Sunday, March 31, 2013

How I Became A Woman of Mystery

“Oh, you’re being such a snob!”

I am a snob, but I always hate it when people catch me at it.

The judgment came from my friend, Jean Griffith, who had just announced to me that she read only mysteries. I sniffed a bit and allowed as how I never read them.

“Well, try this,” she said, brandishing a copy of Cover Her Face by P.D. James as if it was a sword.

Coles House
Jean and I lived at Coles House, then a residence for young ladies in Center City Philadelphia, so I returned to my tiny room and read most of the night. It changed my life (and I still remember whodunnit). Though I had studied and learned to revere contemporary fiction, I couldn’t deny the pull of a book that boasted a beginning, a middle and an end. The characters were well drawn and actually did things (like kill people); they didn’t just sit around displaying their exquisite sensibilities.

So I became quite the little mystery addict. My substance of choice was cheap (when I started reading mysteries they were a mere $2.50) and Jean, like any good supplier, was full of sage advice (“Try Ngaio Marsh. The books are only $2.25 and the print is REALLY small!”)

James Ellroy
Jean and I went to the 1989 Bouchercon. James Ellroy signed my copy of The Big Nowhere (“Stephanie—To the wooooo of your sensuality”), kissed my hand and suggested we might spend the afternoon discussing his books. Alas, the 150 people behind me in the book signing line had other ideas.

While that was a cheap thrill, it was not nearly as important as my introduction to Robin Hathaway. (Jean worked with Bob, Robin’s husband). Robin was not yet published and was at Bouchercon to learn from those who were. On the last day of the conference Jean and I came home with Robin and feasted on cheese, crackers and wine which if you are having them with good friends constitute life’s most perfect meal.

Unfortunately, Jean died in 1997 around the time that Robin was published. Robin and I subsequently became frequent mystery conference roomies going to many Bouchercons and Malice Domestics. (or is that Malices Domestic?)

Somewhere along the way Robin and I discovered that we liked a lot of the noir writers. I still remember the first time I read Cornell Woolrich’s Waltz into Darkness. It made me feel cheap and dirty. I couldn’t wait to feel that way again. Then Robin discovered Noircon, a mystery conference designed to honor David Goodis and other noir writers. Who knew that moral turpitude and depravity could be hilarious? I still remember the early Friday morning panel on erotic elements in noir novels. There was a lively discussion of bestiality with the exchanges like this:

“What’s the big deal about bestiality?”

“The animal can’t consent.”

Robin wrote furiously and pushed a piece of paper in front of me.

I looked down. “They don’t have these kinds of discussions at Malice,” she had written.

Yes, I really miss Robin and am delighted to have a spot on this blog.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Children of Imagination

Shoo Boo
I had a weird dream last night. It all came of eating too many chocolate malt balls, playing too much Shoo Boo, and thinking too hard about the strange case of the four-year-old boy who was found all by himself in their apartment with his dead mother last week. Poor kid, he was naked except for one sneaker, starving and dehydrated. What struck me as odd about the story was that offers to adopt him were pouring in from all over the country. Massive numbers of offers. I said to Harold, don't these people realize how damaged the kid is? I wouldn't undertake to raise him without a master's degree in child psychology. Harold said, they admire him. The kid has a lot of grit. And people want children.

The Kettles' House
In my dream I was hiking in the mountains. I stopped at a house like the house where Ma and Pa Kettle used to live in the movies, cars up on blocks, chickens running around the yard. The lady of the house, a fat lady in a flowered house dress, pushed a baby carriage at me and said, "Here. Take them." Inside the carriage were a four-year-old boy and an infant girl. The boy smiled at me in a wise-acre way. I began to struggle down the hill with the carriage. "I hope Harold won't mind," I thought. It was dawning on me that these children were an enormous responsibility.

Suddenly I noticed that the baby was gone. "Where is your sister?" I said to the boy. He smiled. "I pushed her out." The poor little thing was lying back on the trail in her christening dress. I picked her up. Her skull was cracked. I put her over my shoulder to comfort her. Babies feel so good, even when you're worried about them.

Back at my own house at last, I found places for the children to take naps and tried to explain to Harold why I had undertaken to raise them for the next twenty years. The little boy turned into a fox terrier. He jumped up on the table and ate our lunch. The doorbell rang. I went to answer it. There stood Parnell Hall, smiling affably. He had forgotten my name.

And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say. Maybe it was a metaphor for my literary career. It's entirely possible that playing Shoo Boo is making me blind. I know the malt balls are making me fat. If you would like to play Shoo Boo, here's a link:

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Meet Jerome Coopersmith

The greatest joy, for me, of being an active member of MWA/NY is the people I meet.  Jerry is one of them.  He is one of our few dramatists.  He has a list of credits, which typed in an 8 pitch font, would be longer than your arm.  It includes a lot of radio, TV, and stage plays including the books for musicals.  Take a look here at his impressive credentials, just for Broadway:

I had to visit three websites to get even an inkling of the breath of his accomplishments.  And right now, rehearsals are on for a new one act mystery play--"Pipe Dream," which will have its premier at the National Liberal Club in London on May 16th, under the auspices of the Sherlock Holmes Society.  It's about a tough New York detective who is stumped by a crime and visits the Sherlock Holmes pub in London, where he is led to the solution by a renowned ghost from the past. 

Today Jerry regales us with the story of how he once wrote historical playlets for the budding medium of television.  

Annamaria Alfieri

In the days when television meant snowy pictures that you might improve by wrapping aluminum foil around your antenna, I had a job as an assistant to an early TV producer.  My job was to help him put on a quiz show in which viewers tried to stump a panel of brilliant teenagers on the subject of American history.  If you submitted a question that was used, and you stumped the wunderkinds, you won a set of Encyclopedia Americana – not a bad gift – 30 volumes with genuine leather bindings and gold imprint on the spines.   The trouble was that most of the questions sent in by the audience were not worth a damn, much less 30 volumes, so who do you think dreamed up the questions that were used?   We didn’t dare tell the sponsors or the TV station execs that Jasper LaRoche of Wilbur, Wisconsin and Pastor  Neumiller of Boise, Idaho were really Jerry Coopersmith of West 68th Street.  As a result, the floor of my office was littered with sets of encyclopedias still in their packing boxes.                                                                                                                

One day, I tried to persuade my boss to change the format of the show just a little.   I proposed, “Instead of asking questions allegedly from the viewing audience why don’t we put on a short dramatization of an historic event, and base the questions on that?” 

“You mean – with actors and costumes and everything?”

I nodded.

He loved the idea.  Then he asked something I hadn’t thought of.   
“Who’s going to write the dramatizations?”

My reply was not an act of courage.   I would have done anything to stop those  encyclopedias from taking over my office, but I honestly believed that the  playlets would make the show more entertaining.  In addition, I did have some experience in dramatic writing, but it was limited to a one-act play I had written in college with the collaboration of two other students.  My boss accepted that as a major credit, and starting the following week I was the author of one short teleplay per week based on American history. 

Although they were limited to one set and two actors to keep the cost down, they worked beautifully.  In a small TV studio we depicted moments aboard Columbus’ ship, on Jefferson’s estate, and in Benjamin Franklin’s home when he tried to dissuade his son from going to war on the side of the British.  We were able to get top-notch actors because Hollywood was in a slump at the time, and many of the movies’ finest were flocking to New York hoping to get their feet wet in the new medium.  
Writing those playlets I learned how to create characters, not just for history plays, but for all sorts of dramas including mysteries that I would be writing in times to come.   And I learned that I enjoyed telling stories using only the actions and words of characters, rather than my own narrative skills.

There are two questions you must ask yourself if you hope to become a dramatic writer.  One, do you love it – to the extent that you don’t mind staying up nights to rewrite a scene, or a play if necessary.  Two, are you good at it – not just in your own opinion, but in the evaluation of others.  My response to both has been supported by the fact that I’ve been able to make a living for myself and my family as a writer in TV and theatre.            

Today, many years after “Americana Quiz”, I still run to an unfinished scene as often as I can to write the lines of dialogue that may be needed.   And I still enjoy it immensely.

Jerome Coopersmith

Sunday, March 24, 2013

You Had Me at "Hello"

Sharon Wildwind, a member of the blog team Poe's Deadly Daughters, is our guest for today. We are delighted to have this Canadian crime writer share her thoughts with us!

Thelma Straw

According to the New Yorker, Pulitzer-winning author Philip Roth and newly-published writer Julian Tepper had a small lifestyle opinion difference in a New York deli.

Tepper presented Roth with a copy of Teppler’s first novel. Roth supposedly advised him to give up writing because being a writer was a soul-killing way to spend one’s life. The Paris Review Daily published an essay Teppler wrote about the encounter.

Enter into the fray Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love; Committed; The Signature of All Things). She defended writing and writers.

Enter Avi Steinberg, who wrote the New Yorker article referred to above. This is not a he said, he said, she said, he said blog. There are links. Anyone can read what was reported for herself. What stopped me in my tracks was when Steinberg ended his piece with this quote:

“That’s the kind of a person it takes to be a writer: someone who’s zealous and ready to argue, someone who has Philip Roth tell him, “It’s torture, don’t do it,” and replies, “You had me at ‘torture.’”

That’s a play on Dorothy Boyd’s line from the movie Jerry Maguire. “You had me at hello.” With the implication being that writers are innately in love with torture and would love a profession in which they experienced it.

I laughed. I pumped air and said, “Go, Avi.” I copied the quote and put it in my inspiration folder. In short, I had a hugely politically-incorrect moment. Once in a while it’s relief to have someone tell it like it is, and at the same time, an embarrassment that I would make a joke out of torture.

Being a crime writer is full of politically-incorrect moments. Our subject matter, be it fiction or real-life crime, focuses on the dark, darker, darkest sides of being human. A couple of years ago a relative died. For multiple reasons I had several contacts with the Medical Examiner’s Office. The young women I spoke with tried to be delicate about details. It was only when I convinced them that I had a working knowledge of autopsies, body identification, and the backlog in DNA labs that any real communication happened. One woman said, “We can’t talk like this with most of the people we contact.”

Knowing a lot—probably a lot more than is good for us—about what human beings do to one another is a crime writer’s curse, as is the knowledge that, in some countries, being a writer leads to torture. The real kind. The nasty kind, and yet writers endure.

For many of us torture isn’t what other people do to us, it’s what we do to ourselves. It’s doubt, self-recriminations, feelings that I should have done this or that different. I should have put more effort into writing. Promoted the book harder. Stood up to that editor. Caught that stupid mistake in the proofs. Demanded a retraction on that horrible review.

I’ve never heard a crime writer, no matter how well established, say, “After a while all doubts go away. I get up every morning knowing that I’m a sane, competent writer, who is solidly on the career track I laid out for myself.” But I’ve heard a lot of writers say, “I’m not sure I can pull off this new book, these new characters, this different kind of marketing plan. I’m having a hard time right now with the beginning, the middle, or the end.” None of us are sure, but a lot of us are working very hard to cope, even to thrive.

Coping, day in and day out, gets horribly tiring. In general, our society isn’t set up to lay laurels upon our creative brow. We survive on grants and grants get cut. We have the good fortune to bond with a wonderful agent or editor. They move or leave the business or get sick or even die and we have to start over. The publishing rules change and the book we wrote under the old rules is now unsalable. The question I get most often from people I see occasionally is, “Are you still writing?”

It’s not the question, it’s the tone in the question, with the hidden meaning being, “Surely by now you’ve come to your senses and moved on to something more productive?”

Yep, still writing. Still here. Still coping. Still dealing with the dark side of humanity. Still living the crime writer’s life, and darn glad of it.

Sharon Wildwind

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The House in St. Michaels

My sister, Liz Donovan, has been gone for two years now. Her husband has found a buyer the house they shared in St. Michaels, Maryland, a carefully restored oasis of late Victorian comfort and charm. It's time to clear everything out, so he invited me to come down and take away whatever family objects their kids hadn't taken.

The pictures of our parents, tiny little Daddy at the photographer's studio in a Lord Fauntleroy getup, ten-year-old Mom looking unhappy to be photographed, as she always was.

The silver-plated tea set my mother got for a wedding present. I was forced to polish it every month when I was a child, along with the brass. The bits of pressed glass my mother saved from Ma's barn in Vanceboro the time Ma invited my father to clean it out. In the years when my sister was painting still lifes all these things went into her work, transformed and glorified.

I took photographs of the inside of the house. Here are a few of them. My sister was an artist, with a wonderful eye. She put this house together as a work of art. She had the wallpaper imported from England. She and Dick found the perfect antique corner cupboard for the dining room right here in Lambertville, a big-time antique capital, at Lovrinic's.

The bed in the guest room came down in the family from the 1830s. The rope-and-acanthus foot posts and footboard are solid Honduran mahogany, probably carved abroad and brought to St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada, by some forgotten sea captain. Our great grandmother died in that bed. Our maternal grandfather was probably born in it. Dick spent a small fortune to make it into a comfortable, modern place for guests to sleep. It's going to his granddaughter.

My sister called the guest room the Lincoln Bedroom. Check out the wallpaper. Her daughter-in-law made that quilt.

All over the house are beautiful little places you can just stare at.

I remember when she painted this darling toy chest for her visiting grandchildren, inspired partly by the Irish fiddling of my husband, Harold.

See how the tiny little bunny is step-dancing.

So that's the house. Then there's Liz's studio, full of her exquisite watercolors and her later work, plein air oil paintings, some of them unfinished but still lovely. So many lovely things. Such a huge body of work, not even counting the many things she sold, or her work in Florida.

I think it's a crime that she was cut off in the middle of creating all this beauty. If you think so too, consider a donation to the Sarcoma Foundation of America.

Kate Gallison

Sunday, March 17, 2013

On Being Irish in Albany on March 17

Look. I’m from New York City where the Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day like it’s a Sacrament. How can you think otherwise when you’re marching up Fifth Avenue and within the first six blocks you’re passing the Grandstand at 50th Street on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, with the Cardinal in his Sunday best and all the politicos—even if just Irish For the Day—flapping their wings at you. And, of course, I’m in the uniform of an NYPD Sergeant marking cadence with the hundreds of cops moving with measured stride up the Avenue. I should mention that the last time I marched in the parade was thirty years ago. A lot of water under the bridge; today I’m lucky to be walking, never mind marching. And I now live in Albany, moved here five ears ago looking for a smaller city, never having lived anywhere else but the City.

No regrets, but I miss my Parade of memory: the pageantry, the pride, the bagpipes the bars. But not my fellow marchers, I have to say. When cops drank afterward at the Emerald Society Bash at the cavernous St. George Greek Orthodox Church on Ninth Avenue at 60th Street, then later at the Irish bars along Second and Third Avenues from 86th Street on down to the last stop, Molloy Malone’s at 22nd Street—we’d be shouting at each other over the din of the pipers parading up and down the aisles while ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’ blared simultaneously from jukeboxes. You got tired, hoarse and drunk, in no particular order. Being in my 40s, I’d grow impatient with my comrades, but make allowances for the policewomen.

Finbar Devine
So last year I went to Albany’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade downtown on Washington Avenue. There were a number of Pipe Bands but I found myself looking for, not finding, Detective Finbar Devine, the quintessential Drum Major of the NYPD’s Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Band, in kilts and tall Black Bear Hats with a sprig of green—Himself, all six-feet-five of him, directing the stately procession of the lads up Fifth. Finbar has been gone for some years now, but I will always see him on the Day in my mind’s eye. I didn’t last long at the Albany Parade, the cops annoyed me. College students bunched up at traffic intersections, spilling out in the gutter, blocking our view from the sidewalk. Two Albany cops on motor scooters zipped up and down the street barking orders ineffectually. It appalled me that the APD doesn’t know how to police a parade. In The Day, the NYPD posted officers on foot the entire length of the parade route at intervals of 25 yards on both sides of Fifth Avenue and down East 86th Street to the end on Third Avenue—forbidden to do aught but face the crowd and keep order. Yeah, I’m getting old but that still is the way it’s done. True, New York had 30,000 cops while Albany has just 350. But still…

Albany is still held hard by a Tammany Hall-style Democratic Party. Not surprising when you consider that the City has been run by a total of three Mayors in the past 72 years. Erastus Corning, the first, held sway from 1941 till his death in 1982. He was a very hands-on politician as was the real power behind the throne, Boss Dan O’Connell, who ran the Democratic Party like his private fiefdom for even longer, till he died in 1977. Next was Mayor Thomas Whalen, in office a mere ten years, till Jerry Jennings took over twenty years ago and shows no sign of leaving. Although there are some black leaders in Albany—all Councilmen or women—this is definitely not a New York City kind of City Council. By some sleight of hand in revising the City Charter awhile back, Mayor Jennings must approve whatever the Council passes. No wonder he is loathe to leave. Blacks comprise one-third of the population of Albany, which is 94,000-plus, but have zero political clout. The Irish and Italians, the longtime residents, wield local power. Whenever I take a ride in the black urban ghettos of this City—Arbor Hill, West Hill, the South End—I come away wanting to get Al Sharpton on the horn and tell him he’s urgently needed.

How describe the Irishness of Albany today? I’d say bland, washed-out. I had to drive nine miles to a venerable Italian restaurant in the Lansingburg section of Troy last St. Patrick’s Day to get a good plate of Corned Beef and Cabbage. Yet, there is a vestige of Old Irish Albany. I think of him as The Last Irishman, the novelist William Kennedy. He put Albany on the literary map in the early 1980s with his cycle of Albany novels: “Legs,” “Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game” and “Ironweed.” There’s no better guide to Albany’s labyrinthine politics than Kennedy’s novel, “Roscoe.” And for the global view, “O Albany,” his encyclopedic biography of his hometown.

Maybe I’m just at an age where a seat at the Ringling Brother Barnum & Bailey Circus beats standing room at any parade.

Robert Knightly

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Jersey Monkey Redux

Last week I shared with you the tale of how I had been induced to revisit my most hated work (most hated by me, that is; I'm not sure anybody else read it) by a charming book club, who liked it because it was sort of about New Jersey. After they finished talking about it I decided I liked it too. I went home, opened it up, and prepared to scan it in and present it to the world again as a cheap Kindle.

As I scanned, retyped, and evaluated, twenty-year-old memories of the book's publication came flooding back. The dull-witted copy editor who worked it over until I gave up arguing. The cover, an ugly illustration only marginally related to the contents of the book. The opening scenes, fatuous and sophomoric. I said to myself, I can shine this up. My skills have improved in twenty years, after all. Furthermore the work is now mine. Mine. The copy editor can go chase herself.

So I did it. I've been amusing myself with it all week. The first thing I did was take out the two sophomoric opening scenes. Next I yanked some characters who didn't need to be in it. Then I changed the names of two of the remaining characters, one because the book club had trouble pronouncing it and the other because I didn't like it. After that I tweaked the computer technology. Desktop computers, not terminals. Then I put back all the commas the copy editor took out, and took out all the commas she put in. Hahaaah! Punctuate this!

Then I messed with the ending a little bit. You'll be happy to know it's still a bitter little book, now even shorter, since I took out all the parts that disgusted me completely. I put together a cover that I like. (That's it at the top of the article. If you hate it, well, you have some idea of my taste.) Since the book is so short now I'm going to offer it for 99¢ on Kindle. Look for it today or tomorrow. It's really cheap, so you have nothing to lose. If you like it, drop me a review. If you hate it, go ahead and review it, but know that as bad as it is it used to be worse.

There aren't that many messes from the past that I can put right. It seemed to me that this was one of them.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Embalming Evita

All the talk on the radio about embalming the remains of Hugo Chavez has brought to mind the amazing story I learned in researching Blood Tango,* about the aftermath of Evita’s demise.

As with the death of Chavez (and Chairman Mao and Lenin), something had to be done to keep Evita alive in the minds of the public.  The popularity of Argentina’s First Lady was the lynchpin of Juan Perón’s regime.  Even before she died at the age of only 33 in June of 1952, Perón was planning to preserve her remains.  As soon as her death looked imminent, Perón engaged Dr.  Pedro Ara to embalm her corpse.

Work began only a few hours after she died.   The plan, as with the other political icons, was to keep her body on permanent display in a grand monument---in this case,  a statue of a poor worker, larger than the Statue of Liberty.

The funeral (sans burial) turned into an astonishing outpouring of love and grief.  You can see a film of it here:  

While the monument was under construction, Evita was displayed in her former office—where she had received the poor and worked to grant their wishes.  Her corpse stayed there for two years.

But then the plans began to crumble.  In 1955, a military coup overthrew Perón, who hastily fled to Spain.  The new rulers took great pains to erase the memory of Perón and especially Evita—who was still beloved by millions of the working class.  The new rulers banned all pictures of her.  It was against the law to speak her name, even in the privacy of one’s home.  Her body was stored in a garage for a while (I guess as much as the generals detested Evita, they did not have the nerve to desecrate her remains.)  And then the corpse disappeared.  For sixteen years.

In 1971, it was found in a crypt in Milan interred under the name María Maggi.  Evita was then brought to Spain and remained there with Juan and his third wife, Isabel, on their dining room table!  (No novelist would get away with making this stuff up!)

Then, in 1973, Perón returned from exile and became President again.  When he died in office a year later, Isabel took his place.  She finally put Evita to rest in the Duarte family tomb in La Recoleta Cemetery.  (Duarte was Evita’s maiden name, sort of.  But that’s a story for a different post.)

I have visited Evita’s mausoleum two times, fifteen years apart.  On both occasions, while no one much was looking at the nearby tombs of some of Argentina’s most illustrious dead, there was a crowd in front of Evita’s resting place.  In history and myth, the once and future Evita lives on.

Memorial wreath at the door if Evita's tomb.
Annamaria Alfieri

*Blood Tango, a mystery set in Buenos Aires in October of 1945 launches this coming June 25!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Role Model for Crime Writers… The Real ARGO Guy!

One man stands out in the shadow world of spy trade. Antonio Joseph Mendez.

Tony led two lives. A gentle, soft-spoken guy, a born artist, now retired and doing his painting in the Maryland Blue Ridge Mountains, he became THE master of disguise.

You may know of him now as the real life engineer of the escape of six fellow Americans from Tehran in 1980.

Partly because of the Oscars, America has been gaga over the word ARGO in 2013. It all began with a modest, talented man born in 1940 in Eureka, an old mining town in the Diamond Mountains of central Nevada.

Quiet. Gentle. But things are seldom what they seem…

Tony worked the night shift at Martin Marietta as an artist/illustrator. This job led him to the Technical Services Division of the CIA. And the rest is history!

At the CIA he was known as the undisputed master of disguises, who was both magician and psychologist. History knows him as the engineer of the masterful escape in 1980 of six brave American citizens from Tehran via Swissair Flight 363, a DC-8 named " ARGAU".

In 1979 Tony had been named Chief of Authentication for the Graphics and Authentication Division of the Office of Technical Services. He was responsible for disguise, false documentation and counterintelligence forensic examination of questioned (possibly forged) documents and materials. Where his friends saw him as a soft-spoken, nondescript bureaucrat, the top guns at Langley HQ saw him as their master of disguise, an "undisputed genius who could create and entirely new ID for anybody, anywhere, anytime."

He was a magician with the analytical insight of a shrink. Bob Gates, the former head of CIA, said of him," He was one of the most imaginative and courageous unsung heroes..." A former chair of the CIA Publications Review Board said of him, "Tom Clancy would be hard-pressed to envision what Tony Mendez has done…"

In his own words, Tony wrote, "I served as professional intelligence officer, creating and deploying many of the most innovative techniques of the espionage trade…. Those who know me best will realize that I would never knowingly betray a trust or reveal a secret that would jeopardize a comrade, a source, or my country's interests."

I became interested in the story of Tony Mendez 13 years ago, never thinking he would be the hero of an Oscar film award today! He was one of many "creative problem solvers", one of my heroes, whose careers inspired me to try my hand at spy novels.

I read all I could find on Tony, and recently I found a little niche for this guy in my WIP, as a close friend of POTUS, the President of the United States, who finds the White House upstairs too confining, and asks his old pal, Tony Mendez, to create a disguise for him to get outside the walls of the big house occasionally, to breathe fresh air and go among the real people! (Ah, the glorious liberties fiction gives the crime writer, provided you play fair!)

After decades of imaginative jobs, Tony was assigned the job that brought him into the 2013 spotlight, the chaos of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, triggered by the Islamist fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers.

The valued Iranian agent named "Raptor" was key to a rescue situation of American diplomats that years later would be the topic of worldwide cinema with our friend Tony as the mastermind of the historic rescue.

The name of the venture was to be ARGO, a contraction of " Ah, go f*** yourself!" We'll never know the real story, I feel, but Tony gives us a good yarn that will keep us intrigued for many decades.

My own feeling about this charming, gifted man, is that with so much bubbling in the world's cauldron, it is quite possible he'll be called back for duty. The world could use his gifts once more!!!

Thelma Straw

Friday, March 8, 2013

Bitter, Sour, Cynical, but Having Perhaps Some Redeeming Qualities

Photo by Mary Crain
I was invited to speak at a meeting last Monday of the book group at the New Jersey State Library Talking Book and Braille Center. Or, no, make that the active voice: Karen Carson, the charming Broadcast and Volunteer Coordinator and a writer herself, invited me to speak. She wanted to discuss The Jersey Monkey, my (unknown to her) despised stepchild, the last book in the Nick Magaracz series, which came out from St. Martin's Press in 1992.

I wasn't going to say, "Whatever for? I hate that book," because fame is a good thing, right? Exposure is a good thing. It was very decent of them to invite me to their meeting at all. The librarians went to the trouble of recording the whole book on tape, so that the book club members could experience it. I personally had not cracked that book in twenty years, mostly for fear of encountering the earlier Kate, that bitter, shriveled cynic. The Jersey Monkey is a bitter little book.

So we met, some on speakerphone, some sitting around the table, turning their smiling faces toward me like flowers. They found the book to be full of unexpected twists. They were surprised that one of the doctors in the pharmaceutical house had put herself through school by stripping. In the old hippie days I knew more than one woman who was putting herself through school by stripping. I didn't tell them that, because they were finding lots of things to like about my hated book, and I didn't want to interrupt them.

They liked the ending, the dailiness of it, Nick's relationship with his wife. They liked the picture of old Trenton. That book is a historical now, you know that? It has people in it who remember the Monkey House.

The corporate executives in my fictional pharmaceutical company were getting all set to move a teratogenic drug to third world countries, because they could make money doing this and Africans wouldn't have the power to sue the company when the birth defects began to show up. The blind readers found this horrifying and scarcely credible. They still trust the rich and powerful to be human beings who care what happens to other human beings. Beautiful souls. I could weep.

They liked my book. They gave my book back to me, so that I don't feel bad about it anymore. Soon I'll put up digital copies on Kindle and Nook. Anyone who wants a bitter, shriveled view of Trenton and Princeton in the early nineties will be able to see it for $2.99.

Kate Gallison

Sunday, March 3, 2013

WHO Done It? And WHY?

Writers who track John Douglas, the FBI's legendary "mindhunter," recognize those words from his own writing.

This former chief of the FBI's Investigative Support Unit is revered by many crime writers as THE pioneer of modern behavioral profiling of violent criminals.

In a crime novel the negative force must be strong enough to wage a good fight with the good guy.

The legendary editor Ruth Cavin told us often that you can fix plots, but your characters have to hold their own.

After the first time I heard John Douglas speak at MWA-NY, I became fixated by his ideas. I read all his books – Mindhunter, Unabomber, Journey Into Darkness, Obsession, The Anatomy of Motive, Sexual Homicide, The Cases That Haunt Us, including his own fiction, Broken Wings and Man Down.

He explained that the law enforcement community moved from sole reliance on the "Bible" – the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – into the CCM, the Crime Classification Manual that Douglas, with his colleagues Ann W. Burgess, Allen G. Burgess and Robert K. Ressler, developed. A catalog of crime behavior that showed investigators not only that X type behavior was a form of mental illness, but how dangerous it might be!

Douglas and his associates developed a method of profiling criminals that has been the foundation of many criminology professionals, not only at the FBI Behavioral Science Investigative Support Units, but to police departments and prosecutors worldwide.

As a profiler and interviewer of countless notorious criminals, Douglas' landmark studies have guided numerous crime writers.

John Edward Douglas was born in Brooklyn and served in the U.S. Air Force. Well-educated, with a doctorate, he served at FBI as a SWAT Team sniper, a hostage negotiator and taught hostage negotiation and applied crimnal psychology at Quantico.

As a consultant worldwide, he was the model for Jack Crawford in Thomas Harris' novels Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, as well as consultant for the films.

Countless crime writers have learned from John Douglas about the inner working of personalities whose main goals in life are to kill and to hurt.

To manipulate, dominate and control.

Few of us have walked into danger freely as Douglas has, "through an open yard where violent prisoners roamed freely, a scene that reminded me of Dante's Inferno. Where the most violent criminals might try to kill us for the prestige for having murdered an FBI agent."

Douglas believes that most violent offenders came from dysfunctional backgrounds. That most psychopaths "seemed so charming, so ordinary." That behavior reflects personality. That many violent criminals are "ego driven." That behavior is consistent. Even in its inconsistency, it's consistent.

That criminals find "overwhelming emotional satisfaction in manipulating, dominating, controlling and exerting life-or-death power over another person."

That "with the exception of a very few truly insane (and generally delusional) individuals, these people choose to do what they do."

Douglas is a valid guide for any writer who wants to dig deeper into the motives of his/her villains.

In his own words, he gives one path a writer might want to try: "As I had so many times before, I put myself into the mind of the killer." (Journey Into Darkness, p. 15.)

We crime writers can also remember the words of Raymond Chandler for our heroes… "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid." (The Simple Act of Murder)

Thelma Straw

Friday, March 1, 2013

Digging Up the Ancestors

1885: Dedicating the Rebecca Nurse Memorial
I got a call from a previously unknown second cousin on the Gallison side the other day requesting information about my dad's forebears. I couldn't help her very much. I have a lot more information about my mother's side of the family than my father's side, because they paid attention to that stuff. I'm sure I told you about Rebecca Nurse, my 9th great-grandmother, who was dragged out of her sickbed and convicted of being a witch on the say-so of those wretched little girls. Rebecca Nurse had many children, and they all had many children, and so there are a lot of us descended from her. But Rebecca Nurse is neither here nor there a far as the Gallisons go. No relation. Anyway nobody seems to know who the Gallisons really were.

My dad, who never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, used to tell us they were descended from the inventor of the Guillotine. We all knew that was a bald-faced lie. But the other family traditions–that I had a great-great grandmother named Marie LaChance, that the earliest known Gallison was named David–even that he was named Gallison–these were all false as well. I discovered the true facts by signing up for for an international membership in order to access the Canadian census records, spurred on by the questions my newfound cousin raised. None of that crowd called themselves Gallison until they crossed the border into Maine and settled in Vanceboro.

In the old country, which is to say Canada, they called themselves Galishan, and told the census taker they were Welsh, even though my grandfather was christened with a French name. That is, I guess he was christened. They also told the Canadian census taker they were Baptists, but I feel their hearts weren't in it; I think they were "Home Baptists." There was no Marie LaChance. Thomas Alexander Galishan's father was called William, not David. In Vanceboro they told the census taker they all came from Ireland. I'm beginning to suspect they were crypto-French, maybe going clear back to the days when the British were deporting all the French people in Acadia to the swamps of Louisiana. Hey, I could have been a Cajun, if my forebears weren't so good at hiding out.

Or not. Fact is, the Galishans are lost in the mists of history, at least for now. It doesn't help that they were perfectly willing to tell tall tales to the census takers.

But the ancestors on the other side, the ones who settled Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, are well known and have been closely examined by scholars, genealogists, and descendants who wanted to get into the Sons and Daughters of the Revolution. Next week I'll tell you some of the things I found out about them. Their lives were much harder than mine, poor things, and a good half of them were barking mad. Bordens. Yes. I am a blood relative of Lizzie.

Kate Gallison