Saturday, July 16, 2016

Doing Research With Foyle's War

I'm doing research for the second Lillian Saxton book--set in England during the Battle of Britain--by listening to the audiobook version of The Few by Alex Kershaw. This book is about the American pilots who violated neutrality laws over here to fly for Britain over there. It's a fantastic book and the narrator--Scott Brick--is by far my favorite audiobook narrator. Win win!

I got to thinking about Foyle's War tonight and reviewed the episodes and the dates each episode took place. "Eagle Day" was perfect for me. It's set in August 1940, more or less the time of my story. I watched the show not for the main story--which is good; what Foyle's War episode is bad?--but for all the talk. I took notes and now have a little bit of slang to use in the book.

Then I got really, really tired so I've decided to throw in a review of Season One that I wrote  back in 2008 to make this post just a bit longer. So, here you go. Be back next week with a longer post.

Season One consists of four 100-minute episodes. “The German Woman” is the first and we are introduced us to Christopher Foyle, a veteran of The Great War. Now that Hitler has started another war, Foyle considers his talents could best be used by the government, not in some provincial police station down on the coast. His requests continue to be rejected. until, of course, his investigation into why the German-born wife of a respected Englishman is still free (the rest of the German-born people having been rounded up and sent away from the coast) leads to a potentially damaging scandal. When the woman turns up brutally murdered, Foyle’s doggedness intensifies. As you could expect, his desire for a military post is now offered as an incentive to stop the investigation. His character is almost fully revealed in one decision: stay on the case, knowing he'd never be offered the post again. It is also in this episode where he is assigned Samantha Stewart as his driver and Foyle recruits a former policeman, Paul Milner, a man who suffered injury and an amputation of part of his leg in battle.

Episode 2, “The White Feather,” is, to date, the most emotionally engrossing entry into this series. Guy Spenser, played wonderfully by Charles Dance (of Bleak House), is a Nazi sympathizer who speaks at the Friday Club and awaits the invasion of England by Germany. He has a few allies, one of which is Margaret Ellis, who runs a hotel called The White Feather. Ironically, a white feather in World War I was a sign of cowardice. Foyle comes into the story when he interviews Ellis’s chambermaid, a Jew, who was caught cutting telegraph wires. One night, Ellis, Spencer, and a few pro-Nazi supporters are sitting in the great room of The White Feather when the lights go out and shots are fired. When the lights go on again, Margaret Ellis is dead. The suspicion is that the shooter tried to hit Spencer but missed in the dark. The chambermaid’s boyfriend, a fisherman, is distraught over her imprisonment and makes a few actions that get him detained by the police. Meanwhile, the British soldiers over in France are surrounded by the Germans at the town of Dunkirk. Every available fisherman with a boat is crossing the channel to pick up as many men as possible. Foyle agrees to release the boy and work the fishing trawler with his father. During the evacuation, Foyle discovers the true killer (in really well-done Sherlock Holmes observational style) and returns to the beach to let the young man know he’s free. As you might imagine in a story set in wartime, the young man is killed.

“A Lesson in Murder” is the third episode of season one. The Germans have begun to bomb England and many of the children of London have been sent away into the country for safekeeping. A young boy, Joe, gets into all sorts of mischief at an estate of a wealthy landowner, a judge who all but hates that the boy is in his house. When the boy is killed in a bomb intended for the judge, Foyle and Milner start investigating. This episode has a good number of historical details woven into the plot. Foyle’s initial investigation is into the death of a conscientious objector in prison. Later, we learn the details of how and why the children of London are evacuated. We get a glimpse of how powerful families were able to keep their loved ones from being drafted. And lastly, we see the power of prejudice. Foyle has a long-time friend, an Italian man, who runs a restaurant. The Italian’s son and Samantha get along well. However, as soon as Mussolini declares war on England, the townsfolk of Hastings turn on the restaurateur in a heartbeat. Again, I can’t stress it enough: it’s the non-investigatory details of this series that allows Foyle’s War to rise above your run-of-the-mill detective story.

“Eagle Day” rounds out season one. Foyle and Milner investigate the body of a man found in a bombed out house with a knife sticking out of his chest and a locket clutched in his hand. The dead man was a lorry driver for an art museum in London. The curator decided to move the priceless artifacts out of London and into the country for safekeeping for the duration of the war. Milner tracks down the locket’s owner, a young woman, Lucy, who died under mysterious circumstances months before. As the investigation continues, Andrew, Foyle’s son, is stationed in Hastings as part of top secret duty: fly his Spitfire around the area to help train the British radar operators about the new system. Eventually, Andrew is accused of treason and Foyle must find the murderer of the lorry driver, acquit his son, and help convince Samantha’s father to allow her to remain his driver.

All in all, this is a splendid collection of stories, made all the more emotional and dramatic with the World War II setting. The acting is superb by the main three with Michael Kitchen delivering award-winning work. As a man of few words, Kitchen must allow Foyle’s emotions to come out in other ways, usually through facial expressions and his eyes. Milner’s transition from wounded war veteran who doesn’t know what good he can do to loyal partner of Foyle is fun to watch. Pay special attention to this relationship in "The White Feather." And good old Samantha is like many of us: wanting to do more to help her boss, flubbing it up sometimes while outshining her two males partners at other times.

If you haven’t made time for Foyle’s War yet, I can’t recommend these movies highly enough. Let me put it to you this way: The Dark Knight is, by far, the best thing I’ve seen this year. Foyle’s War ranks as Number Two. It’s that good.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


by Holly West

There are a few things I want to discuss today:

1) Snapchat

Why aren't more writers using Snapchat? Or if they are, why can't I find them? I feel like there's some potential here for brand building (yes, I know that phrase is an anathema to some, but I can't think of a better one right now). At the very least, we can have some fun with Snapchat.

I am so very tired of Facebook and Twitter. These days, my social media app of choice is Instagram, but I've been playing around with Snapchat a little bit lately and now that I understand it a bit better, I like it. Being a writer, the "story" aspect of it intrigues me. Sure, most of the people I follow (myself included) post silly little snippets consisting of puppy dog filters and funny voices, but what if we took it a step further and really made a "story" of it? Quick, off-the-cuff stuff that follows some sort of narrative, even if its just an occasional glimpse into the snapper's life. It doesn't have to be complicated, but does require some creativity and maybe even some scripting.

Well, maybe not scripting. That seems at odds with the spirit of Snapchat. I'm attracted to the spontaneity it encourages and also to its temporary nature. Sure, I know people can screen save and whatnot, but in general, a post is automatically deleted in 24 hours. It allows me the freedom to post things I might not post elsewhere. I'm less image-conscious on Snapchat. I have the sense that I'm snapping into the void (which, considering my minuscule audience, I am) so I just post whatever I feel like.

I'm no Snapchat expert (my hairstylist had to teach me how to use filters yesterday) so I won't try to educate you. But if you're game, follow me: hollywestwriter. Let's have some fun with this.

2) I'm not sure I mentioned it here, but I'm an Anthony Award nominee. I KNOW. I'm thrilled to pieces and still can't quite believe it, even though I found out months ago.

But yes, my short story, "Don't Fear the Ripper," is nominated for a 2016 Anthony in the short story category. As is the anthology in which it appears: PROTECTORS 2 HEROES, edited by Thomas Pluck. You can read "Don't Fear the Ripper" and all of the other nominated short stories here.

3) On Saturday, July 16, I'll be appearing at Oakland's Beast Crawl alongside fellow authors Renee Pickup (also my fellow DSDer!), David Corbett, Sean Craven and Rob Pierce. I'm reading from a short story I wrote years ago for the FEEDING KATE anthology called "Just Part of the Job:"

On her way home from a night of partying in the valley, a troubled young movie star hits a bicyclist on Malibu Canyon. Does she stick around and take the heat or does she run? Oh boy, you don't know the half of it. 

4) Finally, William E. Wallace recently reviewed the UNLOADED anthology, in which my story "Peep Show" appears. Spoiler alert: he likes it!

This post turned out a bit more promotional than I'd intended. Sorry for that. But my own take away here is that I've never really considered myself a short story writer. Mostly, I write them for charity anthologies and while I'm happy to do it, I sometimes wonder if the time it takes away from other projects is worth it. After this year, however, I'm convinced it is. "Don't Fear the Ripper," which was originally written for a charity anthology, was picked up by a much larger, paying publication, and this, combined with the Anthony nomination, it's the highest profile piece I've written, including my two novels. Sales, of course, might be another issue, but sometimes, my writerly self-esteem needs a boost. This was a big one.

Until next week, folks. In the meantime, FOLLOW ME ON SNAPCHAT.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Murder in the Pool

by Scott Adlerberg

Summertime means pool time, and pool time means potential death - by murder.

Here's a few films that are fun to watch in July and August, all featuring swimming pools and one person killing another.

(1969, Directed by Jacques Deray)

It's summertime, the late 60's, the south of France. Alain Delon and Romy Schneider look their best as a vacationing pair renting a huge, gorgeous house. They seem to be in love and have a lot of time on their hands.  They both like to swim and frolic in the property's spacious pool.  Enter Schneider's former boyfriend, a wealthy music executive, who brings along with him his pouty teenage daughter (Jane Birkin).  The ex seems to still have designs on Romy, and Delon, though laid back, may not take too kindly to these intentions. Jealousies, resentments, and rivalries simmer.  If you want to spend two hours with decadent people living it up in hip late sixties style, knowing that the dream summer will not end well for them, this movie is pure candy.  

The murder here seems to be something that occurs on the spur of the moment, because opportunity presents itself, but it is a killing about as cold-blooded as a killing can be.  

(1970, Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski)

I'm still not sure why this film is not better known.  Set in London, it's a disturbing and blackly funny film that charts one teenage boy's sexual obsession for his fellow bath house worker. The woman is older than him but young, in her mid-twenties, and she has a boyfriend her own age and much more affluent than her dangerously earnest admirer.  John Moulder Brown (superb and creepy) plays the boy, Jane Asher the woman.  The less said about how this movie's story unfolds the better, but it's enough to say that it keeps you queasily engaged for its entire running time.  And the murder, which occurs at the very end of the movie, in a pool filling up with water, is one you won't forget. It's sad and messy and upsetting.  Death in a pool has never come in a bolder shade of red.

(1981, Directed by Michelle Deville)

Adapted from Deep Water, the Patricia Highsmith novel, this is a wonderfully perverse film about a very odd marriage.  It's hard to track down in the US (I got it as a DVD copy, in good condition, from a grey market seller), but it's worth finding. French greats Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant portray the married couple, and you're never quite sure whether he accepts, or even condones, the erotic shenanigans she keeps engaging in with other men. I say condones only because, though not a voyeur, he keeps inviting her potential lovers over to their house for dinners with the both of them (And he's the one who cooks the dinners!). But this is Highsmith land, so you know nothing is what it seems and the face people present to the world is hardly a reflection of what's going on inside their minds.  

Features an extended and pretty brutal, hands on hands, forced drowning in a pool.

(2003, Directed Francois Ozon)

The murder in this takes place on the deck around a pool, not in the water proper, but that's close enough since so much of the action revolves around what is in fact the title of the movie.  Charlotte Rampling plays a British crime writer who during the height of summer gets to use a house that's in the French countryside. Her publisher, a fellow Brit, owns the house, and he's let her use it so she can have a quiet place to work on her next novel.  All goes well until her publisher's half-French daughter shows up, and this young woman proves to be almost stereotypically French. She's sexually promiscuous, loves to lounge naked by the pool, and overall is an apparent hedonist in every way.  She's everything the buttoned up Englishwoman is not.  When a man both may be interested in enters the scene, well...

That is, if what we're seeing is happening and not a product of the crime writer's imagination.  Swimming Pool does not provide the closure you expect in a murder tale, but it's the kind of movie that rewards multiple viewings and improves each time you see it. It's a good look at a particular type of crime writer and how that writer's mind may be transforming the dross of everyday life into the material for crime fiction.

(2016, Directed by Luca Guadagnino)

A Bigger Splash loosely reworks the plot of La Piscine.  Except this time we're in southern Italy (the island of Pantelleria, between Sicily and Tunisia), in summer. Tilda Swinton plays an ex-rock star who has lost her voice and is spending time in a lovely house with her current boyfriend, Matthias Schoenarts.  Enter their mutual friend and her ex, Ralph Fiennes, who comes with the daugher he's just getting to know, Dakota Johnson.  In the most luscious of locations, with much sexual tension in the air, the four people circle each other and couple and uncouple, and once again things climax with one person drowning another in a pool.  This is a visually sumptuous movie and it's a pleasure just to sit back and watch masters like Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes do their thing.  

Five movies, five pools, a number of watery deaths.  For sheer summer movie escapism, you can't do much better.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Newpaper abbreviations and other things to know when writing a good story

I finished my manuscript last week, and the final thing I typed was:
It’s not used with novels, but it is used in my former profession – journalism. It means the end. It actually is rarely used anymore. Computers have made it unnecessary. It’s pretty darn obvious where the end of the computer file is. But back in the day, the end of the sheet of typewriter paper wasn’t always the end of the newspaper copy. There could be another page somewhere, lost in transit across the newsroom or wedged under the bottle of whiskey on the corner of the reporter’s desk.
There is no consensus on where -30- came from as an end to newspaper copy. One origin theory is that it was taken from the days of the telegraph, as the end of a telegram in Morse code. Another is that once upon a time "XXX" meant the end of the story, which in Roman numerals is, yep, 30.
I realized that’s not the only shorthand I’ve taken from journalism and now use for my fiction writing. There are two I use constantly when I’m writing my drafts. The first is TK, which means "to come." It’s used in print journalism in the middle of copy or in a note to the editors that further information is coming. When the information is added, the TK is deleted. 
Crime fiction example: "He plunged the type of knife TK into his friend’s back." And yes, I know that it should really be "TC." We journalists just like to be difficult.
The second term is probably my favorite – CQ. And it actually has a real meaning! Cadit quaestio, Latin for "the question falls." The fact has been verified or double-checked, or CQ’ed. So there is no further question about it.
Crime fiction example: "That dude from California is doing LWOPCQ for a 187CQ. He killed his boss during a robbery, and he ain't ever gettin' out."
Both of these have the added benefit of being easily findable in a computer document. There are, as far as I know, very few words in the English language that have the combination of letters "tk" or "cq."So when you need to search a manuscript for every fact that still needs adding – boom, there you go, without a lot of extraneous other words popping up. I highly recommend using them both.
What abbreviations or shorthand have you developed for your own writing?