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Year Two: The Leon B. Burstein Scholarship

The MWA-NY Board is pleased to announce that the Leon B. Burstein/MWANY Scholarship for Mystery Writing is returning for a second year. The scholarship, which has been made possible by a donation from one of our members, is designed “to inspire aspiring mystery writers by offering financial support to writers who want to take a specific class, attend a conference, or do specific research as demonstrably necessary to a mystery work they are creating.”

Last year, we awarded Burstein Scholarships to Becky Muth and to Mally Becker.

Becky Muth is an aspiring mystery writer and the wife of a disabled fireman. In her application, she wrote:

"Attending Bouchercon 2015 was a life-changing event. It defined the art of mystery writing for me in ways that books or websites alone couldn't achieve... After returning home from Bouchercon, I put what I learned to use. My local writing group says my voice is stronger and my writing has improved leaps and bounds over my early efforts. I believe attending events like Bouchercon help. In an industry that seems custom-tailored for introverts (like myself), conferences are the one place where mystery enthusiasts - cozy, thriller, anthology, true crime, urban fantasy, whodunit- can connect. These are my people. They get me."

Muth had plans of returning to Bouchercon in 2016, but financial hardship prevented her. Thanks to the Burstein Scholarship, she will continue to pursue her writing goals and will attend Bouchercon in 2017.

Mally Becker is currently attempting to sell her first manuscript. She wrote:

"When I began writing, my goal was simply to write a story. My historical mystery, Neutral Ground, tells the tale of the two unlikeliest spies in the colonies. Rebecca Parcell is a young widow who's too busy fighting for her own freedom to give a fig about the War for Independence. Daniel Alloway is a former prisoner of war who will do whatever it takes to leave the colonies and his nightmares behind. I'm astounded by how much I like the cacophony in my head as these and other characters argue with me about plot and the real villain's identity. I like — and sometimes hate — the challenge of wrestling the right words onto the page. And I appreciate the sweet irony of smiling at neighbors in local grocery store aisles while contemplating whether one of my characters should push another down the stairs. In short, I've discovered that writing mysteries makes me happy. It's as simple as that. Except that it's not."

Now Becker wants to learn more about the craft and the business of writing mysteries. Thanks to the Burstein Scholarship, she will have an opportunity to do just that, by attending CraftFest and PitchFest this summer at ThrillerFest.

At this time, we are pleased to open applications for the second year of the scholarship. We will accept applications until September 22. We expect to award two scholarships on or about November 8.

Aspiring writers can learn more about the Leon B. Burstein Scholarship and can obtain an application by following this link. Questions about the scholarship should be sent to outreach@mwany.org.

Death and Taxes

Even now, with four books published and a fifth, hopefully, on the way, I worry that the IRS will look at my earnings and will decide that writing is really just a hobby. At which point, I will show them my publishing contracts, and after we’ve all had a really good laugh, I’ll explain that just because writing is a business doesn’t mean it’s a good business and then we’ll look at my royalty statements and we’ll all laugh just a little bit more.

It’s all good clean fun until someone finds the dead IRS agent (fictionally dead, my attorney advises me to tell you. Only and always, fictionally dead).

I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that it’s tax season. But if you’ve been waiting for the last minute to file, hoping to find those misplaced receipts documenting your legitimate business expenses, you are officially out of time.

When my first book was released, I realized I should have an author website. It wasn’t fancy (it still isn’t) but it gave readers a place to find me on the internet. It didn’t cost a lot of money and it was a legitimate business expense. At the time, my name was owned by a tax attorney, so I settled for jeffmarkowitzmysteries.com. At some point, the other Jeff Markowitz failed to renew his domain name. I swooped in and bought the domain (jeffmarkowitz.com). I kept jeffmarkowitzmysteries as well. After a couple of years, I decided to let go of the earlier domain name. Experts tell us to purchase all the variations on our name, but I knew I wasn’t famous enough for that to apply to me. I assumed that jeffmarkowitzmysteries.com would disappear into the ether.

But I was wrong. I learned recently that someone else now owns jeffmarkowitzmysteries.com. I’m pretty sure it’s a Japanese private eye. I’m relying on google translate here, but this is what I found on the home page, under the heading, Points when asking detectives to investigate cheating -

What is needed for cheating survey is "evidence of cheating" where you can apply anywhere you go. Although circumstantial evidence that can be gathered around us is also effective, evidence of flirty taking images of cheating sites themselves in images or images does not allow their opponents to escape. Also, by acquiring clear evidence of cheating, it will make it easier for you to claim consolation fees for partner as well as partner.

Obtain clear evidence that both partners and cheating partners can firmly identify. This is the result of a cheating survey asked for detectives. 

That seems clear enough to me. But in an age of frivolous lawsuits, every business needs a disclaimer.

Please be aware that "If you are a detective, you are dealing with a cat naked baby survey." 

(You’re probably wondering what you’ll find if you google “cat naked baby survey.” Before you try, let me remind you that your search history may soon be up for sale. This is just the sort of Google search that might haunt you later.)

Considering the role that money plays in crime, you might think there would be a plethora of great accountancy mysteries.  After all, it’s hard to imagine a more exciting combination than the deadly mixture of sex, drugs, and tax codes. If you’re looking for a good tax accountant murder mystery, let me refer you to the 1941 hardboiled classic: Death and Taxes by David Dodge.

We’ve all heard the advice to write what you know. Dodge knew taxes. In Death and Taxes, James “Whit” Whitney is a CPA whose partner, George MacLeod has been murdered. Whitney realizes he has a responsibility to his dead partner. (In The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade famously says, “When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it.”)

Dodge wrote four mysteries featuring “tax man turned detective” James “Whit” Whitney. (He also wrote To Catch a Thief, but that’s another subject, for another day).

But there are surprisingly few mysteries which take advantage of the inherent sexiness of accountancy. So I’ve been thinking about writing one. In Death and White Diamonds, I introduced a forensic accountant who plays a small role in the story. I think she could carry her own series.

Miss Khan set up shop down the hall and began the tedious process of sorting through the financial records retrieved from Global Co. It had been her experience that police could be careless when they were logging in financial evidence. After all, most cops couldn’t tell the difference between a revenue statement and a trial balance. Before she began a forensic analysis, she made it a rule to go back through every piece of evidence, to make sure that everything is accounted for properly. She would never again allow a simple police error to embarrass her later at trial. And she would never again complicate that error by sleeping with the officer during the course of the investigation. She had been asked that question once, during cross-examination, and she would never put herself in that position again.

Detectives Johnson and McGowan seemed to Miss Khan to be capable of simple police error. Her face suddenly red hot, Miss Khan realized that she was capable of falling into bed with Detective McGowan.

Perhaps, Miss Khan told herself, the case will be settled out of court.

—Jeff Markowitz

Jeff Markowitz is a member of the MWA-NY board. You can usually find him at his computer at 5:30 in the morning, plotting someone's murder.

Hitchcock’s Average American Family

This is the second in our member-written series: My Favorite Crime Movie.

Alfred Hitchcock said several times that Shadow of a Doubt (1943) was his favorite of the films he directed. The film is set in Santa Rosa, California. If I tell you that the last time I was in California, I went in search of Santa Rosa, you'll have some idea how much I love this movie. As a Hitchcock fan, I love the movie as a psychological thriller. As an academic researcher who studies crime and American culture, I love its numerous themes – from gender roles and family life to consumerism and murder as entertainment.

Based on a short story, the movie script was a collaboration by Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, and Alma Reville. A debonair serial killer (Joseph Cotton) decides to shake off the police by visiting his sister and her family. The two police detectives who are pursuing him as one of two suspects in the “Merry Widow” murders, are close behind. They visit the family, posing as survey-takers sent out to interview "average American" families. Charlotte (Teresa Wright) the oldest daughter, soon realizes the men are detectives. Thus begins a tense battle of wits between "Uncle Charlie," the serial killer, and his niece and namesake, "Young Charlie."

When first seen, Charlie is stretched out on her bed in a pose that echoes that of her uncle, on the other side of the country. When her father comes upstairs to check on her, she tells him that their family is in a rut. They do nothing but eat, work, and sleep. She doesn't know what is going to become of them. Her father, a bank clerk, reminds her of his recent raise. Charlie demands to know how he can talk about money, when she is "talking about souls."

Having thought of "just the right person" to come and "shake us all up," she rushes downtown to send her uncle a wire. She learns that he – having read her mind – has sent a wire announcing his arrival. But she is puzzled when he is helped from the train by the porter and a passenger. As the train pulls away, he straightens and strides toward her. She tells him, "I thought you were sick." Of course, he is sick, mentally disturbed. The depth of his illness is revealed during his dinner table rant about wealthy widows as "faded, fat, greedy women."

But in spite of his proclaimed disdain for money, Uncle Charlie has come bearing gifts for his sister’s family. The ruby ring that he gives to Charlie has an engraving that convinces Charlie he is the killer. As her father and next door neighbor, Herb, both crime buffs, discuss how to commit the "perfect murder," Charlie tries to get her uncle out of town before he can destroy her family. Her problem: Uncle Charlie likes Santa Rosa and wants to settle down there. When the other suspect is identified as the killer, Uncle Charlie realizes she is the only one who can unmask him.

—Frankie Y. Bailey

Frankie Y. Bailey is a professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University at Albany (SUNY). Her areas of research are crime history, and crime and mass media/popular culture and material culture. She is the author of a number of non-fiction books, including local histories and books about crime fiction. Her mystery novels feature crime historian, Lizzie Stuart, and police detective, Hannah McCabe. She also has written several short stories. She is currently working on a nonfiction book about dress, appearance, and criminal justice and a historical thriller set in 1939. Frankie is a past executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime.

Mug Shot: Marco Conneli

Marco Conelli is a former NYPD detective and author of the Matthew Livingston Young Adult Mystery Series. His 2011 novel Matthew Livingston and the Politics of Death received the Silver Falchion award for best new mystery. Cry for Help, his first adult crime novel, introduces Caleb Alden and James Paul McCormack, two tenacious, fast-moving protagonists dissecting the desperate landscape of New York's forgotten borough, the Bronx. Conelli is a past vice president of MWA-NY.

Tell us about your latest work.
This is the first full venture away from Young Adult Mystery, as one of the two protagonists did appear in the short story “Borders of Morality,” in 10-Code Anthology. Cry for Help is a New York crime story that is just born out of an amalgamation of things I saw investigating crimes for more than half my life in the NYPD. It isn't just the realism of how criminals operate. It's also the departmental pressures on cops as well as the impact of the public’s hypersensitivity. All these factors are evident as we see two cops struggle to solve a heinous crime at the risk of destroying themselves. Cry for Help visits the heroin epidemic that has returned to New York and shows you some really bad guys hell bent on making sure it’s here to stay. I believe a lot of writers who are new to writing with cop protagonists or supporting characters will take a lot away from the dialogue and mannerisms of the two protagonists Caleb Alden and James Paul McCormack.

What do you feel is the best way to get the word out about your books?
Aside from the very effective social media, I advertise on a number of author sites that are geared toward getting your book in front of readers. There are a lot of these out there and the people who visit the sites are diehard readers, you just have to match them with your genre. Another way I promote my work is by traveling as a lecturer for crime writing conferences. I am a member of the teaching staff at Writer's Police Academy and have lectured at great conference's such as Love is Murder, Killer Nashville, Virginia Festival of the Book, and others. I teach a few courses, but most frequently Anatomy of an Undercover where student writers get a glimpse into crime-solving ideas based on my work as a former undercover detective. I meet lots of people and they are always interested in what I'm writing and they maintain their own writing and reading groups on social media.

When and how do you find time to write?
I don't! As much as I disapprove of them, deadlines are the only thing that motivate me. I feel challenged. I've actually gotten quite used to it.

What writers have inspired you?
I’m a big fan of reading. I was inspired by a lot of the old guard. Conan Doyle, I read and re-read him. He still fascinates me. Rex Stout, nothing like climbing into the old brownstone with Nero and Archie. Ian Fleming is a favorite of mine as well as Edgar Rice Burroughs. Their writing styles are so enjoyable. In the current market I really enjoy Ian Rankin.

In five words or less, what advice would you give to inspiring writers?
Stay the course — your way!

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