Saturday, March 12, 2005

Computer Crash

Sorry about no posting today. Working through a computer crash. Maybe tomorrow.

Friday, March 11, 2005

A Matter of Policy by D. H. Reddall

“A Matter of Policy” by D. H. Reddall, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, April 2005

This story begins with Cape Cod PI Charles Stubblefield being hired by the attorney of accused murderer Ross Moody to establish an alibi for Moody. It seems that Moody, a mid-fifties degenerate drunk living on the street, killed a man, Frank Catlett, twenty years younger than him by throwing him through a plate-glass window, cut his throat with a glass shard, robbed him, staggered a few yards down the street and passed out. Moody’s blood alcohol level at the time was 0.28. Not unexpectedly, Moody doesn’t remember much about that night, but he thinks he was drinking at the Hollywood Lounge.

The whole scenario sounds pretty unlikely, so Stubblefield takes the case. In his initial investigation he can find a lot of people who know Moody, but no one who can establish his whereabouts the evening of the murder including the bartender at the Hollywood Lounge. Then Stubblefield runs into Sweeps, another street person, a sober one, who knows where Moody was on the evening in question. Moody was with a man named Jimmy Tagg, bad company, she says, and Moody was drinking heavily on Tagg’s dime.

Stubblefield heads back to the Hollywood Lounge and, with a little physical persuasion, induces the bartender to confirm Sweeps’ story. Tagg is an associate of a crooked lawyer named Bruno Fetter. Stubblefield knows something funny is going on, but he doesn’t know what.

About this time Stubblefield is visited by a sixth-grade teacher who believes her mother was cheated in an insurance settlement. Traditionally hard on the outside and soft on the inside, Stubblefield takes the case. He discovers that the Little Old Lady’s lawyer was the recently deceased Frank Catlett. This sends him sniffing around the insurance company, which leads him ultimately to all the answers about both cases.

The story is well written, interesting and has a pretty complex plot. What it also has is a lot of coincidence. Stubblefield doesn’t go looking for Sweeps, she finds him. And the schoolteacher, the one who finally sends him in the right direction, seems to drop in out the clear blue sky. The Greeks had a phrase for this, deus ex machina. Something modern writers are supposed to avoid. Would that Mr. Reddall had done so.

In short, I wish Mr. Reddall had been able to let Stubblefield do more of his own work.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

FMAM, We Hardly Knew Ye

Plus ça change, plus la méme chose.

The quote above, recalled from high-school French class, was brought to mind recently by the announcement that Babs Lakey's Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine was no more. Of course we had known that for some months now, but there had been the promise of one last gargantuan issue publishing all the stories they had in their inventory. Late last week Babs announced that even that issue was not to be. Thus one more paying market for short stories is now sleeping under a dirt blanket.

Such things are to be expected. Even during the heyday of magazine publishing (whenever that was) putting out a print zine was an iffy proposition. There is a long list of people who want money: editors, office staff, typesetters, printers, paper suppliers, truckers, ink suppliers, photographers, artists, office rent, office supplies, telephone bills, the United States Post Office. Let’s see, did I forget anyone? Oh, yeah! The writers.

If you’re just starting up, there is a long period of time when you are laying out money without much, if any, coming in. Of course you have the advertisers, but because it is a startup there aren’t many, and they don’t have to pay much.

And then you have to get people to buy the magazine, because that is the fount of the bulk of your income, the readers. But before people can buy the magazine, they have to know about it. That means advertising (PROMOTION), another money pit. You have to attract subscribers because they will provide most of your income. Then you have to get the magazines on the stands, because you can’t make it just on the money you get from subscriptions.

To get the magazines on the stands, you have to deal with distributors. Like every other business, there are some good ones and some not so good ones. The good ones pay you, but often not for 60 or 90 days. The not so good ones take much, much longer to give you your money – if they ever do. And the amount of money you get depends on how good a job they do on getting your magazine on a wide variety of retail racks. In this you are completely at their mercy. A bad distributor could break you.

As I said, none of this is new. Those who brave the stormy waters to put out a print zine are among the bravest of the brave. More magazines fail than see their third year anniversary. So we see them come and go. But whenever one fails, you can usually bet there’s another one in the wings, waiting to make it’s debut. Hope springs eternal.

So, vaya con Dios, Babs. We enjoyed having you with us. May you enjoy your less “interesting” life.

So. Who’s next?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Safest Place on Earth by Mark Best

"The Safest Place on Earth" by Mark Best, Thrilling Detective, Spring 2005

Fourteen year old Chastity Reiling has disappeared. Dan Brogan, ex-FBI agent and current private investigator, has been hired to find her. Unfortunately the parents just received a note stating that the girl had been kidnapped, no ransom demand, just the information. Now the FBI is involved, and the agent in charge, Stultz, doesn't like PIs in general and Brogan in particular.

After a short introduction that occurs right after the FBI have arrived on scene, we flash back to when and why Brogan was hired. During this backgrounding working up to where the intro left off, we learn that the girl’s father, Cameron Reiling, is a very powerful man with the arrogance to go along with it. While trying to hire Brogan, Reiling gets crosswise with him, and Brogan walks out. Mrs. Reiling has been eavesdropping, apparently not for the first or last time. She stops Brogan and hires him herself.

This brings us back to the present. Along with the FBI Brogan goes to interview Chastity’s boyfriend, Matt, again. During this interview they discover that Matt and Chastity’s best friend, Ashley, are engaging in a little slap-and-tickle, and have been for a while. This makes Matt a prime suspect.

Soon the body of a young girl is found. She’s been dead a while, but she is identified as Chastity Reiling. The state of decomposition proves that she was dead before the Reilings received the kidnapping note. This gives Stultz the ammunition to finally freeze Brogan out of the case. But Brogan has other avenues to follow. He gets a copy of the ME’s report and finds out that Chastity was two month’s pregnant. This information and one other bit lead him to the murderer.

Brogan is a likable guy. I’d like to see more of him. I enjoyed the story, but I have one quibble. The identity of the murderer wasn’t terribly shocking or surprising. Five years ago, the shock value would have been higher. The ending is a bit different, though, well set up with the character and actions of Mrs. Reiling.

In short, a good story.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Rejected Writers Magazine

There's a new player in town, Rejected Writers Magazine. They are brand new and just open for submissions with their first issue scheduled for June. It's kind of a unique twist on a fiction zine in that they will only consider stories that have been rejected by someone else. You even have to submit a copy of the rejection letter with the story before they will consider publishing it. Zowie! Talk about being literal. Other than that, they are open to any genre. And to stimulate submissions they are holding a contest with $100 first prize and cash prizes for 2nd and 3rd place. AND THERE IS NO ENTRY FEE! All the stories are eligible for publication in the zine.

The website is really attractive and well organized. Drop over and check out their Guidelines and FAQ. And start digging out those rejection slips.

Net Money, Part -- Whatever

So far I've talked about making money (or not) on the Internet with advertising, subscriptions, individual sales, begging, and sponsorships. I've also at least mentioned the merchandising route, selling coffee cups, t-shirts, ball caps, etc. with your very own logo on them. Those are the traditional means of generating income.

There are some people out there,
Dave Winer, Robert Scoble, Adam Curry, Hugh Macleod and others (ubergeeks, all) who are saying, "This is a brand new medium (relatively speaking). Why should we be constrained by the old forms of commercialization? Throw out all the old business models. Invent new ones." Unfortunately these guys get all fuzzy and insubstantial at that point. I haven't yet seen a concrete proposal for one of these new business models.

I actually heard one of these neo-tech evangelists suggest that if you get out there onto the net with your best stuff, eventually money will come to you. I call that the "Field of Dreams Approach," build it and they will come. Yeah. You bet. Ask Dave Zeltserman, Megan Powell, Kevin Burton Smith and the other publishers of the online zines how well that approach works.

The Internet is changing constantly. Attitudes are changing. People are starting to accept the fact that if they want quality information or entertainment, they are going to have to pay for it.

Stop that! Right now! I said people are STARTING to accept.

But don't forget, we're operating on Internet Time with this stuff. A long time for the Internet is a blink of the eye out here in the real world.

So, what kind of new business models can we develop? Beats the hell out of me. At least right now. But rest assured, someone is going to come up with something. Might be you, might be me, might be that old guy and his dog, Browser, on the commercial. Someone will do it.

I believe it is possible to make money on the net, but in order to do so you have to actually DO SOMETHING to make it happen. I continue to believe that the key to the whole thing is promotion. Part of promotion is building relationships, connections to the people who want what you have. Try something new.

Short story writers have had some success in getting panel discussions dedicated to short stories scheduled for some of the mystery conventions. What about doing the same thing for zines? Beat someone on the Bouchercon committee about the head and shoulders until they agree to put Dave Z., Megan, KBS, Anthony Neil Smith, Trevor Mavianno, and whoever else you can come up with in a room with a bunch of fans and writers. It couldn't hurt.

Everyone who reads this blog has demonstrated by their very presence here that they are intelligent, creative and damn good-looking to boot. Someone can make this work. Why not you?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Not for Love nor Money by Robin Wilson

"Not for Love nor Money" by Robin Wilson, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2005

People, mostly academics, say that academics can generate the greatest feuds over the tiniest excuses. This story uses that concept as its basis.

Dr. Peter Haas, middle-aged English professor at Greenfield State University, enjoys the position of official troubleshooter for the University's President. As such the beautiful Naomi Cordier, Associate Professor of Dance, approaches him when her beau, Harrison Buckman, becomes the victim of a beating, sustaining the most damage to his right arm and hand. This is significant because Buckman runs a nanotechnology lab, and manual dexterity is important to him.

Buckman doesn't want Naomi to call the police, but she has to do something. She brings Peter to see Buckman who tells him that he suspects Naomi's ex, Joe Hayden, Professor of Art and former NFL player, because of an old Oakland Raiders bag the assailant left behind. Buckman wants to handle the problem himself for several reasons. He doesn't want to upset Naomi by accusing her ex. Also if the story of a violent love triangle hit the papers, Buckman's reputation would be injured as would his position as the top receiver of grant money in the whole of the University.

Peter goes to report to the President who gives him the go ahead to get involved. His next stop is Joe Hayden, who rather quickly convinces him that he had nothing to do with the assault. Now Peter has to go back to Naomi and Buckman to figure out who else might have wanted to disable Buckman.

A little thought and discussion bring to light the most likely suspect, and Peter has to figure out a way to resolve the situation quietly with no damage to the reputations of the people involved or the University itself.

This is a good workmanlike story, no major speed bumps or logic holes or character inconsistencies, but it's all rather bland, kind of like a mayonnaise sandwich. I keep asking myself, "Where's the beef?" Maybe it's the academic setting or the fact that most of the important action takes place off-stage.

In short, I feel like there should be more.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Validation by Stephen D. Rogers

Validation” by Stephen D. Rogers, Thrilling Detective, Spring 2005

What can I say about Stephen D. Rogers. The man is a short story writing machine, turning them out like clockwork. And so far every one I’ve read I’ve liked.

In “Validation” the main character is an unnamed PI that does pre-employment background checks. One of his clients has asked him to do a check on a janitor. That lit a small red light for our hero. Prior to this Javelin Networks HR Director, Andrea Cleig, had never asked for a check on anyone below senior manager level. When he calls her on it, she gives him a thin excuse. Because that’s what he does for a living, our hero hitches up his belt and gets to work. But he still wonders about the real reason for this assignment.

The janitor, John Beamer, had one year of college with good grades, before he dropped out to enter the world of physical labor for the next seven or so years. Everything he entered on his employment application checks out, but our hero delves deeper. He finds a secretary at the college John attended who remembers him. It seems that John left under a cloud after an incident at a dorm party involving him, two other guys, and a girl. The incident was hushed up by the college, but our intrepid PI winnows out the truth and the real explanation for his assignment.

Mr. Rogers has done his usual fine job with “Validation,” well-written and easy to read. He’s packed a lot into a relatively short story. Our hero feels a little used at the end, but after all, isn’t that what PI’s are for, to be used by the clients for their own ends?

In short, an enjoyable, quick read.