Closing Lines

It’s been said (meaning I can’t remember where I read it) that the opening lines of a book sell the book, and the closing lines sell the next book.

Here are a few memorable closing lines.

But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. — George Eliot, Middlemarch

• Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision. — Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and the extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead. — Don DeLillo, White Noise

If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity; and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow; and I would take from the ground some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men; and I would make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who. — Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

• Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody. — J.D. Salinger. The Catcher in the Rye

***

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Kumbaya

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. — Einstein

I’ve always liked that quote. Probably because I have spent a lot of my life believing I’m stupid. Now I realize that’s true, but only about half the time.

I had a mother in the era where many women didn’t want to be mothers, felt they had no choice, and took it out on their children. My mother’s favorite pastime was to point out all the ways I was stupid. One of them related to music. I didn’t have music lessons because I was too stupid to learn. (I now believe that the real reason was that the school didn’t offer lessons, and we couldn’t afford private lessons.) Also, she told me I couldn’t carry a tune—I’m not sure why it mattered that my mother persisted in reminding of this. Maybe she thought that, otherwise, I’d be walking around the house singing and disturbing her peace.

Yes, there I am in the centerfold.

Jumping forward to the days when I was a Roman Catholic Sister—I attended mass every lunch time in the college chapel. With me in the photo above are other students, the man on my right a seminarian, Bob C.

Guitar masses were all the rage, and Bob lead the singing every day. But one day he didn’t show up, and those of us in the pews started to look around for someone to take over. After all, we needed music to inspire us: This Little Light of MineKumbaya . . .

A woman I didn’t know well, in the pew behind me, tapped me on the shoulder. “Sister,” she whispered, “You’re going to have to lead the singing today.”

I turned back, panic rising in my body. “I can’t sing,” I told her.

She frowned. “What do you mean? Of course you can. You’re a nun.”

I don’t remember what I said out loud. Something like “Oh.”

And I lead the singing that day and for the rest of my time at that campus. I still wonder what became of Bob.

Have a seat

One for every occasion: a few of the cables that hang neatly in our garage.

February 9 marks a special day for the Cable Guy and me: it’s the anniversary of our retirement from a large laboratory. Besides the obvious benefits of managing our own time, there were presents!

Note the “napkin” and “key” on the seat. The scratches have been inadvertently added, but show loving use!

And among the presents was a chair from an artist friend who is expert at faux surfaces. The chair represents the fact that I was a regular at a wonderful coffee shop close to the lab. “Mrs. Coffee’s” is long gone but I remember the exceptional food, service, and ambience, and, of course, the many friends I shared them with.

The chair has a permanent place in our home—a fairly large reminder of good times. Check out the “plaque” on the back of the chair (also FAUX).

“C. MINICHINO ENDOWED CHAIR OF LUNCHOLOGY AT MRS. COFFEE’S”

Thanks B.G. for the generous sharing of your talent, and “Mrs. Coffee” for years of providing a second home!

Academy Award NOMINATIONS

Academy Award nominations were announced on Tuesday morning January 22. They will air live Feb. 24 at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on ABC. As far back as the 1980’s, we’ve had a houseful of family and friends watching the show in our home. Let me know if you can come!

Table display at last year's party. (The statues are plastic replicas, alas.)

HERE is the complete list of this year’s nominations. And below is to tempt you to attend.

Remember this Clooney movie? The cake mimics his roll-on luggage.

EDGAR™️ NOMINATIONS

On Tuesday, January 22, at 7:30 AM Eastern time, the Mystery Writers of America announced the nominations for the Edgar™️ Award. I was at my computer, waiting, ready to search out each nominated book (or TV episode!) that I hadn’t already read/seen.

In case you missed them, here’s the list:

Edgar Statues

Table full of Edgar™️ Statues, at the banquet, ready for the winners

Mystery Writers of America is proud to announce, as we celebrate the 210th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, the Nominees for the 2019 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television published or produced in 2018. The Edgar® Awards will be presented to the winners at our 73rd Gala Banquet, April 25, 2019 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.

BEST NOVEL
The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard (Blackstone Publishing)
House Witness by Mike Lawson (Grove Atlantic – Atlantic Monthly Press)
A Gambler’s Jury by Victor Methos (Amazon Publishing – Thomas & Mercer)
Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland)
Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osborne (Penguin Random House – Hogarth)
A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn (Penguin Random House – Berkley)

BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR
A Knife in the Fog by Bradley Harper (Seventh Street Books)
The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut (HarperCollins Publishers – Ecco)
The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs (Simon & Schuster – Touchstone)
Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin (HarperCollins Publishers – Ecco)
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Hiroshima Boy by Naomi Hirahara (Prospect Park Books)
Under a Dark Sky by Lori Rader-Day (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani (Penguin Random House – Penguin Books)
Under My Skin by Lisa Unger (Harlequin – Park Row Books)

BEST FACT CRIME
Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge First and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler (W.W. Norton & Company – Liveright)
Sex Money Murder: A Story of Crack, Blood, and Betrayal by Jonathan Green (W.W. Norton & Company)
The Last Wild Men of Borneo: A True Story of Death and Treasure by Carl Hoffman (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson (Penguin Random House – Viking)
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper)
The Good Mothers: The True Story of the Women Who Took on the World’s Most Powerful Mafia by Alex Perry (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)

BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL
The Metaphysical Mysteries of G.K. Chesterton: A Critical Study of the Father Brown Stories and Other Detective Fiction by Laird R. Blackwell (McFarland Publishing)
Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow Paperbacks)
Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s by Leslie S. Klinger (Pegasus Books)
Mark X: Who Killed Huck Finn’s Father? by Yasuhiro Takeuchi (Taylor & Francis – Routledge)
Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life by Laura Thompson (Pegasus Books)

BEST SHORT STORY
“Rabid – A Mike Bowditch Short Story” by Paul Doiron (Minotaur Books)
“Paranoid Enough for Two” – The Honorable Traitors by John Lutz (Kensington Publishing)
“Ancient and Modern” – Bloody Scotland by Val McDermid (Pegasus Books)
“English 398: Fiction Workshop” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Art Taylor (Dell Magazines)
“The Sleep Tight Motel” – Dark Corners Collection by Lisa Unger (Amazon Publishing)

BEST JUVENILE
Denis Ever After by Tony Abbott (HarperCollins Children’s Books – Katherine Tegen Books)
Zap! by Martha Freeman (Simon & Schuster – Paula Wiseman Books)
Ra the Mighty: Cat Detective by A.B. Greenfield (Holiday House)
Winterhouse by Ben Guterson (Macmillan Children’s Publishing Company – Henry Holt BFYR)
Otherwood by Pete Hautman (Candlewick Press)
Charlie & Frog: A Mystery by Karen Kane (Disney Publishing Worldwide – Disney Hyperion)
Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground by T.R. Simon (Candlewick Press)

BEST YOUNG ADULT
Contagion by Erin Bowman (HarperCollins Children’s Books – HarperCollins)
Blink by Sasha Dawn (Lerner Publishing Group – Carolrhoda Lab)
After the Fire by Will Hill (Sourcebooks – Sourcebooks Fire)
A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma (Algonquin Young Readers)
Sadie by Courtney Summers (Wednesday Books)

BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY
“The Box” – Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Teleplay by Luke Del Tredici (NBC/Universal TV)
“Season 2, Episode 1” – Jack Irish, Teleplay by Andrew Knight (Acorn TV)
“Episode 1” – Mystery Road, Teleplay by Michaeley O’Brien (Acorn TV)
“My Aim is True” – Blue Bloods, Teleplay by Kevin Wade (CBS Eye Productions)
“The One That Holds Everything” – The Romanoffs, Teleplay by Matthew Weiner & Donald Joh (Amazon Prime Video)

ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD
“How Does He Die This Time?” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Nancy Novick (Dell Magazines)

THE SIMON & SCHUSTER MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD
A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks (Minotaur Books)
A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman (Kensington Publishing)
Bone on Bone by Julia Keller (Minotaur Books)
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (Soho Press – Soho Crime)
A Borrowing of Bones by Paula Munier (Minotaur Books)

*****

Since I wasn’t a judge this year, I’m free to comment and recommend! I recommend The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs, nominated for best debut novel. I read it before I knew it was her first novel–never would have guessed.

How about you? Any recommendations?

A cutter of my own

I love office supplies. I love that office supplies are the tools of my trade.

I think it started in fourth grade when I won a spelling contest—nothing big, just something Miss Milbury cooked up for a Friday morning. The “prize” was a brand new pencil, packaged with a new pink eraser, a thick rubber band holding them together.

When, at my first adult workplace, I had access to a supply room, I thought I’d found my dream job. The room was like a huge walk-in closet. Shelves and drawers on all sides held large quantities of pens, folders, staplers, punches, notepads, paper clips, desk organizers.

Early on my husband figured this out and stopped trying to find just the right necklace or earrings and bought me a paper cutter for my birthday. Wow, my own paper cutter, like the ones only offices and schools had back then! I guess my gratitude was apparent because he’s been sticking with the category ever since—an electric pencil sharpener, a supersize three-hole punch, an electric stapler, a postal scale, reams of colored paper, and “expensive” three-ring binders that don’t eat your fingers when you open and close them.

The only things better than office supplies are colorful office supplies.

My relatives and friends have caught on and I have Vera Bradley folders, teal bookends in the shape of hands, and packing tape with an image of a zipper.

My paper inventory: a color for every application

And an update to that old paper cutter: one with a laser beam that shoots down the side, for perfect alignment, as soon as you raise the handle!

When I was a kid, pencils were green and pens were black and dipped in ink wells. Paper bags were brown, folders were manila, and mailing envelopes were white. The first sticky notes came in yellow only, with no clever sayings or die cut edges.

No wonder I lived an uninspired life back then, coming to writing only as an older adult. I needed color and florals and plaids to get me going.

Never mind a parachute, what color is your folder?

Let’s put an end to codswallop

I love learning new words. Here’s one that caught my attention:

codswallop

The definition:nonsense; nonsensical talk or writing

Origin: One theory traces the word back to a man named Codd and his gassy beer. Another traces the word only to c. 1959 when it first appeared in print.

Synonyms: folderol, trash, tripe, trumpery

The story I like best is that it just sounds like its meaning: made-up rubbish.

Daniel Webster, father of the dictionary. from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, enamel on copper, Gift of Gloria Manney, 2006.

Daniel Webster was an American politician who represented New Hampshire and Massachusetts in the United States House of Representatives; served as a Senator from Massachusetts; and was the United States Secretary of State under Presidents William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, and Millard Fillmore.

Am I implying that Daniel Webster, or any other politician is guilty of spewing codswallop? You decide.

The 12 Days of Christmas

The Adoration of the Magi. Hugo van der Goes (Netherlandish, late 15th century)
 Medium: Oil on wood; from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Never mind what the retail scene tells you — The Twelve Days of Christmas actually start on Christmas Day, December 25th. The twelfth day ends at midnight on January 5th of each year. The Holy Day of the Epiphany is followed on January 6.

Here’s the symbolism of the 12 days.

The first day of Christmas – My True Love, the Partridge in a Pear Tree (Jesus Christ is my true love). In ancient times a partridge was often used as symbol of a divine and sacred king.

The second day of Christmas – Two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The doves symbolize peace.

The third day of Christmas – The three French Hens are Faith, Hope and Love. These are the three gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The fourth day of Christmas – The four calling birds are the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The fifth day of Christmas – The five golden rings describe the first five books of the Old Testament.

The sixth day of Christmas – The six geese a laying stood for the first six days of creation.

The seventh day of Christmas – The seven swans a swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership and Mercy.

The eighth day of Christmas – The eight maids a-milking are the eight Beatitudes. These are Jesus’ teachings of happiness.

The ninth day of Christmas – Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. These are Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness, Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty and Continence.

The tenth day of Christmas – The ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.

The eleventh day of Christmas – The eleven pipers piping represent the eleven faithful apostles.

The twelfth day of Christmas – The twelve drummers drumming represent the twelve points of belief in The Apostles’ Creed.

The Write Stuff

What better way to start the new year than with a complete writing-course-in-a-blog? I’m happy to have my friend and award-winning writer, MICHAEL A. BLACK as my guest today.

The Write Stuff

By

Michael A. Black

When Camille heard that I had a new book out, she graciously offered me a chance to be a guest on her blog. We used to be alternating partners on the now defunct Ladykillers blog, and I always looked forward to reading her submissions on that site. So, after offering my heartfelt thanks to this great lady for this opportunity, I’ll offer the following.

Besides writing at as furious a pace as I can manage, I also teach creative writing classes at a local junior college. I find the experience gratifying in being able to offer suggestions to people interested in writing. I’ve found that teaching, once thought to be the refuge of “those who can’t,” has actually helped me refine my own writing process. I’ve distilled this process into seven steps, which I list as Characters, Plotting, Point of View, Setting, Showing vs. Telling, Dialogue, and Revision. I spend a lot of time explaining each one in the beginning weeks of the class, and use various short stories as examples of each principle. I also stress that all of them need to be viewed in a holistic sense, and not as disparate entities.

For Characters I suggest the creation of a character bible, which details the physical characteristics and backgrounds of each character. These can be as detailed or brief as you want. For a major character, the entry would normally be much greater than that of a minor character who will appear only once in the story.

Plotting seems to be the most difficult aspect to master for beginning writers. It’s easy to start, but harder to finish, and it’s a lot easier to finish if you know where you want to end up. For that reason I stress outlining. It not only saves time, but it also helps curtail tangential writing. How many times does a “pantser” have to throw out long passages of really fine writing because it eventually becomes clear that the writer has strayed off the path? The answer for me is, “Too many.” Outlining helps you save time and effort.

Selecting the right point of view is also a crucial thing to decide before you start writing. Y advice on this is simple: if the story is character oriented, use the first person. If it’s plot oriented, use the third. And above all, stay away from using the second person. There supposedly is a successfully written novel using the second person out there, but I’ve never been able to find it. I also stress that these rules aren’t set in stone, so if you start out in one point of view and feel it’s not working, try switching it for a while and see if it sounds better.

With setting I point out that it’s imperative to involve the reader in the scene, and the easiest way to do this is by using the five senses. What is the character seeing, smelling, hearing, etc. as he walks into the old house? Usage of the senses will put the reader in the character’s shoes.

Keep this in mind with showing vs. telling as well. The common advice of “Show, don’t tell,” isn’t always applicable. You should use “showing” to ground the reader in the scene, but there are times when the story needs to be advanced at a quicker rate, and “telling” is how you do this.

Dialogue must sound natural, but it shouldn’t copy conversational speech verbatim. Dialouge is the ultimate show and tell device and it should advance the story in an entertaining fashion. Thus, leave out all the mundane stuff that a real conversation might include.

And lastly, I stress the most important part: revision. As Roald Dahl used to say, ”Good writing is rewriting.” It’s also the most fun for me.

Let’s take a look at this process in action. I write the Executioner series under the name Don Pendleton, and my latest book, Dying Art, was just released in December. Now the characters and point of view are already set ahead of time, so I had to come up with a new idea for the plot.

I started out doing some brainstorming:

A stolen ancient artifact… The pending trial of a drug kingpin’s son… A murdered Mexican reporter… A vengeful message scrawled in Arabic… And a state of the art superweapon…

I had to combine all of these into the Executioner’s newest adventure.

I then expanded these ideas into a paragraph:

After conducting a daring raid south of the border to capture the wanted son of a Mexican drug lord, Bolan finds himself in the crosshairs of the scion’s vengeful father. Added to the mix is a wealthy industrialist willing to go to any length to acquire a stolen, ancient Iraqi artifact. He also happens to have a defense contract to develop a new superweapon. Making things more dangerous is a ruthless team of highly proficient members of a private military organization employed by the cartel to carry out a sinister revenge plot of international proportions. Bolan finds himself in a race against the clock to prevent the superweapon from falling into the wrong hands and sending the nation into chaos.

Once I had the plot down, I kept expanding the paragraph until I had a detailed summary of the novel. Then I broke it down into scenes and the story was clear to me, which is not to say that it was set in stone. I ended up changing and modifying the scenes a few times during the course of writing the book.

I used the same process for my previous Executioner novel, Fatal Prescription, which won the Best Original Novel Scribe Award in 2018.

Initially, there’s seemingly little connection between the brutal, viral devastation of a small, African village and the massacre at a drug research facility in Belgium. The Executioner’s interest is piqued by the purported involvement in the latter of a mysterious assassin known as the Red Talon, who’s a master of disguise. With the Talon now in the U.S. committing a series of new murders, Bolan must pull out all the stops to track down the killer, and find those responsible for hiring him. But when the Executioner discovers that a millionaire industrialist is about to unleash the lethal virus in the U.S., and use the antidote as a ticket to Oval Office, Bolan finds himself in a race against a ticking time bomb to stop both the Talon and the pending epidemic.

Before I write each scene, I jot down a list of things I need to accomplish in it. Once I’ve finished writing, I check the list to see if I hit all the points. If not, I know what I have to go back and include.

While I was writing Dying Art, I also had a western novel due the same month. Since I pride myself in never having missed a deadline, I worked on both manuscripts in tandem, writing one and then the other on successive days. It was a challenge, but I finished. The western, which won’t be coming out until October of 2019, is called Legends of the West. A Bass Reeves Story. It’ll be released under my own name, as was my last thriller, Blood Trials, which is about a series of murders that exactly mimic a serial killer case that occurred twenty-eight years before.

In closing I’d also like to say that while this process has served me well in the writing of 31 books, I make no claim that it’s the only way to write a book. Writing is an individual process and you have to find what works best for you. So take a look and give it a try, and if you feel any of the aspects might be beneficial, use them. Anything that doesn’t feel right for you can be discarded. The main thing is to write. Good luck.

How’s this for an impressive bio (editorial comment by Camille)

Michael A. Black graduated from Columbia College, Chicago in 2000 with a Master of Fine Arts degree in Fiction Writing. He previously earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Northern Illinois University. Despite his literary leanings, he has often said that police work has been his life. A former Army Military Policeman, he entered civilian law enforcement after his discharge, and for the past twenty-seven years has been a police officer in the south suburbs of Chicago.

The author of over forty articles on subjects ranging from police work to popular fiction, he has also had over thirty short stories published in various anthologies and magazines, including Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. His first novel, A Killing Frost, featuring private investigator Ron Shade, was published by Five Star in September 2002, with endorsements from such respected authors as Sara Paretsky and Andrew Vachss. The novel received universally excellent reviews, and was subsequently released in trade paperback.

Windy City Knights, the second novel in the Ron Shade series, came out in March of 2004. His third novel, The Heist, a stand-alone thriller set in Chicago, is Black’s third novel. He has also written two nonfiction books, The M1A1 Abrams Tank and Volunteering to Help Kids, which were published by Rosen Press.

He has worked in various capacities in police work including patrol supervisor, tactical squad, investigations, raid team member, and SWAT team leader. He is currently a sergeant on the Matteson, Illinois Police Department. His hobbies include weightlifting, running, and the martial arts. He holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. It is rumored he has five cats.

HAPPY HOLIDAY MONTH

This is the holiday card we sent out for 2018. As usual, my IT husband carried out what was just an idea in my head. Thanks Cable Guy!

I chose the message first, then searched for an image to complement it.

The photo is one I took in 2014 during Sunset “Manhattanhenge” — when sunset or sunrise line up with the grid of Manhattan streets. I was standing on the overpass outside the Grand Hyatt on 42nd St., along with a host of other people, walking, standing, in cars or cabs.

Looking west from 42nd and Park.

Happy Holiday Month everyone!