Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Why You Won't See Guns on My Books Anymore

 Just to be clear: The following does NOT apply to the next Jersey Girl Legal Mystery, AND JUSTICE FOR MALL, which will be published this fall with a cover that was approved early this year. 

Earlier this month I sent an email to the wonderful Rachel Slatter, my editor at Severn House, asking about upcoming covers on (at least) two books the company will publish from me in 2023. One will be the fifth Jersey Girl book, and the other... that's a subject for an upcoming post. And we'll see after that.

After having given it considerable thought, I asked Rachel if we could keep the image of any guns off the covers of my books from this point on. Part of this came from my noticing the handgun on the spine (!) of WITNESS FOR THE PERSECUTION, the most recent Jersey Girl book. And my realizing that until now I hadn't even registered that it was there. That was how ubiquitous that image had become.

I don't intend to turn this post into a political statement, but it is necessary to understand that I am an advocate of much stricter gun laws that the US has at this moment, even with the tweaks that passed through the Senate recently. I thought things would change after tiny children were shot down randomly at Sandy Hook, but that was 10 years ago and the situation, if you've been paying attention at all, has simply gotten worse.

This post is not meant to change anyone's mind on what the Second Amendment does or does not guarantee, or on what should be done about a country of 330-million people with 393.3-million guns. That's your own business and each of us reacts the way we see fit. This is how I did it.

I worry that, writing crime fiction, I have allowed myself to fall back on firearms as an easy way to get the story moving and to get my characters into danger. The antagonist pulls a gun and the stakes are raised. Easy. 

It shouldn't be that easy. I should have to work harder.

Now, I'm not promising that you'll never see a firearm show up as a plot point in one of my books again. To some extent, removing them entirely would be unrealistic in the society where these novels take place. I will try to limit any discussion of guns to a minimum and try harder when getting my characters into trouble. That's on me.

But I do worry about glamorizing guns, and to some extent about taking their danger away. Readers just accept that a bad guy - and quite a few good guys - will have a gun. A lot of crime fiction writers go to great lengths to research those firearms and make sure they're being used (and described, often in great detail) correctly. I tend not to be quite so precise, partially because I am not an expert on the subject but also because I don't want to be. 

Normalizing the use of firearms has gotten us to this point. I don't blame popular culture for mass shootings in schools but I think the mindset of a person who might consider such an act is influenced to at least a small degree by the fantasies put up on movie theater screens, television and, yes, in the pages of books.

I prefer not to have that image be the face of my work. And the good people at Severn have indulged me on that point.

Again, I can't promise that I won't ever fall back on the device, but I will try to minimize it. And the first step is taking it off the cover.

I don't think it will solve a thing, but it's what I can do, so I'm doing it. 

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Coming November 1 (I'm pretty sure)!

 


Sandy Moss is back, with a client who won't leave her alone! Eleven-year-old Riley wants Sandy to get her father out of jail. But her dad is already convicted--of murdering Riley's mom. And he swears he's guilty.

Monday, June 21, 2021

But is it Art?

 A good friend of mine who is correct in categorizing herself as a music artist often refers to me in the same terms (except "musical"). And I, for psychological reasons it would take months in therapy to resolve, always feel compelled to contradict her. I am not an artist.

Am I?

This is not a plea for misguided compliments, I assure you. I'll let you know when I need those. It's more an exploration of what it means to be an artist. And no matter how I define it, I pretty much come down on the answer that no, I am not. One. 

Defining art is an intellectual parlor game that's been going on since before the invention of parlors. Every person has his/her/their own definition, and they're all right. Because your personality is your filter and everything you think goes through it. If you think something is art, it is. For you.

Some people think Jerry Lewis created art. Or Tiny Tim. Or Mariano Rivera. And they're all correct. Those people looked at that work and it moved them in some way that convinced them they had seen a form of art. Go argue with them; I dare you. They'll win every time because the whole process and the whole definition is subjective. There is no formula that can definitively classify something as Art or not.

Which brings me to the silly mystery books I write. And I'm using the word "silly" here as a positive term. I like things that are silly. Monty Python was silly. Mel Brooks is silly. For that matter, Mark Twain could be silly, as could Leonardo da Vinci, the Beatles and Abraham Lincoln.

Silly is simply something that tries (and in the best cases succeeds) to find the funny side of something, whether it be an embarrassing situation, a pretentious turn of phrase or, yes, a tragedy. There's nothing that can't be silly if it's approached from the proper angle. So when I say my books are silly I'm defining their intention rather than their success in achieving that goal. That is left up to each reader to decide.

I don't trace my literary roots (and if that's not a pretentious turn of phrase dying for some silliness I don't know what is) to great art. My influences were not Ovid, Socrates, Homer, Shakespeare or even Agatha Christie. I tended to look for inspiration in places like Saturday morning cartoons (Bugs Bunny and Bullwinkle especially), the Marx Brothers (my personal religion), the work of Caesar's writers (Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and Carl Reiner among them), Alfred Hitchcock (particularly North By Northwest, among his silliest movies), George Carlin and Gene Wilder. 

And while I consider many of those people (and scores of others I didn't mention) to be artists because that was their intention, they are all undeniably entertainers first, and that is the category into which I humbly suggest I belong.

I am not an artist. I am an entertainer. And proud to be one. 

I've always loved a good story (and even some bad ones) if it's told with some style. And the idea of entertainment (books, stories, films, TV, theater, music, a bracing oration) without ANY sense of humor is anathema to me. Casablanca isn't a comedy, but it's one of the wittiest movies you're going to find anywhere and possibly the best example of a studio film ever. Silly? No. Sense of humor? You can't go five minutes in that movie without a great line. Try to watch it and not laugh. ("I'm shocked - shocked - to find that gambling is going on in here!" "Your winnings, sir." "Oh, thank you very much.")

So I bow to my friend the musical artist, because she is that. It is her intention and she's really good at it. My intention is to entertain, and that's (without saying whether I think I succeed) a noble calling. Not everyone can do it. Those who do it well are among my favorite people.

Of course, your opinion is your own. I will not argue with it.

Monday, May 31, 2021

23 Things We Have Called Our Dog (Affectionately)

Gizmo (because that's his name)

Gizmo T. Dog (the T stands for The)

Mr. G.T. Dog

Mr. Mo

Gizmaniac

Gizmonster

Abysmo

Gizmonic Plague

The Gizster

Gizmania

Gizmopolis

Hairbag

Herr Bag

The Amazing El Doggo

The Canine Commando

His Honor The Dog

The Dog

That

Gizaster

The Master of Gizaster

Master of All He Surveys

Hey, Beagle

Gizzie (Just the vet calls him that)



Friday, April 23, 2021

A Short Oscar Respite

 I'm a fan of the Academy Awards; I'll admit it. I place absolutely no value in the films that win such things but I love the spectacle of the ceremony and I'm glad it's being done in some version of "in-person" this year. We can all use the break.

So today I'm not writing about my books, which I'm sure will come as a relief to anyone who's ever clicked on this blog before. I also won't bore you with yet another prediction of what's going to win the award for best picture (Nomadland) or any of the acting awards. They seem especially predictable this year anyway.

As I often do, I'll concentrate on a little-attended-to category, the best short films. (As a quick caveat, I am not including the short documentaries because my family and I did not watch those. Our experience has been that they are not so short.) I do this as a public service because the vast majority of people will head into Sunday night's telecast of the Oscars without having seen any of the nominated short films.

You're welcome.

In the spirit of shortness (and being short myself I appreciate the quality), I'll give a brief description of each of the nominated live action and animated shorts, reveal my own personal bias for a winner and then predict which I think will take home the prize. 

Live Action Short Films   


The Present: A Palestinian man and his young daughter have to endure the checkpoint and racism of Israeli soldiers to buy his wife a special anniversary present, and there's no certainty either of them will make it back alive.

Two Distant Strangers: A topical, funny, harrowing version of Groundhog Day in which a young Black man wakes up in a woman's apartment and in attempt after attempt to get home and feed his dog is confronted and killed by a racist white police officer. 

Feeling Through: A young man trying to find a place to crash for the night is interrupted by an encounter with an older blind man and has to decide whether to jeopardize a roof over his head to help a stranger.

White Eye: An Israeli film about a man who finds the bicycle that was stolen from him and finds that trying to get it back could put another man's freedom at risk.

The Letter Room: A corrections officer (Oscar Isaac) is assigned to a desk job where he reads, censors and distributes letters to the inmates. He becomes involved in two of the prisoners' lives and tries to help.

If I were voting, I'd hope Two Distant Strangers would take the prize, if not just for its topicality than for its tone and inventiveness. Best guess for what will actually win: The Letter Room


Animated Short Film  


Burrow: The inevitable Pixar short, about a rabbit trying to find a place for a more comfortable burrow and being mortified by intruding on various neighbors.

If Anything Happens I Love You: Parents try to cope with an unspeakable tragedy.

Opera: A "one-take" metaphorical film about human society in general which really needs a big screen to do it justice.

Yes People: A group of people living in an apartment building go through a day facing various difficulties and in some cases being silly.

Genius Loci: Maybe the most French film ever made. A woman, possibly with some type of mental illness, experiences the whole of urban life around her in strange, metaphorical ways. Lots of smoking. 

To be frank, Burrow might be the most adorable thing I've ever seen and I would vote for it. Best guess to win: If Anything Happens I Love You because it is infinitely more depressing and the Academy loves that.


I promise not to edit this post after Sunday night. It's entirely possible I'm wrong. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Wait Is Over!

 That assumes, of course, that you've been waiting. I know I'VE been waiting, but that's another discussion entirely. 

In any event, the fact is that INHERIT THE SHOES, the first Jersey Girl Legal Mystery (and yes, there will be more) is now available no matter where you live, assuming they speak English there. And I'm pleased to say that those who have read it seem to like it pretty well. I'm proud of it but then I like all my books or I wouldn't have written them, so there's that.

INHERIT THE SHOES tells the story of Sandy Moss, a New Jersey assistant county prosecutor (we don't have District Attorneys here) who decides she's had enough of the putting-people-in-jail thing and decides to move to Los Angeles, where a tony law firm that specializes in family law (mostly divorces) has offered her a job. 

On her first case, a divorce between an actor who plays a lawyer on TV - and wants to study Sandy to gather "authenticity" - and a singer whose star has dimmed a bit, Sandy almost torpedoes her brand new career by speaking up when her boss has told her to... not do that. 

But it's not long before her previous experience is being called into play, because her client (the actor) is accused of murdering his soon-to-be-ex-wife - with a bow and arrow from the John Wayne classic The Searchers

And that's all I'm going to tell you about the plot. 

The book includes characters you're going to like (I promise) and has lots of action and a good number of laughs. Possibly a little romance is sprinkled in there, but I'm not saying.

You can read the reviews here and find out where to buy a copy here, but I think you'll enjoy INHERIT THE SHOES if you've liked any of my previous books. But then, I might be just a little biased.