Sunday, March 5, 2017

World Building

I am setting writing on the sequel to Judging Angels aside for a bit so I can make detailed notes on the Judging Angels universe. I need to be certain that everything is and works the same in all books in the series. Not as exciting, but very necessary now.

I don't want anyone saying, "Wait a second. I thought x couldn't do y."

There is a lot of background to be laid down, too. I always like to know why everyone does everything, and part of that answer depends on shared assumptions of people in the character's culture. This raises issues of religion, status, laws and customs. Moreover, it is not enough to just develop a world. Everything must also provide a commentary.

All characters are like us, no matter what else; all places are like home, no matter what else. The mirror may have been filched from the fun house, but it's still a mirror.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Who Killed Superman?

George Reeves as Superman. Did the nicest guy in
Hollywood really commit suicde?

By all accounts, handsome, athletic George Reeves was a likeable, happy guy who always had time for kids who wanted to meet Superman. (Even when one pointed a loaded .38 at him for a few tense seconds.) However, playing Superman on the dubious new medium of television wasn't the greatest career move for an actor whose first appearance on screen was in the blockbuster Gone With the Wind. (One of the twins.) But from 1952 through 1958, the Man of Steel was nicest guy in Hollywood..

At two a.m. June 16, 1959, he died of a gunshot wound to the head. It was ruled a suicide despite some dodgy details.

Some books give the impression that nobody ever died of natural causes in Hollywood, and only a few knew the real story about anything. I get it. It sells books. Right now I'm working on a theory about Rin Tin Tin and a rival studio's dog, Pal. I just don't trust a dog who identifies as the opposite sex and goes by an alias. Pal a.k.a. Lassie.

Eddie Mannix's wife & Superman's
squeeze / bunny boiler Toni Mannix.
So, some say George Reeves was murdered. The circumstances do lend themselves to conspiracy theories.

Though being Superman was a lousy gig for an actor, for seven years he had the solace of Eddie Mannix's wife, Toni. Now, you might think dating the woman of MGM's most notorious "fixer" wouldn't be the greatest career move either, if by "career," we mean "staying alive."

But Eddie didn't mind one little bit. Reeves kept Eddie's long-time mistress and newly wedded wife Toni  happy, and no doubt Eddie, who held the official title of producer, did not lack for feminine consolation at MGM.

Toni was eight years Reeve's senior, and infatuated with the star of the cheesy TV show. (It didn't seem cheesy when I was a kid, so who cares?) They were a regular Hollywood couple. In every sense of the word.

Enter Leonore Lemmon. (Picture below and to the right. Look at that face. What an innocent little mouse, huh?)

Exit Toni Mannix.

One can easily imagine the conversation at the Mannix kitchen table. "Eddie, George dumped me for some gold digger. I'm so mad at him. Would you please bump him off, sweetheart?"

Of course, being a dutiful husband, Eddie would have said, "Sure, baby, I'll put in on my to-do list for next week, 'kay?"

Was Eddie Mannix capable of ordering a hit on Superman?

Yeah, probably. But the truth is hard to find after it has been through the studio publicity machine, the Mocambo rumor mill, columnist Louella Parson's double-ended pen with poison on one end and sugar on the other, and the mountain of autobiographies and authorized biographies written with buckets of whitewash and snake venom.

George Reeves didn't seem like a guy who was contemplating suicide. His Superman career had perked up with a lot more cash to stuff in his tights, and he had romantic travel plans with Leonore. On the other hand, guys with prospects do commit suicide, and today's smiling mouth is taking a bite out of the licorice stick tomorrow. You just never know.

Toni was a bunny boiler. Or, in this case, I like her for whacking George's beloved dog. ("Like" meaning "suspect.") Either way, after seven years of bliss with George Reeves, Toni was unlikely to go quietly. A bunny boiler and a shady fixer with mob connections. Hmm. What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Milestones & Merging the Two Stories

I've got 11,000 words written, so I'm on a good pace. I just finished Chapter 3: "Laikas" (see previous).

The first part was originally intended to be short, and fill in the important events of a 12-day gap between the end of the action in Judging Angels and the beginning of Judging Angels 2. I am finding there is no way to do that in a chapter or two.

So we start with a short flashback, and the new characters are aware of the events going on at the same time in the original novel, but are quickly overwhelmed with their own problems.

But also, the "fill-in" chapters are pretty interesting on their own, if I say so for myself. The new characters deserve to have their story told, too, and the Judging Angels universe will continue to be developed. I'm excited about moving the new material toward its inevitable merging with the characters and situations of the first novel in the series.

It's going to be some collision.

As usual, lots of twists and surprises, mistaken assumptions, back-stabbing and unlikely alliances. So far, the body count is zero. It was two, but I exercised my god-like powers to restore the two Cerberus Security agents to life.

Oh. I forgot. Yes, but somebody else got burned. My bad.

The way I write is I take something familiar, some element of the story or characters readers think they're sure about, and ask myself, "What will the reader expect?" And then I do something completely different.

And then I laugh evilly.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Laika: Poor Soviet Space Dog

The sequel to Judging Angels is about Laika. Sort of.

Laika was shot into space by the Soviet Union in November of 1957, when I was just three months old. She was a stray, probably part Samoyed, and part Terrier. She was the first animal to orbit the Earth.

The Soviets, however, did not give Laika a round-trip ticket. The circumstances of her demise was long a secret, and too sad to relate here.

The world is full of Laikas: people other people shoot off into the worst places in the world, and they can never come back. Not really. Laikas are the abandoned people who can do nothing to help themselves.

Laikas are waiting for a hero. 

Is there a part of you that is moved by Laika's tale, and wish there was something you could do to give it a happy ending? The sequel's theme is that moment when you realize you're working for the worst people in the world, and decide to rescue as many Laikas as you can. It pulls back for a wider picture of the events begun in the first novel, introducing new characters, and catching up with old ones.

Meet Joey Catania: the Catania Elephant

The Elephant Obelisk
Symbol of Catania, Sicily
Joey was not in the Navy, although he had tailored Navy uniforms he seldom wore, but wore well when he did. His business card read, “CDR Joseph Catania, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Environmental Health Officer.”

He reported only to the Surgeon General of the United States.

Yeah, I know. "Surgeon General" just screams thrills and intrigue. And who wouldn't be interested in the adventures of an Environmental Health Officer? Radon gas discovered in some mortadella's house!

Sure, for the sequel to Judging Angels I could have picked the CIA, or Seal Team Six or something. It would write itself. What can anyone do with Joycelen Elders?

But, that's exactly what they want you to think.

Does it help if Joey used to be known as l'Elefante di Catania?

When you're a fixer for your boss, who is himself a fixer for your mutual associates, there might be a bump or two in the dark after all. Even for an "Environmental Health Officer."

Just what exactly is an Environmental Health Officer. Let's ask Joey Catania, shall we?

"Boo'. So what's with the third degree? Madonn'. Always with the environmental thing. I got two answers for you. The right and the left. Capisci?"

Monday, February 27, 2017

The God of Crows

First of all, I'm really excited about the tens of visitors to this blog. Hey, it's getting more traffic than St. Corbinian's Bear, a Curious Entertainment for Catholic Ladies and Gentlemen of Discriminating Tastes, did at first. (See sidebar.)

Some may wonder what I'm up to. (Probably not, but let's pretend.)

While JA is still in editing, I have been hard at work on a sequel, working title, "Departed for a Season." This is how the King James Version describes the devil's retreat after tempting Jesus. A holy man once said something to the effect that, "You will struggle against sins of the flesh until the day you die. Even then you will struggle against them."

A little holy hyperbole, no doubt. I think he was Orthodox.

You never beat temptation. The devil may flee if you resist, but you can bet he'll be back, having only departed for a season.

The definition of an optimist is writing a sequel before the first book is even published. I'm an old Eagle Scout. I want to be prepared for JA sweeping the literary landscape like wildfire. And, in the absence of practicing law, I'm bored. It gives me the opportunity of rapping my cane against the wall and screaming at family members, "Be quiet! I'm working!"

The beginning of the sequel starts something like this.

The chapter title is The God of Crows.

The sun never set on America. 

This was true, but it was also true that the sun never set anywhere. 

A crow flapped beneath a dull orb that hung directly overhead in an eternal noon, shedding an endless twilight on a landscape drained of color. It was never light, nor was it ever dark. The sun - so called by convention, although it had other, private, names  -  shared the sky with no one. 

It was the way the sun preferred things. 

It was that, some whispered, that had caused all the trouble in the beginning.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

What's Up with the Death Penalty?

The Role of the Death Penalty in Judging Angels

I am a former death penalty lawyer. I am in what has to be a very small club of lawyers who have both prosecuted and defended death penalty cases. Naturally, there are sorta elements of the death penalty included in Judging Angels.

Judging Angels does not take a position. Those who might be expected to be against the death penalty are. It is not a theme, nor is any effort made to resolve it as a moral or political question.

The protagonist is not even practicing law. There are no trials, and the line between good guys and bad guys... gets scuffed.

If it makes any real point about murder cases, it is that prosecutors and defense lawyers both (and the profession in general) might put the macho image aside and address the effect a decades-long diet of mayhem and murder is having on their psyches.

Some Thoughts on the Death Penalty

But since the question is reasonably on the table, let me give my thoughts. No one was ever persuaded on this matter by debate, so that is not its purpose. I've done my part in my way, and it is behind me for the most part.

How can you call yourself a conservative and be against the death penalty? 

In my mind, conservatism has a liberterian streak that holds the government suspect to some degree. To give the government the practical and symbolic power over the individual's life just dosen't strike me as conservative. I suppose since liberals are all against the death penalty, it has become a litmus test. I don't find any logical reason why this should be so.

Someone once said something like, "I don't care if  anyone from the lower class is hanged, but I am am against the death penalty lest they should hang one of us by mistake."

There is very little chance of an innocent person being executed.

I don't want to overstate the chance of that. I agree that most people who are sentenced to death are guilty as charged. But "most" is not "all." Exonerations by DNA and exposure of official corruption in Illinois alone should scare the death penalty out of most people. 

Illinois instituted reforms that did make a big difference. I practiced both pre-reforms and post-reforms, and was involved in implementing them. Things as simple as requiring the videotaping of interrogations in homicide cases are huge. Less than one percent of all Illinois lawyers were certified to handle death penalty cases, and I was on the committee that helped vet them.

Executing an innocent person is a real, if non-quantifiable, threat. I represented one young man in a death penalty case who was actually innocent. That threat makes me queasy. So does the fact that prosecutors disregarded any evidence that did not support a theory of guilt.

We know how wrongful convictions happen. There have been many studies. Eyewitness testimony is less impressive than you might imagine, and is the chief culprit. Some suspects, if engaged with poorly-designed interrogation techniques, will falsely confess. And if that happens, it's almost impossible to get the jury to accept such a counter-intuitive proposition. But I have seen it with my own eyes. To make matters worse, the most needlessly dangerous interrogation methods are the ones most taught to police.

You are not going to have false confessions in DUIs. They come in cases where the police pull out all the stops, and they have the threat of the death penalty to use.

(If a subject is interrogated properly, to include obtaining sufficient details after the "I did it" statement, the risk of false confession drops to nearly zero, except for the occasional loon who just likes to confess to stuff.)

They'll get out and kill again.

Not in Illinois, or any other jurisdiction that has Life Without Parole as the alternative to death. It really does mean that, despite the popular impression.

They'll kill in prison.

Let's agree that some will. More who are not in prison for ex-death penalty cases will kill in prison. This is an excellent argument for executing all murderers, or all inmates, for that matter. Prison is a dangerous, unpleasant place. Anyone who imagines spending your life in a maximum security prison should visit one, if that were possible. The first thing you would notice is the maddening, incessant noise. You will think you have entered Dis, the capital of Hell.

Tricky defense lawyers get murderers off on technicalities.

If only, for the sake of my ego! The reality is, while I managed to avoid the death penalty, I only won one murder trial (after the death penalty had been dropped) before jury. Defense lawyers like to call "technicalities" constitutional rights. For example, a motion to suppress a confession. You have less than a one percent chance winning one of those. (So, what if you have determined it is a false confession? You have to make your best case before the jury.)

The old joke is a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. A liberal is a conservative whose son has been arrested.

It deters killers.

Very few murderers plan for so much as disposing the body. It is nearly always one or more substance-impaired mopes that decide to kill on the spur of the moment. They're not thinking ahead. They're not thinking about getting caught. They're not thinking very far into the future at all. (That seems to be a common problem among criminals: they don't seem to be able to think beyond their next hit of their choice of drug, or their next case of beer.)

If they did think about it, the possibility of spending the rest of their life in a tiny cell with a toilet and some other creep would probably deter them.

The "master minds" who really hatch elaborate schemes are very rare, and usually far easier to catch than the mopes who stumble into murder.

It is well known among death penalty defense lawyers that defendants much prefer death to a lifetime in prison. In fact, "The Patrick Henry Syndrome" ("Give me liberty or give me death!") is common enough to be a joke. Trust me. In negotiations, getting the prosecutor to drop the death penalty is almost always easier than getting a defendant to agree to life in prison without parole.


Yes. If that argument appeals to you, there's not much I can say about it. Probably the best, effective argument for the death penalty

What if your wife was the victim?

I would take out my revolver and pick up a baseball bat and go after whoever I thought was the perpetrator. That's the reaction a lot of people would have. (Right? Um, seriously, guys, it is, right?) It's natural. But we don't let people who are so deeply invested in the outcome of a case decide it.


Like I said earlier, this is not meant to persuade anyone. Since Judging Angels deals with a currently ex-death penalty defender, I thought I would get the matter out of the way early. There are enough elements of the criminal justice system included to justify calling Judging Angels a police procedural. I wanted to open that door to give the reader a peek into the way things are really done; one they will not find in "Mrs. Farthingale's Yarn Shop Mysteries #14: Knit, Purl, Die."

There is pretty much enough of anything to justify sticking Judging Angels into a genre. We'll call it a psychological thriller, if we have to call it anything. Think of our market problem as your unpredictable novel.

Friday, February 24, 2017

In the Beginning

Judging Angels starts with a short, portentous sentence that has more than one meaning. Perhaps Catholics will understand.

"It was a day of very last things."

What does it mean to be human? To live, to love, to try to do the right thing and fail, because everything is against you? And, yes, to die? "Last things" indeed.

Judging Angels is about playing the game called "Being a Human" on hard mode. Everything is a puzzle, including identities, and characters may not be who they think they are.

Also, what does the criminal justice system do when 2 + 2 = 5 no matter how many times it adds up the numbers? I am a death penalty defense lawyer, after all, so you can expect a dollop of police procedural whipped cream on this puzzling pie.

What is the real story? The exciting adventure/crime narrative that propels the characters along a dark road of self-discovery? Why are main characters constantly warned about "the real story?"

What is your "real story?" What headlines are you making in Heaven? Your promotion? Or saying "hello" to a seemingly forgotten elderly person?

All books end. All readers end. And then then it will be a Day of Very Last Things, but, unlike our protagonist, you will not know.

And even he might be surprised.

Ash Wednesday approaches. What are the Last Things? "Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell."

Again, what is your real story?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Status and Beware of WHAT?

Judging Angels status: in editing. I'm guessing a May roll out date.

More to come. In the meantime, one finds the strangest things our our place. Like this pizza delivery box. Oh, how I would love to know the story behind this!