crime Scene Comix Case 2021-01-012, Shock Therapy


A new year, and perhaps the world is righting itself. Let’s try a chuckle from Future Thought channel of YouTube. Check it out.

Once again, we visit Shifty, a none-too-bright crook who looks like a Minion in zebra stripes. This time poor Shifty finds himself on the hot seat.


That’s today’s crime cinema. Hope you enjoyed the show. Be sure to visit the Future Thought channel on YouTube.

14 January 2021

The Real Key to Blackmail and Scams


Scammers never die. Months ago, a friend got the following message (I have deleted the password and the link to send the bitcoin):
𝙸'πš– πšŠπš πšŠπš›πšŽ __________ πš’πšœ πš’πš˜πšžπš› πš™πšŠπšœπšœ πš πš˜πš›πš.𝙸 πš—πšŽπšŽπš πš’πš˜πšžπš› πšπšžπš•πš• πšŠπšπšπšŽπš—πšπš’πš˜πš— πšπš˜πš› πšπš‘πšŽ πšπš‘πšŽ πš—πšŽπš‘πš 𝟸𝟺 πš‘πš˜πšžπš›πšœ, πš˜πš› 𝙸 πš–πšŠπš’ πš–πšŠπš”πšŽ πšœπšžπš›πšŽ 𝚒𝚘𝚞 πšπš‘πšŠπš 𝚒𝚘𝚞 πš•πš’πšŸπšŽ 𝚘𝚞𝚝 𝚘𝚏 πšŽπš–πš‹πšŠπš›πš›πšŠπšœπšœπš–πšŽπš—πš πšπš˜πš› πšπš‘πšŽ πš›πšŽπšœπš 𝚘𝚏 πš’πš˜πšžπš› πšŽπš‘πš’πšœπšπšŽπš—πšŒπšŽ.

π™·πšŽπš•πš•πš˜, 𝚒𝚘𝚞 𝚍𝚘 πš—πš˜πš πš”πš—πš˜πš  πš–πšŽ πš™πšŽπš›πšœπš˜πš—πšŠπš•πš•πš’. π™·πš˜πš πšŽπšŸπšŽπš› 𝙸 πš”πš—πš˜πš  πš™πš›πšŽπšπšπš’ πš–πšžπšŒπš‘ πšŽπšŸπšŽπš›πš’πšπš‘πš’πš—πš πšŠπš‹πš˜πšžπš 𝚒𝚘𝚞. πšˆπš˜πšžπš› πšπš‹ πšŒπš˜πš—πšπšŠπšŒπš πš•πš’πšœπš, πš–πš˜πš‹πš’πš•πšŽ πš™πš‘πš˜πš—πšŽ πšŒπš˜πš—πšπšŠπšŒπšπšœ πšŠπš•πš˜πš—πš πš πš’πšπš‘ πšŠπš•πš• πšπš‘πšŽ πš˜πš—πš•πš’πš—πšŽ πšŠπšŒπšπš’πšŸπš’πšπš’ πš˜πš— πš’πš˜πšžπš› πšŒπš˜πš–πš™πšžπšπšŽπš› πšπš›πš˜πš– πš™πš›πšŽπšŸπš’πš˜πšžπšœ 𝟷𝟸𝟽 𝚍𝚊𝚒𝚜.

πš†πš‘πš’πšŒπš‘ πš’πš—πšŒπš•πšžπšπšŽπšœ, πš’πš˜πšžπš› πšœπšŽπš•πš πš™πš•πšŽπšŠπšœπšžπš›πšŽ πšŸπš’πšπšŽπš˜ 𝚏𝚘𝚘𝚝𝚊𝚐𝚎, πš πš‘πš’πšŒπš‘ πš‹πš›πš’πš—πšπšœ πš–πšŽ 𝚝𝚘 πšπš‘πšŽ πš–πšŠπš’πš— πš›πšŽπšŠπšœπš˜πš— πš πš‘πš’ 𝙸 'πš– πš πš›πš’πšπš’πš—πš πšπš‘πš’πšœ πšœπš™πšŽπšŒπš’πšπš’πšŒ 𝚎-πš–πšŠπš’πš• 𝚝𝚘 𝚒𝚘𝚞.

πš†πšŽπš•πš• πšπš‘πšŽ πš•πšŠπšœπš πšπš’πš–πšŽ 𝚒𝚘𝚞 πšŸπš’πšœπš’πšπšŽπš πšπš‘πšŽ πšœπšŽπš‘πšžπšŠπš•πš•πš’ πšπš›πšŠπš™πš‘πš’πšŒ πš πšŽπš‹πš™πšŠπšπšŽπšœ, πš–πš’ πš–πšŠπš•πš πšŠπš›πšŽ πšŽπš—πšπšŽπš πšžπš™ πš‹πšŽπš’πš—πš πšŠπšŒπšπš’πšŸπšŠπšπšŽπš πš’πš— πš’πš˜πšžπš› πš™πšŽπš›πšœπš˜πš—πšŠπš• πšŒπš˜πš–πš™πšžπšπšŽπš› πš πš‘πš’πšŒπš‘ πšŽπš—πšπšŽπš πšžπš™ πš•πš˜πšπšπš’πš—πš 𝚊 πš‹πšŽπšŠπšžπšπš’πšπšžπš• πšŸπš’πšπšŽπš˜ πšŒπš•πš’πš™ 𝚘𝚏 πš’πš˜πšžπš› πš–πšŠπšœπšπšžπš›πš‹πšŠπšπš’πš˜πš— πš™πš•πšŠπš’ πš‹πš’ πšŠπšŒπšπš’πšŸπšŠπšπš’πš—πš πš’πš˜πšžπš› πš πšŽπš‹πšŒπšŠπš–.
(𝚒𝚘𝚞 𝚐𝚘𝚝 𝚊 πš’πš—πšŒπš›πšŽπšπš’πš‹πš•πš’ 𝚘𝚍𝚍 𝚝𝚊𝚜𝚝𝚎 πš‹πšπš  πš‘πšŠπš‘πšŠ)

𝙸 πš˜πš πš— πšπš‘πšŽ πšŽπš—πšπš’πš›πšŽ πš›πšŽπšŒπš˜πš›πšπš’πš—πš. π™Έπš 𝚒𝚘𝚞 πšπš‘πš’πš—πš” 𝙸 'πš– πš–πšŽπšœπšœπš’πš—πš πšŠπš›πš˜πšžπš—πš, πšœπš’πš–πš™πš•πš’ πš›πšŽπš™πš•πš’ πš™πš›πš˜πš˜πš πšŠπš—πš 𝙸 πš πš’πš•πš• πš‹πšŽ πšπš˜πš›πš πšŠπš›πšπš’πš—πš πšπš‘πšŽ πš™πšŠπš›πšπš’πšŒπšžπš•πšŠπš› πš›πšŽπšŒπš˜πš›πšπš’πš—πš πš›πšŠπš—πšπš˜πš–πš•πš’ 𝚝𝚘 𝟾 πš™πšŽπš˜πš™πš•πšŽ 𝚒𝚘𝚞 πš›πšŽπšŒπš˜πšπš—πš’πš£πšŽ.

π™Έπš πšŒπš˜πšžπš•πš πšŽπš—πš πšžπš™ πš‹πšŽπš’πš—πš πš’πš˜πšžπš› πšπš›πš’πšŽπš—πšπšœ, 𝚌𝚘 πš πš˜πš›πš”πšŽπš›πšœ, πš‹πš˜πšœπšœ, πš™πšŠπš›πšŽπš—πšπšœ (𝙸 πšπš˜πš—'𝚝 πš”πš—πš˜πš ! π™Όπš’ πšœπš’πšœπšπšŽπš– πš πš’πš•πš• πš›πšŠπš—πšπš˜πš–πš•πš’ πšœπšŽπš•πšŽπšŒπš πšπš‘πšŽ πšŒπš˜πš—πšπšŠπšŒπšπšœ).

πš†πš˜πšžπš•πš 𝚒𝚘𝚞 πš‹πšŽ πšŠπš‹πš•πšŽ 𝚝𝚘 𝚐𝚊𝚣𝚎 πš’πš—πšπš˜ πšŠπš—πš’πš˜πš—πšŽ'𝚜 𝚎𝚒𝚎𝚜 πšŠπšπšŠπš’πš— πšŠπšπšπšŽπš› πš’πš? 𝙸 πššπšžπšŽπšœπšπš’πš˜πš— πš’πš…

π™±πšžπš, πš’πš 𝚍𝚘𝚎𝚜 πš—πš˜πš πš‘πšŠπšŸπšŽ 𝚝𝚘 πš‹πšŽ πšπš‘πšŠπš πš›πš˜πšžπšπšŽ.

𝙸'πš– πšπš˜πš’πš—πš 𝚝𝚘 πš–πšŠπš”πšŽ 𝚒𝚘𝚞 𝚊 𝟷 πšπš’πš–πšŽ, πš—πš˜ πš—πšŽπšπš˜πšπš’πšŠπš‹πš•πšŽ πš˜πšπšπšŽπš›.

π™Ώπšžπš›πšŒπš‘πšŠπšœπšŽ $ 𝟸𝟢𝟢𝟢 πš’πš— πš‹πš’πšπšŒπš˜πš’πš— πšŠπš—πš πšœπšŽπš—πš πšπš‘πšŽπš– 𝚝𝚘 πšπš‘πšŽ πšπš˜πš πš— πš‹πšŽπš•πš˜πš  πšŠπšπšπš›πšŽπšœπšœ:

________________
[𝚌𝚊𝚜𝚎-πšœπšŽπš—πšœπš’πšπš’πšŸπšŽ 𝚜𝚘 πšŒπš˜πš™πš’ πšŠπš—πš πš™πšŠπšœπšπšŽ πš’πš, πšŠπš—πš πš›πšŽπš–πš˜πšŸπšŽ * πšπš›πš˜πš– πš’πš]

(π™Έπš 𝚒𝚘𝚞 𝚍𝚘 πš—πš˜πš πš”πš—πš˜πš  πš‘πš˜πš , πšπš˜πš˜πšπš•πšŽ πš‘πš˜πš  𝚝𝚘 πšŠπšŒπššπšžπš’πš›πšŽ πš‹πš’πšπšŒπš˜πš’πš—. π™³πš˜ πš—πš˜πš 𝚠𝚊𝚜𝚝𝚎 πš–πš’ πš™πš›πšŽπšŒπš’πš˜πšžπšœ πšπš’πš–πšŽ)

π™Έπš 𝚒𝚘𝚞 πšœπšŽπš—πš 𝚘𝚞𝚝 πšπš‘πš’πšœ πš™πšŠπš›πšπš’πšŒπšžπš•πšŠπš› 'πšπš˜πš—πšŠπšπš’πš˜πš—' (πš•πšŽπš 𝚞𝚜 πšŒπšŠπš•πš• πš’πš πšπš‘πšŠπš?). π™°πšπšπšŽπš› πšπš‘πšŠπš, 𝙸 πš πš’πš•πš• 𝚐𝚘 𝚊𝚠𝚊𝚒 πšπš˜πš› 𝚐𝚘𝚘𝚍 πšŠπš—πš πš—πšŽπšŸπšŽπš› πš–πšŠπš”πšŽ πšŒπš˜πš—πšπšŠπšŒπš πš πš’πšπš‘ 𝚒𝚘𝚞 πšŠπšπšŠπš’πš—. 𝙸 πš πš’πš•πš• πš›πšŽπš–πš˜πšŸπšŽ πšŽπšŸπšŽπš›πš’πšπš‘πš’πš—πš 𝙸 πš‘πšŠπšŸπšŽ 𝚐𝚘𝚝 πš’πš— πš›πšŽπš•πšŠπšπš’πš˜πš— 𝚝𝚘 𝚒𝚘𝚞. 𝚈𝚘𝚞 πš–πšŠπš’ πšŸπšŽπš›πš’ πš πšŽπš•πš• πš”πšŽπšŽπš™ πš˜πš— πš•πš’πšŸπš’πš—πš πš’πš˜πšžπš› πš—πš˜πš›πš–πšŠπš• 𝚍𝚊𝚒 𝚝𝚘 𝚍𝚊𝚒 πš•πš’πšπšŽπšœπšπš’πš•πšŽ πš πš’πšπš‘ πšŠπš‹πšœπš˜πš•πšžπšπšŽπš•πš’ πš—πš˜ πšπšŽπšŠπš›.

𝚈𝚘𝚞'𝚟𝚎 𝚐𝚘𝚝 𝟸𝟺 πš‘πš˜πšžπš›πšœ πš’πš— πš˜πš›πšπšŽπš› 𝚝𝚘 𝚍𝚘 𝚜𝚘. πšˆπš˜πšžπš› πšπš’πš–πšŽ πšœπšπšŠπš›πšπšœ 𝚘𝚏𝚏 𝚊𝚜 πššπšžπš’πšŒπš”πš•πš’ 𝚒𝚘𝚞 πš›πšŽπšŠπš πšπš‘πš›πš˜πšžπšπš‘ πšπš‘πš’πšœ 𝚎-πš–πšŠπš’πš•. 𝙸 πš‘πšŠπšŸπšŽ 𝚐𝚘𝚝 πšŠπš— πš˜πš—πšŽ 𝚘𝚏 𝚊 πš”πš’πš—πš 𝚌𝚘𝚍𝚎 πšπš‘πšŠπš πš πš’πš•πš• πš’πš—πšπš˜πš›πš– πš–πšŽ πš˜πš—πšŒπšŽ 𝚒𝚘𝚞 𝚜𝚎𝚎 πšπš‘πš’πšœ πšŽπš–πšŠπš’πš• πšπš‘πšŽπš›πšŽπšπš˜πš›πšŽ πšπš˜πš—'𝚝 πšπš›πš’ 𝚝𝚘 πš™πš•πšŠπš’ πšœπš–πšŠπš›πš.

First of all, my friend is 78 years old and knew that she had never done any of this. Secondly, she is not the kind of person who would give in to blackmail, even if she had. I said when she shared it, "Ooooh, I can hardly wait for the pictures!" So we had a good laugh, she ignored it, and no pictures have yet been received.

I've never gotten one of these, but I have gotten messages and e-mails saying, "Is this you in this video?" With a funky internet address to click. I am not enough of a fool to click on them (even if the name they're using apparently is someone I know), because I haven't been out in public for what seems like years, and actually, I don't care. I have gotten over the need to look at myself beyond keeping myself clean and neat. As the Duke of Wellington said, "Publish and be damned."

Blackmail only works if the victim cares.

The Nigerian Prince scam was always one of my favorites, and I kind of miss the e-mails. The blatant misspellings, the extreme amount of money promised, and all for a limited deal, because they heard that I was a kind, loving person who would understand… Little do they know.

bitcoin cryptocurrency
bitcoin cryptocurrency
Back before the internet ruled the world, my husband answered a call that was a live person, who started off saying, "Do you want to be a millionaire?" Allan, bless him, instantly answered, "No," and hung up.

Amway.

Ponzi schemes.

I mean, you know it's too good to be true, but maybe this time for you…

From Somerset Maugham's The Round Dozen, whose central character is an eleven-time bigamist who took all his wives' savings before leaving for the next:

"But there is one thing I should like you to tell me," I said. "I shouldn't like you to think me cynical, but I had a notion that women on the whole take the maxim, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive,' as applicable exclusively to our sex. How did you persuade these respectable, and no doubt thrifty, women to entrust you so confidently with all their savings?"

An amused smile spread over his undistinguished features.

"Well, sir, you know what Shakespeare said about ambition o'erleaping itself. That's the explanation. Tell a woman you'll double her capital in six months if she'll give it you to handle and she won't be able to give you the money quick enough. Greed, that's what it is. Just greed."

Scams generally only work if the mark is greedy. And/or needy.

That's why people fall for cons (generally on-line) who swear they love them with all their hearts and would do anything for them and they're going to be so wonderful together and meantime they need just a little money to:
  • pay for a plane ticket or other travel expenses.
  • pay for surgery or other medical expenses.
  • pay customs fees to retrieve something.
  • pay off gambling debts.
  • pay for a visa or other official travel documents. (FTC)
They must write some sweet texts / emails, because they get sent money. Lots of it.

And think about the endless fundraising that various televangelists do, from Reverend Ike of Atlanta ("Send me your money today") to Joel Osteen with his megachurch (not open during hurricanes) to Ken Copeland, Pat Robertson, and the late, great Oral Roberts. I'll never forget when Oral Roberts announced that God had told him he had to raise a million dollars by next week or He would "take him" - I turned to Allan and said, "I want an autopsy."

bitcoin
bitcoin cryptocurrency
BTW, get on a politician's list for fundraising and you may never get off of it - even if they're no longer in office. After all, a certain soon to be ex-president has had a massive on-line campaign going for years to finance his… well, you tell me. People give and give and give to the guy who says we just need $500 more, even though they know they're clearing out their life's savings.

Most cult members are extremely needy – whether it's for community, love, discipline, punishment, a cult can provide everything the victim needs. For a very long time. And even when the rewards decline to nothing, the true cult member still stays, because they can't imagine leaving anymore. They've sacrificed everything - they can't go back now.

Jerry Seinfeld once said – and you can see it on Comedians in Cars with George Wallace – in a casino, in front of the audience, "When I make money at something, I keep doing it. When I start losing money at something, I quit doing it." And proceeded to explain to them all how they were supporting the luxurious casino with their money, i.e., by losing. Which was absolutely true. And yet they all laughed…

Basically, the key is all in the victim. Cons and blackmailers have to figure out who will pony up the money, and why. And they are very good at it.

And that, my friends, is the explanation. If you know your weakness, you can beat the blackmailer and the scammer. But if they know your weakness and you don't - well, you're screwed.


* So are casinos and advertisers. There's a reason all the casinos went to video lottery – it's designed to be addictive. See Here And why cigarettes were designed the way they are.

13 January 2021

Soundtracks


I was thirteen, if memory serves, when my dad bought me a record player, and bought me some LP’s to go with it. Dave Brubeck’s Jazz Impressions of Eurasia, Benny Goodman with the Boston Symphony (Benny playing classical), and Dvorak’s New World.

I wonder about his choices, but the Brubeck’s stayed with me sixty years. I don’t think I would have appreciated Shelly Manne or the other West Coast guys without it, or Henry Mancini. The theme from Peter Gunn got a lot of airplay, dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-da-DUM-da-dum, but the score I went nuts for was Mr. Lucky. And that organ, backed up with big-band arrangements, led me straight to Jimmy Smith. Walk on the Wide Side, charts by Oliver Nelson, was huge. I’m guessing the biggest R&B hit on AM radio after What’d I Say?



I’m skipping through some of the personal chart-toppers, of course. Coltrane’s My Favorite Things and OlΓ©, with McCoy Tyner’s amazing left hand. I spent a couple of years in Europe, in the military, and there was no shortage of great live jazz, but I’m thinking more of the albums we listened to, and what was on the jukebox. Does anybody else here remember the Electric Prunes, or Mass in F Minor? That was when Dylan released Blonde on Blonde, but the single most evocative song of the era was A Whiter Shade of Pale, which then and now, is an anthem for Berlin.




I spent the 1970’s in a haze of Van Morrison, and I don’t regret it. Tupelo Honey, Saint Dominic’s Preview, Hard Nose the Highway, Veedon Fleece. (I can listen to “Tupelo Honey” or “Snow in San Anselmo,” and conjure up the very place I was. “Linden Arden,” “Streets of Arklow,” and “You Don’t Pull No Punches,” as a suite; it never gets old.)

I don’t know that I’ve quite embraced the more recent. I love Sarah McLachlan. I wonder how much of that is due to Joni Mitchell’s Blue, or Hejira. Bonnie Raitt. Maria Muldaur. It isn’t that the new music isn’t any good, or it’s derivative, but I think a certain template is set. You listen to Ray LaMontagne, and you hear Jackson Browne, or even, God help us, Dave Van Ronk. (Boy, that was an anthem, the summer I was seventeen, driving a load of mattresses from Rochester up to a friend’s family cottage in southern Ontario and getting wired on bathtub benzedrine a lab rat pal of Phill Gleason’s cooked up.)


Probably, a subset of the above. We associate the music very specifically. It’s apparently second only to our sense of smell, as a trigger, of memory, of emotion, and of deeper psychic energies. Is it regret? I can’t listen to James Taylor and “Sweet Baby James” without tearing up. It wrecked me the first time I heard it. So there.


Yes, it’s association. And it conjures up youth. But we suspect something larger. I think the playlist is a lot more than background music. I don’t think it’s accidental, or incidental, however much is left to chance. Something gets our feet tapping. We might not consciously choose the score, but it’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it.

12 January 2021

Rolling With It: 2020 in Review


In “The End is Near,” my year-end wrap-up for 2019, I noted, “I ended my review of 2018 with a note that ‘2019 will be the year I just roll with it. I’ll try to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way and see what happens.’

Includes my story
Final Reunion”
“That worked out well, so I’m going to approach 2020 the same way. A year from now I’ll let you know how it worked out.”

As it turns out, “rolling with it” was the only way to approach 2020. The pandemic threw a monkey wrench into every plan I had or might have considered making. Though Temple and I fared better than many others, my annual income dropped by several thousand dollars. Luckily, her income remained constant, and the money we saved from the cancellation of Malice Domestic and Bouchercon’s conversion to a virtual conference, combined with some belt-tightening, allowed us to end the year no worse off financially than when it started. So, even though we missed spending time with our friends in the writing community, we survived.

NEW WRITING

I previously wrote about the significant increase in my editing workload during 2020 (“Once More, With Feeling”), so I’ll concentrate on how my writing fared this past year.

I completed 104,196 words of new fiction (up from 67,200 in 2019). That’s 26 new stories (up from 14 the previous year), with an average length of 4,008 words.

The shortest was 136 words; the longest 15,000.

The 15,000-word story was the longest solo project I’ve written in decades.

ACCEPTED, PUBLISHED, AND RECOGNIZED

I received 37 acceptances (25 original stories; 12 reprints), up from 16 in 2019. Being an editor has its advantages because four of the year’s acceptances were for projects I’m editing or co-editing.

I saw 38 stories published (18 originals and 20 reprints).

My story “Love, Or Something Like It,” published the previous year in Barb Goffman’s Anthony Award-nominated anthology Crime Travel (Wildside Press), was short-listed for a Derringer Award and “The Town Where Money Grew On Trees,” published November 5, 2019, in Rusty Barnes’s Tough was selected as an “Other Distinguished Story of 2019” in The Best American Mystery Stories. Additionally, my stories “Dirty Laundry” (Tough, April 20, 2020) and “Woodstock” (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, November/December 2020) made Robert Lopresti’s “best mystery story [...] read this week” at Little Big Crimes.

REJECTIONS

I once wrote that any year in which acceptances outnumber rejections is a good year, but is a year in which rejections outnumber acceptances necessarily a bad year? It might mean I’m doing a poor job of targeting my submissions or, on the flip side, it might mean I’m stretching myself by targeting new markets or by submitting more to high-end markets.

Regardless, even though it felt as if I received more rejections that I did, I actually received more acceptances than rejections.

I received 23 rejections.

LOOKING AHEAD

I have stories forthcoming in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Bullets and Other Hurting Things, Close to the Bone, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Great Filling Station Holdup, Guns + Tacos (Season 3), Jukes & Tonks, Malice Domestic 16: Mystery Most Diabolical, Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir Vol. 2, Mystery Tribune, Only the Good Die Young, and Unnerving.




There’s a taco truck in Chicago known among a certain segment of the population for its daily specials. Late at night and during the wee hours of the morning, it isn’t the food selection that attracts customers, it's the illegal weapons available with the special order.

Season 2 of Guns + Tacos (released as stand-alone novellas during the last six months of 2020) was released as a pair of paperbacks on January 1, joining the Season 1 paperbacks released at the beginning of 2020. Each novella stands alone, so they can be read in any order, and subscribers to the series get a bonus story at the end of each season.

Vol. 1 features novellas by Gary Phillips, me, and Frank Zafiro

Vol. 2 features novellas by Trey R. Barker, William Dylan Powell, and James A. Hearn (Subscribers get a bonus story I wrote)

Vol. 3 features novellas by Eric Beetner, Trey R. Barker & me, and Alec Cizak

Vol. 4 features novellas by Ann Aptaker, Ryan Sayles, and Mark Troy (Subscribers get a bonus story Trey R. Barker wrote)

Order directly from Down & Out Books or from your favorite book retailer.