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The Mystery Short Story Web Log Project



Updated: 2011-09-19T06:51:02Z

 



Monday, September 19: The Scribbler

2011-09-19T06:51:02Z

DOORWAYS by James Lincoln Warren Jim Morrison, the famous Dionysiac rock’n’roll star, claimed that his cult band the Doors was named after a line in the mad genius William Blake’s pseudo-Biblical prophetic manifesto, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, […]DOORWAYS by James Lincoln Warren Jim Morrison, the famous Dionysiac rock’n’roll star, claimed that his cult band the Doors was named after a line in the mad genius William Blake’s pseudo-Biblical prophetic manifesto, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern. Yeah, all right, Morrison was an English major at UCLA, so maybe he actually did read Blake—but I’ve always thought the more likely explanation was that they got the name from Aldous Huxley’s memoir of messing around with mescaline, which was something of a cult favorite in the late 60s, when Timothy Leary was importuning the youth of America to turn on, tune in, and drop out, by which he meant frying one’s brains on LSD. Huxley’s book was called The Doors of Perception, and he was nothing if not erudite, so I have no doubt that he actually did get the title from Blake. There have been many interpretations of Blake’s book on many different levels—theological, psychological, philosophical, and so on—but the one theme that almost all of its critics seem to agree on is that Blake was writing about the tension between authority and control on the one hand (Heaven), and chaos and freedom on the other (Hell). This rather reminds me on a very small scale of my frequent claim that a good mystery story comprises a marriage of convention with invention. And that was also my intention when I got the idea for Criminal Brief. When we started, short crime fiction was probably at its nadir in terms of readership and general popularity. I wanted CB to be a place where dedicated mystery short story authors could make their case for their art to the public in an accessible manner, to encourage people to seek out and read short stories. To be honest with you, I’m not at all sure that I succeeded in my ambition, but there’s no doubt that the regular contributors—Melodie Johnson Howe, Robert Lopresti, Deborah Upton-Elliott, Steven Steinbock, Leigh Lundin, John M. Floyd, Angela Zeman, Janice Law, and of course, yours truly—performed in what can only be described as a stellar manner. On top of that, we had a slew of guest contributors whose words resonated throughout the mystery community on the internet, including Ed Hoch’s only entry into the blogosphere, but also including such worthies as Doug Allyn, James Powell, Jas. R. Petrin, R.T. Lawton, Stephen Ross, David Dean, Daniel Stashower, and a host of others. We also reprinted a number of classic short stories that were intended to give the Gentle Reader a sense of the mystery short story’s heritage. What a privilege it has been. I’m not sure that we cleaned the doors of perception well enough to open the gates of infinity, but we certainly polished them up a little. I have renewed hope for the renaissance of the mystery short story, and I’d like to think that we contributed to it if only minutely. But the time has come to close the door on CB. Alexander Graham Bell had some thoughts on this topic: “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” I do not want the Gentle Reader to look regretfully upon the demise of Criminal Brief. Therefore, it will remain up on the web as an archive resource for the forseeable future. I do not rule out a resurrection of the site as a live presence sometime in the distant future, and if it does it will not come back as a rotating essay-oriented blog, but its dedication to th[...]



Sunday, September 18: The A.D.D. Detective

2011-09-18T07:21:13Z

PARTING SHOT by Leigh Lundin Much as I dislike the thought, journeys come to an end and the CB superhighway has made for a great trip. I expect one of my colleagues could estimate how many bloody words we’ve splattered on this platform, but as we’ve learned, it’s not the number of words but how […]PARTING SHOT by Leigh Lundin Much as I dislike the thought, journeys come to an end and the CB superhighway has made for a great trip. I expect one of my colleagues could estimate how many bloody words we’ve splattered on this platform, but as we’ve learned, it’s not the number of words but how effective we make them. I’ve learned a lot and Criminal Brief has helped hone my writing skills. But today, I’m not talking about writing or writing weird Florida news or shining a spotlight on a criminally criminal prosecutor. May former girlfriends gasp: I want to talk about relationships. I want to talk about us. I’ve made friends within CB and with you, the reader. Dixon Hill sent me a note saying "Strange, isn’t it, how it seems as if we’ve met–though we’ve never met in-person." That’s true. I feel like I’ve known alisa, ABA, Sheena, Terrie, Jeff, Stephen, Hamilton, Dale, Darlene Poier, Yoshinori, David Dean, and the wonderful Dick Stodghill a long, long time. Usually when people meet, their impressions start from the outside and work inward. Writing like this lets us discover people from the inside-out. Our Den of Thieves The same is true of my colleagues. I haven’t met Rob, Deborah, or Janice yet, but I can imagine Rob and I laughing ourselves silly over arcane topics. I picture Deborah as gentle and kind and I imagine (right or wrong) Janice as artistic and intelligent, but casting a wary when-I-get-to-know-you eye upon me (possibly with cause). Of colleagues I’ve met, they are much like I pictured them but more so. John is the friendliest person I know and now my good compadre-in-crime. Melody is even more playful in real life. And the Zemans are charming, warm and generous. The real surprise was Steve. One look at him and I recognized he was the school mischief-maker, the joker in a deck of jokers. And though I never met his famous ‘wench’, she makes me smile and I look forward to meeting her some day. The James Gang CB started nearly five years ago. James and Rob were well into discussions long before James gave me the MWA tour and then enquired if I’d like to participate in a group blog. Barely a rookie, I was honored but also concerned: Would I be able to hold my own amongst these pros? I need not have worried; they were kind and patient and gave me a lot of leighway. I began to write. James dislikes sentimentality, but I owe him big time. He started with friendship and culminated in bringing out a better writer in me. Like Melodie and the others, my favorite times include the Christmas puzzle and chillin’ at the CB Headquarters. But my most personal blog was one I didn’t write. James did. Twice I stumbled trying to write about my story English. Writing the short-short proved far easier than writing about it. Sometimes we can’t see inside ourselves, but in a wonderful review, James captured me in one sentence: I’ve noticed that Leigh doesn’t write so much about crime as he writes about injustice. That may not mean a lot to others, but the insight meant a lot to me, just one of many reasons I’m grateful to James. Dark Pastures Starting today, I move on to a new crime-writing project, a joint venture with Deborah, John, Janice, Rob, and several others, the crime blog SleuthSayers. This has been a hell of a busy month embroiling several deadlines with SleuthSayers topping the stack. SS uses different software than CB, so we’re still figuring things out. If you like or dislike the design, blame Velma! So here I am, the last few sentences I’ll write for CB, the last few words anyone will write except tomorrow. I loved the ride[...]



Saturday, September 17: Mississippi Mud

2011-09-17T14:25:04Z

WRITING TIGHT by John M. Floyd No, this title isn’t a description of the way William Faulkner created most of his stories. I’m referring to tight prose, not tight pro’s. Long ago I was browsing through YouTube videos and found a clip from an old Leave It to Beaver episode. (In fact I think I […]WRITING TIGHT by John M. Floyd No, this title isn’t a description of the way William Faulkner created most of his stories. I’m referring to tight prose, not tight pro’s. Long ago I was browsing through YouTube videos and found a clip from an old Leave It to Beaver episode. (In fact I think I used it once, in an earlier CB column.) June and Ward were sitting at the kitchen table with the boys, and the Beaver asked his dad to read over an essay he’d written for school. The paper started off with something like “This is about my father, Mr. Ward Cleaver.” Ward, reading it aloud, stopped and raised his eyebrows and said, “Mr.?” Wally said, dead serious: “That counts as a word, Dad.” Beaver nodded his agreement. How well I remember. Every time we were required to write a paper in school, one of our goals was to make it long. Actually, that was probably our main goal. It had to have a lot of words and a lot of pages—the more the better. When we hoisted the finished result in our hands, it needed to have weight, because weight (in our dim minds) meant substance, importance, significance. To create less would’ve meant we were less creative. Now, having (hopefully) learned a bit more about writing, I realize the opposite is true. So often, at least when writing fiction, less is better. Stephen King once said that when a story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone, and get rid of every ounce of excess fat. “This is going to hurt,” he said. “Revising a story down to the bare essentials is a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” I agree. One thing I have found in my years of writing and teaching is that all of us tend to overwrite. In a first draft, that doesn’t matter much. Knock yourself out. But in subsequent drafts, all the extra and ineffective words need to be found and deleted. Each draft should be shorter than the one before it. Jettison anything that sounds repetitious, or does too much explaining. And by repetition I don’t just mean words; writers often repeat thoughts, phrases, etc.—and sometimes only the closest examination will reveal this kind of thing. I think it was Noah Lukeman who said writers should imagine they’re being paid a dollar for every unneeded word (often adjectives and adverbs) that they can find and take out. The result will almost always be a stronger manuscript. This is one of the reasons that I believe short stories are great practice for those who want to also write novels. In short stories, and of course poetry, not a word can be wasted. “Writing tight” is a necessity. Stephen King again, from an essay in his book Secret Windows: “The object . . . isn’t to shorten for the sake of shortening but to speed up the pace and make the story fly along.” All of us want to do that. And this isn’t only true for fiction. Nonfiction too will be better when the writer pares it down, and tightens up all the nuts and bolts. Which means, I guess, that I should probably stop here. NOTE: I actually am stopping here: this is my final post at Criminal Brief. Let me just say that I’ve had a wonderful time, and have met some great friends. I’ve learned a lot, about mysteries and about writing, from my fellow columnists and our readers/commenters. Many thanks to JLW and my colleagues, for allowing me to be a part of this group. [...]



Friday, September 16: Bandersnatches

2011-09-16T06:08:09Z

FASTEN YOUR SEATBELT by Steven Steinbock We have reached a cruising altitude. You may now use approved electronic devices. I’m writing this—my final entry in the Bandersnatch journal—while sitting in Seat 9C aboard Delta 6013 en route from LaGuardia to St. Louis. Has anyone else noticed how the pages of books warp while you’re in […]FASTEN YOUR SEATBELT by Steven Steinbock We have reached a cruising altitude. You may now use approved electronic devices. I’m writing this—my final entry in the Bandersnatch journal—while sitting in Seat 9C aboard Delta 6013 en route from LaGuardia to St. Louis. Has anyone else noticed how the pages of books warp while you’re in the air? Seriously. It may just be with trade paperbacks, but I think it happens whenever I bring a book on a plane. Maybe it’s just me. By the time you, dear reader, are seeing this, I will of course have set down and perhaps will be viewing the famous arches from my hotel room. More likely, though, I’ll be in some panel, perusing books in the dealers room, or making trouble with my friend James Lincoln Warren. Yes, it’s Bouchercon time again. As Robert said in his column earlier this week, Bouchercon is a big event, and it can be a challenge for those who prefer to steer clear of massive crowds. That said, it’s possible to find quiet opportunities to visit one-on-one with old friends and new ones. It was, in fact, at the Seattle Bouchercon back in 1994 (the same one that he wrote about in his column) that I first met Rob Lopresti. Tonight (this being Thursday, the day before these words will appear online) I’m meeting James and a gaggle of other mystery people for dinner. The group includes EQMM editor Janet Hutchings, AHMM editor Linda Landrigan, short story regulars like Robert Levinson and Terence Faherty (and their respective spouses), as well as a bevy or other cool people (Charles and Carolyn Todd, Bruce DeSilva, R.T. Lawton, and others). Nora McFarland and Sandra (“Sam”) Brannan will both be there, and both of them will be on my panel at 8:30 (ugh!) tomorrow morning. The topic of the panel is “All About Eve.” I have a feeling that the Bouchercon program team has decided to name all the panels after movies. At first I was puzzled. Remember, dear reader, that prior to turning to a life of crime (fiction), I was a Bible scholar. So I had a haunting moment of flashback. Did I sign up for the right convention? Why else would they be putting me on a panel about Eve? But after reading the description, it all came clear. I was moderating a panel about developing strong female characters. Then I had a different kind of apprehension: why was I, the only male on a panel with five women, chosen to discuss strong women? Are they suggesting that I’m a pushover? What if I am? (When Nora suggested that perhaps the title of the panel should have been “All About Steve,” I really started to worry). My panelists are Sandra Brannan, Vicki Hendricks, Sara Henry, Nora McFarland, Cathi Stoler . And so, as I wrap up this column, I find myself wearing my criminal briefs for a final time. We’ve had a fabulous run. I’ve made some wonderful friends. It’s been a pleasure to work with Deborah, Rob, Melodie, Janice, Leigh, John, Angela, and most of all our dauntless founder and editor James Lincoln Warren. Please look for me in the pages (or webpages) of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine where I’ll be manning the Jury Box. You can also find me, as several readers have, at the various mystery conventions that I like to haunt. I also expect that I’ll be making regular visits to Sleuth Sayers where several from our lot will continue to post regular columns. A big thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read my Bandersnatches week after week for four and a half years. We’ll meet again . . . [...]



Thursday, September 15: Femme Fatale

2011-09-15T16:48:46Z

ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD by Deborah Elliott-Upton Saying goodbye has never been one of my favorite things. Instead, I’d like to say thanks for the opportunity to be a part of your life for these past years at Criminal Brief. This isn’t goodbye as I know we’ll still be bumping into each other again. […]ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD by Deborah Elliott-Upton Saying goodbye has never been one of my favorite things. Instead, I’d like to say thanks for the opportunity to be a part of your life for these past years at Criminal Brief. This isn’t goodbye as I know we’ll still be bumping into each other again. The best thing about writers and readers is they somehow find each other. Since I believe there are no coincidences, it is my conviction we were both here at the same time for a reason. I hope you were as entertained, enlightened and engaged as I have been with Criminal Brief. I’ve been blessed to be here from its inception all the way to its end. We could never discount the addition of the reader’s comments: they are appreciated more than one may think. It is not only valuable to know what the thinking is about our writing, but also our readers have contributed much information and points of view we’ve appreciated reading. Thanks to James Lincoln Warren for coming up with this format and painstakingly getting all of contributions online in a timely manner. When I “met” Jim online via the Mystery Writers of America group, I was charmed by his wit and humor. Who wouldn’t be? I asked to join his PHARTS group and wrote an article concerning techniques for writing a screenplay which was tremendous fun for me. When he decided to create Criminal Brief, he asked me to join the roster. I was complimented to join the ranks of such fine writers. Jim has said we sometimes stretched the confines of Criminal Brief’s structure of writing about short crime fiction and he is absolutely correct. However, I think perhaps we all have been entertained by Jim’s lexicon information, Leigh’s true crime accounts, John’s marketing methods, Melodie’s tales of the lady driving the Hummer, Steve’s vast collections, and Rob’s musical thoughts. As the newbie to the group, Janice has not wandered from the original directive to write strictly about short mystery fiction. She receives a shiny gold star next to her name. We all started out as diligent, but have strayed from the path here and there, but I think we all tried to tie the articles into a mystery vein in some manner. (And I liked writing about Nimrods, Captain Jack, and my dad.) Almost all of us have traversed into the effects of movies, TV, and actors, and how they have influenced us in our choices. Some of us went where others did not appreciate. (I immediately think of the three blondes we will not name here as it makes at least one of our group unhappy—and yes, for good reason.) I think it’s all been good. Whether it’s been smooth sailing or a bit rough at times, we have not been bored—which isn’t true of all blogs. I think perhaps it’s because we have so many different points of view involved at Criminal Brief. Not only do we live all over the United States, we also have different lifestyles, voting records, likes and dislikes. I could not forget to mention the ones who’ve made this trek even more fun: the late Dick Stodghill, the great Bill Crider and of course our around-the-world readership. We’ve managed to corral an amazing comment group and also a diverse cluster of lurkers. Thank you all for being out there and being interested enough to join us. I agree with Melodie about the week we all wrote about our offices at Criminal Brief. What an imaginative group we have! That was pure fun and from the comments, our readership agreed. James has often been the one finding many of the illustrations accompanying the columns and that is a feat within itself to do day after day for four and a half years. I hope you continue with most[...]



Wednesday, September 14: Tune It Or Die!

2011-09-14T15:04:32Z

COMMUNITY CHEST by Rob Lopresti So once again Bouchercon time has rolled around and I will not be in attendance. To tell the truth, I usually am not, because I am the worst traveler outside of a coral reef. And frankly, I am not the most social of animals. Hanging around a noisy bar for […]

COMMUNITY CHEST

by Rob Lopresti

(image)

So once again Bouchercon time has rolled around and I will not be in attendance. To tell the truth, I usually am not, because I am the worst traveler outside of a coral reef. And frankly, I am not the most social of animals. Hanging around a noisy bar for conversation is not my idea of a good time.

I do get to the occasional conference. My favorite was the Seattle Bcon, partly because of the event I described here, but also because I was the president of the local chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. That was an ideal position to have at the conference: it brought cachet and no responsibilities whatsoever.

Not long after that conference the chapter of MWA seemed to decline in membership and in the number of meetings. A few people lamented to me that things weren’t like the good old days when I had been the president.

I assured them that this was an example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, although I don’t think I used them fancy furrin words. The varying fortunes of the chapter had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the arrival of the World Wide Web. People didn’t need meetings of people so much because they could gather with like-minded friends on Dorothy-L, and later on blogs, and then social networks.

I’m no exception. Every morning I turn on my iPad, go to Little Big Crimes, and look at my RSS feeds in the right hand column. I click on blogsites like Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine, Sandra Seaman’s My Little Corner, Criminal Brief, and now Sleuthsayers, and I can be instantly engaged in fascinating conversations in our field. No bar bill necessary.

Of course, electronic contacts are not always a substitute for face-to-face, and people seem to have recognized that. Our local MWA meetings continue, with good attendance. In fact, I hear that the speaker at an upcoming meeting will be Robert Lopresti, so get your reservations early.

As I said, I don’t often travel to Bouchercon, but my wife and I love San Francisco, so last year was an exception. And I had more friends there than I have had at most cons, because of the online communities that I have been a part of. The virtual supports the physical, and vice versa. The dance goes on.

When he received the MWA Grand Master Award Donald E. Westlake told the audience at the Edgar banquet “You are my tribe!” A tribe can be a good thing to have out in the wilderness we all inhabit.

My wish to all the brothers and sisters of my tribe is that the dance continues to take you to interesting places, be they physical or virtual, hardbound or softback.




Tuesday, September 13: High-Heeled Gumshoe

2011-09-15T16:46:48Z

BLOGGING SHOES by Melodie Johnson Howe I’m hanging up my blogging shoes after this last column for Criminal Brief. Leigh very kindly asked if I would guest blog at the new Sleuth Sayers. Guys, could you come with up a name that doesn’t make me sound like Daffy Duck when I pronounce it? By the […]BLOGGING SHOES by Melodie Johnson Howe I’m hanging up my blogging shoes after this last column for Criminal Brief. Leigh very kindly asked if I would guest blog at the new Sleuth Sayers. Guys, could you come with up a name that doesn’t make me sound like Daffy Duck when I pronounce it? By the way, I often quote Daffy. In the midst of a chase scene in one of his cartoons he abruptly stops, stares at the audience, and says with his famous lisp, “This doesn’t make sense and neither do I.” Then he begins to run for his life again. I often feel like Daffy Duck. But I digress. I intended to talk about our blog. Criminal Brief is neither. It isn’t criminal. It’s thoughtful, funny, erudite, curmudgeonly and simply wonderful. And it isn’t Brief. It ran for four and a half years. That’s a pretty good run. When James asked me to come aboard, my first inclination was not to do it. I’m a slow writer. And time is fast. So I thought I couldn’t possibly write a column a week. But then I began to think about all the things I wanted to say. And most of them didn’t have anything to do with the short story. I wanted to write about what was bothering me, confounding me. I wanted to get down on paper what I observed in my daily life. Also I had never written about my acting career. And then there was my marriage. I wanted to capture the dialogue and the relationship between a husband and wife, who happened to be two creative people. In other words I wanted to explore; open my horizons as a writer. So I told James I would be glad to do it if I could write about anything I wanted and he agreed. And a whole new world opened up to me. It never occurred to me I would develop friendships on the Internet. Janice and Deborah are the only two of our comrades in crime I haven’t met in person. But I feel I know these two women and would like to sit down and have cup of coffee with them. How about a G & T? And when I met the others in person I felt as if we’d been friends for a long time; and that’s because we got know each other through our writings first. The point of a writer is to connect with readers. And we were readers of each other’s columns. Criminal Brief has also allowed me to share thoughts with the likes of Jon Breen, David Dean, Stephen Ross, and other writers I admire. And last but not least are the CB readers who have supported us with their vast knowledge, depth, and wicked humor. My favorite moment in CB history was creating the virtual Criminal Brief Headquarters. Not only was it fun to write but also it was hilarious. And our virtual offices became skewered metaphors for each of us. We had the longest book signing in history. I think it took us a year to get that damn anthology of short stores to our prizewinner ABA. I’m sure Leigh will correct me, but I think it all started to go wrong when he lost the book. We never had another contest after that. James deserves a big CB Medal and a smoochy kiss for creating this blog in the first place and then keeping it going. We were not an easy group to herd. So it is with fond memories and love that I will watch Criminal Brief sink into the ether and disappear. She was yar. [...]