Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wicked Wednesday - Villains We Love: Hans Gruber

Part of an occasional series that examines the villains, crooks, and scoundrels who have made a strong impact in the history of crime fiction, both on the printed page and the silver screen. We follow their exploits and cheer when they are defeated. And at times, we can't help but admire them.
It's hard to believe that more than a quarter century has passed since Die Hard made its film debut and introduced one of crime's greatest villains - Hans Gruber. Played by Alan Rickman in his first major screen role, his performance made a dramatic impact and set the standard by which evil doers are often judged today. So well known is his character that most filmgoers mistakenly assume Rickman has played multiple roles as a villain, when in fact he has actually performed in only two during his long career (the other being the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, which was another brilliant performance). Hans Gruber even made the American Film Institute's list of the 50 Greatest Movie Villains.
In this film we meet Hans as he emerges from the back of a rental truck in the parking garage of the Nakatomi Plaza. With him is a hand-picked collection of crooks & thugs, including a telephone technician and a computer genius. It's clear that this high tower break-in has been well-planned and, in the beginning, flawlessly executed. Hans has studied his target down to the finest detail. As he enters the Christmas party on the 30th floor, and searches for his target, CEO Joseph Tagaki, he rattles off the man's resume and list of achievements from memory (a list which include his role as "father of five").  He turns to Takagi, smiles and holds out his hand, as if he were arriving for a job interview! "How do you do? It's a pleasure to meet you."
As John McClane puts it later "They're well financed and very slick."
Not to mention suave, courteous and even charming...well, at least Gruber is. Yet most of the police and the FBI assume that Hans is leading a bunch of terrorists, an assumption our villain encourages because it fits in with his master plan. All he really wants is to get inside the vault, but to disguise his motive, he makes the usual demands to the police about freeing his "revolutionary brothers and sisters from around the globe".  It's all just an act. One of the groups he read about in a magazine.
As Hans predicted, the FBI cuts power to the building, and this cuts power to the electronic system securing the safe. And just like that, Hans and his henchmen are pulling out a fortune in bearer bonds. The feds are planning to gun down the "terrorists" when they head for the roof with the party goers as hostages, but Gruber has a nasty surprise waiting for them.
In this scene from the movie, Hans demonstrates his charm, intelligence, and sense of humor as he negotiates with Joseph Tagaki over the computer code to access the vault. Until he lays the gun on the table, you could imagine this as a friendly business deal, but Hans, though charming, reveals his ruthlessness when the negotiations break down. His complex portrayal made Die Hard one of the most entertaining movies of 1988, and the film grossed 140 million dollars, blockbuster numbers at the time.


If like me, you can't get enough Gruber, check out these additional links, including this BBC America article on how Alan Rickman inspired the film scene where Gruber and McClane first meet. Also, Cult Spark's Movie Villain Hall of Fame post. And for a peek at Hans Gruber's rap sheet, clickety-click here.
Holly Gennero McClane: After all your posturing, all your little speeches, you're nothing but a common thief.

Hans Gruber: I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I'm moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mystery Weekend Roundup for April 20, 2014

Mystery Writers on the Airwaves

Jenny Milchman, author of the acclaimed suspense novel Cover of Snow, made an appearance recently on the radio program Authors on the Air to discuss her new novel, Ruin Falls. She talked with host Pam Stack and you can listen on the web or download the podcast at the link above, or by clicking here. Jenny is a fabulous writer and this show is both entertaining and a great introduction to an up and coming suspense author.

If you haven't read the novels of Raymond Benson, then you don't know James...James Bond, that is. Meet the man who has written six Bond novels and hear how he goes about creating his thrillers on James Bond Radio.  Whether you're a writer or a reader, don't miss this podcast. Benson is a top authority on Bond, and one helluva writer. Not only that, he's a composer and plays piano. I don't think he's a secret agent, but if he were, would he tell me? Probably not. Because then he'd have to kill me.

Young Adult Mystery Publisher Seeks Submissions

YA mystery writers, take note! Poisoned Press has a new imprint looking for your
manuscript. Welcome to The Poisoned Pencil. If you haven't heard of them before, you'll want to check them out. They publish high quality mysteries for young adults, including Death Spiral (book #1 of the Faith Flores Science Mysteries), by Janie Chodosh, which has garnered great reviews. The publisher is looking for "complex stories with edgy plots that feature protagonists between the ages of 13 and 18". For more about this impressive imprint, click here, or go to the website link listed above. Submission guidelines are here.

Farewell To The PSYCH Detective Agency

Oline Cogdill has a great farewell tribute to one of my favorite mystery shows, Psych, at Mystery Scene Magazine. Yes, Psych has ended after 8 wonderfully funny seasons, but Shawn and Gus will live reruns and DVDs, which are definitely on my Christmas wish list. Now I just need to find a replacement. Do you think there's any chance they'll bring back Monk?

New Collection of Shirley Jackson To Be Released

Shirley Jackson, author of The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and The Lottery, has a new collection coming out entitled Garlic In Fiction. Edited by two of her children, it includes not only fiction but lectures and non-fiction works, many of which first appeared in the 1940s and 50s.

Contest Deadline For The Claymore Award Fast Approaching

Do you have an unpublished mystery/thriller manuscript in your desk? It's not too late to submit it for The Claymore Award. The deadline in April 30th. Winners will be announced during the award ceremony at Killer Nashville on Saturday, August 23, 2014. Click here for the contest rules.

Why Do We Tell Stories?

And why do we listen to them? Since the first caveman returned home to gab about the mammoth that got away (and almost impaled him), we've been telling and listening to tales.

But why? Is it just entertainment, or something more? A desire to create something greater than ourselves, or merely a tool to pass the time? Or an excuse for coming home empty-handed?

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal (Scientists Study Why Stories Exist) researchers have begun to examine this topic in detail, using...well, using science. And also brain scans, to see what happens when we tell or listen to stories.

I'm skeptical that story-telling can be defined and classified by science, but it's an interesting article, and probably long overdue.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Last Minute Tax Tips For Writers

If you're still working on your income tax return, don't despair. You still have 14 hours to finish them and file them electronically. 14 Whole Hours! You could polish off a chapter or two with that time...tomorrow.

But if you're a writer, proceed with caution. The rules for reporting earnings from your work can be tricky, and unlike a novel or short story, you can't just make this stuff up. After all, writing is a business.

"I don't have readers, I have customers.", Mickey Spillane once said. He was right. And I hope you had LOTS of customers in 2013. And as few taxes due as possible.

Start with the IRS publication guide for Schedule C, small business, IRS PUB 334.

Got a home office? It may be deductible. Check IRS PUB 535 to review allowable business expenses, including how to write off a home office. These rules are very specific.

How do you know what records & receipts to keep? Check IRS PUB 552 to see what sort of book-keeping you need to do.

These links are in the form of pdf files, and they're easy to search for key phrases like "home office", "travel expenses", and "Help!" (this last one's not in me, I checked).

You might want to start with a checklist. Riley & Associates has a great one for expenses, geared towards writers, on their website here.

Did you go to Sleuthfest, Bouchercon, Love Is Murder? Travel and hotel expenses may be deductible if your purpose was for education, promoting your writing and pitching agents & editors, and not just to meet your favorite author.

Even meals are deductible if you talked business. Did you discuss your book? Of course you did! But beware...meals are only 50 % deductible, so keep all your receipts.

Don't forget to deduct membership dues to writing organizations like Sisters In Crime and Mystery Writers of America. You can even write off that subscription to Writer's Digest.

And when all is said and done, wipe the blood from your brow and get back to work. And take a deep breath...taxes only come once a year. But you still need to finish that first draft.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wicked Wednesday - Villains We Love: Professor Moriarty

The first of an occasional series that examines the villains, crooks, and scoundrels who have made a strong impact in the history of crime fiction, both on the printed page and the big screen. We follow their exploits and cheer when they are defeated. And at times, we can't help but admire them.

Every decent story has conflict. That's especially true for crime stories. Without conflict, there would be no story and every tale would end on page one with the words, "And they/he/she/it lived happily ever after".

But good stories aren't like that. We demand more from them, and conflict is essential, whether it's Man vs Nature, Man vs Self, Man vs Society...or Man vs Man. It is this last that concerns most crime fiction, the battle between the good protagonist and the evil adversary. And there may be no more famous adversary in modern crime fiction than the nemesis of detective Sherlock Holmes...Professor Moriarty.

Who is this criminal mastermind, a man described by Sherlock Holmes as the "Napoleon of crime"? Despite appearing in over 60 films, television shows, radio adaptations, plays, and even video games, Moriarty was created merely as a convenient prop used by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to kill off his detective, Sherlock Holmes. The author could not have imagined at the time that this mathematician turned underworld criminal would acquire a life of his own.

Moriarty appears in just two stories by Doyle, the first being The Final Problem, where he is used to dispatch Sherlock Holmes. The other appearance is made in The Valley Of Fear. Holmes describes his adversary with these words:

He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them."

Holmes goes on to describe his efforts to put Moriarty out of business, with more than a touch of admiration for an adversary whose intellect is equal to his own. And Moriarty returns the favor, but this mutual admiration only goes so far. Moriarty warns Holmes to cease his efforts to destroy his criminal empire: "I am quite sure that a man of your intelligence will see that there can be but one outcome to this affair. It is necessary that you should withdraw. You have worked things in such a fashion that we have only one resource left. It has been an intellectual treat to me to see the way in which you have grappled with this matter, but I say, unaffectedly, that it would be a grief to me to be forced to take an extreme measure."

Holmes, of course, refuses to back down. The pair converge at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, where Moriarty allows Holmes to pen a farewell note to Dr. Watson (what a gentleman!) before attacking the detective. Both men plunge over the falls to their deaths. The End. But not for long.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle thought the Sherlock Holmes stories were keeping him from other projects, but revived Holmes due to popular demand (and for the money, let's be honest). But he did not revive Moriarty.

Little did Doyle suspect that his sinister creation would acquire a reincarnated life of his own. The website IMDb lists over 50 screen appearances by Moriarty, the earliest in 1908 and the most recent in 2014.

Sherlock Holmes lives on. And as long as he does, as long as writers continue to write stories that feature the slender detective with his hawk-like nose and razor sharp mind, Moriarty will live on as well. For what criminal, what adversary can possibly challenge Holmes as an equal? After more than a century, we've come to realize that Holmes wouldn't be Holmes without his arch enemy.

True Crime Tuesday for April 8, 2014

Man Arrested On Way To Hospital, Misses Birth of Child

A man driving to the hospital with his girlfriend in labor stopped to ask a police car for an escort. Unfortunately, he got more than he bargained for...he was arrested. At the time, he had a suspended drivers license and an outstanding warrant.

I appreciate respect for the law, but I'm sorry Maceo Saunders had to miss the birth of his first child. Mother and child are doing fine, and Mr. Saunders got to hold his son after posting bail. Read more about it here.

Chicago Writer Makes Appearance in True Crime Murder Case Episode

Libby Hellman, critically acclaimed author of 11 crime novels and numerous short stories, makes an appearance this Thursday on Investigation Discovery channel. Murder Mansion examines Bruce and Darlene Rouse, who were living the American Dream...until a nightmare ended it. I'm sure she'll have some insightful commentary. Don't miss it! Starts at 9 PM EST on April 10th, 2014.

Like Mother, Like Daughter

A woman who helped her underage daughter host a wild drinking party at her home claimed she had no idea what was going on when police called her cell phone. She even told them she was out of town...and then sheepishly apologized after the cops found her hiding in a bedroom at the house.

Both mother and daughter (who had to be supported by friends because she was so drunk) have been arrested. The apple apparently doesn't fall very far from this tree, but I think a little pruning may be in order. On second thought, maybe a lot.

Not A Case of Butt Dialing 911...But It's Close!

A Nebraska woman got a shock while watching TV with her dog when the Sarpy County dispatch center spoke on the phone and asked her if she had an emergency. Seems the dog was pawing at the woman's cell phone and dialed 911. The embarrassed woman apologized, and no charges were filed. KETV has a news report and the dog, Sophie, demonstrates her dialing talent. You can see the video here.

And don't worry. No animals were injured in the making of this video.

Marijuana Found In Car? Best Excuse Ever!

A man who was pulled over by the cops had perhaps the best explanation ever when the officer found marijuana in the vehicle.

"That's not mine," the driver said. "I just stole this car."

Yup. He stole it.

Police confirmed the car was stolen and Douglas Glidden was arrested for car theft...and possession. No word on whether he has a lawyer, but maybe he'll get a judge with a sense of humor. Read more at the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mickey Rooney - Drive A Crooked Road

Mickey Rooney, age 93, has passed away. He made dozens of movies and started his film acting career at the tender age of six. His real name was Joseph Yule, Jr. and he was born in Brooklyn, New York.

He almost always played the good guy in his films, most of them comedies, romance, and coming of age pictures. But one movie he made as the bad guy stands out as a little known gem. It didn't get a lot of attention from the public, but won rave reviews from the critics...Drive a Crooked Road, a noir crime film made in 1953.

He made the movie during a period when he had fallen out of favor in Hollywood. It was an atypical role, but he played it with his usual gusto.

Rooney plays a race car driver named Eddie Shannon whose best days are behind him, and he now works as a garage mechanic. He falls for a beautiful girl, Barbara Walker (played by Diane Foster), who convinces him to drive the getaway car in a big bank robbery that will make them all rich. He reluctantly agrees, figuring he can get the money and the girl.

But the femme fatale's criminal boyfriend, Steve Norris, has other ideas. After they meet to divide the loot, they plan to split town leaving Eddie behind. When Eddie comes looking for Barbara, she tearfully spills the beans, forcing the gang to make the decision they've been hoping to avoid. One of the gang takes Eddie for a ride from which he won't be returning. But Eddie has no intention of falling for any more scams.

Incidentally, the role of Steve Norris was played by Kevin McCarthy, who would later star in the cult classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Drive A Crooked Road has some great twists and lots of suspense. You find yourself rooting for Eddie from the very beginning, which plays into Mickey Rooney's strength as an actor. It's unusual to see him in a role like this, and even if your a fan of Rooney, you may have missed it. The music really evokes the theme of tragedy and loneliness that draws Eddie into the clutches of the woman and her gang. It's well worth looking for. You can even find the entire film on youtube.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Mystery Weekend Roundup for April 6, 2014

What's In A Title? Ask Vicki Delany

Choosing a title for your novel is one of the most exciting tasks you'll face as a writer...and one of the most difficult. The right title can catch readers' attention and be a boost to sales. And the wrong title? Well, how many books would Fitzgerald have sold if he had chosen The High-Bouncing Lover as a title instead of his final choice, The Great Gatsby? John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men was originally called Something That Happened. With that title, I don't think much would have happened.

If this doesn't convince you (and even if it does), check out the great blog post by Vicki Delany on Type M For Murder, where she discusses the importance of a good title. She must be doing something right with her choices. She's just published the 7th book in her Molly Smith series, Under Cold Stone. Great title! Of course, it probably helps that she's a damn fine writer.

For more classic titles that might have been called something else, clickety-click here.

Don't Talk About Your Characters. They Might Get Angry

Alice Mattison posted an article on the New York Times blog, Opinionator, in which she talks about writing her first novel. One of the things she discovered, which all writers I think eventually discover, is that her characters aren't just words on paper. As she puts it, "If I talk about the book, I believe — I cannot help believing — my characters will be angry, and will no longer confide in me about their embarrassing, troubled lives."

If you're thinking that maybe Ms. Mattison is typing with less than a full keyboard and that this is a little creepy, well, you may not be a writer. But read the article. She really understands the process. I know. One of my own characters told me so.

Famous Authors Who Were Rejected

Do you still think only newbies (and you) are still collecting rejection slips? Far from it. All writers, including the great ones, got their share. Take a gander at some of these priceless mistakes made by various editors.

"There certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice."  - On Sylvia Plath.

"We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell."  - Given to Stephen King for his first novel, Carrie.

"The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the 'curiosity' level." - For The Diary of Ann Frank.

See the whole list on this page. And keep writing.

By the way, thanks to Chad Hanson for creating this great list!

James Bond Auction Update

A couple of weeks ago, I alerted readers that a rare first edition of Casino Royale, the first Bond novel, was being auctioned. At the time, the bidding was up to $10,000 dollars. Raymond Benson, who wrote six novels in the Bond series, and who penned the Edgar nominated definitive guide to the famous spy, The James Bond Bedside Companion, said he thought that was a bargain.

Turns out he was right. The bidding has ended and the final bid was a cool $32,500 dollars!