Friday, April 29, 2011

Murder on the Interstate Virtual Tour

by Jean Henry Mead

We just ended a great two-week RV vacation and are holed up six hours from home to wait out a late spring storm. My latest release, Murder on the Interstate, is due out tomorrow and I have two virtual book tours planned starting May 2 and ending August 14. I still have four articles to write and lots of packing and moving to do before the end of May because our house finally sold. By then I'll need another vacation.

I'm fortunate to have 33 hosts for my first tour, which runs through May 27. The second tour begins May 23 and is comprised of 13 authors who feature each another at their own sites for a week until August 14. It's a lot of work writing the blog articles and submitting to interviews, but it's also fun to connect with my readers.

I'll be giving away three copies of Murder on the Interstate in a drawing from among visitors to the sites who leave comments. So, if you're interested in a humorous mystery-suspense series featuring two 60-year-old feisty women sleuths traveling the country in their motorhome and discovering murder victims, stop by and leave a comment at the following sites:

May 2nd:
May 3rd:
May 4th:
May 5th:
May 6th:
May 9th:
May 10th:
May 11th:

And many more.

My complete blog book schedule is available at:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Trip Up River

By Mark W. Danielson

I recently wrote about Old Sacramento and the Delta King riverboat. The mid-1800s was a colorful time, and the Delta King was quite a ship for its day. But long before the King came along, getting upstream was a chore. My long-time 95 year-old buddy Paul gave me another glimpse into the past when I saw him the other day.

Paul grew up in Burnside, Kentucky, near the Cumberland River where the river was the town’s lifeline. While some US rivers allowed horses to draw barges up stream, the Cumberland’s steep terrain precluded any such thing. As a result, cargo was floated downstream on disposable barges while their replacements were being built. An apparent early recycler, Paul’s grandfather figured there was a better way to do business so he installed a paddle wheel on the back of a barge and started a business ferrying goods upstream.

At night, or when the visibility was poor, river pilots used sound to determine their position on the river. After blasting his horn, Gramps would listen for the echoes. If the echo was the same on both sides, he knew he was in the middle. If it was different, then he corrected his course until the echoes were equal. In swollen rivers, his shallow-draft barge allowed him to cut corners. Gramps spent so much time on that river, he probably knew it better than he did his kids. In those days, driving a boat was an art form and Gramps was pretty good at it. His son followed suit, although Paul didn’t believe his father was ever a licensed river pilot. In the early 1800’s, life was hard, but no one complained.

Paul’s grandfather was hardly the first to attach an engine to a paddle wheel, though. The first known paddle steamer was built in 1783 by Marquis Claude De Jouffroy of Lyons in France. A double-acting steam engine drove two paddle wheels on the sides of his craft. On July 15th of that year, the Pyroscaphe steamed up the Saône for fifteen minutes before its engine quit. Sadly, political turmoil grounded the Pyroscaphe faster than its failed engine.

Scottish engineer William Symington took the next stab at a paddle-driven steam ship. Following his success in 1788 and 1789, in 1802 he delivered a powered barge named the Charlotte Dundas to the Forth And Clyde Canal Company. In spite of the Charlotte Dundas successfully hauling two 70-ton barges almost 20 miles in 6 hours against a strong headwind, some company directors weary of riverbank erosion sunk Symington’s dream.

Robert Fulton's North River Steam Boat is credited with being the first commercial paddleboat success, which in 1807 ran between New York City and Albany. Whether Paul’s grandfather was inspired Jouffroy, Symington, or Fulton is not known, but paddle-equipped riverboats were soon seen on rivers around the world. The multi-decked Delta King and Delta Queen showboats came much later as follow-ons to these early barges.

Normally such trips to the past are found in books or through the Internet, but they mean so much more when heard first-hand. If you know anyone who has an interesting story, please share it. They are not only fun to read, we can all learn from them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The old, old question

by Bill Kirton

I’m going to rehash an argument that crops up regularly whenever crime fiction aficionados meet, but it’s one to which I’ve never yet heard a satisfactory answer. It starts with something I was writing recently. I opened a chapter like this:

He considered nailing her hands to the floor but the thought of the delirious headlines which that would generate quickly helped to banish the impulse.

There followed two paragraphs written from ‘his’ POV. Here’s another fragment to give the flavour:

He wanted her to see him, look at him, know that the hopelessness of her condition left him cold. He wondered if cutting off her eyelids would do the trick. She’d certainly have nothing to close then, no little blinds to draw down over the sight of him. But how much blood would there be? Would it cloud her vision? Well, it would clot eventually and he’d be able to sponge it away from her irises with some warm soapy water. Anyway, there was only one way to find out.

Now this was being written on the same keyboard that’s clattered out the stories of Stanley, the grumpy male fairy who lives under a cold, dripping tap in my bedroom in Aberdeen. It was definitely written by a person different from the one who interacts regularly with that fairy to try to cheer him up.

When I re-read the stuff a few days later, I wondered, for the umpteenth time, what damage it might do to a susceptible or slightly unbalanced reader and whether it was irresponsible to pander to tastes which derived pleasure from scenes of torture and sadism. I know that it’s a subject that’s been debated by the best writers, critics and psychologists, but so far none has been able to quell the visceral unease I feel at putting yet more Grand Theft Auto mayhem in the public domain.

There’s a nasty scene towards the end of Material Evidence. It’s there because I thought that’s what the public wanted and that it might help to get the book accepted. That suggests that it may be gratuitous, but it’s not; it’s necessary both for the plot and to help understand the psychology of the character involved. After reading it, a cousin of mine wrote to say that she was appalled that I could have such ideas in my head and, to judge from our contacts since, it did alter the nature of our relationship. My agent, the late and sadly missed Maggie Noach, reinforced the notion, once introducing me to a friend as ‘a nice man who has very nasty thoughts’.

In Rough Justice, there’s a rape; it’s brutal but, once more, it’s necessary. Indeed, in her review in the Sunday Telegraph, Susanna Yager wrote ‘It isn’t there to titillate, but to carry the story forward and ultimately bring about the climax to a thoughtful and thought-provoking book’. And yet, when I’m asked to give a reading, I never choose such passages. So what’s happening here? As the writer, I create the fiction; as the reader, I feel squeamish about it. I’m not tempted to use terms such as multiple personality or schizophrenia because I’d get them wrong, but it does seem that there are two different types of thinking involved.

Most people are fascinated by violence – witness the rubber-necking at accident scenes, the scrupulous recording of the intimate aspects of murders in the papers, especially when the circumstances are particularly grisly. We (if this doesn’t include you, my apologies) enjoy the frisson such stories give us, and when something nasty happens to someone we know, i.e. a character in a book with whom we’ve become familiar, the effect is that much greater. On the other hand, and simultaneously, we deplore violence and would be incapable of perpetrating such acts ourselves.

There’s no point in denying the fact that I get as much pleasure, maybe more, from writing a harrowing scene as from writing a ‘normal’ piece of narrative or from penning the miserable moanings of Stanley. And not because I’m doing what one apologist suggested, i.e. ‘stylising’ murder. I don’t remember who it was, but he/she claimed that violence in crime novels was acceptable because it was stylised rather than real. How do you stylise an axe biting into a skull? Does using the word ‘biting’ soften it through metaphor? Not in my literal mind it doesn’t.

No, the pleasure is a delight in breaking the taboos, inhabiting for a few moments the primitive segments of my psyche, setting aside the glass of Sauvignon blanc and the bons mots about the failure of the violinist to sustain the tempo in the accelerando passage of the second movement of some obscure concerto. It’s a wide-eyed amazement at what our imaginations can conceive and of the desecrations we’re capable of performing on our fellows.

And I suppose it’s an escape valve. The horror is such that it satisfies those deeper instincts and allows us to take our seats after the interval and appreciate the virtuosity the violinist brings to the pizzicato passage (or whatever the correct musical terms for all these things are – the language of savagery comes much more easily to me than that of refinement).

The problem comes when we reflect on copycat killings, on the casual use of knives by kids, on the glamour of violence itself. I’m not happy at the thought that some words of mine, dreamed up in the comfort of my study, with my view of the garden, might lodge in the mind of some unfortunate whose moral antenna are set differently and who might find the products of my primitive indulgences ‘cool’.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Finding Your Voice

By Shane Cashion

When I wrote my first book, I based it loosely on actual events and used the lawyers I work with and count as friends to serve as the inspiration for the dialogue. These are guys who, truth be told, would have been better off as cops, bookies, park rangers, or even drifters. The book is essentially a collection of our more entertaining stories, and because so much of it captures the lowbrow humor that drives our daily conversations, the writing came naturally.

Like my first book, my job has once again given me fodder to write. I've stumbled across a case that with a little tweaking and embellishment would make for an excellent thriller. Only this time, the words arent flowing for me. In fact, Im finding the writing to be more miserable than my actual job, which is saying something. The problem is that I can't find my voice, or any voice for that matter. In order for this book to work, it needs to be dark and edgy, like Cormac McCarthy and some of the gifted writers on this blog, and not Carl Hiaasen, whom I thoroughly enjoy, and for better or worse, probably worse, find myself unintentionally aping in my inconsistent drafts.

What I'm left wondering is whether I'm better off sticking with what feels comfortable (as I'm not without working ideas), or venturing off into unchartered territory? Is it possible that your voice is so uniquely you that it simply won't work for certain topics or in certain genres? Or instead is it just a matter of spending the time necessary to tailor your voice to the task at hand? Should we just stick with what we know, and work to be great at what we do, or is it okay to recreate the wheel and essentially start over in a foreign forum, remembering that we only have so much time on this Earth and some of us (namely me) aren't all that productive?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Balance Writing Time and Promotion

by June Shaw

Before I sold a novel, I had no idea that an author needed to spend so much time promoting her work. Boy, but we do--unless, of course, your name happens to be one that remains atop the bestseller list.

DEADLY REUNION, third book in my series of humorous mysteries, comes out at the end of July. It seems like ages since I started that book and again since I completed all of the rewrites. Now I'm hard at work on another book--but it's time to throw myself full out into promoting the one that comes out this summer.

Jugglers should be good at this job. They know how to balance one thing against another one. We've studied from excellent authors to learn how to write well enough to sell and now need to learn more and more marketing skills. Hm, let's see--if I'd start college now to learn these things, I would probably schedule classes equally between marketing and creative writing. Oh, and then there's social media, public speaking and too many other skills to think about.

I'll stop now. I need to write. Or promote. Probably both.

How fortunate I am to have entered into this interesting challenge of becoming a modern novelist.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Signing all the way...

by Carola Dunn

I've spent the last couple of weeks dashing up and down I-5, to bookstores and libraries, talking about and signing Anthem for Doomed Youth. Trillian accompanied me on the California trip. She was welcomed into several mystery bookstores. Here we are at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego.

Book 'Em in South Pasadena and Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach are also dog-friendly.

More to come--I'm heading for Portland next Saturday to speak at Murder by the Book, and the following weekend it's Seattle Mystery (Sat. April 30 at noon) followed by B&N in Silverdale (Sun. May 1 at 1pm).

Next month I leave I-5 and take to the skies. I'm off to CrimeFest in Bristol (the UK edition of Anthem comes out just in time), and while I'm in England, I have signings at Hatchard's, the 200+ year-old bookstore in London, and Heffers in Cambridge. Recently Hatchard's featured some of my books in their window. The first 6 books in the top row are mine:

I feel as if I've become part of a historic monument! It's like a dream come true.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Research by Google

By Chester  Campbell

Google gets a lot of bad press, about how it's full of inaccuracies and all that. But for me, it's the greatest tool around. Granted, you can't take all that information in hundreds of thousands of links to your query as the gospel. But this is fiction, folks, and if you know how to use it properly, Google is a great tool for the mystery novelist. I use it to look up items almost daily when I'm writing.

One of the more interesting sites I found when working on a character for my current mystery is titled "HIT MAN ON-LINE - A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors." There's a picture of the book involved, shown at right, which is now only available online. The why of its appearance here is as intriguing as the what. Here's the introduction:

"In 1993, a triple murder was committed in Montgomery County by a man who was alleged to have used this book, Hit Man, as his guide. He was caught and convicted and sentenced to death. Wanting to profit from their loved one's murder, and realizing that the murderer himself was too poor to be worth suing, the family of those killed by the hit man sued Paladin Press, the publisher of the book Hit Man, saying Paladin Press 'aided and abetted' the murder.

"May 21, 1999, Paladin Press settled the case, giving the families of those killed by the hit man several million dollars, agreeing to destroy the remaining 700 copies of the book in their possession, and surrendering any rights they have to publish and reproduce the work. While the families were successful in profiting from their loved one's death, they have not been successful in stifling the book. With the surrender of the publishing rights by Paladin Press, the book has entered the public domain, and was published on the Internet at in its entirety on May 22, 1999.

"The book was initially published in 1983. 13,000 copies of the book are now in existence. There has only ever been one case where the book was associated with a crime, in that case the criminal had recently finished a lengthy prison sentence and had a history of prior violent crime. It is our opinion this book has never incited a murder, that the settlement of the Paladin Press case was wrong and forced by the insurance company, and that this book, and no book, should be banned. We invite the public to judge for themselves."

I don't know if it was written by a true professional, but it sounds authentic enough for me and for my purposes. If you'd like to read it, you'll find it here. It's one of those things that come with the warning "don't try this at home."

Sometimes I use Google to confirm my recollection of historical dates and places. It's also handy for getting background on places you've never been or haven't frequented lately. I like to use actual restaurants, particularly ones that add color to the story. I had heard of one called South Street but had never even driven by. I got the website off Google and it turned out to be just what I was looking for. It's official name is South Street Original Smokehouse, Crab Shack and Authentic Dive Bar. That last part refers to the Tree House Oyster Bar atop the restaurant, with a tree growing up through the floor.

My book involves Medicare fraud, and Google provided a wealth of links to both government and non-governmental sources. Google maps are great, too, for establishing locations and routes. In one chapter I wanted Sid Chance to reflect on some memories from his younger days. Recalling my own experience, though it was thirty years earlier, I took him past an old shopping center anchored by a theater no longer used as a movie house. I found enough history to update the area and a street-level view provided its current appearance.

For a lot of local spots I could have driven across town, but Google saved both time and gas, meaning money. That's reason enough to put up with some of the questionable shenanigans of the guys that occupy the Googleplex in Silicon Valley.

Visit me at

Monday, April 18, 2011

Military vs Civilian Ammo

by Ben Small
Bushmaster AR-15
Back in 2000 when I bought my Bushmaster AR-15 (shown above), I knew nothing about what ammo to use, even how to fire the rifle. I knew squat about guns. All I knew was what the gun store told me: This was a pre-ban gun, easily available because the Assault Weapons Ban was a joke. The ban only affected cosmetic aspects, and secondly, the effective date was so long in coming that manufacturers made plenty in time, covering the market for the entire ban period.

That sounded cool to me, and what I really wanted anyway was the manual, a few details for a story, what my editor called pixie dust. And if I could irritate the gun-banners, so much the better.

Well, that's all well and good, but then I decided to shoot the thing. And I had no idea what ammo to use or even how to load the magazines.

Ironically, I turned to Google since I had trouble reading the rifle's manual -- small print and all. I learned that the military version of this rifle shoots 5.56 x 45mm ammo, while the civilian version shoots .223 Remington. Many claim these rounds are the same. .223 Remington = 5.56mm.  Metric vs. Standard.

So I bought a bit of commercial and a bit of military -- usually much cheaper than commercial ammo -- and I blasted away, scaring the hell out of myself with the first round because I hadn't thought to wear muffs. Big mistake: These things are loud.

Then a few articles in gun fora caught my eye. Turns out, there is a difference between military 5.56 rounds and civilian .223 rounds, a big one, one which might ruin your gun if you shoot the wrong ammo... or be dangerous.

While these rounds have nearly identical overall dimensions, the NATO-spec 5.56mm chamber is slightly larger than the SAAMI-spec chamber for the .223 Remington. Shooting 5.56 ammo in guns chambered for the .223 will generally exceed pressure levels established by SAAMI. Too much cartridge pressure and the case expands, perhaps jamming chamber and bolt, deforming both and maybe the barrel. Or, the rifle could blow up. At a minimum, you're accelerating the wear-rate of your rifle. With firearms, that's not a good thing.

So which one to shoot in my Bushmaster? The articles said to look at the barrel, the correct type of ammo is specified. Mine said "5.56/.223."

What the hell did that mean?

So I called Bushmaster. Simple answer: Some rifles are designed to shoot both. But I was warned that if my rifle said ".223" only, not to shoot 5.56 military ammo through it, especially if the ammo is lead-free -- those rounds are loaded to even higher pressures than normal commercial ammo.

How many people know this? Evidently, not many, because at the range I ask the question, often of people decked out in mall ninja duds blasting off rounds from their AR-15s as fast as they can pull their triggers -- sometimes their barrels glow orange or red.

The response is usually a blank look. If they look at their barrel at all, they may add, "Son of a gun..."

So, the rule is: Do not shoot .556 military ammo in a chamber designed for .223 only.

A few years later, I got into guns in a big way and bought both a Springfield M1A and an ArmaLite AR-10, both 7.62 X 51mm NATO rifles ("7.62 NATO"), the commercial version being the very popular .308. Both are great battle rifles, and the round is much more favored among our troops because it's more powerful than the 5.56, which often may not penetrate windshields or body armor. 7.62 NATO has no such issues, and it's more powerful, accurate and faster than the AK-47 round (7.62 X 39mm) our enemies tend to shoot.
Springfield M1A

ArmaLite AR-10

So I had the same question: Are the military and commercial rounds the same, other than Geneva Treaty differences (mandating full metal jacket rounds for military use, i.e. no hollow-points)?

Again, they are not. Shooting .308 Remington commercial rounds in a rifle chambered for 7.62 NATO may cause a potentially catastrophic over-pressure situation. In both cases, my rifles said "7.62 NATO," and I'd bought a load of .308 ammo. In contrast, I only had one rifle -- a bolt-action hunting rifle -- chambered in .308.

Was I in danger using my .308 ammo in my two 7.62 NATO rifles? I called both Springfield and ArmaLite. Both advised that while my concerns were real, both rifles were chamber head-spaced for the .308, so were safe with either ammo.

ArmaLite and Springfield were thinking ahead. Problem is, not all .308/7.62 NATO rifle manufacturers have considered this difference, and not all rifles chambered for 7.62 NATO are safe with .308 commercial ammo.

Rule: Do not shoot commercial .308 ammo in a rifle chambered for 7.62 NATO without calling the manufacturer and asking. Again, this is especially true for lead-free steel ammo.
And while we're on the subject, let me turn to my favorite rifle, the M-! Garand, which shoots a .30-06 round. Do not shoot modern commercial ammo through an M-1 Garand. The Garand, standard military issue during WWII and the Korean War, is popular with gun-owners today, so much so that the annual Camp Perry shoot attracts thousands of participants from all over the country. But Garand military .30-06 rounds are much less powerful than modern .30-06 commercial cartridges. New powders have created much more efficient, much higher pressured rounds than known to the Garand's designers. Shooting a modern commercial round through a Garand will probably bend the rifle's op-rod, which will prevent rifle-cycling and maybe cause a catastrophic failure.

There's a solution of course: a different op-rod or military surplus or Garand-designed ammo.
I did all three.

Rule: Don't shoot modern commercial ammo in an M-1 Garand, unless you've installed the correct operating rod or you've bought special Garand ammo. Use military surplus instead.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lucy -- Saying Goodbye and Saying Hello

by Susan Santangelo

We had to let our English cocker Lucy go last Friday. She really made the decision. Not eating. Not drinking. The last morning, though, she had the strength to go out onto our deck and, miracle of miracles on Cape Cod in April, the sun was warm and we sat together and talked about life. I'll always treasure that memory. I promised her that she'll always be in the Baby Boomer mysteries -- there are 2 English cockers in the books, Lucy and Ethel -- and on the back cover and on the bookmarks. I realized that, as an "indie" author, I'll be able to keep that promise. It's wonderful to be able to work directly with our designers and graphic artists to choose the cover art and design.

I also realized that I have a lot of trouble saying goodbye. I suppose lots of people do. The location of the Baby Boomer mysteries is a fictitious Fairfield County, CT, town called Fairport, which is a combination of Westport and Fairfield, where my family lived for many years. And the antique house that's the setting for much of the stories is my old house.

Every time I sit down to write, I re-connect myself to Fairfield and my old house. And now, in a special way, to Lucy. I think, all things considered, I'm pretty lucky.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Brazil's European Colony

by Leighton Gage

The year was 1807, and the Prince Regent, Dom João Maria José Francisco Xavier de Paula Luís António Domingos Rafael de Bragança (For simplicity’s sake, let’s just call him by his English name, John) ruled in theKingdom of Portugal. He ruled, but feared he wouldn’t be ruling long.

The armies of Napoleon were sweeping down from the north, engulfing the Iberian Peninsula. In those days, back before Napoleon took Moscow, the conventional wisdom was this: in warfare, all you had to do to win was to capture the enemy’s capital. Having done that, you declared victory, they admitted defeat and the war was over. John (above, on the left) was a man of his time. He accepted that as truth. Accepted it, but also revolted at the idea of languishing under a French yoke.
He decided to flee.
But flee to where?
Brazil was the obvious choice. John's new world colony had plenty of room. The country was more than 90 times the size of Portugal. (It measures 8,456,510 SQ KM. Portugal, in contrast, only 91,951 SQ KM) 
So, on November 29th, 1807, John, under the protection of a British fleet, set sail with all his court. It was a pretty big court, even by modern standards. There were about 15,000 of them.
Two days later the French took Lisbon.

During the long voyage, John had plenty of time to consult his advisors. 

Upon his arrival in the new world, he handed the French emperor a surprise: the French might have captured Lisbon, he reasoned, but they hadn’t defeated the mother country. Why? Because, according to him, the residence of the king defined the capital, and the royal residence was now Rio de Janeiro. Therefore,  the mother country was no longer Portugal. It was now Brazil. Portugal was a colony.

Seven years later, Napoleon suffered his final and humiliating defeat at Waterloo. By that time, John, like many before him, had settled into the good life of the tropics. He had no desire to go “home”. He wanted to stay in Brazil forever. But he couldn't. A severe political crisis ultimately forced him back to Lisbon.

He left his son, Pedro, in Rio de Janeiro as regent.
That, as it turned out, was a mistake. Pedro  had no desire to go "home" either. Or ever.

On September 7, 1822, he declared the independence of Brazil and had himself crowned emperor, thereby severing the bonds that had connected Brazil and Portugal for more than 320 years.
And leaving Brazil the only country in the new world that had ever had, or ever will ever have, a colony in the old.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An Old Success Story

By Mark W. Danielson

In 1849, gold changed California forever. San Francisco and Sacramento became boom towns. People poured into the state to become rich. On the banks of the Sacramento River, people from faraway places arrived by boat. Bars, hotels, and The Eagle Theater popped up to meet their needs. In the canvas-covered Eagle Theater, men sat on benches on the main floor while women sat in the balcony. Men didn’t speak to women unless they had been introduced by another man, ladies of the evening being the exception. Life was hard with harder consequences for improprieties, but people made the most of their time on Earth. With the exception of what went on behind closed doors, The Eagle Theater and bars were pretty much “it” for entertainment.

This way of life faded when the gold rush ended. The Pony Express brought California out of isolation. Soon, stage coaches and railroads were filled with God-fearing folk who brought civilized families, and built churches and schools. Ladies of the evening were shunned. Sacramento and San Francisco were transformed, but still linked by the Delta King and Delta Queen riverboats. That’s right, the King and Queen traversed the Sacramento River long before the Queen ever sailed the Mississippi. In the literal sense of “The King is dead; long live the Queen!” the Delta Queen lives on our nation’s largest river using parts robbed off her sister ship. Since the Delta King is stationary, both are preserved.

As Sacramento grew, so did the roads that connected it to surrounding cities. Interest in its waterfront diminished leaving the historic riverbank town to fall into disrepair. In the 1960s, some brilliant visionaries and investors convinced Sacramento’s city planners that they should redevelop the area. “Old Sacramento” became a reality in the early 1970s when The Old Eagle Theater, Fanny Ann’s Bar, China Camp Restaurant, The Firehouse restaurant, and a few tourist shops opened. Since then, redevelopment continued with more restaurants and shops opening. The Railroad Museum, one of the best in the nation, became an anchor for the area. The long-neglected Delta King followed, having been refloated from Richmond’s shore and resurrected as an Old Sacramento hotel and restaurant. Today, this two by five block area thrives, providing intriguing eateries, specialty shops, and museums that hint of what life was like during the gold rush period. Boo-Hiss performances at The Old Eagle Theater still draw crowds. Old Sac is a perfect place for authors who are interested in writing historical novels to do research.

If you’ve ever wondered why San Francisco’s football team is named the 49ers and wear gold, the gold rush is why. Should you find yourself passing through Sacramento, stop by and check out Old Town.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The old, old story of a dish served cold

by Bill Kirton

A while ago, I had a bit of a mini-revelation. About why I write novels. Seems like it might be all about revenge.

I was one of several writers pitching their books to some readers in a lovely wee independent shop in Glasgow called Lost in Fiction. (The sadness is that the shop has since ceased trading. Not because of me, I hope.) Anyway, my three-minute pitch went like this:

The question we’re always asked is ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ In the case of The Darkness, it’s central to how I wrote the first version and how it developed into this one. Many years ago, I was having dinner with my wife and friends at a restaurant just outside Aberdeen. The waiter serving us had a West Country accent – English West Country. I said to him ‘You’re a long way from home’. He said ‘Yes, I needed to get as far away as possible’. I asked why and he told me his wife and two young daughters had been killed by a drunk driver. He’d been caught, sentenced to eighteen months, but got twelve months off for good behaviour. As the waiter said, ‘That’s two months for each life’.

I felt so sorry for him, and the story stayed with me. I wanted revenge on his behalf and the first version of The Darkness was exactly that. My agent sent it to Piatkus. They liked it but didn’t want a stand alone thriller at that time but said they’d be interested if I had any police procedurals. So I wrote one. They bought it. And I wrote some more.

I started thinking about making The Darkness part of the series, but it was crude. It was me, red in tooth and claw. My own vigilante tendencies bother me. When it comes to capital punishment, imprisonment and so on I’m a liberal, I’ve corresponded with a prisoner on Death Row, and yet I know for a fact that if I could get my hands on some of these paedophiles and so on, I’d do very nasty things to them. And I’d do it knowing it was wrong, but I’d still do it.

So, in the end, I wrote and rewrote The Darkness over and over again, exploring the balance between the law and justice, revenge and compassion. The motives and the personnel changed. It’s now the third Jack Carston novel and it’s taught me so much about my characters and the whole business of crime and punishment that I now know that the Carston series will consist of just six novels. The fourth has already been published, the fifth is ready for submission, and then, there’ll be just one more. I already know its plot and structure and it’ll have an even darker ending than The Darkness itself.

Given what I’m claiming for the book, it was nice to read in one of the reviews that ‘When you read The Darkness be prepared to be manipulated and have your moral compass reset’. And the same review ended by saying ‘get yourself a copy of The Darkness and ask yourself this; what would you do?’

OK, that was my spiel – and I meant it, and it was true. But later, reading an article about books being made into movies, I suddenly remembered reading First Blood, which is the first of the Rambo stories. I haven’t seen the movies and have no desire to, but that was a well-constructed thriller and a good escapist read. At the end, though, I felt frustrated and cheated by a choice the protagonist made. It was about revenge. But his ‘failure’ to exact the full revenge, while morally ‘correct’, was out of character in the context of the story. This isn’t a criticism of the writing, it’s just my take on the morality involved. I won’t reveal the specific incident to which I’m referring because some people may not have read it so I wouldn’t want this to be a spoiler.

The point, though, is that it made me want to write a novel in which the revenge impulse was allowed its full scope. I imagine that many if not most people experience the visceral eye-for-an-eye urge and it doesn’t do to pretend that it’s not there. I’m not proposing a free-for-all, but it’s honest to acknowledge that it’s a factor, even in the most liberally-informed debates.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Homeowners' Association

By Shane Cashion

My neighborhood rests in what I consider to be the locus of St. Louis, just a stones throw away from our best university and most attractive park. Because of its central location, we attract all sorts of visitors looking to raise money, sell us something, or convert us. In an effort to deter these interlopers, many of us have “No Soliciting” signs on our front doors.

Yesterday, as I was taking our bulldog for his seasonal walk, I noticed that my neighbor had posted a “No Soliciting” sign on her front door that was at least five times larger than any other sign in the neighborhood. I couldn’t help but walk over to check it out. To my surprise, it wasn’t a “No Soliciting” sign, but instead a sign protesting our HOA’s recent agents’ election. She was expressing her outrage over what she perceived to be corruption … in our homeowners’ association. Our HOA appears to be corrupt.

This actually comes as no surprise to me. I’ve long considered homeowners’ associations to be the most dangerous organizations in the world. There are literally thousands of them, and they all share two common goals: to incite rage and to divide neighbors. Having seen these organizations in action, I’m convinced that sharing a cell with Charles Manson would do less harm to the sound mind than engaging your HOA in any meaningful way.

As for my neighbor, I’m not certain what happened at the election to fuel her anger. I never go to the meetings. The agents don’t like me, and I’m afraid of them. Not long after I moved into the neighborhood, the HOA held a special meeting to address rumors concerning the University’s purported interest in buying our homes. The University is out of land, and if it ever hopes to expand, our neighborhood is the closest target. Like any busy, self-absorbed person, I only skimmed the flyer explaining the purpose of the meeting. What’s more, I arrived twenty minutes late.

As I was sitting there at the meeting, doing my level best to catch up, one of the agents singled me out: “Sir, you have a pained look on your face. Is there something you wish to add?”

Had he known me better, he’d have recognized that I always have a pained look on my face. “My name is Shane. It seems to me that if we want to get a deal done, we need to present the University with a unified offer. I say we hire one appraiser and all agree to demand 10% over the appraisal. Gang, this is a really big opportunity for us to move these houses and if we ever want to get it done, now’s the time! Let’s do whatever it takes to make a deal! Thanks for your time.”

One would have thought I’d just told the world’s dirtiest joke. It wasn’t so much the silence that unnerved me as the sheer horror on the faces of both the agents and the homeowners in attendance. Finally, a man who regularly paces up and down my block wearing safari netting around his head, broke the silence: “Sir, this is a preservation meeting. Didn’t you read the flyer? We’re trying to block the University from buying our homes. Not sell them. These homes are historic! Have you no pride?” Embarrassed, I quietly walked out, disappointed that the University wasn’t going to scoop up my house.

In a twisted bit of irony, our HOA’s meetings take place across the street from the Church of Scientology. Now and again people wearing crazy Halloween costumes assemble in front of the Church to protest what they believe to be the Church’s efforts to brainwash their members. Little do they know, in a low-slung shelter just a few steps away, a far more sinister organization conducts its meetings: The Homeowners’ Association.

I’ve personally witnessed members of both organizations leaving their meetings. By appearances, the Scientologists looked revived, yet at the same time calm, tranquil even, as if a weight had been lifted. Contrast this with the agents leaving their HOA meetings. Their faces contorted; rage in their voices as they barked back and forth: “How freakin’ stupid is Mary to think….I COULD KILL HER!” “Mary? What about Todd?! “YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING TODD!!! YOU SELL DEFIBRILLATORS!!!! WHAT COULD YOU POSSIBLY KNOW ABOUT VARIANCES!!!! JUST SHUT UP FOR ONCE, YOU IDIOT!!!!!!!!!!” “Seriously, who votes for these people? You know sometimes I don’t even know why I bother….” “I’m with you, Ken. But remember, the neighborhood would go to hell without us.” “True.”

Next week the HOA is holding a special meeting to determine whether we can recognize the newly elected agents, or whether the election failed to comply with the HOA’s bylaws, as my neighbor with the big sign on her door seems to believe. While I have no intention of attending, I am thinking about buying a Jason mask from the Friday the 13th movies and standing outside their meeting with a sign that reads:

Saturday, April 9, 2011


By June Shaw

People are kind. I have found authors to be more so than most.

Writers urge on and help other writers who are actually their competition. I belong to writers' groups like Mystery Writers of America, Guppies, Sisters in Crime, Murder Must Advertise, and Romance Writers of America among others.Published authors in these groups are always giving suggestions to the pre-published and published on how to improve and market their work. They also give assistance through their blogs. Those who weren't published yet also continue to help and encourage and read each other's work.

So many writers help those struggling to perfect their query letters, often editing many drafts of them. Authors suggest places where the pre-published might send their work, and I have found authors--even many N.Y. Times Bestsellers--most generous in reading advanced reading copies of newbies and kindly offering a quote.

Heather Graham is one of the kindest authors I know. I have admired her work for a number of years and met her once at a conference after I eventually sold a book. When I sold my second, I worked up the courage to ask if she might look at my ARC.

Immediately she said yes. She didn't know me from a tree but was willing to give a new author a chance. (And thank goodness she loved my book, KILLER COUSINS, comparing its main character with Miss Marple.) I saw her again last week at a conference. It was the birthday of my oldest daughter, Dawn. I called during the book signing hour to extend greetings and make plans for later in the day. Heather Graham sat behind huge stacks of her books, signing and speaking to readers. I leaned in and whispered that 2it was my daughter's birthday, pointing to the phone. Heather put out her hand, took my phone, and sang Happy Birthday to Dawn, which she'll never forget.

Other authors took my phone and wished my daughter a great day or sang the birthday song to her. What considerate people. I have discover kindness in so many individuals. Writers are the best.

Friday, April 8, 2011


by Earl Staggs

It happened again. I saw a new TV show advertised dealing with mystery, crime, and catching the bad guys. This one, “Body of Proof,” stars Dana Delany. I like her. She’s good-looking, charismatic, and a good actress.

So, I gave it a try.

Delany plays a Medical Examiner. Okay, we already have a few of them in books and on TV, but we also have a number of doctors, nurses, lawyers and cops, so one more can’t hurt. She comes to the job with personal baggage. She was a neurosurgeon, but for some medical reason, can’t do that anymore. She’s divorced, estranged from her teenage daughter, doesn’t have any friends, and most certainly does not have a man in her life. Okay, there’s plenty of backstory to work through and plenty of issues to deal with. She also comes to the job with an attitude. She’s going to do the job the way she feels it should be done, and no one is going to tell her otherwise. Anyone who tries had better be ready to do battle.

With all that going on, all the show needs is a decent plot each week. That’s where I was disappointed.

I’ve watched two weekly episodes so far, and both times, the plot was all about what was found under a microscope or at the end of a bodily fluid swab. That kind of crime-solving was interesting the first few thousand times, but with all the CSI type shows on the air now, it’s commonplace and less than exciting. The characters have little to do but talk to each other about their personal lives. And build sexual tension, of course. Will Castle and Beckett ever get it on? Will Bones and Booth finally admit their feelings for each other and hit the sheets?

On this week’s episode of “Body of Proof,” it all came down to the fatal bullet. In the lab, they found a trace of skin on it from someone other than the principal victim. Conclusion: the bullet grazed someone else in the room on its way to its intended target. Aha! There was an eyewitness to the shooting. They also found traces of pigeon poop. Really. Conclusion: the shooter fired from outside the room and the bullet went through a window screen on which a pigeon had left its droppings. There’s more. They found infant drool on the victim’s clothes, clear evidence she held a baby shortly before being shot. All that evidence, all discovered in the lab, revealed the killer.

Okay, all that is uberscience and superforensics and led to the solution of a murder.

But I miss the days when a cop or a PI had to prowl the mean streets to solve a crime. He had to throw a snitch against the wall, duke it out with a gunsel in the alley, kick in a few doors or romance a beautiful blonde with long legs. Instead of a microscope, he relied on his fists and the cold, hard steel of a .45. That was a lot more fun than watching squints pull evidence from a tiny spot of blood or find a suspect in a data bank with a few strokes of flying fingers on a keyboard.

Okay, I admit it. I’m a dinosaur, an old fuddy-duddy, if you will. I prefer my heroes wearing suits and ties instead of tee-shirts and jeans. I’d rather see him punch a goon’s jaw, not computer keys.

Maybe for me, someone should bring back a Philip Marlowe or a Mike Hammer in their own time. Maybe I should get over my old-fashioned preferences and step into the 21st century. I have in many ways. I carry a cell phone, I do emails. I even have a Facebook page, although I’m not sure why.

But when it comes to what I read and watch, I think I’ll always cling to a love for the good old days of crime investigation.

J. Michael Orenduff's Winning Pot Thief Series

by Jean Henry Mead

Michael Orenduff won a prestigious 2011 Lefty Award for his novel, The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein, published by Oak Tree Press. Another book in his series was reviewed by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who wrote: "The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras has all the components of a great read – an intricate plot, quirky characters, crackling dialog, and a surprise ending. What’s more, Orenduff successfully captures the essence of New Mexico through humor, romance, and even a little philosophical musing. New Mexico’s rich history, people, food, and landscape come alive on its pages. . ."

Mike, you’ve had some great reviews, but how did you manage the one from Governor Bill Richardson?

I served as president of New Mexico State University back in the nineties when he was one of our Congressional Representatives. He was very supportive of higher education, and I worked with him (mostly his staff) on several projects, including one for Hispanic-serving institutions that tied NMSU with the University of Puerto Rico and some other universities in a federal project. So when I retired and started writing books, I asked him for the review and he graciously consented. And it didn’t hurt that my books attract attention for the state.

Tell us about your award-winning Pot Thief Mystery series.

The protagonist was a “pot hunter” in his early days, digging up and selling ancient pottery. When that practice was outlawed, he was rebranded as a pot thief, but he rationalizes what he does. Unfortunately, his clandestine excavations often tie him to a murder which he must solve to clear himself. He’s somewhat clueless but often gets inspiration and assistance from his sidekick Susannah who acquired her mystery solving skills by reading murder mysteries.

How important is humor in a mystery series?

I think every mystery, no matter how noir, must have some humor if for no other reason than to break the tension. In my books, even the tension is funny. At least I hope it is.

Your series has been described as a “thinking man’s mystery.” How would you describe it?

The protagonist is part thief, part social critic who finds popular culture unfathomable. He cherishes the naïve belief that reason works.

Why does someone with your advanced education decide to write mystery novels?

Because writing fiction is fun.

What are you working on now? And is there some project in the back of your mind you’d like to write about?

I also write plays. I have written two comedies, but now I am trying my hand at a serious play.

Who most influenced your own work?

Michael Bond, Lawrence Saunders, and Lawrence Block.

Advice to fledgling writers?

I wish I had some sage advice to pass along, but I don’t. One learns the craft of writing like one learns most skill – long hours of practice. Write, write, write. Take a break and read – you’ll see things in what you read that you wouldn’t have noticed before you started writing. Then repeat the cycle for a few years, always getting people to read your work and give you feedback. At some point you will look at your early attempts and shudder. That means you are making progress.

You can drop in on Mike anytime at his website:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cozies and Thrillers and PIs, Oh My!

By Jaden Terrell

Tonight, two fellow Sisters in Crime and I spoke to the Nashville WNBA (Women's National Book Association) chapter. The topic was women who write crime fiction. My two cohorts were Bente Gallagher, who writes cozy mysteries, and JT Ellison, who writes psychological suspense. I was there to represent the private detective mystery/thriller contingent. After a brief, panicked, period of tugging at the locked doors of the wrong building and (who knew the library had moved since I'd last been there?!), Bente talked me in to the parking lot of the new Green Hills Library building, where I was met by a fellow Sister in Crime, who shepherded me to the meeting room where we met with a group of intelligent, engaged women with a shared passion for the written word.

It was a comfortable, conversational panels with a lot of give and take, a few nuggets of knowledge, and a few witty comments. Bente and JT are both talented writers and consummate professionals who write full time and know all the ins and outs of the publishing business; I brought to the table some knowledge of squeezing in writing around an often-demanding full-time job. Here are a few things that came up during the discussion.

Mysteries are primarily who-dunnits, while thrillers are how-dunnits. The mystery looks into the past; a murder has been committed, and the sleuth's challenge is to find out who did it. The thriller looks into the future. We may know from the beginning who the villain is and what his or her motivations are; the protagonist's challenge is to stop the villain before [insert terrible consequence here] occurs. (Suspense, Bente said, was in the present; something dangerous and mysterious is happening in the life of the protagonist, who is trying to figure out what is happening.) By these standards, Bente writes mysteries and JT writes thrillers. As for my books, Racing the Devil is more of a mystery--Jared is framed for murder and has to find out who committed the crime of which he's accused, but A Cup Full of Midnight has strong elements of both. It begins with a crime, which Jared strives to solve throughout the book, but the primary thrust of the story involves stopping a killer--known to the reader--who has targeted someone dear to Jared.

We each talked about the tropes and challenges of our chosen genres and how we each stretch those boundaries to make our books unique. Cozies have no graphic sex, no foul language, and no graphic violence, but Bente slips in clues about the intimate relationship her multidimensional protagonist, Avery, shares with her boyfriend, Derek. JT has a strong, capable heroine whose strength comes from her own character rather than as a response to a traumatic event in her past. This is a breath of fresh air in a genre where the "damaged heroine" is ubiquitous. My strong, lone-ranger PI has much in common with those who came before him, but his emotional life is more multifaceted than is common in the genre. He has a son with Down syndrome. He's still in love with his ex-wife, with whom he has a tender, respectful relationship. His best friend and housemate is a gay man with AIDS. He's the kind of man we send off to war, or off to keep our streets safe, or off to save innocents in jeopardy, often at a terrible cost,and who we then expect to come home unscathed and be good fathers and husbands and friends. And like most of those men, he does.

Bente and I talked about the challenges of finding believable ways for our protagonists to keep getting embroiled in murders, while JT, whose homicide detective protagonist has legitimate reasons for investigating murders, said one of her biggest challenges was overcoming the readers suspension of disbelief: "How many serial killers can there BE in Nashville?"

The last topic of the evening, broached in response to a question from the audience, was digital publishing and its implications for the current industry. We discussed the current upheavals, with successful. traditionally published authors going to a self-publishing model and successful self-published authors signing contracts with traditional publishers.

"What will publishing look like in five years?" someone asked. "In ten?"

No one could answer; the possibilities are limitless. As the Magic 8-ball says, "Answer hazy. Try again later."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Anthem for Doomed Youth

by Carola Dunn

ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH, my 19th Daisy Dalrymple mystery, is now out. It's a bit different from the rest of the series, not only in having a serious theme that still resonates in our time, but in that Daisy and her husband, DCI Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard, are involved in two different cases... Or so it appears.

While Alec tackles the discovery--by a dog, of course--of three bodies buried in Epping Forest, near London, Daisy goes off with a couple of friends to visit their daughter at her boarding school (which just happens to be the school I attended a good many years later!).

With three 13-year-old girls to entertain, they visit a public garden that has a maze. One of the girls, lost in the maze, finds the body of a much-disliked teacher. When the local inspector proves incompetent, Daisy feels obliged to do a bit of sleuthing.

According to Publishers Weekly: "The aristocratic but very modern Daisy makes a formidable amateur sleuth." And this--I assume--is the aspect of the book described by Kirkus as "amusing and sprightly" (!). Mysterious Women, on the other hand, called it: "gripping and fascinating," referring perhaps to Alec's side of the story.

Alec, meanwhile, is trying to identify the three buried men, all shot to death. He has to find out the connection between them, so that he can stop the killer before he kills again. It turns out that all three were in the trenches in Flanders during WWI, and something that happened there may hold the key.

This is the poem that inspired me and from which I stole the title. I have to admit that however many times I read it, it always brings tears to my eyes.

by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,--
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of silent minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred Owen was killed in action in France one week before the Armistice.

The UK cover reflects this side of the story better. This edition will be out in May.

Alec's race against time to prevent another murder converges with Daisy's efforts to find out who killed the teacher. They seem to be two aspects of the same investigation. However, as always, Daisy has her own opinion on the subject!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Reality Check

By Chester Campbell

Reading Ben Small's border wars articles (see yesterday's blog) is enough to give you nightmares. Made me happy to know that I was safe here in Tennessee a thousand or so miles away. Then I signed up for the Metro Nashville Citizen Police Academy. Gives you a little different perspective on the situation.

The first session covered, guess what, homeland security. It wasn't just the border wars, though, but was titled Basic Terrorism Awareness. CBRN - chemical , biological, radiological, and nuclear are the basic threats that come under the heading of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which terrorists could be expected to use. We think of that as something you might find in New York or LA, but our instructor pointed out that Nashville is definitely a terrorist target.

How so? To mention a few, we're home to a Kurdish relocation center (some folks aren't too happy with the Kurds); we were one of five Iraqi polling sites in the recent election; we have about 70,000 people wedged into the Titans' LP Field on fall game days; we have star power with all the music celebrities in town. And we have plenty of mass media coverage. These are all things that put us well up on the terrorist target list.

We normally think of Osama bin Laden and his ilk when it comes to terrorists, but the homegrown variety can be just as deadly. The Oklahoma City bombing is the prime example. There are plenty of domestic prospects around. Two men arrested in Tennessee were recently sentenced to prison for plotting a robbery and murder spree intended to culminate in the assassination of Barack Obama. Our instructor said one of the largest caches of explosives ever found was discovered in Tennessee.

And it isn't just terrorism threats that provide the scary picture around here. There's an active gang involved in human trafficking in Nashville, we were told. Colleague Jaden (Beth) Terrell is already onto that for a new novel.

My second week at the Academy brought unwelcome news about internet crimes against children. They're on the rise. We got some bad news for parents. Teens, particularly younger ones, do all sorts of wild things on the internet. They send nude pictures to their friends, who in turn get mad and threaten to plaster them all over the web (Facebook and Myspace in particular). We heard about cases where predators use threats to expose teens as a way to compromise them.

A survey showed 39 percent of teens sent sexually suggestive messages or photos on their cell phones. And virtually every teen has a cell phone. The messages are sent by what is call "sexting."

The class tonight is on traffic. I may quit driving after what I hear. Needless to say, it has been quite educational so far.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Question of the Day

by Ben Small

With all the trillions of dollars we're borrowing from the Chinese to fund our soldiers to make wastelands the world over safe for...well...nobody, why don't we bring them home and maybe use them to secure our borders?

We have a full-blown war going on in Mexico, led by drug and human smuggling cartels originally set up years ago in Columbia, and a Mexican government seemingly incapable of stopping it, a government so corrupt that many -- including our envoy to Mexico -- believe it's a major part of the problem. The response when WikiLeaks exposed our government's suspicions? The Ambassador resigned. Seems our government didn't want to upset President Felipe Calderon. Ambassador Resigns  Meanwhile, over 35,000 Mexicans have died in Calderon's so far unsuccessful war against the cartels.

Janet Napolitano, whose responsibility it is to keep our Homeland safe, says our borders are safer and more secure than ever before; however, those who live near one, especially in the Southwest, who find the spent AK-47 shells in their back yards and who hear the gunshots in the night, disagree. Ask the residents of Green Valley, AZ, one of the earliest and largest planned retirement communities, situated along Interstate 19, known locally as Smugglers Alley. Or ask the ranchers who live within a hundred miles of the border. They find the detritus of smuggling activities on their land every day, and they fear being shot like Robert Krentz, who died on his land, shot by an illegal who simply walked back across the border.

And what happens when a landowner catches illegals on his land and holds them at gunpoint waiting for a law enforcement official to pick them up? One guy did it, over and over. He caught hundreds of illegals on his property. One would think this country would be proud of this man's activities; instead, he got sued in a Phoenix court and lost. He has to pay the illegals and their U.S. lawyers, sponsored by Open Border groups, over a hundred thousand dollars. Seems he caused these illegals emotional pain and suffering by restraining their free movement.

And what do we do when government officials catch illegals? Do we deport them or stick them to rot in our over-crowded jails? Well, our Justice Department has changed its policy on deportment; it wants to slow or stop deportment proceedings, and it's suing state government officials to block their enforcement of federal immigration law.

If our borders are safer and more secure than ever, as Napolitano says, then why have National Parks along our southern border been closed to American citizens due to dangerous smuggling traffic across that border? And why won't the Department of the Interior let Border Patrol agents enter those parks without permission to seek out and destroy the smugglers?

The funny (sarcasm full and screaming) thing about these closures, about all the Park Service signs warning hikers or bikers trailing in Southwest Forest Service lands? Both instruct folks who see illegal activities to dial 911. Who answers 911 calls? The same sheriffs sued to block border enforcement.

Is this a Catch 22 or what? More important, is this serious border enforcement?

Oh sure, Napolitano assigned some National Guard troops to border enforcement, but not nearly enough to do the job, and those she sent, she instructed not to do anything but report illegal activities they see. And what about those federal agents assigned to drug enforcement coordination activities in Mexico? They report inefficiencies due to understaffing, inability to understand Spanish and fear for their lives. (Arizona Daily Star) Indeed, President Obama even barred these enforcers from carrying weapons. (Agents Disarmed)  So these enforcers push paper, and they're frustrated. Maybe that's why ICE gave Napolitano a vote of No Confidence.

Yeah, no kidding.

Sure, we've made some progress along our southern borders. We've scared many of the illegal immigrants back to Mexico, and yes, we see the daily reports of captures of massive amounts of smuggled drugs and the victims of human traffickers, but our Government Accounting Office, the agency charged with monitoring the efficiency and effectiveness of our governmental actions admits that the Border Patrol can only stop illegal entries along 129 miles of our 1,954-mile Mexican border. And our 3,918-mile long northern border, the GAO says, is virtually wide open. (GAO Report)

We tried building a fence along our southern border, but environmentalists -- tree huggers to some -- blocked that project. They worried coyotes, javelina and rattlesnakes would not migrate.

President Calderon blames the United States for the drug cartel activities. He says drugs are moving north across our borders and guns are moving south to the cartels. And there's no question the drugs are moving into the United States. There's huge demand for them, and the money involved in that trade is staggering. As for the guns, however, very few have been traced to the United States, and some of those that have been identified as originating from our country have been tracked to a BATFE program to smuggle them there. You remember those buffoons: the Ruby Ridge and Waco screw-ups. (ATF Smuggling OperationCBS ReportReport 3KVOA Report) Indeed, some of these BATFE rifles killed a couple of our agents working south of the border.

The Feds don't want state officials to ask for ID. Yet you and I must show ID when we make a purchase at Best Buy. The Feds say state requirements to show ID illegally profile Hispanics. Yet, who is crossing our borders? Most are Mexican, but also a number of Guatemalans, Hondurans and Latinos from other Central American countries. Not many white grandmas from Norway sneak across the U.S. border.

Recently -- actually just a couple days ago -- Larry Dever, the Sheriff of Cochise County, one of the Arizona border counties suffering the most smuggling activity spoke out. "Janet Napolitano says the border is more secure than it's ever been. I've been here for 60 years, and I'm telling you that's not true."

Dever also says, "The senior supervisor agent [Border Patrol] is telling me about how their mission is now to scare people back. I had to go back to my guys and tell them not to catch anybody, that their job is to chase people away. They were not to catch anyone, arrest anyone. Their job was to set up posture, to intimidate people, to get them to go back." (Fox News)
Dever (Left)
Just over a month ago, Dever quit representing Arizona sheriffs in the Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats, citing politicization of border security. (KGUN 9) Meanwhile, sheriffs of counties north and west of Tucson are reporting cartel snipers in the hills, equipped with high power rifles, scopes and night vision, who spot for cartels or bandits waiting for them. (AZCentral)

You think the smuggling and violence in Mexico isn't spilling over onto U.S. soil? The Border Patrol set up Operation Detour, an education program now provided in Southwestern schools, intended to convince middle-and-high school kids not to become cartel mules. Cartel members like mules for an obvious reason: Somebody else gets caught. So they use American teenagers, juveniles, often paid big bucks or intimidated to cooperate by kidnapping or other forms of extortion. American teenagers crossing the border, dressed in wild colors, tank tops and driving U.S. vehicles are less likely to be nabbed than somebody wearing a sombrero who doesn't speak English. (Operation Detour)

And now the Mexican cartels -- Is it politically incorrect or profiling to call them "Mexican" cartels? -- are threatening Border Patrol and ICE agents. The Monitor

So again, why don't we stop spending our money defending deserts overseas where there's no imminent U.S. threat and have our troops do something useful in our country -- like secure our border?

Are our government's efforts to block enforcement of federal immigration laws, closing down some of our National Parks and the resulting increase in smuggling activities and border violence all part of Change We Can Believe In? Gee, it's too bad securing our border isn't as vital a U.S. interest or as imminent a danger as the deserts of Libya, Iraq or Afghanistan.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

What's In A Title Anyway?, by Susan Santangelo

I just finished reading a mystery by a fairly mainstream author. I was drawn to it because the title had dogs in it. No surprise that I'd want to read a book like that, right? But the book itself had very little to do with the breed hyped on the cover, and although it was about pets, sort of, it left me...unfulfilled. Almost angry. That I had picked up a book expecting to read about one thing and ended up with another. Related, yes, but different. Sort of like expecting a home-cooked Italian meal and getting a can of Chef Boyardi ravioli instead.
And before anyone asks, the back cover blurb gave a tease about the book that was accurate...up to a point.
This experience got me to thinking. How much do readers go by titles when choosing a book to pick up? How accurate are most titles? How do we, as authors, select titles that will give readers enough of a tease to hook them in, and be true to what the book is about?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Gone With The Wind - Confederates in Brazil

by Leighton Gage
Gone are the days when my heart was young and gay,
Gone are my friends from the cotton fields away,
Gone from the earth to a better land I know…
Stephen Foster

One day, a couple of years ago, I was in an office in São Paulo chatting to a friend in English. A lady I didn’t know came up to us and joined in the conversation. She spoke with the dulcet tones of the American South, and I asked her where she was from.
“I was born here,” she said, meaning Brazil.
“Okay. Your parents, then?”
“Here. And my grandparents too.”
And then she told me the story of the Brazilian Confederates, which, Dear Reader, I’m now going to pass on to you.

After the War Between the States many families from the old south were left landless and destitute. They hated living under a conquering army of Yankees. They were looking for a way out.
Dom Pedro II, the progressive Brazilian emperor of the time, offered it. He was interested in developing the cultivation of cotton, and he gave tremendous incentives to people who knew how to do it. Land could be financed at twenty-two cents an acre. Passage cost no more than thirty Yankee dollars.
Scads of people from Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi and Texas took him up on his offer.
Many of them settled in the State of São Paulo in the towns of Americana and Santa Barbara D’Oeste. The name of the former is derived from the Portuguese for “Village of the Americans” and the latter is sometimes called the Norris colony, after Colonel William Norris, a former senator from Alabama and one of the founders. 

He's the gentleman in the photo above.
If you’re a Civil War buff, and would like to experience a vestige of the Old South, I suggest you go to Santa Barbara on the second Sunday in April. That’s when they hold a yearly party on the grounds of the cemetery. Yeah, that’s right, the cemetery, the one where all of those old confederates are buried. 

You can eat southern fried chicken, vinegar pie, chess pie and biscuits. 
Banjos are played. Confederate songs are sung. The women dress in pink and blue and wear matching ribbons in their hair. Near the Presbyterian Church, the first non-Catholic church ever built in Brazil, there’s square dancing for the young folks. 
The men of all ages get drunk and replay the war, looking at first as if they’re celebrating a victory. 
But at the end of the performance the bearded actor, playing Gen. Robert E. Lee, falls down as if mortally wounded, a Confederate flag wrapped around him. 
You can admire the monument to those old confederates.
And you might well get to meet someone like Becky Jones, a member of the Association of Confederates, a group that’s three-hundred members strong.
Becky learned her English from her parents. They learned it from their parents. And so on. Prompted, she’ll tell you that (even) Damnyankees are welcome to the party, but they have to expect to be received differently than someone from the South. She might tell you, too, about her grandmother, Mrs. MacKnight-Jones, who survived well into her nineties. Grandma learned from her parents never to call Abraham Lincoln by his name. In their household he was only referred to as "that man." And the family tradition goes on until this very day.