Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Writers Born Today - Franz Kafka

It's the birthday of Franz Kafka, born on July 3rd 1883 in Prague, now part of the Czech Republic. He produced disturbing fiction centered on alienation and psychological torture, and his protagonist often faced a bizarre bureaucracy which worked against him without explanation or guidance. One of his stories, The Metamorphisis, tells the tale of a man who awakes to find he has changed into an enormous insect. It's theme of isolation and eventual death was described by W.H Auden as "the predicament of modern man". Gabriel Garcia Marquez credited this story as inspiration for his decision to pursue a writing career. In an interview he stated "When I read the line I thought to myself that I didn't know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago. So I immediately started writing short stories."

During his lifetime Kafka published little, but after his death he became one of the most influential novelists of the 20th century. Kafka burned much of his writing while still alive but fortunately his friend, Max Brod, ignored Kafka's request that the rest of his writings be destroyed.

His best known novel, The Trial, tells of the arrest of a man who is never informed what charges have been placed against him. Without this knowledge he is unable to defend himself against a faceless organization that leaves him in a state of ignorance and limbo. Its opening line is one of the most
famous and frightening in all of literature. "Someone must have been spreading lies about Josef K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one morning." It eerily foresaw the rise of the 1930s show trials in Stalin's Russia and Nazi Germany which destroyed countless innocent lives, many of whom were convicted on rumors and false confessions that were extracted by torture. His novels were banned in his native land until 1989. The Trial was made into a movie by Orson Welles in 1962 starring Anthony Perkins.

So well known is his style that his name has entered the lexicon as a description of inescapable obstacles created by an unknown entity. The word Kafkaesque is thus defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary:  having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality <Kafkaesque bureaucratic delays>

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Writers Born Today - Ambrose Bierce

Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math.
                                                                                                    - Ambrose Bierce

It's the birthday of Ambrose Bierce, born June 24, 1842 in a log cabin in Ohio. As a writer he is best known for his short stories of war and the macabre. His civil war story, An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge, is one of the most anthologized in American Literature. He also wrote a satirical lexicon famously known as The Devil's Dictionary. In it he skewers knaves, fools, and politicians with equal vigor and this work was in part responsible for his nickname, "Bitter Bierce".

His parents instilled in him a lifelong love of literature and words, and when he left home at age 15 it was to take a job as a printer's apprentice at a newspaper. When the Civil War began he enrolled and served in some of the most horrific fighting the nation had ever seen, including Shiloh and Kennesaw Mountain, where he was wounded. Much of his wartime experiences found their way into his stories.

After the war he traveled west and wrote columns for several newspapers. His reputation grew after he joined the San Francisco Examiner and wrote a column called The Prattle. He exposed a plot by the railroads to get a bill passed through Congress that would forgive millions of dollars in government loans. When the head of one of the railroads offered him a bribe and asked that Bierce "name his price" to keep quiet about the bill, Bierce declared the price was 130 million dollars, payable to the U.S. Treasury. His efforts killed the bill and established his reputation as an incorruptible journalist.

Even as his fame grew, Bierce suffered from tragedy in his personal life. Two of his sons died while young, one by suicide, and his marriage failed. In 1913 he traveled to Mexico to cover the revolution there for William Randolph Hearst. His last known location was the town of Chihuahua. He disappeared and was never heard from again.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Writers Born Today - Sandra Scoppettone

It's the birthday of Sandra Scoppettone, award winning crime writer born June 1st, 1936 in Morristown, New Jersey.

She didn't start out writing mysteries. Her second novel, The Late Great Me, dealt with teenage alcoholism and was made into a television special that won an Emmy Award. Her next book, Happy Endings Are All Alike was chosen by the American Library Association for its Best Young Adult list. It was one of the first young adult novels to depict a gay relationship.

After an initial burst of success as a young adult novelist in the 1970s, her career seemed to hit a wall. As she put it, "I couldn’t get arrested. So I went into a funk and lay on the couch reading one crime novel after another, mostly PIs. After about a month of this a male voice started talking in my head. I thought that either I was going crazy or he was my next protagonist. I decided on the latter."

Since the voice in her head was male, she decided to use a male pen name, Jack Early, to write a PI novel. At a time when most women couldn't get crime fiction published or reviewed, it was a stroke of genius. The result, A Creative Kind of Killer was nominated for an Edgar Award and won the Shamus Award in 1985 for Best First P.I. novel. She wrote two more novels as Jack Early, Razamatazz and Donato & Daughter before reverting to her real name.

In 1991 she published the first in the Lauren Laurano P.I. novel series, Everything You Have Is Mine. The series featured a smart and sassy lesbian private eye, one of the first to depict gay characters who work, fall in love, have affairs, and get mixed up in murder, just like "normal" people. She followed it up with I'll Be Leaving You Always, My Sweet Untraceable You, Let''s Face The Music and Die, and Gonna Take A Homicidal Journey.

She also wrote two novels featuring a secretary who takes over her boss's P.I. practice while he serves in the armed forces during World War II. This Dame For Hire and Too Darn Hot featured a scrappy character named Faye Quick. These books were my first introduction to this remarkable writer, but certainly not the last ones I read.

Sandra Scoppettone is one of the founding mothers of Sisters In Crime. The meeting which started the organization took place in her apartment in Soho.

To read more about her, check out these interviews, with Allan Guthrie, and Sarah Weinman.

Many of her books are now available as ebooks. For a bibliography with links to purchase her novels, start here.

And check out my review of her novels Beautiful Rage and This Dame For Hire which was my first blog post.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mystery Weekend Roundup for May 31, 2014

How To Write The Great American Mystery Novel

If you're looking for clues on how to write the Great American Mystery Novel, look no further. Vicki Delany, C.B. Forrest, Hilary McLeod, and Rick Mofina, among others, peel back the secrets to successful authorship in this article from the Ottawa Citizen.

They're all highly successful writers, so their tips are sure to help as you stare at that blank screen. By the way, these writers are Canadian, but don't let that deter you. The advice is dead on, no matter what your nationality. Besides, we Americans know good advice when we steal it.

The House of Poe Has Reopened

The Baltimore home of Edgar Allen Poe has reopened after two years of repairs and renovations. The home is now under the management of  Poe Baltimore, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving Poe's legacy in the coastal city.

It was here that Poe wrote one of his earliest works, Ms. Found In A Bottle, which helped get his writing career kick started.

For more on the Poe House including opening hours, check out the Style Blog in the Washington Post.

Mary Stewart, Suspense and Fantasy Novelist, Dead At 97

Mary Stewart, who wrote suspense and romantic thrillers, then made a successful switch to fantasy with novels about wizards, has passed away. Her novels included  Touch Not The Cat and This Rough Magic. She was among the first novelists to combine elements of mystery and suspense with romance. Her switch to Arthurian legends brought her a whole new generation of readers and proved that writers could jump from one genre to another (well, the goods ones, anyway). She was interviewed by Raymond H Thompson in 1989 as part of the Camelot Project in Scotland.

You can read her obituary in The Guardian. Although I did not read her much, she inspired a great many of today's writers, including mystery writer Julia Buckley, who penned this moving tribute to Mary Stewart on her own blog, Mysterious Musings.

What Sub-Genre Are You?

If you've ever submitted your story or novel to an editor or agent, you've no doubt gone over the submission guidelines with a microscope. If so, you may be more confused than ever. Agents aren't just looking for "mystery" novels. They want "thrillers", or "cozies", or only "noir". If you have any hope if  avoiding the slush pile, you need to get these categories defined so you can target your audience with your manuscript.

Award winning author Libby Fischer Hellman has a great article on her blog that will help sort out this confusing collection of categories. It was written for readers, but you'll find it invaluable. So, Choose Your Type.

Anybody Wanna Buy A Castle? Vampires Included

Spring is the time when house hunting heats up, so if you're in the market for a new home, you may want to check out some of these listings. They include the homes of Ray Bradbury, Norman Mailer, Ernest Hemingway, and a castle which was the home of the real Count Dracula.

The latter has 57 rooms in which to hide from your blood sucking host on an idyllic 22 acres. Happy Hunting!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Writers Born Today - Dashiell Hammett

It's the birthday of Dashiell Hammett, born 120 years ago today on May 27th 1894 in St Mary's County, Maryland. One of the finest writers of the 20th century, he invented the hard-boiled detective genre and inspired an entire generation of mystery writers. Raymond Chandler said of his prose, "He did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before". His work forced critics to treat mystery novels as a serious literary form. Red Harvest, his first novel, was named as one of the top novels written since 1923 by Time magazine (the publication's start).

In homage to his work, The International Association of Crime Writers has named an award after him. The Hammett Prize is given each year for "literary excellence in the field of crime-writing".

 He grew up in Philadelphia and left school at the age of 13 to work in a series of odd jobs. As a young man he worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency as one of their operatives and later based much of his fiction on his work there.  As he put it, "All of my characters were based on people I've known personally, or known about".  He wrote much of his fiction while living in San Francisco after leaving Pinkerton's due to health problems. Many of his early stories found their way into the magazine Black Mask. It was here that Hammett perfected his style of the lone detective who stands up against an uncaring world, fortified by his personal sense of honor and a stiff drink.

Red Harvest was published in 1929 to immediate critical acclaim. It was quickly followed by The Dain Curse (1929), The Maltese Falcon (1930), and The Glass Key (1931). His last novel, The Thin Man, was published in 1934.

It was The Maltese Falcon which firmly established Hammett's reputation as a masterful writer, and was later turned into a movie three times, the last version starring Humphrey Bogart. Hollywood also filmed The Thin Man, and produced several film sequels.

Despite serving honorably in both world wars (he was 48 years old when he volunteered for service in World War II), Hammett was questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1953. He refused to answer questions about his associations with civil rights groups. Two years earlier he had gone to prison for refusing to answer questions about a fund which provided bail money for suspects in a political witch hunt.  For a time he was blacklisted and unable to work in Hollywood or publish. Today, however, all of his works are back in print. A collection of his early stories was published in 2005.

Many of the locations in his stories and novels can still be found in modern day San Francisco, and the home he lived in still exists. For a peek at where Hammett lived, check out this article by award winning writer Mark Coggins.

Dashiell Hammett died on January 10, 1961. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Update: A major collection of Hammett letters and photos has been acquired by the University of South Carolina and will be made available to scholars in the coming year. For more details, clickety-click here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mystery History - Raymond Burr Born Today

It's the birthday of Canadian actor Raymond Burr, born May 21st, 1917 in British Columbia. He is most famous for his role as an incorruptible defense attorney for the downtrodden in the television series Perry Mason

But Burr was a versatile actor. Long before he gained national recognition for his role as Perry Mason, he had starred in numerous radio and film crime dramas. He not only played a defense attorney on Perry Mason, but also a police detective on the TV show Ironside, a prosecuting attorney in the movie A Place in the Sun, and a judge in the made for TV movie Perry Mason Returns. The only courtroom role he didn't play was that of a juror.

Early film roles often cast him on the other side of the law. He played a gangster in Desperate, made in 1947. Natalie Wood starred with him in A Cry In The Night, with Burr as a psychotic stalker. He portrayed a murderer in Rear Window and was even a murder victim twice, in The Blue Gardenia with Anne Baxter and again in Please Murder Me with Angela Landsbury.  No other actor portrayed so many different courtroom and crime roles in his career, let alone so successfully. When he auditioned for the new TV series Perry Mason, he initially sought the role of the prosecutor, Hamilton Burger. But when Erle Stanley Gardner saw him, he reportedly declared "There's my Perry Mason".

Burr beat out over 100 other actors who sought the role, including Mike Connors, Fred MacMurray, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. His starring role as an attorney in the noir film, Please Murder Me, released only a few months before his screen test, may have helped him win the role.

The choice did not go over well with critics, who still saw Burr as an actor playing criminal parts. But he soon proved them wrong.  The show ran for nine seasons and earned him two Emmy Awards for Best Actor in a dramatic series.

After leaving the show he starred for 7 seasons as a paraplegic detective in the TV show Ironside. It was one of the first shows on television to star an actor portraying a handicapped lead character. He was nominated for six Emmys in this role but didn't win one. Raymond Burr later reprised his role as Perry Mason in several made for TV movies starting in 1989 with Perry Mason Returns, defending Della Street against a murder charge.

In 1981 Canada included him in one of the stamps celebrating Canadians in Film. He also appeared in a commemorative stamp series issued by the U.S. Post Office called Early TV Memories.

In 1986 Raymond Burr planted grapes on his property in southern California. The result was the Raymond Burr Vineyards, which still produces fine wines today.

His interest in orchids led him to create several new species, one of which he named after Barbara Hale, his Perry Mason co-star who portrayed Della Street.

Burr influenced dozens of actors and writers with his powerful screen roles. Read one example about how Raymond Burr inspired the crime novelist Joel Goldman in his blog post, Why I Write.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

True Crime Tuesday for May 20, 2014

Woman's Car Stolen, Later Found At Car Dealer For Sale

A woman who reported her car was stolen thought she'd never get it back as the months went by with no word from the police or the Department of Motor Vehicles. But she decided to call the DMV as a last resort, to see if they knew anything.

Their answer? Oh yeah, we know where it a car dealer. They put it up for sale!

Erica Battle wasted no time claiming her vehicle, but was shocked to learn that no charges could be filed against the dealer. The business apparently send her a letter after towing the abandoned auto, but it came back Return To Sender, so they decided to sell it.

To add insult to injury, the charges against the thief were dropped because he was a cousin of the woman's boyfriend, who had permission to borrow it. Blood, apparently, is thicker than evidence.

Read more about this shady outcome at Channel 6 in Portland, Oregon.

Sister Billed $56,900 dollars For Cleanup of Murder Scene

A woman whose sister was murdered signed a contract with a company that specializes in crime scene cleanup just hours after learning of the loss of her sibling, and later got another shock when the bill

$56, 909 dollars for the cleanup. When the insurance balked at paying the hefty bill, the company put a lien on the murder victim's home.

The company, Aftermath, has been fined numerous times in the past for violating consumer protection laws in Ohio, according to the attorney general, but apparently they haven't learned their lesson. The claim was eventually settled and the local police department has been instructed not to recommend the company anymore.

News Net 5 in Cleveland has more on this shocking story.

Payback's A Bitch

A rapist who fled the scene of the crime crashed his car and was killed after the victim managed to escape the car and alert police.

You're smiling aren't you?

Excuse me, I should say, alleged rapist. After all, the suspect hasn't been convicted in a court of law. Although I have a feeling that he'll be facing a higher court now, where the truth will emerge and all judgements are final. Read more about the case at PhillyConfidential.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Writers Born Today - Daphne du Maurier

It's the birthday of Daphne duMaurier, author of gothic suspense novels and tales of terror, several of which were made into highly successful films. She was born May 13, 1907 in London and published her first novel at the age of 24, TheLoving Spirit.

More novels followed, and in 1937 she signed a three book deal. She had a title for her next novel, and not much else. It was to be called 
Rebecca, and it would become her masterpiece. The theme of the story was jealousy.

When Rebecca was published in 1938, a review in the Christian Science Monitor predicted it would quickly fade into obscurity, but it became a best seller, and has been in print ever since. It's opening sentence, "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.", is one of the most recognized in all of modern fiction. It earned her the National Book Award. The author credited Jane Eyre as her inspiration. Rebecca is a gothic story, a romance, and a novel of suspense wrapped into one.

Rebecca was made into an Oscar winning film by Alfred Hitchcock. He also filmed Jamaica Inn. Hitchcock's most famous film, The Birds, was based on her short story of the same name.

Daphne spent much of her life in her beloved Cornwall. She was interviewed there in 1977, and you can read the interview here.

This is a rare film clip of the author talking with Cliff Michelmore.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mystery Weekend Roundup for May 11, 2014

Mother's Day Crime Fiction

Janet Rudolph, who created several crime fiction blogs including Mystery Readers International and Mystery Fanfare, has come out with a Mother's Day list of crime fiction. Janet assembles these lists around each holiday, and they're a treat to browse or use to find a new book to read. My favorite from this list? How To Murder Your Mother-In-Law by Dorothy Cannell. The fun starts when the main character's mother-in-law moves in and it isn't long before the bodies begin to pile up in this cozy mystery.

If you like your fiction shorter, pick up Mom, Apple Pie & Murder, edited by Nancy Pickard, former President of Sisters In Crime. The collection includes a story by Nancy  as well as 10 apple recipes. It's a tasty entree in this crime fiction sub-genre.

Crimespree Magazine Interview With Ben Leroy and Alison Dasho

Jon Jordan, founder of Crimespree Magazine, has an interview cover story in this month's issue with Benjamin Leroy, who founded Bleak House Books & Tyrus Books,  and Alison Dasho, who edited many of the award nominated crime novels they published. Don't miss this great look at the origins of one of the best independent publishers to emerge in the world of crime fiction.

The discussion looks at the origins of the press, how publishing has changed with the emergence of ebooks, and hear from some of the writers whose careers have been changed for the better by this dynamic duo. Bookmark the'll want to savor it. Start here.

The Shirley Jackson Award Nominees

The Shirley Jackson Award has released the list of nominees for 2013. The award is presented for those writers who demonstrate "outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic." A lot of impressive writers are on this year's list, including Joyce Carol Oates for The Accursed, and Megan Abbott for My Heart Is Either Broken, from the anthology, Dangerous Women.

The Writer's Game

There aren't many better ways to restore those creative juices after a day spent pounding on the keyboard than to play a game. And if you've wondered what it takes to become a successful writer, this just might be the game for you. It involves a bit of luck, but then so does getting published. And it's a lot more fun than watching Wheel of Fortune. You can even share your score on Facebook and Twitter.

So pick up the dice and roll away! From the Los Angeles Times, How To Be A Writer.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mystery History - First James Bond Film Released in U.S.

Fifty-one years ago today, the first James Bond film was released in the United States - Dr. No. It starred Sean Connery as Ian Fleming's British spy and hero, James Bond. It was the first in a very successful franchise that has made over 6 billion dollars in revenue over five decades with nearly two dozen films.

This was Sean Connery's big break in the movies, and yet it almost didn't happen. He wasn't Ian Fleming's first choice. "He's not exactly what I had in mind," said the man who created the Bond character. Several other actors were considered for the role. The list included Cary Grant, Patrick McGoohan, Richard Todd, James Mason, and David Niven. All either turned it down or were considered unsuitable. And thus, a spy was born.

Dr. No got mixed reviews from critics, with Time magazine calling Bond a "blithering bounder". But it made 16 million dollars in the U.S. and nearly 60 million dollars worldwide, impressive numbers for a film that had a budget of only one million dollars.

Sean Connery went on to play the suave and debonair James Bond in six more films before holstering his Walther PPK pistol for the last time. The Bond film franchise continues and to date 23 movies have been made.

Here's a peek at the original Dr. No movie trailer.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

True Crime Tuesday for May 6, 2014

Ariel Castro Victim Has New Memoir

Michelle Knight, who escaped from Castro's infamous house of horrors exactly one year ago, has released her memoir, Finding Me. A press release from Galley Cat is here.  In the book, she chronicles her 10 year ordeal as a captive and slave of Ariel Castro. One thing for sure, this woman is a survivor. Here's hoping she can find some healing by telling her story. Writing is therapeutic and often healing.

Stories like this can serve a useful purpose when they inspires us to forge ahead under insurmountable odds, like Michelle did. But it can also stir people to action. There are a lot more Michelle Knights out there, both men and women, whose families are still searching for them.

You can help. The Doe Network is a volunteer organization that helps law enforcement on cold cases and finding missing persons. Check out their website, and help bring home more of the missing.

This Guy Needs To Do More Homework

A man who had an argument with his girlfriend finally picked up a book. But instead of reading it, like he should, he used it to strike his girlfriend. The book, by the way, was a text from his anger management class.

Perhaps he's unclear on the concept.

For now, the suspect has been charged with criminal domestic violence and book abuse. Read more about it at The New York Daily News.

Art Dealer Who Held Nazi Loot Dies, Leaves Collection to Museum in Switzerland

Cornelius Gurlitt, the art collector whose apartment was raided by police last year and who held hundreds of pieces stolen by the Nazis, has died. In a surprise to everyone involved, he bequeathed the entire collection to the Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.  The collection included works by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, such as the one shown here, Sitting Woman.

Gurlitt was at first defiant, complaining about the seizure and vowing not return one piece of art. Later, he began negotiations with authorities to return those artworks that were stolen to their owners, but talks broke down soon after they started. Gurlitt came to own the art through his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, who was a favored art dealer and was chosen by Hitler to be the future director of a museum dedicated to Nazi art.

Despite the will, the Bavarian Justice Ministry has created a special task force to research the origin of the disputed artwork, and will continue its efforts to return any looted pieces.

Duchess of Devonshire Auctioned in London, May 6th 1876, Then Stolen By "Napoleon of Crime"

The famous painting Duchess of Devonshire, painted in the 18th century and based on Georgiana Cavendish, 5th Duchess of Devonshire, was auctioned in London on this date for the highest price ever paid for a work of art at the time, $51,540.00. 

The portrait has a history that could have come straight from a movie script for Indiana Jones.  It has previously disappeared in 1785 and turned up in the home of a school teacher in 1841. It eventually found its way to the home of art collector and businessman Wynn Ellis. Upon his death, the painting was auctioned.

The sale attracted a great deal of interest by art dealers, wealthy businessmen...and one criminal mastermind named Adam Worth. Worth was an American born in Massachusetts who started his life of crime by repeatedly deserting during the Civil War, each time after collecting the signing bonuses which were issued. He later graduated to pickpocketing and bank robbery before jumping the Atlantic to England, where he set himself up as a "respectable" banker. Pinkerton's Detective Agency called him "the most remarkable, most successful and most dangerous professional criminal know to modern times", and Scotland Yard referred to him as the "Napoleon of Crime". He may have been the real life model for the fictional Professor Moriarty, nemesis to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes

Adam Worth stole the painting two weeks after the auction and it disappeared for 25 years. But by 1899 Worth was a broken man, having served a long prison term for other crimes (including a famous diamond theft). He approached the Pinkerton Agency to negotiate the return of the painting, which he still had hidden in a warehouse. In 1901 the art dealer's son traveled to Chicago from London and at the Auditorium Hotel Worth handed him the painting for an unknown sum.

To read more about this fascinating story (and to see how it ends), check out the New York Times Magazine article by Ben Macintyre, The Disappearing Duchess.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Mystery Weekend Roundup for May 4, 2014

Agatha Winners Announced At Malice Domestic

The Agatha Winners were announced at this year's Malice Domestic Conference. Best First Novel went to Leslie Budewitz for Death Ala Dente. Leslie's editor is Faith Black of Berkley Prime Crime. Congratulations to Leslie!

Best Contemporary Novel Went to Hank Phillippi Ryan for The Wrong Girl. Hank came to Kansas City last year and we got to hear her speak at the Kansas City Library about her career and her award winning thriller. You can listen to her presentation below. To hear her speaking about her thriller, The Wrong Girl, you can go to 21 minutes in the video.

The Edgar Winners!

The annual MWA Edgar Banquet was on Thursday, followed by the Edgar Award announcements. William Kent Kruger won Best Novel with Ordinary Grace. Best First Novel went to Jason Matthews for Red Sparrow. Congratulations to all the winners!

A hearty congratulations to Jenny Milchman, who won the Mary Higgins Clark Award for her debut novel, Cover of Snow, which I reviewed on this blog last year. You can see a complete list of the winners here.

And the Wall Street Journal talked with Daniel Stashower about his award for Best Fact Crime, for his book The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War.

New Release By 2011 Winner Of Malice Domestic Award

Linda Rodriguez made an impressive debut with her first novel, Every Last Secret, winning the Malice Domestic Award for First Traditional Mystery Novel. Now she has a new release in the series, Every Hidden Fear, which will be published on May 6th. To celebrate, Linda will be appearing at Mysteryscape bookstore in Overland Park, Kansas on May 10th at 11:00 AM. RSVP requested by calling (913) 649-0000 or by email at Don't miss this event if you're anywhere in the area (like, within the boundaries of the continental United States).

Is This The Face of Norman Bates? has a fascinating look at famous, or infamous, characters in crime and horror fiction in an article on their website this week. We get most of our impressions of crime characters from the movies, but how did their authors see them? Take a look at these police sketches done on some of our most fearful fiends. Anthony Perkins was a rather handsome, even shy, rendition of Norman Bates. But this police drawing is...a little creepy. And maybe that's exactly what Robert Bloch was trying to convey when he wrote "The eyes behind the fat man's glasses seemed vacant." For the entire article, clickety-click here.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Writers Born Today - Charlotte Armstrong

It's the birthday of Charlotte Armstrong, born May 2nd 1905 in Vulcan, Michigan. She went to college in Wisconsin but earned her degree in New York City at Barnard College. Her writing career began as a playwright with some of them, including The Happiest Days, being produced on Broadway. But she made her lasting mark as a writer of mystery and suspense.

Charlotte wrote over two dozen novels and numerous stories. A prolific writer, she produced one to two novels a year during the height of her creative powers, and also wrote under the name Jo Valentine. Much of her best fiction revolved around middle class family life whose characters undergo a profound change or shock that leads to chaos. The New York Telegraph called her "the American Queen of suspense novelists".

She was nominated for six Edgar awards, and won in 1957 for her novel A Dram of Poison.

Several of her novels were produced for the big screen, of which two stand out as being notable. The Unsuspected came out as a movie in 1947 starring Claude Rains and was a big hit. In 1952 her novel Mischief was filmed as Don't Bother To Knock, with Anne Bancroft in her debut role and Marilyn Monroe as a demented babysitter. Anthony Boucher was a big fan of her writing, and called Mischief, "an extraordinary achievement, a short but sweet book full of tension".

She also wrote for television and her credits include Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

One of her stories, The Splintered Monday, was included in the 2013 anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, edited by Sarah Weinman.

To read an in-depth review of her novel Mischief, go to Kevin's Corner.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mystery History - The First Edgar Award

The presentation of the 2014 Edgar Awards is just a few hours away. By late evening or early morning, we'll know the winners.

But do you know who won the very first Edgar given for Best First Novel in 1946?

Meet Sgt. Julius Fast, who was still in the army when his debut novel, Watchful At Night, was published. Fast's protagonist suspects the accidental shooting of an army buddy was really murder, and follows a trail of clues to uncover a domestic spy ring.

The novel got good reviews (the Saturday Review called it "well worth reading") and it was selected as the winner of the first Edgar Award in June 1946 by the newly created Mystery Writers of America. The award included a special leather-bound edition of "The Portable Poe" by Viking Press. The now classic Poe Statues given out tonight hadn't been created yet.

Other awards were given for Best Picture of a Mystery Nature, to Murder, My Sweet (based on the Chandler novel Farewell, My Lovely), Best Radio Mystery Program (it was a tie between The Adventures of Ellery Queen and Mr. and Mrs. North), and Best Mystery Criticism to Anthony Boucher for his reviews and commentary.

I wish all the nominees Good Luck, and for the attendees, you have an exciting evening ahead of you. For the rest of us, I'm sure we'll all be watchful at night until the winners are announced.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

True Crime Tuesday for April 29, 2014

Jonathan Fleming Freed From Prison After 25 Years For Murder He Didn't Commit

But he won't be going to Disney World to celebrate. He was there when the murder was committed, and he had receipts and witnesses to prove it.

The jury convicted him anyway. It's seems incredible that this could still happen, but bear in mind, the receipts, as well as a letter from Florida deputies that could have exonerated him, were kept from his defense attorney.

It's a lot easier to convict someone when you hide evidence from the jury.

Jonathan Fleming had this to say after his release. "I'm going to go eat dinner with my mother and my family, and I'm going to live the rest of my life".

For more on this story by Jennifer Peltz, click here. And grab a box of tissues.

To Catch A Thief...Just Do What This Dummy Did

In the movie version Cary Grant woos Grace Kelley and drives a cool car. But this isn't a movie.

A burglar in California robbed a restaurant of electronic equipment, but the police were able to track him down, thanks to an alert bartender. She saw the suspect hauling stolen goods out the back and recognized him. He was the same man who flirted with her earlier in the evening and then gave her his phone number. That was all it took to find him and slap on the cuffs. Working with police, she sent him a text to set up a date. But the Romeo was met by police instead. They found some of the stolen goods at his home

Read more about it at The New York Daily News. Apparently, love is blind. It's also charged with possession of stolen property.

Pot Farms Trashing The Environment

Whether you're in favor of the legalization of marijuana or against it, this article will disturb you.

A California scientist has discovered dozens of rare and endangered animals killed by rat poison in America's National Parks. Mexican drug cartels have turned our national parks into profit centers by clear cutting public forests to grow marijuana. Thanks to budget cuts, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife department doesn't have the manpower to stop them. The pot growers surround the plants with cans of poisoned tuna and hot dogs, which are consumed by fishers, bobcats, eagles and owls.

Funny...none of those animals eat marijuana plants. But then, when you're a criminal, you don't care who gets in your way. Unless it's a pesky scientist trying to alert the public. Dr. Gabriel of the University of California has received death threats for speaking out against the poisonings, and the bastards responded by killing his dog, a labrador retriever, as a warning to keep his mouth shut.

It's not just California that's being invaded by these criminals. Arizona, Utah, Montana and Texas have seen large scale invasions that place vacationers at risk, not from bears and mountain lions, but from masked drug traffickers with AK-47 assault rifles, according to an article by the Christian Science Monitor.

Read more about this national scandal at Slate. And the next time you plan your vacation and think about heading for the great ahead. Your favorite park may be off limits to law-abiding citizens. That means you.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Mystery Weekend Roundup for April 27, 2014

Got Writer's Block? I've Got Three Words For You

Take A Hike!

That's right. Get up off your chair and talk a little stroll. It's the perfect way to get those creative juices flowing again, according to an article in the LA Times by Deborah Netburn (who presumably was able to overcome her own to give us this great news story).

Psychologists who tested volunteers found that their creative output surged by 81 %  when walking. So if you're stuck in a rut, get out there and leave some rubber on the trail. For more on this news scoop, clickety-click here.

Upcoming Events

MWA Anthology Launch Party

The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City is hosting a party on Tuesday April 29th to celebrate the launch of MWA's newest anthology: Ice Cold - Tales of Intrigue From the Cold War. Hosts are Jeffery Deaver and Raymond Benson. All the finest writers and spies are attending. Be there, or risk being left out in the cold. For the details, click here...then destroy the evidence.

International Spy Museum

The party continues on May 3rd in Washington, D.C. where Raymond and Jeffery will talk about the anthology and sign books. The secret code is here. Be sure the spread the news around. The NSA already has. Starts at 1 PM EST (Evil Spy Time).

The Edgar Awards Presentation

The mystery event of the year, presentation of the Edgars by the Mystery Writers of America, will take place on May 1st at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City. Here's a list of the nominees. There will be a banquet starting at 7:30 PM followed by the award ceremony. It looks to be a great evening with great writers. But that's not all.

On April 30th, Oline Cogdill, 2013 recipient of the Raven Award, will interview the Grand Masters, Robert Crais and Carolyn Hart, at the hotel in the Broadway Room at 5 PM. Click here for details.

Reservations required for both events.

By the way. the Raven Award is given for outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. And here's the 2013 Raven Award Presentation made to one of the most respected mystery critics in the business.

In The World of Thrillers, The Sleeping Dragon Has Awakened

Nearly one in six persons on planet Earth is Chinese. Yet very few mysteries or thrillers from that nation have found their way to the West. Communism was partly to blame. Crime fiction was banned until 1979. That's beginning to change. Mystery fiction has exploded in the past few years. And some of it is being translated to English. Some if it is very good.

Say hello to Mai Jia, best-selling author of seven spy novels, with five million copies in print. One of his novels, Decoded, has been translated into English and has won high praise (The New York Times Book Review has called it "a page turner" and the Independent declared it "A mixture of Kafka and Agatha Christie . . . An utterly fascinating read").

Just as fascinating is the author himself. He spent 17 years in the People's Liberation Army, some of it with an intelligence unit. Besides dealing with the usual writer's problems of getting published, his family suffered during the Cultural Revolution and his father was condemned as a criminal. His novel was rejected 17 times, and even after publication was banned for a time. But he persevered. Now he writes full time and cannot imagine any other life.

"I am addicted to the occupation just like drug addicts are addicted to drugs", he says. To read more about Mai Jia, check out the Wall Street Journal's blog Asia Scene.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Writers Born Today - Dorothy Salisbury Davis

It's the birthday of Dorothy Salisbury Davis, born April 26th, 1916 in Chicago, Illinois. She was an adopted child, a fact she only learned at the age of 17 and it made a powerful impact on her view of the world.  Before she began her writing career, she worked for a traveling stage magician. The small towns and personalities she encountered helped shape her stories.

Davis has been called one of the original Gone Girls by Sarah Weinman, for her path breaking novels of suspense written during three decades starting in the late 40s.

Her first novel, The Judas Cat, was published in 1949. Black Mask had this to say about it: "Davis in her first crime novel shows a mastery of both plotting and characterization". Anthony Boucher called it a "rewardingly perceptive novel" and thought she had a bright future. He was right. Three more novels followed over the next three years. During her long career she wrote more than 20 novels and story collections.

Dorothy was nominated for the Edgar Award 6 times and was awarded Grand Master in 1985.  She was given lifetime achievement awards from Bouchercon and Malice Domestic.

Ms. Davis was more than just a pioneer on the printed page. When Sisters in Crime was just getting off the ground in the 80s, she served on the steering committee and helped the new organization gain credibility by convincing major women writers such as Mary Higgins Clark to join.

In 2010 the National Book Critics Circle asked its members which books they would most like to see back in print. Sara Paretsky named Dorothy Salisbury Davis, and had this to say about her: "She lived among bootleggers, immigrants, sharecroppers, and itinerant workers in her early years, and there's a richness to her understanding of the human condition that is missing from most contemporary crime fiction."

It looks like Sara got her wish. Open Road Media announced in 2014 that Davis's novels would be re-released. To discover more of her writing, check out her ebooks at Open Road Media.

Davis's short story, Lost Generation, a tale of small town suspicions and paranoia, was included in the excellent 2013 short story collection Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives.

For more about Ms. Davis, check out Weinman's in-depth article at The Daily Beast, The Original Gone Girls: Dorothy Salisbury Davis and Other Forgotten Pioneers of Crime Fiction.

For a bibliography of her work, click here.

You can listen to a brief excerpt from an interview Davis gave to Don Swaim in 1988 about her novel, The Habit of Fear.

Update: Dorothy Salisbury Davis passed away on August 3, 2014 at the age of 98. The New York Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America has published a moving tribute to this amazing writer.

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 a few during his long career (another notable being the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, a 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.