Saturday, January 31, 2009

Home Is Where Your Story Begins

Blazing sunlight today. I saw my shadow, just like a groundhog emerging from his burrow. I’ve been icebound for a week. Hadn’t been to the mailbox since last Saturday. But, thank God for small favors, we’ve had two days of sunshine. With the help of Ice Melt, my garden hoe and deck broom, I cleared a path to the curb this morning, and took the Senior Center bus to Wal-Mart. Halleluja, I’m a bum!

The week wasn’t all bad. I had a fridge-freezer full of homemade goodies. I had electricity. I had time to sit here at the computer and catch up on news from everywhere. One thing stuck in my memory, a line from a home-and-garden feature at

A Northern California designer bought an abandoned barn in New Jersey, had it hauled to California in pieces on a flatbed truck, and spent about six years turning it into a home. The line that lodged in my mind: “A plaque on Johnsen's wall proclaims, ‘Home is where your story begins.’”

I need a plaque like that for my wall. It applies in spades to my just released, reissued mystery novel. Line editing FULL CIRCLE for its new life as ABSINTHE OF MALICE, I realized it was a like a diary of my life and times while I was writing the original book. Everything in the book came right out of my life in one way or another.

When I promoted FULL CIRCLE up and down the Central San Joaquin Valley I swore to my audiences that the book was entirely fiction, bore no resemblance to anyone I knew, blah, blah, blah. I believed it, too.

You can’t fool readers. Their questions gave me pause. To use an old biblical phrase, the scales fell from my eyes. I began to see certain similarities in my fiction and my real-life observations and experiences.

One scene in particular came from reporting on a famous actor who was in the neighborhood for a cultural promotion. He was accompanied by his wife, who kept getting into the photos I was snapping. A few months later he divorced her.

Somehow, a version of that experience made its way into my book. On Page 117 of ABSINTHE OF MALICE, Penny Mackenzie goes to her newspaper morgue for a file on Editha Kluck, manager of the Chamber of Commerce. Quoting:

Editha’s file was thin, a brief on an inside page, and a follow-up photo. The brief announced her hiring, mentioned a previous job in Idaho. The proverbial picture worth a thousand words was taken the day of her arrival in the Chamber office.

Editha smiled brightly. Layton, one arm resting on her shoulders, wore a predatory grin. Merrily stood behind Editha, her face just visible above Layton’s arm. What was her expression? Frustration? Jealousy? Pure hatred? All of the above.

Merrily had shoved her way into the picture. Ignore me at your peril, she seemed to say. Pay attention.
I was dumbstruck when I realized where that scene came from. I must say, it fits my book like a fine Italian glove.

A longtime friend has both books. She called last weekend to say she likes it even better the second time around. She said, “I keep laughing. It sounds just like you.”

I like it better the second time around, too. It’s a detailed word picture of a time and place I like to remember. It’s a visit “home.”

Friday, January 30, 2009

High Tech Crime Detection

by Jean Henry Mead

White collar crime is on the rise and made easier through the internet. Few people are now taken in by Nigerian email promising millions of dollars if only you will help them transfer money to the U.S.

But phishing is a relatively new crime that involves criminals who send email requesting the recipient’s passwords and account numbers for various bank accounts and other financial institutions. It may be a fraudulent credit card offer or various merchandise with a legitimate appearing logo implanted in the email. However, the links they provide go directly to the crooks' computers. If the unsuspecting victim provides a credit card number or checking account number, within hours large purchases will no doubt be charged to the account. And the victim will spend years trying to clear his corrupted credit.

Highly trained investigators are taught the laws of search and seizure and are well acquainted with computer fraud. They know how data is stored and how to recover deleted files, examine hard drives, break passwords, detect computer viruses and how to discover devises that can destroy a computer's inner workings, according to Lee Lofland in his book Police Procedure and Investigation.

Cyber criminals have devised ways to prevent investigators from discovering their illegal activities by drilling holes in their hard drives or smashing them with sledge hammers. They’ve also submerged the hard drives in acid, the only effective way to destroy the data. Forensic computers are normally used to scan computers seized in raids on illegal operations and the hardware write blocker or HWD is a necessary tool in high-tech crime detection. The forensic computer operates by extracting information from the criminal’s computer and storing it for future investigation and evidence collection.

Lofland says the ”HWD functions much like the foot valve in a water line that’s connected to a pump and well system. The valve opens when the pump (HWD) pulls water (information) toward a house (forensic computer) but closes tightly when the pumping stops so the leftover water in the lines can’t return to the well (suspect’s computer). The one-way action of the HWD is designed to prevent cross-contamination of evidence."

It also prevents any evidence of the HWD probe in the suspect’s computer, which an attorney could use as defense. Lofland added: “It could be compared to planting evidence, such as a bloody knife or glove at a homicide scene.”

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The "It" Factor

By Beth Terrell

This past weekend, I had lunch with a friend who works in the publishing industry. She's a publicist who sometimes acts as an acquisitions editor. Our conversation turned to a member of my critique group, a man who had pitched his novel to her at last year's Killer Nashville conference.

I don't know what 'it' is," she said, "but he has it in spades. I know he's going to make it, bigtime."

I know exactly what she means, but I'm no more able to say exactly what "it" is than she was. All I know is that my friend has it. But what exactly IS it? Maybe it's a kind of charisma, or the way he's genuinely interested in other people and genuinely wishes the best for them. Maybe it's a sense that he is man of very real integrity. Maybe it's his intensity, hidden beneath a shy, boyish demeanor. You can tell he won't run over anybody to get to his goal, but that he won't give up until he does get there. Maybe it's all those things rolled into one.

Is 'it' something that can be cultivated, or is it inborn. like the color of your hair or the ability to curl your tongue? Maybe, like so many things, it grows through a complex interplay between nature and nurture.

Maybe "it" is something different for each of us. For some, like my friend, it shines like a sun to everyone he meets. For others, it's more understated, less visible. Maybe it's a dynamic, dramatic energy, like J.T. Ellison's, or a quiet, humble generosity like Mary Saums's. What about your favorite writers? Do they have "it?" Is "it" the same thing for all of them?

Maybe "it" is just being the best, most genuine you you can possibly be.

If you think of your favorite or the most popular authors, do they all have something in common? And do those somethings combine to create the indefinable "it?"

I don't know for sure, but I do know that the most successful authors I know have some traits in common. One is focus. They are extremely good at "keeping their eye on the ball"--at setting a goal and heading straight for it without being derailed by things like unmade beds and Minesweeper. They are also, more often than not, gracious and generous people who are willing, within reason, to offer help and advice to others. A friend once met Stephen King at a local science fiction convention at which King was the speaker. After his speech, Mr. King spent the evening in the hospitality suite chatting with my friend about books and other common interests. Stephen King didn't have to be so generous with his time; he gave it anyway.

In my opinion, the "it" factor is something that draws others to you and makes you memorable. Something that gives people a good feeling when they think about you.

How about you all? What do you think "it" is? And how important is it to a writer?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Veteran's Salute

By Mark W. Danielson

Many conflicts have occurred during my lifetime. The Korean War concluded when I was born, and the Vietnam War ended just before I received my Air Force commission. Many more conflicts arose during my military service, and since my retirement, we have become involved in fighting two desert wars. While I was fortunate to have never fired a shot in harm’s way, many of my peers weren’t so lucky. So to those who have ever served in a combat zone, I salute you, and am grateful that America is now saluting you, too.

Until now, many of our veterans missed out on their nation’s respect. After World War II, Americans weren’t prepared for another Asian war, thus they showed little favor for its returning Korean War veterans. These soldiers fought under extremely harsh conditions, yet received little acknowledgement for their sacrifices. By the time we got involved in Vietnam, America’s youngest generation became adamantly opposed to war. Their opposition divided our country, and in many cases we saw extremists resorting to the very violence that they despised. I’m sorry to say that many from my generation spat on our returning Vietnam veterans. What made it worse was many of these anti-war protesters were veterans themselves; young kids who had been drafted and saw their teammates blown away and mangled. They were angry, and fought diligently to put an end the draft and the war. Ironically, their right to protest was actually a gift from those veterans who preceded them. America’s involvement in Vietnam was such an emotional issue that it took decades before our Vietnam Veterans were recognized for their service to their country.

Thankfully, the Vietnam War did abolish the draft, and modern weapons have made it possible to get by with a strictly volunteer force. But these volunteers are spread thin, and most are seeing multiple desert tours. Today, our National Guard and Reserve forces are in constant rotation, filling the gaps for our active duty forces. But the one positive aspect is Americans are now embracing their veterans. One Dallas man even formed a welcoming group to greet every returning desert war veteran as they pass through the DFW airport. Today, veterans receive honorable mentions at ball games, rodeos, and in Presidential addresses, and rightfully so. Today’s returning veterans can hold their heads high rather than duck in shame. It’s remarkable that this dramatic turnaround came within one or two generations. Our veterans should always receive positive recognition.

Two million people filled the spaces between our war memorials on the Capitol Mall during President Obama’s inauguration. Indeed, the Capitol Mall is sacred, but as significant as our national memorials are, one state chose to go beyond that to recognize its own veterans, and that state happens to be Indiana.

Indiana’s Civil War Memorial was their first monument to be constructed. Located in Indianapolis, this centerpiece incorporates a basement museum that explains their state’s involvement in the war. After World War I, the War Memorial was constructed two blocks away and General Pershing was there to lay its corner stone. (See photo.) This amazing building boasts a sanctuary, auditorium, museum, and numerous multi-purpose rooms. The sanctuary stairs are lined with the names of every Indiana veteran, with specific notations to those who died.

Sadly, the “War to End All Wars” didn’t achieve its goal, for less than two decades later the foundation for World War II was laid. To help end the war in the Pacific, the USS Indianapolis secretly carried the atomic bomb to the B-29 base in Guam. On its return voyage, it was sunk by a Japanese submarine; its resulting survivor tales mentioned in the movie, “Jaws”. Appropriately, the USS Indianapolis’ plight became part of the War Memorial, along with displays of the Korean, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars. Over the years, Indiana has expanded its veterans’ mall to include memorials for all of America’s wars. Appropriately, the national headquarters for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion cap the mall’s end. But Indiana’s tribute doesn’t stop there. On Indianapolis’ river walk, a talking Medal of Honor memorial tells the story of each of its awardees, and further down, there is another tribute to the USS Indianapolis. No other state honors its veterans like Indiana.

Regardless of how or why our veterans served, it’s critical that we acknowledge them for defending our freedom. So the next time you see someone wearing a uniform, or perhaps a hat or coat that reflects prior military affiliation, take a moment to shake their hand and thank them for their service. Your reward will be a heartfelt smile, and perhaps a story worth listening to.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Merging Fiction and Fact

By Chester Campbell

True crime writers take a murder case and explore it from beginning to end, going into great detail about the partipants, their actions, and their motivations. It takes a mountain of research to make sure all the facts are correct. Otherwise, they would likely face a lawsuit. Some do anyway.

Mystery fiction writers take an actual case and change enough of the facts that they can say whatever they wish without getting into trouble. That's what I did in my first Greg McKenzie novel.

I wanted to saddle Greg with a recent troubled past. I had him quickly tire of retirement and take a job as an investigator for the district attorney in Nashville. I needed something that would get him fired from his job, plus anger many in the police department. I picked a case that remained unsolved but was in and out of the news on a regular basis.

A young lawyer had reported his wife, a talented artist, missing two weeks after she supposedly left home for a "12-day vacation" following an argument. Her friends said she would never leave her young son and daughter like that. The police quickly targeted the husband but were unable to find a body.

I changed the husband to a CPA and the wife to an interior designer. They had only a young son. But I kept most of the circumstances of the police search and their concentration on the husband as the murderer.

In the real case, the wife was the daughter of a prominent local attorney, who sided with the police in believing his son-in-law guilty. I made the missing wife the daughter of a prominent banker, who was the chief backer of the district attorney. When my protag, Greg McKenzie, makes some off-the-cuff remarks quite critical of the lead investigator, they turn up on the front page of the newspaper. The wife's father is infuriated and Greg gets fired.

Long after my book was published, the actual case reached a conclusion when the husband's father turned on him and testified he had helped dispose of the wife's body. The story was told in a true crime book titled An Unfinished Canvas, by Nashville author Phyllis Gobbell and Michael Glasgow.

Fictionalizing fact is a much simpler operation. Of course, Nashvillians who read my book recognized the similarity to the Janet and Perry March case. After his conviction in August of 2006, March was sentenced to 56 years in prison. I can't tell you what happened to the young CPA in Secret of the Scroll. That would be a spoiler.
Read my blog Murder Mania


by Jean Henry Mead

Dialogue is my forte. I enjoy fleshing out characters through inner monologues as well as conversations with other characters. Real people rarely speak in complete sentences unless they’re giving a speech. Perfect grammar in dialogue is usually an indication that the writer is an amateur, unless, of course, the speaker is an English professor. That reminds me of an online critique group I joined years ago on AOL. One of the first critiques I received was, “You need to clean up your characters’ grammar.” My southern, uneducated character would have suspended belief if he had said:

“Good morning, darling. I would prefer a cup of tea with my breakfast rather than the usual roasted blend.”

Instead, he said, “Grab me a cuppa java, will ya, Babe. I’ll have a bowl a grits with my hen fruit.”

Elmore Leonard is a master at writing dialogue. His characters’ conversations ring true and rarely will you find a complete sentence among them. In my latest novel, A Village Shattered, I have a lot of short dialogue to move the plot forward, such as a conversation between my protagonists, Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty shortly after they smell a strange odor in their murdered friend's house:

“She’s allergic to perfume.”
“That’s right, she was.”
“Kinda smelled like Harold.”
“That horse liniment he wears?”
“Harold’s bursitis gave him away.”
“How many seniors use arthritic rubs?”
Dana answered the question herself. “Nearly everyone.”

Short dialogue is not only easier to read, it conveys tension and conflict, which are not the same. Tension occurs whenever two people speak, although they may agree. It’s like the energy between charged particles, while conflict is akin to boxers sparing in the ring. By the end of the scene, someone is bound to win the argument, and novels thrive on conflict.

Make every word of dialogue count. Carefully craft what your characters say in the least amount of words and make sure those words are filled with conflict and tension as rhythmically pleasing as possible. Then read your finished dialogue aloud. If you stumble over the words, they need rewriting.

Avoid phonetically written dialogue in the style of Mark Twain. If you’re unfamiliar with a dialect, don’t attempt to write it. A good rule of thumb is: if it slows the reader down, it’s poorly written. An example of dialogue to avoid is from Huckleberry Finn:

“Balum he tuck de money en when he wuz in church, he hea de preacher say dat whoever gie to de po’ len to de Lord, en boun’ to git his money back a hunnurd fold.”

Better to write: “Balum done put all his money in the collection plate. He hear the preacher say whoever gives to the poor is lendin’ to the Lord. And he’s bound to git his money back a hunnurd fold.”

A little dialect goes a long way.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Divine Wow

Full moon over Anasazi ruins known as UWukoki in Wupatki National Monument, Arizona. Photo from

By Pat Browning

The rock musical “Hair” ran on Broadway from 1968 to 1972 and played more than 1,800 performances. I saw the road show twice, once in San Francisco and once in Las Vegas. The novelty of naked people milling around onstage dimmed with time, but the music stayed with me …

“When the moon is in the Seventh House/ And Jupiter aligns with Mars/ Then peace will guide the planets/ And love will steer the stars/ This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius … “

Forty years later “Hair” is set to reopen on Broadway in March, we had an interesting alignment of planets on New Year’s Eve, a couple of astrologers hint at a rerun of the ‘60s, and this may or may not be the Age of Aquarius.

Just as 2008 was going out, Venus, a crescent moon, Jupiter and Mercury were in close proximity. According to a news story, you could draw an imaginary line from Venus and the moon, down through Jupiter and Mercury, and the line would point to where the sun set.

Nothing stirs our imagination like the moon. I don’t know what “house” the full moon of January 10 was in, but it was a Wolf Moon – so named by early Algonquin tribes for the wolf packs howling hungrily outside Indian villages.

As to the Age of Aquarius, you could spend a week just surfing the Internet for various interpretations of astrological ages. Astrologers, astronomers, seers, psychologists and philosophers have studied the progression of the planets since time began. About the only thing most “experts” agree on is that an astrological age lasts about 2,150 years. However, calculations as to the beginning of the Age of Aquarius vary wildly – from 1447 AD to 2060. It’s a subject for serious study, not a Saturday blog.

Of more immediate interest are the interpretations and comments from a couple of astrologers.

Astrologer Mary O’Gara of Albuquerque writes the monthly Starfire column for Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine ( Here’s an excerpt from her January forecast for early 2009:

East of the Mississippi, money may seem to disappear as quickly as it arrives–but at least cash does show up to fuel your vision and meet your emergencies along the road. West of the Mississippi, money flows from business, marketing, promotion; if you’ve got something (from a book to a widget) to sell, it’s time to get back out and talk to potential buyers.
Large publishing companies may cut back because of the bottom line–and innovations will fill the gap. Look around your own industry and see what needs to be done, then find a way to meet the need.
For a writer, that may mean writing more how-to articles. For travel writers, the focus may be on family travel by car again or other service articles rather than glamour pieces. But it could also be science fiction based on the new scientific questions about energy and planetary change.

Change, in other words, is inevitable. We may be less innocent about change than we were in the 60's, but we’re also more knowledgeable about its potential.
(End Quote)

Californian Rob Brezsny, who writes a syndicated column “Free Will Astrology,” believes that what’s written in the stars is more of a suggestion than a hard and fast rule.

In an interview with David Ian Miller, published in the San Francisco Chronicle ( Brezsny says: “I believe our imagination is our most important asset for creating the future. … Why not, then, create self-fulfilling prophecies that lead us in the direction of love, integrity, happiness and generosity?”

He also says:
I believe that we've got some pretty interesting changes ahead for us. It could go a couple of different ways, and I would not be so arrogant to say that I know which will prevail. There is a configuration for the next three years, starting in 2009 and really kicking in fully in 2010, and it involves Saturn, Uranus and Pluto. The last times those three planets occurred in tight configuration was the period between 1929 and 1932 and the period between 1964 and 1968.
(End Quote)

Something to ponder there. The year 1929 kicked off the Great Depression. The ‘60s were a time of great social upheaval. Like the interviewer and the interviewee, if I had a choice I’d take the ‘60s.

Brezsny has written a book -- Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings – in which he urges people to come up with their own religions. He suggests possible names for the deity: Blooming HaHa, Whirl-Zap-Gush, Sublime Cackler.

Brezsny’s own choice: “I like to refer to that Supreme Intelligence, the one consciousness that pervades the universe, as The Divine Wow.”

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hijacked Mail

by Jean Henry Mead

No wonder a growing number of people prefer email messages to letters, and paying their bills online or by phone. Who knows whether our stamped payments will ever reach their destinations.

Although mail volume has decreased by 9 billion pieces over the past fiscal year, some postal employees can’t seem to deliver what’s left. In Detroit recently, mail carriers who swore to endure the snow, rain and gloom of night to deliver the mail have stashed it such places as storage buildings or in their own basements.

According to the Associated Press, mail carriers across the country have been arrested for hoarding the mail. Postal services have become the object of jokes and I’m sure that more than a few people who don’t or can’t pay their bills have used the excuse that their payments had been hijacked.

In North Dakota, a 62-year-old mail carrier was granted probation for destroying four tons of mail, some of it up to ten years old, which had been stored in his home. Some 3,000 pieces were first-class mail. He was granted probation although it’s a federal offense for the average person to open someone else’s mail.

Some carriers have stolen birthday cards containing money, others magazines they’d like to read. A former carrier in a small town near Detroit pled guilty to deserting the mail, a misdemeanor. The part-time carrier stored thousands of pieces of mail in a storage unit, including 988 first class letters, but failed to pay her storage bill. Some of the mail dated back to 2005. The strangest aspect of the case was that no one on her route complained about not receiving their mail.

The Postal Service reported 333 cases of mail theft, delay or destruction by their employees or contractors in the fiscal year ending September 30. Some of the thefts involved a single piece of mail but a California postal manager was sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing thousands of DVDs.

A 59-year-old postman was arrested in North Carolina, and his stash required four trucks to haul away six year's worth of third-class mail stored in his garage. The man denied that his theft stemmed from an anti-junk mail protest. He admitted that he just couldn’t get the job done.

I wish my mail carrier would hoard my junk mail. The local trash collector would probably appreciate it too.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Infallible Seer

By Beth Terrell

Top agent Nathan Bransford has a blog on which he occasionally asks such thought-provoking questions as, "What is your least favorite word?" and "What's the hardest part about being a writer?" Yesterday's question was, "Do you think you're a better writer than the average reader of this blog?" Talk about a loaded question!

The one that had me stewing went something like this: Imagine there is a seer. His predictions are always right. He can tell you with 100% accuracy whether or not you have the talent to be a published author, and if he said no, that was that. Would you want to know? (For the sake of fairness, I'm interpreting the question in its strictest sense: that if he says no, it means that, not only do I not possess the talent now, but I will never have it.) And if the answer was no, would you keep writing?

Notice it doesn't say he knows whether you will be published. It says he knows whether you have the talent to be published. He isn't just making a prediction; he's telling you your worth as a writer.

I've gone back and forth on this question a hundred times. If I were to become a successful author, with tons of adoring fans, I think I'd take that as an affirmation of my talent and forget about the seer. But if I weren't...Well, that's a different story, isn't it? To know, or not to know. That is the question.

I've always told myself that I would always write, no matter what. I love writing: creating new stories, falling in love with a character, exploring that character's relationships and history. There's nothing like it. My success as an author (or the lack of it) would have no effect at all on whether or not I continued to write.

But if the Infallible Seer told me I was a talentless hack, a lot of the joy I take in writing would shrivel up and blow away. Part of what I love about writing is believing that, whether anyone else ever reads my work or not, I'm good at it--or at least, that I can learn to be.

So, after much soul-searching, I've made my choice. I would choose not to know. Let the Infallible Seer destroy someone else's dream, if he can.

For my part, I'll keep learning, keep trying, and keep writing.

What would you do?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Miracle on the Hudson

(Associated Press photo)

By Mark W. Danielson

I normally don’t comment on current events, but since this deals with my profession, I’ll make an exception. Simply put, Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger’s outstanding handling US Airways Flight 1549 on January 15, 2009, makes him the greatest airline pilot since Captain Al Haynes, who landed his severely damaged DC-10 in Sioux City on July 19, 1989. In both incidents, these pilots’ superior headwork and flying skills saved hundreds of lives. In neither case were they trained to handle such intricate emergencies.

Captain Sullenberger, his crew, and the rescuers who raced to their aid all deserve accolades, but this story’s happy ending was also due to having perfect conditions for this water landing. True, the outside air temperature was in the low twenties, but the water temperature was approximately forty-two degrees, and landing with the current helped decrease the aircraft's relative touchdown speed. Being daytime and with good visibility, the Hudson River was the perfect landing spot because it minimized passenger injuries and eliminated the catastrophic loss of life that this highly-populated urban area had experienced from a prior accident. Of course, the real miracle is that this Airbus 320 not only remained intact, but floated level, allowing its passengers to stand on its wings while awaiting their rescue. The fact that so many rescue boats were available to provide instant response prevented loss of life from hypothermia.

I happened to be flying an MD-11 into Newark when the US Airways accident occurred. The first I heard of it was when my jump-seater’s husband reported the event to her after we landed. I heard no further details until arriving at my hotel, and was amazed that this large Airbus with its under-wing engines remained intact as it did. For this I give partial credit to the aircraft’s design, but mostly to Captain Sullenberger’s skillful flying.

During my forty-three years of flying, I have experienced a total of seven engine failures. The five I had in multi-engine aircraft were no problem, but the two in light single-engine aircraft got my attention. Since both occurred at five hundred feet, I was fortunate to have landed without incident. Thankfully, airplanes still fly when engines fail.

Complete engine failures are extremely rare, even in the case of bird ingestion. Still, it happens. Modern simulators with full motion and video provide extremely realistic training; so much so that “birds” sometimes appear in your windscreen just prior to your losing an engine. This kind of training makes handling most emergencies second nature, but there are times when you must improvise, as Captain Sullenberger did.

Flying remains the safest form of transportation, but every passenger must always be prepared to evacuate. While two years has passed since anyone has died in a commercial airliner, two airline accidents in the last thirty days forced hundreds from their aircraft. Imagine fleeing from a burning aircraft into the snow, as the passengers of the Continental Airlines 737 did in Denver on December 20th, or evacuating a plane in the water as these US Airways passengers did on January 15. In both cases, the crews and passengers should be commended for their prompt, calm actions.

Now for my safety pitch.

First: Believe that your aircraft may become involved in an accident. Doing so will better mentally prepare you, should this actually occur.

Second: When you take your seat, note your escape routes. Identifying some good reference points will aid in your evacuation, should your airplane be filled with smoke and/or come to rest upside down.

Third: Keep your coat and shoes on for takeoff and landing. Doing so will provide protection in the unlikely event you must evacuate.

Fourth: Never inflate your life vest inside an airplane because it can prevent your exit, should water fill the cabin.

Airline pilots receive constant training and evaluation. Twice a year, they return to their simulators to practice handling emergencies, and once a year, a FAA evaluator rides aboard two sequential flights to observe their performance. A pilot who has earned an Airline Transport Pilot rating in a commercial aircraft has received the equivalent of a doctorate in aviation. Every airline pilot’s first priority is safety, and while simulator training cannot cover every emergency situation, it does an excellent job of preparing for worst-case scenarios. So, the next time you fly, take a moment to thank the pilots and flight attendants for their expertise in delivering you safely to your destination.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Random Choices

By Chester Campbell

I suppose things happen in fiction as in life, the result of random choices made on the spur of the moment. I was reminded of that recently when I made a talk to the Trousdale County Historical Society in Hartsville, TN.

It was an interesting group. About twenty-five people came out on a cold rainy afternoon to listen to a mystery (not history) writer. Why Trousdale, the smallest county in Tennessee with only 7,700 residents? That's the result of one of those random choices.

Incidentally, the photo above shows one of the county's main claims to fame, the abandoned cooling tower for the Hartsville nuclear power plant, the $12.3 billion project TVA scrapped in 1982.

When I started writing The Marathon Murders, I had only a basic plot idea in mind. Back in 1914, when Nashville's Marathon Motor Works went into bankruptcy, a company official disappeared and was accused by his boss of embezzlement. Now, 90 years later, documents are found during restoration of the defunct company's plant and administration building that may show the accused man was framed and murdered. His great-great granddaughter hires PIs Greg and Jill McKenzie to recover the documents, which have gone missing.

I had used a Metro Nashville homicide detective as Greg's main police contact in previous books, so I decided to do something different this time. On every trip downtown, I always passed an impressive building that housed the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Why not use a TBI agent in this book, I thought?

I knew little about the TBI except that they worked mostly with county sheriffs and small town police forces that lacked the expertise to tackle major crimes. So I started looking for a small county not far from Nashville. That's when I found Trousdale, only 35 miles away, was the ideal candidate.

I put the contractor who possessed the long-lost documents in the small county, and as fate (and the muse) would have it, arranged for three murders to be committed there.

It had been a couple of years since I finished writing the book, and I hadn't really thought about the way it had happened until a lady in the Historical Society asked how I came to use Trousdale County in the book.

I had been a bit concerned when the organization's president invited me to speak, since I barely got into the county's history in the book. But it turned out many of the members were avid mystery readers and they asked numerous good questions. They also bought books.

Before I left, they told me about a famous unsolved murder in the area and invited me to come back anytime and set some more mayhem in the county. I received a copy of The Hartsville Vidette, their small weekly newspaper, and the editor, who took pictures during my talk, promised to write a story about another of my books the next week. Happily for me, another serendipitous random choice.

For more random ramblings, visit my Mystery Mania blog.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Killing of Wolves

by Jean Henry Mead

The battle again rages over open season on northern Rocky Mountain wolves. Last year the animals were briefly delisted and hunters were shooting them on sight. As a result, conservationists as well as the general public protested the animals’ slaughter and threatened to boycott Wyoming. Tourism is one of the state’s main sources of revenue, and the wolves were once again placed on the endangered species list.

When we first heard of the delisting, we rushed down to the sportsmen's store to buy a wide orange collar for our Australian Sheppard, who likes to dig out of our rural fenced yard. She looks so much like a wolf in profile that we were afraid some trigger happy hunter would target her during one of her dig-out escapades.

When the Game and Fish Commission announced this month that they plan to remove wolves from the endangered species list in Montana and Idaho, but not Wyoming, we sighed with relief. The decision, however, caused a fire storm of anger in the ranching community, which is threatening lawsuits against the federal government.

Either the wolf population in the Rockies has recovered sufficiently to be removed from the endangered list or they haven’t, says the D. C. based Defenders of Wildlife organization. Why should two states bordering Wyoming be delisted and not the cowboy state?

Wyoming has a dual status wolf plan which classifies wolves in the northwestern section of the state as trophy animals that can only be killed by licensed hunters. Some 90% of the wolf population lives in the Yellowstone Park area. The rest of the state has open season on wolves with no limitations. We live in that area.

The Bush Administration handed over management of wolves in the Northern Rockies to individual states in March 2008. In July a Montana judge issued an injunction against the ruling, saying that Game and Fish failed to ensure genetic exchange among the three-state wolf populations, and that they had flip-flopped on Wyoming’s dual status wolf plan.

All three states established trophy game zones for wolves, but Wyoming was the only state to create a predator area for the animals to be shot on sight by anyone, without limits. The ruling was only one of the concerns of Montana Judge Donald Molloy, when he issued the injunction. In October, Judge Molloy vacated the delisting rule, making it void.

At the end of October, the Fish and Wildlife Service reopened the public comment period on its plan to delist wolves, forcing the three states to have a federally approved management “scheme” before the wolves could be delisted. The Fish and Wildlife Service told Wyoming Governor Dave Fruedenthal that it would no longer accept the state’s dual wolf plan unless it complies with government regulations.

So it appears there will be plenty of lawsuits filed in Wyoming this year by ranchers, conservationists and the State of Wyoming.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

"Nuff Said

Photo from
Airline passengers wait to board a ferry to be rescued on the wings of a US Airways Airbus 320 jetliner that safely ditched in the frigid waters of the Hudson River in New York, Thursday Jan. 15, 2009. (Steven Day / AP)

A picture worth 10,000 words and maybe a Pulitzer Prize.
‘Nuff said.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Silent Killer

by Jean Henry Mead

Cigarettes kill more Americans than alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, suicide and illegal drugs combined. But that doesn't stop nearly a quarter of our population from indulging in the habit.

The surgeon general declared cigarettes a health hazard in 1964, yet some 46 million people in the U.S. still smoke, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s 22.8% of all adults or nearly one in every four people. Men account for a quarter of the smokers while women account for a fifth.

I understand how difficult it is to quit smoking. Someone told me when I was 14 that smoking would stunt my growth. I was already 5 feet 10 inches tall, the same height as both my parents. After 27 years of smoking, I had grown an inch and acquired chronic bronchitis and all sorts of respiratory and other health problems. It took several years for me to quit and only after my parents died of cancer. Both were smokers.

I’m now in the process of campaigning for a smoke free public environment to protect children and adults like me who suffer from second hand smoke. My husband and I like to bowl but the bowling alleys are full of smokers, some of whom bring small children with them. Several non-smoking measures have been voted down here in Wyoming, which makes me think that the majority of smokers go to the polls to vote down the ban.

I know that statistics are boring but I found the following information interesting. Smokers categorized by ethnic groups include:

American Indians and Alaskan natives 32.7%
Whites 24.0%
African Americans 22.3%
Hispanics 16.7%
Asian Americans 12.4%

High school students accounted for 22.9% of smokers in 2002, and hopefully that number has decreased. Nearly 27% of smokers are in the 18-24 age bracket.

Some 440,000 people die each year in this country as a result of tobacco use. That’s one out of every five deaths. It’s no longer the “in” thing to do so why do so many people smoke? Most smokers admit that it’s a nasty habit and that they’re addicted to nicotine, but there are a number of ways to kick the habit.

A blue ribbon federal panel in 1964 reported that cigarette smoking led to peptic ulcers, lung cancer, accidental death due to house fires, and to a reduction in birth weight of babies born to smoking mothers. This column isn’t long enough to list all the other ailments caused by tobacco use.

So, if you’re attempting to kick the nicotine habit, please get help. See a doctor, join a support group, take up a sport that won’t allow you to smoke because of decreased lung capacity. Do it not only for yourself, but your loved ones.

And please start today!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Top Ten Resolutions for Writers

By Beth Terrell

Okay, so the New Year is a few weeks past, but it's still a lot closer to the beginning of 2009 than it is to the end of it. I resolved not to make any resolutions this year, but in the grand old tradition of breaking resolutions before the month of January is even over, I've decided to make some anyway. Not the usual ones (lose weight, save money, keep my car clean--assuming it ever gets out of the shop, etc., etc.). Instead, here are my top ten writing resolutions for 2009.

10. I will not steal writing utensils (even unwittingly) from banks, restaurants, co-workers, or anybody else for that matter. It's not that I mean to steal them. It's just that they feel so natural in my hand. Who can let go of a good pen, really? Doesn't it just feel like it belongs there, resting so peacefully between the thumb and forefinger? It's almost supernatural, the way a pen can cast a veil of forgetfulness over the mind, so that sometime after leaving an establishment, I look down at the ballpoint pen in my hand and think, "Hey! Where did THAT come from?!"

9. I will not buy a new blank journal every time I go into a bookstore, not even a handmade, leather-bound Italian one with creamy parchment pages.

8. If a friend is sharing a devastating personal experience, I will refrain from musing aloud that, with just a little tweaking, this would be a good sub-plot for my next novel.

7. I will acknowledge that sending my novel to one agent a year is not really "putting it out there," and take steps to actually put it out there by sending at least one query a week.

6. Even though I love fountain pens, I will never, ever use one without first donning gloves and a yellow slicker raincoat (or a paint-spattered artist's tunic) to keep from wearing more ink than I get on the page.

5. I will update my website at least once a week. By which I mean, I will actually add useful content. Just going into the FrontPage program and changing the "last edited" date on the home page does not count.

4. I will not play "Mafia Wars" on Facebook until I have made forward progress on my book.

3. I will acknowledge that Minesweeper and Spider Solitaire are vices and not really warm-ups for writing.

2. I will treat marketing my book as a vital part of my writing career and devote at least a small amount of time to it every day. Visualizing millions of people buying my book is a good motivational tool, but it will not actually sell any books.

And the number one New Year's resolution for writers?

1. I will write at least 1000 new words every day. Well, okay, every day except Sunday. (Even God needed a day of rest.) If I miss a day, I'll add that day's word goal to the next day's word goal, so that, even if I get super-busy and can't write at all for a few days, I will still write at least 6,000 words every week.

So, how about the rest of you? Anybody else making writing resolutions this year?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Blood Brothers

By Mark W. Danielson

Many of my topics are travel-inspired. Today’s subject is a study of various Paris monuments that pay homage to our ties with France. While current affairs may overshadow our past, it's good that there are statues to remind us that France and the United States are, and always will be, Blood Brothers.

History books gloss over the fact that the United States would not exist had Lafayette not come to our aid during the Revolutionary War. At the same time, the French would be speaking German, had it not been for the US led Allied forces twice coming to their aid. Many forget that the French gave us the Statue of Liberty to celebrate our independence. An exact replica of Liberty’s flame sits atop the tunnel near Avenue De New York, which parallels the River Seine. (As fate would have it, Lady Di’s car crashed directly beneath this monument, which has since become her eternal flame.) Statues of Eisenhower and Churchill stand near Lafayette's, which was presented to France by the "School Children of the United States of America" in recognition of Lafayette's role in our achieving independence. The bottom line is that France and the US have watched each other’s backs since the beginning, and will do so in the future.

I saw plenty of tourists stroll past the aforementioned monuments, some stopping for a photo, but few taking note of their significance. Monuments such as these are our link to the past. Without them, our history is lost. As a child, I was never a fan of history books, but seeing it first hand through battle grounds and monuments has provided me with a fascinating education.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Greg McKenzie takes on the world

Today Murderous Musings is conducting the second phase of the interview with retired Air Force Office of Special Investigations Agent Gregory McKenzie, otherwise known as the guy behind (or inside) the Greg McKenzie Mysteries. This will give us a look at his views on current affairs.

MM: Nice to have you with us again, Greg. I hope things are going well with McKenzie Investigations.

GM: Well is a relative term. If you mean it financially, you’ll have to ask Jill. She keeps the books.

MM: I’ve heard she’s quite effective in the financial realm.

GM: She hasn’t invested anything with Bernie Madoff. You can bet your granny’s gold snuff box on that.

MM: What does she invest in with the economy on such a wild ride?

GM: I try to keep my distance from that stuff, but I’ve heard her talk about “inverse ETFs,” whatever the hell that is. I think it means when things go down, our nest egg goes up. I just hope we don’t have to eat that egg. But she’d have a great recipe for it, I’m sure.

MM: I’ve read about her culinary exploits.

GM: Yeah. She’s a good cook, too.

MM: How has the economy affected the PI business?

GM: Everybody wants us to track down people who owe them money. But when we find them, chances are the money has vaporized like sweat on a sunbather.

MM: Speaking of which, do you still have your condo on the beach in Florida?

GM: It was rebuilt after Hurricane Ivan pulverized it. As if that wasn’t enough, the county doubled our taxes. Wouldn’t be so bad if they doubled the size of the sheriff’s patrol. Of course, Jill likes to stroll the beach at sunset. I enjoy that part, though I don’t care much for water, except when it’s in a glass of Scotch.

MM: As I recall, you’re a Tennessee Titans’ fan. What did you think of their loss to the Ravens last weekend?

GM: If Jill wasn’t listening, I’d give you one of my good expletives. That’s all water under the goal post now, but I’d hate to be Coach Fisher. He’s got about as big a dilemma as Barack Obama.

MM: As a former lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, how do you feel the new Administration should attack the current world situation?

GM: Besides with bombs? Just kidding. I wish the new Prez well, but if he can wiggle out of the Iraq-Iran-Israel-Palestine-Afghanistan-Pakistan mess, cope with the oil-gas-coal-energy crisis, and squiggle the economy back together, he’ll be the reincarnation of Harry Houdini.

MM: I take it you’re a pessimist?

GM: Not at all. I never take on a case that I don’t feel confident I can solve. I know it won’t be easy, but I’m optimistic that we’ll worm our way out of this somehow, by the grace of God, I guess.

MM: Thanks for taking time to be with us, Greg. Drop by again soon.

GM: You can count on it.

Editor’s Note: To read more of Greg’s views, check out the books at

Also visit Mystery Mania

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Simpler Time

by Ben Small

I was watching the last episode of the first season of I Love Lucy the other night: Ricky Asks For a Raise. Seems Lucy and Hitchcock are usually better than much of the nightly television fare these days. Anyway, the plot was interesting. Ricky wanted a raise, but was afraid to beg Mr. Littlefield (Gale Gordon), owner of the Tropicana Club, for one. Littlefield’s a blustery, excitable chap who just might go off the deep end, and Ricky, when not croaking Ba-ba-loo, can be a bit shy. Ricky mumbled something like, “You wouldn’t be able to give me a raise, would you?” Littlefield delivered the expected negative response.

So, flustered by Ricky’s timidity and knowing that her household budget, like always, was overdrawn, Lucy took over negotiations. She told Littlefield that Ricky had other offers, anywhere from four to twelve, depending upon which lie (Lucy’s or Ricky’s) Mr. Littlefield believed.

Littlefield fooled them, as we the audience expected. Littlefield told Ricky he wouldn’t hold him back; the Tropicana would let Ricky go, free him to accept one of the higher paying offers.

Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball): "Don’t you want to change your mind?"
Alvin Littlefield (Gale Gordon): "No, N-O."
Ricky :Ricardo (Desi Arnaz): {to Mr. Littlefield] "Well then I quit! K-W-I-T!"

But Ricky didn’t have any other job offers.

Lucy had done it again: She’d gotten Ricky fired. Xavier Valdez is replacing Ricky.

Insert rapid-fire Spanish fury here.]

What’s Lucy to do?

Sabotage the new act, of course. We’re talking Lucy here.

So Lucy, Fred and Ethel make reservations under fake names, lots of reservations ― including one for a party of thirty.

The Tropicana is expecting a big night, a great crowd for the new guy. In walk Fred, Ethel and Lucy, in various disguises, including one where Fred’s in drag. Each fake party enters, learns Ricky Ricardo’s no longer playing the Tropicana, and storms out, expressing fealty to Ricky and promising never to return to the Tropicana until Ricky Ricardo is back.

Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance): "I can’t make one more phone call. My finger is all worn down to a nub."
Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball: "You don’t have to; they’re all sold out."
Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance: "Good."
Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball): "Harry and Bess Truman got the last two tables."
Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) [dressed as Tropicana customer]: "Ricky Ricardo ain’t here no more? Well, I’m getting out of this crummy dump."

The Tropicana is empty.

Littlefield panics. He orders Ricky re-hired at twice the salary.

Funny stuff. And so like Lucy.

But what would happen if Lucy tried this today?

The New York show media would learn in a heartbeat that Ricky was gone. They’d be curious about the new job. The lie would be exposed, probably before Ricky and Lucy left the Littlefield apartment. Ricky would be trashed as a liar, and a stupid one at that. That it had been Lucy who’d made the claim would be forgotten. Ricky would be painted in the Arts & Entertainment sections of the New York print media as a turncoat, a cheap hustler who can’t be trusted. Page 6 of the Post would do an exposĂ©, flash a picture of Ricky looking confused and guilty and maybe one of Lucy in a strutting pose. The innuendo would suggest greed, arrogance, and stupidity.

Littlefield, having cash flow problems in this economy like everyone else, might go out of business. He can’t afford an empty house, not when he’s spent a fortune on food and booze and entertainment, not in New York. He may have to put the club into bankruptcy.

Littlefield, or his attorney, will grow suspicious and investigate further. They’ll realize that all the canceling patrons sorta looked alike, about the same height and build, similar vocal tones. Maybe a freckle or mole identical on two supposedly different people. And Ricky’s not working. He and Lucy lost a gambit; they lied.

Littlefield would realize he’d been duped.

Littlefield would call Ricky’s replacement, Xavier Valdez, tell Valdez what he suspected. Both of them would call the prosecutor’s office and file felony fraud and malicious trespass charges, one for each fake reservation or costumed appearance. Their lawyers would file civil suits, putting Ricky, Lucy, Fred and Ethel in the position of facing depositions on the civil side that could adversely affect their criminal cases. They’d be forced to plead the Fifth, and refuse to answer the questions.

Someone, either plaintiffs or defendants, would seek to have the civil case suspended until the criminal case concluded.

But which criminal case? See, Littlefield’s got friends in power. He knows his local Congressman. The Congressman asks the U.S. Attorney’s Office to look into the matter. Maybe Lucy or Ricky used a computer, phone or the mails to set up these fraudulent and malicious acts. The first two would be Wire Fraud, a separate count every time the phone or computer was used as part of the conspiracy. The latter would be Mail Fraud, again a separate count for each use of the post office.

Both of these charges are felonies, too.

And Lucy’s co-conspirators did use these facilitators. They used phones and computers to co-ordinate among themselves and to make the fake reservations. And maybe Lucy used the mails to send Littlefield fake job offers, or the new contract was sent by mail.

The prosecutors, city and federal, would be operating independently, but would be sharing information. They’d try to separate each co-conspirator, offer incentives to turn against the others.

And Fred, most likely, would turn.

What? You doubt Fred turning? Fred’s a curmudgeon. When has he ever been happy about one of Lucy’s schemes?

So Fred, Lucy, Ethel and Ricky are being pressured by prosecutors, federal and state. One lie to the Feds, and there’s another felony ― remember Martha Stewart.

Each felony means up to a three year term in jail and a substantial fine. Ricky’s career is over. Three of our Fab Four ― excepting turncoat Fred ― will do hard time, how much and where depends on judges in two courts.

Nancy Grace will have fun for years. She may get her own network. Anderson Cooper will compare the Ricardos to the Lohans. Dr. Phil will consult with Lucy and then blab her confidences all over the air waves. Britney will rejoice: There’s somebody dumber than she is.

Ba-ba-loo will be popular at Attica. Ricky will be a hot date.

But that’s not the worst of it. The defendants are all broke, too, so deep in debt they’ll see nothing but an abyss. Consider Ricky, Lucy, Fred and Ethel will each have separate counsel, maybe more than one set depending on how the city and federal criminal and civil cases shake out. Defense fees will total in the millions of dollars. Then there are the fines. Again, substantial. Tacked on will be the costs of prosecution. Ricky, Ethel and Lucy are up against authorities with limitless resources. These prosecutions aren’t cheap, especially when so much of the department’s budget can be transferred to the defendants.

A conviction on one of the criminal cases makes the civil cases, both federal and state, slam dunks. And because the fraud was intentional, punitive damages will be awarded.

The Ricardo Fab Four will be famous, yes, but there’s no insurance to cover their financial exposure. Broke, angry and bawling like Jim Bakker, Ricky, Lucy and Ethel will disappear, probably for eight to ten years. Fred will probably turn to pimping. You can see him on the steps of a rundown building, arguing with taxi driver Robert De Niro over a teenage Jodie Foster.

Ten years later, Ricky, Lucy and Ethel, all divorced and living on the streets, will write tell-all books. Lucy will claim Ricky beat her, that Fred came onto her, that Fred liked to wear women’s underwear. She’ll say Little Ricky was fathered by Claude Akins, because Ricky suffered from ED and Lucy was lonely. She’ll say Ethel smelled and was a lousy housekeeper, that it was all Ethel’s idea to sabotage the Tropicana. Ethel had anger issues and often struck out at others and then blamed Lucy.

Ricky will write that Lucy was a meth addict, that she was always stirring her coffee because she thought insects were crawling up the side of her cup. He’ll say he’d contacted a divorce attorney and had been ready to serve Lucy, but that she’d gotten wind of his plans. She’d struck first, and got him fired. But she didn’t stop there; she’d sabotaged the club, wearing outrageous and transparent disguises, foolishly thinking only Ricky would be blamed. Lucy was dumb, he’ll say, as stupid as a red rock in Yellowstone.

Ethel’s book will declare that the Lucy-Ricky marriage was a sham, that she and Ricky were carrying on for years. Fred hadn’t turned down the apartment building’s heat. Ethel had done it; she wanted Ricky underneath her electric blanket. She’ll say Lucy discovered the affair, and instead of taking action to break it up, used it to blackmail Ethel into participating in her schemes.

Little Ricky’s book will blame his lifestyle and Gay Pride activist activities on spending so much time alone or with Mother McGillacuddy, who was a demeaning man-hater. Mrs. McGillacuddy put L’il Ricky in dresses, and forced him to sit on the toilet. So L’il Ricky turned to dolls and makeup and lace.

Fred won’t write a book. He’s too busy recruiting twelve year olds at the bus station, and his computer is filled with porn—induced viruses. All Fred sees is the Microsoft Blue Screen of Death and soiled bills from his drug and sex trade.

All things considered, I’ll take the simpler times. Bring back Lucy and the gang.

Man, I love Lucy.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fame, Fortune And Chapter 1

By Pat Browning

Writing. What’s it all about? Dozens of books will tell you how to do it, but nobody can do it for you. Sure, you can hire a ghostwriter, but then it’s not really your book, is it?

Advice? I have some advice for anyone starting to write a first book.

1.Don't take rejection personally, just keep working on it. Quoting Sue Grafton, who spoke at a conference in Boise a few years ago: "The free world does not hang in the balance. You are only writing a book."

2.Talent, like murder, will out, but be prepared to wait. What I heard repeatedly when I started was, "Don't give up your day job." If you’re addicted to food and shelter, that’s good advice.

3.Write for the thrill of it, and what you learn from it. Quoting Holly Lisle in HOW TO FINISH A NOVEL: "Write what you love, not 'what sells.' ... What you will not do for love, you should not do for money."

Plan and plot? I swear, one of these days I'm going to try that. Maybe then I'll write a best seller. In the meantime ... Settings usually present themselves, because I love places. Characters seem to arrive, probably from my lifelong love of people watching. That’s it. I can't plot my way out of a paper bag. After I've done pages and pages of drafts I start thinking, what will I do with this mess?

Recently, I enrolled in "Discovering Story Magic," an online workshop presented by Robin Perini and Laura Baker through A story board I made for my work-in-progress is marked off like a calendar, with yellow sticky notes for First Turning Point, Second Turning Point, Third Turning Point, and Fourth Turning Point ( Black Moment, and Realization). It keeps me on track.

Nothing, but nothing, inspires me like reading a good book. Some of my favorite authors may or may not struggle to get those words on paper, but for reading enjoyment it’s best not to look for sweat and tears between the lines. Better to accept it as magic.

I have too many favorite books to list but here are four.

NICE TRY by Shane Maloney (2001 Arcade Publishing, First published in Australia in 1998)
Maloney wraps social commentary around a mystery featuring Murray Whelan, a political dogsbody in Melbourne, Australia. Recruited to help with the government's bid to host the Summer Olympics, he ends up trying to outwit an Aboriginal activist while investigating the death of a promising young triathlete.

SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI by Naomi Hirahara (Bantam 2004)
Mas Arai is an aging California gardener who harbors a secret going all the way back to Hiroshima before the A-bomb dropped. There is a murder, but the story belongs to Mas and the way he puts his long-held secret to rest.

THE SIXTEENTH MAN by Thomas B. Sawyer (iUniverse 2001)
Sawyer weaves together parallel lines of history and present time, with an intriguing JFK assassination angle and the best "what if" ending ever. Sawyer was head writer and co-producer of the TV show MURDER SHE WROTE so he knows how to keep a story moving.

PLAY MELANCHOLY BABY by John Daniel (Perseverance Press 1986)
In 1977, lounge pianist Casey Jones tickles the ivories for customers who love the songs of The Great Depression and World War II. Then a mystery woman yanks him back into a past he wanted to forget. It's a mystery in a time capsule, beautifully written.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

By Mark W. Danielson

Personally, winter isn’t my favorite season, nor is it for many Americans who live in colder climates. After all, it’s much easier staying inside, basking in the warmth of our homes. The adventurous may drive to the mall. The less adventurous only go out to retrieve their mail. But overseas, winter takes on a whole different light. The cold doesn't bother the city residents; it merely provides different scenery.

Last Sunday was a chilly day in Paris, but the sky was clear and the wind mild. Since my Montparnasse hotel is located a couple of miles from the River Seine, I don’t walk there as often as I did when our hotel was near the Louvre, but after enjoying lunch in the Latin district, I decided to take the long way back to Montparnasse. It was a wonderful experience.

After crossing the Seine, I made my way through the Louvre area, past the embassies near Place Concorde, and on to the Pont Alexander III Bridge. (Photo above.) Everywhere you look, Paris is magnificent, but this isn’t about its monuments. Rather, it’s about its people. Thousands of them were out enjoying the day in spite of the chill. Children rode Merry-Go-Rounds, played on swings, and ice skated at an outdoor rink while couples walked hand-in-hand, smooching. The parks were full, and smiles abundant. It is truly magnificent seeing so many people outside, enjoying their day off.

On my way past The Invalides, hundreds of roller bladders were out on a different kind of adventure. Their two-city-block procession was being chased by an ambulance and police vehicle. This well-organized event allowed its participants to skate comfortably enough to take pictures and shoot video as they rolled. It was another marvelous display of locals shunning winter. Monday brought snow, which is rare for Paris, so the school kids were out tossing snow balls and making snow angles. No, sir, Old Man Winter won't keep these people inside.

But such enthusiasm for the outdoors isn’t limited to France. I saw plenty of people walking in Almaty (see above) where the temperatures were significantly lower. Night time is play time over there, and the cold is just a way of life. It's the same in China, so what keeps Americans from taking a walk in the winter? I suppose everyone has their own reasons, but the next time you’re bored, rather then stay cooped up inside, why not take a walk through your own winter wonderland? Go visit a park that you haven’t seen in a while. Chances are good that there won’t be many people out, but that shouldn't keep you from enjoying it. Besides, you just might burn off a few of those holiday calories.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Maybe Not So Crazy Proposal

by Ben Small

I was sitting in my easy chair last night suffering through football withdrawal, depressed that I couldn’t even find a junior college game on the tube, when I began scanning through our local newspaper online.

Border patrol agents had found a cache of marijuana inside a cabbage truck. Not just inside the truck, but inside the cabbage. How’s that for creativity? And just a couple days ago, a similar stop found weed buried underneath the wood floor bottom of a flatbed truck. Pickup trucks are discovered daily loaded with bales of grass.

Marijuana seems more and more to be the American drug of choice, at least according to the Tucson area Border Control. And fighting this traffic has led to open warfare between the Mexican police and drug lords, and the violence is spilling to the American side.

On the street, marijuana is cheap, $100 a lid, which is about half the price ten years ago.
The Border patrol estimates they stop about ten to twenty percent of the shipments. No wonder the price is going down.

But the price is still high enough to act as a strong incentive to smuggle. A lot of money is changing hands, and none of it is taxed. Smuggling is on the rise, and as enforcement is stepped up, those threatened respond with greater violence.

Seems to be a wicked circle.

Maybe we should just legalize the stuff and tax the hell out of it, like we do booze.


Gee whiz.

Oh boy.

Now I’ve done it.

No, I’m not talking all drugs. Just marijuana. After all, all these decades of study, and there still isn’t evidence that marijuana is more harmful to the body than alcohol. And alcohol makes people aggressive, stupid and prone to violence.

When’s the last time you saw an aggressive pothead? Stupid, maybe, but not aggressive. One must wonder how many lives would be saved if drunks were smoking grass instead of throwing down whiskey.

Drug trade is market driven. So if the market dries up because smuggling is no longer profitable, wouldn’t that be a net win? Look what happened to the mob’s liquor trafficking after prohibition was repealed.

Amsterdam may serve as an example. It’s commonly believed that pot is legal in Amsterdam. It’s not, but the law against it is not enforced if one smokes one’s doobie in a brown cafĂ© or discreetly. Those who serve as exhibitionists on the public street will still be arrested. Amsterdam has not seen a huge crime wave, and smoking grass has not led to a demonstrable increase in illegal consumption of other drugs, an argument against the common assertion that grass is a stepping stone to more harmful drugs. If that’s so, then so is alcohol, as it’s the addictive personality that’s usually at fault.

Most of my friends are appalled when I make the suggestion to legalize pot. That’s because usually I’m somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun on the political spectrum. But it strikes me as practical good sense that if criminalizing pot is causing such harm, and costing us a fortune, maybe we should consider the alternative, especially when there doesn’t seem to be a wealth of research after many years of study that pot is worse than alcohol. And face it, in most states, cops have more to do than bust pot smokers. Cops know it’s no big deal. Sure, you don’t want pot smokers on the road, but look at all the medications that warn against driving. One wonders if one can drink the water and drive. Many states treat a small amount of marijuana as a traffic ticket.

Pass the munchies, please.

It’s interesting to note that the drive to make marijuana illegal so many years ago, started in the Southwest. Arizona and New Mexico. And not because of any harmful effects. Mexicans smoked marijuana, and the Southwest wanted to drive Mexicans out of the country. It was thought that if stiff jail terms and fines were imposed on Mexicans who smoked grass, they’d leave and not compete with American workers.

Well, that proved to be a resounding success, didn’t it?

One can argue, and do it quite well, that legalizing marijuana will not stop the cartels from smuggling more dangerous drugs. And that’s true. But the demand seems to be for marijuana. Yes, heroin is making a comeback, I read, and I assume that’s true. But it’s nowhere near got the numbers that marijuana does. Chances are if you are a Baby Boomer, you’ve tried pot. Just about everybody did in the sixties and seventies, even if a precious few didn’t inhale.

How many of you went on to something more dangerous (other than alcohol)?

We need tax revenues, and we need to stop the escalating border violence. We need to put a dent in the smuggling trade. My suggestion is to take their market away from them. Legalize pot and tax the hell out of it. Maybe put some of the money into rehab facilities that one doesn’t have to be rich to use.

Or does this solution make too much sense for Congress?

[Author’s note to Congress. As I’m putting Denton Wright in the middle of this mess in my forthcoming as yet untitled book, please don’t change the laws before my book comes out.]

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Google A Book Or Two

By Pat Browning

"Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
-- Sergey Brin, co-founder & president of technology at Google.

My first look at Google Books blew my wig off. There are

thousands of books displayed -- l,053 alone in the
Fiction/Mystery and Detective/General category. You can
search by title or author.

When I searched by "Pat Browning" my book cover for
ABSINTHE OF MALICE came up. I clicked on it and got
a full-size cover, plus a summary and the first 49 pages
of the book. There were links to Amazon, etc. for more
information and purchase.

I looked up books by friends and other authors. Some

listings had very little information. Others had reviews
and interviews. Apparently a listing depends on
information furnished by the author or publisher.

As far as I can determine, it costs nothing to be included

in Google Books, and it's a great way to promote your
writing online. The web site is fascinating, well worth any
time you can spare to explore. Go to

For a bare bones overview of the program, here are a few

snippets of information from the web site:
Three years ago, the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and a handful of authors and publishers filed a class action lawsuit against Google Book Search … Today we're delighted to announce that we've settled that lawsuit and will be working closely with these industry partners to bring even more of the world's books online.
We've partnered with
renowned libraries around the world to include their collections in Book Search. For Library Project books that are still in copyright, our results are like a card catalog; we show you info about the book and, generally, a few snippets of text showing your search term in context … For Library Project books that are out of copyright, however, you can read and download the entire book
This agreement helps define how our users may access different categories of books on Google Book Search.

In-copyright and in-print books
In-print books are books that publishers are still actively selling, the ones you see at most bookstores. This agreement expands the online marketplace for in-print books by letting authors and publishers turn on the "preview" and "purchase" models that make their titles more easily available through Book Search.

In-copyright but out-of-print books
Out-of-print books aren’t actively being published or sold, so the only way to procure one is to track it down in a library or used bookstore. When this agreement is approved, every out-of-print book that we digitize will become available online for preview and purchase, unless its author or publisher chooses to "turn off" that title. We believe it will be a tremendous boon to the publishing industry to enable authors and publishers to earn money from volumes they might have thought were gone forever from the marketplace.

Out-of-copyright books
This agreement doesn't affect how we display out-of-copyright books; we will continue to allow Book Search users to read, download and print these titles, just as we do today.


Friday, January 2, 2009

An Interview with A. B. Guthrie, Jr.

by Jean Henry Mead

The Pulitzer winner was 86 when I interviewed him at his A-frame home near the foot of northern Montana’s Sawtooth Mountain Range. We were sitting at the kitchen table when I asked him about his family background.

He said, “I was born in Bedford, Indiana, Janaury 23, 1901. When I was six months old, my father, a graduate of Indiana University, and my mother, who graduated from a Quaker college at Richmond, Indiana, came to Montana. My father came west to become the first principal of the first free high school in this considerable territory.”

When I asked if his mother also taught school, he smiled and said, “No, she was too busy having kids. Nine in all, but most of them died in babyhood. The mortality rate in our family was terrific. I was the third child and am now the family patriarch.”

Were you a precocious child? I asked. “I was an onery little bastard. I was always impatient about something. And I was a sickly one, too. They didn’t think I would live for long. In fact, we moved to Ontario, California, when I was ten for my health and that of my baby brother. There, my sister, who was three years older than I, contracted spinal meningitis from a tick bite and died. We’d hardly gotten back to Montana, within a matter of three months, when my baby brother died.” Only three of nine Guthrie children survived to adulthood.

When asked if he read incessantly as a child, he said, “Dad used to read aloud to us from Dickens and Kipling. My tastes were omnivorous. I read anything I could lay my hands on, but the memory that stays with me is that of my father reading the Jungle Books to us when we were young. Beautiful stories!”

Guthrie began writing in high school, fiction and some essays although he knew little about the craft of fiction. He majored in journalism in college and may have been influenced by his father who worked as a news reporter for four years in a small Kentucky town. He said, “I guess he thought it was the way to become a writer—a point that I will dispute because the crafts are so different. Newspaper writing, aside from a little investigative work, is so much on the surface, while fiction goes a lot deeper.

“An example of that: a well known man in Lexington died and afterward, his widow had a full-size portrait of him in the house, and when people came to visit, she would refer to the picture as if he were still alive, saying, ‘Isn’t that so, Enoch?’ So you see, you can’t put that in a newspaper, but it’s great for fiction.”

How then did he make the transition from journalism to fiction? I asked. “With luck. I won the Neiman Fellowship at Harvard, while working as an executive editor of the Lexington Leader in Kentucky, and there I became friendly with a professor of English, Theodore Morrison, who knew so much about writing, probably more than I’ll ever know. And somehow, he took me under his wing. My writing to begin with was wretched. I see that now. But with patience and gentleness and always deliberation he taught me the language of fiction.”

Excerpted from a much longer interview in my book, Maverick Writers .

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Mr. Mt. Juliet

By Beth Terrell

The slide show at John's funeral has a clipping from a newspaper report of a high school football game. In the newspaper photo, John is looking over his shoulder, football tucked in the crook of his arm. The camera captured him in mid-stride, forever suspended in mid-air. He was our quarterback all through junior high, our receiver in high school, our baseball pitcher, and a lifelong supporter of Mt. Juliet athletics. The next slide shows him in his late teens. He is smiling, thick curls tousled, a beautiful young man wearing a patterned shirt from the '70s. Our senior year, he was the prom king. We voted him "Mr. Mt. Juliet," completely without sarcasm.

In a Hollywood movie, a guy like that--handsome, athletic, popular--would also be the jerk who dunked the geeky hero's head in the toilet. In real life, he was sweet, a little shy, a good-hearted partier who sometimes partied a little too hard. He would struggle with that all of his life, but, as the presiding ministers said, "He always strived to be a good man--and he was."

On Monday, he died of a massive heart attack. He hadn't been sick. He hadn't seemed frail. He'd gone to work that morning; he'd played golf with three of his best friends on Sunday; we'd seen him at the reunion in September, hale and whole and fine. And now, suddenly, just...gone.

His family buried him today. Even with the service held in the funeral home's largest chapel, the funeral home owners had to bring in extra rows of folding chairs to accommodate the crowd. One classmate flew in from California for the service. Some who had not been back to Mt. Juliet in thirty years came to pay their respects. We were shell-shocked. We'd lost classmates before--some to accidents, some to illness, but never like this, never so suddenly. We had always known we weren't immortal, but we'd never before felt old.

A week ago, we still felt young and full of potential. Today, we had to face the fact that the clock is ticking. We no longer have a lifetime to reach our dreams. Seeing the chapel full of grieving people, we took stock of what it meant to be successful. John never played in the NFL. He never starred in a movie. He never made a million dollars. But if love is the only thing we can take with us when we go, he was a rich man. To us, he will always be Mr. Mt. Juliet.