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.