Friday, September 30, 2011

Ah, Yosemite

by Jean Henry Mead

My husband and I traveled the length of Yosemite in July and were surprised to find so much snow in the mountains, which range in elevation from 2,127 to 13,114 feet. Some 3.7 people visit the park each year.

The park is not only breathtakingly beautiful, it can also be dangerous. The day we were there, three young people were swept over Vernal falls to their deaths because they had climbed over the guard rail to take pictures. We read the following day that 17 park visitors had died in the first seven months of this year.

Half Dome (in the background) attracts a great many rock climbers each year and we saw quite a few that day.

I was surprised to learn that the park encompasses 761,268 acres and three counties over the western slope of the Sierra Nevadas. It's a horticulturist's paradise with 7,000 diverse plant species and 160 varieties of rare plants that exist within the park. It's also a geologist's dream.

I once lived in the San Joaquin Valley for more than a dozen years and visited Yosemite a number of times, but each trip reveals something new to admire and photograph.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


By Mark W. Danielson

I’m well into the sequel to Writer’s Block, which is due out this November. Tentatively named The Insomniac, it is based on a real haunting within Fort Worth’s Scott Theater. The main culprit is a spirit that has been residing there since a young man hanged himself in 1970, a mere four years after the live theater was completed. As this suicide was a relatively recent occurrence, it became the perfect setting for homicide detective Maxx Watts to determine whether this was madness or a cold case homicide. Writing this story has involved some very interesting paranormal research.

I’m having fun playing characters who believe in the paranormal against those who don’t. While I haven’t seen any ghosts or experienced any odd phenomena, my wife Lyne has. Over the last few years while working in the backyard, the side gate has opened and closed with no wind or anyone around, she’s felt something touch her thigh when no one was nearby, and twice the running sprinkler has been shut off at the twist valve directly behind her with no one else in the yard. Such unexplainable events tend to run in the family, too, with relatives seeing manifestations and experiencing strange things.

Needing expertise, I contacted Long Island Paranormal Investigations for an explanation of what another paranormal team claimed to be photographic evidence of orb manifestations in the Scott Theater. LIPI is of the opinion that the white dots in the Scott Theater photos are actually dust spots on the lens. Interestingly, one such dust spot appears on LIPI’s web page crew photo. When I asked them about the peculiar events my wife had experienced, I was told that some people are more receptive to spiritual events than others. Ironically, it seems that those who desperately want to experience paranormal events are the least likely to. I see that as proof that spirits retain their sense of humor in the afterlife.

There is a significant difference between manifestations and poltergeists. Manifestations are spirits that show themselves in one shape or another, whereas poltergeists may create chaos while remaining invisible. What I have written into my story parallels what has actually been witnessed and recorded at the Scott Theater. Why would I reinvent ghosts when they are already dancing for you? I hope these spirits enjoy the story. I’m sure they can download it on their G-net. If they disapprove, I suppose Lyne can expect more “polter” events.

When discussing the paranormal, most people automatically envision the poltergeists invented by Hollywood. According to Wikipedia, a poltergeist is “a paranormal phenomenon which consists of events alluding to the manifestation of an imperceptible entity. Such manifestation typically includes inanimate objects moving or being thrown about, sentient noises (such as impaired knocking, pounding or banging) and, on some occasions, physical attacks on those witnessing the events. Since no conclusive scientific explanation of the events exists up to this day, poltergeists have traditionally been described in folklore as troublesome spirits or ghosts which haunt a particular person, hence the name. Such alleged poltergeist manifestations have been reported in many cultures and countries including the United States, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and all European nations, and the earliest recorded cases date back to the 1st century.”

Although Wikipedia’s explanation continues, it verifies that ghostly behavior is not always a figment of our imagination. I’m not one to say that poltergeists don’t exist, but the energy required for a ghost to manifest and actually move something is incomprehensible. Then again, that’s what makes ghost stories like this one fun – especially when it is set days before Halloween. Whatever follows is limited only by your imaginations. Sleep well.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Shazam and other transforming words

I scribbled the following on a plane last year as I flew home to Aberdeen. It was intended to be a happyish, light-hearted piece but it had a twist and, anyway, I can now see it in a different light.

Soon I’ll be home after a few days in London. Not my favourite city (Paris is way ahead in that race) but an exciting, fascinating place to be all the same. The impression everywhere is that things are happening, people are on their way somewhere.  Even the Trafalgar Square tourists and the Oxford Street shoppers seem purposeful. Actually, come to think of it, maybe that’s why I prefer Paris. Over there, they stop and sit sipping coffee and Pastis to watch the others go by. I know it’s a cliché but they do linger over seemingly endless lunches and, rather than try to catch up with time, they’re savouring it as it passes. It suits my preference for languor over action.

Having said which, one of the reasons for my trip was to meet with a publisher to discuss writing a 100,000+ word non-fiction book. It’s an interesting, challenging project and, unlike with fiction, there’s a guarantee of publication (unless I make a complete mess of it all). It means setting aside the languor and working full time to meet the deadline. I have no idea what’ll happen to the blogging, tweeting and all that stuff, but with days filled with solid writing, I think I’ll need some trivia to keep me going.

So this was supposed to be a relatively straight, informative posting, but the notion just came to me that this writing business fits into all the superhero stereotypes. People such as Billy Batson and Clark Kent live along their ordinary lives, lost in the crowd. Suddenly, duty calls and, with a quick detour to a phone box (harder and harder in these days of mobiles/cell phones) or a cry of ‘Shazam’, they’re transformed into an extraordinary being. And so it is with writers.

There they are tweeting, trying to remember the lead singer of some forgotten 70s group for a Facebook challenge and generally behaving like all the more or less adequate mortals around them when suddenly they get the tap on the shoulder from their muse, agent or publisher and Blat! they morph into creators of new universes, using their powers to help others escape the mediocre. Only when the job is done do they switch off their power source or put down their pen and disappear back into the humdrum.

Trouble is, it takes Captain Marvel and Superman maybe twenty minutes to stop Jupiter crashing into the McDonald’s where some 5 year old kids are celebrating a birthday party, whereas the poor writers have to keep it up (and you can choose any of the double entendres you prefer at this point) for months.

And that was it. But here’s the twist I mentioned. When I got home and opened up the emails, there was a nice, polite message from the publisher saying it would be good if the book could be finished by the end of the year. Instead of the eight months I’d expected, I had just under four. Needless to say, I indulged in self-pity, moaned about the demands placed on the artist nowadays, and all sorts of similarly precious stuff. But I finished the book in time, the word count was closer to 80.000, and the feeling of achievement was very satisfying.

It also shattered the idea of the comparison with the superhero. They don’t whinge. Did you ever hear Superman begging Lex Luthor to take a time-out?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

There is a tide...

by Carola Dunn

In general, I enjoy research. It's fun, whereas writing is sometimes fun but sometimes sheer hard work. However, it's maddening when the information you need eludes you or is contradictory.

I've been trying to find out about ocean currents in this beautiful bay in North Cornwall:
 Facing west
(that's my sister striding towards the 300' vertical cliff!)

 Facing northeast

Somewhere in those cliffs is a cave, from which my victim is swept by the current into the inlet on the right of the second photo.

 The inlet, Rocky Valley

The main trend of the coast is southwest to northeast, and that's the way the main current flows between low and high tides, reversing between high and low. However, the bay and the inlet face north. Headlands, islets, and underwater rocks divert the currents in unpredictable ways. Maybe there's a lobster fisherman somewhere who knows the details...

On the other hand, what's the likelihood of him reading my book and telling me I got it wrong? Since I don't know the answer, I can make the currents in the bay swirl exactly as I want them.

As a writer of fiction, I have goddess-like powers in my fictional world.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cover Up with a Different Meaning

I'm the type who likes to know how to do everything when he gets involved in something. Back in the dark ages when I was editor and publisher of Nashville Magazine, I got intimately involved in every phase of the product. I was a journalist to start with, but I learned all about the production process, from typesetting to artwork to layout and design.

I also became well-versed in billing and accounting, plus circulation, advertising, promotion, and anything else required. Since the operation was touch and go financially at times, I wound up doing most of those tasks at one time or another.

Later on in my business career, I got into the field of association management. As executive vice president of a 4000-member statewide trade association, I got involved in lots of other jobs necessary to the operation of a large volunteer organization.

All this is prelude to saying what I'm currently doing that I probably shouldn't be. I recently decided to resurrect the first novel I wrote after getting into the business of fiction writing back in 1990. I had just retired from my association job and had told everyone I intended to write novels. Following up on my love of the spy genre, and filled with much research on the CIA and KGB, I wrote the first book in a trilogy involving a disgraced former FBI agent named Burke Hill.

I quickly found an agent for Beware the Jabberwock and toiled over the second book while eagerly awaiting action on the New York front. The agent's associate, who handled fiction, sent me rejection letters from editors at several houses including William Morrow, Harper Collins, Grove, and the Berkley Publishing Group. The Berkley editor wrote:

"It is a very well written thriller, but this genre is just too hard to sell in mass market at the moment. Maybe this would work well in hardcover."

Another said "it's a competent and entertaining piece of work" but not the kind of novel Grove was publishing.

It was the usual story, nice book but not one we can use. Unfortunately, following these letters was one from the agency saying the associate was leaving and the primary agent intended to concentrate on non-fiction. Now, twenty-one years later, post-Cold War stories seem to be in vogue again. So I've revised the manuscript and plan to put it up as an ebook. Which brings us full circle to my earlier reminiscing.

I need a cover for the book, and I'm working on an idea. I have a fair sense of design, but I'm no artist. I'd like to incorporate a swoosh into the design, but that's a little beyond me at the  moment. When it's done, I'll put it up here for your viewing pleasure (or not).

Visit me at Mystery Mania

Monday, September 19, 2011

Writing - again

By Shane Cashion

It’s been a few years since I’ve done any “serious” writing. By that I mean something more than randomly jotting down an idea or messing around with a paragraph or two only to later lose it to an infected laptop or the clutter on my desk or in my life. Last year I tried to get it going again by setting a schedule that I promised myself to strictly adhere to. I set my alarm for seven each morning with the intent of devoting my first hour of the day to writing. It didn’t work. I can’t predict when the muses will inspire me, which is just a fancy way of saying: I can’t make myself feel like writing. For me writing is like going to the gym; sometimes you’re in the mood for it, sometimes you’re not.

Well now I’m in the mood for it, and have been for a fair clip. I’m working on my second book, loosely entitled Beneficiaries, in earnest. I want this to be my White Album, the capstone of my writing life. That isn’t to say that I don’t feel like I accomplished what I set out to do with my first book. It’s just that my intentions were modest: to write a humorous, light read that would appeal to my sophomoric friends. For this book, I want to feel like I never have to write another one.

What’s strange, I suspect, is that unlike most writers, I don’t really enjoy the process of writing. When a sentence or idea comes together, it’s deeply satisfying, but not always enough to overcome the constant feeling of being distracted. I’m not a person who can compartmentalize writing and simply put my thoughts away for another time. Instead, I become totally preoccupied with it. I ask for deposit slips at the bank so I can jot down sentences. I litter my car with Starbucks’ napkins full of messy little, red, blue, and black notes that I can’t decipher later. What’s more, I’m often frustrated by the shortcomings of my memory, which, coupled with the fact that writing doesn’t come easy to me, makes the entire process a chore.

Yet, I soldier on, leaving my comfortable habitat, compelled to move forward with the task, like the march of the penguins. I guess that’s why for people like me “The End” feels so rewarding.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why Brazilians Hate Orson Welles

by Leighton Gage

Remember Orson Welles?
Remember his 1939 classic, Citizen Kane, a film that often heads the list of the 10 best ever made?
Brazilians do too.

But they also remember him for a film he shot in their country and never finished, for contributing to the death of one of their national heroes, and for trashing the Copacabana Palace Hotel.

The film he never finished is It’s All True. He visualized it as a series of three vignettes about Latin America

One of the three, entitled Four Men on a Raft, had been inspired by an article Welles read in the December 8, 1941, issue of Time Magazine.

It told the story of four fishermen who set out from Fortaleza , the capital of the northern state of Ceará, to file a grievance with the President of Brazil.  The distance by sea was 1,650 miles. Their craft was a jangada they’d named after Saint Peter, the fisherman.  

Jangadas, still widely used today, are little more than rafts with sails, tiny vessels with virtually no freeboard. They are made for the calm seas of Brazil’s northeast and are totally unsuitable for the rougher waters further south.

After 61 days at sea, navigating without instruments, without a motor, without even running lights, the San Pedro’s captain, Manoel Olímpio Meira, nicknamed Jacaré (alligator) brought them safely to Rio deJaneiro.

By the time he sailed into the harbor, he was already a national hero.
Gitúlio Vargas, the president (and virtual dictator) of Brazil, was so impressed that he granted the fishermen’s petitions. They and their colleagues were awarded the same benefits enjoyed by unionized industrial workers – retirement funds, pensions for widows and children, housing, education and medical care.Welles decided to re-enact their epic voyage and make it the centerpiece of It’s All True.

He hired the four fishermen to play themselves and leased theirjangada. Then, on a blustery day in the (southern hemisphere) fall of 1942, he bade them set sail for the open sea. The conditions that day suited his purposes admirably. He wanted to show how difficult the voyage would have been, how the decks of a jangada would run awash in heavy weather.

Jacaré demurred, told him it was too dangerous. Welles offered him more money. Again, Jacaré refused. So Welles offered him still more. The man was a poor fisherman. The amount he could earn would have fed his family for a year. He decided to take the risk.They’d hardly cleared the embracing arms of the harbor when they were struck by a towering wave. Jacaré was swept overboard and disappeared in the heavy seas. His decomposing head was later found in a huge shark caught a few miles down the coast off the Barra da Tijuca. 

The Brazilian newspapers made much of the disaster. Welles was blamed. The studio management didn’t like the bad publicity, and they particularly disliked the fact that Welles was spending too much of their money. The project was re-evaluated.Welles was ordered to complete Four Men on a Raftwith a minimal budget, and a minimum crew, and return toHollywood.
He threw a hissy fit.

What furniture he didn’t cast out of his windows at the Copacabana Palace, he smashed. 
More bad publicity. 
RKO cancelled his contract. The project was abandoned. As for Welles, his career, from then on, was all downhill. 
He tried to get other studios to back him, but by then word of the enfant terrible’s comportment had gotten around. He wasn’t “serious”. He was unstable. He was (worst of all) a risk. And no one wanted to gamble.
He then decided he’d finish the film on his own, and eventually, he managed to purchase some of the footage he’d shot. But the project ended in failure when he was forced to give up ownership because he could no longer pay storage costs for the negative. 
A few years went by. RKO, having need of space in their vaults, dumped the vast majority of Welles’ footage into the Pacific Ocean.

Fortunately, not all. In 1985, 43 years after shooting ended, some 300 cans turned up in a corner of the old RKO vault. They became the seminal material for a documentary released by Canal Plus in 1993.

Canal Plus is a French pay television channel. The French love Orson Welles. They were also behind a lovely film that he starred in back in 1968, the only one he ever directed in color. 

It’s called Une Histoire Immortelle, and it’s a magnificent piece of work.If you ever get a chance, see both the documentary and Immortal Story.

You'll be glad you did.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Developing Your Characters

by Jean Henry Mead

Some writers start with a setting, others with a theme. I’m one who begins with characters. But how do you breathe life into people who inhabit books to make them more than cardboard characters?

Characters have both inner and outer lives, according to Bharti Kirchner. I agree. Inner lives consist of beliefs and motivations while outer lives are your characters’ public personas. There are a number of techniques that can be used to reveal both.

Dialogue demonstrates a character’s personality, background and education. It also reveals how they feel about others. The following exchange is between my protagonists, Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty, two 60-year amateur sleuths who are caught in an Arizona flash flood in Murder on the Interstate:

Sarah warned about the amount of water on the road: “We’re going to hydroplane.”
“Too much water for that.” Dana switched the headlights to low beam and drove forward. “Where the hell is the road?”
“Stay between the delineator posts. There’s one off to your left.”
“I see it. Where’s the next one?”
Dana heard a scraping sound and Sarah yelled, “You found it.”
Later, when their Hummer is washed onto a sand bar, Sarah says: “Thank you, Heavenly Mother. Thank, you—“
“We’re not out of danger yet. If it starts raining again, we’ll be washed away.”
“What can we do, Dana?”
“Pray for all you’re worth.”
“I asked that the power angels be sent to help us.”
“Good idea. Maybe they’ll fly us out of here.”

There’s obviously a difference in religious beliefs between the two women as well as emotions and cynicism.

Physical descriptions also help the reader to visualize characters. Dana and Sarah are as alike as Mutt and Jeff. Dana’s tall with auburn hair and is said to resemble the actress Gina Davis while Sarah is short and plump with curly blonde hair.

A character’s birth place also contributes to her persona. Sarah Cafferty grew up in rural Nebraska and spouts expressions such as: “He took off like a scalded cat.” Dana, on the other hand, is a native Californian, who is a little more sophisticated, and I’m sure readers wonder why they became best friends. By transplanting both women from their retirement village in the San Joaquin Valley, in A Village Shattered, to Wyoming in the second novel, Diary of Murder, both women have to learn to adjust to a new lifestyle and that helps to define their character.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bouchercon: Day 1

By Jaden Terrell

Several years ago, I attended my first Bouchercon. It was wonderful, yet overwhelming. Somehow, in my mind, it expanded to a convention of 7,000 people, a vast swarm of humanity I could hardly even fathom. Today, I arrived at the St. Louis Bouchercon. Turns out it's about 1500 people and has ALWAYS been about 1500 people. Somehow, the huge, scary con became a huge, not-so-scary con in just a few years.

I was lucky enough to share the drive from Nashville and a hotel room with another Nashville author, Jennie Bentley )aka Jenna Bennett). Jennie writes a cozy series for Berkley Prime Crime and an e-series of real estate mysteries. If you like well-written, well-crafted light mysteries, you'll like Jennie's books.

I started the day at a panel called "Laughter of the Clowns," moderated by Jerry Healy and featuring Allan Ansorge, Alan Orloff, Gary Alexander, Jack Frederickson, and Robin Spano. Parnell Hall, one of my all-time favorite writers of humor, wasn't on the panel but got a tip of the hat from the panelists. If you've never seen his videos about the writing life, check out "Signing in a Waldenbooks," "Kill 'Em," and "The King of Kindle." Funny guy. Funny panel. I've read Allan Ansorge's books, since he's a beloved member of the Killer Nashville family, but I hadn't read the others. Obviously, I'll have to remedy that.

The panel by the guests of honor was remarkable--at times serious, at times hilarious, at times enlightening. At one point, a humorous and slightly off-color anecdote by Val McDermid rendered the panel speechless as the room erupted in laughter. Add Colin Cotterill, Charlaine Harris, Robert Crais (I heart Joe Pike), and moderator Oline Cogdill, and it was one of the most entertaining panels I've seen. I also enjoyed seeing Charles Todd on the military panel moderated by Matthew Funk.

I've heard a lot of Irish, English, and Scottish accents already and am looking forward to the panel of Irish authors on Saturday. I'd like to pin some of these folks down and just have them talk to me for about a year. Especially John Connolly, whose Charlie Parker series is among my favorites. I just finished The Reapers a few weeks ago and am in awe of the man's talent. And did I mention the accent?

I also got to see one of my favorite authors in the world, Timothy Hallinan. Tim's graciously agreed to let me pump him for information for my third book. As several people today have said, "Mystery writers are some of the nicest people in the world."

To top it off, I finally got to meet our own Leighton Gage. After reading so many of his charming posts, it was a pleasure to see him in person.

Having a great time. Wish you were here!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Learning to Read Again

By Mark W. Danielson

While age may take its toll on comprehension and retention, advances in technology have minimized our thinking to the point that our brain is rarely challenged. Calculators are used in math classes, computers tell us when our tires and engine fluids are low, sensors turn on our lights -- we don’t even need to dial phone numbers anymore. Just talk and it dials for you. I can’t speak for everyone, but when my brain lacks exercise, it forgets things. A recent flight with my buddy Dan reminded me of that.

For decades, I regularly flew light airplanes, but I sold my bi-plane in 1985 and then stopped renting planes after 9-11 temporarily grounded the fleet. As much as I miss low and slow flying, other obligations have made it more difficult to stay current. So when Dan wanted to take me flying in his aerobatic airplane for my birthday, I was elated. However, when he handed me a local area chart shown above that depicts all of the airspace restrictions, I realized the airliner’s moving map display (also shown above) had reduced my ability to perform basic skills that I spent years training others to do. Then again, how much exercise can my brain get from an electronic display that tells me where I am, where I’m going, where other traffic is, and what the terrain and weather is like? Not that I’m complaining because I’ve grown quite fond of this technology – but when Dan handed me this chart, my brain reacted as though it had never seen one before. This revelation was rather disconcerting considering I am still a licensed flight instructor and just renewed my certificate last spring.

Dan’s single engine plane requires that we fly by visual references, and since we took off from an uncontrolled airport, we never once spoke to an air traffic controller. The rejuvenating feeling from this type of flying is magnificent and it didn’t take long to feel comfortable. Navigating by mountain peaks, highways, and lakes is much more stimulating than following an electronic magenta line. I look forward to the day when I can acquire another light airplane so I can navigate off the charts I will have downloaded onto my iPad. Hey – once you’ve experienced technology, it’s hard to go back.

While our flight was absolutely exhilarating, recurring thoughts about how I struggled with this chart reminded me of how important it is to challenge my brain. I don’t like the feeling that I’m learning to read all over again, and I was fortunate that things came back so quickly. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for those less fortunate as they try to recall things they once knew but can’t seem to find. My experience gave me a better appreciation for those who struggle in their later years. While I once believed that crafting stories was enough to keep my brain active, it’s clear that I must expand its stimulus. Reading fiction and non-fiction helps, as do crossword puzzles and Sudoku. Thinking while walking the dog exercises the brain as well as the body, and the dog is always willing to assist.

Of course, there is no way to predict what my mental or physical health will be in the future. Alzheimer’s seems to strike people as randomly as lightning. But doctors are certain that those who mentally and physically exercise will retain their capacities longer than those who sit in rocking chairs watching the world go by. Dan, I thank you not only for the flight, but also this lesson in life. I have learned to read again, and I’ll be brushing up on “old school” flying before age takes another bite out of my brain. I’ll also keep writing for as long as I’m able to do so.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The mayor of London and I

(Prefatory note to US readers: in case you didn’t know, Boris Johnson is the mayor of London. He’s an overweight guy with a shock of blonde hair with (admittedly) a good sense of humour, a big personality, and he plays up to the image of being a bumbling but enthusiastic old Etonian. I loathe most of his political stances and many of the policies he’s pursued in London. But I’m 600 miles away from him so his effect on me is negligible – except for making me angry at a distance. But I must make it clear that he’s not appearing in a blog called ‘Murderous Musings’ because I’m plotting against him. In this instance, I’m the criminal. I just want to moan about it and he’s a handy target.)

So, I didn’t really need a reason to dislike Boris even more but, some while back, I got one in the post. I’d been staying in London with my son and, on the day in question, I drove home to Aberdeen and was well pleased with myself for taking all the correct turns, following the signs and weaving my way through Battersea and such places to get to the M4 and relative safety. I have a friend as well as a daughter who drive about London with panache, creativity and a bewildering lack of concern. They even manage to talk calmly as they twist their way past buses, kamikaze cyclists, taxis driven by people who obviously feel they own the streets they’re in and buses which do their bit for the environment by making it clear that it’s far safer to be inside than outside them. For me, driving there is a nightmare.

Anyway, it was a bright, sunny day and I was soon clear of the mayhem and on my way north listening to an R J Ellory novel. When I eventually got home, I’d driven a total of 1500 miles on the trip and only had to answer a few million emails before I could get back to normal. Then came the letter. It seems that some of those 1500 miles had been inside the congestion zone. The letter included two grainy pictures of my car to prove it and demanded sixty pounds, adding that, if ‘they’ didn’t get it within a couple of weeks, it would be upped to one hundred and eighty. Now, before you say ‘Serve you right. Cars are a blot on civilization and shouldn’t have free access wherever they like’, I agree with you. The experience of being a pedestrian in central London has been immeasurably enhanced by thinning out the herds of vehicles  in areas such as Trafalgar Square and making the air close to breathable. Yes, I did mean ‘herds’ – before they brought in congestion charges it used to be like the Serengeti in the migration season. But I had no idea I’d strayed into the forbidden zone so giving the mayoral buffoon sixty pounds hurt. It transpired that my transgression occurred when I missed one turn, realised it and retraced my steps. I had travelled about 80 yards into the zone and 80 yards to get back out.

No, there’s no moral to the story – just the usual vengeful, woe-is-me simmering and perhaps a mental note to make sure one of the corpses in my next novel is fat and has untidy blonde hair.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


by June Shaw

She saw they're,their house on the way to her office.

No one was their, there, so she passed/past it.

She decided to stop awhile/a while at a coffee shop.

There/Their she wrote on her next mystery.

She sure drank alot/ a lot of coffee besides/beside eating a chocolate cupcake.

She, along with her book, is/were taking up too/to/two many chairs.

Did you like grammer/grammar/Grandma while in your/you're classes?

Okay, so I taught English/english for twenty years, and now I'm getting to fulfill a lifelong dream--write novels. They're/There/There fun, romantic murder mysteries.

(In case you aren't sure about any of the answers above, please ask. I still have my red pen: )

Friday, September 9, 2011

When The System DOES NOT Work

by Earl Staggs

Some decisions around my house are simple for my wife and me. Who takes out the trash cans on Sunday evening? If there’s a flying insect in the house, who chases it down?

More important decisions, however, are different. Say we have to decide on a big purchase, a new car, for example. We shop, we test drive, we ask questions we Google. In short, we want all the information available and all the facts we can get our hands on before we make a critical decision. I think that’s the same for most people.

Can you imagine people having to make major decisions without knowing all the facts?

It happens all the time.

Imagine twelve people confined in a room with the responsibility of deciding the future of someone’s life. Suppose their decision is whether a person lives or dies? What can be more important than that?

Now imagine those twelve people are not allowed to know all the facts. Imagine some information which would affect their decision is withheld from them.

It happens all the time.

I’m talking about a jury, of course, and I’m talking about situations in which certain facts and information are declared “inadmissible” by a judge. I’m talking about a jury being “sequestered” so they cannot be privy to what’s going on in the outside world. After all, they may hear or see something which could have an impact on their decision. Heaven – or rather, His Honor -- forbid they should have all the facts related to the guilt or innocence of the accused.

What’s wrong with this picture? The Law is getting in the way of justice.

It happens all the time.

It happened in the O. J. Simpson case. It happened in the Casey Anthony case. Those are only the two best known examples. After the Simpson trial, more than one juror remarked to the effect that if they’d known such and such, their decision would have been different. During the Anthony trial, one of the TV analysts said basically the same thing: “If they jury knew such and such, their decision would be easy.”

Why do these things happen? Because The Law gets in the way of justice. The Law is too often treated as an entity which must be adhered to strictly as written even if justice is not served. I think that’s wrong, wrong, wrong. The Law is supposed to be a tool for achieving justice. The intent of the law should be applied, not the letter of the law.

Suppose my wife and I are shopping for a new car. We are not allowed to know the miles per gallon of the different makes. We are not allowed to know that one particular make has experienced a large number of brake failures. That information might affect our decision, you see. Those facts might prejudice our choice of one make over another.

Suppose a man is accused of raping and murdering a ten-year-old girl. The jury is not allowed to know this man has been accused of rape and murder three times in the past. The man’s record of six convictions for spousal abuse is declared inadmissible. That information, you see, might prejudice the jury against this man.

Damn right it would. It most certainly would and it most certainly should. How can any fact be withheld if that fact would have an impact on making the right decision?

Yet, it happens all the time.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness...

by Carola Dunn

Is it autumn yet? Here in Oregon, no sign of mists at present. We're having a heatwave, in fact. But where mellow fruitfulness is concerned...

Somehow, in spite of our cold wet spring, chilly wet July, and two weeks of summer in August before it went away again, this:

...has been transformed into this:

Plums are turning purple; blackberries are in full flood; half my neighbours are giving away tomatoes and begging people to take the zucchini! Squirrels are gorging on hazelnuts and burying them in my lawn for the future. Later on, they'll come and dig holes all over the place looking for them. Only once in nearly twenty years here in Eugene have they left any for me to harvest. They think my job is pulling up seedlings growing from the nuts they didn't find.

My grapes are just beginning to ripen. The vine is incredible--Planted about 12 feet from the house, it stretches along a fence, over a gate, and then divides at the corner of the house to hang from the gutters 20 feet in one direction and more like 30 the other way. If I didn't cut it back constantly throughout the summer, it would have buried the house by now. Soon I'll be able to step out of my back door and pick grapes for breakfast.

Spring is my favourite season, but with autumn bringing such rich rewards, I'm happy to see it arriving, even when it brings those mists with it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Labor Day!

Shane Cashion

After a brutally hot summer where here in the Midwest we reached the one hundred degree mark as recently as this past weekend, I’m excited to see Labor Day on the calendar. I’m ready for cooler weather; baseball to give way to college football, soccer, and later basketball; the smell of bonfires and cinnamon coffee; Halloween; kettle corn; old jeans and tattered sweatshirts; the rich, comforting tones of autumn leaves; hayrides and pumpkin patches; s‘mores and caramel apples; familiar blankets; brown ales; and the anticipation of snow, bigger holidays, and a new year. I’m ready for it all.

Symbolically, Labor Day represents the end of summer. I prefer to think of it as the beginning of fall.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The New Book Review -- Good or Bad?

by Susan Santangelo

Good morning from the gray skies of Cape Cod MA. Not that I'm complaining. Especially since Irene was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm by the time it reached our shores. Still managed to cause major power outages and floods, but compared to other parts of the country, we were very lucky.

I think I've mentioned before that our daily paper, the Cape Cod Times, has a full page in the Sunday edition devoted to books. Today's story was a wrap-up of summer reading choices, according to local booksellers. The headline was, "Summer Reading Is In The Bag. Local booksellers list their favorites and buyers'." It was no surprise that the top choices were "Caleb's Crossing" by Geraldine Brooks, "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett, "The Harry Potter" series, "The Greater Journey" by David McCullough, and "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins. Of "The Greater Journey," one bookseller was quoted as saying, "It's been absurdly popular."

Another local bookseller was quoted as saying that he thinks good verdicts from newspapers and magazines still play a part in sales.

But the truth of the matter is that, with the e-book phenomenon, anyone can post a book review these days. No credentials required. Amazon Kindle encourages readers to write reviews. Goodreads is another popular site. And let's not forget all the reader (ahem) blogs popping up all over the Internet.

I review cozy mysteries every month for Suspense Magazine, which is a highly respected publication. Not all the books I'm given to read are, in my opinion, fabulous. But the author put so much time and effort into writing that they deserve a respectful review. As my mother always told me, you can always find something good to say if you look hard enough.

While I can certainly see the benefits of open reviews, there's a flip side to this as well. Bad reviews often beget more bad reviews, and a perfectly good book can be trashed before it has a chance to build an audience.

My two cents. Others welcome to chime in.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Bandit KIng

by Leighton Gage

He was born in 1897, in the interior of the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco.
It is harsh country with little water and much cactus, brilliantly described by the great Brazilian writer, Euclydes da Cunha, in his classic work Os Sertoes (The Backlands).

It was a time and a place of nicknames. Almost everyone had one. His was Lampião ( lampost) probably because he was so tall and thin. It was sometimes spelled Lampeão. The members of his gang called him Captain Virgulino; his proper name was Virgulino Ferreira da Silva.

Lampião began his life as a leather worker. Somehow, at the age of twenty-five, he got in trouble with the law. The police raided his home. In the scuffle, his father was shot to death. It was an act Lampião vowed to make the lawmen regret. And many did. From then until the end of his life, Lampião murdered every policeman he came across.

But, having resolved to be a bandit, he didn’t target only policemen. He robbed old women in their beds. He participated in mass rapes. He cut out the tongue of a woman who’d informed on him. And he removed a man’s eyeballs with a knife just because it amused him to do so. He plundered, and terrorized, and tortured. He was a cold-blooded killer, and a high price was put on his head.

And yet, that’s not the way most young Brazilians see him. To them, he’s a Robin Hood figure, a guy who robbed the rich to help the poor. How did the transformation from repugnant thug to venerated folk hero come about? Partly, I think, because the region he operated in had long been ruled by a few powerful families. The popular psyche called out for an anti-establishment figure – and Lampião filled the bill. Partly, too, because his story contains a modicum of romance. He and his girlfriend robbed together, killed together, had a child together and died together. Here she is, the woman all Brazilians know as Maria Bonita (Pretty Mary).

The couple’s reputation grew with a form of entertainment very popular at the time: “cord literature”, so-called because it was displayed hanging from cords stretched across the front of booths in street markets. The stories were illustrated with woodcuts. 

They were often written in rhyme, often set to music. 
 Later, those early stories gave rise to TV programs and feature films which took a sympathetic view of Lampião and his gang.

(And invariably infuriated my father-in-law, and dear friend, Joel de Britto, who knew, from personal experience, what kind of people Lampião and his girlfriend really were.)

The end for the couple came on a beautiful morning in July of 1938. Here’s the place where it happened, the Grota de Angico, a hideout which, until then, the bandits always considered to be their safest one of all.

Oriented by a greedy informer anxious to cash in on the reward, four dozen soldiers surrounded the camp. The two groups of adversaries were about evenly matched, but their pursuers had machine guns, and the gang did not. Some few escaped the slaughter, but those few didn’t include Lampião and his companion. They, and several other key members of the band, were decapitated on the spot.

The heads were displayed throughout the country before winding up at the Nina Rodrigues Museum in SalvadorBahia, where they remained on display for almost thirty years.

This final photo is of the youngest member of Lampião’s gang,  Antonio Alves de Souza, nicknamed Volta Seca (It means something like “the return of drought”). He was taken alive and sentenced to 145 years in prison, but pardoned after having served only twenty. He took a job as a railway brakeman (that’s the uniform he’s wearing in the photo) married, and had seven children.

There is a song associated with Lampião that almost every Brazilian knows. The gang used to sing it when they rode in to plunder a town. It’s called “Mulher Rendeira” (The Lacemaker) and, some years before his death, someone got Volta Seca to record it. You can listen to it here.

Today, it’s no more than a haunting melody. Back then, it struck terror into the hearts of many who heard it.