Monday, April 30, 2012

Home Defense, Part 3 -- The Pistol

by Ben Small

Let's get some facts straight about pistols, if you're considering one for home defense.

First, let's talk about accuracy. Face it, pistols aren't accurate much beyond seven yards. And even then, unless you've practiced often and are familiar with your gun, you're likely to tug on the trigger and flinch. If you're right-handed, a tug and flinch trigger-pull will send your bullet to the left of your target. You'll probably miss what you're shooting at all together. So where did your bullet go?

In just about every cop television show or movie, somebody's pulling a trigger. Most people think cops are good shots. Bhwhahaha! Not. In fact, most cops are lousy shots, and they shoot more often than you do. In 2008, the Rand Corporation conducted a study of New York City cop shootings, review processes and training. In doing so, they looked at, among other things, NYC cop shootings from 1998-2006, both where nobody was shooting back and where there was a gunfight. Rand Corporation NYC Cop Shooting Report On page 42 of that report they state that the average gunfight involved 11.1 shots fired, and a hit-rate of 18%. At distances of seven yards or less, the hit rate leaped to a whopping 37%.

Wow! Guess if you hear gunfire you'd be smart to duck.

Barrel length influences accuracy, as do the type of sights used and trigger pull. Of course, if it's dark and you can't see your pistol's sights -- night sights only help in low-light situations, and they glow less bright over time -- barrel length and sights won't help your aim much. And most home invasions occur at night. So you may not know where your barrel is pointing.

Snub nose revolvers, like the one pictured above, are notorious for inaccuracy, even during daylight hours. The reason: a short sight line along the barrel. The same goes for so-called pocket pistols, like the Baby Glock, the Model 26, pictured below.

NYC cops are issued Glocks with a longer barrel length, usually the Model 22, pictured below. Note the longer barrel length.

But NYC cops have an excuse for their lousy shooting. Actually, a few excuses. The standard Glock leaves the factory with a trigger pull weight between five and five and a half pounds. But this trigger pull weight is adjusted to twelve pounds before their pistols are issued. The purpose of the increase is to reduce the number of unintended discharges. But the increased trigger weight means more tugging to fire; hence, less accuracy. 

Another excuse relates to the gun-unfriendly laws of New York. There aren't many ranges, so cops don't get to practice much. Yet, most of you won't practice much either, and at least cops have their accuracy checked once in a while; they must qualify periodically. 

Sure, you can adjust your trigger weight to lighten the pull. But then if you ever have to actually shoot someone, the prosecutor and your victim's civil lawyer will both accuse you of being "trigger happy" because you installed a "hair-trigger." So, if you are going to use a pistol for home defense, your best bet is to leave trigger weight as it came from the manufacturer. Adjust trigger weight only on guns to be fired exclusively at the range.

So, do you opt for a still longer barrel, like on the Glock 34 and 17L, both shown below?

Glock 34
Glock 17L
You betcha! These are Glock's 9mm competition pistols, designed to be their most accurate. Besides, this is a home defense gun you're selecting; you're not going to carry it. And don't you want accuracy in home defense? If not, you may be shooting bystanders, your dog, or depending upon bullet and caliber chosen, your neighbor. But note: Glock barrels are treated with a formulation that can be scraped off by cleaning with a brass brush. So if you go Glock, only clean your gun with nylon brushes. And also note: Don't shoot soft lead bullets from a Glock. Glock barrels don't have the standard land and groove pattern of other pistols, and lead will clog them, resulting in less accuracy. I wonder how many NYC cops are aware of these two Glock peculiarities? So, if you're going to shoot lead bullets from a Glock, make sure your bullets are at least semi-jacketed (where the lead is covered at least partially by a copper jacket).

And since we're talking about accuracy, let's consider the choice between revolvers and semi-auto pistols. Revolvers are considered by many -- not by all gun experts -- to be slightly more accurate than semi-autos. The reason is the barrel is directly in line with the cylinder. In a semi-auto, the pistol is fed by a magazine below the chamber, and a spring in the magazine pushes the bullet up and along a ramp into the chamber. More functions to perform in which the bullet may be slightly mis-aligned. But I don't put much stock into this explanation, because most modern semi-autos have tight chambers. Rather, I think the real reason for a revolver preference among some is either reliability or just personal preference. Yes, semi-autos can jam, and a revolver will always go bang if there's a bullet in the cylinder aligned with the barrel. But revolvers can fail, too. Damage the extractor rod on the muzzle end of the cylinder or the crane, a small sprocket on the butt end of the cylinder, and see if a revolver shoots. How do you damage the crane? Try flipping the cylinder back like you see in the movies. Trust me: I did this on my grandfather's Smith & Wesson, and it cost me a bundle to fix. While a semi-auto may jam, it's easily cleared. Break the crane on your revolver, and you're done.

It's claimed a revolver requires less maintenance than a semi-auto, because there are fewer parts. But Glocks are famous for being abused, and they seem always to go bang. I've seen videos and television shows where Glocks were rusted up, tossed into sand, thrown into lakes and run over by trucks, and the pistols still chamber and fire.

Plus, semi-autos have more capacity than revolvers. Again, notice the statistic above of shots fired in a gun fight. A revolver holds five-to-seven shots, depending upon model, and reloading takes a while even with a stripper clip. A semi-auto mag holds more rounds, up to thirty-three with some Glocks.

Bottom line: Choose whatever suits you.

But grip and stance will affect your accuracy, too. The pistol that fits a spouse may not fit you. A bad grip will result in bad trigger pull. Your shots will go awry. With a semi-auto, you want to grip the pistol with two hands, with your support hand in front of your shooting hand. With a revolver, that grip will burn your hand, because hot gases will shoot out of the cylinder. With a revolver, your support hand should be underneath your firing hand.

Stance: Most range shooters and cops are taught to use either an Isosceles or a Weaver stance, sometimes, a slight modification to one of them. Both are pictured below.

Isosceles Stance
Weaver Stance
The problem is, in a real life situation like a home invasion at night, you may have to do the best you can.  There's another stance approaching more a real life scenario. Point stance. Align your finger with your eye and pull a fake trigger. One handed. That's a stance you may want to practice. Close up, it will work. Some pistols are claimed to "point" better than others. Sig Sauers for instance. You may find you shoot Sigs better in this stance than Glocks, for instance.

Notice also that in both the Isosceles and Weaver stances, you're offering a better target, full on so to speak, to the bad guy. He may be shooting back. More reasons to go to the range: Practice various stances. You may need one some time.


During the first Obama-scare, .380s were hard to find. Seemed everybody wanted one. And if you could find one, you couldn't find ammo for it. Now, you may notice gun stores are full of them, but few people are buying them. Personally, I think .380s are mostly useless; they're back up to a back up at best. A .380 bullet may not even penetrate a heavy leather jacket. Okay, the bad guy may die of blood loss eventually, but he'll have more than enough time to kill you. 

I don't think any caliber less than a .38 Special is adequate for home defense or self-protection, unless as a back-up. The cardinal rule of a gun fight is to have a gun, yes. But in self-protection, you want more gun. But beware: Shoot a magnum round indoors in a closed room and you'll never hear again. Magnums are cannons that should only be fired outside and while wearing hearing protection. You may be deaf for an hour shooting a 9mm, a .40 S&W or even a .45 acp, but it'll likely be temporary. Shoot a magnum, and it's permanent. That's why I do not recommend a .357 magnum or a .44 magnum for home protection. If you have one, like this gorgeous Python below, use .38 Special rounds (or for the .44 magnum, the .44 Special). The rounds will work in these guns.

Be concerned about over-penetration and under-penetration. With the former, your bullets go through bad guys and people and walls behind them; with the latter, your bullets don't penetrate skin. Use hollow-point bullets, or jacketed hollow point rounds, so your bullets fragment and don't go through as many walls. Fully jacketed rounds will over-penetrate, go through your target and anybody or anything behind them, perhaps deflecting into unknown and unpredictable directions. Fully jacketed rounds are considered target or range rounds. Don't use them in your home defense gun, except at the range. 

But a non-jacketed hollow point fired out of a short barreled pistol, may clog with heavy cloth such as a winter jacket and not pass through to the bad guy's organs. The Shooting Sports and Ammunition Institute (SAAMI) has standardized bullet specifications. Manufacturers make ammo to these specs, and they also make ammo that exceeds SAAMI specs. Most manufacturers make Home Defense loads that tend to be jacketed hollow point +P rated, meaning these rounds exceed SAAMI specs by one level. +P+ rounds are scarier still, and using +P+ rounds on guns not rated for them may blow up your gun. Most pistol manufacturers state in their small print that using +P+ rounds will void their warranty. And if you use +P+ rounds on a bad guy, or if you roll you own so to speak, expect both a prosecutor and a civil lawyer to claim you were eager to kill...and overkill

And be aware of a peculiarity. In tests against ballistic jello formulated to match characteristics similar to the human body, a 9mm full jacketed bullet exceeded a .45 acp bullet in penetration. Again, think about where your bullet will go.

ballistic gel comparison

Man-stopping rounds are the .357 Magnum, the .40 S&W, the .45acp and larger. The 9mm, not so much. Those who like the 9mm argue capacity (number of rounds available), cheaper practice rounds and less recoil, important for follow-up shots and the flinch factor. Those who don't like 9mm rounds argue that the bad guy may not go down. They use the famous April 11, 1986 FBI disaster, when the 9mm toting Feebs were out gunned by bad guys, an instance that led to the development of the 10mm round and its offspring the .40 S&W cartridge (when the 10mm proved to be too powerful), as proof. And they've got a point. But the 9mm cartridge has a strong following, and I'm one of them. But for home defense, I use a .40 S&W; it's got a little more man-stopping oomph.

What Gun to Buy?

My first response is a shotgun, but we're talking pistols here. Damn! Somebody keep me on target.

The pistols I've referred to here mostly are Glocks. And there are some reasons for that. They work, for one, no matter what you do or don't do to them. Second, they're cheap. If you ever have to use your gun, you'll never see it again, at least not in any shape you'd want it. Cops don't treat evidence guns well. Neither do plaintiff's attorneys. Plus, Glocks come in any caliber or size you'd want. Yes, they're ugly as hell, but they work, they're cheap and a Glock is a Glock: they're damn near indestructible.

Sig Sauer P220

For feel, I love a Sig Sauer. They seem to fit a hand like a glove. And they point well. But unless you buy a plastic one -- models I happen to love -- they'll cost you about double the price of a Glock. If you want a German engineering masterpiece, albeit at a hefty price, buy a Heckler & Koch. Smith & Wesson makes numerous models, too, both in revolver and semi-auto flavors. And Springfield has a new XDm line, which is receiving rave reviews. They too offer different calibers and sizes. And, of course, the old timer, the 1911, which usually comes in either 9mm or .45 acp.

1911 by Nighthawk Custom
I choose a Glock 35, their competition model in .40 S&W, and I have mine fitted with night sights. (I also have a shotgun.)

But what you should do is choose your own pistol. Go to a gun range that offers rentals and try several. Get one that fits you and that you shoot well. And get it at least in .38 Special. Then buy some Home Defense jacketed hollow point bullets. But above all, practice, practice, practice. It's not just fun to shoot; it's an investment in your family's future.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Free Books - an Amazon Promo

By Chester Campbell

When Amazon first announced its KDP Select program, it looked like another effort of the 800-pound gorilla to throw its weight around. I had all of my mysteries set up on Amazon for the Kindle and at Smashwords for all the other ebook formats. The key to Amazon's program is the requirement that you make the book exclusive to the Kindle for 90 days.

The kicker to the deal is that the book is available in the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Amazon currently puts up a kitty of $600,000 a month to be divided among authors whose books were borrowed from the library. The kitty is divided by the total of books borrowed, and each author gets that amount times the number of his or her books checked out. According to the KDP Select FAQ, each book earned $1.70 per borrow in a prior month.  It isn't as much as the 70 percent royalty, but it isn't bad.

Only members of Amazon Prime can borrow books, and they're restricted to one per month. It costs $79 to be a Prime member, but you get other benefits like free two-day shipping on your puchases.

When I finished revising and getting my first Post Cold War thriller edited and ready for publication, I decided to try the KDP Select deal. I know several authors who have done well in the program. One of its features is the ability to make the book free for five days during the 90-day period. It's a good way to get word out on the book and encourage reviews. So here's the deal:

Today (April 27) and tomorrow (April 28), you can get a free Kindle ebook by going to this link: Beware the Jabberwock.

The book is set in the fall of 1991 and spring of 1992. As the Cold War winds down, former enemies on both sides of the Iron Curtain plot to retain power with a deadly stroke against top world leaders. Telephone intercepts hint at its existence. Veteran CIA spook Cameron Quinn finds it necessary to recruit an old FBI friend to assist in his investigation. Burke Hill, still trying to live down his dismissal by J. Edgar Hoover years ago, travels from Tel Aviv to Hong Kong and soon finds himself unable to trust anyone. He and Quinn's daughter, Lori, face one trap after another as they put the pieces of Operation Jabberwock together and find they're fighting against the clock to stop the slaughter.

Pick up your free ebook today or tomorrow and put a review on Amazon.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

By Jackie King

A writer never retires and that’s a good thing for me since I was old enough to die when I started. Re-started would be more accurate. After beginning to write early in my life I got sidetracked by distracting circumstances. I went away to college at 16, was married at 18 (my brain hadn’t even stopped growing) and then raised three children. In other words, stuff happened.

But the time is now and I’m learning to live in the present moment. That happens as you age and begin to feel your own mortality. So on this post, I’m talking about today.

Finally I’m Living My Dream

A writer never retires, which is a good thing for me since I was old enough to die when I (re)started at age 49. Because I had neither husband nor trust fund, I counted beans for a living and wrote at night and on weekends. That’s what most writers do. I loved those days made rich by writing, reading and hanging around with other scribes when time allowed.

The wonderful thing is that one eventually retires from their day job, and that’s when I became a full-time writer. I had listened to a lot of talk about getting prepared for retirement so I didn’t go into some kind of a funk (aka depression). No need for me or any writer to worry about that particular problem. My job had served me well, but I’d long been counting the years, months and days until I could finally say:


It’s hard to believe that my favorite day is now Monday. (I usually keep quiet about this fact. No need to upset those who are still paying their dues.)

A few years ago, my new (dream) schedule started like this:

Rise at 7:00 a.m. and put on makeup. Reason for bothering with makeup? To signal my auto-pilot self that I had NOT retired, I’d just gone into business for myself. Then I took a walk through the neighborhood and worked at my computer until noon. (Coffee and breakfast fitted in somewhere, depending on the day. You’ve seen my picture so you know that I don’t skip meals. And coffee is essential, not only for my sanity but for the (mental) health of anyone near me.)

About five years into my dream life I gave up putting on makeup except for special occasions. That Pavlov’s dog thing had kicked in and I automatically walked to my computer each morning. I had learned that there just wasn’t enough time for small stuff. I had (finally) come to understand the importance of living in the present. I’d learned that not all good things are expedient. (That’s a King James’ Bible sort of word.) So now, with the limited energy of an old gal, my ‘primetime’ has become shorter. I write in the morning and then again after meals. These are the times when my energy level is highest. In between writing and short rest periods, I do such things as load my dish washer, pick up messy stuff around my house, and call a few friends. I usually read in the evenings.

I love my writer’s life! Back when I came home to write after working a 10-hour day, I loved that, too. When I had the energy to spend long hours at my computer as a younger full-time writer, I loved that even more. But writing today is best of all. Even my rest periods are spent writing; I mull over plot problems and character motivation. Then after I get my second (or third) wind, I hit the keyboard again.

Life is never perfect. Everyone gets their share of tragedy, illness, and cranky grocery clerks. But for this writer, LIFE ROCKS!

Post Script: This was written on a sunshine filled day. I may post my thoughts on a ‘downer’ day at another time. J

Hugs to everyone who loves books.

Jackie King

A couple of my mysteries:


…No credit cards, no cash, no resources, no job skills. Fleeced and abandoned by her husband, Grace Cassidy learns she is the prime suspect in a bizarre murder.

STATEHOOD FOXY HENS AND MURDER MOST FOWL: Historical Mystery (Anthology) Set in 1889 Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory: “The Spinster, the Pig, and the Orphan,” a novella by Jackie King:

A most proper spinster, Harriet Lauren, decides to buy herself a husband, the handsome Zachariah Garrett. What she didn’t bargain for was murder in her brand new hotel that threatens her investment and then her life.

If you’re on Facebook, please ‘friend’ me. I’m listed as Jacqueline King

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Single Pane of Glass

By Mark W. Danielson

On a recent visit to Mumbai, India, reality struck like a tsunami. My airport hotel had the best security I’ve seen. Our taxi’s undercarriage was searched with mirrors before being allowed to approach the hotel, our baggage was scanned before going inside, we walked through a metal detector, and our room keys were required to operate the elevator. Two additional locks inside my room ensured no uninvited guests could enter.

Inside my room, red apples were stacked in a bowl, bottled water was available, lavish furnishings were suitable for any dignitary. From my window, I viewed the new terminal that’s under construction, the control tower, and an elevated road or railroad that was also under construction. But the pleasantries of my room could not hide the poverty outside. Within a mile of my hotel, thousands of squatters live in shacks constructed of whatever materials they can find. Bordering the airport’s taxiways, children playing in dumps could hurl a rock and hit my aircraft. The streets are filthy. Large feral dogs lie in the shade. The wild monkeys probably kill the smaller dogs.

During the course of one evening, five male squatters set up camp directly under my window. A single pane of glass now separated the haves from the have-nots. But before passing judgment, realize that in India, this is a way of life. There has always been a caste system here. India’s gross national product continues to grow, their airport and transportation improvements evidence of that, but in spite of this, poverty remains high. Compare this to China, which has in three decades transformed itself into a vibrant society with clean paved streets, shiny personal cars, bright casual dress, and a booming economy. But China’s woes are on the horizon. Their emerging middle class is demanding more money so global industry leaders are already seeking cheaper labor in Africa. Considering Africa’s politics and instability, it is unlikely that any of its countries will reinvent itself like China. Equate North to South Korea and you will understand.

When Westerners see such disparity, their first inclination is to “fix” it – to right the wrongs in our world. But this logic is flawed because Earth cannot sustain the level of standard that developed countries currently enjoy. The expanded need for resources among developing countries is currently pushing our planet over the edge.  

While it is true that a single glass pane separates classes, rather than criticize India for its inequities, we are better doing all we can to preserve Earth’s resources and pressure developing countries to clean up their environment. The air quality in Asia, India, and much of its surrounding countries is horrendous because turning out products is more important than pollution control. Western countries don’t see much of this, but it truly affects us all, one way or another. Earth Day was April 22nd, and yet few noticed. If we think of every day as Earth Day, everyone, regardless of economic class or social status, will benefit.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Our true ancestors

Apparently, we need to change our ideas about what constitutes refinement. I say this because of a great recent news item. First, though, when I write the word ‘Neanderthal’ what springs to mind? My guess is that it’ll be creatures of indeterminate gender with no foreheads who sit in caves grunting and tearing raw meat from bones with their prognathous jaws. Perhaps now and then, one will stand, rise to his (this one’s a male) full height of 4 feet 10, club a neighbouring creature (this one will be a female) and drag her off to procreate. My apologies to any of you whose vision is of noble savages sitting around a fire listening to their equivalent of Brahms.

Bizarrely, though, the Brahms faction may be nearer the truth than the rest of us because it seems that Neanderthals wore make-up. Not only that, they also made bracelets and necklaces. For me this is a welcome discovery because something about illustrations of Neanderthals going about their business has always puzzled me. We see them sitting among their scraps of meat and discarded bones looking, frankly, not unlike straightforward apes. There’s no sign of a shower cubicle in the recesses of the cave, no shelves, not even any dishes to put on them. And yet, and yet … they’ve taken the trouble to fashion things out of fur resembling skirts, which they tie around their waists. Why? Did they have a rudimentary Bible which told them that, once Adam bit the apple, he was aware of his nakedness and covered it up? Why does someone content to eat raw meat and show affection by clubbing his woman feel embarrassed about his genitalia? Was the obsession about size already a factor? It’s always been a disturbing riddle, a profound mystery simmering insolubly in our past.

Well, now we know. If they wore make-up, they must have been more self-aware than we imagined up until now. They cared about their appearance because (as the journalist noted in his article) ‘they were worth it’. All homo sapiens did was daub graffiti on his walls, but Neanderthals decorated themselves, they were proud of their appearance. So pre-history will have to be rewritten and, consequently, our evolutionary notions of our own origins must be modified. Look at today’s TV, our celebrities, our icons – for the most part they consist of appearances. I don’t mean appearing at openings of galleries, first nights at the opera or red carpet premieres, I mean they are what they look like – beautiful, painted, constructed, wrapped in luscious fabrics. The only possible conclusion, then, is that if not all, then quite a lot of us are descended not from homo sapiens but from Neanderthals.

And the more one follows this line of argument the more obviously true it becomes. The careful combination of brutishness and giving precedence to appearance throws a much brighter light on most international relations. All those ancient photos of Bush and Blair strutting together were simply refined examples of mutual grooming. The club is still preferred to reasoned debate and as long as things look right, they are right. For those of us who were despairing of ever seeing the desired perfectibility of humankind, we can stop worrying – we were looking in the wrong direction. The Neanderthals showed the way. Thank God for make-up.

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Life of Crime

My Life of Crime
“Boulder police,” came a shout from outside the building.
I nestled the muzzle of my Sig against the back of the head of my female hostage. “Nobody come near the building or I’ll start killing hostages,” I shouted. Two other hostages cowered in the semi-darkness on a bench in what had once been a storage room of a now deserted swim and tennis club.
I hunched behind my hostage watching the locked door in front of me. I tossed an empty soda can into what had once been a kitchen. The can hit broken glass and metal and gave off a sound like a gunshot.
The door burst open and three SWAT members charged through the door and shot me in the head.
This was what happened on Thursday last week when I was a role player for a training exercise with our local police SWAT. I had the opportunity to role play the hostage taker.
In debriefing afterwards, I learned that the SWAT members are trained to negotiate in a hostage situation unless they think shots have been fired. After Columbine, law enforcement tactics changed dramatically. When I threw the soda can, the SWAT members outside the door thought I had shot a hostage. Their response was to immediately crash through the door to take out the shooter before any more hostages died.
Then we continued the scenario to help train the hostage negotiators. They provided a throw phone (a telephone on a cable so that the negotiator could communicate with me). The negotiator wanted to know what was happening. I said to go away and slammed down the phone. In a few seconds the phone rang again, and he began sounding me out on what I was doing. I said I had been fired and was holding employees hostage who I blamed for my situation. I spoke for a few moments, became angry and hung up. We continued the conversation it bits and pieces until I once again became angry. He kept calling me back and re-engaging. Next, I said I was hungry and wanted a pizza.  After several conversations, he agreed to provide a pizza if I released a hostage. I said I wouldn’t agree to that but would consider it if I had a pizza. After a pizza was provided, I said I would definitely release a hostage if a car was provided so I could go up in the mountains. After further negotiations, I agreed to walk to the door with a hostage and if I saw the car where it was supposed to be, I’d release the hostage. I did this and immediately was shot by a sniper.
We continued the scenario with me taking the two remaining hostages out to the car. Again, a sniper took me out.
I was extremely impressed with the effectiveness of the SWAT response. I can assure you, you don’t want to mess with these people. It’s comforting to know we have this type of response available in our community for hostage situations. As well as assisting the police in a training exercise, this helped me immensely as a mystery writer in understanding the dynamics of a hostage situation and how SWAT operates.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


by Leighton Gage

In 2009, when Bouchercon was being held in Indianapolis, a gang of us went out to dinner.

The inimitable Peter Rozovsky ( )
was walking next to me when we entered the restaurant.

This was the mural facing us on the wall:

“Ha!” said I. “Picasso. Les Demoiselles de Avignon.”
“Ha!” said Peter. “Matisse. La Danse.”
Peter, of course, was right.
He usually is.
Les Demoiselles de Avignon is this one:

I knew that.
I really did.
I just…misspoke.
That’s my story anyway.
And I’m sticking to it.

What’s this got to do with plagiarism?
Bear with me.
I’m getting there.

Flash forward to the first hours of New Year’s Day, 2011.
During the celebration on Copacabana Beach the symbol for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was unveiled:

If you haven’t got time to watch the video (2 minutes and 57 seconds), cut right to the chase and look at this:

And, now, compare it with this:

It’s the logo for the Telluride Foundation,   a Colorado-based organization that exists to promote philanthropy.

See any similarity?
Lots of folks do.

They allege that the Telluride logo was directly lifted from the Matisse.

And take away the legs and the red dancer from the Telluride logo,  and you’ve got the Olympic logo.

Fred Gelli, of T├ítil Design, the Brazilian agency that created the logo, says no. He acknowledges that there are similarities between the two, but is unwilling to go any farther than that.

His detractors say the similarity is just too great, that even the color dispersion is nearly identical.

I asked Peter Ratcliffe, a designer who’s been doing some book covers for me, what he thought. He said yes to inspiration, no to plagiarism.

And thought it was a cool idea that the Brazilians have come up with the first 3-dimensional Olympic Symbol:

And you? What do you think?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Interview with Marilyn M. Fisher, the Connie Holt Mysteries

 It's my pleasure to introduce today's guest, Marilyn M. Fisher. Marilyn is a literature professor and the author of two mysteries featuring equine insurance investigator Connie Holt. In the first, The Case of the Three Dead Horses, Connie investigates the mysterious deaths of three expensive stallions with great breeding potential. In  He Trots the Air, she unearths a plot to drug Darkling Lord, a promising young Thoroughbred. Meanwhile, in an intriguing subplot, her friend Earline has discovered what might be an original Henry Stull equine oil painting in the attic of her pre- Civil War home. Marilyn has a passion for horses that shows through on every page. Please welcome her to Murderous Musings.

Marilyn: Thanks so much, Jaden, for inviting me to be interviewed for “Murderous Musings.”

Jaden: It's a pleasure to have you, Marilyn. Why don't we start with how you got started as a fiction writer?

Marilyn: I was working in administration at a college in Virginia, an excellent job at a nice school with  nice colleagues,  but the work I had to do was bureaucratic, mentally exhausting, didn’t offer the opportunities for creativity I’d had as a professor of English. So I thought, “Now’s the time to try writing fiction.” As for the subject matter, I was riding a lot in Virginia, and one day, I read an anonymous article by a vet who had just finished operating on a horse that had been killed. The vet was angry over the fact that someone did it for the insurance money and there wasn’t a thing he or she could do about it. It seemed like a good idea to write a mystery with horse abuse as the theme behind the story. In both my novels, readers learn that horses are abused in real life more often than many people realize. In the first book, horses are killed; the second book deals with another abuse, illegal doping of racehorses. I try to bring about reader awareness through a good, gripping story with which they become engrossed (I hope). To get the facts in the story right, I research a lot; if I think the horse stuff is unclear, I go to great pains to rewrite the material so that non-horse readers will understand it.  I’m happy to do the research and learn new things myself. As a graduate student for years, I had to learn to research efficiently to get at the truth about a poem or novel or story; It’s the same now, except that I have the huge resources of the Internet to play with. 

Jaden: Both books are set in central Virginia. What made you choose that as a setting?

Marilyn: Lynchburg, Virginia, where I lived, is endlessly fascinating to me. First of all, it’s a horse place, green fields full of grazing horses, only 65 miles from Charlottesville with its university community full of horse people and the two Gold Cup steeplechases in The Plains further north. While I lived there, I took riding lessons, bought and owned two horses (bred one), enjoyed riding every weekend in the country. The people I met there were friendly and warm and helpful. And of course, central Virginia is full of American history with beautifully preserved houses and sites to visit. There was always something to do and learn. I lived for a long time in Buffalo, a gritty northern city; living in Virginia came as a complete and lovely surprise. And it proved to be a wonderful place to set a murder mystery about horses.

  Jaden: Without giving anything away, can you tell us something about the leading characters?

Marilyn: The leading characters are as fully-fleshed out as I can make them; both my novels are character-driven. I like mysteries in which people have problems getting along in life, to say nothing of having to deal with a crime. A northerner, Connie Holt was dumped by her husband in Virginia and had to find a job to support herself. She loves the place but is very lonely; it seems to her that everyone else is married. Her boss, Cary McCutcheon, employs her as an equine insurance investigator even though many men were grumpy at first about having to work with a woman. Tony Stephens is another person who is newly transplanted to the south; his business fails, and he has to leave the state. He watches himself very carefully, full of self-analytical rages about his awkwardness around people and his lack of breeding. A very bad veterinarian is in both books, dishonest, venal, unfaithful to his wife, eaten up with the need to get money. I hope the reader will get caught up with the characters, really care about them even though some are flawed and may even be villainous.

Jaden: Sounds like you have some very complex characters. You also address some intense and sometimes controversial issues in your books. Do you aim for a particular reading audience in your novels?

Marilyn: There is a wide range of ages in the books. For instance, in He Trots the Air, one of the bravest characters is a young girl of barely eighteen, but Cary himself is in his seventies, still tough, smart, and wise. He is married to a woman in her forties. When I sell the books and people ask me about the age of the reader, I stress that they are for young adults all the way up to older adults, but definitely not for children. 

Jaden: If someone asked you why readers would enjoy your books, what would you say?

Marilyn:  They resonate with readers (or at least they tell me so) because there is a puzzle to solve, realistic characters and settings, local color, which came out of my experience living in the same setting as my characters, and a tight, suspenseful plot with exciting events. Oh, and I mustn’t forget romance and sometimes lust.

Jaden: A little spice is a beautiful thing! So, what’s next? Do you have another novel planned?

Marilyn: A third Connie Holt novel, I think. At present, I’m thinking it over, which is my usual way of writing a novel: think, think, think, and then start writing. There is nothing worse than starting a novel, getting two hundred pages into it and realizing you’ve made a huge mistake. Slow and careful, that’s me!

Jaden: Thank you for sharing with us, Marilyn. I look forward to the next installment.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Macmillan & Penguin v. Amazon and DoJ

I thought you might be interested in the views of a small independent bookstore owner on the current lawsuit between the Department of Justice--backing Amazon--and the two publishers who have refused to settle. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that Macmillan is my publisher--which does not mean I have the slightest idea whether they're in the right or wrong, but I do see a danger of Amazon approaching monopoly.

DoJ settlement, Amazon: What it Means

What does the settlement of three major publishers with the Department of Justice lawsuit mean? Really - it is too soon to know. We think we know what it will mean in the near-term, but if we could predict the future we'd be gazillionaires from all the Lottery numbers we'd have chosen and wouldn't be trying to scrape out livings selling books.

In the short term, we will undoubtedly see the price of e-books tumble. Will it be a slight decrease or a free fall? In the short term, probably somewhere in between. Amazon released a statement yesterday that they were looking forward to lowering prices. Will that mean back down to $9.99 from $14.99? We shall see. Will it mean even lower? We shall see. You can track that yourself. Pick a new book on Amazon and check the price for a Kindle edition. Then look up the same book on another site and see if there is a difference. Now repeat every couple of days. (We don't set the prices of the e-books sold through our site. Google does that. Will they drop prices to match Amazon? We'll see.)

In a comment reported widely yesterday, "Reaction from Amazon was also swift. Drew Herdener, a spokesperson for the e-tailer, called the DoJ’s decisions “a big win for Kindle owners,” adding, “We look forward to being allowed to lower prices on more Kindle books.”

A report on Mediabistro notes that in the first quarter of 2012, Amazon's sales of e-books rose 29% while Apple's rose just 1%. Overnight, Apple's stock had dropped 13% when we checked Friday, while B&N's dropped 6.4% Thurdsay (down 17% for the month that is not half over). We admit to not being able to tell much from these tea leaves - Amazon's stock is also down slightly.

What will it mean to publishers? In the short term, it depends on the publisher. Those who settled will be forced to pay millions back to customers in some fashion. So they'll take a financial hit in the short term, at a time when they're already reeling from the falling sales of printed books. On NPR Thursday, one analyst - James McQuivey of Forrester Research - predicted that some won't make it.

The Author's Guild website carried the full statement from someone who didn't buckle. Macmillan's CEO John Sargent is one of the guys who did not settle with the DoJ. "But the terms the DOJ demanded were too onerous. After careful consideration, we came to the conclusion that the terms could have allowed Amazon to recover the monopoly position it had been building before our switch to the agency model. We also felt the settlement the DOJ wanted to impose would have a very negative and long term impact on those who sell books for a living, from the largest chain stores to the smallest independents." Bear in mind that Macmillan is the company that Amazon attacked a few years ago by removing all of their publications from sale.

Penguin Group chairman (the other publisher who refused to settle) John Mackinson wrote this: “The second, and equally powerful, reason for our decision to place this matter in the hands of a court is that we believed then, as we do now, that the agency model is the one that offers consumers the prospect of an open and competitive market for e-books. We understood that the shift to agency would be very costly to Penguin and its shareholders in the short-term, but we reasoned that the prevention of a monopoly in the supply of e-books had to be in the best interests, not just of Penguin, but of consumers, authors and booksellers as well."

At the same time, there is a class action suit against the publishers and an on-going European investigation concerning the agency model as well. So the financial liabilities faced by the named publishers and Apple are impossible to know at this time. It would be fair to say they will be 'large'.

What will it mean to booksellers? In the short term... depends on how far the prices for e-books fall. If they fall fast and steeply, it will inevitably mean lost sales of printed books.
While everyone seems to think that this DoJ case is about competition surrounding the sale of e-books, and how collusion was engaged to raise the price of e-books, what isn't addressed is that higher prices for e-books are needed to save printed books. A $25 or $27.99 hardcover can compete with a $14.99 e-book better than it can with a $9.99 price. Drastically lowered e-book prices gut the sales of hardcovers, even trade paperbacks. If e-books continue to outsell hardcovers and massacre the sales of softcovers, printed books are seriously threatened. No one talks about that.

What you, as reader[, writer,] and consumer and resident of Earth can do for yourself is to watch for stories that report on the sales of printed books. Most likely, you'll find them around the ends of financial quarters, as well as annual reports of the past year's sales that come out at the beginning of a new year. A search on the internet should turn them up - business pages of the major news outlets, or Publisher's Weekly. Quarters go Jan - Mar, April - June, etc. Look for reports in early July that cover the present quarter. That will tell us if something is happening immediately. And that may foretell where publishing is going.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Home Defense, Part 2 -- The Shotgun

by Ben Small

Assuming you've decided a home defense gun makes sense, what gun should you choose?

I don't think anyone argues with the notion that the best home defense weapon is a shotgun, but that begs the question. What type of shotgun, what size shell, what size ammo?

Shotgun gauges vary inversely to number progression. So the larger the gauge number, the smaller the bore. Doc Holliday carried a 10 gauge at the OK Corral, a cannon rarely seen today. For a guy as skinny as the sickly Doc, his shoulder must have been numb for days. A 12 gauge has a smaller bore diameter than a 10 gauge, and 16, 20, 28 and the .410 gauges have respective still smaller bores. The most popular shotgun gauge today remains the 12, however, anything larger than a .410 will provide ample home defense protection. While the Taurus Judge has made the .410 shell -- a round once believed to be mostly obsolete -- popular,  the .410 is generally not recommended for home defense. It's just not accurate beyond ten feet.

Choose your shotgun gauge by considering your size and age, not to mention level of comfort. The older you are, the less tolerant your shoulder will be. Any gauge other than a .410 is adequate for home defense. And choose the size of shells you're going to use bearing in mind the same considerations. Many shotguns these days will accommodate three different size shells, usually 2 1/2", 3" and 3 1/2". The latter two are often called "Magnum" and "Super Magnum" respectively. Trust me: You don't need a large shell to be effective for home defense. Stick with the smallest shell available for your shotgun's chamber.

Shotguns vary by type of feed, too. Some are single shot, some double barrel, some over-under, some semi-automatic, and my all time favorite, the pump. I highly recommend a pump shotgun for home defense. I don't think anyone doesn't understand what's behind that ominous click-clack. Pump that hummer, and you may not have to shoot.

Shotguns come in pistol-grips too, but I don't recommend one unless your name is Arnold and you were once governor of California. Anyone with osteo or rheumatoid arthritis certainly doesn't want to shoot one. I cringe even at the thought of it, but then again, such guns are usually pump actions, so the click-clack may make firing unnecessary. I've got one --  no, Ben's not a pseudonym and I've never run for office -- but I've never fired it. One ugly-scary looking beast. 

Ouch! Doesn't that look painful? Grip it tight or recoil may be a bop on the bean.

But let's assume you've determined your gauge and type of shotgun. What size ammo to use?

A slug is essentially just what you imagine: One big plug of steel or lead, usually fifty caliber. That's a lot of whammy, and will be the most painful to shoot at whatever gauge you've chosen. While slugs are good for deer or elk hunting, I don't recommend them for home defense. Besides, the only thing you're likely to hit may be your neighbor two houses over.

Before choosing your size of ammo, you need to understand why a shotgun is the best weapon for home defense: You don't need good aim. Flinch away. Because shotgun barrels -- except the Taurus Judge-style pistol -- aren't rifled, the pellets inside won't spin. So instead of a true and accurate spiral, like from a rifle or pistol barrel, the lead or steel pellets inside the shell spread. The spread will pattern outward. You can adjust the pattern spread by insertion of a muzzle-choke to squeeze your lead or steel shot any way you want, horizontal, vertical or any combination in between; but you don't need a choke. Expect about a two foot diameter spread twenty feet away without one.

Shot shells vary by size and number of BBs inside, again inversely to number progression. In other words, the larger shot shell number, the smaller the BBs and the more in number. See the following size scale:

The low number shot shells (OOO, OO, O, 1-4) are usually called "buckshot" or "buck". Consider that these are essentially 9mm bullets, which will penetrate bad guys, your walls and maybe your neighbor's, too. Again, while such rounds are good for killing deer or humans, I don't usually recommend them for home defense, unless loaded as a last resort after having already fired rounds of bird shot (shot shells 7-9). Some might disagree about using bird shot for home defense, but if the click-clack doesn't scare an intruder away, a body penetrated with up to seventy or more BBs from bird shot surely will. And close up, bird shot will devastate. Even with the Castle Doctrine -- now being considered in Florida in connection with the Trayvon Martin shooting -- your goal should be protection, not intent to kill. So for my home defense, I load my shotgun with bird shot first, buckshot last. Six rounds of escalating fire power.

The only downside to choosing a shotgun for home defense -- other than the owie-factor, of course -- is where will you keep it? Do you have children, for instance? Do you need to keep your shells separate from the gun? Do you have a safe to accommodate it? Can you access your gun and ammo, load and rack your slide in time?

I do not recommend flashlights attached to shotguns because the bad guy will see you first and your ambient night vision will be ruined. But others may disagree, and it's so tacti-cool to have one. If you just have to have one, get a bright one that strobes. As least both you and the bad guy will be blinded, and if you move as you stobe the bad guy may find drawing a bead problematic.

Click-clack, I'll be back. In Home Defense, Part 3, I'll discuss home defense pistol options.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

E-Book Piracy

by Susan Santangelo Greetings from beautiful Cape Cod, where spring has officially arrived at last. I should be in a good mood. But I'm not. Why? Because I found out on Friday that the e-book version of my first two Baby Boomer mysteries, Retirement Can be Murder and Moving Can Be Murder, have been pirated on two separate Internet sites. In addition to sending each site an e-mail ordering them to take the books off immediately and threatening legal action, which I did, is there anything else that can be done? Has this happened to any of you, and if so, what did you do about it?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

What Excites You in Mysteries?

What Excites You in Mysteries?

by June Shaw

Do you get excited when you read a certain line in a mystery? It might be a line or a line that you determine will be quotes for a long time? (Shaken not stirred)

I've found many lines in Janet Evanovitch books, especially her early ones, that made me laugh out loud and then read to my partner. (We all recall where Stephanie Plum lost her virginity.)

I get excited by haunting scenes, scenes that will stay with me for a long time (And Then There Were None.)

Unique characters who I care about remain with me and make me want to return to them again in other books. I also love being pulled into a setting that comes alive.

What excites you in a mystery!

Friday, April 13, 2012


by Earl Staggs

Years ago, I read the debut novel of a female writer (forensic thriller) and was disappointed to the point of anger. The book was not badly written, the characters were interesting, and the story rolled along rather well. Evidence was collected, clues were followed, and suspects were investigated. Finally, near the end, the killer was revealed, and that’s what set me off.

Turned out the killer was not one of the suspects or anyone who had even been mentioned before. There were no clues pointing to him. The killer’s identity was – literally – phoned in. The protagonist received a phone call from another district advising the man had been caught and had confessed. Case closed. I felt I’d been cheated.

Part of my enjoyment in reading a mystery novel is following the clues, sorting through the evidence, and trying to figure out whodunnit. I’m not always right, but I still like to feel I’m in the game. When an author pulls a rabbit out of a hat at the end, a surprise ending not even Sherlock Holmes could have anticipated, I’m not a happy camper.

To her credit, I suppose, this particular author created a main character who continued in a long line of novels for at least two decades. If there was a Mystery Hall of Fame, both the author and the character would be inducted, for sure.

That would not, however, move me to forgive her for the disappointment I felt after reading her first book.

And just last week, it happened again. I settled onto my sofa, the TV was on, a movie had just started, and I watched it. Near the end, the killer was revealed. Once again, a rabbit out of a hat. No clues pointed to him. There was no way I or anyone else could have figured out whodunnit. I snatched up the TV guide and read the blurb about the movie. Sure enough, the movie was based on a novel by my old friend. The same author who cheated me years before.

Obviously, not a lot of mystery fans feel the same way I do. This author has sold gazillions of books over the years. Apparently, gazillions of readers are satisfied as long as they can relate to the characters and care about their personal problems and relationships. That’s fine if you’re a fan of soap operas. I consider myself a mystery fan and feel I deserve a shot at solving the crime. The author owes me the courtesy of playing fair, of placing clues which will lead me to the right solution. If I don’t get it right, I’m okay as long as I can go back and pick up on what I missed and the protagonist did not. If I’m reading a mystery book or watching a mystery movie, I want more than who loves whom, who sleeps with whom, and who cheats on whom. I’m more interested in who killed whom.

I promise you this author will not do it to me again. I won’t pick up another of her books and I’ll check any movie I watch to see if it’s based on her books. That’ll teach her.

Yes, indeedy. You’ll be sorry you cheated this mystery fan, Ms Cornwell.