Spoilers Don’t Spoil–Sj Rozan shared a link. Counterintuitive, and very interesting journalscape.com Anyone else see this? What do you think? Is this, as readers, everyone’s dirty little secret?

S. J. Rozan, author of some of my faves, the Lydia Chin series, was wondering why spoilers don’t spoil. It turns out that a recent study indicates that those who read a story after reading the ending or a synopsis that clearly implied the ending, actually enjoyed the story more. She asked how come.
My musing:
There are a lot of contradictions in loving fiction, or any art, I think. Fiction is truer than facts, or put another way, the world is absurd, and only art makes sense. These days I believe that more and more. So, when faced with the hero in danger, we love knowing that she will be okay, yet we still cringe as she goes alone to that dark alley, etc. I think those who prefer to know the ending just don’t trust us authors.


Jeri Westerson, Author of Crispin Guest Medieval Noirs, Uses Broadsword Against Myths About the Middle Ages

Author of four Medieval Noir novels featuring the fallen and de-broadsworded Crispin Knight, Jeri Westerson took the chapter on a romp through 10 myths about the Middle Ages. Ms. Westerson, aided by a scarifying tableful of weapons, from a flail (mace attached by chain to a handle) to several daggers, and a helm that many of us tried on afterward (whew, it got hot in there.) Her research revealed many myths harbored by later generations about Crispin’s era, which she dispelled—in quick summary:

Myth One: People didn’t bathe. They did, with accompanying goodies like drink and harlots—getting clean while you got dirty, said Ms. Westerson.

Myth Two: Meat was covered in sauces because it was rotten. No, meat was fresh, on the hoof that morning.

Myth Three: All believed the earth was flat. Nope, that idea was put forth by Washington Irving in his 1828 bio of Columbus. Most knew the earth was round. Pictures of the child Jesus show him with a globe.

Myth Four: Lawlessness was rampant. No. There were courts with juries made up of acquaintances of the defendant.

Myth Five: Chastity Belts were rampant. Au contraire, this was a Victorian conceit, and supposed medieval artifacts were of 19th C. manufacture.

Myth Six: “Off with his Head” –yes, but rarely, only for treason.

Myth Seven: Witches were burned at the stake. Not–usually hanged. Joan of Arc was burned for politics, not heresy.

Myth Eight: The Age Was Dark. Actually, it was a period of innovation, e.g., buttons, clocks, musical notation, writing quills, and flying buttresses were invented.

Myth Nine: No manners: Au contraire. Food was carefully prepared and served, and eaten according to one’s rank, with many hand-washings.

Myth Ten: Armor was heavy. Armor was made to be light, some with hand wrought mesh.

Ms. Westerson’s own “medieval noir” sleuth, Crispin Guest was modeled on, did I hear this right? Fabio and Philip Marlowe. Dark Ages? No. But Noir?


WHAT A MAN’S GOTTA DO (ASIN: B005IDV50S) Jude McGee (Author)–on Amazon Kindle

I finally did it. WHAT A MAN’S GOTTA DO, my novella set in 70s NYC, is available on Amazon Kindle. My fabulous rationcinative sleuths, Greek coffee shop owner Dmitri Metaxas Paul Sanzer, whose day job is doorman at a Park Avenue apartment building, solve the mysterious murder that takes place right under their noses, in Dmitri’s own restaurant, The Mykonos. And to make matters worse, it appears that the victim died eating one of Dmitri’s own lunch specials, the Manhattan Clam Chowder with Chorizo.

Read the excerpt. Maybe you’ll like it!


METHOD WRITING –from Jude’s post on the Sisters in Crime National Blog

METHOD WRITING–WE’VE ALL HEARD OF THE STYLE OF ACTING TAUGHT BY Stanislavsky, and the Actor’s Studio. The kind that famously made monsters out of mild mannered actors who became demons and maniacs in order to play them on stage. Well, there is something to that for writers–at least for this writer. I recently discovered method writing–I was stuck, couldn’t get to the next point, and wallowed in the attendant slump. For some reason, I got it into my head to slam around the house as if I were the soon-to-be murderer that I was writing about. I imagined myself in a frenzy of jealousy and betrayal because of a weasel-cheat who was doing me wrong.

I’m not saying this is good for the crockery, and one lovely gravy boat may have taken one for the team, but I managed to work up a head of steam in which I found words. Good words. Words that I immediately put into the story. They were fiery words that packed some wallop.

I don’t know if this happens to you, but sometimes I just fall out of my character–she stops whispering to me, or taking me over. That’s when I call upon Method Writing. I get myself angry, crazy, to a pitch, thinking about revenge, or the horrific acts that would delight me, and make me a murderer. I start to write all the mean and nasty thoughts that would follow and voila! Soon, I will have found my flow again. But lord help my poor sweet husband who interrupts in the middle of the Method Rage!

If you try this, to recapture the life of a character, you may find yourself way out there in a cathartic frenzy of emotions that were lying in wait for just such a moment of power. You’ll feel good, Cleansed. You’ll probably have to edit it down. And take a shower. And apologize to innocent bystanders. But it’s all part of Method Writing.




DENNIS PALUMBO, erstwhile sitcom (Welcome Back, Kotter) and screen writer,  current mystery writer (his sleuth is a therapist) and shrink, came to talk about handling rejection, a subject near and dear. And he offered wonderful thoughts on writing. Maybe handling rejection includes writing doggedly, and fearlessly. So, here are his Three Cosmic Rules of Writing.

1. You are enough to be the writer you want to be RIGHT NOW. No need to take that next course, perfect your knowledge, whatever. You’ve got it, so write, and don’t be hung up on the idea that the party’s happening somewhere else (Robert Redford thought Paul Newman, unlike himself, had it made.)
Work with what you are given. This is different from ‘write what you know’ in that what you are given may be the curiosity to develop a new situation in which to learn something. Every environment if filled with operatic passions. Tap the ones around you.
Writing begets writing–and its corollaries, thinking is the enemy of writing, research is the enemy of writing. Don’t stop . Check that fact later. Keep writing, and if you are stuck use that with a character who is stuck.

Now, rejection. It feels personal, but it’s not. It is arbitrary, based on factors totally out of your control. It feels awful and should be mourned, but after a day or two, get back to work. That said, if we are really cast down by rejection, figuring out what it means to us (not what “it means”–it means nothing about you) will help put some distance between between our feelings and our ability to work. Does the rejection confirm some theory about you, or how we felt growing up?

The point is, you can’t give “you” if you don’t think “you” is good. If we are pre-disposed to believe negative stuff, we won’t fare that well–being an artist is not for sissies. Rejection hurts because it’s supposed to. As humans we make meaning out of everything. Make helpful decisions about the meaning of rejection.

And finally, delightfully, Dennis Palumbo, insists that writing makes things happen. “Keep giving them ‘you’ until ‘you’ is what they want.”


Finally, due to popular demand, WHAT A MAN’S GOTTA DO is on Amazon Kindle. Cover art by Zox.

Jude’s first novella, featuring the sleuthing team of Dmitri Metaxas, Greek coffee shop owner, and Paul Sanzer, Park Avenue doorman, in on Kindle! Set in 70s NYC.


Latest from Michael in Tunisia

Begin forwarded message:
Tunis, Tunisia
Dear friends and family,
The drama continues here, though we’re on the outskirts of Tunis, not Avenue Bourguiba, where protests yesterday and today have apparently caused members of a new government coalition to resign. There were 3 presidents in 2 days, and there may be a few more governments as the days press on. From what I’m seeing on the street or from the inside of a small yellow taxi, it looks like this:

Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011
‘Town hall’ and no tea-party crashers
I sat through a U.S. embassy ‘town hall’ meeting this afternoon. The ambassador, along with several luminaries of the fort, spoke about security, online updates, and possible evacuation. They were rather pleased that they came down on the right side of the debate this time. Normal commercial flites are resuming here, and there are no plans to evacuate anyone. However, a charter flight departed at 11.15am today for the ‘safe haven’ of Rabat, Morocco, for embassy staff dependents who, fair enough, didn’t sign up for a revolution and would rather watch it on TV from Rabat rather than from the suburbs of Tunis.

“Vive la Tunisie”
Markets bustling this morning, people are happy, “Vive la Tunisie” you hear constantly, strangers chatting, laughing, army guys less stiff, and main doors to Zephyr shopping center, Monoprix inside, were wide open. The ATM machines are working again, though there are still reports of battles between army and militia near the presidential palace yesterday. Food supply trucks were coming and going outside the public market here in La Marsa, truckloads of produce arriving, meat, fish, blood oranges, just in season. Across the street I bought fresh pasta from two ladies in white aprons, one bagging three kinds of pasta for me, the other cleaning the windows looking out to the public market, both saying to the Tunisian next me, Thank god they’re gone, referring to the ousted thieves who were running the country. The hatred of Ben Ali’s extended family is everywhere. A few minutes later, I was in the bread line at Boulangerie Bheyrout, fast and cheap. They were only selling bags of 5 baguettes (5 dinar or $3) to keep line going quickly. Last month, at the same bakery it would have taken 15 or 20 minutes, with a line resembling a rock slide, but not this morning. The tank on the corner today was adorned with a bunch of white flowers, wrapped in paper, just below the main gun turret.

Basketball break
Bigger news today in our home is that Alex’s upcoming basketball tournament, for other American and international schools around the Mediterranean – from Tunis to Lisbon – is being moved from Tunis to Rabat, starting Feb. 3. Alex didn’t play basketball today, but did the last two mornings at the other end of the corniche boardwalk, across the street from a small police station and posh optometry shop, Ray-bans in the window. And his school, is reopening this Thursday, a good sign. We’re staying put, but have travel bag and passports at the ready.

Monday, Jan. 17-
Charlie and Marilyn
Today, things feel better – only one burst of gunfire – though there were demonstrations downtown, teargas too. Here, in La Marsa, the tank is still hogging the street, and Jimmy’s café is still hopping, though the curfew will mean they’re closing about now. For pizza fans, Andiamo’s is closed since yesterday. I saw the owner at Jimmy’s and asked what happened. “No ingredients”, he apologized. But the men’s barber (coiffure) was open, the newsstand and Salem, an ice cream/gelato place on the corner, melting distance from the army tank opposite. Also open: the MGM video/DVD shop with murals outside of Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe, and the cramped hardware store with a small counter at the entrance where you ask for what you need; you stay put, they bring it.

Ten at a time
The nearby Monoprix supermarket in the little Zephyr shopping center opened from about 10 till 1pm. I noticed people walking in a side door – both main entrances were closed – so I walked in too, and saw a line of 50 or 60 people, which I immediately joined. A young French couple behind me, and a Tunisian family in front, everyone chatting away. They let 10 at a time into the market, as 10 left, supervised by the nice gentleman with a rifle next to the three busy checkout stands. The shelves were rather well-stocked. No meat whatsoever, but plenty of pasta, cheese, chocolate, no eggs, milk, juice, fruit. In fact, I called Alex to walk up with another shopping bag. I used a credit card for the first time here, though later I was able to find cash at an ATM, unlike yesterday when they were empty.

Sunday Jan. 16:
Movie theater closed
The posters are still up at our neighborhood cinema, the Alhambra, next to the defunct bowling alley, next to another beauty salon, half way between our intersection barricade and the tank. On the bill this week, Harry Potter et Les Reliques de la Mort
(& the Deathly Hallows). There are three shows daily, 5 dinar entrance ($3), popcorn and bottled water for sale, about 25 cents each. I thought they might at least have a matinee showing. Mais non. So much for fantasy in times of trouble, even if it is dubbed in French.

Students’ text messages
I’ve received several text messages from students, including this one last nite: “Mr. Michael, it is Nadia, how r u doing sir…u see how Tunisians are strong and have strong determination!! Take care of urself coz there still some chaos. g.n” (goodnite). Then, another: “I heard that our university has been burned and stolen…hope we get back to classes soon…no more persecution or dictatorship… with God willing. sweet night sir.” Since then, I’ve heard from a colleague who says, indeed, the school was a target, but only a computer room was set fire to, and no details as yet.

Saturday Jan. 15-
The tank on the corner
Two hours ago, we heard the loud, too loud, crackle of gunfire, and people on the street scattered quickly. Those who lingered (who, moi?) were quickly waved off. Jimmy’s cafe closed, along with the newsstand, bakery, and sandwich shops.

Alex and I had lunch today at nearby Dar Tej restaurant – an upscale eatery, the first time we’ve eaten out in a few days. They didn’t have too many customers, though one table of French speakers put away a ton of food, beer and wine. They announced as we entered that they were out of bread, but we sat down anyway. And at Jimmy’s next door, the tables were full all morning, although they were out of milk for cappuccinos and the like. But there was a real buzz in the air, again, all within sight of the newest addition to the neighborhood, a massive army tank parked in front of the traffic roundabout, just 20 meters from the shabby army truck, which now looks punier than ever. It arrived sometime during the night. But the mood on the street was still upbeat, and people were lining up to take pictures of each other by the tank. One father hoisted up a little girl of about four, for a picture.

Neighborhood watch was never like this
By 4pm Saturday, I talked to neighbors who say that ex-militia of Ben Ali’s were driving around in rental cars or commandeered taxis, shooting into the air, breaking into closed up markets, generally scaring anyone they can. Neighborhoods everywhere across Tunis have formed groups and erect make-shift barriers at intersections to stop the militia thugs from being able to drive around easily. And, in fact, neighbors have been gathering near our corner, which forms a small T-intersection. Both sides of the road have been blocked off with makeshift supplies, a parking lot-type chain attached to two tire stands, a few sections of tree stumps, broken pieces of fountain statues, stacks of big bricks, and even a discarded rusty gate to let friendly neighbors drive through. If they don’t know the car, they stop it, and ask the driver to open in the trunk.

The gathered group of men, women and teenagers are armed with whatever is handy: we saw a couple of baseball bats – one metal, one wood – lots of odd-sized sticks, a long-handled axe, a rusty pitchfork, a short axe slung over a guy’s shoulder, several good sized rocks, sections of PVC plumbing pipe, and one diver’s trigger harpoon. A friend saw someone armed with a tennis racket in another neighborhood, maybe a John McEnroe fan. A few people have even brought chairs to hang out in comfort, like at a kids’ soccer game. One old timer had his chair plopped in the shrubbery, with a deck of cards in front of him. But people were in good spirits again, basically standing around chatting, primitive weapons at their sides, on their cell phones, smoking of course. Two guys climbed up a lamp pole and hosted the red and white Tunisian flag. We brought water bottles out later for a couple of the night shift guys whose eyes were bloodshot.

Our press bunker
During all this, Alex and I ran into a Tunisian translator I know, Sofien. It turns out he was contacted by a German journalist, Stephen, based in Beirut who works for the German magazine, Stern, and his partner, a Belgian photographer, Bruno, with two Leica cameras around his neck and a third point & shoot for video clips. They had gone to the northern suburb of Gammarth to see what happened to the president’s wife’s property there. He said the upper floor had been burned, and the rest looted – furniture, radiators, lamps, whatever could be carried out. Family photos and documents were scattered on the floors. These guys, four in all, were all headed back to Tunis, until they realized they shouldn’t be driving around in a rental car, much favored by the thug militia guys. Then they were offered a ride back by the police, but declined with the police losing the most recent popularity poll. Plus the curfew was approaching. So, guess where they stayed for the night? We have 3 extra couches, and plenty of food. Yusef made a dinner (spaghetti tunisienne, my last bottle of Tunisian red wine, and bread which I managed to find at one of the sandwich shops). The photographer was upbeat about everything, even gunfire: “We heard some shooting over there, but not much.”


News from a friend in Tunisia

Our Man in Tunis

Begin forwarded message:

Dear friends and family,

Forgive this mailing, but I wanted to get word out quickly regarding our place in the rapidly evolving situation in Tunisia, where Alex and I are currently hunkered down following the start of tonite’s 8pm curfew. Janet due back here next week, Melina in school at U.C. Santa Cruz. Some of the highlights of the last few days, rumors included, go like this:

Thursday, 13 January: As you may have seen, the country is simultaneously boiling over and shutting down. Lots of businesses are shuttered, but others going strong, like the little pizza joint up the street from us, Andiamo’s, doing a brisk trade just opposite a beat up army truck which is backed up across the street at the little shopping center for two days running now, with half a dozen soldiers standing around, more inside, rifles ready, and 50 or 60 feet of concertina wire (sharper than barbed wire) glistening all the way to the corner, under some leftover pink holiday lights. Really, in a civil meltdown, it’s the little touches that count! By the way, we got the Roma moyenne, medium cheese tomato and turkey. And yes, to go.

Earlier today, one rumor had it that a military coup was imminent; another that the government might cut off electricity and water. Unlikely, but that one drove me to find candles and flashlight batteries at a little kiosk store that was still open at 4pm, shelves nearly empty. It was the same at the modest Monoprix supermarket in our neighborhood this morning when I went out, long lines of people stocking up or hoarding, depending on your point of view. I was in line for 20 minutes, with pasta, chicken, water, orange juice, a dozen little yogurts and other essentials for civil unrest. The best part was that everyone was chatting away about the situation, most in Arabic and French, of course, but English too. I also stopped at the marche, a free-for-all open air public market, where I got strawberries, oranges and tangerines, potatoes, green peppers, kiwis, and a baguette. I was lugging it all home, when I ran into an American friend at Jimmy’s, a café where the outdoor tables were packed with Tunisians drinking their espresso and smoking up a storm, all a stone’s throw (poor choice of words I know) from the army guys and their truck.

One of the other stores that was still open this afternoon was the tiny Press Internationale, near the pizza place. They sell local (Arabic) and international papers (Italian, French, English), plus magazines (like Elle, Newsweek in French, National Geo in Arabic), a few school supplies, novels, cigarettes, packs or singles. A lot of people buy two at a time. You see that, and you realize people don’t have much money here, and it’s far worse in the towns and countryside to the south and west where most of the trouble is, including the town of Sidi Bouzid, where it all started, when a 26-year old was arrested and roughed up by the police for the crime of selling fruits and veggies from a cart without a permit. He died a few days later after setting himself on fire. Today, in Tunis, demonstrators set fire to some buildings, including Tunisia Telecom, the state telephone company, and a bank or two. An American teacher was also shot in the leg this afternoon after he inadvertently wandered into a demonstration. He’s already released from the hospital, and I’ve since received two phone calls from people we know at the embassy, saying to stay put. Not to worry.

Yesterday morning, Wednesday, at another café, Fayrouz, which overlooks the corniche boardwalk and the beautiful bay of Tunis beyond, I met a Tunisian friend, and a gathering group of more and more acquaintances who kept showing up. They kept adding chairs, and another table to the group, they talked non-stop (in Arabic, French and English) about the ongoing disaster, the president must go, murderers, just complete outrage. Some were visiting from Paris, including one woman’s mother, Rene, close to 80, maybe with Parkinson’s, as her head kept bobbing up and down and around. Then she’d chuckle to herself, and her fez-type hat would nearly slip down over her eyes, then she’d disappear for a moment, then sort of pop up again, usually with a pixie grin. She slowed down a bit after someone helped her light a cigarette. At one point, in fact, the four women at the table were all smoking, and, oddly, none of the 5 or 6 men. People are usually drinking either ‘direct’, or ‘capucin’, a smaller milky espresso, and the more the coffee came around, the more animated the conversations got, several at once, always a mix of languages. The verdict: guilty, the government has to go, and no one seemed worried about who might be listening. Along with cell phones and Facebook, people get information from satellite TV stations like BBC, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and others which can’t be blocked. The govt. line is preposterous, and no one seems to believe a word. Just tonight, the president gave a televised speech, saying he was shocked by the level of poverty in the country, and he was immediately opening up the internet, allowing You Tube, and cutting food prices. I think most people will say, Buddy, you need to get out more.

I was also in two taxis yesterday, both with somewhat decent English speakers. (My French/Arabic stops at the level of shopping and making small talk.) Taxi drivers are where I get half my information about Tunisia. Last week, one said to me, ‘In this country, you say anything, nobody see you again!’ But the first driver yesterday was in a good mood, learned English as a mechanic in Kuwait in the 80’s, and was disgusted by the turn of events, the deaths, ‘for what?!’ he said. ‘For food!’ he answered. The next one, on my way back from the embassy, got more agitated the more he spoke. I basically nodded and agreed, and he kept talking, but he got more and more upset, to the point where he would take both hands off the wheel to gesture as Tunisians like to do — quickly turning both hands in towards each shoulder, then flinging them out to make his point. I was simply thinking, ‘Please keep your goddamned hands on the wheel’. But he kept on, saying the same thing, ‘For food! For food! Die for nothing’. Then, ‘bullshit’, then an apology — ‘sorry for bad word’, to which I said, ‘No, no, that’s the right word!’ I think he even surprised himself, with his swelling up of both anger and sadness. Then he mentioned trying for 5 years to get a visa out of the country – ‘impossible, every time they stamp No, for no reason. But, you have money, you get visa!’ Then the hands to the shoulders again, just before we stopped to let me out.

The curfew tonight is on till 6am, and I looked outside a while ago, and it was definitely on the deserted side. Tomorrow, Friday, there is a call for a general strike. Everything will be closed, including public transport. Taxis might be different, who knows.
More to come, though I expect the day to begin normally. Although all the schools in the country were closed as of Tuesday, Alex’s school (‘ecole americaine’) stayed open until today. They’re very likely to be closed tomorrow, too, but hopefully things will get going by Monday. We’re about 10 miles north of ‘centreville’, the downtown of Tunis, in the suburb of La Marsa. Overall, we feel safe enough. In fact, many Tunisians go out of their way to reassure us. A group even gathered up the American who got shot in the leg, and rushed him to the hospital.

One more positive note — at the embassy library yesterday I ran into a couple of my favorite students, who were trying to organize help for the families of shooting victims, probably over 50 at this point. So I have to find out more about this. –Michael


Maybe we all start out human…

How about it? Do enter life human? Capable of–eventually-empathy, fun, judgment, being a friend? Dare I say capable of love? What about the mentally ill? Embryos drenched in alcohol to the point that, when born, they look human, eat, cry, and so on. Later, in some cases, these fetal alcohol syndrome creatures prove to be incapable of some things thought to be essentially human. I refer you to the above short list. What then? What are they?


Chaz Kennedy’s Blog: ChazKennedyPI@blogspot.com

Background and explanations of Chaz’s choices, origins and motives.