07 January 2022

Three Books in 2022

Since about 2011, I've kept a spreadsheet of what I've read over a given year. Thanks to multiple formats, the number's been as high as 100. Thanks to Audible, it's never gone as low as 30. Last year, I read 52. One of them was a book on speed-reading.

I read widely. I'm working my way through Stephen King's back list, and with any luck, Billy Summers will be one of the last books I read this year. I do a rotation. Non-fiction of some sort, crime, science fiction, an indie writer who's caught my attention, a classic, and King. Part, but not all, of the classic side includes Harry Bloom's novel list from How to Read. I'll spare you the rest as the non-fiction tends to be all over the map, and SF is not really the purpose of Sleuthsayers. So, let's focus on crime.

Every year since about the mid-2000s, I've started off with Ken Bruen, mainly the Jack Taylor series. Assuming 2022 does not involve kaiju, nuclear annihilation, another great plague, alien invasion, or Ken writing one more Jack Taylor, I will probably finish the series in January of 2023. For January, 2022, I'm reading Galway Girl. I was not a big fan of Em when she appeared in the series. I couldn't figure out if Ken was passing the baton to a young woman even more rage-prone than Jack or something else. (Spoiler alert: Something else.) But then, at the end of In the Galway Silence, he introduces a woman who is a clone of Em, and, it seems, by choice. She calls herself Jericho, and yes, she is there to make Jack's life a living hell. Only, whenever someone wants to torment Jack, they have to get in line. At the head of the line, they inevitably find out Jack calls that "Tuesday."  Ken doesn't so much write a novel with the Taylor series as much as write violent epic poems set in Galway. Galway Girl is proving to be a dark, bleak novel full of nihilism and death. It's a marvelous way to start off a new year full of hope and optimism. (Or at least the fleeting hope that the hangover from 2020 will finally lift.)

The next crime novel on the list is SA Cosby's Razor Blade Tears. I'd like to compare Cosby to Ken Bruen, but the first thing by him that I read, Black Top Wasteland, I found too optimistic. Seriously, though, I read Wasteland last year after connection with Shawn online. It was probably the best crime novel I'd read in a long time, so both Razor Blade Tears and his upcoming All Sinners Bleed are on this year's TBR stack. Cosby writes about the South, does not shy away from race, yet writes about a world not too dissimilar from where I grew up, which was seventies and eighties Rust Belt. Like Blacktop, Blade is about an ordinary man without privilege who has his life upended by crime, in this case, the murder of his son. What's amazing about Cosby's work is the characters may lead a different life from most of us, but the landmarks on their path are quite often all-too-familiar.

Third on the list is Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. Set in 1954, its premise has a lot in common with SA Cosby's work. A young man released from a juvenile work farm is driven home to Nebraska. He intends to pick up his recently orphaned brother and head for California to start a new life. Two of his fellow inmates have secretly tagged along with another plan: They want to take him to New York. Lincoln Highway covers more familiar territory for me geographically, rolling across the Midwest, though it's a time when the steel mills still roared, Studebakers still rolled off the assembly lines alongside Packards, and steam powered the railways.

There will be more, obviously. Someone who read 52 books last year, with every sixth Kindle, paperback, or hardcover a crime novel, these three are only enough to get me through early spring.

So, what's on your TBR stack for this year?

06 January 2022

Who Talks Like This? (Reader Participation Fiction Edition)

Happy New Year! 

Just this week I ran across this in The New Yorker: "Movie Dialogue That Nobody Has Ever Actually Said in Real Life," by Jason Adam Katzenstein, and it reminded me of any number of conversations I've had both with fellow writers and with fans over the years, marveling at the disconnect between real life and the artistic treatments of real life situations intended to closely resemble them.

It's a quick read, really a series of single panel cartoons handily illustrating the author's point (example: two women running together, with one of them saying to the other: "As your best friend for the last twenty-five years..." and another, one man saying to another-who is facing away from him: "You know what your problem is?").

So, of course, I began thinking about seeing this sort of thing in the fiction I've read. Everyone who has read even ten novels has likely run across this sort of thing. And I'm interested in hearing examples from our readers here at the Sleuthsayers blog. I'll start, but would really like to see some lively responses in the comments.

Here we go!

My example: the use (or overuse) of names

You've seen it. We all have. Dialogue that goes something like this:


"Well, what, Bill?"

"You know what, Carmen."

"No I don't."

"Come on, Carmen. Out with it!"


So, who talks like this?


There are great authors out there, masters of dialogue (Megan Abbott, Elmore Leonard, Sue Grafton, Walter Mosley, Peter Temple) whose work is a collective master class in writing dialogue that's so realistic it leaps off the page. And this is the sort of mistake that authors of this caliber never seem to make.

I think every writer goes through a phase, hopefully early in their career, where they commit this sort of blunder. I know I could dust off my first, never-to-be-published "mistake" novel, and find no end of examples of this sort of writing.

But hey, this is all intended be both light-hearted and instructive. So what examples can you  bring to the conversation? Looking forward to seeing them in the comments!

05 January 2022

Today in Mystery History: January 5

This is our tenth adventure in stalking the history of our genre. 

January 5, 1909.   Harry Kurnitz was born on this date in New York City.  He wrote mysteries under the name Marco Page.  MGM bought the rights to his book Fast Company and brought him to Hollywood to write the screenplay.  Among the more than forty movies he wrote were Witness for the Prosecution, and How to Steal a Million.

January 5, 1921.  Friedrich Durrenmatt was born in Bern, Switzerland.  Best known as a playwright, he wrote three crime novels which are considered classics: The Judge and his Hangman, Suspicion, and The Pledge.  The last of these was made into an excellent movie directed by Sean Penn and starring Jack Nicholson as a cop who, on the day he retires, promises parents that he will find the man who murdered their daughter.

January 5, 1932.
  Umberto Eco was born in Piedmont, Italy.  He was known as a philosopher until he wrote the astonishingly successful medieval crime novel, The Name of the Rose, in which a monk named William of Baskerville investigates a series of grisly murders in a monastery.

January 5, 1939.  Homicide Bureau was released. Bruce Cabot starred as a cop under pressure to solve crimes without violating suspects' civil rights (hmm... sounds vaguely familiar). Rita Hayworth  plays the head of internal affairs.

January 5, 1946.  Arthur Lyons was born in Los Angeles.  Most of his novels were about reporter-turned-private-eye Jacob Asch.  The movie Slow Burn was based on his novel Castle Burning. 

January 5, 195?. On this date the action begins in John LeCarre's Call For The Dead, which means master spy George Smiley is introduced to the world.  Smiley quits his employment in this book, which is no surprise.  In most of the novels about him he quits the Circus or gets rehired there.  Man can't seem to keep a job.

January 5, 1965.  On this date Mrs. Rachel Bruner came to Nero Wolfe with an impossible assignment: make the FBI stop bothering her.  Naturally, he succeeds and The Doorbell Rang became Rex Stout's biggest success, pushing his fame and sales to unheard of levels.   Reporters who asked the FBI for comments on the book were referred to the Criminal Division, with the implication that something vaguely illegal was involved in criticizing the Bureau and its director.

January 5, 1970.  This date saw something doubly rare: fiction in Sports Illustrated, and a short story by novelist Dick Francis.  "A Carrot for a Chestnut" is one of my fifty favorite crime stories.  If you don't happen to keep half a century worth of old magazines around you can find it in Francis's collection Field of Thirteen. 

January 5, 1974. Vincent Starrett died in Chicago.  Canadian born, he was an early member of the Baker Street Irregulars and wrote "The Adventure of the Unique 'Hamlet,'"  and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.  (No relation to the later movie with the same title.)


04 January 2022

Still Rolling with It: 2021 in Review

The past two years have been a rollercoaster for many of us, with wave after wave of COVID-19 variants impacting our lives in so many ways. For the past two years, my year-end reviews have suggested that “rolling with it”—accepting whatever opportunities come my way and making the best of them—was the best approach to my writing and editing career, and I’ve done essentially that.

I haven’t, however, just waited for opportunities to fall into my lap, though some certainly have; I have also pitched new projects and used the end of some projects to spur me into creating replacements.

As my writing productivity decreased, my editing responsibilities increased, so this year I’m dividing my year-end review into two parts.


After rising in 2020, my writing productivity plummeted in 2021. I completed only six short stories—the shortest 1,600 words and the longest 5,800—for a grand total of 25,600 words. All were crime fiction, and three were private eye stories. One was a story I started writing 19 years earlier.


Even though productivity was low, I placed 30 original and reprint stories, including two collaborations with Sandra Murphy. This comes mostly from having been productive in previous years and the stories finally finding homes.

Thirty-four original and reprinted stories, including a collaboration with James A. Hearn, appeared in anthologies, periodicals, and webzines, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Barb Goffman Presents, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Weekly, Bullets and Other Hurting Things, Close to the Bone, Crimeucopia: We’re All Animals Under the Skin, Cupid’s Day, Guns + Tacos, House of Erotica/Andrews UK Limited, Horror for the Throne, Jukes & Tonks, Learning My Lesson, Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 2, Modern Mayhem, Mystery Weekly, Only The Good Die Young, P.I. Tales Double Features, Pulp Modern Flash, Punk Noir Magazine, The Mysterious Bookshop Presents The Best Mystery Stories of the Year, The Great Filling Station Holdup, Tough, Unnerving, and Vautrin.

Five editors are represented multiple times. Linda Landrigan published two stories in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Barb Goffman reprinted two in Barb Goffman Presents and Black Cat Weekly, and Josh Pachter published two in Only the Good Die Young and The Great Filling Station Holdup. Four stories appeared in projects I edited or co-edited, but the most stories were published by the unnamed editor at True Renditions LLC who reprinted two stories in Learning My Lesson and six in Cupid’s Day.

Though some of the stories accepted this year were published this year, not all were. So, I have stories forthcoming in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Groovy Gumshoes, Malice Domestic 16: Mystery Most Diabolical, Mystery Tribune, Prohibition Peepers, and Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.


My story “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” (Black Cat Mystery Magazine #6) was reprinted in The Mysterious Bookshop Presents The Best Mystery Stories of the Year (known in the UK as Best Crime Stories of the Year). It was also named an Other Distinguished story in The Best American Mystery and Suspense.

Both “The Ladies of Wednesday Tea” (Bullets and Other Hurting Things) and “Sonny’s Encore” (Black Cat Mystery Magazine #9) made Robert Lopresti’s “best mystery story […] read this week” at Little Big Crimes.


I’d like to say that rejections kept me humble this year, but my wife might argue otherwise.

I received 22 rejections, and I’ll repeat something I’ve said before: Any year in which acceptances exceed rejections is a good year.


As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, editing is occupying more of my time than ever before.

Last year saw the release of three issues of Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and I joined Black Cat Weekly as an Associate Editor responsible for acquiring and editing one story each week. Additionally, I edited Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 2, co-edited (with Gary Phillips) Jukes & Tonks, and co-edited (with Trey R. Barker) season three of Guns + Tacos.

In addition to continuing work on the periodicals, I worked on several anthologies and other projects that will publish in 2022 and 2023.

Outside the mystery world, I edited six issues of Texas Gardener, a bi-monthly consumer magazine, and 52 issues of Seeds, an electronic newsletter for gardeners that, incidentally, published two short stories. I also continued my part-time position as marketing director for a professional orchestra, creating, editing, and managing a variety of advertising, marketing, and promotional materials for print, radio, television, and social media.

With the editing projects, I had the honor of directly or indirectly shepherding 76 short stories and novellas through to publication.


This year, several stories from projects published in 2020 were honored:

John M. Floyd received a Shamus Award for “Mustang Sally” (Black Cat Mystery Magazine #7) and Gordon Linzner’s story “Show and Zeller” (BCMM #7) was nominated for a Shamus.

Alan Orloff received a Thriller Award for “Rent Due” (Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol 1. [Down & Out Books]) and Andrew Welsh-Huggins’s story “The Mailman” (MF 1) was nominated for a Thriller.

My story “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” (Black Cat Mystery Magazine #6) was reprinted in The Mysterious Bookshop Presents The Best Mystery Stories of the Year and was named an Other Distinguished story in The Best American Mystery and Suspense.

Andrew Welsh-Huggins’s “The Whole Story” (Black Cat Mystery Magazine #7) made Robert Lopresti’s “best mystery story […] read this week” at Little Big Crimes.

I had the honor of publishing several kick-ass stories in 2021, and I have my fingers crossed that many of them will be similarly recognized during the 2022 awards season.


Having multiple editing projects, all with firm deadlines, requires more structure to my creative life than writing does, so I’ll likely not be able to “roll with it” this coming year. Even so, I’ll remain flexible, take advantage of opportunities as they arise, create new opportunities when I can, and try to increase my writing output.

I hope all of you had a good 2021 and that 2022 is even better.

January 1 was release day for Guns + Tacos compilation volumes 5 & 6. Vol. 5 includes novellas by Dave Zeltserman, Stacy Woodson, and David Hendrickson; vol. 6 includes novellas by Hugh Lessig, Neil Plakcy, and Andrew Welsh-Huggins. Each novella is available as a stand-alone ebook, but the compilation volumes are ideal if you missed the novellas when they were first released. Additionally, subscribers to the series receive, with vol. 6, a BONUS short story that I wrote.

03 January 2022

Look It Up

 by Steve Liskow

Last week, Barb Goffman discussed details that make or break your work, and many people chimed in with stories or authors that had lost them by making a careless--and avoidable--mistake.

With the Internet, billions of bits of information are only a click away. That's both good and bad, especially for someone like me. I'm a trivia junkie and even as my memory fades, I can bring up details no healthy person would know, usually about music. I often use music in my stories because I already  have enough context so I can write a story and know exacty what I still need to check or verify. Usually.

Several years ago, I wrote "Hot Sugar Blues" about a folk and blues singer who became popular when he turned to rock and roll. I based him on Bob Dylan, John Sebastian, The Blues Project, and several other real artists, and I had him mention the Cafe Au Go-Go in Greenwich Village. The anthology editor, whose job was to verify such details, said the venue didn't feature live bands until later that year. 

Oops. My knowledge fell short. Fortunately, the date wasn't crucial for the story, so we became less specific. 

I can do research, but I prefer not to for a short story because it feels like more effort than it's worth for a few thousand words. Old school research--books and magazines--wasn't a problem because wandering off on a tangent took more effort.

But when you're online, it's easy to open a link, then another one and another one until the top of your monitor looks like a string of beads. I can be waist-deep in irrelevant trivia that has nothing to do with my original quest, and two hours have passed. 

Novels, of course, are different because they demand more information. 

Lately, though, I've found myself writing stories for specific times or places that fall outside my usual turf. That's good because it's expanding my repertoire, but it means yes, I do need to do research. Sometimes, it's amazing what you already have at hand that you didn't think about. 

This spring, one of my stories will appear in Groovy Gumshoes, a collection of PI stories set in the Sixties, edited by Michael Bracken. The guidelines recommended using an historical event from that period, and I happened to take summer classes at Oakland University in 1967. The college is thirty miles north of Detroit, and two of my dorm mates watched their homes burn in the television coverage of the West Side Riot. My roommate at the time is now a Motor City attorney, and I asked him to email me a few photographs. I also have a street map of Detroit, and a lot of music from that era: The Stooges, the MC5, the SRC, Motown...

I'm doing research for two other stories, too, and I already know enough so I can recognize the specific gaps in my background. My parents loved to dance, and they loved the music of the  20s through the 50s. My mother had dozens of remastered compact discs of that music, and I've used them in plays I directed and now I know the major hits of the years in question. They give me a context for a story set during Prohibition. 

The other story may not happen, but I think it will involve a Mark Twain artifact somehow. My wife conducts tours at the Mark Twain House in Hartford and everyone there is a trivia junkie and Twain nerd. I'm creating a list of questions, and the answers will determine how--or maybe if--that story develops.

The only novel that took as much research was The Whammer Jammers, my first roller derby book. I only knew what I remembered from television back in my deformative years, nothing about the modern sport. Fortunately, my daughter was Hazel Smut Crunch # Bake 350, captain of the Queen City Cherry Bombs, and she helped me create a questionaire I sent to skaters, coaches, referees, and promotors. Everyone knew "Haze" because she also wrote the grant for the non-profit league. And one of my former theater buds knew two local skaters, so I got comped into events in New Haven and set up a few interviews. 

Having friends in high places makes the job a lot easier.

The hardest part of research isn't getting the answers. It figuring out the right questions.

02 January 2022

New Years - Past, Present, Future Done Lightly

New Years Past

A century ago, similar concerns.

cartoon © 1921 Buffalo Times (New York)
Normalcy © 1921 Buffalo Times (New York)

New Years Present

The light show, just because.

New Years Future

At heart, mystery writers are romantics searching for happy endings in our own little world.

Oh, c'mon, admit it– that's sweet.

Happy New Year!

01 January 2022

2021 in Review


Another strange year behind us. Maybe not as challenging as 2020 was, but we all know we're not yet "back to normal." I'll resist the temptation to discuss Covid politics here, and will just say Happy New Year to everyone. I hope 2022 turns out great for all of us.

Since it's always easier to look back at what's been done than to look ahead at what might be, I can tell you it's been a fairly good year for me, writingwise. My wife and I stayed close to home and continued to avoid trips and most public gatherings, which gave me a lot of time to dream up new stories. I usually did that via (1) long walks and (2) long sessions of staring blankly out the window. Number two was harder to justify ("No, I'm not asleep--just working out plots"), but both were effective. I came up with a boatload of ideas, turned most of them into stories, and sent the stories off to editors, though not always with the hoped-for result.

Good or bad, I keep a count of what I write and sell and publish, and once a year I look back and see if I can learn something from it. I probably don't, but digging out the numbers makes me feel like I'm trying. So, here's what I came up with. (BTW, I know sentences aren't supposed to begin with numerals, and in my stories they don't, but here it makes the reporting easier. Apologies to the Grammar Police.)

2021 statistics

This past year I had 61 short stories published, I wrote 38 new stories, I submitted 73 stories, I received 54 acceptances and 32 rejections, and I withdrew 6 stories from consideration. The reason the math doesn't work is that some of those stories that were accepted, rejected, withdrawn, and published in 2021 were submitted in 2020. And some of my 2021 submissions haven't yet received a response.

12 of my published stories this year were less than 1000 words in length, 31 stories were between 1000 and 4000, and 18 were longer than 4000. The shortest was 100 words, the longest was 11,000. That 11K story also had the most scenes--10--although one of my 4K stories had 9.

Genrewise, 39 of the 61 published stories were undiluted mystery/crime, another 11 were cross-genre (5 mystery/western and 6 mystery/fantasy), and 11 were other genres: 2 straight westerns, 6 fantasy/science fiction, 1 humor piece, and 2 romances.

22 of my published mystery stories (plain and mixed-genre) involved robberies of some kind, 17 involved murder, 6 involved both. The remaining 5 were about other kinds of crimes. As I've said, none of the 11 so-called non-mystery stories involved a crime at all.

26 of my published stories this year appeared in magazines and 35 in anthologies. 

6 of my stories published in anthologies were the result of invitations to contribute, 9 were selected by editors afterward for best-of's and other books (like Bauer Publishing's 2-Minute Mini-Mysteries) without my knowledge, and 20 were via open-call submissions. If it matters, 19 of my anthology publications and 21 of my magazine publications involved editors I've worked with before.

14 of my published stories were written in first-person POV and 47 were third-person. Of the third-person stories, 37 were third-person singular and 10 were third-person multiple. As if any of that matters.

All 61 were written in past tense, none in present.

12 included paranormal or other-worldly elements of some kind and 7 were set in the Old West. 

17 had a female protagonist, 30 had a male protagonist, 14 had a mixed team of equal protags. In 9 of those stories, the bad guys (depending on how you define "bad") win.

13 were published in markets outside the U.S.

50 were published in paying markets.

23 of the 61 were reprints.

18 of my 73 submissions were sent via online submission systems, the rest via email. As usual, none were snailmailed. 8 of my 32 rejections were stories for which I never received a response, yea or nay.

55 of my published stories appeared in print publications and 6 were online.

21 appeared in new (to me) markets, the rest in places where I've been published before.

Things I've learned, from all this

Six of the stories I wrote in 2020 and 2021 contained references to the pandemic. Of those, one was accepted and the other five were rejected--promptly. Worth noting: I changed all but one of those stories (the one that was accepted, which was written and submitted in 2020) to remove all references to Covid, and those five were then submitted elsewhere and accepted. I recently wrote a SleuthSayers post about that, here.

Several things have remained the same: there are still plenty of markets for reprints, I'm continuing to write more third-person-singular stories than anything else, I still haven't written any present-tense stories (although I'd said I would try), and most of my mysteries involve a robbery or burglary.

As for differences, I wrote fewer flash stories this year than before (half of my published under-1000-word stories were reprints). I'm not sure what the reason was, for that; my new stories just seem to be running longer than before. I also published more stories in anthologies this past year than in magazines, which is unusual for me. Last year it was the other way around. Oddly enough, though, most of my accepted-but-not-yet-published stories are upcoming in magazines, not anthologies.

Speaking of which . . . 

Coming in 2022/2023

Looking ahead, 38 of my short stories have been accepted but not yet published, and 20 have been submitted but have not yet received a response. Already-accepted stories are in the queue at AHMM (5 stories), Black Cat Mystery Magazine (2), Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine (1), Mystery Tribune (1), Woman's World (2), Mystery Magazine (6), etc., and several anthologies.

As for genres, all my accepted-but-not-yet-published stories are mysteries, either solely or cross-genre, and--as mentioned--most of those will be in magazines.

I've been invited this year to submit stories to seven anthologies due out in 2022 and 2023, four of which have been written and three of which are unwritten or in progress.

No review of this kind would be complete without my (1) thanking the editors and publishers who gave me an opportunity to get the crazy things I create out into the world, (2) thanking my writer friends for their ongoing advice and encouragement, and (3) thanking the readers who make all this possible. I'm also sincerely grateful to the Private Eye Writers of America for my Shamus Award this past year and to editors Lee Child and Otto Penzler for my inclusion in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2021.

How about you?

Was 2021 a good year for your writing? Better than 2020? Let me know about your high points. Were most of those successes with magazines? Anthologies? Any awards or nominations or best-of appearances? Were most of your stories mystery/crime? What's forthcoming for 2022?

Whatever good fortune you've had and whatever stories or novels you have in the queue, congratulations on sitting down and writing those and sending them off. That alone is an accomplishment. Congrats also on any of those stories that are marinating in your brain now and not yet written. That's future money in the bank. 

Once again, I hope you all had a great holiday--and I wish everyone a healthy and prosperous new year.

Keep writing!

31 December 2021

Writer, Feed Thyself

 Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash
I was all of 23 years old, and working at what would be the first of many Crappy Editorial Jobs. I had recently reconnected with a college buddy of mine, who would call from time to time during office hours so we could chat and stave off our mutual boredom. I was working at a teenybopper magazine in Teaneck, New Jersey; my friend was designing corporate stationery for an accounting firm in Washington, DC. Back in college, the two of us had majored in journalism. But who were we kidding? In our hearts, we knew we were fiction writers. At least, we hoped so.

Nearly every time he called, my buddy would ask: “What are you working on?”

I’d start to describe for him whatever the current project was that I was doing for my employer. He’d cut me off immediately. “I don’t care about that,” he said. “What’s going on with your writing? What’s up with the fiction?”

And I’d lapse into a long diatribe about how exhausted I was writing magazine articles. By the time I got home each night, I had no desire to touch my own work. Someday, I assured Stuart, I would make time for the work that mattered to me. Just not now.

A few calls later, my friend lowered the boom. “I hate to break this to you, but someday you’re going to die. Life is short. If you want to write, you have to make time for it now.”

Of course I was pissed at him for bringing this up. Offended, even. Who the hell was he to remind me of my mortality? He was literally two months older than me.

At age 23, you don’t just think you’re immortal. You are immortal.

But even at that age, Stu was somewhat wiser than I was. (He still is.) The truth of what he was saying sunk in, and I finally committed to my own work. I started a novel that year that would became the first I wrote as an adult.

This was a good decade before email was available in the workplace. So when Stu or I came across a cool article, we shared it the old-fashioned way: snail-mailed a photocopy to the other person’s home.

Some years later, I opened an envelope from Stu to find a piece he’d come across on a trip to the west coast. The article, “The Talent of the Room,” which first appeared in LA Weekly, was written by a writer named Michael Ventura. The piece was so powerful that I’ve re-read it nearly every year since, and have shared it with many writers. Ventura makes it available for free at his website; I hope you will take the time to read it. It’s the best gift I can give any writer as we hurtle toward the end of another year.

The gist of Ventura’s lesson is this:

If you’re going to be writer, you have to have to be comfortable hanging out by yourself, alone in a room, for hours, days, or years at a time. The irony is that what the outside world feeds you, you bring back into that room. When you’ve used up that nutrition, you’re obliged to seek out more of it in the outside world. Whether you accept it or not, this is the struggle all writers face. To put words on a page, you must enrich yourself or you dry up.

We’re going on two miserable years, folks, when it has been hard to sate ourselves on the company of friends, family, and loved ones. I know that I have felt the loss of that restorative influence; I’m sure some of you have too. When I do get out in public these days, I’m astonished how giddy I am, and how seemingly innocuous conversations linger in my memory for hours or even days later.

“I was really very hungry,” M.F.K Fisher says in one of her classic essays, and though she is renowned as a food writer, you get the sense that it wasn’t just food she craved.

If you are a writer, you are always hungry. Your psyche must be fed. It’s drinking in snatches of dialogue, sopping up real-life anecdotes that can be repurposed as plot points, and absorbing emotions that emanate from other peoples’ voices. We do this instinctively, often without noticing what we are doing. It is our superpower. The horticulturist perceives leaves and sunlight. The fashion designer notices fabric, weave, and drape. The mechanic hears the rasp of an ailing engine. The writer sees, hears, and breathes story. But if we don’t get what we need to fashion story from the real world, we wither.

I’m not one for resolutions. Staring down the last dregs of a calendar should not be the thing that forces me to make a promise to myself. If something is worth resolving, chances are I’ve sensed it long before midnight tonight. I’m not in my twenties any more, and I’m long past fooling myself.

I am hungry, but I’ve always been. Time is short, but it always has been. Those two things should be enough to carry me into 2022.

I wish you all a beautiful, lustrous year, filled with sustenance and stories.

* * *

See you in three weeks!


30 December 2021

The Problem of Time

It's December 30.  2021 is almost over. If you expect an elegy - well, I'm not sure how this is going to turn out. It might get bumpy.  For one thing, 2021 whipped by like a cobra in the jaws of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, which raises the question, shouldn't everyone have a pet mongoose, even if imaginary?  But let's move on.

The good stuff is that I've been writing and working at the penitentiary and writing some more - and all have been going very well.  Murderous Ink Press and I have grown very close, also the Bould Awards, and Michael Bracken has accepted 3 of my stories for 3 different gigs.  I sold my 31st piece to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine!  Life is sweet.  And other stories are out searching diligently for a home...
The bad stuff is that Covid is still with us and in South Dakota it apparently isn't going anywhere.  We've all lost somebody we loved, and more whom we liked, and many, many more we simply knew,  talked to, waved at, and all will be missed...  

Time slips and turns and knots you, 
time slips and goes and leaves you 
living in a haunted world, 
full of ghosts that linger inside your lids 
when you close your eyes.
— Eve Fisher, last stanza of "The Terror of Time"

Time is a tricky subject. Back in 1999 a man named Julian Barbour wrote The End of Time "advancing timeless physics: the controversial view that time, as we perceive it, does not exist as anything other than an illusion, and that a number of problems in physical theory arise from assuming that it does exist. He argues that we have no evidence of the past other than our memory of it, and no evidence of the future other than our belief in it."  (Wikipedia)  

Well, I read it, and felt the way I feel about a lot of philosophical approaches to whether or not or how or why anything is real, from time to free will. It can all sound pretty logical and/or convincing, but then there's the simple fact that, for example, I'll bet that Mr. Barbour still asks when dinner's ready, or "Do I have time for a quick shave?" Just as people who say there is no free will or that it's all Fate will still ask you to pass the salt.

So no, I don't buy into "time is an illusion" any more than that this whole thing may be an Alice in Wonderland dream (which I find much more plausible), simply because there's a whole lot of things that simply can't be done, but have been done, are being done, and will be done, here and hereafter, that have a beginning, middle, and an end:

Pregnancy and childbirth.
Natural disasters.
Taking a walk.
Learning a language.
Learning anything.
Teaching anything.

Yes, there may be spooky action at a distance between particles, twins, lovers, etc. but something's moving, something's changing, something's interacting.  Maybe it is all in our minds - but what's wrong with that? The rules still hold. It's only in dreams that they don't. 

"It's astounding
Time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll
But listen closely
(Not for very much longer)
I've got to keep control" 
— Richard O'Brien, "Time Warp", Rocky Horror Picture Show

And time always fleets forward. No wonder time travel has always been popular in fiction, from H. G. Wells on. Most of writers adhere to the general theory that if you can go back in time, you either wouldn't be able to alter the past or if you do, you'll completely disrupt the present you came from (see Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder).  Some writers have used time like a thread to knot in on itself like Robert Heinlein's By His Bootstraps, which seems weird until you read his All You Zombies, which gives the knots an extra twist.  And I simply do not have the time to analyze all the timeless time shenanigans of Kurt Vonnegut, except to say that I can hardly wait to see Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time.

COMPLETE SIDETRACK:  There's also some pretty bad time-travel writing, and my secret cringeworthy favorite is Michael Crichton's Timeline.  Let's face facts, it's basically, a male Disneyworld Joust fantasy, where all the male time travelers are in awe of how brimful of zest and zowie and kabang the Middle Ages are. At last, life lived to the full! It helps, of course, that they didn't arrive in a plague year, they didn't have to experience medieval dentistry or medieval childbirth, and they keep escaping everyone who wants to kill them by (mostly) running like hell. And they can all eat, drink, & use up precious resources - not to mention kill people who were real in the past - without changing the quantum future they came from. Which is impossible, because it's like a maximum of 20 generations and you'll find a common ancestor with every other individual alive on the planet - so sooner or later one of them had to have wiped out their great^20 grandmother and they'd go poof! But no one goes poof. Whenever I want a really good laughing rant against bad time writing, I read Timeline.

Yes, I know, some of the same arguments could be made about Claire Randall in the Outlander series, but they don't bother me because they're romantic fantasies and Gabaldon never pretends any of it's serious science. Crichton always did.  

But back to the problem of time:  Personally, I think we're never comfortable with time because is it's alien to us. Time is always too fast or too slow.  The nostalgia of the endless dreamy Saturday afternoons of childhood is counterpoised with the endless horrific waiting for medical test results. The measure of time is a steady beat, but our impressions of it are infinitely elastic. The time from Christmas to Christmas for children and for adults are entirely different. And then there's boredom:

"The English are not a very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity." — George Bernard Shaw

“Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” ― Susan Ertz

We never get used to time. We are not fish in water, or birds in air, or even humans in air. All our lives, we struggle with time, fight it, lose it, find it, watch it, use it, beat it, waste it, fear it, hate it, try to conquer it, and eventually lose it. Time, that continuum in which we live and move and have our being, is not our natural habitat. Alien to our dying day. It's a container, a prison, a fiendishly complex videogame, etc., that I believe is specific to this space/time continuum we live in for right now

What comes next - well, to each their own spin. Maybe we're all right.


"May we always be grateful for the past, find joy in the present, and remain excited for the future." 
— Anonymous

Goodbye, December!

29 December 2021

My Adventures with the Fiction Elves

Something weird happened to me.

Back in 2018 I thought up an idea for a short story.  That wasn't weird.  It happens, though not as often as I would like.

So I wrote the story. But I was editing it a year later (I take a long time to edit a story, usually going through at least ten drafts) and I saw a fatal flaw.  I was basing it on technology that was out of date.  Setting the story in the past would not work as a solution.  I could not think of a way around the problem so, with a sigh, I left the story on the virtual pile of never-to-be-published tales.  Too bad, because I really liked parts of it.


Jump ahead to 2021, and I am visiting Greece.  Somewhere around Dimitsana I found myself thinking about my poor dead story.  And suddenly I saw a solution to the problem.  It meant ripping out half the story and writing some more, but I could keep the best parts.

So back in the good ol' USA I pulled up the last version of the story and started reading it.  And I got a shock, because that's when I found something weird.

On page two there were a couple of paragraphs I didn't remember.  I had no idea why they were there or what they had to do with the rest of the story.  I kept reading and on the next-to-last page I found another addition, completely unfamiliar to me.  It tied into the first and together they solved my technology problem!  In fact, it was a better solution than the one I had thought of in Greece.

I felt like the shoemaker in the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale, who entered his shop one morning and found that overnight elves had finished the shoes he had left half-made.  

Not a big believer in the fae I assume that I must have solved that problem in a bolt of inspiration and then forgotten about it.  The additions appeared only in the last (twelfth) draft of the story.  (Lucky for me that I didn't pull up version 11 by mistake.)

So now I have to start editing and polishing my newly recovered tale.  Only the future will reveal whether the elves provided me with a pair of Manolo Blahnik Gold Grosgrain Crystal Buckle Mules or a couple of cheap knock-off tennis shoes.  Either way, I would be happy if they show up again.

28 December 2021

The Importance of Persnickety Little Details

I read a published short story recently in which one character poisoned another. The poison affected the victim immediately, and within a couple of minutes he was dead. I sighed because that particular poison doesn't kill so quickly. It takes hours. Sometimes days. Not two minutes.
Pulled out of the story, which had been good until then, I went to check my poison books, then did more research online to be sure I was right. I was. And so that story, which I had considered for republication in Black Cat Weekly, went into my No pile.
I read another published story recently in which an amateur sleuth was able to catch the bad guy by gathering certain information from public records. That sounded great. How clever of her. Except the information at hand would not have been available in a public record at that time, nonetheless the specific public record mentioned in the story, because this was a historical story and this information would not have been gathered at that time. Moreover, even if the information had been in the public record, there was no way the sleuth could have gotten the information in the short amount of time she did because the story was set before computers were ubiquitous. I rolled my eyes, frustrated.
A good story can be ruined by sloppy research or doing none at all. I've heard authors say that they're writing fiction, and they're not going to let persnickety little details get in the way of a good story. Well, let me tell you, getting those persnickety details wrong can be the thing that makes readers throw a book across the room and vow not to read that author again. Or make an editor pull a story from the Likely Yes pile and drop it into the Hell No pile. The editors of the two stories mentioned above apparently didn't notice their problems--let's hope they didn't notice rather than that they noticed and didn't care--but writers shouldn't count on things like that.

If you want to be a good writer, you have to write a good story AND get the persnickety little details right. I'm not saying you have to be perfect. Mistakes happen. I've made them. You think you know something, but you have the details wrong. Or there are things you're unaware of that can cause problems in your story. Maybe a law in the state you set your story in would make something that happens in your story unrealistic. Or you simply wrote an error into the story as you were typing so ardently, without even thinking to check if you got a certain detail right. This is why it's always good to have at least one reader you trust before you send the story out for submission. Some acquiring editors will take the time to work with you to fix such problems. Others will have 200 submissions for 20 spots and be happy to have a reason to say no to your story.
I know how hard it can be to have a great story idea and then learn that your story will not work the way you intended. But the solution--after doing your research and concluding you have a problem--isn't to shrug and act as if the problem isn't a problem. The solution is to look for a work-around. Be creative. Change something so the story will work. I edited a story recently that had a great voice, but it included the use of a poison that didn't work the way the author wanted it to. (This is a different story than the one mentioned above.) I couldn't think of a poison that did work the way this author needed. But the bad guy worked in a lab, so it was believable he could create an unnamed poison that did the job the author needed. It might not be a perfect solution, but it hopefully will be enough for any persnickety readers out there. 
In the end, there's a difference between making an occasional mistake and having an attitude that it isn't important to try to get things right. Someone who makes the occasional mistake is human. Someone who routinely makes mistakes because he or she can't be bothered to get the details right is taking the easy way out, and people notice. Don't let that person be you. 

Turning to a little blatant self-promotion, I've put up on my website two of my favorite stories that I had published this year. The first story is "A Tale of Two Sisters," published in the anthology Murder on the Beach. If you like my funny stories, I hope you'll check it out. It's long for a short story, about thirty pages, so set aside a little reading time. The other story is "A Family Matter," published in the January/February 2021 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. You can read "A Tale of Two Sisters" by clicking here and "A Family Matter" by clicking here. Happy reading and happy new year!

27 December 2021


"He was not for an age," Ben Jonson wrote of his colleague, rival, and friend, Shakespeare, "but for all time."  Statements in eulogies, especially poetic ones, run to hyperbole, but in this case, Jonson was right on. The Bard of Avon has joined Homer and the great Greek playwrights as one of the few Western writers to achieve something like literary permanence.

It helped that his work entered the academic canon, just as the Greeks were helped by the primacy of their language for the educated man. But like Aeschylus and Company, Shakespeare was helped by his own mastery of words, his magpie eye for good plots, and his genius for creating great characters that still ring true.

I began thinking about the rarity of such literary longevity after reading two mysteries back to back, Attica Locke's Heaven, My Home, follow up to her Edgar-winning Bluebird, Bluebird, and Ngaio Marsh's 1967 Death at the Dolphin, which involves a glove purportedly belonging to Hamnet Shakespeare. They provide interesting contrasts.

Just over 20 years post war, Death at the Dolphin has all the characteristics of the golden age of UK detective fiction, including a leisurely beginning (it doesn't live up to its title much before p.100); a fine cast of eccentrics, theater people set to inaugurate a revived theater with a new play; literate dialogue and a detective superintendent of fine breeding and a top notch education.

Heaven, My Home begins as all good modern mysteries begin, with chills and danger, and adds a bevy of possibly dangerous and mostly bigoted characters in a literal East Texas backwater. Darren Matthews, Locke's Black Texas Ranger, shares a good, if quite different, education with Superintendent Alleyn, but where Alleyn is all upper-class self control and detachment, the younger law enforcement officer is all too prone to let either anger or sympathy complicate his professional duties – and personal life.

How times change. Post war, post Blitz, post austerity, there seems to have been a huge taste for order, neatness of plot, and a certain decorum even in violent death. Death at the Dolphin seems a strictly period piece, despite the clever plotting and the charming Dolphin theater. Did anyone ever speak in such carefully literate paragraphs? Was there ever so much emphasis on correct diction, and was much

of the purpose of the action really to show that the upper classes were still all right? 

Reading it, I couldn't hope wondering if fifty years on, what we today read for pleasure will not raise an eyebrow. I can imagine questions along the lines of,  Did people really use so much profanity? Was most fiction politicized? And what on earth was the significance of that MAGA hat the sheriff kept on his desk? 

Unlike Ben Jonson, I have no idea if any of the fictional heroes of the moment are destined to live even "for an age", never mind "for all time." But detective fiction, being a relatively new genre, hasn't done too badly in the longevity department. At least three characters have lasted a century or close to it: Sherlock Holmes, successful across the media landscape, has been taken up by later novelists who have married him off, sent him to Freud, tampered with his cocaine habit, and even brought him back to modern London. To the sleuth of Baker Street, we can add two from the redoubtable Agatha Christie: Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. 

Copyright issues have perhaps kept other writers from enlarging their adventures, but they have both had extensive careers in films and TV. Significantly, both have been successful with a wide variety of performers. Margaret Rutherford played Miss Marple for laughs, and Jane Hickson's Marple was a reserved intellectual, while actors as different as Peter Ustinov and David Suchet have essayed Poirot. Characters for all times? Maybe not, but at the moment they are aging very nicely and for one of the reasons that Shakespeare's creations are still on the boards: great, instantly recognizable, and eccentric characters. 

Add good plots, good luck, good publicity, and a fictional detective can go quite a long way just like that fun couple, the Macbeths, Viola, Falstaff, or the whole sick crew at Elsinor. A certain amount of excess seems to be required, more than plausibility or any but psychological realism.

For that reason, if I had to tip some popular characters who may entertain quite far into the future, I would, reluctantly, mention not any print crime fighter, but those two escapees from the comic books: Superman and Batman, with perhaps Wonder Woman making a third. All three have shown the size, the flexibility and and adaptability required.

My Madame Selina mystery stories about a post Civil War spiritualist medium in New York City have been issued as an ebook on Kindle. Ten mysteries and a novella featuring Madame Selina and her useful young assistant Nip Thompkins are available on Amazon.

My Madame Selina mystery stories about a post Civil War spiritualist medium in New York City have been issued as an ebook on Kindle. Ten mysteries and a novella featuring Madame Selina and her useful young assistant Nip Thompkins are available on Amazon.

26 December 2021

The Advantage of Networking

I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but this topic is important enough that I believe it bears mentioning again. You just never know when networking will bring you an unexpected gift or boost at just the right time.

In a previous blog, I told about Brian Thornton (a fellow SleuthSayer) and me taking an MWA Board Member to the Russian Vodka Room in Manhattan for Baltika #3 beers and finding out later that particular member was an editor. This little outing subsequently led to me getting talked into a non-fiction book contract written under an alias. And yes, that was good beer.

Okay, so several years later, I'm on a short story panel at a Bouchercon in Dallas where Barb Goffman is the panel moderator. While waiting for the panel to begin, we start chatting and she happens to mention that she likes my short story "Black Friday" (the 10th story in  my Holiday Burglar series) which was published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine Nov/Dec 2017 issue.

Then, a couple of months ago, Barb looks me up in an e-mail asking if she can reprint "Black Frida" in Black Cat Weekly of which she does the Barb Goffman Presents section and is an Associate Editor of the magazine. (And no, no beer was involved.) But yes, not only does this e-mail come at a good time, Barn also wishes to pay me in good, solid U.S. American Dollars. So, you see this networking thing does pay off in the end.

NOTE: Black Cat Weekly #13 is an e-format, 479 page publication of good reading put out by Wildside Press LLC. Maybe you should buy a copy of this publication and see if it is a good market for you and your work. At least you'll enjoy the reading, if nothing else.

And While you're at it, you too should try some of this networking stuff at critique groups, writers' conferences, chapter meetings, readings, library gatherings, getting involved in writing organizations and/or whatever works for you. Get you and your stories and your name out there by being there.

And, don't be shy. Let us know how it all comes out.

24 December 2021

Movies at a Theater

Eve Fisher's SleuthSayers posting on December 16th – My Brain on Old Movies – triggered my mind to remember the first movies I saw at a theater. As a kid, my first love was movies over books and stories and I remember so many.

The first movie I remember seeing in a theater was 1959's Journey to the Center of the Earth with James Mason, Arlene Dahl and Pat Boone. Saw it at the Saenger Theater on Canal Street, New Orleans. My Aunt Lucy and her boyfriend, later to be my Uncle Milton, took me on the streetcar where they deposited me at the Saenger while they went across the street to the Orpheum to watch Ben Hur, which they thought an eight year old like me would find boring. Journey was shorter than Ben Hur so I watched the movie twice. Loved it. Still do.

The next movie I remember seeing at a theater was 1960's The Lost World with Claude Rains, David Hedison, Jill St. John, Michael Rennie and Fernando Lamas. Followed by the re-release of 1953's The War of the Worlds with Gene Barry and Ann Robinson.

Somewhere along in there, I saw some Disney movies at the theater – Sleeping Beauty, Dumbo, Song of the South (Lord help me).

I also mentioned in a previous post how as an army brat, I lived in Italy (my father was stationed in Verona) and saw most of the movies released between 1961 and 1963 at the post theater.

Later, in high school my taste changed and I went to theaters to see Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-UpDr. Zhivago, The Graduate. As a young adult, I moved on to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Romeo and Juliet (1968 Franco Zeffirelli version with Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting).

When I became a writer, those early movies inspired me to write science-fiction stories and I wrote terrible SF stories until I learned how to write. Have to point to Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Lost World as inspirations for many of my SF adventure stories set on a fictional planet inhabited by dinosaur-like creatures. Some of those stories ended up in Asimov's, Tomorrow Science Fiction Magazine, Gorezone, Infinity Plus,  Oceans of the Mind, the premier issue of Plasma Frequency, Cricket children's magazine, and anthologies like Adventure and Star Noir. Many of stories are available in my collection Backwash of the Milky Way.

Other movies spurred me to write mysteries, western stories, historical fiction, children's fiction, mainstream fiction, suspense, fantasy, horror, romance, erotica, humor, and even a religious story. Always proud of my story which appeared in Messenger of the Sacred Heart as well as my stories which appeared in Cavalier, Juggs, Hustler's Busty Beauties, Playgirl and about a dozen Mammoth Books of New Erotica.

A Walk on the Wild Side with Capucine, Laurence Harvey and a 25-year old Jane Fonda and the scandalous Brititte Bardot movie And God Created Woman as well as other Bardot movies inspired my erotica.

from And God Created Woman (1956)
directed by Roger Vadim
starring Brigitte Bardot

Don't know about y'all but today's movies are so bad, it's hard to be inspired by any of them, except for the occasional movie without explosions, karate, guns, excessive violence, gore, insipid dialogue, cliched characters, excessive CGI and more explosions.

That's all for now.


23 December 2021

It's Better to Travel (Or IS It?)

With apologies to Swing Out Sister...
 It is better to travel well than to arrive.

       – Siddhartha Guatama (The Buddha)

This story has a happy ending. Going to say this up front, because it will be important to remember while you read the following.

Funny story: this past Summer no less than TEN people I know took vacations in Hawaii. My wife, son and I had taken a vacation there three years ago, pre-COVID, during one of the hottest Julys on record.

So rather than join the Summer Vacation exodus, we decided to delay gratification, and book something for Winter Break. We got a smokin' deal on a hotel on Wailea Bay, booked it, and began dreaming of a week-long respite from a dreary Puget Sound December.

And then August rolled around, and my day-gig started up again. Full return to school, no remote learning options in my district.

A colleague who sat next to me during the first day of staff meetings upon our return tested positive later that SAME DAY for COVID. She wound up having to isolate and quarantine for the next two weeks. She had just returned from a week at her time-share.

In Maui.

We tried not to consider this a bad omen.

Somewhere around this time the State of Hawaii clamped back down hard on COVID travel restrictions. We heard from a variety of sources (including the owner of my wife's favorite coffee stand) that the paperwork involved in just getting to Hawaii had become many-layered, complex, and confusing.

On top of that, we had TSA-Pre memberships that were about to expire, and we needed to either renew them or upgrade to an even more exclusive pre-screening service, CLEAR. We opted for the latter. 

Around this time COVID boosters became available for people in our age group, so my wife and I signed up for the booster. While we were waiting for our appointments for that, the under-12 vaccine became available for children, and we signed our son up for that, as well.

With all of the above combined with the level of documentation in quintuplicate required by the State of Hawaii, it turned out to be something of a logistical nightmare.

It started with CLEAR.

We provided all of the documentation required for our application, paid all of our fees, with a single final step remaining: a trip to the airport, where we would have our retinas and fingerprints scanned at one of the CLEAR kiosks. Required time, approximately ten minutes apiece.

If. Only.

We went to the airport. We found a CLEAR kiosk. We attempted to finalize the process ourselves. No dice.

Just as we began to look around for help, a young lady wearing a CLEAR badge hustled up to us, appearing seemingly out of nowhere, and breathlessly asked whether we needed help. Relieved, we said we did, and laid out for her what we needed to accomplish.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, "I can help with that! Please wait right here! I will be right back!" And with that she high-tailed it through a rail gate with the CLEAR logo prominently displayed on it.

We did as we were told and waited. Right there. On that spot.

And waited.

And waited.


After at least twenty minutes of this type of waiting, we came to the conclusion that this enthusiastic young CLEAR employee and had somehow gotten side-tracked. Maybe she was new? Maybe she got lost?

So we chanced passing through the rail gate with the CLEAR logo so prominently displayed, and after a fairly lengthy trek down easily a quarter of the terminal, we came upon another CLEAR employee, this one with an impressive man-bun which threatened to eclipse the CLEAR ID tag he wore.

"Oh, I'm sorry," he said in a tone that bore not the slightest whiff of apology, "we can't process your applications here. You have to go," he pointed vaguely back in the direction whence we had come, "down to the next kiosk and Gate Whatever..." and  then without another word he went back to being completely unhelpful.

After retracing our steps and traversing half of the terminal, we came to the aforementioned kiosk and found a very helpful employee, who quickly set about helping us get our CLEAR memberships finalized.


Total time spent running around the airport on this "ten minutes, tops" errand? An hour-and-a-half.

With the above accomplished, we got our boosters, got our son vaccinated as soon as was remotely possible, and settled in to upload all of our vaccination documentation to CLEAR. That proved a breeze. All that was left was to go through the  State of Hawaii's online travel tracking service ("Hawaii Safe Travels") and provide exactly the same documentation we had provided to CLEAR. Over and over and over again. And that doesn't include the number of times the site crashed and we were required to start over from scratch.

It took about six hours of submitting, swearing, sweating and more submitting followed by ever more swearing, to get all of our documentation uploaded.


Fast-forward to the day of our flight (middle of last week) - we arrived at the baggage check for our airline (name redacted to protect the guilty). After a fairly substantial wait in line to check our baggage, we finally got to the front of the line, and were waited on by the single most unhelpful gentleman I have ever encountered in the hospitality industry, anywhere. 

We checked our bags, provided all of our documentation, including vaccination credentials, booster credentials, the whole nine yards. The entire time this "gentleman" spoke to us in a soft, warm, sunny, "ALOHA" voice, asking for this, and then this, and then that, and then this, and then that, never flagging, never sounding the least bit officious or tendentious in his tone.

But the wringer he put us through insisting we provide everything short of a pint of blood or our first-born (he was there with us, but no way were we giving him up!)? Breath-taking. All the while he continued to sound delighted in a way so consistent it would have been the envy of any game show host anywhere, ever.

And then we hit "The Snag."

"You don't have your son's vaccination information uploaded to the Hawaii Safe Travels site," the "gentleman" exclaimed gleefully.

"We didn't think we were required to," my wife said. "The website was unclear on that. Plus, we have CLEAR, and CLEAR says it's not required for travelers under age 18."

"Safe Travels Hawaii requires it," said Mr. Gleeful. 

My wife presented our son's vaccination information. Mr. Happy shook his head, his smile wide. "No-no-no-so-sorry. It must be uploaded to the site." And with that he dismissed us out of line because, and I quote: "That takes a while."

So there we stood in the middle of the terminal, struggling to get our son's vaccination documentation uploaded using my wife's phone. A good fifteen minutes later we got it uploaded, received confirmation, and my wife went back to Mr. Sunshine, where he confirmed we had uploaded our son's information, and then said, "Ohhhhh you have CLEAR!" His smile widened as though he had just won the lottery. "You're all good. Just go to the CLEAR kiosk in front of your gate and you are ready to go. Mahalo!" 

We left him in our wake convinced he would have delivered the news, "You've been poisoned and have thirty minutes to live!" in exactly that same tone.

Once we'd traversed half the terminal to get to the same CLEAR kiosk where we'd waited so long for help a few weeks, previous, a CLEAR employee greeted us, checked our names on her list, and informed us that with the level of CLEAR we had, we could go through TSA Pre, which was a whole other level of CLEAR, and way easier to get through.

She sent us back the way we'd come. "It's just around the corner to your right," she said.


It turned out to be about a hundred feet past where Mr. Happy-Happy-Joy-Joy was still loudly plaguing would-be passengers in that gleeful tone of his. 

He hadn't bothered to tell us.

He just let us waste time heading in exactly the opposite direction.

TSA-Pre was, as always, great. Quick, professional, no-nonsense. Worth every nickel. The CLEAR employee who greeted us and squired us through TSA-Pre was like the employee who helped us finalize our memberships: just great. Knowledgeable, professional, courteous and helpful.

And then we got to the gate.

No sooner had we seated ourselves to await boarding, than I got called to the gate. 


Turned out I was all set. But the airline officials needed to confirm my wife's ID. And then they looked at our son's vaccination information, and sent us to a second desk, where yet another airline official who informed us that because our son's second vaccination had come less than two weeks prior to our flight, and we had not gotten him a COVID test within the previous 72 hours, it was possible that he might need to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival in the Aloha State.

My wife and I looked at each other. Then she turned and said slowly and clearly to this airline official the exact same words she had used repeatedly with Mr. Cheer-and-Sunshine: "We have CLEAR. On the CLEAR website it states that we didn't need to register the information of any children under 18. And it said nothing about testing."

This time it worked the first time. The response: "Oh, you have CLEAR? Let me talk to my supervisor." Three minutes later: "You are all good to go."

Just in time to board.

Is it any wonder THIS happened:

Less than one minute later....

Hey! Don't judge me!

I said to my wife as we settled in for take-off, "I feel like Hawaii really made us earn a trip there this year!" 

She agreed.

But like I said, this story does have a happy ending! See below. Best vacation we've had as a family. 

Worth all the considerable trouble!

Just remember: if you're planning a trip to Hawaii, get started early on all that paperwork!

Happy Holidays, and see you in two weeks!