Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Remember, this is supposed to be fun.

Today on Murderati, Gar Anthony Haywood blogs about returning to his Aaron Gunner P.I. series despite the fact he could be writing something more lucrative. As a poet, I can relate.

Pre-Order Michael A. Arnzen's Fridge of the Damned

As a fan of magnetic poetry sets, I'm intrigued/creeped-out by 5-2 alum Michael A. Arnzen's Fridge of the Damned.

The project reached its stretch goal of $2,700, so each set will come in a collector's tin. Until February 1, you can order yours for $10 per set and you'll also get Mike's ebook of ideas, Instigation. All pledge rewards are in play till Friday. I pledged $66 for AudioVillain status, including Arnzen's "AudioVile" CD of stories, and two live performance CDs.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Say Something Funny

This morning I commented on Peter Rozovsky's Detectives Beyond Borders about the use of humor after Peter dissected a joke from Eric Beetner's crime novel, THE DEVIL DOESN'T WANT ME.

The last line of the joke ruined it for Peter, who asked, "Am I wrong? And what makes a joke function effectively as part of a story?"

Monday, January 28, 2013

At The 5-2: "Throwing Snowballs at Cars" by Paul Hostovsky

New York's first snow of the year has arrived in time for Paul Hostovsky's "Throwing Snowballs at Cars".

I'm currently seeking participants for this year's 30 Days of The 5-2 April blog tour. I'm also seeking poems about fooling or being fooled for publication at The 5-2 in April, National Poetry Month. The deadline is February 28, 2012.

Finally, if you're a fan of horror or poetry, consider Kickstarting 5-2 alum Michael Arnzen's Fridge of the Damned magnetic word kits. The kits reached their funding goal of $1,500 last week. With four days to go, they are $226 from a stretch goal that will put the kits in collector's tins.

If you'd like to receive 5-2 news in a weekly email, subscribe here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


The Following is Kevin Williamson's take on a far-reaching serial killer story. Charismatic English professor/killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) was apprehended in 2005 by FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), but not before Carroll stabbed Hardy in the heart, leaving him unfit for field duty and needing a pacemaker to survive.

Eight years later, Carroll escapes prison, having made a killing disciple of one of the guards. Hardy, no longer with the Bureau, is called in to consult, and learns that Carroll has used Internet access to make an untold number of disciples (the eponymous following). Carroll is recaptured by the end of the pilot, but not before he kills the one woman Hardy managed to save back in 2005. Furthermore, Carroll's disciples kidnapped his son—all to draw Hardy back in and back to Carroll's ex-wife, Claire (Natalie Zea).

I'm not usually into serial killer thrillers, but I am a fan of Kevin Bacon and Natalie Zea, and the literary element has potential. The twist is that any character could be seduced by Carroll. Between its frenetic pace and flashbacks, the pilot felt jumpy to me. One of the FBI agents, Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore), seemed only around for enthusiastic blabber. Episode two will either pull me in or push me away.

Monday, January 21, 2013

At The 5-2: "Also a Friend" by Heidi Kraay

This week's poem was inspired by the assassination attempt on Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

I'm currently seeking participants for this year's 30 Days of The 5-2 April blog tour. I'm also seeking poems about fooling or being fooled for publication at The 5-2 in April, National Poetry Month. The deadline is February 28, 2012.

Finally, if you're a fan of horror or poetry, consider Kickstarting 5-2 alum Michael Arnzen's Fridge of the Damned magnetic horror poetry kit, which currently needs $138 to be funded by February 1. There are rewards for even a $1 donation.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Violent Fiction, The Discussion Continues

This morning, South African crime writer Margie Orford tweeted:

I saw Orford's tweet via Irish crime writer Declan Burke and wanted to expand on my reply here.

Reading fiction is gratuitous and casual in that it's a hobby. For writers, violence has a purpose, and the best writing doesn't exceed that purpose. A good story can be told with little or no violence, but depicting violence can also show how writers feel about it. That is, they don't create it so much as comment on its reality.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Good, The Bad, and Robert B. Parker

Thanks to discussion on Spenser's Sneakers, I've finally hit on why I object to Spenser's calling killers for backup. Not that it reflects badly on Spenser—he has never asked anyone to kill because he couldn't do it himself—but it lets Parker skirt serious moral dilemmas.

In MORTAL STAKES (1975), which directly precedes Hawk's debut in PROMISED LAND, Parker has Spenser make the tough decision to commit premeditated murder. It's possible Parker thought, "I can't have him go that dark again. Let me bring back Hawk to help with the terrorists in THE JUDAS GOAT."

Spenser remains committed to good. "Good", to him, isn't necessarily the cops or the courts, but more a streetwise sense of what's right. He respects Hawk and various ersatz Hawks because he sees some good in them. They all keep their word. Their use of violence is well controlled. If they're killing bad guys to protect the main good guy, they're on the side of the angels. If they ever killed randomly while working for Spenser, as they say on Firefly, that would be an interesting day. But Spenser calls them precisely because they don't kill indiscriminately. He couldn't continually call cops for backup; they might not have the free time or the jurisdiction to kill if it were necessary.

Parker evidently became so comfortable with the trope of deadly friends watching a hero's back, he carried it over to his Sunny Randall female P.I. series, turning Spike—a smartass waiter played by his son Dan in the Lifetime Spenser movies—into Sunny's karate master friend.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

5-2 Call for Submissions

I'm currently seeking poems to run at The 5-2 for the five weeks of April, National Poetry Month. These will be part of the blog tour, 30 Days of The 5-2, and I thought I'd give them a theme of fooling or being fooled.

JACK REACHER Sequel Unlikely

A friend with whom I watched JACK REACHER, who enjoyed it as I did, sent me this word that a sequel is unlikely.

Though the movie has made a profit on its $60 million production budget, apparently Paramount's sales figure to greenlight a sequel is $250 million. I think that was too much to expect with holiday competition like THE HOBBIT and LES MISERABLES.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

2013 MWA Edgar Nominees

I'm happy to see several books and TV episodes I enjoyed among the nominees.

THE LOST ONES by Ace Atkins, second in his Quinn Colson series, is up for Best Novel.

IN PURSUIT OF SPENSER ed. Otto Penzler, the Robert B. Parker tribute collection of essays, is up for Best Critical/Biographical.

And the pilot episode of A&E's LONGMIRE is up against the ELEMENTARY episode "Child Predator" in the Television category.

Congratulations and good luck to all.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Look Again

In posting about violent fiction and Spenser and Hawk, I've caught myself wanting clearer heroes, villains, and messages—forgetting that crime fiction's calling is to challenge our judgment, not answer our questions.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Flipside

In an entry last week, I cited Robert B. Parker's Spenser series as violent fiction offering positive inspiration. It's only fair I bring up one of the series' negative messages.

I mentioned that Spenser and Hawk have strategies to keep their use of violence in check. Hawk is no less a criminal, a leg-breaker, a killer, yet, after his first appearance in Promised Land (1975), he and Spenser haven’t clashed wills. Their past as young boxers on the same card may explain why Hawk has become Spenser's most trusted backup; it doesn't explain why many of the rest are killers he hasn't known as long. Every one has a code of honor like Spenser's, yet their principles don't prevent them from lives of crime.

Critics point out that working with killers lets Spenser's hands stay comparatively clean. I can only guess his logic for teaming up is, "They may be bad guys, but they're helping me do some good in this case."

I distinguish killers—people who train solely to kill for personal gain—from policemen and soldiers, who may be forced to kill in the line of protective duties. No matter how honorable, killers are killers, and Parker's message of honor would be better delivered if Spenser clashed with them more often.

Still, if we come away from the series questioning the morality of working with killers, it has served a positive purpose.

At The 5-2: "The Restraining Order" by Sarah Stockton

This week, some courtroom drama from author and teacher Sarah Stockton.

I've begun to book dates for 30 Days of The 5-2, a blog tour through April, National Poetry Month. Email me at g_so AT yahoo DOT com if you would like to blog about 5-2 poetry or submit your poetry for one of five April publication slots.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Don't Judge a Genre by Its Cover

This week's Shortmystery discussion of violence in books, movies, and video games has been thought-provoking and enlightening. More of my comments:

For me, the difference between movie and book violence is the former is fixed imagery determined by a director and presented as such to viewers; the latter is written by an author but must be interpreted and imagined by readers—every one of whom will imagine something slightly different. That's why there is more censorship of movies and TV than of books.

...[W]e as writers should be conscious of how our imagery affects readers. Ideally, we want them to feel certain ways at certain times all through our stories. That said, being overly concerned about how any one reader might react is detrimental to writing overall and does not prevent a delusional reader's misinterpretation.

Even if the worst happens—your story inspires someone to commit a crime—the ultimate responsibility for those actions is the reader's.

And today, fellow Shortmystery member Anita Page carried the discussion on to the Women of Mystery blog. There, I commented:

...It’s wrongheaded to blame violent books, movies, and video games on face value. One must look into the ultimate messages the writers are trying to send. Are these deep or shallow? Right or wrong? Would they give a sane person the wrong idea?

One of the series that hooked me on crime fiction was Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Spenser and his friend Hawk are former boxers, capable of inflicting pain and forced to do so from time to time, but neither takes pleasure in it. Both have strategies to keep themselves in check. For one thing, Spenser makes a commitment to Susan Silverman, a psychologist who can help him with moral choices. Hawk, on the other hand, commits himself to no one, does not allow himself to feel much emotion of any kind. Parker shows that one is clearly the better path to contentment.

The Spenser series would undoubtedly teach a sane person not only how to keep violent impulses in check, but also how to develop morality and autonomy.

UPDATE: It's only fair I also examine the negative message sent by Spenser's continued association with Hawk and other killers.

When nine years old you reach, look as good you will not.

I'm paraphrasing Yoda to commemorate this blog's ninth anniversary because I won't be around in nine hundred years. The start date had no significance to me at the time. I began blogging because January typically feels like thirty-one Mondays, and I wanted something to break out of the funk.

Many blogs have come and gone in nine years. I'm still here because this blog still serves to collect my thoughts. Some days I look back through the archives, but seldom very far. I want this to be a living record. As Kierkegaard said, "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards."

Last year I learned January 11 is National Milk Day in the U.S., and as a fan of the short-lived ABC Family series The Middleman, I thought the day should also be dedicated to its milk-loving hero as played by Matt Keeslar. If you're a fellow fan, have a marathon of Shout! Factory's DVD set, or read the unaired season finale in comic book form, The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse (also YouTubed as a table read at San Diego Comic-Con 2009), or read Javi Grillo-Marxuach's recently-blogged Middleman-Star Trek Christmas crossover.

Follow me on Twitter as I wrap up a week saluting the show's cast and crew.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013


Though I am a fan of Lee Child's Jack Reacher, I hadn't planned to see this movie in the theaters until my brother saw it—his third choice after Life of Pi and The Hobbit. He liked it and thought I would, too. I hadn't read One Shot, on which the movie is based, but I figured I'd wait so as not to spoil any twists.

Iraq war veteran James Barr stands accused of killing five seemingly random people with sniper fire. Barr insists the authorities get Jack Reacher. By the time Jack arrives, Barr has been beaten into a coma, making the movie more a mystery, which, as my brother predicted, was right up my alley. I also liked that the movie was made for an estimated $50 million, one-third the budget of blockbusters these days. As of last weekend, it had made $64.7 million at the box office.

Tom Cruise will never be 6'5", but he doesn't have to be: He's Tom Cruise (Maverick, Charlie Babbitt, Daniel Caffey, Lestat, Jerry Maguire...). His calm demeanor and gravitas as an actor play into his assured portrayal of Reacher. If he can keep up the nitty-gritty thriller feel, Cruise may have found the franchise role he can play well into his fifties.

NCIS: "Shabbat Shalom"

A Navy man's body is fished out of the Potomac, and Ziva's father (Michael Nouri), the aging director of Mossad, visits her unannounced. Not even his own people know he's in D.C. At first, the two events seem unrelated, but Eli David reveals he is secretly meeting with his Iranian counterpart, also in Washington, to broker peace.

If the wrong people knew they were meeting, both Eli and his counterpart would be shot. It all falls apart when the dead Navy man is found to be a reporter, and Eli confesses to Ziva that he killed the man to protect the secrecy of his meeting.

I'll stop there for anyone who hasn't caught the episode, but for me, it was the most riveting since Season 8's "Enemies Foreign"/"Enemies Domestic". Season finales are expected to be dramatic and often don't live up to the hype. Mid-season twists are more effective because they sneak up on viewers. My interest in NCIS overall has waned, but bringing back a character like Eli David brings me back. We'll see for how long.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Guilt by Association

Yesterday, a new member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society posted his concern that friends would read into his psyche from an assassin character he was writing. Alluding to my Sunday post about actors unfairly associated with the characters they play, I replied:

[T]here are bound to be some people who judge you by what you write. In the end, it has to remain clear to you why you write what you write. In the case of mystery/crime writers, the reason is often to make sense of crime, to satisfy their own curiosity/concerns.

It tends to make news when killers are discovered to have read violent books, watched violent movies, or played violent video games. However, the very same material helps ease tension and safely release frustrations for many more people who don't make the news. These are good reasons to write about bad people.

Replying to another member on the same thread, I added:

A common criticism is, "Aren't you writers just giving potential killers and terrorists ideas?"

Along with keeping sight of our reasons for writing, we should remain clear which readers we want to reach. We aim not to inspire anyone to commit crime, but to reach readers who perceive the subtle morality play going on, who understand that—though they may have criminals for protagonists—crime stories on the whole condemn crime.

Monday, January 07, 2013

At The 5-2: "Home Again" by Charles Rammelkamp

Charles Rammelkamp returns to The 5-2 with "Home Again".

5-2 guest editor Gail White has chosen "Affair" by Anina Robb to be published the week of February 4-10.

This year's 30 Days of The 5-2 blog tour is booking now. Join in to blog about your favorite 5-2 poem in April, National Poetry Month.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Drawing the Line

Earlier this week, Harvey Levin of TMZ tweeted:

Actors' roles don't have to line up with their real values. The measure of actors is their ability to play a range of characters across the moral spectrum. If actors support gun control with the same visibility on their personal time, audiences know where they stand.

When he played MacGyver, Richard Dean Anderson, like MacGyver, was a gun control advocate. Anderson went on to play the very-comfortable-with-guns Gen. Jack O'Neill on Stargate SG-1, but I believe the actor still supports gun control.

When we hear that killers watched violent movies, read violent books, or played violent video games, the knee-jerk reaction is to blame the material. But I watched violent movies and played violent video games growing up, and they soured me on mindless violence. I enjoy fiction and poetry about crime and have no desire to hurt real people. I find it cleverest when characters don't use violence to get what they want.

People inspired to real violence by fictitious violence cannot tell one from the other. Improving our relationships and ability to help them prevents violence more effectively than trying to control content.

Friday, January 04, 2013

THE BIG BANG THEORY: "The Egg Salad Equivalency"

In "The 43 Peculiarity", Leonard, jealous of one of Penny's school friends, asked Sheldon's assistant Alex (Margo Harshman) for advice, and she mildly hit on him. Not seeing Alex's pass for what it was, Leonard laughed it off, and later in the episode, Penny finally admitted she loved him.

In "The Egg Salad Equivalency", Alex hits on Leonard more clearly, and Sheldon's attempt to dissuade her brings all the guys into Human Resources. Even with Sheldon's lack of common sense well established, I found it hard to believe he wouldn't realize he were making Alex uncomfortable and throwing suspicion on his friends.

In Season 4's "The Apology Insufficiency", Sheldon comically cost Howard a plum job, making a shambles of his FBI background check. In that episode, he realized he was wrong, but here he doesn't at all, delegating to Alex the sexual harassment course assigned to him.

While this is funny in an absurd way, it makes Sheldon look more a buffoon than the genius he's supposed to be. Compared to times Sheldon's awkward behavior came from an earnest place, this seemed trumped up for cheap laughs, as did his spanking Amy in this season's "The Fish Guts Displacement".

The heart of the episode was Penny's reaction to Alex's pass at Leonard. Just as Leonard felt threatened by Penny's school friend, Penny's insecurities surface here. Having declared her love for Leonard, Penny couldn't pretend not to care about Alex's advances or Leonard's enjoying them. In contrast to previous seasons, Leonard and Penny are equally insecure because they are both risking their hearts.

Once again I'm glad Penny decided against competing with Alex intellectually. Good relationships aren't solely based on common interests. They also thrive when people welcome each other's individuality, as Leonard and Penny have done over the series' run.

Thursday, January 03, 2013


Returning readers to this blog will notice I haven't gone back to the pre-holiday stack of books background. I thought of changing with the seasons instead.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013


I can't remember the last time I made a New Year's resolution, but I have made resolutions mid-year and kept them.

Mid-2011, I resolved to learn George "Rhino" Thompson's Verbal Judo, as much as a means of self-discipline as of more effective communication.

Mid-2012, I made a daily commitment to three sun salutations after hearing they were part of Dr. Mehmet Oz's morning routine. Slowly but surely, they have improved my flexibility and weight. I've added some qi gong, reverse pushups, Figure 8s, and medicine ball work in a 20-minute continuous flow that kept me from feeling stuffed over the holidays. If I don't have twenty minutes, I just break the routine down and do one exercise.

The pressure to make and then keep New Year's resolutions is external. Internal resolve leads to more lasting results.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013


I've started a new Twitter trend, #5Tuesday. Each week, @poemsoncrime will retweet the five latest poems at The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly. Follow along and help spread the word about the site.

It's such a good feeling, to know you're alive.

I've summoned the Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood theme to describe the good feeling I have about 2013. It may just be because the year is new, but why not feel positive about it? Often enough I face the future with a vague dread, a phantom menace, you might say.

Open a post with Mr. Rogers; close it with Pat Benatar? Why not? Hit me with your best shot.