free patrol

1) Still very much enjoying the Doom Patrol TV show. The moment I realized I was hooked was this one:

Not because of the scene, although it is good, but because of the song, “Lazarus,” by David Bowie. It’s from Blackstar, the album he made when he knew he was dying, and it was the last single he released during his lifetime. Blackstar is an intense, wonderful album (which I almost never listen to), and I feel very protective about it. But this scene, and this show, lives up to it.

If any of this encourages you to check out the show, the first episode is now available for free, for a limited time.

2) As I’ve talked about before, I’m very suspicious of absolute rules about writing (avoid passive voice, always write in third person, never have a prologue, eliminate all adverbs, etc.). This piece was inconsistent, but it had this wonderful advice:

“Always write in the third person. The third person is Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve. Every novel must be from his perspective.”

I love rules for writing, because it can be so much fun breaking them. Now I have to go find that draft I wrote once that started with “It was a dark and stormy night.”

To quote my father: There is only one rule for writing. Write well.”

3) In other news, Mary Norris, the Comma Queen, has clarified some things about the “royal we.”

This, in particular, amused me:

Elizabeth II once corrected herself after using “we” in reference to herself and Prince Philip, clarifying, “by that I mean the both of us.”

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the marvel murder case (part nineteen)

This story started here.

We were in town for most of the day.

We were never actually under arrest, and when we were threatened with arrest there was some confusion about what we might be charged with. As my employer pointed out, we were not burglars, since we had not used force to gain access to the former sheriff’s house, and we had not entered the premises to commit a felony (rather the opposite).

I had been armed, of course, but for no purpose beyond possible self-defense (and I am licensed to carry).

The answer, of course, was unlawful entry, but we weren’t about to volunteer that information.

The deputies were hampered both by the absence of their boss, the sheriff (who was still in the hospital), and also the absence of the county attorney, Mr. Barris, who recused himself, with evident relief, because he was a long-time friend and associate of the accused. And, of course, for most of the deputies, the accused was their former boss as well.

I had called Professor Lebrun when we’d arrived at the police station, just to let him know why we hadn’t been at the house when he’d got up, and to let him know that there had been, to say the least, developments.

That afternoon, when all of the paperwork had been dealt with, at least for the moment, we had a late lunch at the Wagon Wheel. We ate mostly in silence — we’d been awake since the previous morning and we were both about ready to collapse.

In addition to the exhaustion, there was also the letdown of having the mystery solved, and the feeling of adrenaline seeping away. I had been pretty keyed up in the house of the former sheriff, waiting for him to come home. In those types of confrontations, it’s never possible to be entirely sure how things are going to go, no matter how carefully you prepare.

After our meal, we took the jitney back to the campus. Professor Lebrun wasn’t home, so we decided to get some sleep. My employer’s exhaustion was shown by the fact that she went right to bed, without showering or taking a bath.

One thing she did do before bed, though, was to leave a note for the professor. I peeked at it when she was done. It said:

Dear Professor,

The case is solved. A woman will come to see me this evening. If I’m not up yet, please entertain her while I get some much-needed sleep.

Thank you.


I awoke, and not for the first time, to the feeling of my employer’s long, bony forefinger poking at my shoulder.

When I got my eyes open, wondering what time it was (and guessing that it was not — unfortunately — going-back-to-sleep time), she held her finger up over her lips and gestured at the living room with her eyes.

Through the wall, I heard the professor, his voice rather closer to a purr than usual, and a woman, who was chuckling warmly.

It seemed that this might be the sort of evening where our sudden appearance in the living room might be unwelcome, but there was no other way out of our bedroom except for the window.

My employer gripped my arm and leaned over to whisper, “Don’t worry. I’m very popular.”

She dressed with even more care than usual, and when she was done she raised an eyebrow and asked, “How do I look?”

I scrutinized her. “Immaculate,” I admitted.

She smiled and gestured with her cane that I should open the door so she could sweep (well, sweep with a pronounced limp) into the living room.

I wondered who she was planning to impress, and why.

The visitor was probably in her forties, wearing wire-frame glasses. She wore a dark brown pantsuit, no vest, and the collar of her cream-colored shirt was open. My experience working for my employer told me that her clothing was very expensive indeed.

“Miss Stapleton,” my employer said, extending her hand as she limped forward, “I’ve been hoping to meet you. I gather you’ve met Professor Lebrun, who is our host, and this is my assistant, Marshall. I’m sorry I wasn’t available to greet you upon your arrival. I hope your flight wasn’t too taxing?”

A brief round of handshaking ensued (Professor Lebrun’s eyes twinkled as he toyed with the idea of shaking my hand), and then we all sat down. The professor and his visitor had glasses of wine, but he didn’t offer us any.

Ms. Stapleton (she had indicated, during the handshaking, that she preferred this honorific) smiled at my employer. “I’m somewhat impressed that you know my name. Are you also going to deduce what I had for dinner?”

My employer smiled also. “That is, of course, a trick question, since you’ve had no dinner.” She turned to me as Professor Lebrun got to his feet, apparently stricken that he hadn’t offered any food to his guest.

To be continued…

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reporting on the world, writing on the screen

1) I’ve written about Hilde Lysiak before. Glad to find out that she’s still at it: “An Arizona cop threatened to arrest a 12-year-old journalist. She wasn’t backing down.

2) There’s an interesting piece by Tim Parks in the New Yorker (I’ve linked to his writing before: here, here, here, and here): “Do We Write Differently on a Screen?

This was well timed (for me), because I’ve just been noticing in my last two stories, the ones where I wrote them pretty much entirely on my phone, that I’ve been writing too fast.

Not too fast in the sense of posting a lot (it’s pretty obvious that I’m not doing that), but rushing through the story. With “The Bus Station Mystery” I had to go back after it was all posted and fill it out, giving it more room to breathe. I’m now thinking that I’ll need to do that with “The Marvel Murder Case” as well. I’m tending to think that this may be related to writing exclusively on screen.

The exciting development now is that I’ve figured out how to print from my phone. So, I’ve started to print out my drafts again, marking them up and adding new scenes in pen, and then going back to the screen later. I think it’s helping a lot.

Like Parks, I go back to the typewriter days, so I appreciate the ability to rewrite without retyping. I’ve never had the problem he refers to (“What an invitation to obsession!”) — I am not at all a perfectionist, so the overwriting he refers to, where you edit and edit and edit a piece until you’ve driven it into the ground, has never been a problem for me.

And I very much appreciated the points he makes about instant feedback and endless distractions — for both writers and readers. I think that’s a huge problem, for writing and everything else.

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television sucks me in, at least a little (well, it was probably inevitable)

I have not watched TV since sometime in the 1990s. Well, I own a television set, which I use to watch DVDs, and sometimes I watch TV shows on DVD (Ellery Queen, Nero Wolfe, Firefly… that may be it).

I should add that I’m not one of those “I can’t abide the television — I’d rather listen to Mozart and reading the immortal Bard while sipping cognac” type of people. I don’t object to television — I just tend to spend too much time watching it when I have one around.

And now, from what I understand, it’s got a lot more complex. There’s cable, of course, but there’s also streaming services and devices and all sorts of new stuff that I’m so happy not to have to know about.

So, I was going along fine, not worrying about any of this, when they got me.

Doom Patrol.

Damn — I couldn’t resist that. Somebody is making a TV series about the Doom Patrol! I remember when they started (1965 or so), and then when they got really weird (in the 1980s). What a gang of misfits and weirdos (as I talked about here).

So (sigh) I gave in. Why pretend to hold out when you know you’re going to give in eventually? I’ve subscribed to something called DC Universe, which is an app on my tablet (so, I can avoid the more complicated technology that I assume would make the show appear on my TV). The app offers all sorts of things that I don’t understand or care about, but it offers the Doom Patrol.

And I like that it delivers a new episode every week, as opposed to this newfangled binge-ing (how do you even spell that?) stuff. Serial stories should be enjoyed serially — you shouldn’t ever have the option of jumping ahead.

I just watched the first episode again (which is what you do when you can’t just jump to the next one), and I liked it even better than when I watched it the first time. Not great, so far, but worth definitely following. Funny and tragic and bonkers in pretty much equal portions — that’s the correct recipe for the Doom Patrol.

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the stuy, the flea, and related matters

When I applied to Stuyvesant High School, as far as I can remember, it was all boys.

The test was for all three New York City high schools that specialized in math and science (Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech). Having passed the test — about which I remember absolutely nothing — I could have gone to Bronx Science (co-ed), or one of the other two (all boys). I suspect that my preference for the Stuy was geographical. Other than one trip to the Bronx Zoo, many years before, I had never been to the Bronx, and the few times I’d been to Brooklyn it had proved to be very far away.

The Stuy was in Manhattan, in a neighborhood that I knew.

At some point after I took the test, it was announced that girls would now be admitted to the school. This was not surprising to me — many organizations which restricted their memberships in various ways were making these sorts of decisions at that time.

It’s interesting now to read about how it actually happened: “How a Thirteen-Year-Old Girl Smashed the Gender Divide in American High Schools

My sense at the time that “this is the sort of thing that happens,” as opposed to “this is the sort of thing that can happen when people raise a ruckus” may be connected to the fact that the girl who initiated the ruckus didn’t end up attending the school (if she had, somebody would probably have pointed her out at some point).

The first year was a little odd — a small squad of girls embedded behind enemy lines with an approximately infinite number of boys — but after that it was just a regular co-ed school.

Looking back now, the thing that really puzzles me is why I was attending a school focused on math and science in the first place.

In other news, I’m very much enjoying re-reading the Henry James novella The Aspern Papers. I started it because I read a review of the current adaptation.

I’ve given up on actually seeing the adaptations, as I have talked about before. As I said then:

…adapting Henry James for the screen is a sucker’s game. There is no substitute for that authorial voice, and showing the plain events of the story without it is pointless.

So, when a new adaptation comes out, I re-read the story instead.

In this case, the story is particularly pertinent to this moment, because, to quote the New Yorker review linked to above:

What James delivered, in 1888, was not some dusty antiquarian fable but a warning call against the cult of celebrity that was already on the rise, and against the modern insistence that artists and writers can—or should—be prized out of their work like cockles from a shell, for public consumption.

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the marvel murder case (part eighteen)

This story started here.

“I blew it,” my employer said as we sat on Professor Lebrun’s front porch and watched the sun come up. “I should have been able to stop Barbara and Rhonda getting shot.”

“Do you know who shot them?”

She nodded, with none of the coyness which questions like that usually generated. “Yes. And who killed Marvel, and why.” She caught my expression. “I have no evidence — that’s been the problem. And now, in order to get some, we’re going to have to do something illegal.”

“If I had to guess, I think I’m about to be breaking into someplace I’m not supposed to break into.”

She smiled, a little. “No, both of us, this time. Maybe they’ll let us share a cell.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time.”

She shrugged. “First time in this country, for whatever that’s worth. And no, we’re not going to get any sleep first. We need to move quickly now, before there’s another attempt.”

“On Rhonda? I saw you talking to the deputy–“

“Yes, Rhonda is being guarded, but consider this… Close your eyes and remember the shooting. Barbara raised her head as she turned to look out the window, and she was shot pretty much square in her forehead. If she hadn’t raised her head at that moment — putting herself, unintentionally, into the line of fire — who would that bullet have hit?”

I turned and regarded her.

“That’s where I blew it,” she said quietly. “I had figured it all out, and I thought I had a little time to come up with a plan for finding evidence. But I hadn’t calculated… You think my ego is too big, I know, but this time it wasn’t big enough. I didn’t see that my being here, in town, on this case… that changed the whole equation. So, yes, now we need to move, and quickly, as soon as I get my Irregulars together.”

“You have Irregulars?” I asked, wide-eyed. I knew that would help to cheer her up.

At seven forty-five that morning, someone broke into Madeleine Pontmercy’s dorm room and stole two bikini bathing suits and a locked aluminum briefcase. One of the women in her dorm called the police when she noticed that the door to Madeleine’s room had been left open and the bedding all pulled off the bed.

At eight o’clock, Professor Ernst Lebrun also called the police, to report that he’d heard a noise behind his house and that, upon investigation, he’d discovered an aluminum briefcase on the ground, open and empty.

Sheriff Rhonda White was still in the hospital, heavily sedated (and guarded), so retired former sheriff Phil Baxter agreed to help out, and he went from the town to the college campus in one of the police cars.

Several hours later, when Phil Baxter returned to his house, we were waiting in his kitchen.

We’d found three guns in the house — two handguns and a rifle. They were lined up on the kitchen table, with the bullets and magazines beside them. He was a pro, after all, and I wanted him to know, immediately, that there were no loaded weapons in the house.

Other than mine, which was in my hand.

Also on the kitchen table was Marvel’s wallet, and, on one of the chairs, the clothes she’d been wearing when she’d taken the jitney from the college to the town, six days earlier, the day of her murder. The clothes and the wallet had been hidden in the basement.

As I say, he was a professional — he didn’t waste time with irate questions or futile protests. He admitted nothing.

To be continued…

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