Death in Nostalgia City

By Mark S. Bacon

About mbaconauthor

Mystery writer and journalist; former newspaper police reporter.

Author creates a good fracking mystery; here’s how she dug up the story

1

By Sherry Knowlton

Topical issues that affect real people are a perfect foundation upon which to construct a suspense novel. And you can’t get much more topical than fracking mixed with government and corporate corruption.  The research I did into fracking uncovered environmental nightmares and much more. That’s why I chose it as the backdrop for my new Alexa Williams novel, Dead of Spring. 

I’ve long considered myself an environmentalist, so I’ve followed the evolution of fracking quite closely, both here in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.  In my day job, I interact a lot with Pennsylvania state government. That’s given me a front row seat to the contentious debate about whether the Commonwealth should tax fracking companies.  I’ve been concerned that the negative impact of fracking on people and the environment has been overshadowed by the drive for energy independence and economic growth.  That’s what I wanted to explore in Dead of Spring – in a suspense story context.

But what exactly is fracking?  It’s the commonly used term for a natural gas extraction process called hydraulic fracturing.  This process is unique in that the gas wells are drilled, first vertically, and then at a 90-degree angle that can extend as much as a mile both down into the earth and parallel to the surface.  The process has opened up huge swaths of geologic formations known as shale to gas drilling.  In Pennsylvania, the region that is being fracked is known as the Marcellus Shale. 

Fracking has its pros and cons.  It has opened up new reserves of natural gas, lowering energy costs and helping reduce the US reliance on foreign oil. And advocates argue that natural gas is cleaner burning than coal and other fossil fuels.  But the drilling process uses a slurry of toxic chemicals, releases methane into the air and can degrade water supplies. The injection of the fracking waste back into the ground has caused earthquakes.  Oklahoma’s dramatic increase in earthquake activity is well-publicized. Maryland and New York have banned new fracking activity.  But, other states have welcomed fracking’s economic boost. Needless to say, fracking is a controversial issue. 

One of my most useful bits of research came when I visited a landowner in northern Pennsylvania who had leased his land to an energy company for fracking.  He leased in the early days of fracking and was unaware of the problems he might encounter.  He shared his experience by showing me his photographs of the process that transformed his property. A beautiful woodland that step by step by step turned into an acre of gravel and machinery.  Pristine drinking water that now requires constant filtering just for showers and bathing. Battles with the energy company about compensation for various problems. Although I did considerable additional research, that visit was most enlightening.  Continue Reading →

Need to disappear? Here’s how

1
By Lori L. Robinett
Second of two parts

Last time, we talked about how difficult it is to disappear like the character in Fatal  Obsession has to do. As I mentioned, you need cash to survive, you’d have to think about your obligations like pets and your job, and social media adds a whole new level of difficulty to escaping notice in today’s world.  Consider all the other sacrifices you would have to make to truly disappear. Could you do it?  But the better question is, how?

Home – If you can afford it, make a couple of months’ payments in advance to give yourself a cushion. Your landlord/banker will be mad and might try to collect when you do become delinquent, but you’ll be gone by that time. Have your mail held at the post office for as long as possible, so an overflowing mailbox doesn’t tip folks off that you aren’t there. Cancel your newspaper. Think about your neighbors, too.  Tell them you’re moving or going on an extended vacation. This is a prime opportunity for redirection. If your plan is to run to the western United States, tell them you’re going to Florida. Leave clues at your home too, maybe a map or notes about airline tickets. If you have time before you leave, order a bunch of tourist brochures from various locations.

ID – Before you run, gather every piece of identification you own, from your passport to old drivers’ licenses and your library card. There are two schools of thought on this. Some say you should destroy it all. Others say you should take it all with you. Personally, I say take it all with you. Gather it all up in a freezer bag and place it in an inside pocket of your go-bag. If you decide to return to your life at some point, you’ll be glad you have that stuff.

Pictures – Destroy every picture you have of yourself. Every. Single. Picture. The first thing authorities (or whoever is hunting you) are going to do after you are reported missing, will be to look for a current photo of you. Make that as difficult as possible. This has an added bonus. If someone calls the authorities and reports you missing, but they find your home intact, Continue Reading →

My friend Jim died yesterday

2

Jim McCormick had too darn much talent. 

As an artist, he worked in a variety of media: print making, collage, drawing and ingenious constructions for which I can’t find a name.  He taught art at the University of Nevada – Reno from 1960 until he retired in 1992.  His students are among the renown artists in my part of the country.

McCormick continued to create art for many years after retirement, and he curated numerous exhibits large and small.  Throughout his life he encouraged and promoted northern Nevada artists, all of whom will be grieving along with me. 

As an artist and art professor he earned innumerable awards and his work was displayed at galleries and exhibits from Nevada to North Carolina to Maine.  He served on the Nevada State Council on the Arts from 1963 to 1970 and from 1980 to 1989. He directed the Nevada Art Research Project at the Nevada Historical Society, and in 1990 he received the Nevada Governor’s Art Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Jim McCormick

I knew Jim as the artist but also as a fellow writer.  He had neuropathy, a condition of the nervous system that caused him to gradually lose feeling in his hands, arms and legs.  When he could no longer create the art works that had been his life, he turned to writing.  Not that he wasn’t already a writer.  Over the years he authored many art essays and exhibition books for individual shows.  But now he dabbled in something new: flash fiction.

I had discovered flash fiction at the time too, so Jim and I started exchanging stories.  Sometimes we’d send them in email, other times at lunch we’d reach into our pockets, pull out whatever we’d written recently and critique each other’s work.

For the uninitiated, flash fiction is a story of exactly 100 words.  Technically, flash fiction stories can be longer, or shorter, but Jim and I both liked the discipline of writing a complete story in precisely 100 words.

We weren’t competing, just poking each other’s minds with new ideas, new approaches.  Once, we even taught a seminar in flash fiction writing at our church.

I have a journalism background and thus tend to put related elements together and in chronological order. I think my stories “work” in some sense, but I often remind myself to mix things up, try something different.  Jim’s stories, like  his art, are not all  representational.  And he had a great sense of humor that came through in his writing.  Often I would look forward to his puns and other word plays to see if he would make me laugh.

Occasionally, he’d mix the macabre with his whimsy.   The following two stories are great examples. (The one title covers both stories.)  I published these on this site several years ago and offer them again as a tribute to my multi-talented friend.

Stone Motor

By Jim McCormick

Stone Motor played a gig in the music room of a moss shrouded, antebellum mansion near the Mississippi. Its audience included the usual bland tourists and a blue-haired guide named Maude, who disclaimed the South’s loss in the War between the States. Lately, she’d been trying to poison visitors from up north with complementary mint juleps. Melvin Carnahan of Boston accepted one and he expired as he drove off the plantation. The band’s lead singer was arrested; seems he had a likeness of Jeff Davis tattooed over his heart. Soon after, Maude seized the mike and the rest was history.

Shortly after joining the band, lead singer and murderess Maude Dossage changed her name; she wanted a stand-alone nom de guerre. Slightly bent in her 80th year, red hair exchanged for blue, she told the Stone Motor boys her name was now Mudd. Sympathy with the Confederate cause persisted; she hatched a plot to do in Brooklyn born drummer, Grant Getty. Mint julep concoction again? No! Too good for Getty. He got it one cool evening when Mudd laced his doobie with strychnine; he never even made it to the bandstand. Thereafter, the smug Miss Mudd doubled on percussion.

%d bloggers like this: