|Ladies and gentlemen: I give you the Pettibone Mulliken Super 6 All Terrain Forklift|
|"Go on without me!" vs. "I've been shoooot!"|
|How It's Going (That's my son watching Jackson Browne with me—the day ending on a much better note!)|
|Ladies and gentlemen: I give you the Pettibone Mulliken Super 6 All Terrain Forklift|
|"Go on without me!" vs. "I've been shoooot!"|
|How It's Going (That's my son watching Jackson Browne with me—the day ending on a much better note!)|
One of the side effects of a year in suspended animation is a lot of bingeing. We indulged ourselves. We fashioned a cocoon. There was cooking. A fair amount of cheese was involved, and root vegetables. But we spent a lot of time under the covers, too. Books, movies, and TV, revisiting old favorites and auditioning new ones, trying on stuff we might not have given an ear to previously, but often enough falling into a familiar comfort zone.
Which isn’t to say you don’t discover something fresh or unexpected in the tried and true. I ran across a couple of tight little noirs directed by Richard Fleischer that were new to me, The Narrow Margin and Violent Saturday. Fleischer’s the son of animator Max Fleischer, who’s probably best known for Betty Boop, just as the younger Fleischer is probably most famous for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Vikings, two terrific Kirk Douglas vehicles. Later, he did Soylent Green, but although his career lasted forty years, it’s pretty much littered with dogs. He hit the sweet spot with those earlier B-pictures, and never matched their feral energy afterwards.
The Narrow Margin is as brutal as any Anthony Mann from that postwar period, and stars Charles McGraw, a guy Mann almost always used as a heavy. Here, he’s the lead, a tough cop with a face like a cinderblock. But he meets his match in the eye-popping Marie Windsor.
not, I don’t think, dismissive to call Marie Windsor a dame. She’s all that, and more. She has a hundred and seventy-two credits on
IMDb, between 1941 and 1991, a lot of them in television, from the 1950’s on,
but she made her bones in Poverty Row, the bottom half of double-features. She did a couple of dozen walk-ons before she
paints on the radar as a ganglord’s wife in Force
of Evil, trying to get
She was typecast, more often than not the whore with a heart of stone, but she never lacked for work, nor did she seem to mind. She was in fact a lifelong Mormon, but she got a kick out of playing bad girls. She’s a certain kind of character actress. Somebody like Dorothy Malone or Ann Sheridan can start out in supporting parts and turn themselves into stars. Somebody else might get a shot at it, Gail Russell, Frances Farmer, but something happens, nerves, alcohol, a manipulative relationship, and they flame out. Marie keeps her head above water. She reminds me of Fay Spain, younger but with a similar career arc, sultry and splashy, always the bridesmaid, never the bride. (Fay’s biggest part is Al Capone, opposite Rod Steiger, still the gold standard.) You recognize the actress, but you remember the character she’s reliably established. How could Marie Windsor not be devious?
Narrow Margin has a neat and convincing twist, which I won’t give away here, other than to say Marie is it. She and McGraw trade loaded barbs, Earl Felton’s script a crash course in hard-boiled.
Him: “You make me sick.”
Her: “Well, use your own sink.”
The tension is moral, and the sexual undercurrent isn’t animal magnetism, but contempt. There’s no subtext. Narrow Margin wears its heart on its sleeve, which makes it all the more sudden, savage, and claustrophobic.
Since the beginning of the year, I have read submissions to Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties, Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 3, and the special cozy issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine.
I then read, in quick succession, Sara Paretsky’s Brush Back, John Sandford’s Gathering Prey, and John Grisham’s Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer.
When I finished them, I started reading the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, which contains work from a significant number of SleuthSayers.
What I didn’t do is write.
That’s almost four months without finishing a new short story, a significant productivity gap considering I’ve had year-long stretches when I produced at least a story a week.
This weekend—only a few days before this post appears—I began writing again. Though I’ve not yet finished anything in my two days back at the keyboard, I’ve made progress on a trio of stories.
STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS BEFORE
Write every day.
I’ve seen this advice repeated ad nauseam, and it’s good advice. Some writers need this structure in order to be productive, and other writers use it as a way to build a wall between them and their other responsibilities. (“I can’t do that now, this is my scheduled writing time!”)
But writing every day isn’t the only approach to productivity. Over the years I’ve had many writing gaps lasting from a few days to a few weeks. Sometimes real life demands our attention elsewhere, whether it’s a health issue, a family emergency, mandatory overtime at the day job, or a weather-related incident. And stepping away from the keyboard can be—when done by choice—a way to recharge one’s batteries and return to writing refreshed
In my case, time away was the result of a combination of things: a Snowpocalypse, editing responsibilities, and a week or so of binge reading to cleanse my literary palate.
I have returned refreshed, but I see another writing gap in the near future: All those stories I accepted for Groovy Gumshoes, Mickey Finn, and Black Cat need to be edited and prepared for publication.
With any luck, I can squeeze in a good bit of writing before the next pause.
April has been filled with good news:
“Last Waltz Across Texas” appears in the May/June Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.
“Soiled Dove” appears in Crimeucopia: We’re All Animals Under the Skin.
“The Downeaster ‘Alexa’” appears in Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the songs of Billy Joel (Untreed Reads), edited by Josh Pachter.Jukes & Tonks (Down & Out Books), edited by Gary Phillips and me. The anthology, which released Monday, April 19, appeared on Amazon’s Hot New Releases list that day (the Kindle edition at #65 and the paperback edition at #67), dropped off, and reappeared the next day (Kindle edition at #29 and the paperback edition at #36).
And the ITW Thriller Award nominees were announced. Two stories from Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 1 (Down & Out Books), which I edited, were nominated for Best Short Story: Alan Orloff’s “Rent Due” and Andrew Welsh-Huggins’s “The Mailman.”
by Steve Liskow
I'm jumping the season a little. This year, Banned Books Week will be late in September. During that week, we are reminded how many of the classics are or were on somebody's hit list in an effort to protect innocent (?) minds from the corrupting influence of new ideas. If you're of a certain age, you probably read many of these in school or even on your own. I did.
Obviously, the list expands as new authors produce new work, especially work challenging our assumptions about issues like race and sexuality. Unfortunately, few books get removed from that list, even if it's only in some miniscule township or school district ten miles east of Oblivion.
|I directed the play with this poster.|
I don't like censorship and have been known to push the envelope myself. I understand the concerns, but hate the blind fear that often inspires it. When I student-taught in a suburb of Detroit, the school system had a standard form a parent had to fill out if he/she objected to their child's reading a particular text. I wish I had a copy of it now, but I still remember the first two questions on the form:
1. Have YOU read the entire book?
2. Are you aware of the critical responses to the book?
I still think that's a good starting point.
I found a list of the most-banned books over the last ten years. I've only heard of two of the books currently in the top ten and haven't read either of them. That makes sense because parents tend to focus on YA books to "protect" their children, which means the books show up in the classroom. I assigned several older titles still in the top 50, including Brave New World, Of Mice and Men, To Kill A Mockingbird, 1984, The Handmaid's Tale, The Things They Carried, and that constant target, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
When I started teaching, the only systemic censorship I encountered was for Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. Someone complained about the book (To this day, I don't see the problem) and the school's principal, never one to take a stand, ordered the English teacher who maintined the book inventory to burn all the school's copies. Really. That teacher explained why he thought it was a bad idea and donated the books to the local veteran's hospital and various other venues. The principal had him removed and I got his job the following year. True story.
That was fifty years ago. Over the following years, I encountered a few parents and students who objected to certain books, but it was never an organized group effort.
My first full year, two classes voted to read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and buy it from one of the many paperback book clubs common at the time. I'd never read it, and when I opened the first page, I saw trouble brewing and turned to the seasoned veterans for advice. One told me to compose a letter to all the parents explaining why I thought the book merited study and have them sign and return it to confirm their approval. Only one parent objected, and when I invited her in to discuss her concerns, she signed the letter instead.
I taught in a town with a population that was about 1/3 Hispanic and 1/3 black, with a few Asians, too. The students in our district spoke seventeen different languages at home. Given that demographic, it's amazing I didn't start more brushfires, but the only other battle, which became routine, concerned Huckleberry Finn. Some of my black students refused to read it because of the 214 uses of the "N-word."
I gave those kids a choice of three alternative texts, and they could write a two-to-four-page essay about their experience reading the book OR present a five-minute oral discussion to the rest of the class. The three books were Native Son by Richard Wright, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison or Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. All three writers are black, and two of those books are considerably longer than Huckleberry Finn. Invisible Man is also pretty complex. I used this approach for six or seven years, and it worked well. After about three years, more and more kids decided to read Huckleberry Finn after all.
When I retired from teaching, both Wright and Hurston were part of the curriculum.
I actually objected to one book myself. In 1999, Robert Fagles produced a new translation of The Odyssey to enthusiastic acclaim. My school had been using the Lattimore translations of both The Iliad and The Oddysey for decades, and at the first department meeting of the new year, a younger teacher (pretty much anyone in the department was younger than I was) suggested replacing the older translation. I raised my hand.
"Has anyone besides me read the Fagles?" I asked.
No one had.
"OK," I said. "It reduces the poetry to informal chat and weakens the majesty of the Lattimore. That may or may not matter to you. But let me point out that 3/4 of the teachers in this department are female. Odysseus always addresses Circe and Calypso, the two women he has sex with while he's away from his wife, as 'Bitch.' If that works for you, I'd like to visit your classrooms to watch you discuss it with your teen-aged students."
The suggestion died then and there.
It reminded me of the commotion years ago over Brett Easton Ellis's American Psycho. His original publisher rejected the MS because of the violent and misogynistic content, and people rushed to both sides of the debate. Finally, one critic--I wish I remembered who--pointed out that the violence and ideology were secondary issues.
The book simply wasn't very well-written.
That still strikes me as the line we don't cross. Is it violent? Sexy? Political? Disturbing? Maybe, and maybe it hits a few of your personal buttons. But those things matter less if the author does his or her job well. I don't read some books because I don't like them. But that doesn't mean I won't let you read them. I wish more people felt like that. I still remember a comment Maurice Sendak made years ago in a writing workshop I attended.
"We teach children taste. What do we teach them when we give them bad books?"
When a hockey player scores three goals in the same game, he is said to have performed "The Hat Trick." There are several myths as to where the term came from, however, it appears that the term was first coined in December 1933 when The Winnipeg Free Press described a hockey game in which Romeo Rivers of the Monarchs scored his third goal when he received a pass from his team mate who had drawn the opposing goalie out of position.
The term has since moved into other sports, referring to a player scoring three times in the same game. If the player happens to score two goals, it's called a "brace," and if he scores three consecutive goals in the same game, without another player scoring in between any two of his goals, that feat is then called "A Natural Hat Trick."
Transposing the above logic into the game of writing for AHMM, I think I can claim the simple version of The Hat Trick. To borrow someone else's phrase, someone a lot more famous than I am: "So, here's the deal."
The Nov/Dec 2020 issue of AHMM published my short story "A Matter of Values." Originally, I intended this Prohibition Era tale about an Irish bootlegger and his vice cop buddy to be a standalone. However, as I mentioned in a previous blog, I am now under pressure to turn the standalone into a series. To date, I have two story starts, "Whiskey Curb" and "On the Pad." Both are based on actual places and/or happenings in NYC during that time period. We'll see if either makes it to the finish line.
The Jan/Feb 2021 issue of AHMM published "A Helping Hand," 8th in my 1660's Underworld series. This story involves a young, orphan, incompetent pickpocket trying to survive in a criminal enclave in Paris during the reign of Louis the Fourteenth, the Sun King. Constantly being hungry, he is often drawn into the schemes of others in hopes of getting something to eat.
The Mar/Apr 2021 issue of AHMM published "St. Paddy's Day," 12th in my Holiday Burglars series. In this one, Yarnell and Beaumont are hired by a woman to steal her husband's body and get it to the funeral home in time for his services the next morning. It seems the deceased's drinking buddies stole the corpse at the wake, bungee-corded it to a refrigerator dollie, stuck a drink in his hand and proceeded to wheel him through all his favorite bars on St. Patrick's Day. Our two protagonists took on the job because the deceased was a fellow burglar, not to mention the fee for doing so.
And, there you have it. I'm considering that writing for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine as one game, while writing for any different magazine as a separate game. Since I have a story in three consecutive issues of AHMM, I am hereby claiming a Hat Trick in the field of writing mystery short stories.
Hey, in our business of writing short stories, you aren't going to get rich, so you have to find glory where you can.
Now, get out there and write/submit/sell your own short stories and claim your own Hat Tricks.
It's a crime about Covid. (Ha! I knew I could make this a crime column.) But truly, The News is so completely obsessed with Covid, that other world events are hardly getting a glance.
For instance, I bet you didn't know that during the Trump reign, a near rebellion took place mere hours north of Toronto. Sure, this didn't have the scope of the January 6 attack on the White House. But we do things a little smaller in Canada. And perhaps with a certain style. And then, there's our high-school-good-looks Prime Minister, who may or may not have a stream of PR bungles behind him.
So in the interests of fair play (because we always feel a little second fiddle to you Yanks) here's my take on how this might have gone down in the True North. (Yes, this event actually happened. Mine is simply a creative nonfiction play by play. Apologies in advance for any in-jokes. Heck, for the whole thing.)
The Independent State of Penetang
09:36, Parliament Building East Wing, Ottawa
"This is weird," says Mark, flipping through screens.
"It says here that Penetang has declared independence."
The other civil servant head looks up. "Where is that? In Africa?"
"Northern Ontario. Somewhere north of Orillia, I think. Or maybe Parry Sound. I'm looking it up."
The older man frowns. "You mean the county of Penetang?"
"Seems like it. They've blocked the roads, it says here. Just a sec." He scrolls further. "They're using tractors and farm equipment. And cows."
A gasp. "They're sacrificing cows?"
"Nope. Herding live ones. The cars can't get by."
"Merde. We need to inform the Prime Minister."
11:00, Live from Penetang
"This is Mandy Flambeau, reporting from rebellion headquarters, at the Puckyew community hockey rink in downtown Penetang. It's sort of quiet here, Len. Maybe they're all out on the protest lines? Oh wait -- I see somebody! Sir, sir...over here. Can you tell us what this rebellion is really about?"
"Taxes. Sick an' tired of those federal freeloaders takin' our taxes and spending them in the city. Want our tax money spent here. Not on subways and free daycare for city folk."
Gasp. "Daycare? You're against daycare?"
"You see any kids around here? No young people in Penetang anymore. No jobs for them. Only seniors now."
"So you want free daycare for seniors?"
13:43, The Prime Minister's office
"Mr. Prime Minister, we have a situation."
(groan) "Not another Tweet from the Twit."
"This is local, sir. I need to brief you on the rebellion in Penetang. PETA have moved in. Because of the cows."
"The rebels in Penetang have blocked the roads with cows. And now PETA has established protest lines to protect the animals."
"Hmmm... Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Sir, I think we have an opportunity here."
"A photo op? Oh goodie! What do they wear in Penetang?"
"Uh...overalls and flannel shirts?"
"Awesome. Get Holt Renfrew and Nordstrom on the line. We want these Canadian made."
"Yes sir. Will you be leaving immediately?"
"I'm texting Sophie and the kids. Maybe we can make a vacation out of it. Does the Aga Khan have a place up there?"
14:00, Back at the East Wing
Mark puts down the phone. "Is it even possible to charge cows with sedition?"
The other civil servant head looks up. "Mark, are you from farm country?"
"Nope. Born and bred in Ottawa."
"There may be a fault in their plan. The cows."
"What about them?"
"They're Jerseys. They'll simply go home at five to be milked."
Melodie Campbell knows a thing or two about sedition-er-cows. She also gets paid to write very silly comedy for unsuspecting publishers. You can find The Goddaughter series at all the usual suspects.
"But the cop killings that dominate our mindspace are miniscule compared to the number of black Americans who destroy themselves with drugs, the road Floyd was on. The number of police killings of black men, however tragic, is a drop compared to the ocean of black men killed by other black men, never mind all the other murders America tallies."— Op-ed on The American Conservative
So I responded:
"And the black killing of others (black and white) that apparently dominates your mindspace are miniscule compared to the number of white Americans who destroy themselves with drugs, the ocean of white killing of other whites, etc. Look up the statistics some time. Since the majority of the population is still white, more whites = more white crime = more white killings and suicides, etc.
You can say that George Floyd was a criminal - he was high on drugs and he apparently passed a bad 20. But here's the thing - in our country you're supposed to receive a trial before you're imprisoned, much less executed. You're even supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. There might be more than one reason someone passes a fake 20: I have a 65 year old white friend who every once in a while receives a bad 20 in her shop. The bank never calls the cops. They simply inform her that it was bad and destroy it, and she's out 20 bucks.. And drug addiction is a disease that can be treated - if you can keep breathing.
The point is that cops should not be judge, jury and executioner. Their job is to make arrests, not executions. There is a wide variety of less-than-lethal force that can (and should, according to most training) be used before having to shoot someone, especially shoot them to death. Instead, we have seen some pretty trigger-happy cops. I think the most egregious example is Tamir Rice, 12 years old and playing with a toy gun in a public park, shot within seconds of the police arriving on the scene."
As it turns out, I was wrong about more white killings than black killings - they're about at a dead heat:
*Murder and non-negligent homicide: whites 5,070; blacks 5,660
But as for the rest:
As I said, the greater the population, the more crime will be committed by that population.
Anyway, I stand by my argument that cops should not be judge, jury and executioner: that's the job of the court system. I am a great believer in separation of powers, and wish we could see more of it. Presidents and Governors should not be deciding issues of guilt or innocence, constitutionality, etc. That's what the judicial system is for. Nor should Presidents and Governors be writing legislation; legislatures, both national and state, should.
Speaking of which, our Governor, Kristi Noem, did a "partial veto" of an anti-transgender law, and then tried to rewrite parts of it (she called it a "style and form veto") to only be against K-12 trans students (to keep the NCAA $$$ and ranking flowing to South Dakota universities). In other words, she was trying to have it both ways with the conservative crowd: "See, I'm still anti-transgender, but I have to be practical." The South Dakota legislature rejected her changes, and accepted her veto, so (thankfully) that's over in South Dakota until next year, when the usual suspects will again bring the usual anti-LGBQT legislation to the floor.
Okay, back to policing.
Looking it over, I can honestly say that I totally understand that a person with a weapon or in the midst of a violent crime or performing crimes against other people can end up being killed by police. It is a dangerous job. BUT that still leaves the majority of cases to that were none of those. So, looking that over:
I am among those who are very relieved that Derek Chauvin was convicted of all 3 counts. I remember the first time I watched the video of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd's neck, rocking back and forth on that neck, Chauvin's hands in his pockets and smirk on his face, and at the time the only doubt I had in my mind was whether he was whistling "Dixie" to himself or "Another One Bites the Dust."
Meanwhile, we stigmatize mental illness and addiction, and give paltry funding for mental health programs of any kind, and then wonder why the mentally ill are out on the streets.
We fight a war on drugs while ignoring that the major gateway drug is perfectly legal alcohol, and then wonder why there are addicts everywhere we look.
We fight a war on drugs with weapons and jail and prison time, while providing a minimum of money for counseling and/or treatment centers, and appallingly little health insurance coverage for them, and then wonder why addicts relapse all the damn time.
Surely to God we can do better than this.
*Also, whites commit suicide at a higher rate than any other race: In data released in 2017, the rate for white Americans was around 19 per 100,000, and it was about 7.1 for both Hispanics and Asian-Americans/Pacific Islanders, and 6.6 for Black Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
BSP: My story "Collateral Damage" will be appearing in Murderous Ink Press' Crimeucopia: We're All Animals Under the Skin. (Our own Michael Bracken is in it as well.)
Linda Thompson is stunned when someone transforms her joke about a drive-by shooting at an AA meeting into reality. Drugs and exes, bikers and beatings, neighbors and old memories all put Linda on a twisted search that may solve the mystery, or get her killed.
Available at Amazon.
So you want to write a short story, but you can't think of an idea. Is that what's troubling you today, Bunkie?
I have a suggestion. Specifically, here's a writing exercise that might help you out.
I assume you read a lot of short stories. (If you aren't reading what you want to write you are doing it wrong.)
So, the next time you are really enjoying a story, stop reading halfway through.
Painful? You need to know what happens! How does it end?
Good question. So sit with it a while. What happens next? Is there a twist? Does the protagonist get what she wants? Work it out in your head. Maybe write a paragraph or two.
Once you have decided how the plot is going to turn out, go ahead and finish reading the story. Did you guess the ending? If so, bravo to you for your discernment.
But if you guessed wrong - congratulations! Now you have a story idea.
I'm not suggesting you should copy the first half of the original. There's a name for that and it rhymes with "majorism."
But you can build on the original idea and take it in a new direction.
It's a fine story and made my best of the year list. But the key thing is that I thought I knew how it would end. Turned out I was wrong.
But just because van Keulen didn't use the ending I dreamed up didn't mean it was not worth using. So I wrote a story about an actor, sitting in a nightclub and complaining that an upcoming movie has a part that would be perfect for him, but he can't even get a try out. "I'd sell my soul for a chance," he declares.
And up pops a helpful stranger. "Call me Nick…"
My story, "The Fourth Circle," is in the current, May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.
Here's another example, which I wrote about here last year. Janice Law wrote a story called "The General," about a deposed dictator who fears he is losing the love of his son.
I guessed wrong as to where Janice was leading and that gave me the idea for "Worse Than Death," about a dictator very much in power, whose son is kidnapped.
You get the idea. Will the exercise work for you? Beats me. If you try it, let me know.
When I was growing up, my parents--especially my mom--had certain expectations about what I'd do when I grew up. She made that crystal clear when I was about 14 when she told me my only choices were becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Since she knew I hated even going to the doctor, this was her way of telling me to back my bags for law school, like it or not.
So you can imagine her reaction when I finished college and packed my bags for journalism school instead. I didn't care about family expectations. I'd interned as a newspaper reporter during two summers during college and loved it, and that was what I planned to do. Writing fed my soul. (Yes, I eventually did go to law school--long story--but I eventually gave up the life of a big-city lawyer and made my way to writing again, as regular readers of this blog know.)
I share this story to help explain why I wrote "James," my next short story to be published. It will appear in Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Billy Joel. The anthology will be published a week from now by Untreed Reads Publishing. The book is edited by Josh Pachter, and also has stories from my fellow SleuthSayers Michael Bracken, David Dean, John M. Floyd, and Robert Lopresti, as well as stories by Jeff Cohen, James D.F. Hannah, Richard Helms, Jenny Milchman, Terrie Farley Moran, Richie Narvaez, and Josh Pachter himself. That's twelve authors, each writing a story stemming from a song on one of Billy Joel's twelve studio albums.
When I heard Josh was going to be doing this anthology, I became a bit pushy, telling him that I wanted in. Thank goodness he said yes. I've loved Billy Joel since high school. We both grew up on Long Island, and though I've never met him, his music has always resonated with me.
Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Billy Joel will be available in trade paperback and ebook. One third of the royalties will be donated to the Joel Foundation, a foundation the Joel family began to assist with music education and fund the arts. You can pre-order the paperback version of the book directly from the publisher for the best price by clicking here. For the best price on the e-book, pre-order from DriveThruFiction.com by clicking here.
Do you have a favorite Billy Joel song? I'd love to hear what it is and why.
But before I do that, a little BSP. I'm over the moon to share that my story "Dear Emily Etiquette" won the 2020 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Readers Award, voted on by readers of the magazine. The news was announced yesterday afternoon. It makes me so happy to know that my funny story resonated with readers. If you're one of the readers who listed my story on your nomination ballot, thank you! If you haven't read the story, you can read it on my website by clicking here. You also can listen to me read it on the EQMM podcast by clicking here.
Our friend Josh Pachter has appeared in these pages before. He won the 2020 Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Golden Derringer Award for Lifetime Achievement. In addition to writing and translating, he edited The Great Filling Station Holdup: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Jimmy Buffett (Down & Out Books), The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell (Untreed Reads), and The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe (Mysterious Press). He co-edited Amsterdam Noir (Akashic Books) and The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (Wildside Press).
You can find Josh at www.JoshPachter.com— Velma
- A Note about Remainders
- As kids, we sometimes saw comics or paperbacks with the upper half of the covers ripped off. Those were ‘remainders’, a publisher’s overstock. Likewise, bargain book tables at Barnes & Noble and Walmart are likely remainders too, excess copies deeply discounted by publishing houses. In extreme cases, publishers will ‘pulp’ books, grinding them to powder to be recycled into… books.
by Josh Pachter
In the Olden Days, BigFive Press would agree to publish your book. Their marketing geniuses would do the math and decide on a first printing of X copies. In principle, those copies would all sell, and BigFive would go to a second printing—and then a third, and so on ad infinitum, until you were wealthy enough to buy a little cottage on the Sussex Downs, where you could keep bees and lord it over your serfs.
In practice, though, what was much more likely to happen was that BigFive would wind up with unsold copies of your baby. Those copies took up valuable warehouse space, and if BigFive later needed that space for newer books, they would “remainder” the remaining copies of yours.
That meant that they would sell your leftovers to Wal-Mart or one of the other big-box retailers for pennies on the dollar, and Wal-Mart (or whoever) would dump them into a big bin—the dreaded remainder bin—priced higher than what they paid for them but way lower than the original retail price.
So, for example, let’s say I opened a vein and poured onto the page my magnum opus, Gone Girl With the Wind in the Willows. BigFive would slap a retail price of $20 on it and print five thousand copies. Only three thousand of those copies would sell: two thousand to liberries (remember liberries?) and a thousand to my mother, who would give them away as Christmas presents.
That meant that BigFive would be stuck with two thousand copies of a book they couldn’t sell. Those copies would sit in the warehouse for a while, until BigFive needed the shelf space for the eighth novel James Patterson “wrote” that month. At that point, they’d dump their remaining stock of GGWTWITW onto Wal-Mart for, say fifty cents a copy, and Wal-Mart would mark them up to two bucks apiece and toss them in the bin.
A win-win situation, right? BigFive got rid of some books they didn’t want to continue to warehouse, Wal-Mart cleared a three-hundred-percent profit on every copy they sold, and the customer got a $20 book for a tenth of its retail price.
Wait a second, that’s actually a win-win-win: everybody wins!
Well, almost everybody. The one loser would be me, since instead of earning a royalty of two bucks a copy (ten percent of the retail price), I’d only get a measly five cents a copy (ten percent of BigFive's remainder price)—and then I’d have to give fifteen percent of that to my agent, leaving me four and a quarter cents a copy for a book that ought to have earned me forty times that amount.
So I guess we’d have to call Remainderama a win-win-win-lose situation, with the author the one and only loser.
Those Sayers of the Sleuth who know me—or know of me—were perhaps surprised a couple of years ago when, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I suddenly began editing anthologies.
Since 2018, in fact, I've done eight of them for six different publishers with
more on the way:
My emergence as an anthologist wasn’t exactly “out of the blue,” though. Forty years ago, I was living in Amsterdam, and I edited half a dozen anthologies for a midsized Dutch publisher, Loeb Uitgevers. Loeb marketed four of them—Top Crime, Top Science Fiction, Top Fantasy and Top Horror—internationally at the Frankfort Book Fair, and various combinations of the four titles sold to an assortment of publishers in Europe and the Americas. Heyne Verlag in Germany, for example, did all four books in mass-market paperback editions (TSF in three volumes and TF in two volumes.) Top Crime, Top Science Fiction, and Top Fantasy were published in England by J.M. Dent & Sons in hardcover and paperback, and Top Crime had a US hardcover edition from St. Martin's Press (with one of the worst cover designs I have ever seen in my life, featuring a silhouette of a gun without a trigger — and what did that say about the twenty-five stories in the book?!).
But I digress. A couple of years later, I was living in what was then still West Germany and teaching for the University of Maryland's European Division on American military bases. One day, I got a snail-mail letter from J.M. Dent, notifying me they were about to remainder the last thousand copies of the hardcover edition of Top Science Fiction to W.H. Smith & Sons for something like a quarter apiece—and, as a courtesy to me, they were offering me the opportunity to buy some at that price.
I remember that I was in my kitchen with this letter literally in my hand, trying to decide whether to buy twenty-five copies or fifty to give away as Christmas presents, when my phone rang. On the line was the director of the UMED textbook office: another instructor wanted to use my anthology as the text for a course in the literature of science fiction, but he wasn’t sure where to find copies and wanted to know if I could help.
“As it happens,” I said, “I own all remaining copies of the book, and I'd be happy to sell you as many as you need.”
The caller was hesitant, because (he said) he usually bought texts in enough bulk that the publisher was willing to offer him a discount.”
“How much of a discount,” I asked, “do you usually get?”
Twenty-five percent off the retail price, he said.
“And how many copies do you want to buy?”
A hundred, he told me.
“Well,” I said, “I can give you a twenty-five-percent discount, but I’ll need you to take two hundred copies.”
And I’ll be damned: he agreed!
I hung up and immediately called Dent in London. “I got your letter,” I said, “and I want to buy some copies of Top Science Fiction at the remainder price.”
How many did I want?
“I’ll take all of them.”
There was a long pause at the other end of the line. Finally, the voice asked if I realized how many copies that was.
“Yes, I read the letter,” I said. “I’ll take them all.”
Another pause. Did I realize how much storage space I’d need for a thousand hardcovers?
“Yes,” I said, “I do. I’ll take them all.”
An even longer pause. Did I realize how much the shipping charge for a thousand hardcovers would be?
“If you sell the lot to W.H. Smith,” I said, “you’ll comp them the shipping, so I expect you won’t charge me for it, either.”
And that’s the way we ultimately worked it. I bought a thousand books for two hundred and fifty dollars including shipping, having pre-sold two hundred of them to UMED for something like three thousand dollars plus shipping, making me the only person I’ve ever heard of who actually made money off a remaindered book.
There’s a little more to the story.
Over the next couple of years, UMED reordered Top Science Fiction several times … and, each time, I told them the price had gone up. By the time I moved back to the US in 1991, I’d gotten them to buy almost all of my thousand hardcovers—and I’d also picked up the entire remaindered stock of the paperback edition.
I shipped the last of the hardbacks and several hundred of the paperbacks to the US, and I still have some of each in the attic—including one box of paperbacks that’s moved from Germany to New York to Ohio to Maryland to Iowa to Virginia over the last thirty-one years and is still factory sealed.
It’s a pretty cool anthology: twenty-five excellent stories by twenty-five of the greatest science-fiction writers alive in the early 1980s—Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Harry Harrison, Ursula K. LeGuin, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Silverberg, A.E. Van Vogt, Connie Willis, Gene Wolfe, more than a dozen others—each story selected and introduced by its author as their favorite of the stories they’d written up to that point in their careers.
Anybody wanna buy a copy? I make you good price, my friend!
Further to the Matt Gaetz investigation…
|Florida's gerrymandered 5th Congressional District|
|The ultra-thin district (at one time three discontiguous plots) stretches more than 200 miles (>320km).|
Florida remains the seat of breathtaking corruption. I don’t even have room to discuss Florida’s legislature passing a bill requiring students to assess professors’ political beliefs and providing for teachers to be secretly recorded at any time. We’re uncertain of persistent rumors Tallahassee will be renaming our state capital the Kremlin.
We at SleuthSayers work to avoid politics, but when it’s unavoidable, we strive to be fair. Registered as an independent, I aspire to equal opportunity offensiveness, but I’m afraid America may lose a grand, old party, which even the opposition doesn’t wish to happen. To mitigate controversy, I’ll be referring to political parties as the Eloi and Morlock, and you can decide which is which.
Thanks to a halt in ballot counting of the infamous hanging chads, Florida never learned whether Bush or Gore won the 2000 election. Two years later, Sarasota County reportedly failed to record 20 000 votes. The county Supervisor of Elections explained it this way: Twenty-thousand people came in to vote, but chose not to.
On that foundation, let’s visit 2010’s gubernatorial election.
Fool You Once
Four main candidates emerged in 2010. The Eloi backed a woman, Alex Sink. The Morlocks had three. The Morlock Party was irritated at Charlie Crist (who was sidelined and forced to run as an independent Morlock) and officially backed Bill McCollum. One other candidate inserted himself into the Morlock primary, Rick Scott, who’d engineered the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in history, triggering a fine of $1.7-billion. That’s $1 700 000 000 for the fine alone. That should have ended his candidacy.
Naturally, Florida elected the fraudster. Millions of ill-gotten gains won the election.
That’s sealed history. What isn’t as well known is what happened to Alex Sink and her beautifully designed web site, SinkForCongress2014.com, which included a subdomain begging for donations, contribute.SinkForCongress2014.com. It had a problem. It wasn’t her web site, it belonged to the other party. Donations to her were diverted to the Morlock Party and used to fund Alex Sink’s defeat.
Turns out this isn’t illegal.
Fool You Twice
You can think of them as ghosts in the political machine. Morlock Party operatives ran sham Eloi candidates in an effort to split votes between the faux candidate and the real one. It worked in at least three elections. In one district, the true Eloi candidate would have won by 6000 votes but lost by 32, thanks to a fake candidate, Jestine Iannotti. She abruptly moved to Sweden where she can’t be extradited.
Again, these dirty tricks aren’t illegal, but dirty money is. Political manipulators have gone to great lengths to hide money, much which remains unaccounted for. When the false candidate stunt was pulled in 2012, donations were traced to lobbyists, consultants, attorneys, fake donors and secret donors.
A fourth Florida attempt ended in failure for Matt Gaetz. An extremely shady former legislator and lobbyist Chris Dorworth has separated from his Orlando firm, Ballard Partners, after his involvement was revealed.
Meanwhile, Gaetz seems to have left his girlfriend at home with her crayons and coloring book, and hopped a ganja flight to the Bahamas, courtesy of Orlando marijuana majordomo and hand surgeon Jason Pirozzolo. There they enjoyed presumably grown-up prostitutes.
Gaetz attempted to get his generous friend Pirozzolo nominated for Florida Surgeon General. When that fell through, Governor Ron DeSantis appointed Pirozzolo to another lucrative position on the board of the Greater Orlando Airport Authority.
Investigations continue. Please remember, all parties are considered innocent until the rotten miscreants are proven guilty.
† Thanks to Darlene, Sharon, Cate, Eve, and Thrush for contributions to this series.)