11 October 2021

An Outsider Love Story:
Rachel Mendoza and Her Taino Husband


It's Columbus Day, now also known as Indigenous People's Day, and so it should be. My novel, Voyage of Strangers, tells the story of what really happened when Columbus and a fleet of Spanish soldiers with sharp-edged steel weapons and horses, greedy for gold and blinded by Christian zeal to the humanity of any who didn't share their faith, descended on the agricultural Taino, who had neither. The Taino solved disputes by playing batey, a game akin to soccer, based their spiritual life on nature gods, and were governed by the principle of matu'm, generosity. The Taino were doomed from the moment Columbus set foot on Caribbean soil.

I've written posts about Voyage, Columbus, and the Taino before. I've written and spoken about the original protagonist of the Mendoza Family Saga, Diego, the young Jewish sailor who appeared unbidden in my head one night and demanded I tell his story, which began in "The Green Cross" in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Marching onto the deck of the Santa Maria in 1492, he gave me a way to tell the familiar—and long distorted—story through eyes unfiltered by Christianity. His friendship with the boy Hutia gave him entrée into the appealing culture of the Taino, allowing my story to move beyond the Eurocentric.

Diego's sister Rachel, who first appeared in Voyage of Strangers, was originally meant to be a secondary character. But she's become an enduring series protagonist with at least a forty-year lifespan in 15th-16th-century years, beloved by readers of the "Harem" stories in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and my own favorite character among those I've created. Rachel and Hutia, later called Ümīt, are perennial outsiders as a couple yet also exemplars of resilience, the power of love, and the ability to make a home and family no matter what.

The Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 into a hostile and wartorn Europe, mostly without resources, were decimated by the time they arrived, as the Mendozas do, in refuges like the Ottoman Empire. So many had died that girls were under pressure to marry as young as twelve to start rebuilding the Jewish people—an attitude that reappeared in some sects of Judaism after the Holocaust. The Mendoza parents don't believe in child marriage, but they certainly want her to marry a Jewish boy.

By the time Rachel and Diego rejoin their parents in Istanbul in 1497, Rachel has drunk deeply from the cup of freedom. She has climbed the rigging of a sailing ship, felt sun on her limbs, traveled half the world, fought for her life, and fallen deeply in love with Hutia. He, in turn, has witnessed the systematic massacre of his people. By 1496, at least one-third of all the Taino had been killed. Many committed suicide by drinking cyanide extracted from raw yuca. Until recently, the Taino were believed to be extinct. For the purposes of my series, Hutia is the sole survivor. He intends to stay with his people, fighting to the death, but at the last moment he puts love first and sails for Europe with Rachel and Diego, posing as their slave.

Once in Istanbul, Rachel has to convince her parents that this is the only boy she'll marry. Being wise and loving, they put up a fight but eventually give in. I made Hutia a bit of a paragon: handsome, smart, and good at everything he tries, including languages. He's saved both their kids' lives a few times, too. Hutia is perfectly willing to convert to Judaism. But the stodgy rabbis of Istanbul won't allow it. A savage in the synagogue? Absolutely not.

Hutia has a brilliant solution. He changes his name to Ümīt, which means "hope," and converts to Islam instead. Jews are tolerated in the Ottoman Empire, but only Muslims are admitted to all its privileges. And unlike the Jews, Islam welcomes converts eagerly. As a Muslim, Ümīt will be well placed to protect the whole family and advance its interests. Rachel finds just the right job as a kira, a purveyor or personal shopper to the ladies of the Sultan's harem. It's not long till Ümīt is working at the Palace. By the 1520s, he is one of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent's valued advisers.

Their children, as Umit says, "study Torah and the Qur'an with equal enthusiasm and question everything."

Rachel says, “If we had not learned to tolerate a great deal of inconsistency, not a single Mendoza would have made it out of Spain alive back in 1492."

10 October 2021

1977


“The hangman asked if Turpin or Lucas had any last words. "Nothing," they answered… The hangman yanked on a lever and the trapdoor fell open with a crash that echoed through the jail…On their way down, the men made no sound.”

These events took place on` December 10, 1962, the last time a Canadian would die from capital punishment.

“The death penalty was abolished July 26, 1976, with the passage of a bill barring its use introduced by the government of Pierre Trudeau.” 

A short year later, a gruesome rape and murder would test the resolve of Canadians to support this ban on capital punishment. 

On July 28, 1977, Emmanuel was shining shoes at Yonge and Dundas streets in Toronto. His family had immigrated to Canada from Portugal three years earlier and, the family all worked to support the family, including 12 year old Emmanuel. 

He was lured away from his shoe stand with an offer of $35 to help move some equipment. This money was important to Emmanuel because it would allow him to buy dog food for a puppy he wanted.

Instead, for “12 tortuous hours, he was held captive and raped by the men in the third-floor apartment,” and finally murdered.

“The biggest thing that happened was a protest … on Aug. 8, where members of the Portuguese community came out and called for … bringing back the death penalty and they called for the eradication of homosexuality.” 

The protest was accompanied by angry articles and letters concerning the death penalty, but  capital punishment remained banned in Canada despite this pressure.

Unfortunately, this also fuelled a rise in homophobia and that had many consequences.

In June 1969, Parliament had passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968–69, which decriminalized sexual activity between men, but, “The murder of Emanuel Jaques put this idea into people’s minds that homosexuality was somehow associated with pedophilia … This sort of association that homosexuals were dangerous, perverted and somehow a threat to children.”

This attitude towards the LGTBQ community was echoed in the press, by the public, by police, and eventually resulted in the bathhouse raids of 1981, where four bathhouses frequented by the LGBTQ community were raided and the occupants were treated viciously. These raids resulted in “growing politicization and support of the gay community [and] fueled civil rights activism, made homophobia less acceptable, and have led to Pride becoming one of Toronto’s largest annual public celebrations.”

Ultimately, the LGBTQ community and their supporters prevailed. Their rights are stronger now with “anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, gay marriage, homoparentality, blood donations, transgender rights and outlawry of conversion therapies.”

In 2020, police chiefs of Canada issued a formal apology for oppressing and opposing LGBT rights.

This one grotesque and horrible murder of a child and the resulting protests, media coverage and anger threatened to topple decades of human rights progress. Eventually progress took its rightful place in pushing these rights further. 

They say history teaches important lessons. These are the days where the fabric of our rights, our scientific progress and our basic humanity feel threatened - nay, moving backwards. I find myself looking back often to turbulent times. Looking for hope. Looking for lessons.

09 October 2021

So Good, She's Scary



It's October, and for the season I'll swim out alone to the literary lake's deep pool, where the water turns dark and you can't see the bottom and something just brushed against my feet.

Let's talk Shirley Jackson.

That Shirley Jackson, the self-proclaimed witchcraft dabbler and landmark American author. In 1948, Jackson wrote "The Lottery," among the most celebrated of short stories. In 1962's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Jackson created a masterfully enduring--and deranged--lead character, Merricat Blackwood. 

Original 1952 cover

In between, Jackson pulled off The Haunting of Hill House (1959). Many consider it the finest haunted house novel, period--because it's not about ghosts. Don't misunderstand. At Hill House, things definitely go bump in the night.  But the novel's genius is in its layers beneath, a study of what haunts our own minds. 

The novel's synopsis: Dr. John Montague, an anthropologist secretly pursuing paranormal studies, craves hard proof that disbelieving peers would have to accept. To get it, Montague spends above his means to rent the notoriously haunted Hill House for the summer. Hill House, built 80 years earlier by the spiteful and greed-mongering Hugh Crain, who believed himself damned to hell. The sprawling house had only known dead wives and suicides and shut-in orphans. Constant tragedy and abandoned ownership led to village rumors of curses and the supernatural, or as Jackson wrote it, "whatever walks there, walks alone." 

Montague won't dare name this whatever until he's documented it scientifically. To draw out activity, Montague invites potential guests with paranormal brushes or apparent psychic ability. Everyone roundly declines or ignores the invite except the "bohemian" artist Theodora--just Theodora--and our protagonist Eleanor Vance. After her father died, Eleanor had a run-in with poltergeists--or likely her own burgeoning psychokinesis. Whatever it was, it rained stones on the Vance home for days. Her family  speaks no more of it. Rounding out the group is rakish Luke Sanderson, the owner's nephew sent to keep precautionary tabs on both house and guests--and to shake some adulthood into him. Luke is set to inherit Hill House. 

The four settle in amid the suffocating gloom. The house is vile, Eleanor thinks on arrival, but we've already learned her mind runs amok on its own. Still, she's not wrong. Hill House is designed to confound with corridor mazes, rounded corners, and architecture built off-angle. Wallpaper patterns turn the eye dizzy. Cold drafts abound. Doors won't stay open, even when propped. Eleanor's rampant imagination is our lens, through her initial dread, her exhilaration to have stumbled upon friends, her surprise at a restful sleep and a sense of belonging. 

And there's the novel's magic: belonging, where we do and where we don't.

Montague's invite is the escape Eleanor has waited to grab. To then, Eleanor hasn't made a single human connection in her thirty-two years alive. She hated her recently-deceased mother, who Eleanor nursed through a slow death, and Eleanor hates her sole surviving family member, the sister who keeps Eleanor as a nanny. A litany of doubts and assumptions blaze through Eleanor's head for every thought she risks sharing. Her calming ritual is a whispered saying that dear Mother taught, dear Mother who died on Eleanor's watch. "Journeys end in lovers meeting," a line Shakespeare wrote for Twelfth Night's court fool. 

What Eleanor really wants is to shut herself off from the world. On her drive to Hill House, Eleanor marvels at each New England cottage as a quaint shelter--if perfected with high walls and oleander hedgerows. Eleanor is clueless how stunted being locked away has left her, that her over-indulgence of someday dreams crowds out real human contact here and now. It's a safe and beautiful retreat--that beckons delusion and isolation if one rambles there too long. Eleanor has rambled there those thirty-two years. When others don't recognize her inner depth, out lashes her resentment-fueled temper. 

Eleanor isn't someone to make angry. Even Hill House finds that out.

Hill House conjures manifestations in due course, but Jackson hardly bothers showing the ghosts. The only spectral event directly on the page is a vision Eleanor has beside the manor's brook, of a family enjoying a picnic.  Otherwise, things stay corner-of-the-eye, and the nightly presence stays banging and giggling outside of bedroom doors. It's fear Jackson focuses on. Our houseguests are most afraid of what they might experience, and it stops them from flinging open doors and confronting what walks there.

As the manifestations grow more violent, Eleanor's psychokinesis becomes plausible--and formidable. Every supernatural incident in the novel can be pinned on Eleanor, be it a wild imagining or stress hallucination or her paranormal gifts. Whenever Eleanor is thinking of dear old Mother or has her pride wounded, Hill House lurches alive.

And it comes regularly for Theodora. Theo is the anti-Eleanor, elegant and confident and outwardly rebel. Eleanor needs a home and purpose, Montague needs peer acceptance, and Luke needs to earn his inheritance. Theo doesn't even need a last name. Theo only rushed to Hill House last minute after a major fight with her live-in "friend." My Nell, Theo dubs Eleanor as soon as they get acquainted. If Eleanor is finding Hill House more a home, Theo is ready to burn it to ashes.

Jackson danced around Theo's orientation and whether Theo and Eleanor have sexual tension or a sisters' bond. Either way, Jackson makes it clear Eleanor and Theo aren't up to each other's impossible standards. It's central to their isolation. Eleanor finds no one worthy of sharing her inner life. Theo can't speak her truth or let down her guard. She might've even been stripped of her family name.

As claustrophobic manor houses will do, soon friends are squabbling. Theo has a straight-razor wit and takes pleasure training it on Eleanor. Naïve Eleanor sees Theo as competition for Luke's attentions, although Eleanor isn't much into Luke anyhow. She's just casting about for a lovers meeting. Theo's real crime is growing familiarity, the latest domineering figure in Eleanor's life. Next thing, Theo's bedroom is smeared in a foul-smelling substance that could be ectoplasm. Later, as Eleanor is lost in that picnic vision, Theo senses a descending and never-shown horror that forces them to run as if their souls depended on it. Whether Eleanor summoned the horror is another thing left open.

It makes you wonder why exactly Eleanor's family kept her locked away. 

The novel reaches its climax when Montague's wife arrives. Mrs. Montague is the real ghost chaser here, and she and her comic sidekick set about actually investigating Hill House. Up to then, Dr. Montague's methods involved journaling and afternoon cocktails and catching up on his reading. He's the father figure seeking to negotiate co-existence with Hill House. It hasn't worked. The house, or the charged environment, is changing the ad hoc family hour by hour, cycling them between fear and rationalization and euphoria at each violent disturbance survived. Nightmares have seeped into Eleanor's peaceful sleep now, something disembodied holding her hand. Hill House is awake, and this is what Mrs. Montague wants to call forth. 

Mrs. Montague gets a fast answer from an entity calling itself: "Eleanor Nellie Nell Nell." In short order, Hill House is all buckling walls and banged doors. Eleanor disassociates and gives in to whatever stalks her imagination--her lover's meeting, at last. Eleanor wakes the next morning to find Theo, Luke, and Dr. Montague exhausted from a constant fight against Hill House. Meanwhile, new arrival Mrs. Montague didn't experience a thing. 

In her waking dream, Eleanor can--or believes she can--sense activity across the grounds, down to the mice and blades of grass. She is a sprite losing coherence and playing dangerous games of hide and seek. Dr. Montague orders Eleanor to leave and never return. No appeals heard, just bags packed and loaded into her car. 

1963 film version
Hill House won't let her leave, we think. Eleanor's melding into it was a gothic inevitability, we think. Eleanor has gazed upon the treacherous curve in the driveway, where Dr. Montague spoke of carriage accidents when past guests fled in terror, the same spot where Lady Crain died eighty years earlier. Eleanor is all detached smiles as she plays along as if to leave, all smiles thinking the hide-and-seek had just begun, all smiles when she swerves toward a tree. It's where her descent was always signaled to end.

Eleanor's dying thought is, "Why didn't they stop me?" 

Regret. Confusion. Jackson spent 181 pages setting that trap. Eleanor seems finally aware she took her dreaming much too far. No one escapes themselves. Eleanor is and will be forever who she is, awkward Nell with the family baggage and mommy issues. Suicide might've been a supernatural pull or despair at her evaporated fantasy world. Eleanor dies haunted either way. 

Seriously, though: Why didn't they stop her?

So untethered, Eleanor didn't need to be driving such roads on her own. Everyone understood that, and yet Dr. Montague insisted Eleanor leave alone. It was important, he claimed, and neither Theo nor Luke objected. This could've been basic psychology, Eleanor needing agency and a clean break. It could've been Hill House's influence. The others had been there as long as Eleanor, long enough to have the same warped judgment. Or it could've been fatalism, Montague believing anyone else in that car was needlessly doomed. More questions Jackson left floating. 

But there's this: Several times previously, Dr. Montague promised Eleanor he'd shepherd her safely away if things ever came to it. Things did. He didn't.

Shirley Jackson,
Wikipedia
With Jackson, never discount cruelty as a motive. In "The Lottery," human nature lets horrors evolve into institutions, even of forgotten origin. In We Have Always Lived in the Castle, families and whole communities can justify violence with speed and ease. Cruelty seeps throughout The Haunting of Hill House. A cruel man built the place. A cruel mother raised Eleanor. Friends and family tear at each other. Jackson understood humanity to our blotched souls, the brimstone stuff we don't admit we're capable of. Jackson was so good at capturing this, she was scary. 

Jackson was alternately imposing and feeling overshadowed as a Bennington faculty wife, despite her successes. Her health was failing when she came across records of an overly-academic 19th Century paranormal society. Well-intended but deluded work, to her opinion, and it inspired The Haunting of Hill House. The society's fixation on rationalizing phenomena tripped past an answer obvious to Jackson: Ghosts existed, as natural as you and I. Accept that, Jackson held, or let fear and ignorance remain more harmful than any spirit. Face these things head on, that's the Mrs. Montague approach. Understand it. Name it.

In fairness, Jackson didn't necessarily recommend that path. It's in her opening sentence: "No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream." It's a warning. Seek ghosts or human nature if you must, but beware: True knowledge can be a terror staring back at you. 



08 October 2021

Annabel Lee Buried Here, and Other Boneyard Myths



I spent two weeks in Charleston, South Carolina, this past summer. That’s not exactly a fun time of year to visit that city. Every morning, we left our hotel needing to walk one measly mile to the library where my wife was doing some research. And every morning, as soon as we left the cool lobby of the hotel behind, I sniffed the outdoor air and thought, “Oh, the humidity isn’t that bad.” Twenty minutes later I was drenched, and desperately needed to wash up and dry off in the library’s air-conditioned bathroom before I could be trusted not to perspire onto the precious documents the archivists were fetching us.

Early in our visit, we noticed the entrance to a cool-looking cemetery just across the street. The Unitarian Church burying ground was accessed through a narrow archway that fronted King Street, Charleston’s high-end shopping drag.


One gray morning, we peeked into the archway. Ahead of us was a long footpath planted with tropical seeming plants. Heavy iron gates on one side hid charming row houses and courtyards. A tall brick wall on the other side.
  

The cemetery was down the lane somewhere, but a torrential storm broke overhead, and we fled the scene, determined to return. We didn’t, because there was always something else to do, because the heat was always miserable, and because the last thing you want to do after a day of research is ruin your eyes reading old gravestones.


The head librarian happened to mention that the cemetery was popular with the city’s haunted walking tour folks. Upon hearing this, my first thought was, “Oh, great.” In my cynical view, when a person with a fondness for history wants to enter a profession where actual facts don’t matter, they become a ghost tour operator.

But curiosity got the better of me. One afternoon near the end of our trip, I couldn’t resist poking around online to see what was special about this particular 244-year-old burying ground. Things I learned at the feet of Professor Google:
  • The woman who inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee” was buried in this cemetery. Yes! It was the absolute truth! A beautiful and wealthy Southern belle named Anna (see what I did there?) had fallen in love with a soldier early in the 19th century. Her family didn’t approve of the match. The two lovers took to meeting in this very cemetery to smooch and canoodle. And of course she died. Of yellow fever. Or maybe tuberculosis. And her highborn family buried her in this charnel earth. Bereft, the soldier pined away for the rest of his days. Poe heard the tale and turned it into a poem.
  • No! said another website. Anna’s lover was not just any soldier but Edgar Freaking Allan Poe himself! Yes! Eddie had fallen in love with her when he was stationed briefly in nearby Fort Sullivan in 1827. And when his love died, Poe memorialized their love—replete with supulchres and wingèd seraphs of heaven—in the now immortal poem.
  • To mess with Poe’s head, Anna’s father dug six graves but buried her in one of them, so Poe would never know which one enclosed his love.

Pick a grave, Edgar, any grave...

  • Anna’s powerful father had Poe reassigned so he’d leave South Carolina forever.
  • On certain nights, when the light, moon, humidity, and depth of the pockets of visiting tourists are just right, the ghost of Annabel Lee wanders the cemetery dressed in—what else?—a white dress.

Nearly everything I read online was nonsense, and has been carefully debunked by others. Just as an example: the woman everyone claims was Poe’s lover, Anna Ravenel, isn’t buried in this graveyard or anywhere else, because she didn’t exist. Also, would a lovesick Poe have waited 20 years after he doffed his military uniform to write a tribute to a real woman? (“Annabel Lee,” his last poem, was published in 1849, the same year he died.) And though plenty of people like to imagine Poe wandering the streets of Charleston, one wonders if he would have had the time, cash, and ability to travel from Sullivan’s Island to downtown Charleston to canoodle. (It’s an 11-mile trip by car today, 4.5 miles by boat and foot across Charleston Harbor.) But myth is everything when you’re dealing with Poe. His legend exudes ’em the way fresh tombs ooze ichor.


Myth aside, the cemetery warranted a visit, if only to grab some moody photos. The Unitarian congregation was famously known for its program of benign neglect. Whatever sprung from the earth was allowed to flourish—naturally, wildly, gloriously. A plaque at the entrance says that in 1831 the Unitarian Church chose to designate this ground a “garden cemetery” filled with “pass along” plants—that is, plants that aren’t cultivated commercially and thus only available from one’s friends, neighbors, and family.

Late in our Charleston stay, I found myself alone on the humid morning march to the stacks. My wife had given me very precise instructions about which documents I was to consult that morning, while she headed to another facility. I was to check in with her by noon.

That’s the morning I chose to dash down the cemetery lane and grab only a few of the shots you see here. A shin-tall sign warned visitors not to take rubbings. You shalt not rub!

I would have lingered. But my shirt was now pasted to my chest and back. And guilt was rising in my mind. If I didn’t get to the library soon, I’d blow our last day in these archives. But no worries—I’d return at quitting time.

Day’s end, I was striding up the footpath. What did I see? Turns out, it was the precise day that the church ladies’ garden club had arrived to spruce up the cemetery. A half dozen women in floppy straw hats were planting atmospherically appropriate ferns on the walkway. Others were trimming errant vines. When I reached the cemetery proper, I was astonished to see that someone had already blazed through, weed-whacking everything in sight. The air smelled of gasoline and aerosolized vegetation.

I shot more images with the sinking realization that the ones I’d shot that very morning were so much better than what now lay before me. One day I’ll return, and hopefully wild nature will be back, ensnaring and coaxing the dead back into the earth.


Weeds, whacked.

Other resources you might enjoy:

Edgar Allan Poe’s Charleston, by Christopher Byrd Downey.


The Name of Annabel Lee, by Julian Symons. (I read this mystery novel ages ago, and remember enjoying it, but I cannot recall a single bit of the plot.)

See you in three weeks with another boneyard tale...

Joe




07 October 2021

Pandora's Box


Who Let the Dogs Out?


Last week was our Governor's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week, as the following stories broke wide open:

(1) Governor Noem's daughter flunked her appraiser's test so our Governor met with her daughter and the supervisor of the state employee who oversaw her application in a closed meeting. The result was that the daughter got her license and the employee was "encouraged" to retire. Gov. Noem has been tapdancing as if she's in a house infested with cockroaches trying to explain that none of this had anything to do with political pressure, just an attempt to "streamline" the process of becoming an appraiser, and "eliminate barriers to licensure". At least for her daughter. (AP News) (Meanwhile, someone on the appraisal board has since leaked that the daughter flunked her test 4 times, not once.)

(2) Corey Lewandowski. Read it all here: (The Bulwark; The Daily Beast) BTW, Ian Fury, Noem's official spokesperson, said “Corey was always a volunteer, never paid a dime (campaign or official)." To which I instantly responded, "So, you are saying that he did it for love."

(3) AG Ravnsborg (the one who hit a deer with glasses, remember?) has referred Noem’s use of the state plane for various things (private trips, campaigning for Trump, fundraising, etc.) over to Government Accountability Board for review. (Dakota News) Considering that Noem's been calling for Ravnsborg's impeachment / resignation (to be fair, so have we all), this may end up being filed under Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Cold.

And

(4) The Pandora Papers:


By now, you'd have to be under a rock not to have heard about the Pandora Papers, leaked documents from a coordinated, global investigation of how the wealthy and powerful store millions of dollars in secretive trust funds, leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and reported on by the Washington Post and other partners. Naturally, the state which leads the list in housing these very dicey funds is South Dakota.

"South Dakota now rivals notoriously opaque jurisdictions in Europe and the Caribbean in financial secrecy. Tens of billions of dollars from outside the United States are now sheltered by trust companies in Sioux Falls, some of it tied to people and companies accused of human rights abuses and other wrongdoing." (Washington Post)

Now I am proud to say that in one way, I actually broke this story, on SleuthSayers, back on June 20, 2012. It's just that no one listened. As the once and [probably] future AG Marty Jackley once told me, "Call me when there's a crime." To quote myself:

And the latest hot businesses are shelf corporations. These are entities that are created by lawyers incorporating a bunch of corporations that exist in name only—no assets, no employees, and no board members except the agent filling out the paperwork. (It’s sort of like the residency corporations, who have an owner and a person doing the mailings, and that’s it.) Anyway, if you want to start a business, you pay a fee to the incorporator, and you’ve got a corporation. And you the purchaser get complete anonymity. And no taxes. And no accountability. The following is a pitch from Corp95.com: https://corp95.com/

“South Dakota is one of the best kept secrets in the corporate formation world. The state has NO corporate income or franchise taxes. Their annual fees are minimal ($50 per year) and they allow for the most privacy of ownership than in any other state. South Dakota is a low key environment and does not require that its businesses maintain any physical presence in the State. Formation is fast and requires a minimum of personal information. You will pay no more and sometimes less than some of those states that claim to offer privacy but do not actually do so. Why form your company in a state that claims to have no taxes, but then charges high fees to compensate for this. South Dakota truly does offer the most privacy at a very reasonable ongoing fee. Call us at 800-859-6696 and let us provide you with the details for formation of your business entity in this friendly state.” The Wild West Continues (my emphasis)

Corp95 is still making the same pitch, and has been joined by a host of other sharks looking for chum.

But the whole thing started with the late, great[ly interesting] multi-elected Governor "Wild Bill" Janklow, who changed South Dakota law to allow all kinds of things that just weren't allowed in other states. For example, in the 1970s Citibank, which had invested heavily in credit cards, was going bankrupt what with high national interest rates. South Dakota was in a major recession. Citibank promised 400 jobs RIGHT NOW if Janklow abolished the "anti-usury" laws that South Dakota (and all other states) had, so he did - in a single day.*

Seeing the success of that repeal, Janklow went on to deregulate trusts. Back in the 17th century, 'judges fought back against a permanent aristocracy by creating the “rule against perpetuities”, which limited the duration of trusts to around a century, and prevented aristocratic families turning their local areas into mini-kingdoms. In 1983, Janklow abolished the rule against perpetuities and, from that moment on, property placed in trust in South Dakota would stay there for ever.'

“It’s a clean industry, there are no smokestacks, we don’t have to mine anything out of the earth or anything, and they’re generally good paying jobs,” said Tom Simmons, an expert on trust law at the University of South Dakota, when we chatted over coffee in central Sioux Falls. Alongside his academic work, Simmons is a member of South Dakota’s trust taskforce, which exists to maintain the competitiveness of the state’s trust industry. “Janklow was truly a genius in seeing this would be economic development with a very low cost to the government,” he said. (By “the government”, he of course means that of South Dakota, not that of the nation, other states or indeed other countries, which all lose out on the taxes that South Dakota helps people avoid.) The Guardian

Anyway, the ICIJ's and Washington Post's reporting focuses on two Sioux-Falls based trusts: Trident Trust, an international company that opened its Sioux Falls office in 2014, and the South Dakota Trust Co., created by a founding member of Janklow's task force in 2002.

Details from the Washington Post and ICIJ investigations include:
  • The family of Ecuadorian brothers William and Roberto Isaias created trusts with South Dakota Trust Co. in 2012, soon after the brothers were convicted of embezzling government bailout money for their failed bank. Their conviction was later overturned.
  • Family members of Carlos Morales Troncoso, the former vice president of the Dominican Republican, opened several trusts with Trident in 2019 that contain $14 million in personal wealth and shares of a sugar company. The company is "accused of human rights and labor abuses, including illegally bulldozing houses of impoverished families to expand plantations."
  • Federico Kong Vielman, a powerful businessman from Guatemala, moved $13.5 million to Trident 2016. His family is linked to a former dictator and gifted free hotel stays to a former Guatemalan president, likely in exchange for "political favors." U.S. labor officials have accused his family's palm oil company of underpaying workers and exposing them to toxic chemicals. U.S. environmental authorities later found the company released pollutants into a river and the issue was resolved in an arbitration panel.
  • Guillermo Lasso, president of Ecuador, opened two new trusts with Trident in 2017 after his country made it illegal for public officials to store assets in tax havens and as media reports questioned his interests in a bank in Panama.
  • José “Pepe” Douer Ambar, a businessman from Colombia, had a trust with Trident. He settled a case with the U.S. government after an investigation found he was involved with "a vast enterprise to sell drugs in the United States and launder the proceeds."
  • Horst Happel, a business leader from Brazil, created a trust with Trident in 2018. Happel settled a case with the Brazilian government after allegedly colluding to underpay local farmers. He also settled a case with the U.S. government after he allegedly violated limits on futures trading.
  • Christopher Pallanck was formerly married to Cleopatra Cameron, an oil heiress from California who put millions in a Trident trust. Pallanck was granted full custody of their children and Cameron was ordered to pay child support. Trident successfully argued to the South Dakota Supreme Court in a 2017 case that it didn't need to pay out the child support, SDPB previously reported.

"Trident told the Post it complies with all regulations and cooperates with authorities. South Dakota Trust Co. declined to comment on its individual clients but told the Post it exceeds review standards by screening clients for criminal activity and legal or regulatory concerns. Bret Afdahl, director of the South Dakota Division of Banking, told the Post that the state audits trust companies and can penalize firms that do not meet standards, such as confirming the identities of all customers. He said foreign clients and assets receive extra scrutiny." (NPR) (my emphasis)

HA HA HA HA!!! Remember Paul Erickson (former Vermillion, SD Republican operative) and Maria Butina (the Russian spy who loved him and the NRA)? They founded two LLCs which were obviously shelf corporations. Bridges LLC was set up in 2016, and Medora Consulting LLC in 2018 - both "located" in an apartment complex in Sioux Falls, both without any stated purpose or partners. But may well have been laundering money from Aleksandr Torshin and an as-yet unidentified Russian oligarch with a net worth Forbes estimated to be about $1.2 billion. (Vox) Nobody, as far as I know, ever checked into them.

Still it's all harmless, right? Just a place to park money, and it's their money, and someday I might win the lottery, so we need this, right?

"Well, here is an example from one academic paper on South Dakotan trusts: after 200 years, $1m placed in trust and growing tax-free at an annual rate of 6% will have become $136bn. After 300 years, it will have grown to $50.4tn. That is more than twice the current size of the US economy, and this trust will last for ever, assuming that society doesn’t collapse altogether under the weight of this ever-swelling leech.

"If the richest members of society are able to pass on their wealth tax-free to their heirs, in perpetuity, then they will keep getting richer than those of us who can’t. In fact, the tax rate for everyone else will probably have to rise, to make up for the shortfall caused by the wealthiest members of societies opting out, which will just make the problem worse. Eric Kades, the law professor at William & Mary Law School, thinks that South Dakota’s decision to abolish the rule against perpetuities for the short term benefit of its economy will prove to have been a long-term catastrophe. “In 50 or 100 years, it will turn out to have been an absolute disaster,” said Kades. “Now we’re going to have a bunch of wealthy families, and no one will be able to piss away that wealth, it will stay in the family for ever. This just locks in advantage.” (The Guardian)

And every year "the legislature passes an annual bill supporting the industry, following updates by a task force that holds unadvertised meetings to discuss trust laws around the world." Nice. (Dakota News Now)

And, of course, some South Dakotans are making money off of it. USD Law Professor Tom Simmons says “A lot of my students are working in the trust industry, they’re great jobs, they enjoy them and they are raising families in South Dakota, where otherwise they may have left." (Kelo-TV) Really? according to Republican State Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, 500 people are employed in South Dakota's mysterious trust industry, which is 0.1% of total SD employment. (And I'll bet most of them are administrative assistants making $25-40K.) There are also "Help Wanted" signs everywhere you turn in Sioux Falls, so I think 500 people could find other work in South Dakota as we get going with "BUST THE TRUST" slogans, signs, legislation…

But, but, but…

  1. This is a nice state, full of nice people, who would never do anything wrong;
  2. This is a nice state, full of nice people, who would never be so impolite as to raise a ruckus no matter what. (Most South Dakotans avoid conflict as if it were an unsedated colonscopy)
  3. This is a nice state, full of nice people, which is why we can have basically a one-party government with no accountability, no transparency, and no public access, because what could possibly go wrong?
  4. This is a nice state, full of nice people, but we're freaking broke (again), because we don't have a big labor force, we don't have any taxes (other than sales and property tax), and all the big money we get seems to go in other people's pockets or just freaking vanishes (EB-5, Gear Up, and probably a few of these secret trusts), so we have to get money from somewhere, and we just won't look into it too deeply BECAUSE
  1. This is a nice state, full of nice people, who would never do anything wrong. (Repeat on an endless loop.)

$50.00 a year, folks, and this too can be your dream LLC in South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, but act like Goodfellas.




*The elimination of usury laws led to the meteoric rise of T. Denny Sanford, who founded First Premier Bank, which made its name and its money on being one of the major subprime credit card providers (high interest - try 79.9% on a $300 credit limit in some cases - to those with low credit ratings ). Mr. Sanford, currently [semi-]retired, is the patron of Sanford Health (formerly Sioux Valley Hospitals & Health Systems), and much, much, much more.

06 October 2021

Half a FOAF is Better Than None


 

The Folklorist and the Librarian

I assume that last month you, like the rest of the world, heard that rapper Nicki Minaj told her millions of followers that her Trinidadian cousin refused to get the covid vaccine because his friend got it and his testicles swelled up.

I know nothing about Nicki Minaj and less about virology, but my instant reaction was: "I recognize a FOAF when I hear about one."  And that brings up a subject I have been meaning to write about for years: urban legends.

I first learned about them when I read Jan Harold Brunvand's book The Vanishing Hitchhiker.  Dr. Brunvand is a folklorist and he did not invent the study of urban legends but he popularized it in a series of books, starting with TVH.  (By the way, I corresponded with Dr. B. in the early days of email and even coaxed him into speaking at my university.)

"Urban legends" are so named to distinguish them from standard folklore which is assumed to be the product of rural regions and allegedly unsophisticated people.  Like their country cousins, urban legends are told by people who believe them to be true, and often swear that they know people who know the person they happened to (the Friend of a Friend, or FOAF). The stories often reflect whatever issues are running through the zeitgeist, and frequently have a moral, usually in the form of a warning.


An urban legend is a classic example of a story a reporter may consider "too good to check" but Brunvand pointed out at least one example of a reporter eagerly trying to find the origin of a tale -- only to see it constantly receding like the horizon.  After realizing there was no truth to it, he kept following from source to source, just to see how far back it would go.  Of course, he could not identify its beginning.

Let's take an example: the "Choking Doberman."  This version appeared in Woman's World magazine in 1982, as part of an article called "Rumor Madness":

A weird thing happened to a woman at work.  She got home one afternoon and her German shepherd was in convulsions.  So she rushed the dog to the vet, then raced home to get ready for a date.  As she got back in the door her phone rang.  It was the vet, telling her that two human fingers had been lodged in her dog's throat.  The police arrived and they all followed a bloody trail to her bedroom closet, where a young burglar huddled -- moaning over his missing thumb and forefinger.


This legend had appeared in various newspapers a year earlier with reporters contacting local authorities in search of the truth, to no avail of course.  ("Police can't put finger on story.")  An interesting fact is that as the story mutates the burglar's digits often become "black" or "Mexican" fingers.  As I said, you can learn a lot about American obsessions by watching legends grow.   

By the way, years later I read a short story in a mystery magazine which ended with the dog owner getting a call from the vet urging him to "Leave the apartment now!" but the bloody burglar is already coming toward him, seeking revenge.

Brunvand also tells about the "Attempted Abduction," in which a child disappears while shopping with her mother in a department store.  Two women are caught in the bathroom, having cut and dyed the child's hair and changed her clothes.  The moral is clear: Keep a close eye on your kids!


Of course, the story is highly unlikely.  One attorney: "How could you dye a kid's hair in a public restroom?  I'd rather give a cat a bath."  And reporters were (surprise!) unable to trace the source of a story in which the location, store name, and gender of the child kept shifting with each telling.  

Brunvand noted that the story seemed to appear every five years, but it actually popped up again three years after he reported it.  And the next year it showed up in Ann Landers' column.

As far as I can tell the good professor stopped writing his books before social media came along, much less "alternative facts."  I'm sure folklorists are keeping busy following the latest versions.





 

05 October 2021

Some Reasons Short Stories Get Rejected ... Again!


I published the following column three years ago this week. With my time in such a crunch it could be dried leaves underfoot on a cold November day, I've decided to share it again. I hope you find it helpful.

Whether you're a seasoned writer or a first-timer, submitting a short story to any publication probably involves anxiety. You wouldn't have written the story if you didn't enjoy doing it. You wouldn't have submitted the story for publication if you didn't hope it's good enough and want the editor to say yes. Hearing that someone else likes your work is validating. Knowing that strangers will read your work is invigorating. Telling your family that you made a sale is good for the soul.

But not every story sells, especially on first submission. Editors usually try to be kind in their rejection letters, at least in my experience. They might say that they got a lot of submissions, and  many of the stories were wonderful, but they simply couldn't take them all. Or they might say that your story just wasn't a good fit for the publication, but please don't take it personally. Or they might say that they received a very similar story from someone else and simply couldn't publish both in the same book. It's this last type of rejection I'm going to focus on here. It sounds made up, doesn't it? Like an excuse.

There are all kinds of rejection.
And yet ...

I can tell you from personal experience that authors sometimes get very similar ideas. Sometimes this might be expected, especially when anthologies have narrow(ish) themes. For instance, Chesapeake Crimes: They Had It Comin' (which I co-edited) received a bunch of submissions involving revenge. (No big surprise.) A call for stories for a culinary anthology might result in a bunch of submissions involving poisoning. A book that wants weather-related short stories might receive multiple submissions about folks who are snowbound and someone is murdered.

But even when an anthology's call for stories is broad (let's say, the editor wants crime stories with a female protagonist), you can still end up with several similar stories under consideration. One reason could be that authors are subject to the same national news, so it would make sense if several might be inspired by the same news story, especially a big one. For example, I'd bet there are lot more #MeToo-type stories being written and submitted now than three years ago.

Authors also might be inspired by other industry successes. For instance, when vampire novels were all the rage, I knew several short-story authors writing about vampires, too. These authors weren't necessarily following the trend just to be trendy. Instead they were taking advantage of the trend to write about something they were interested in and that they thought they could sell.

I imagine that when novels with unreliable protagonists became big, more than one editor received short stories with unreliable protagonists, too. Perhaps some authors were following the trend, but I bet others simply were inspired and wanted to see if they could pull off an unreliable narrator, as well.

There's nothing wrong with any of these scenarios, but you can see how editors might end up with two similar stories to choose from. Or more. They all might be great, but an editor likely will only take one because he doesn't want the book to be monotonous.

And then, of course, there's the weird scenario, when two authors respond to a very broad call for stories with an oddly similar idea that isn't inspired by the news or trends or, it seems, anything. These two authors were simply on the same wavelength. This scenario is what made me decide to write about this topic today.

When Bouchercon put out its call for stories last autumn for the anthology that came out last month (Florida Happens), they asked for stories "set in, or inspired by, Florida and its eccentricity and complexity. We want diverse voices and characters, tales of darkness and violence, whether they are noir, cozy, hard-boiled or suspense. Push the boundaries of your creativity and the theme! Note: the stories don't have to actually be set in Florida, but can be 'inspired' by itso a character can be from here, it can be built around a piece of music about Florida; etc."

That's a pretty broad theme. With that theme, I wouldn't be surprised if they got a bunch of submissions involving older people, since Florida is where many people retire. And I wouldn't be surprised if they received a lot of submissions involving the beach or the ocean, since Florida is where so many people vacation. But what are the odds that two (or maybe more) authors were going to submit stories about missing cats?

And yet, that is nearly what happened. Hilary Davidson wrote one such story. Her story in the anthology, "Mr. Bones," is about a missing cat. My story in the anthology, "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast," involves a missing pot roast. But as originally planned, that pot roast was going to be  ... yep ... a cat.

If you've read my story, you can imagine how changing the pot roast into a cat would make the story incredibly darker. It was the darkness that got to me. When I was writing and reached page two of the story, I knew I couldn't do it. I couldn't write the story as planned with the object going missing being a cat. (Sorry for being vague, but I don't want to spoil things if you haven't read the story.)

Thank goodness for my unease, because I like the story much better with the pot roast. It makes the story lighter. Funnier. And it turned out that using the roast likely increased my chances of my story being accepted because I wasn't directly competing with Hilary Davidson (who wrote a great story). Indeed, imagine if I had gone through with my story as originally planned. The people who chose the stories would have had two submissions involving missing cats! And they likely would not have taken both stories.

So the next time you get a rejection letter and the editor says, please don't take this personally, take the editor at her word. You never know when someone else has an idea quite similar to yours. The world is funny that way.

04 October 2021

Tony & Anthony


"There is nothing new under the sun," wrote Ecclesiastes, a fellow who knew a thing or two about writing, because he also acknowledged that "the making of many books is a weariness of the flesh." Mystery writers can say amen to both, which is why when something even slightly novel appears on the horizon, the publishing world rejoices.

Anthony Horowitz book cover

UK author Anthony Horowitz has lately devised an interesting variant on the relationship between detective and amanuensis and has kicked his notably intricate and tricky plotting up a couple of notches with two novels featuring Daniel Hawthorne, a former detective inspector who really does appear to be, like Sherlock Holmes, a consulting detective. In this case, his clients are police departments in need of some extra forensic savvy.

In The Word is Murder, Hawthorne approaches Tony, a TV writer and novelist whose extensive credits mirror Anthony Horowitz's own, about writing up one of his cases. The Tony version of Anthony Horowitz initially declines, citing his current immersion in Foyles War, the anticipated displeasure of his agent, and various other book commitments.

Fortunately for fans of traditional mysteries, 'Tony' as Hawthorne always calls him, is intrigued enough to accompany the ex-cop to a real life crime scene and eventually to draft a first chapter that Hawthorne finds thoroughly unsatisfactory. The author has a great deal of fun with the difference between fictional and real crime and with the conflict between Tony's natural desire to write something lively and interesting and Hawthorne's equally natural desire for strict, even pedantic accuracy. He really is a detective for whom no detail is too small to notice.

Initially, the chances of this partnership going the distance seem slim. There will be no cozy suppers of the sort that Mrs. Hudson provides for Holmes and Watson, nor any personal errands such as Archie runs for Nero Wolfe. Hawthorne guards his private life so strictly that it is momentous when Tony discovers his address and a major triumph when he at last enters Hawthorne's flat.

Perhaps this is just as well. Hawthorne's great gifts are observation and analysis combined with a ruthless absorption in a case. Social graces, empathy, and rapport are not really in his skill set, much to Tony's frequent embarrassment and occasional distress. He really does not want to risk his reputation writing up a fellow who can be rude, even bigoted.

Still, faced with a tricky crime, Hawthorne is the man for the job, and if 'Tony' is often stymied, prone to incorrect solutions and, worse, to foolish personal risks, author Anthony Horowitz keeps his wits about him. He is clearly a big fan both of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie and in the first two Hawthorne books, The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death, he combines all the misdirection and red herrings of the traditional genre with a pair of thoroughly modern sleuths and some lively insights into contemporary UK publishing and TV.  

Anthony Horowitz book cover

The Hawthorne novels are, to my mind, superior to his other adult series, although it, too, is skillful entertainment. The Susan Ryland series features books within books, as one of  the fictional Alan Conway's Atticus Pund mysteries appears at full length within both The Magpie Murders and The Moonflower Murders.

Besides providing a second helping of traditional detection, the Pund novels serve to entangle editor Ryland in crimes that definitely reflect the same Golden Age of Detective Fiction sensibility. They are marvelous from the point of view of plotting, but I don't find Ryland as engaging a character as either well-meaning and rather harried Tony or sullen, difficult, but eventually surprising, Hawthorne.

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.

03 October 2021

Certifiable – Arizona Elections Corrections 301


Previous   PREV Arizona ‘fraudit’ Conspiracy Theories         

For perhaps the final time, this is OAN’s Blanca Mujer reporting from Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.

We arrive at this much anticipated juncture wrapped in unfathomable disappointment. We’d hoped to prove massive fraud took place on election day, but instead, to paraphrase Oath-keeper Senator Wendy Rogers, the Deep State has so cleverly hidden their huge deception, it’s become impossible to find. Thus Wendy Rogers and others urge the election be decertified and rerun until they get the results they want.

I apologize for the background noise. What you hear is a great gnashing of teeth on the floor of the Arizona legislature. Senate President Fann is acting all innocent and Karen like she never heard of this and opposed it all along. My, my, my.

How were we to know she’d hired the one election truther who, uh, believed in truth. Cyber Ninja didn’t get the difference between determination and predetermination. Listen, buddy, when we shell out $6-million, we’re not paying to get the same answer as the previous three recounts-slash-audits paid for by Arizona taxpayers.

At least we got free colorful T-shirts.

This has been Blanca Mujer… and seriously, why does everyone in Arizona call me ‘Moo-hair’? Speak English, for heaven’s sake, my name rhymes with huger. This is Blanca Mujer getting the hell out of town, OAN Pseudo-News, Phoenix.

Validation, Verification, Verdict

No one, liberal or conservative, left, right, or center, expected the answer that arrived last week, a finding of no fraud and a judgment that votes tallied, slightly widening the win-lose gap.

During the interminable wait for results, one clue surfaced, almost immediately dismissed, considering the pressure of power and money. That hint: An acquaintance of Doug Logan claimed anyone who knew him would say he’s an honest man.

And so he was… so he is. Doug Logan and apparently his friend Ben Cotton may have fringe notions, but amid death threats, they put the gritty in integrity.

Meanwhile in Idaho, My Pillow’s Mike Lindell instigated an audit by claiming between 4.2 and 30 percent of votes in every county were shifted by computer from one party to the other. Some of Idaho’s precincts are so small, they couldn’t justify electronic tabulators, so votes were counted by hand. Idaho’s partial recount showed the numbers matched almost exactly except for a nine-ballot overcount for Mr Trump.

Loose Ends

The thrust of this series has focused on the numerous election fraud conspiracies. Before abandoning this topic to the trashcan of hysterical, histrionics history, a few more crazy notions cropped up in recent weeks. Two of the wilder ones are worth mentioning.

4.2%

4.2%

Let’s introduce a pretty smart guy named Shiva Ayyadurai. For some reason, petulantly claiming he invented email in 1979 at the age of 14 has become increasingly important to him. Generation X doesn’t believe anything was invented before their own births, so he can’t believe he didn’t invent anything other than the name… maybe. As someone who was using email years earlier and invented encrypted email in the mid-1980s, I take his claim with a huge block of salt.

But he makes other fringe claims such as vitamins offset COVID and election fraud. He’s appeared on fraud felon Steve Bannon’s show to expound upon conspiracy theories. What sets Dr Ayyadurai apart from run-of-the-mill election truthers is a claim that would make Scientologists cringe.

According to Ayyadurai, every voting machine in every state in the US is designed to shift 4.2% of votes from the (R) column to the (D). 4.2%, every machine, every state.

If you’re thinking 4.2% comes from rigorous quantitative regression analysis of election-engineered differential equations… you’d be wrong.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (published the same year Ayyadurai ‘invented’ email), Douglas Adams’ humorous quasi-sci-fi novel, tells us the answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42. And therefore, according to Dr Ayyadurai, precisely .042 of votes were tampered with. Seriously.

𝄞♪♫ And 42’s exactly two dozen and the reverse of 24 and we call it a day and the age of Howard Hill, which rhymes with Bill married to Hillary which rhymes with biliary that takes a lot of damn gall and starts with B, the actress of Maude with rhymes with fraud, and there you have it, proof of election tampering. ♬♩𝄇
— apologies to The Music Man
hypodermic with Russian salad dressing

Salad Days

Help yourself to a palate cleanser and strap yourself in for a fresh election conspiracy from none other than admitted felon and foreign agent for Turkey, Ukraine, and other non-American venues, Michael Flynn.

According to Flynn, former Security Advisor, God help us, pro-vaxers are slipping coronavirus vaccines into salad dressing and plan to genetically alter lettuce to contain mRNA inoculation material.

Honest. I hope it’s iceberg lettuce. It might add flavor.

The Future, or Something Like It

Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are struggling toward full-blown recounts despite assurances from election authorities that all went smoothly and no fraud was detected. Precincts are giving pushback to the state especially against revealing voters’ personal information. As in the Arizona fraudit, a judge may have to rule whether to permit the recount.

Texas Governor Abbott snapped to attention, genuflected, and kissed the ring when the ex-president asked for a recount of four counties. The reason seems to be because they can. Strangely, the office of Supervisor of Elections is presently vacant, so no one is certain who’s calling the shots.

And finally back in Arizona, disbelieving fraudit supporters and ‘democracy skeptics’ now demand a new statewide election recount.

Democracy skeptics… They’re driving America.

02 October 2021

Guest Post: Lines That Won't Let Go


  

My longtime friend Judy Penz Sheluk wears and has worn many literary hats: novelist, short-story author, former journalist, former magazine editor, and--especially appropriate for today's column--anthology publisher and editor. Her three Superior Shores Press mystery athologies are all excellent and have been well received, in spite of my connection to each one: I contributed a cover blurb to the first and short stories to the second and third. The most recent of the three books--Moonlight & Misadventure--is the subject of today's guest post.

So . . . please join me in welcoming Judy to SleuthSayers!

--John Floyd


                                                            Lines That Won't Let Go

                                                                by Judy Penz Sheluk

Much has been written about first and last lines, and both are certainly of the utmost importance. But as the publisher and editor of the Superior Shores Anthologies, they aren't necessarily the ones that "seal the deal" for me when I move a submission into the "Yes" pile. Rather, it's those "lines that won't let go," the ones that catch me off-guard or break the tension with a touch of humor. 

While time and space don't permit me to list them all, each of the 20 stories in Moonlight & Misadventure have at least one such magical moment. Here are a few of my favorites:


"Crown Jewel," Joseph S. Walker

Two years ago, Keenan brought a woman he'd seen a few times home and took her to a spare bedroom converted into an audiophile's dream, the walls lined with racks of records, the turntable hooked up to an exquisitely balanced sound system. He showed her the three bins filled with copies of the White Album, each lovingly sheathed in its protective plastic sleeve. She pulled one out at random, turned it over in her hands, and looked at him in utter confusion.

"Don't they have this on CD?" she'd asked. "It would save a lot of room."

That was the last time he saw her.


"Cereus Thinking," Tracy Falenwolfe

No one ever spent time behind the bathhouse because it smelled awful. My grandparents had started telling the campers the sulfur smell came from decaying grasses along the beach, but I knew it was because the septic system was failing, the same way I knew dryer number four would never be fixed, grass would never get planted, and no one who stayed at Manatee Playground would ever see a manatee.


"The Promotion," Billy Houston

Pete looked around in the drawers of Gavin's desk until he found what he wanted. A half-empty pack of cigarettes. There were some matches in the same drawer, and he took those, too. For a moment, he considered going outside, but then lit a cigarette anyway. He'd just killed a man; smoking indoors didn't seem like a big deal anymore.


"My Night with the Duke of Edinburgh," Susan Daly

I took refuge in my glass of Northern Spirit Rye. Granted, I was two months short of twenty-one, but our little group had no use for such arbitrary, state-imposed nonsense. A person could either hold their liquor, or they couldn't.


"Not a Cruel Man," Buzz Dixon

The agent represented a sparkling young singer who'd just landed a starring role in a Disney movie. The producer's modus operandi was to find young, struggling talent, seduce them, dig them deeper and deeper into his own peculiar kinks, document that progression with Polaroids, then leech off their careers. A lot of what the producer liked would result in serious jail time for all involved. In the case of the agent's client, she'd never again be regarded as sweet and wholesome, much less virginal.


"Reunions," John M. Floyd

Larry's previous misgivings felt silly to him. He suddenly said, without thinking, "I hope things work out. With your friend and his wife, I mean."

Roger nodded, looking sad. "I hope so too. If it doesn't--and if I ever found out for sure she's cheating on him . . ."

The man's tone sent another little ripple up Larry's spine. He cleared his throat and said, "What would you do?"

"I don't know." Roger reached down to pat the bulge of the gun under his jacket. "If I met the guy, and if I had this at the time . . . I'm just not sure."


And sometimes it's just a single sentence:

"Scavenger Hunt," Michael A. Clark

It was a good night to hunt for a lost atomic bomb.


About the book: Whether it's vintage Hollywood, the Florida everglades, the Atlantic City boardwalk, or a farmhouse in Western Canada, the twenty authors represented in this collection of mystery and suspense interpret the overarching theme of "moonlight and misadventure" in their own inimitable style where only one thing is assured: Waxing, waning, gibbous, or full, the moon is always there, illuminating things better left in the dark.

Featuring stories by K.L. Abrahamson, Sharon Hart Addy, C.W. Blackwell, Clark Boyd, M.H. Callway, Michael A. Clark, Susan Daly, Buzz Dixon, Jeanne DuBois, Elizabeth Elwood, Tracy Falenwolfe, Kate Fellowes, John M. Floyd, Billy Houston, Bethany Maines, Judy Penz Sheluk, KM Rockwood, Joseph S. Walker, Robert Weibezahl, and Susan Jane Wright.


About the editor: A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including The Best Laid Plans, Heartbreaks & Half-truths, and Moonlight & Misadventure, which she also edited.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the South Simcoe Arts Council, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Chair on the Board of Directors.


Find the book here.




01 October 2021

What is a Yogiism?


A Yogiism is something said by Yogi Berra, something less profound than something written by Shakespeare but memorable.

I am old enough to remember Yogi Berra playing catcher for the New York Yankees. Lawrencec Peter 'Yogi' Berra was a great catcher and an even better clutch hitter, excelling at hitting pitches out of the strike zone. Berra had more home runs than strikeouts in five seasons. Hard to imagine.


His achievements and honors are many, including 18 times an American League All-Star, 13 times a World Series Champion, 3 times AL MVP. Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


Yogi and his World Series Rings

There are many Yogiisms. Here are a few examples of his unintentional or intentional wit:

"It's deja vu all over again."

"Ninety percent of the game is half-mental."

"One thing we know for sure: If you can't imitate him, don't copy him."

"If the world was perfect, it wouldn't be."

"Never answer an anonymous letter."

"Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical."

"We made too many wrong mistakes."

"You can observe a lot by watching."

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

"I always thought the record would stand until it was broken."

"Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.

"Take it with a grin of salt."

"Always go to other people's funerals; otherwise they won't go to yours."

"You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going, because you might not get there."

"If people don't want to come to the ballpark, how the hell are you gonna stop them?"

"A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore."

"We have deep depth."

"Pair up in threes."

"Even Napoleon had his Watergate."

"You better cut the pizza into four pieces because I'm not hungry enough to eat six."

"You wouldn't have won if we'd beaten you."

"He hits from both sides of the plate. He's amphibious."

"It gets late early out here."

"I'm not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did."

"Slump? I ain't in no slump. I just ain't hitting."

"It ain't the heat. It's the humility."

"So I'm ugly. I never saw anyone hit with his face."

"Little League is a very good thing. It keeps parents off the streets."

"The future ain't what it used to be."

"I usually take a two hour nap from 1 to 4."

"Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too."

"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is."

Probably his most famous Yogiism:

"It ain't over 'til it's over."

Yogi was incorrectly credited with coining the phrase, "It ain't over 'till the fat lady sings," which was first attributed to Ralph Carpenter, Texas Tech University sport information director. When Yogi was asked about that particular quote, he told a New York Times reporter, "That's one of the things that I said that I never said."

Sources for the quotes come from:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yogi_Berra#Playing_style
  • https://ftw.usatoday.com/2019/03/the-50-greatest-yogi-berra-quotes
  • https://www.authenticmanhood.com/blog/20-great-yogi-berra-quotes

That's all for now.

www.oneildenoux.com