Taxes Can Be Murder: A Giveaway

Taxes Can Be Murder

Update, 4/17: Congrats to  Round One winner Mary Lou Holhouser. Terrie and I had such fun we’re giving away a second double-dose on Tuesday, April 21! Keep the comments here and on Facebook coming.

Two authors.

Two signed issues.

One tough tax deadline.

One killer magazine.

Your chance to Continue reading Taxes Can Be Murder: A Giveaway

Behind: “Two Bad Hamiltons and a Hirsute Jackson”

Fleur de lisViolet Celucci is a better angel and an inner demon. A frigging genius is how Vi might describe herself, a bastion of sanity in a disorderly world, a process improvement-seeking missile. An over-obsessed stickler for efficiency is how she’d never describe herself. Sorry, Vi. The truth hurts, and so can life. Tough as you are, I see the breaks in your armor.

I can write Vi because over the years I’ve worked with my share of consultants and industrial engineers. You know the folks I mean: big-brained and unapologetic process nerds committed to life by timetable. And we need those folks. Process folks dream up boxes that fit our mail-orders just so; they reduce plant emissions and build supertankers; they took our rover to Mars. This month Vi took my story “Two Bad Hamiltons and a Hirsute Jackson” into Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine’s May 2015 humor edition. The company she and I are keeping there is humbling.

AHM515-finalcoverOkay, I can also write Vi’s craving for order among chaos because some days, at some level, it is also my own. 

We have a Venn diagram overlap, she might say.

Vi sprung from a high-caliber question: what if those big-brained engineers lived every livelong moment the way they worked their flowcharts and daily operating reports? How they shopped, for example, or how they cooked, how they sought–or didn’t–friends and lovers. Surely in the end that kind of quest would make life more difficult. Extra balls juggled, needless battles fought, friends and family distanced. That’s Vi. Her obsession demands she take the hard road to make it more efficient next time. And it might work, if immovable reality ever played along. Continue reading Behind: “Two Bad Hamiltons and a Hirsute Jackson”

Behind The Short Story: “Aix to Grind”

Yes, I was in Aix-en-Provence, and sure, I was studying a Picasso in a museum’s first room, only a token velvet rope between me and it, and okay, I even thought, “man, this is how many million euro hanging how many steps from the door?” But no, I wasn’t casing the joint. I’m no thief. I am a writer, though, and here’s the thing about writers: we dream all day.

The heist was on.

Ahem. The heist story. Story. Yeah.

So. What makes a caper story click? I studied a different artistic master: Donald E. Westlake. My takeaways: Humor, sure. The expert-ish crew, absolutely. Both serve to pull a reader in, get them ready to root for the real driver: audacity. Impossible odds and Improbable success. A big and bold plan. A big and bold disaster.

For “Aix,” one painting wouldn’t be audacious enough. Stolen art devalues remarkably, usually fenced or traded for cents on the auction-value dollar. Not that I’ve done it, mind you, but this story required its share of research. No, audacity demanded a major haul. A retirement-plan haul. I don’t know, like maybe the museum’s upstairs collection of Cézannes.

So how do you knock over an art museum? Well, based on my research, you don’t.

I mean, you can try, but with modern security tech, go ahead and plan on a lengthy prison term. The daring cat burglar and their zip lines and their laser-dodging acrobatics? There’s a reason the Pink Panthers go after jewelry shows, not museums. And the art thieves these days ain’t no gentlemen. “Aix” tries both to honor and debunk the Hollywood-style caper, stripping it down without spoiling the fun.

Where were we? Ah, museum theft. To get the past the video cameras, past the motion sensors, past the alarms, past the watchful docents and the patrolling guards, past the one-way and maze screws securing the hundred-pound frames to the wall, you need real help, not science fiction. You don’t beat the security system. You find someone willing to turn it off.

Enter our anti-hero Ed. A supposed chameleon and cocksure thief, smart enough to see his career winding down but dumb enough not to see how. Then there’s Gustav, his partner, the shady art dealer and master planner. Together they’ve carved out a niche of country chateau jobs, picking off ruined aristocratic family treasures, but their bubble of relative safety is collapsing inside the now-organized world of art theft. Ed talks Gus into going after our load of Cézannes as their ticket to retirement. All they need is…

The insider: Sadie Lannes, blond art student one part Holmes and two parts Moriarty. A natural genius at crime, not that smitten Ed can admit it fully. She proved difficult to write. Guarded, even to the author, and with quasi-Holmesian deductive powers. Whenever she stepped onto the page, I had to fake being as smart as her bent genius.

She can get them in, but how to get them out? Any good job needs a diversion.

Spend a few late afternoons in France, and you notice a pre-dinner rush on fresh bread. In December, the crowds shift toward the Christmas markets. Aix’s market isn’t the most quaint, but it is huge, with carnival rides and food châlets and santon figurine stalls packed along Cours Mirabeau. The Christmas Eve Thirteen Desserts that Gus seizes on is a real and delicious French tradition, and we sampled all baker’s dozen there at the market. I bet the lady who sold me a vin chaud had no clue I was wondering how to use the market to distract the cops. Or maybe she did. Aix is that kind of town.

And now, for the getaway.

In my experience, like a caper the most powerful endings come early in the planning, and I had this one from the first. That freedom let me deepen “Aix” and set up a slam-bang twist finish where–sorry, no spoilers. Buy the AHMM. Hell, subscribe to AHMM. You’d be doing yourself a reading favor. If you want to know more still, buy me a biere belgique sometime. We’ll talk it out.

“Aix” itself is strange to write about. I wrote the first draft riding the trains across France, simultaneously with what became “The Carcassonne Dream” and “La Upsell.” This group has deeply personal meaning, for those weeks of vin chauds and Provencal  towns and Roman ruins that brought them to life.

And then there’s “Aix” catching the eye of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Consider me honored to appear in this latest round in AHHM’s stellar history.

Oh, and to repeat because this kind of important, I never knocked over any museum. Nope. My characters did, though, and I hope you enjoy reading about it.