Friday, February 28, 2014

Going Through the Books

I woke up this morning and as soon as I had eaten breakfast began to pull books off my shelves and evaluate them for re-shelving, tossing, or re-reading. I didn't want to sit down, you see. What with the snow and all it's been weeks, oh, all right, months, since I regularly attended the gym. I can feel myself turning to cement from the armpits down. Maybe even higher. So, the books. One must stand up to examine them, lift them, drag them around.

The shelves in the bedroom contain mostly non-fiction, mostly American history. The straight-out genealogical books and the witch trial stuff live in my office, the fiction in the "library," where we keep the television, the children's books on the shelves in the third floor guest room, the guilty pleasures of Louis L'Amour, Terry Pratchett, and Brian Jacques in a small bookcase in the upstairs hall. The big bookcases in the upstairs hall are full of Harold's books, which I wouldn't dream of touching, since he has his mysterious system.

Fact is, I haven't touched my bedroom bookcase in quite a while either. So the exercise involved Swiffers, first to dust the family pictures in front of the books, and then to dust the books themselves. Then to rediscover all the things I used to be interested in. Here's a row a yard wide of books about the Indians. Actually I'm always interested in the Indians. Here are a number of books about Thomas Edison, including one all about the electric chair. Those of you who read The Edge of Ruin, which I wrote as Irene Fleming, will recall that I did a number on Edison in that book. I would never do that without reams of documentation.

Then there are some diaries. Keep? Toss? I was on the point of throwing away a nearly blank diary covered in red leather with something weird like rotted brown paper sticking to the front when I got a look at the earliest entries. This is the book I took notes in the time I pretended to be a newspaper reporter so I could get next to Bil Baird, the famous puppeteer, when he gave a talk at the Trenton museum. I was, I confess, a drooling fan. I'll tell you the whole story sometime, but the diary is well worth keeping. It has sketches of puppets and their workings.

The bookshelves are mostly shoveled out now. I'm sitting here eating lunch and considering actually going to the gym. When I get back I'll return the family pictures to the shelves and think about putting up Duncan McColl's memoirs as a kindle. They are long, long out of copyright, and it seems to me that scholars would like to see them. He was a famous Methodist preacher in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada. I admire him greatly; sometime I'll tell you why.

That's the fun thing about my bookshelves. They're full of people I admire, Lincoln Steffens, Maxine Eliot, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Masterman Hardy, Ida Tarbell, Bil Baird, Tecumseh. Anytime I want to I can go read about their doings, now that the dust is off the books, and fall in love all over again. But first I have to go to the gym.

© 2014 Kate Gallison

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Title Finder: A Tool For Crime Writers

There are myriad websites where one can search for names for expected offspring.  You can even search by ethnicity.  Hispanic baby names, Kikuyu baby names, even Finnish, I suppose, but then try to pronounce them.

Naming books can be every bit as difficult, and publishers have opinions that sometimes differ greatly from what the author wants to call the “baby.”  My first book—City of Silver—had three names before it came out—the one I gave it, the one my agent thought it should have, and the one the publisher chose from a list of alternatives that my editor asked me to supply.  Fortunately, I really like the one it ended up.

With Invisible Country, it took only two tries.  With Blood Tango, I just submitted a list of possibilities with the finished manuscript.  I am glad they chose the one I liked best.   Coming up with the list, however, was not so easy.  I wanted something that said “Argentina,” without using the word.  “Buenos Aires” seemed too many syllables and has no music when pronounced with an American accent.  “Tango” was a no-brainer, sexy with an edge of darkness.

What I did next was to make a list of words that might go with “tango” and say “murder mystery.”  Sometimes with intervening prepositions—Tango of Death.  Sometimes just as adjective and noun—Dark Tango.  Sometimes with an added article—A Fatal Tango.

“Blood” seemed the most apt adjective, since my murderer wields a switchblade, a criminal’s weapon of choice in 1945 in Buenos Aires.

In the end, I wound up with enough words on my list to make it, perhaps, useful for naming future books.  Today I have turned them into a chart for other writers.  One could, by using it, take a word from column A and one from Column B and play with them.  There are certainly books that already exist whose titles would pop up if you tried.

Since the publication of Blood Tango,  I have noticed that there seem to be a lot of books this past year that have the word “blood” in their titles.  Maybe some of the words on the list will become fads in naming books, but that--as everything else in publishing--would be impossible to predict. 

Annamaria Alfieir

Monday, February 24, 2014

Reunion III: All’s Well That Ends

My third biannual reunion with the cops with whom I’d patrolled the streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the 1970’s was held in the VFW hall (as always) in Valley Stream, Long Island late last September. I’ve always thought it odd that Brooklyn cops had to travel to Nassau County to get together; then I remembered again it’s because most of them still live out there as they did back then, but now have no reason to go into Brooklyn, or anywhere in the City, for that matter. Truth is, the younger ones had no liking for the City in those crime-filled days and fled back to East Cupcake as soon as they’d finish their tour. But not so my partners, the hell-raisers of the 83 Precinct Conditions Car.

We weren’t young. All of us had more than eight years on The Job, having survived the layoff of 5,000 cops as the City teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in February, 1975. (Last On, First Off, the Rule). Consequently, we had no illusions about being indispensable or highly-valued by our masters. Truth is, we just loved the work. Of course, it was dangerous; some of us died from gunfire, from ambush. But being in our thirties, none of us yet forty, we knew in our hearts we were immortal, not about to die that day or any day.

No one, no Internal Affairs spies, were looking over our shoulders as we worked the streets. When a Precinct was dangerously high-crime, an “A” house--as the Eight-Three was in the mid-1970s—IAD (“shoeflies” we called them) tended to keep their distance. Dante had it right: When you served in hell, life was simpler.

Of course, all this happened almost forty years ago. Yet, their faces, the men I served with, are right there before me though some names will escape me. When I see them at the reunions, it all comes back, our history. As I work the room this night, I tread my way among several hundred guests till I sit down with Lou Hunter, who confides he has neuropathy in his hands and feet, that’s why he’s on a cane (as I am). No need to commiserate, instead we laugh about kicking looters’ asses on Broadway during the Blackout Riots, July 13, 1977. Dominic Bjelobrick (“B.J.”), our perennial PBA Delegate at the Eight-Three in the 1960s , 1970s and 1980s, admits to being 80-years-old. We assure him we can see it in his old wrinkled mug, although he stands as straight, solid as a brick shithouse still. Scandinavian genes.

I corral Mike (can’t recall last name) by the aluminum chafing pans lined up on folding Bingo tables at the back of the Hall. The food is always the same—several kinds of pasta in a sauce thick as red paint, sausage & peppers deliciously swimming in its greasy pool, fish-in-a-white sauce, mounds of fresh Italian loaves, but I’m not here for the menu. Mike was a Lieutenant in Public Morals after the Eight-Three, so I figured he might know somebody in Missing Persons who’d be willing to talk to the mystery author, Allison Gaylin, for her new novel. (She’d asked me and I said I knew somebody.)

“Bobby, I retired 23 years ago,” Mike said, “I know nobody who’s still there!” I inquired of other detectives I’d worked with. Same response. I could have asked the only woman I was introduced to, Cookie Kunkle, former Chief of the Narcotics Bureau, but by then I was too depressed, contemplating that I no longer had contacts on The Job. (Sorry, Allison.)

At long last, I came upon two of my partners from the Eight-Three Conditions Car, the kickingest-ass team that ever patrolled the mean streets of Borough Brooklyn North. As fate would have it, John Medina and Louie were at the same table with others from the Old Days, but not talking to one another. You should know this: that John and Louie were on the outs since Louie had lied about John to the FBI on the occasion of Louie’s being arrested as a member of a big-time drug-dealing gang in Bushwick and environs. Louie was retired from The Job at the time while John was a Detective Second Grade in the Eight-Three Squad. Louie was facing serious time in Federal prison that could only be reduced by his “cooperation” with the U.S Attorney, meaning: Rat out some higher-up, a criminal of significant stature. Louie swore to the Feds that John was dealing drugs. (A drug-gang-affiliated NYPD Detective qualified.) And so began a year-long investigation by the FBI and the Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau—a source of endless harassment and embarrassment to Det. John Medina. John had a chest-full of medals for bravery, a ‘Supercop’ in everyone’s estimation, far and away the best street cop I’d ever seen. I like to think that’s why Louie, in a moment of desperation, pointed a finger at John: Because he knew it would never be believed, never stick, in the end. It didn’t, and Louie went to a Federal pen for seven years.

So tonight we all are sitting at this round table with cake and coffee in front of us. Then some wag says, “Remember Troutman Street!” Everybody laughs and points at me.

John points at Louie and says: “You fired shots!” Louie says, “If I didn’t, that mob would have had your asses that night!” The truth. We were making an arrest for drug sales in a tenement hallway on Trautman St. when the guy, a Puerto Rican, resisted and I had to pound him into bloody submission with my heavy-duty 5-cell metal flashlight. As we left the hallway with my prisoner, we were confronted by an irate mob of his countrymen who were intent on his liberation. John, me and my handcuffed prisoner in tow made for the safe haven of a bodega directly across the street, while Louie, protecting our backs, emptied his service revolver in the air to scatter the crowd in front.
Once inside, John called a “10-13” (Officer Needs Assistance) on his portable radio, and within minutes the cavalry arrived to rescue us and restore order. We all had a good laugh, basking in the warm glow of our shared, ancient camaraderie.

The best part for me was to see them reconciled, Louie forgiven. TV, civilians don’t understand. Not all “rats” are equal. For a cop, the ultimate terror is jail; cops don’t jail well. The choice is often: “cooperate” or suicide. In the end, Louie did his time and was pardoned in the eyes of his comrades.

© 2014 Robert Knightly

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Pete Seeger Gave Me a Hammer… for Life…

I never met Pete Seeger, but he gave me one of the happiest summers of my life!

After my sophomore year at Randolph-Macon Women's College, an elite school for bright females in Virginia, all-white (then), Methodist, conservative, I got a job through our Sociology Department as a camp counselor at the Henry Street Settlement House Camp, way up north in Westchester County, New York.

One of my duties was leading group singing—and soon a brand new song landed in my lap—that changed my life forever!

"If I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning,
I'd hammer in the evening all over this land.
I'd hammer out danger, I'd hammer out a warning, I'd hammer out love, between my brothers and my sisters,
All over this land."

(We didn't know at that time that this had been published that very June in NYC at a testimonial dinner for the leaders of the Communist Parry of the USA. It later became a Freedom Song of the American Civil Rights Movement!)

I'd always loved folk music and took to this song like a fish to water and soon every child in the camp and their resident mothers were singing it.  I could feel it bonding us all together!

I'd had two close friends in high school in Norfolk, whose names were Hofheimer and Gerst. It never occurred to me they and I were different. We went to different houses of worship—but—it was never a dividing line in our friendships.

One day, relaxing in a circle of the young mothers of my pre-school campers (the women were about my own age, all from the Lower East Side of New York City), I admired their pretty neck jewelry.

"You all wear a star of David," I said. "I wish I had one too."

An immediate silence fell on the group.

Finally, one young mother said, tentatively, "You IS Jewish, ain't you?" Silent eyes stared at me—but all were friendly. We were, after all, on the same team… trying to give a summer experience away from the big city in the summer heat to their tiny sons and daughters.

Finally, it dawned on me. "No," I replied, wishing the ground would open up and swallow me! (We looked alike—my hair was dark and I had a deep tan then.)

Suddenly, the silence broke. Everyone beamed. The woman put her arm around me and everyone drew in close. "That's all right, honey," she said, radiantly. "You could pass for one of us—any day!"

Later, that same summer, I returned to my long-term place on the staff of my Girl Scout Camp on the shores of Lake Prince, near Suffolk, Virginia, Camp Matoaka. I took my accustomed place as the camp song leader and drama director.

I couldn't wait to bring my knapsack of new, inspiring songs to my old campers, little girls with black and white faces from Tidewater, Virginia!

Soon the shores of Lake Prince rang out nightly around the campfires with about a hundred little Southern Scouts holding hands and singing, "If I had a hammer!"

Thank you, Pete Seeger—you gave me one of the happiest summers of my life. I know you know that, looking down from where you live now!!!

P.S. Dear readers, you probably saw the letter in the NYT recently that back in the late 1960s, when Pete was invited to a concert in NYC, and they were scared stiff re his political leanings... when he walked on stage to thunderous applause—his first song—was… "The Star Spangled Banner"!!

P.P.S. Please share with me and our gang here at Crime Writer's Chronicle if you have any memories of "If I Had a Hammer" or Pete Seeger's other wonderfully inspiring music.

© 2014 Thelma Jacqueline Straw

Friday, February 21, 2014


Over the course of my checkered writing career I have attended a number of conventions and conferences, with varying degrees of success. The nicest things that happened at these gatherings were encounters with writers and editors who later became my friends, or who were my friends already. The most disagreeable things were snubs by people who weren't my friends (and never will be, if I can remember their names and faces), and also occasions when I screwed up so badly that I was like to die of embarrassment.

But all that is personal. I'm not going to talk about it. I came here today to talk about the uses of convention- and conference-going to advance one's career.

My agent used to give me advice about that. I arrived late at my first Bouchercon convention in Philadelphia, years and years ago, failed to tell anybody I was a published writer, and wandered around from panel to panel listening to people talk, profoundly impressed to find myself in such exalted company. My agent told me later that this was wrong. I was supposed to make an impression on people, myself, she said.

The writer who made the deepest impression on me that weekend was Walter Moseley, who was still relatively unknown, at least by me. Some woman in the audience asked him a completely silly, fundamentally racist question at the end of his panel and I saw him straighten his face and give her a civil answer. I loved the way he straightened his face. It only took a microsecond. This is what you do. You keep yourself under complete control, never letting on what a pain in the ass it is to suffer fools.

As years went by I learned to put myself forward more at these confabs, making a fool of my own self from time to time, appearing on panels, even moderating them when the organizers discovered I was willing. I wasn't bad at that, actually. One time I moderated a panel with Grace Edwards and I-forget-who on it, terrific panelists all. We met for breakfast beforehand to hash over the topic. At breakfast we were wildly entertaining. By the time we got to the panel the fizz was gone. The lesson I took from that was not to overprepare, merely to make sure that every panelist got a chance to shine.

So that became my style of moderating, read everybody's work, put some questions together to showcase each panelist, meet shortly beforehand to get comfortable with each other, and let 'er rip. Usually this worked fine.

It's hard for me to remember that not everyone is as easy as I am, or as hammy, in front of an audience. Once there was a panelist, an excellent writer, a successful writer still today, maybe even a nice guy under ordinary circumstances, who was so put off by what he thought was my casual attitude that he panicked. He convinced himself that if I were left in charge of this panel I would somehow torpedo his career. As if one bad panel could even do that. He must have had terrible stage fright. So he decided to run the panel himself.

First he switched the name signs to put himself at my left elbow. Then he stuck a list of his own questions in front of me, on top of my own set of questions. Then, as I endeavored to find my own rhythm for moving the panel along, he kept interrupting, poking at his questions with a trembling finger. It was kind of an ordeal.

But at least there were people watching us. Later there was the Bouchercon in some midwestern city where I met Donna Murray, lovely woman, excellent writer. They signed us up to read for half an hour in a room right across the hall from a panel with Parnell Hall, Joan Hess and some other entertaining folks. Not a single soul came to hear us read. The two of us sat on the dais chatting in front of an empty room as gales of merry laughter rolled across the hall from the fun panel.

As a result I said, "Ha!" when the organizers of a Bouchercon in Toronto offered me fifteen minutes to do whatever I liked. "Ha! I would have to tap dance and set my hair on fire to get any attention." Then I thought, "Why in hell not? I'll promise to do that, and maybe I'll get some attention."

I won't go into the logistical problems this presented, or the long weeks of practicing my tap dance. Suffice it to say that I came to the little room ten minutes early. There I found fifteen women watching the handsome Barry Eisler read from a work in progress, in which his protagonist took off all his clothes and ran through the countryside outside of Los Angeles, for recreational purposes, I think it was. The piece was extremely well written, very descriptive. I was impressed. So were the women. In fact after he yielded the stage to me they remained sitting where they were, stupefied by visions of Barry Eisler running around the chaparral buck naked, while I tap danced and set my hair on fire. One hair. I plucked it out and set it on fire. I have no idea whether any of them bought my books.

© 2014 Kate Gallison

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Guest author D.R. Ransdell: Annoy Me, Please!

I first met D.R. Ransdell at a book conference.  We found out we had a a lot in common—writing, speaking Italian, travel.  She lives in Tucson, Arizona. She's played in a mariachi band for twenty-five years. Instead of being annoyed at her fellow musicians, she's planning on using every single one of them in her stories. Two of the worst make their grand appearance in her novel MARIACHI MURDER, introducing Andy Veracruz, a mariachi band leader.  Here is her delightful take on how to turn irksome things and people into writer's fodder.

Annamaria Alfieri


What I appreciate the most about being a crime writer is the way I now look at everything in the world in the different way. Nearly anything that happens to me, even the most mundane thing, might be material for a future book, a snippet that I can weave into the plot, a quirk I might need for a character. The whole world is material.  This is not only makes me more alive because I’m aware on a whole new level, but it displaces anger at things that might otherwise simply annoy me.
            For example, you know those deadly dull Christmas letters, the ones where people boast about how their kids are the best and their vacations were the happiest? Those letters are ripe with things to analyze. Why does Uncle Keith boast about his daughter? Actually, she’s in debt and about to have another kid with an anonymous father. Why does Cousin Sue enter baking contests? Because she’s trying to find any way to get out of her house to avoid her boring husband. I used to throw those letters away as quickly as I could—always without reading them. Now I keep them in files. I need to create rich characters. Where else could I possibly find more material? And I don’t even have to write these characters. They literally write themselves.
            Another example is when I’m stuck in line at a grocery store. (Yes, I always pick the wrong line.) Usually I would just get annoyed when I had to wait. I would whine to myself about my inability to pick a better line. Then, grumbling, I would read the headlines on the silly magazines and feel pity for the poor actors who were being gossiped about. Instead, I now realize that this waiting around can be productive. Which character would be even angrier to have to wait in line behind the family buying everything in the store than me? (A serial killer, of course.)
            Lately I’ve been working through some government paperwork. I visited the same office twice last week. The first time I got a nice clerk. The second time, I got a poor lady who had more status than the clerk but who got so confused that she looked more confused than a deer in headlights. I wasn’t asking the normal questions, so they were outside her script, and way, way outside her comfort zone. And she looked at me as if I were the one who was crazy! I should have been mad at her complete inability to get anything done. Instead I could hardly contain my laughter. I can hardly wait to get the poor little thing into the next book. Such incompetence is priceless!
            Of course these observations go to all areas of my life. When I’m in orchestra rehearsal, I no longer get mad at the silly woman who spends all her time tuning her instrument and none of it playing the darned thing. I know she can’t play the violin. She uses tuning as a cover-up. What kind of woman would do that? One who was sure her husband was sleeping with someone else because he was no longer in love with her.
            When I’m at school, I practice my skills on my colleagues. Several can be counted on to be in bad moods. In the past I ran away from these colleagues as quickly as possible, but now I cherish them.  Vaguely, I listen to complaints about overwork and bad students, but I think to myself, what could be the underlying cause? Another fight with the spouse? Another round of arguments with the teens? Some SECRET?
            The writing life is not so easy. I feel spread terribly thin between my day job and my night job and my new job of marketing myself. But I always look at the glass half full. Writing has plenty of disadvantages, but being able to turn negatives into positives isn’t one of them.
            The next time you feel yourself getting angry at a boring colleague, an inept worker, a long line, don’t fret. Take notes. You never know what you’ll need for that very next writing session.



Sunday, February 16, 2014

Remembering Robin

Robin Hathaway died a year ago today. What I’ve learned in the past year is that as a friend she is irreplaceable. When I try to write about her now I find that my words are at worst platitudinous and at best inadequate.

The blog post below is, for selfish reasons, one of my favorites. I am the friend that shared this “perfect day” with Robin. The day was fabulous and the post illustrates some of what everyone found so delightful about Robin.

Stephanie Patterson

MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2012

A Perfect Day!

Last Friday I had what I consider a perfect day. In order to pull this off, you have to have balmy weather and a good friend who shares your love of books. Then you’re all set.

We started off at eleven a.m. after a leisurely breakfast over which we discussed the books we’d read since we’d last seen each other. As usual, our tastes agreed. We both love mysteries, from cozies to noir, as well as a vast variety of fiction and non-fiction – especially prime sources such as letters and diaries of our favorite authors. Some books we touched on were: The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett, Lives of the Novelists, by John Sutherland, Case Histories by Kate Atkinson and Shoot the Piano Player by David Goodis.

Next, we headed out to Bookhaven, on Fairmount Ave., my idea of the perfect bookstore. When you open the door you’re assailed by the delicious scent of old books, a gray, striped cat is curled up on the counter, and the bookseller really knows her stock, from beginning to end. I asked for The Orations of Cicero, (for my husband), which she instantly produced, with the remark, “His letters are much livelier.” My friend and I moved on to the shelves that interested us. I came away with Short Stories by Wilkie Collins, Wartime Writings by Saint-Exupery, a Lescroart, The Second Chair, (and, of course, the Cicero).

For some reason, book browsing stimulates the appetite, so we found our way to a restaurant with outdoor tables. It was about 70 degrees with a light breeze. There, we had soup, salads, and a glass of white wine that we consumed amid more talk about books. From there we returned home to freshen up for the evening event – a celebration of David Goodis, local noir author extraordinaire. The program was held at the Free Library of Philadelphia. It began with a showing of “The Burglar,” starring Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield. This 1950 film was made from a Goodis novel by the same name. After the film, an editor from Library of America spoke about Goodis and read some passages from his novels. Lou Boxer, a director of Philadelphia’s NoirCon, did a power point presentation on Goodis’s life in Philadelphia and his career.

As we emerged from the Library to look for a cab, we realized that finding one at that hour and location was about as likely as a snow storm in July. As we prepared to spend the night curled up on the Library steps, we spied two friends — Deen Kogan and Greg Gillespie. Seeing our plight, they saved the day (rather — the night) by offering us a ride.

At home again, we broke out a chilled bottle of Chardonnay and — you guessed it — talked about books.

Don’t you agree this was a perfect day?

Robin Hathaway

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Weather We Like It or Not

The shovel is still by the door. We just might need it again. The way this winter is going, we might be shoveling out a place to put the grill for Memorial Day. 

Several more inches of snow are possible before this ends over the weekend. We already have about 18 inches on the ground. And on the car, the porch, the roof. And that's in addition to the foot that was already there. Our back yard looks like a mogul ski course. Or, being a writer, like a place where lots of bodies are buried.

But I have power, heat, food, drink. 

And an insane streak.

During the worst of the monster storm that bore down on the Eastern seaboard Thursday, David and I decided to go out for a walk. We bundled up, spent a few minutes trying to recall where the front steps were, and slid on out into our neighborhood. Yes, visibility was almost zero (ours and the cars'), the streets had been only narrowly plowed, and our township is out of salt. Did that deter us?

"Look at the big flakes," I sighed. 

David: "You mean the snow, right? Not the two idiots in the middle of the street."

But the snowplows kindly declined to use us for hood ornaments, and we walked the neighborhood. 

We're not going to be driving anytime soon anyway.
View from the porch. Note the bird bath. 

A few views of the neighborhood. That's our park, below. Snow up to the seat of the bench. 

Okay, this might be my favorite picture.

Last evening, after I finished work, I was texting with my friend Linda about what time we'd be getting up to shovel in the morning, and she said that her husband -- upon learning who she was texting -- remarked, "I wish I had some chocolate chip cookies." He is rather fond of the ones I make. I said I had everything but the chips .... and three minutes after I hit 'send', her husband -- having bounded over three-foot-drifts -- appeared at our front door with a container of them.

I must admit cookies go very well with hot buttered rum when the snow is falling. 

Sheila York
Copyright 2014

Friday, February 14, 2014


May those that love us, love us;
And those that hate us, may God turn their hearts;
If He cannot turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles
So we may know them by their limping.
This sour little Irish saying is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of love, which is a shame. It's partly that I'm something of a cynic (a shame), and partly that I'm still scarred from wounds I suffered in the great sex wars of the nineteen-seventies (again, a shame), and partly that I detest public displays of sentimentality. In my deep heart's core I actually like love as much as the next person. I still love Harold, for instance, even after thirty years of marriage. I would seriously hate to have to do without him.

Still my fancy turns toward the more cynical expressions of the tender passion, just as a matter of literary taste. Here are a few favorites.

Mae West:
Ingenue: Oh, Miss West, haven't you ever met a man who could give you perfect happiness?

Mae: Sure. Lots of times.

Dorothy Parker:

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania.

And here's a real poem, which a man I knew recited at his wedding to a woman he was madly, truly in love with. They no longer live as man and wife. Go figure.

Dover Beach

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits;—on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Matthew Arnold

May you have a good Valentine's Day.

© 2014 Kate Gallison

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Development of Samuel Craddock

Terry Shames, a Talent to Watch!

Mystery writers play in a highly competitive league. Some make it to first base, some to second, fewer to third. Terry Shames has scored a home run with her debut novel, A Killing at Cotton Hill, and the second, The Last Death of Jack Harbin.

Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek comes off the press, I predict Terry will be a Triple Crown Winner!

So, who is this Terry Shames? A Board member of both Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime in Northern California, she absorbed life in a small Texas town as a child. She has been getting high praise from esteemed mystery writers, such as Carolyn Hart and Bill Crider, as well as in
Publisher's Weekly.

I agree with Bill's comment: "Samuel Craddock [her protagonist] is a man readers are going to love!"

Sam grips you and grows on you. A man with deceptively simple wisdom, sensitive knowledge of homo sapiens, attractive to women, but faithful to his recently deceased wife, astute, likeable, the kind of guy you and I would want in our corner if we were in trouble.

Shames is one of the few writers who held my attention at every phrase. I did not skip over a single line in
A Killing at Cotton Hill!

Library Journal writes, "The plotting will dazzle readers!"

Please give a warm welcome to Terry Shames!

Thelma Jacqueline Straw

The first time I saw Samuel Craddock he was sitting on his porch in a rocking chair, thinking his life was more or less at an end. His beloved wife had died some months earlier and he saw no future for himself. An ex-chief of police, he had been retired for many years. As I “watched,” a friend of his from down the street walked up the steps and told him that an old friend of his had been murdered last night… a woman who had called when he was already in bed to tell him she thought she was in danger. I followed Samuel where he led me and that first glimpse of him became a full-fledged story of a man in his 60s who regained a purpose in life—to find out who was responsible for killing his friend.

No sooner had I finished A Killing at Cotton Hill, Samuel’s reawakening story, when another story came to my mind. In The Last Death of Jack Harbin, Craddock uses his reawakened skills to track down the killer of a former high school track star whom Samuel had known his whole life.

When time came to write the next book, I realized that this truly was going to be a series and I had some decisions to make. Would Samuel become a professional lawman again or remain an amateur with police skills? Samuel is a man who has a strong sense of justice and responsibility and I couldn’t see having his skills stay in the background. At the same time, he is a “geezer.” How much longer will he be able to call on his physical skills? I could always take the course of not having Samuel age—have him remain pretty much the same man he’s always been. There is a strong tradition of that course in crime fiction and I don’t mind reading it. But I actually prefer reading writers like Louise Penny and Michael Connelley, whose detectives age and have to rely on different skills as their physical prowess wanes.

So I decided in my third book to move Craddock into a position of greater responsibility. I don’t know how long it will last. I don’t know what kinds of crimes and criminals he will face. But I do know he is up to the challenge as a strong and capable person.

With that decision made, I had to face the hard part: If Samuel is to become a “real” lawman, I would have to know how that feels and to know more about the skills he will need. In order to do that I signed up for a course I haven’t thought I needed in the past—the Writer’s Police Academy. I look forward to learning a little bit about being a cop. So far, I’ve been able to wing it—after all, Samuel is a quasi-amateur. The series will never be a police procedural, with all the minutiae about the details of how cops work and their equipment and processes—it will be a series of stories more in line with talented and smart amateurs. But Samuel Craddock is an amateur with a gun.

The other major decision I had to make was whether Samuel was going to find a love interest. I’ve had friends whose mates died who have never had interest in finding someone else; and I’ve had friends who were the opposite. I don’t think Samuel is the kind of person to remain alone, if for no other reason than the fact that there are ladies all too eager to be “that special woman.” You’ll have to continue to read to find out what my decision was about this.

I look forward to Samuel growing and changing. He may become a different person than he was at the beginning of the first book and I have to accept that change. I hope my readers will, too.

© 2014 Terry Shames

Friday, February 7, 2014

Being Famous

I had a dystopian nightmare. A group of us were creeping around dark alleys avoiding the authorities. The group's leader was a woman whose face was wrapped in tape with small star cut-outs. She unwrapped the tape just as the bad guys had us cornered. The sun had tanned her face in little star-shaped spots. "You have to be the one now," she said, and wrapped the tape around my face. I took off running as the authorities came and shot her.

As you can easily imagine, I was not keen to assume a role whose logical end was violent death. As soon as I was alone I began to think better of it. I peeled the tape off before it could mark my face with stars. I woke up with an enormous feeling of relief.

It was a dream about fame.

It seems to me that fame is something unpleasant to experience. My subconscious is telling me this in my sleep. You're thinking, sour grapes. But consider the truly famous. They have the same troubles that all the rest of us have, only they have them in front of everybody. Their illnesses, their failed relationships, even their cellulite appears on the front page of supermarket tabloids. Strangers feel free to insult them, even to offer them physical violence. They die with needles sticking in their arms.

Believe it or not, I was sort of famous once. A little bit famous. I didn't like it. People think it's okay to take potshots at you. You offer your work to the public, and folks you've never heard of sneeringly tell you it's no good. I'm ill-suited for that sort of life. I know, I know, you're going to tell me I should develop a thick skin. But for what? There's no money in it, not for most writers, and no respect either, anymore. I don't need to write. The people who really love me love me whether I'm writing or not. I used to have seventy fans eager to read my books, but sixty-five of them are dead and gone.

Is this an announcement that I'm quitting? Not precisely. I'm going to finish Bucker Dudley and publish it as a paperback to give to the Lambertville Free Public Library, as well as a small number of friends, nieces, and cousins. See what a cool cover I made for it. Also I'm going to continue to write this column, just to amuse myself. But as for wooing New York publishing, never again. Fame, shmame. I'll be perfectly happy to live and die in obscurity. Don't look for me on a panel at Bouchercon.

New York publishing isn't what it was thirty years ago, anyway. The meals those editors used to buy me! The handsome waiters! All I got from my last editor was a cup of bitter coffee.

© 2014 Kate Gallison

Monday, February 3, 2014

Cardboard Cops and Hero PIs

Mike Welch returns with some random observations on how Dragnet's Joe Friday fares against 'Magnum PI' on ratings for niceness, good work and sexiness; and what that says about their loyal TV fans. Remember Mike Welch? He's the debut memoirist who will, I'm betting, give Marcel Proust a run for his money.

Robert Knightly

There’s an old chicken-and-the-egg type argument about whether culture prefigures art or vice versa, but who cares how this stuff works, really. This is not a lesson in Literary Criticism, but an attempt by me to point out that it is not a mistake that Joe Friday has that crew cut and says “just the facts, ma’am” while Magnum PI has that bushy mustache and mugs at the camera and usually tongue-kisses the women he interrogates at some point in each episode. To me, these shows are as much artifacts of the times and places in which they were created as they are shows about crime.

Magnum PI spanned the 80’s, pretty much (80-88), while Dragnet lit up the old cathode ray tube in living rooms across the land (in its second incarnation, the first one airing in the early 50’s) from 1967-1970, a period that included Woodstock, and perhaps the fiercest part of the Vietnam War. The differences between the two shows make me think a lot about what America was in the 60’s and what it became in the 80’s. Between ‘67-‘70 we had the end of LBJ and the beginning of Nixon, and were in the middle of a counter-cultural revolution. In the 80’s, we had “the Great Communicator” Ronald Reagan (also known as Ronnie Ray gun, by some, for his addle-brained Star Wars Program), and were smarting from our defeat in Vietnam (which some would lay at the feet of the left, one of the combatants in that revolutionary battle). Magnum’s first episode was in the fall of ‘80 while Reagan won the Presidential Election in November of that year.

So, is art a result of the society in which it is created? Certainly, I would posit, this being just as obvious as the fact that Tom Selleck’s ears would not stick out as ridiculously far as Harry Morgan’s if he cut his hair, and that if there were early scripts where Friday got to kiss lots of women like Magnum, they were abandoned when it was found no actresses were willing to go through with it. We might also try to answer if TV is truly art, and if art created to make money reflects society as faithfully as art created for its own sake (if there is such a thing).

In Magnum’s first episode, he finds out his old buddy was framed as a drug mule (and murdered in the bargain) when that buddy, who would never take drugs, much less smuggle them, found out some Army higher up was involved with drug smuggling. Interesting, that this buddy would meet such an ignominious end, as Magnum and his buddy are good God fearing Americans who love the flag and fight bravely (Magnum does three tours, and likes to drink beer and Scotch, but apparently has never been one toke over the line, or even one toke on this side of it,) and he and his buddies are always outnumbered and outgunned by Viet Cong in black pajamas before TC flies in with his helicopter and saves them. They never napalm villages and cut the ears off their enemies. Not really very “Apocalypse Now“ or, certainly, “Full Metal Jacket.”

It’s as if the TV writers wanted to have their cake and eat it too—we would have won that war if the corrupt ‘system’ hadn’t failed us and those wishy-washy lefties had just shut the fuck up. The point is not merely that most of our men were brave and honorable, but that the Viet Cong were not, and we would have won that damned war save for the generals. So the establishment takes a hit but then again doesn’t, because if we just replace those generals (I’ve been Robert Macnamara’d and Maxwell Taylor’d to death and Andy Warhol won’t you please come home) with some real true American men, who are braver and more morally upright than any other men on earth (kind of like Boy Scouts, without the sodomy), we can go off and fight some more wars, like in Grenada and Panama, where we were just barely able to save the world from the Red Menace. And Magnum follows a trail of clues that are better than Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs, clues which are easier to figure out than a Where’s Waldo puzzle, which is kind of disappointing.

But not as disappointing as the Mysteries Friday and his sidekick solve on Dragnet. I just watched the first episode, and although its intent was to terrify kids into not taking LSD, it made me think they were more afraid of those kids upsetting the status quo than about taking drugs. I mean, isn’t the subtext of all this “why can’t they just get drunk like us, and go to church, and make a lot of money off war, and toe the fucking party line?” It’s like the church trying to kill off your enjoyment of sex, because if you’re spending Sunday mornings screwing you’re not going to church and putting money in the collection plate, not worried about your after-life insurance because you are too focused on the here and now. Shit, the show made me feel like I was tripping already. I mean, Joe Friday, an obvious descendent of those noir tough guys of the 40’s, is laughable, a guy who couldn’t even punch out Barney the Dinosaur.

And his tough guy patter is ridiculous, especially with his bad haircut and McGruff the crime dog face—I’m always expecting, when he turns around, to see a kick-me sign on his back. The “kids” in the show take acid and chew the bark off trees, and lick the paint off paintbrushes, and this guy Friday comes after intoning, at the beginning of the show, “This is the city… I carry a badge”, this guy comes in and says, “What kind of kick are you on, kid” and arrests the young and stoned idiot on charges that he is leading a dissolute and immoral life! And the parents are reliably out of touch. The mother of the acid-dealer, who dies at the end because he “wanted to get further and further out, man,” tells Friday that “The boys nowadays are just always trying something silly, like growing their hair long, like those English singers.”

Oh, well, maybe we can’t call TV art. Or at least this kind of TV. Instead of taking an intelligent stand on one side or the other of the culture war, or trying to genuinely capture something of the conflict between the sides in the fight, these shows just spout the agitprop, the party line, of their rich sponsors (I wonder if Dow Chemical was one of them). I guess the TV execs figured that it was the parents who were going to be spending the money to buy what was advertised on the commercials, although they eventually realized kids spend money too, and came out with flameless bubble gum shows like the Partridge Family, where the family gets to drive around in a psychedelic bus, but are anything but a band of merry pranksters.

So, although on the surface the shows are different, Magnum much hipper than Friday, basking in the afterglow of the sexual revolution, both shows try to preserve the status quo by setting up straw men they can easily knock down, Friday exposing ungrateful, whiny teenagers who don’t know shit from shinola, as he speaks for and as the Establishment, and Magnum triumphing over venal military authority figures while still leaving room to love war (which you have to do if you love America, I suppose the message is), speaking for the Establishment while in disguise as a free-love loving baby boomer. Both shows try to win the culture war, only doing it in different ways, on different sides of the Vietnam War. If perhaps the real mystery in mystery novels and on TV is the mystery of why, why the criminals transgress and why the cops and detectives and Private Eyes need to pursue them, then these two characters are no mystery at all, but merely cardboard mouthpieces through which their corporate sponsors speak.

© 2014 Mike Welch

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Reading Other People’s Mail: The Mitford Sisters

“Steph, you have everybody’s letters,” my husband observed the other day. He really doesn’t know the half. The letters he was talking about were on the Kindle. I have other volumes of letters spread around on many shelves. (Hefting the correspondence between Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis has done wonders for my shoulder muscles.)

Though I know that many notable people are probably writing for an audience in addition to the letter’s recipient, I never get over the feeling that I’m reading something I wasn’t meant to see. And I miss letters. Much has been written about the disposable nature of e-mails, but I’ve never really equated e-mails with letters. Sending an email is something I do rather than making a phone call.

Mitford mail makes up a nice sized portion of my collection. Here are the Mitfords in a nutshell: Nancy was a novelist. Pamela raised poultry. Diana was married to Oswald Mosley who was the head of the British Union of Fascists (Hitler was among the wedding guests), Unity Valkyrie loved Hitler and shot herself in the head some days after England declared war on Germany. (She did not die). Jessica was a Communist and muckraking journalist and Deborah (still living at 93) made her estate at Chatsworth a working farm. And these ladies had time to write letters!

Here’s a brief look at the collections:

Love From Nancy: The Letters of Nancy Mitford edited by Charlotte Mosley. I bought this when it came out years ago and saved it for my Christmas/New Year’s read. Well, I had been invited to a New Year’s Eve party but these letters were so engrossing I called my hostess and tendered my regrets. I could not imagine that anyone at the party (and I include myself here) could be as fascinating as Ms. Mitford. I do regret that she so loathed Americans. One of her pet peeves was that on being introduced to her, Americans addressed her as Nancy. She seems sharp and witty with a host of correspondents. She moved to Paris and wasted her affection on Gaston Palewski, a member of De Gaulle’s staff who did not return the intensity of affection, but the lady’s not a whiner and letters are very entertaining. If you want a somewhat smaller collection, Charlotte Mosley (Diana Mitford’s daughter in law) has also edited a collection of letters between Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh (he also detests Americans).

Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford, edited by Peter Y. Sussman. Jessica is the Mitford sister best known to Americans because she lived here. She distressed her family greatly when she ran off with Esmond Romilly, a Communist and a young man rumored to be the illegitimate son of Winston Churchill. She’s best known for The American Way of Death, a book that made generations of Americans wary of funeral industry. Members of the Kennedy family had read it and had it in mind when they went looking for a coffin for JFK. She was also involved in the labor movement and the Civil Rights movement. She married Bob Treuhaft, a labor attorney who, at least for a time, employed the young Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is also the sister most distressed by the politics of Unity and Diana. Both Diana and Oswald Mosley were imprisoned In England during WWII and when they were released, Jessica protested to Winston Churchill. This collection provides a marvelous look at what it was like to be involved in some of the great issues of the day.

In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor, edited by Charlotte Mosley. Deborah Mitford, the youngest of the Mitford sisters, turned her estate into a working farm. Patrick Leigh Fermor is a sort of scholar-adventurer and thought by many to be the best travel writer ever. His many adventures are thrilling (his capture of a Nazi general on Crete was the basis for the film, Ill Met by Moonlight) and as I read about them I felt I was there. Deborah Devonshire has witnessed a lot of history and was close to the Kennedys. Her husband became Duke of Devonshire when his brother (and Kathleen Kennedy’s husband) was killed during the war. No matter how many names are dropped you never forget that she knows a lot about livestock and chickens. The letters are warm and funny and well worth reading.

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosley. So I just looked this up on Amazon and noted that a line from the review I wrote of this book has been highlighted: “For a special chill, read the letters between Diana and Unity written during World War II.” Might I add that it is distressing to see Hitler described as “sweet.” The collection as a whole is fascinating and Mosley does a great job of providing context through her footnotes.

All in all these books are a great reminder of how wonderful letters are and I’m so grateful that these ladies held on to theirs. Thank God that these women were frequently miles away from each other and that phone service was expensive and frequently lousy.

© 2014 Stephanie Patterson