Amber Blake

Amber Blake 1 Variant Cover

Headlines about billionaires engaged in sex trafficking and rampant abuse of underage girls make a comics series feel all too uncomfortably real. Case in point: IDW Publishing’s current Amber Blake series, written by Jade Lagardere and drawn by Butch Guice, with inking, coloring and lettering assistance by Mike Perkins, Christa Miesner, Robbie Robbins and Dan Brown.

Only a toddler, Amber’s left on a bleak orphanage’s doorstep. Several years later, she and bestie Amanda are given the chance to live in one of billionaire Arnav Aslam’s Cleverland institutions: Opulent, state of the art living and educational campuses located around the world and intended to gather together gifted youngsters in order to cultivate the next generation of leaders in the arts, sciences, business, government and technology. But even in Cleverland hallowed halls, Amber and Amanda are forced to endure the evil headmaster’s abuse, and after graduation, Amber vows to get her revenge. Three issues in, Amber Blake finds herself enlisted as an agent of a secret paramilitary/espionage organization, which she embraces in order to track the elusive headmaster, only to discover that she’s being used and that the head of the organization is none other than her presumed benefactor, Arnav Aslam, whose billions can buy more than power.

 

Amber Blake is another in an expanding number of magazine-sized comics series, blending some taut action sequences with a bit of suspense, a dash of romance and an overall thought provoking storyline that feels, in part, ripped right form current headlines (though obviously it was written months and months ago). Amber herself is determined and capable, tough but vulnerable, and definitely not a superhero, which is refreshing. I’m looking for to the next issues. Check it out.

 

This Is A Stickup.

A Half Interest In Murder 1960 raymond johnson cover copy

I’ve never been a victim of a crime. Not really. Not violent crime, at any rate.

Our home was broken into twice when I was a teenager, our garage on another occasion. Such is life in the city. Fresh out of college, my nifty new car was stolen, found two months later in a snowbank in rural Indiana, stripped and vandalized. A few years later, my workplace was broken into, once in the city with some professional camera gear stolen, and once again when out in the suburbs, some computer equipment taken and needless vandalism done, the crooks probably kids since they only stole whatever was closest to the door and left all the valuable stuff behind. That time the suburban police ‘invited’ everyone at work to be fingerprinted, which was actually pretty interesting. (They were investigating a string of break-ins in the area, but nothing ever came of it.) I’ve had SE European ID thieves whack both a company charge card and a personal credit card on separate occasions, with lots of charges rung up quickly, none of which I was responsible for.

But I’ve never had a gun pointed at me, never been mugged or assaulted, stalked or abused, thank God. The incidents listed above barely qualify me to claim that I’ve been a crime victim for a jury duty voir dire (though it did get me out of sitting on a jury once…whew).

So, this hardly qualifies as a ‘crime’, but…

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Check out Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog (link below) and his 7.11.19 post “Copyright Infringement, Again!”. The excellent “Reader-Writer-Resources-& More” blog featured a post from poet Kevin Morris’ K Morris – Poet blog (link below) about Kiss Library (kisslibrary.net). Morris occasionally browses online to see if his work has appeared anywhere or snagged a review, which I suspect many of us do. He was shocked to discover one of his titles for sale on Kiss Library — for which he never granted permission, listed the title, uploaded files, or will receive any payment. Browsing further about Kiss Library, he uncovered (not surprisingly) posts and articles which seemed to indicate that the site was, at best, questionable, accused of listing pirated eBooks and PDF downloads. Morris’ post provides a link to Sara F. Hawkins – Attorney At Law’s site (link below) and then Dale Cameron Lowry’s site (again, link below) for more info about Kiss Library, the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and the pretty complex process an author or publisher can pursue to attempt to get an ISP to remove illegally appropriated content. Follow the links, read up on it, but I’m sure you’ll agree: It ain’t easy.

K Morris - Poet Blog

I’ve read quite a bit lately about pirated content being sold on Amazon in particular, and the frustration authors and publishers – large and small alike—have with the online behemoth’s failure to police things better. We read about them so much because they’re so big. Clearly there may be others. Intrigued, I went to Kiss Library myself, and plugged in a prior pen name of mine.

Sure enough, two books popped up, both for sale as eBooks and downloadable PDF’s. I’d never even heard of Kiss Library, and definitely never listed any books there, authorized them to sell my work, or received a notice or payment from them. Basically, they were stolen, if not by the site, then by someone stealing the content and cover art images and listing them at Kiss Library.

Bottom line: Theft. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Dale Cameron Lowry

Sarah F Hawkins

“The Stiletto Gumshoe” — the first completed novel, its halfway completed sequel and a hoped-for noirishly hard-boiled P.I. series — are my current projects. But I’m not entirely new to writing or publishing, though hardly a seasoned pro. Working under a pen name, I’ve had a number of short stories published in chapbooks, zines, magazines and anthologies, each of which snagged darn good reviews along with payment commensurate with those kinds of venues. I’ve had three novels published by a small press. One sold out its first and second printing and was an award nominee. The other two sold out their print runs, and one of them sold foreign rights (though only for one country). All garnered excellent reviews which I’m still quite proud of. But like many small presses, that one disbanded. Nonetheless, I made respectable money, sold around 10,000 copies altogether, held onto my reviews, and some time later, put two of those novels out on my own, even able to access the original cover art files for one of the books, creating new art for the other. (Doesn’t hurt to work in the marcom profession for the day job and have all the proper software for building cover art, formatting text, etc.) Both books went up as eBooks and POD hard copy editions at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I don’t ‘market’ or promote them, had no expectations of selling many, but just didn’t want cherished early work that I was still proud of to simply vanish. So, every couple of months I get a direct deposit or two, enough to buy a Grand Slam breakfast at Denny’s or to feel less guilty when I splurge at a bookstore. And for me, that’s good enough.

As for Kiss Library? The two books listed there as of 7.11.19 were both the reformatted editions of my own, not the original small press publisher’s versions, selling for $5.97 and $5.86 US (the cheapskates). I read that Kiss Library is located in The Republic Of Belarus (formerly Byelorussia) sandwiched between Poland, Lithuania and Russia (Minsk is the capital, if that helps the geographically challenged). However, on its site, it lists its location in Canada. I screen-capped the page with my two books, so I have a record of that. But when I returned to the site on 7.13.19, they were gone, with no info appearing by title or author searches.

Think I should’ve ordered one of each to see what I actually would receive? Oh sure, like I’m going to hand over credit card info to what may be a questionable pirated content site. I’ll pass.

But the point of this lengthy link-filled post is this: Clearly some of the visitors and followers of this blog are writers. I’ll bet you periodically search your own work online (and if you say you don’t, I say you’re fibbing). Keep an eye out for Kiss Library. If you feel brave, pop over to see if your work appears there. And keep an eye out in general for pirated content everywhere.

Hopefully C. J. Thomas’ The Stiletto Gumshoe series will sell at some point (and soon, I say with fingers crossed) and not just to some micro-publisher. But who knows what may occur, or if I’ll find myself buried in Adobe Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat files again,  formatting my work for Amazon, B&N and elsewhere. But if I do, I’m sure as hell going to keep an eye out for crooks. And I do plan to revisit Kiss Library once in a while to see what’s up or if my titles mysteriously reappear.

Multiple links below…

Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog:

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/10519297/posts/2341125149

Kevin Morris’ kmorris – Poet Blog:

https://kmorrispoet.com/2019/07/11/copyright-infringement-again/

Sara F. Hawkins – Attorney At Law Blog (How To File A DMCA Take Down Notice):

https://sarafhawkins.com/how-to-file-dmca-takedown/

Dale Cameron Lowry’s Blog:

https://www.dalecameronlowry.com/piracy-alert-seller-stealing-books-kisslibrary-com/

Illustration at the top: Raymond Johnson’s illustration for A Half Interest in Murder, 1960

 

Secret Agent Chic

Sasha Luss 1

Guy Aroch’s behind the camera, Vadim Galaganov handles styling duties and Sasha Luss is the very lethal looking secret agent in this July 2019 photo editorial for Elle Russia magazine. A clandestine meeting and planned briefcase exchange apparently goes bad, but I suspect that Sasha-the-spy (and her scary looking automatic) resolved things in the end.

Sasha Luss 2Sasha Luss 3Sasha Luss 4Sasha Luss 5Sasha Luss 6

The Howdunit Series

scene of the crime

I suppose Writer’s Digest Books “Howdunit Series” ought to be mandatory reading for every mystery/crime fiction writer, but the fact is, they’re quite entertaining for crime fiction fans as well. And very informative, if you like to be well-versed in grisly trivia.

I only have two: Keith D. Wilson’s Cause Of Death – A Writer’s Guide To Death, Murder & Forensic Medicine, and just added Anne Wingate’s Scene Of The Crime – A Writer’s Guide To Crime-Scene Investigations this past weekend. That the books are nearing 30 years-old doesn’t bother me, since my current projects are set in 1959. Things probably weren’t even up to 1990’s standards at that time anyway.

Private Eyes

What’s your pleasure? Poisons? Firearms? I really need to locate a clean copy of Private Eyes – A Writer’s Guide To Private Investigators by Hal Blythe, Charlie Sweet and John Landreth, though I’m sure things were quite different for P.I.’s sixty years ago when my ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’ hung up her shingle. The fact that I don’t see these books on shelf in used bookstores very often tells me that once bought, they’re kept. Sure, everything you ever wanted to know is online. But it’s nice to have details and info handy from reliable sources, not just a Wikipedia entry.

3 Books4 books

Mafiosa

Mafiosa Cover

Spotted at Crime Fiction Lover (and you just have to love the straightforward name of that site, dontcha?):

Planned for a first issue to be released in August 2019, Mafiosa is scripted by Sunshine Barbito with art by Debora Carita. Set in Prohibition era Little Sicily, it tells the story of 18 year old Nicoletta Marchesi, daughter of a made man who aims to join the family business herself. From the description I read, it sounds like this mafiosa is more lethal than any mafioso, and I’m anxious to see more.

Looks like the book’s launch is relying on a Kickstarter campaign. There are some sample pages and a handy link to Mafiosa’s Kickstarter page at Crimefictionlover.com (link below). Check it out for info on this forthcoming comic, or just to learn more about Crime Fiction Lover, “The Site For Die Hard Crime And Thriller Fans”, if you’re unfamiliar with the spot-on news, reviews, interviews and features you’ll find there.

https://crimefictionlover.com

Cigarette Girls

Cigarette Girl

Back in mid-May I mentioned Susanna Calkins’ new novel (the first in a new series, I think), Murder Knocks Twice, a period mystery set in early 1929 Chicago. Struggling to care for her ailing father, young Gina Ricci takes a job as a cigarette girl in a local speakeasy, only to learn that the girl she’s replaced was recently murdered, and the club’s brooding, mysterious photographer turns out to be an estranged cousin from the family that disowned her and her dad. When Gina witnesses that same enigmatic photographer brutally murdered, she obeys his dying words and takes his camera, then learns to process film, and that’s only the start of the multiple mysteries that erupt in Calkins’ novel, all of which is set against a backdrop of the Capone-Moran gang wars, the book’s final pages playing out just as the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurs. It’s a fun read, leisurely paced (or methodically, depending on your assessment) and brimming with red herrings and subplots. Some may think Calkins’ tale is a little light on mayhem and Roaring Twenties decadence, considering the time, place and characters. But if so, it certainly didn’t detract from her good storytelling.

MURDER KNOCKS TWICE copy

Two things struck me as I read Murder Knocks Twice.

First: how Calkins used photographs and her hero’s urgent need to learn photography and film processing as a crucial driver in the narrative. That intrigued me, since it’s similar to things going on in both the first The Stiletto Gumshoe novel currently making the rounds and its sequel, still underway. A female protagonist, a Chicago setting — albeit with thirty years separating the two, my tale set in 1959 – it’d be presumptuous of me to say ‘great minds think alike’. I will say it was nice to see another author use photos and processing the way Calkins did.

4 cigarette girls

Second: Calkins wise choice of a nightclub cigarette girl for her main character (and what looks like a series character at that). It got me thinking about just how few cigarette girls have helmed mystery/crime fiction novels, when it’s such an obvious role. If you’re writing period crime fiction, which understandably may involve speakeasies, casinos, roadhouses and nightclubs, a cigarette girl is ideal for a character that needs to be right in the middle of the action. I’ve thought about it, I’ve browsed my own bookshelves and I’ve surfed online, but found precious few (if any) cigarette girl characters, much less lead characters, even among vintage pulps. So, hats off to Calkins for finally giving a vintage crime milieu fixture her proper due!

Cigarette Girl Pulps

And while we’re at it, congrats to her for a job well done. If you insist on non-stop gunplay, grisly violence or sizzling bedroom hijinks, (and frankly, I often do!) then Murder Knocks Twice may not be the next book you’ll consider. But, consider it nonetheless. It really is a good read.

P.S. Yes, that’s a young Audrey Hepburn in the cigarette girl costume in the quadrant of photos above.

 

The New Pulpeteers

taya ferdinand shutter - pulpeteers

The July 2019 issue of The Writer magazine’s cover story was focused on literary agents – “Pulling Back The Curtain – What Does A Literary Agent Really Do?” by Kerrie Flanagan, followed by a nice interview with agent Donald Maas (a name that ought to be familiar to any querying writer, genre writers in particular), plus Ryan G. Van Cleave’s article on literary agent contracts. Savvy pro’s might groan and say they’ve read it all before. Newbies might lap it all up, and as for myself — somewhere in between — I always find some bit of new info in these articles, no matter how often I’ve retread the same ground in writers’ magazines or blogs. And seriously, how can you go wrong with an interview with a sage like Donald Maas?

But the article that really caught me by surprise in this issue was Heidi Ruby Miller’s “Introducing The New Pulp…Pulp Fiction Is Back, Baby”, a nice three page look at the resurgence of pulp fiction, distinguishing between the classic pulp era and contemporary writers and starting by acknowledging what was worrisome about mid-twentieth century pulpdom. Defining new pulp, Miller quotes Tommy Hancock of Pro Se productions: “Fiction writing with the same sensibilities, beats of storytelling, patterns of conflict, and creative use of words and phrases of original pulp, but crafted by modern writers, artists and publishers.”

Mystery Weekly Magazine

Most of Miller’s overview addresses adventure pulps like Doc Savage, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, Pellucidar and Barsoom novels, SF/Fantasy material from vintage Lovecraft, Bradbury and Campbell, etc., as opposed to the mystery/crime fiction pulps. And after all, one could argue that crime pulp never really went away, merely migrated online and into periodic anthologies. Even with the disolution of so many 1930’s – 1960’s pulp magazines, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine are still out there, pulpy paper and all. Maybe the writers appearing inside don’t want to be classified as ‘pulpeteers’, or who knows? Maybe they’d be proud to wear to wear the mantle. After all, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine has been emblazoned with a violator on the cover for a while now noting “With Black Mask”, and I can’t think of anything that evokes the classic crime/mystery pulp era better.

three modern pulps

Miller’s article concludes with a list highlighting new pulp resources: Sites, cons, podcasts and even print/online pulp publishers, though again, those are more adventure/fantasy pulps than crime. That’s OK. ‘Pulp’ ala Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective, Sally The Sleuth and The Domino Lady may have faded away, or only live in reprints and some questionable revivals, but the noir-ish and hard-boiled flavor of the classic pulp era is still alive in a lot of talented mystery/crime fiction writers’ novels. Still…it sure would be nice if some well-heeled entrepreneur like the fellows who launched the original Hard Case Crime paperback line got a bright idea to launch a for-real ink-on-paper mystery/crime pulp magazine…wouldn’t it?

(Taya Ferdinand illustration from The Writer magazine)

Private Eye Dreams.

1954 Maidenform Private Eye

The models dreamed that they were prizefighters, ballerinas, bullfighters, movie stars, gunslingers and in 1955, no less than President. So why not a private eye?

Maidenform’s iconic “I Dreamed” ad campaign was brainstormed by agency creatives Mary Fillius, Kitty D’Alessio and Kay Daly, who pitched multiple ‘dream’ concepts to Maidenform’s founder Ira Rosenthal and his daughter Beatrice Coleman who made the final selections. The successful campaign ran non-stop from 1949 through 1969. This ‘private eye’ print ad is from 1954: “…searching for clues about this most-wanted figure. ‘Arresting to look at, last seen in America’s most famous bra, and no supporting evidence!’ Why, it’s me in my new Maidenform strapless – the thriller with a secret no one would suspect!”

My own in-progress 1950’s P.I. gets underway some five years later, and with one manuscript complete and making the rounds, and its sequel halfway done, I haven’t had to specify what brands of undies or ‘foundations’ Sharon Gardner, AKA the ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’ prefers. But she does grump a bit about the way the models seem to float like angels on chiffon clouds in all the girdle ads.

One Bullet Left.

Aly Fell 2010

UK artist Aly Fell may be better known for witches, warriors and fantasy art, but definitely needs to try some more retro crime flavored scenes. Don’t know if woman’s a ‘stiletto gumshoe’ herself, a gumshoe’s client or a D.A.’s Gal Friday, but it seems she’s concluded that the jig is up and it’s time to make a quick exit. Like, a permanent one. From 2010.

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